Jerry Bridges died in his eighty-sixth year on March 6, 2016. Once or twice I shared the speaking duties with him at a couple of conferences and enjoyed getting to know him. He wrote a little autobiography, God Took Me By the Hand, which threw light on his humble origins in the Depression years of the 1920s in the USA.
He was born with four physical defects: he was cross-eyed, deaf in his right ear, and had deformities in his breastbone and spine. His parents were financially poor, education dropouts, and religiously and socially isolated. There were no boys his age in the neighbourhood, and no toys in the house. They lived alongside the railway tracks. ‘I was probably the poorest of the poor.’ His parents could not afford to give him money for the more nutritious school meals, or 25 cents for him to see the conjurer’s show when it made its annual visit to the school, or to pay for his eyesight to be remedied. He got up at 4 a.m. and delivered newspapers each day. He lost his mother when he was fourteen and henceforth lived at home with his father. Yet from Scripture he came to know that ‘of God and through God and to God are all things’. From Psalm 139 he learned that God had created him just as he was, birth defects and all. God controlled the genetics and God gave him a fine intelligence quotient. Jerry’s book The Pursuit of Holiness has sold a million copies and he wrote more than a dozen other books, all worth reading and passing on. I have just read his final book on humility which is a sweet study of the Beatitudes. He was awarded a D.D. from Westminster Seminary.
By the common grace of God Jerry Bridges was placed under excellent teachers in school and university. In his church he painfully learned that going forward in response to an altar call is not the same as being converted. When he was nine someone asked him why he wasn’t going forward to be saved, and so he went forward, but felt no different. He went forward again when he was eleven, and two years later he did it again but with the same negative response. He said to himself that evening that he was never going to go forward again. Jerry wrote, ‘we do need to understand and believe the gospel, and we do need to put our trust in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, but in the final result it is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit that makes us new creatures in Christ.’
Jerry’s brother became the assistant pastor in the church and one evening he called him and asked eighteen-year-old Jerry if he would like to come with him to visit a member. As they discussed the faith his brother said to this man, ‘If you don’t know you are saved you are probably not, because when you are saved you know it.’ With hindsight, Jerry looked back at that conversation and realized that he would not make such an absolute statement, but back then it was a spur to settle his own relationship with God. That night in his room he prayed and said, ‘O God, I don’t know if I need to go forward in church again or not. I don’t want to but if I have to, I am willing. Whatever it takes, I want Jesus to be my Saviour.’ Immediately he had assurance of salvation and quickly went off to sleep. Soon he read Romans 5:1, ‘Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ He had no doubts about his salvation ever again.
Soon Jerry joined the Navy and he came into contact with the Navigators and learned the importance of personal devotions and the memorization of Scripture. Again a sincere half-right statement was used by God to direct his mind into taking the word of God seriously. A Navigators’ teacher said, ‘The Bible was not given to increase your knowledge but to guide your conduct.’ Of course Scripture is not a book of morals but God’s redemptive plan in Christ, but Jerry read the Bible henceforth to believe and obey.
In January 1960 in San Diego he attended a church where one night a woman gave him a booklet and asked him to read it. It was called The Doctrine of Election, and as he glanced at it he was deeply offended. He had never met this doctrine before. He thought that the woman was taking him into heresy. He put the booklet aside and refused to engage with it, but the thought stayed in his head and the very next morning as he prayed he was probed by God. Fifty years later he still remembers how the one called ‘Wonderful Counsellor’ dealt with him.
How many people are in San Diego?
How many of them do you think are believers?
No more than 60,000. Ten per cent.
You are one of them, aren’t you?
Yes Lord, and I am so grateful that I am.
Why are you a believer?
Immediately Jerry had to go back to the love and initiative of God in saving him. It was not a lucky decision. It was God who had made the difference, and so he prayed, ‘Lord, I have offered myself to you before, but in the light of a deeper understanding of your mercy and grace, I present myself once more.’ He added that in the twinkling of an eye he was changed to what he later learned was a Calvinist position. It was a watershed event for him. ‘It eventually changed my whole outlook about God, the world, and the gospel. It eventually led to a clear understanding of the sovereignty of God.’ Over the next three years the woman who had given him the booklet on the doctrine of election sent him books on the Puritans and as he read them and studied the Bible he became a committed Calvinist, ‘but I hope a friendly Calvinist toward those who hold a different view’.
For a while Jerry worked for the Navigators in the Netherlands, and there he met our friend Alan Levy, the pastor in Pontarddulais, Wales. Alan remembers their meetings in a park where they ate their sandwiches at lunchtime and shared their growing appreciation of the doctrines of grace. It was in the Netherlands that Jerry was asked to fill in for a speaker who had been taken ill. This was the first time he had spoken at a meeting of more than a handful of people. It was God’s first step in Jerry’s ultimately preaching the word on a full-time basis.
In September 1976 he began to write The Pursuit of Holiness in his spare time and it was published in October 1978, and I suppose it will never go out of print. God blessed the book because it was indeed a serious call to holiness. Jerry assumed that it would be the only book he would ever write and that he had said all that he wanted to say in it. How differently things turned out!
Jerry once told me that the most important book he had ever read was George Smeaton’s The Apostles’ Doctrine of the Atonement. ‘In this book Smeaton looks at every verse on the atonement from Acts to Revelation. The value of it lies in its continued emphasis on the representative union of Christ and his people.’ He was anxious that Americans read and understand these truths and so in 2007 he wrote The Great Exchange which was based on Smeaton’s great classic.
Jerry Bridges was sixty-five years of age before his first books began to appear. If God had planned for him to be a writer and teacher, why did God wait for so long to bring his purposes to full development? Jerry said, ‘God wanted me to write and teach truths that have to be learned through lots of difficult experiences and lots of mistakes. But by his providence he had been leading me all the way. To him be the glory.’
Jerry Bridges looked back through his life with some self-analysis. Maybe he is right in his diagnosis. It is worth seeing things as he looked at it all. ‘The years 1955 through 2011 were a period of fifty-six years. I look at twenty-five of them as experiencing the blessing of God on my labours. Another fifteen years were clearly painful, and another sixteen were neither particularly painful nor blessed. As I look at these numbers I feel especially blessed by God. I think of relatives and friends whose lives have been marked more by pain than by anything else, and I realized how blessed I have been.’
— Geoff Thomas
Daily Thoughts: The Joy of the Lord
Thoughts from Andrew Bonar on Joy
I have been taught that joy in the Spirit is the frame in which God blesses us to others. Joy arises from fellowship with Him; I find that whatever sorrow or humiliation of spirit presses on us, that it all should give way, in some measure, to a fresh taste of God’s love when going forth to preach.
I was much struck today by a simple thought, namely, that our joys are only beginning! Yes, the joys we have tasted are a mere foretaste. All we get here below is but an earnest and no more. And as truly as our joys are only beginning, so our sorrows are soon ending. They will soon be over–our last tear shed and our last sigh expressed.
Rejoice is as much a command as repent.
Cultivate joy as much as you cultivate honesty and uprightness.
The oil of joy calms down the waves of trouble.
Why should we be afraid to rejoice when God is not afraid to trust us with joy?
Love is the motive for working, and joy is the strength for working.
Would it have been right for the prodigal son to sit at his father’s table in tears, saying, “I just cannot be glad”, when the Father said, “It is right that we should make merry and be glad?”
Love and joy are the two prominent fruits of the Spirit. If you can cherish this glad spirit, you will be a useful witness, even if you never speak a word.
There are far more people make to think by seeing a Christian’s joy than by any words he may speak.
— Andrew Bonar
This has always been a problem in Christianity. The body splits itself into little groups of people who all have the same gifts. As a result we have one little bunch which is all mouth, who do nothing but talk. Another bunch, all feet, are constantly running around in circles. Another group, all ears, just sit and listen. Another group, all brain, sits at studies and tickles its intellectual ears. Another, all hands, is feverishly busy doing and doing and getting nothing done. But without the unity of all the body with its diverse members and gifts complementing each other, nothing is accomplished and every member suffers form the loss of each other.
Can you imagine the frustration and misery of an ear, all its life, trying, struggling, and fretting to see? Oh, beloved brethren! Find where God wants you in the body. Let Him fit you in and do not let anyone try to force you into some other place. The ear has its perfectly normal function to hear. It does it without fret, fuss, or effort–by simply abiding in its place in the body spontaneously serving is purpose with beauty and ease.
‘What man is he that feareth the LORD? Him shall he teach in the way that he shall choose. His soul shall dwell at ease; and his seed shall inherit the earth.’ (Psalm 25:12-13)
There was a time not too many years ago when a believer was described simply as a ‘God-fearing man.’ That was before modern thought struck upon the idea that it was dishonoring to the mercy and goodness of God to fear Him, and the shallow “God loves everybody all the time anyway” mentality began. The Bible teaches that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. A person who fears God simply thinks of God first and foremost in all his actions, the governing factor being a desire to please Him. It is the motivating emotion that dominates the righteous person’s life.
The person who fears God need fear nothing else. He who does not fear God must fear every other threat, for he has no substantial defense.
The person who fears God will learn, for God Himself will teach him. He will be guided, for the Good Shepherd will unerringly lead him. He will be taught in the right way to go, the right things to do and the right decisions to make.
Many people erroneously expect God to give us a road map, a set of exhaustive instructions so that when any matter comes up all we need do is get out our road maps, or our rule book, our procedure manual, and go ahead. Not so! If that were true, we could take these and walk off from God because we would need Him no more.
Those who fear God, walk with Him. We, indeed, have the Bible which gives us righteous principles, but as for specific details for our everyday mundane living, often we can find no specific directions in the Scriptures.
God will choose for us at the time the choices we need to make. He shall choose our way for us and cause us to walk in that way. Few things are more comforting to the Christian than knowing that the Lord has ordered his steps. That is what is meant by, ‘his soul shall be at ease.’ He is not in a fizz and tizzy all the time wondering if he has made the right choices.
The seed of the righteous are those who have been born from above, begotten by the Spirit. They shall abide forever and inherit all things.
— Conrad Murrell