NEWS | Anne Lim
Wednesday 9 March 2016
It was the way Bible teacher Jerry Bridges modelled the ideals he wrote about in popular books such as The Pursuit of Holiness that influenced Pete Hughes, lead pastor of Soma Church in Marsfield in Sydney’s north.
“As great as his books are, him showing me that he lived it out has had a huge effect on me,” Hughes commented in the wake of the US author’s death from heart failure on Sunday at the age of 86.
Hughes happened to meet Bridges at a speaking event in Sydney in 2001, when the former was in his first years in professional ministry.
“What was nice was he took me aside and had a brief chat with me about ministry,” he said.
“He wanted to talk to me about the importance of discipleship and mentoring. I was still getting the hang of professional ministry and I’d been distracted by all the things you could do. And the thing that really struck me wasn’t so much the fact that he told me one-to-one mentoring was important but he showed it as he took me aside and modelled it to me.
“He really did believe in it and that shaped me, so that I invested a lot of time in one-to-one ministry from then on.”
A Korean War veteran, Bridges joined the discipleship group Navigators in 1955, where he held various administrative positions over the years. He started writing out of office hours in 1986 and published his bestseller, The Pursuit of Holiness in 1988.
As a teenager in Singapore, Jonathan Wei-Han, state director of the Church Missionary Society in Victoria, was deeply influenced by The Pursuit of Holiness and The Practice of Godliness.
“Those two books in particular were very influential on me as a Christian teen, particularly because they … emphasised very strongly the relationship between the grace that saves us and the grace that gives us the Holy Spirit, propels us forward into a life of holiness, imitating the Lord Jesus – and it was the balance between those things that influenced me,” Wei-Han said.
“In subsequent years I would return to those books whenever I needed a fresh vision of needing to follow Jesus closely in my own personal life, being attentive to what Jerry Bridges calls my own ‘small and secret things’, and not to assume that when a person is in Christian ministry those matters are automatically dealt with by virtue of my office.
“It’s a great reminder that every Christian, no matter what their standing in leadership, is still pursuing holiness, is still being led by God to practise godliness in things large and small.”
For Bridges, the journey to holiness is not a burden but a joy, he said.
“One of the things that Jerry Bridges does for Christians is remind us very powerfully and very personally of our individual daily need of the gospel of grace, and it doesn’t matter whether we became a Christian yesterday or if we’ve been a Christian all the 75 years of our life – we are all on a constant journey to holiness.
“Jesus says be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect. Well, not one of us will achieve perfection, but Jerry Bridges shows that there is real joy in that journey. It isn’t a burden, it isn’t self-flagellation, it isn’t salvation by works – there’s a deep joy in pursuing the character of Jesus, which is holy.
“For me it’s been an incredibly freeing experience because it means, as a Christian leader, I don’t lead in my strength and perfection, but I can inspire others by following Jesus more closely. My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness; that was a huge theme in his work and I hope that is reflected in the way I lead today.”
Grant Dibden, National Director of Australians Navigators, said he was privileged to count Bridges as a spiritual mentor.
“He was such a wise, godly, gospel- and Jesus-centred person. His all-time favourite verse was ‘For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Corinthians 5:21).
“Jerry’s books were clear and so, so helpful and challenging.”
Dibden said he and his wife Jeannette had lunch with Bridges and his wife Jane last Wednesday.
“He was looking frail, but mentally as sharp as ever.
“We chatted about how the gospel wasn’t just for getting saved but was for everyday life. He said it wasn’t like a door to get in, but a path to walk along day by day. We all sin and need to hear the gospel each day.
“His latest book on humility is with the reviewers and it seems fitting that that should be his last book as Jerry wanted nothing more than to walk humbly with his God.”