It was an unlikely friendship. We are brothers in Christ, and both bald, but beyond that, our backgrounds couldn’t have been more different. I am loud; Jerry was soft-spoken. I am a former pothead; Jerry served in the military. I come from a Charismatic background; Jerry’s work was with the Navigators.
So when I first invited Jerry Bridges to come and speak at a Sovereign Grace event, I didn’t expect him to accept my invitation. Actually, I don’t think I expected to hear back from him at all. I assumed he received more invitations than he could possibly answer. My invitation was simply a means of thanking this man for the significant influence his writing had on my life. For it was from Jerry Bridges that I learned how to preach the gospel to myself each and every day.
But to my surprise, he did respond. And to my surprise he accepted my invitation, and kept accepting my invitations. He taught at the Sovereign Grace Pastors College for 15 straight years, even as his health began to decline. His class was a highlight every year and many PC graduates point to that week as formative for their understanding and application of the gospel.
Even more to my surprise, Jerry and I became friends. Like I said, a most unlikely friendship. And so I mourn Jerry’s death, like countless others. I’m glad he’s in heaven, particularly given his deteriorating health over the last few years. But I will miss our times together, where I had the privilege and joy of hanging with him and learning from him.
Jerry was kind, gentle, and genuinely humble, for he had been humbled by the grace of God revealed in the gospel of Christ and him crucified. Though he was a serious man, he loved to laugh. I loved making him laugh and I loved laughing with him. And I will miss hearing his latest story of the sanctifying effects of travel in his life. (Jerry’s flights were always getting delayed or cancelled.)
Most of all I will miss conversations about the gospel which broke out each and every time we were together. I’m sure there was nothing unique about our conversations; I imagine Jerry had them with everyone he knew. I will treasure these conversations I had with this father in the faith. And I will miss the smile on his face and the joy in his eyes whenever he reflected on the Savior’s love for him as demonstrated by his substitutionary sacrifice on the cross for our sins. Suddenly, while sitting in a crowded restaurant we would find ourselves preaching the gospel to each other marveling together at the one “who loved us and gave himself for us (Gal 2:20).” We found common ground—the most important common ground—in the gospel, and this was the only explanation for the unlikely friendship between us.
This morning, a friend sent me the following excerpt from Jerry’s book, The Gospel for Real Life. As I read it, I cried. I think you will too.
“What will it be like when we enter the presence of the Lord? Sometimes when I focus too much on my own shortcomings, of how often I have sinned against grace and against knowledge, of how little I have availed myself of all the blessings of God and opportunities that have come my way, I think I would like to somehow ‘just slip in the side door’ of heaven, unnoticed and consequently unwelcome. But that is because I do focus too much on myself and try to anticipate my welcome on the basis of my performance.
The apostle Peter, however, gives us an entirely different perspective in 2 Peter 1:10-11: ‘Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.’” (pp.164–5).
Because God is rich in grace and displayed the riches of his grace in the death of His Son on the cross for our sins we can be certain that Jerry didn’t slip in the side door. No, there was a rich welcome for Jerry yesterday. And this thought comforts the hearts of all those who loved this man and are deeply grateful to God for the influence of this man on their lives.
So preach the gospel to yourself today. It would be the best and wisest way to serve your soul and the most appropriate way to honor the life and ministry of Jerry Bridges.
Jerry has also been honored by tributes from his close friend and collaborator Bob Bevington and Justin Taylor.