When I was converted by Christ at the University of Michigan in the early 1980’s, the Lord used the ministry of The Navigators as his tool to open my mind and heart to Jesus. Within the early months of my new life, my mentor gave me a book that became the first one I read as a new believer. That book was The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges.
What a treasure of a book! What a way to begin my Christian journey! I learned at the very beginning of my Christian life that I was responsible now, in the grace of Christ, to be holy before the Lord. Yet what a battle that would be. As Bridges explained so clearly:
As we grow in holiness, we grow in hatred of sin; and God, being infinitely holy, has an infinite hatred of sin.”
The clear Bible teaching, sound doctrine that I later learned was based on Bridges’ love of the Puritans, and eye-opening illustrations such as “even our tears of repentance need to be washed in the blood of the Lamb” resounded in my newly regenerated heart. The Pursuit of Holiness helped set me properly upon the paths of righteousness on which the Good Shepherd leads all who follow him.
So it was with sadness and reflection that I heard that Jerry passed away yesterday. Justin Taylor has a wonderful tribute to him that gives a good summary of his life, ministry, and the books he wrote. On this occasion of his death, I wanted first to share one memory that brings a smile to my face, and then a few thoughts from another book that I recently read by him.
Years ago I attended a Ligonier conference where Jerry spoke in one of the sessions. He happened to be the second speaker that morning, following R.C. Sproul who had just preached before him. In a display of the humility that was so characteristic of him, Jerry told us that listening to him standing in place behind the pulpit would be quite a letdown after the energetic preaching of Sproul, who had used the whole platform for his message. But then Jerry went on to say that his style did have one advantage. After a brief pause, he said, “At least I don’t have to spend as much on shoe leather as R.C.”
Now more than thirty years after I read Jerry Bridges for the first time, I am still learning from him. Not too long ago I read his work The Gospel for Real Life: Return to the Liberating Power of the Cross. In its sixteen chapters, The Gospel for Real Life reminds the reader that the message of the cross is not only for evangelizing unbelievers, but the atoning work of Jesus is to be applied to the saints of God in a daily, practical way.
Once again Bridges demonstrated in this work his knack for taking different elements of Christ’s atonement and developing their theological framework, through Scriptural development and quoting Reformed and Puritan works, in a way that makes the lessons accessible to the reader. For instance, in the sixth chapter his teaching on the practice of the scapegoat in the sacrificial system showed its typological nature in how Christ set us free from both the penalty and power of sin.
Expiation, which basically means ‘removal,’ accompanies propitiation and speaks of the work of Christ in removing or putting away our sin. Such is the symbolism of the two goats used on the Day of Atonement. The first goat represented Christ’s work of propitiation as it was killed and its blood sprinkled on the mercy seat. The second goat represented Christ’s work of expiation in removing or blotting out the sins that were against us. The object of propitiation is the wrath of God. The object of expiation is the sin, which must be removed from His presence.” (p. 73)
This work is an extremely refreshing, clear look at the whole of the gospel, avoiding the one-dimensional treatments of atonement that have become popular today. Bridges takes elements of the atonement such as justice, wrath, justification, mercy, expiation, propitiation, reconciliation, and sanctification, and helps the believer see how these concepts should be influencing his relationship with God each day.
As I read this book, I was refreshed in hearing this voice that guided me in my early Christian days once again remind me anew of how we are to be experiencing the gospel each and every day. I am thankful that this dear saint, who knew that “without sanctification no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14), does now behold his complete Savior. I am also grateful the legacy of his writing will help so many others like me live with that same daily hope.