Augustine started it, and ever since Christians have learned the moving effectiveness of Christian autobiography. It is in this tradition – writing his own story with a constant eye heavenward – that Jerry Bridges writes his latest book, God Took Me By the Hand: A Story of God’s Unusual Providence.
Jerry Bridges is one of those people you just have to love. If you have heard him speak or read his books very much at all, you appreciate his love for Christ, his concern for those things that are of concern to God, and his long faithfulness and ministry of the Word. Here in our home we appreciate him also for his faithful, daily prayer for our daughter, Gina, during the years of her suffering. So I admit up front that I was predisposed to enjoy this book even as I picked it up at the very first, but I suspect that it is a loving bias that is shared by very many.
What began as memoirs for family and friends resulted in this most enjoyable autobiography. But Jerry is clear that he does not intend only to tell his story – he wants to tell his story as a Christian in firm recognition of divine providence. Again, those who know Jerry will not be surprised to see his robust understanding of divine providence as God’s continuous, all-encompassing rule over all things for the care of his people, not just God’s control of all things but his directing and orchestrating all things to his appointed ends – hence, the title. This theme is not just acknowledged at the outset but carries the story throughout. Jerry speaks at times of “impressions” from God to do this or that, the “leading” of the Spirit in this sense, in a way that may make some readers a bit uncomfortable, but even if so, they will still find the book refreshing.
Throughout his book Jerry shares glimpses and vignettes of his life that both tell his story and give insight into the man. Born with several physical defects into a “poorest of the poor” cotton farming home in east Texas, with no means to obtain medical attention, and losing his mother at age 14, Jerry was not exactly the son of privilege. And he tells of the emotional pain it often brought. But his was a Christian family, and even if his conversion did not come until later his parents did give him an environment in which the gospel later could be heard.
You’ve read his The Pursuit of Holiness and you’ve probably read several other of his books – The Practice of Godliness, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, Respectable Sins, The Discipline of Grace, Transforming Grace, The Gospel for Real Life, True Community, Who Am I?, The Transforming Power of the Gospel, The Fruitful Life, The Joy of Fearing God, Growing Your Faith, Is God Really In Control, The Great Exchange, Crisis of Caring, and likely some others I’ve missed. Here we get to know Jerry himself.
Here are just a few miscellaneous facts about Jerry you may find interesting, each of which has an interesting story that Jerry provides in his book:
*Selected for the National Honor Society in high school
*Graduated in the top 10% of his class
*Unable to afford college he graduated from University of Oklahoma, courtesy of the US Navy
*Deaf in one ear from birth he passed every hearing exam for years
*On more than one occasion, very poor theological advice given to Jerry was used of God with positive, life-changing impact.
*Lost his father in 1959 at age 30
*First learned the doctrine of election from an older lady in his church in San Diego in 1960 (and wondered at first if it was heresy!)
*Married to Eleanor Miller, also of Navigators, in 1963, at age 34 following a long-distance (via USPS) romance
*Birth of first child, Kathy, in 1966; second child, Dan, in 1967
*Served in 1970 on the founding board of directors of what became known as the ECFA, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability
*Lost Eleanor to cancer in 1988, after long months of suffering
*In 1989 married Jane Mollot, then of Denver, CO, the lady who in the early 1970s was babysitter for Jerry’s and Eleanor’s children in Colorado Springs
*After long years of fruitful service for the Navigators and after his best-selling title helped put them on the map, Jerry was marginalized by the leadership and so eventually retired.
*Within months of the publication of his first book, best-seller The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry was already speaking in public of “the chapter I wish I had written.”
Jerry closes his autobiography with seven important “Spiritual Lessons” that stand out to him after his 60+ years as a Christian.
1. The Bible is meant to be applied to specific life situations.
2. All who trust in Christ as Savior are united to Him in a loving way just as the branches are united to the vine.
3. The pursuit of holiness and godly character is neither by self-effort nor simply letting Christ “live His life through you.”
4. The sudden understanding of the doctrine of election was a watershed event for me that significantly affected my entire Christian life.
5. The representative union of Christ and the believer means that all that Christ did in both His perfect obedience and His death for our sins is credited to us.
6. The gospel is not just for unbelievers in their coming to Christ.
7. We are dependent on the Holy Spirit to apply the life of Christ to our lives.
You will need to read the book to enjoy further context and explanations of these lessons and to see just how they rose to prominence in his life and thinking. If you are acquainted with Jerry or his work at all, you’ll love the story.
God equips each of us in different ways, of course, and among the gifts God gave Jerry is the ability to communicate biblical teaching plainly and effectively. Simplicity and clarity have always been among the leading traits of his preaching and his writing, and for it his impact on so many “in the pew,” as well as pastors, has been enormous. It is fitting that he has given us this glimpse of his life.
God Took Me By the Hand is a quick and enjoyable read. And it is not surprising that this from the man who has taught us so much about godly Christian living should leave the reader not just with an appreciation of this humble servant of Christ but also with a desire to follow his faithful instruction – and model – to live more faithfully for Christ ourselves … in a host of practical ways.
See our two-part interview with Jerry Bridges here and here.
Fred G. Zaspel