William Bridge's Ministry of Encouragement in A Lifting Up for the Downcast
March 10, 2014
William Bridge was born about the year 1600 in Cambridgeshire, England. He entered Emmanuel College of Cambridge University, where he received his B.A. in 1623 and his M.A. in 1626. He became the rector of St. Peter's, Hungate, Norwich, where he was eventually suspended from preaching by Bishop Matthew Wren of the Church of England. Bridge left England to take refuge in Holland where he renounced his Church of England ordination, abandoned episcopal church polity, and was ordained as an independent minister. From there, he returned to England in 1642. He was a member of the Westminster Assembly, advocating independent church government in the debates over church polity. Bridge died at Clapham on March 12, 1670.
It was in the year 1648 that William Bridge preached at Stepney, London, the thirteen sermons published the following year in A Lifting up for the Downcast. The text he used for encouraging the depressed was Psalm 42:11: "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God. For I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance and my God." (KJV)
A Lifting Up offers several perspectives on his subject, but for this article four of Bridge's insights will be considered--peace and discouragement, Trinitarian peace, covenantal consolation, and the defeat of discouragement by faith in Christ. The page references given in parentheses are found in the Banner of Truth edition of A Lifting Up for the Downcast, 2009.
Peace and Discouragement
Bridge's presentation of peace and discouragement is given through three truths he observed in the first part of Psalm 42:11, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God." His first truth is, "there is an inward peace and quietude of soul, which the saints and people of God ordinarily are endued with" (7). A Christian's foundational peace is knowing that sins are forgiven through justification by faith which brings peace with God. However, Bridge's second truth about Christian peace is that it "is possible ... this peace may be interrupted, and God's people may be much discouraged, cast down and disquieted" (7). So, the Christian enjoys "inward peace" based on having been forgiven for sin, which was Bridge's first truth, but that peace may be disturbed by circumstances and trying times, which is the second truth. The resolution to the burdened believer's difficult times is found in Bridge's third fundamental truth, which is that, "the saints and people of God have no reason for their discouragements whatever their condition may be" (7). When Bridge says that the downcast "have no reason for their discouragements," he is encouraging the suffering to turn their attention from their difficult circumstances to look to the resources found in the sovereign Lord.
The peace which the Christian enjoys is Trinitarian peace because of its source in the ministry of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This Trinitarian nature of God's ministry of peace is effected in the Christian's life through each member of the Trinity ministering in a manner unique to His person. What Bridge does throughout A Lifting Up is argue from the lesser to the greater; when problems that are causing distress are considered in the light of the greater power of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then those personal difficulties seem small before the greatness of God.
The saints and people of God are, as I may so speak, of God's special acquaintance, and so they have peace, for they walk with God, and have communion with Him. They have communion with the Father, and He is the God of all consolation; they have communion and fellowship with the Son, and He is the Prince of Peace; they have communion and fellowship with the Spirit, and He is the Comforter. They have communion with the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit, in and by the gospel; and that is the word of peace, the gospel of peace. The saints and people of God, therefore, ordinarily have peace within (9).
The Father gives peace to the Saints by His prerogative in that it is the will of God to give inward peace to His people (9). God the Father will also give consolation through His promise of peace as described in Psalm 29:11 and Isaiah 26:3 (10). It is an element of the Father's ministry to the redeemed that He gives not only the eternal peace of justification but also the temporal peace necessary to face the contingencies of life.
The Son is engaged to give peace because He is qualified and endowed to do so by the Father as described in Isaiah 41:4 (11,12). John 14:27, 20:19 shows the Son's disposition is as a meek but powerful shepherd who has a tender and loving concern for His sheep (13). The Son's office, as the great High Priest ministering between God and man, fulfills the Old Testament office of priest. What is more, the Son has suffered the temptations of this world and compassionately brings peace.
The Holy Spirit is engaged to give peace to the saints as their executor and advocate. The Holy Spirit executes Christ's will to bring peace to the Saints as the great Comforter who was promised (13f). Though Jesus is the Christian's advocate, Bridge notes that, in effect, there are two advocates, "but I say, we have, as it were two Advocates, one in heaven above [Jesus], and one in our bosom [the Holy Spirit]" according to 1 John 1:2; John 14:16 (14). Bridge's vivid language shows the application of the Comforter's work within the follower of Christ.
God's Covenant provides assurance that the redeemed will never again lie under God's wrath because Jesus bore that wrath for the elect. The Lord's blessings come to the people of God through the mercy of salvation that yields both temporal and eternal security. Bridge comments on the Covenant particularly with reference to the Noahic administration.
Therefore if God be in covenant with a man, he shall never lie under wrath again; for though the world sin, the world shall never be drowned again; and so, though he commit sin, he shall never lie under wrath again. Now as for the people of God, they are all in covenant with God; they are under this gracious covenant, and therefore, though the mountains may be removed, God's mercy shall never be removed from them; and though the great hills may be thrown into the sea, the people of God, once in covenant with God, shall never be thrown into hell. Tell me then, have you, that are the people of God, any just cause or reason to be cast down, or to be discouraged? (71)
He here ends his comments regarding the greatness of the covenant with his oft-repeated question, "have you any ... just cause or reason to be cast down," which he uses to turn the depressed to look beyond their troubles to God. The covenant assures God's people that they will not be abandoned in their trials. Bridge observes further that "thus it is with every child of God. He is in this covenant of grace, and so the privileges and immunities of all this great charter belong unto him" (107-108, 136-37). The covenant of grace brings reassurance to the downcast. The covenant is the believer's greatest and surest encouragement because it is rooted in the strength, might, sacrificial blood, and power of God. William Bridge turns the disconsolate to what God has done in His covenantal condescension to bring the grace of redemption and its resulting peace, hope, and comfort.
Discouragement Defeated by Faith in Christ
The last sermon in A Lifting Up is titled, "The Cure of Discouragements by Faith in Jesus Christ," which is both an evangelistic appeal to the downcast to believe the Gospel and encouragement to the Christian to live in faith. The theme is, in good pastoral fashion, short but sweet--Faith is the help against all discouragements (262). Faith rests upon Christ for redemption, but faith also is applied in daily living and growth in sanctification. Though the Christians of the seventeenth century were discouraged by wars and disasters, fearsome diseases and plagues, and the daily struggles to live faithfully in service to Christ--Faith is the help against all discouragements. The restless soul does not find repose until it rests through faith in the arms of the Sovereign of the universe and lives by faith.
Fear and discouragement, observed Bridge, arise in Christians because they sometimes do not see their situations fully with the eyes of faith (268). Examples presented by him to make his point include things such as problems being blown out of proportion, or conversely, not seen to be as bad as they really are; temptations appear to be unendurable despite the promise of 1 Corinthians 10:13; and afflictions may often appear to be pointless from the perspective of the downcast person (268). Bridge expanded on his thought.
Now it is only faith that shews a man the end and the issue of all his troubles. It stands upon the high tower of the threatening and promise, seeing over all mountains and difficulties; it sees into the other world; it sees through death and beyond death; it sees through affliction and beyond affliction; it sees through temptation and beyond temptation; it sees through desertion and beyond desertion; it sees through God's anger and beyond His anger: I say, it sees things past, present and to come. If a man had such power as to be able to recollect all his former experiences, to see things present as they are, and to see all the events and issues of things to come, would he not be quiet notwithstanding all that might arise for the present? Thus faith is able to shew a man things past, present, and to come; and to shew him greater matter of comfort than the matter of his troubles is; and in so doing it must needs quiet the soul (269-70).
True faith sees that the answers to all fears, anxieties, miseries, and wants are found only in Christ (270). One of the illustrations presented by Bridge is the oft-used example of the English Reformer, Hugh Latimer, who said as he and Ridley went to the stake, "Come, my beloved brother though we pass through the fire today, yet we shall light such a candle in England as shall never be put out again." Bridge says of this event that Latimer exhibited faith to see beyond the troubles and confusion of this life and into God's greater purpose (274). Though the example of Latimer and Ridley has been often used by ministers, it never fails to show the spectacles of redeemed vision and the ability to look beyond the situation.
Many would say that nothing could be learned from a book first published by a minister over three-hundred-fifty years ago. It might be said that because Bridge lived so long ago his teaching cannot help a person today suffering discouragement and depression because his world was nothing like that of the twenty-first century. Things are too different. Bridge read books printed on paper and covered with leather, but today book pages might be electrons formed into words behind a sheet of glass. He likely lived in a house with a few rooms, roofed with thatch, and heated by a primitive fireplace, but today there is electricity, central heating, and fire retardant construction materials. His idea of rapid transit was riding a horse instead of walking, but today automobiles, trains, and aircraft speed travelers to their destinations. The list of differences could go on and on. However, no matter how much one might protest the political, social, technological, and other changes, there is one thing that is the same--those dead in trespasses and sin need to be raised to newness of life through the grace of redemption. As Bridge noted, justification is applied through faith, but faith also becomes a way of life for the Christian as God works all things together for good including the situations in which the believer becomes downcast, depressed, and discouraged.
In the 1640s in England, the Christian might have been downcast about the war between Parliament and the Crown, the dismal forecast for harvesting a good field of crops, the rising price of waddle-and-daub timber frame homes, or the rumors of a strange new epidemic on the Continent killing thousands. In the twenty-first century, there is concern about terrorism, pesticides, contaminated food, the mortgage rate, political systems, wars, and different epidemics and diseases, but fundamentally and in their nature people are the same, "for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God."
Bridge calls downcast Christians to take their eyes off of themselves and their conditions, and look unto God who is the author and finisher of their salvation. Today, as in the seventeenth century, consolation is found in the fundamental peace of redemption, the unique compassionate ministries of the persons of the Trinity, and the covenant of grace. True, biblical, redemptive faith views the Christian's circumstances as the working out of God's caring and compassionate will, so Bridge turns the beleaguered believer to Psalm 42:1, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul?," which he answers with the work of the Great Comforter speaking through Scripture about the everlasting arms of God wrapped around those redeemed through the work of Christ.
Dr. Barry Waugh is a church historian and scholar.