Book ReviewsA Lifting Up for the Downcast by William Bridge; Banner of Truth, 1979, $6.45.
This book is comprised of a series of thirteen sermons by the great seventeenth-century preacher, William Bridge. He uses Psalm 42:11 as a springboard from which he plunges into the subject of discouragement in the Christian life. In the chosen text David asked, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me?" While agreeing that true peace may be interrupted for a season, Bridge nonetheless answers these questions with the statement that is the theme of the book--"A godly, gracious man has no reason for his discouragements, whatever his condition be."
Bridge addresses nine specific instances which the Christian might perceive to be legitimate grounds for discouragement. These include such circumstances as falling into sin, lack of assurance of salvation, severe temptation, loss of the awareness of God's presence, and great suffering and affliction. In each case Bridge allows his imaginary counselee (a discouraged believer) to present his grounds for discouragement. At times the discouragement seems so profound that the reader wonders whether Bridge can support his contention that "a believer has no reason for his discouragements whatever his condition may be." But in each case Bridge draws deeply from the wells of Holy Scripture, and applies a soothing balm to the ailing believer. He embellishes his teaching with beautiful analogies from nature and human relationships to illustrate a point, but he relies on the Bible alone to prove a point.
In the final chapter Bridge prescribes the cure for the downcast as being faith in Jesus Christ. Such faith involves hoping in God, or expecting help from Him; trusting God, or relying on Him for help; waiting on God, or continuing to abide in this expectation of help. Faith is the reliance of the soul upon God in Christ for some benefit that lies yet out of sight. It is competent to bring peace to the discouraged soul because it gives a man the true perspective from which to view all things. Discouragement arises when one does perceive circumstances as they really are, that is, the way that God sees them. Faith remedies this myopia, by enabling the believer to rest in the sure hope of Rom. 8:28. With that, man can face trying times without being downcast.
While constantly giving comfort to those who are weak in faith, Bridge never encourages weakness of faith. While never underestimating the pain of discouragement, he never excuses such discouragement. While encouraging the weak, he never pampers the presumptuous. While writing on a subject that focuses on man, Bridge never loses sight of the fact that even here the glory of God is central.
This book contains profound insights into the hearts of believers and should be read by all who are called to be physicians of men's souls. To some degree this includes every Christian. In reading it one will find that it is truly "a lifting up for the downcast."
This book is well titled. It addresses the question, "Can God be trusted?" Bridges, who is a vice-president in the Navigators organization, answers that question with such biblical and practical wisdom that one comes away with a profound sense of renewed confidence in God.
People in our churches are experiencing so much pain. And C. S. Lewis is right, "Pain is the megaphone of God." Unfortunately, the most common advice that many suffering Christians receive today boils down to "grin and bear it." Bridges submits three truths about God that address the frustration and futility that people experience in the midst of adversity. These three foundational truths relate to God's love, wisdom and sovereignty.
Bridges' thesis is that since God is perfect in the harmonious expression of these three attributes, He can be trusted even when we do not understand His reasons.
We are reminded that it is easier to obey God's revealed will (which is clearly designed for our benefit) than to trust God concerning His sovereign will (which at times does not immediately appear beneficial, and may even seem pointless). But, Bridges points out that to fail to trust God is as sinful as failing to obey Him.
It would take several pages to recount the testimonies of the many people under my ministry who have been greatly helped by this book in the midst of adversity. I have used it in our home study groups with much evident benefit and blessing. The sovereignty of God is seen most clearly and grasped most meaningfully when presented in the context of everyday life where people can feel the truth in their hearts as well as understand it with their minds. With the skill of a master craftsman Bridges has accomplished such a presentation in this book.
The words of John Newton express my sentiments as I have understood the message of the book: "If it were possible for me to alter any part of His plan, I could only spoil it." That's trusting God even when life hurts.
[Note: These books may be obtained from Cumberland Valley Bible Books, P.O. Box 613, Carlisle, PA 17013]