A model servant of Christ: Remembering Jerry Bridges (Fred G. Zaspel)
I first met Jerry Bridges and his wife, Jane, at the Canadian Carey Conference in the Summer of 1997. He and I were on the schedule to speak, and although of course I already knew of him from his books I was happy finally to meet him. My family and I were treated that week to hear the preview of his work on the fear of God which he was then preparing for written form.
The memorable event of the week was on a personal level. A high spirit of competition arose between the Canadians and the few of us Americans who were there, and it reached its high point in a tense international competition – a blind taste test to determine which were better, Canadian or American Oreo cookies. My wife and I along with the Bridges and some from Canada were contestants, and I am proud to say that Americans win even on such a level as this.
There were of course many laughs and much fun, and getting to know him that week both in his public ministry and on a personal level was a treat. Over the years since, our paths would cross at various times – at the John Bunyan Conference where we had him speak for us a couple years, at our church, in other conferences, and of course via email. With each book my appreciation of him increased – in his speaking and his writing he displayed that wonderful blend of simplicity and theological precision for which he is well known.
Several characteristics of his stood out to me in all the years since we met. One is faithfulness. You could not know Jerry and not be struck with his sincere determination to follow Christ. His “pursuit of holiness” was genuine and heartfelt – when you read his books given to the topic of practical godliness you could always be sure that this was something the author himself was keen to pursue in practice himself.
One aspect of Jerry’s faithfulness was his dedication to study and writing ministry. His steady production of quality books – which he viewed as the ministry God had given him – testifies to long hours of prayerful study. To the very end he would email and ask for prayer for God’s enablement in his preparations.
One year as I picked him up at the airport for the conference I asked if he could remain on and preach for us at church also the following Sunday. It was not on the original plans, but schedules had suddenly changed, and we hoped he could come. He immediately accepted – as a matter of conviction, he explained. He had determined – at least in those years before his declining health – that he should and would take such opportunities as he was able. And so, not having prepared ahead of time, he prepared his message and preached to our congregation with the Lord’s obvious blessing.
Another characteristic was his compassion. I don’t recall that I asked for it, but Jerry took it on himself to pray daily for our daughter, Gina, through the years of her suffering. We learned in those years the value of praying friends, and both his faithfulness and compassion were evident in his intercessory ministry for Gina and for us.
Gospel-centeredness of course was Jerry’s passion. He did not mind telling the story of his best-selling The Pursuit of Holiness. The book was scarcely off the press, and while teaching a series of lessons on the subject in a nearby church he recognized that it was lacking sufficient gospel-grounding and context – a matter which of course he famously remedied many times over in the following years.
And who could not notice Jerry’s humility? Honestly, I understand that he was made of the same stuff as the rest of us, and so I’m sure he struggled with pride like we all do. But here was one who had obviously succeeded in the struggle more than most, and it made his fellowship a delight.
A year or more ago I interviewed Jerry concerning his life and autobiography, and I have thought more recently with his declining health that I should interview him again. I wish I had. He was a dear brother, a model servant of Christ, and his impact can scarcely be measured except by God alone. Our Lord commands us to honor such men who speak the Word of God faithfully to us, and it is a joy to do so. We miss Jerry Bridges already, but we give God thanks for him and his life well lived.
Fred Zaspel (Ph.D., Free University of Amsterdam) is pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA, and is the executive editor of Books At a Glance. He is the author of The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary andWarfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel.