It took me twenty five years to read Jerry Bridge’s book The Pursuit of Holiness. A short while ago I received the “25th Anniversary Edition” and devoted much of this weekend to reading and absorbing the book. This book has become something of a modern day classic. Having read it, I know why! It is a deeply challenging book and one I’m sure I will read again before another twenty five years have elapsed.
The premise of Bridge’s book is that holiness, like almost everything else in life, is something that we must strive for. Holiness is a gift of God and is something that can never be accomplished apart from the work of the Spirit. Yet it is our responsibility to strive for it and to work towards this goal. Bridges illustrates this by writing of a farmer.
A farmer plows his field, sows the seed, and fertilizes and cultivates – all the while knowing that in the final analysis he is utterly dependent on forces outside himself. He knows he cannot cause the seed to germinate, nor can he produce the rain and sunshine for growing and harvesting the crop. For a successful harvest, he is dependent on these things from God.
Yet the farmer knows that unless he diligently pursues his responsibilities to plow, plant, fertilize, and cultivate, he cannot expect a harvest at the end of the season. In a sense he is in a partnership with God, and he will reap its benefits only when he has fulfilled his responsibilities.
Just as farming is a joint venture between man and God, in which man cannot do what God must do and God will not do what the farmer should do, so too is the pursuit of holiness. God will not bestow a life of holiness upon us the day we are saved. He requires that we pursue holiness with the confidence that He will work with us and empower us to achieve the desire of our hearts. He gives us the power to do what he requires and expects of us.
The rest of the book is, then, an exhortation to holiness and practical advice on how to attain the holiness God requires of us. On one hand we face an impossible task, for we shall never be perfectly holy in his life. Yet on the other hand we face a task that brings great benefit, for God rewards those who diligently seek after Him. Holiness brings great joy.
There were a couple of areas in which this book challenged me in a way that was unexpected. First, I came to see that much of my pursuit of holiness has been on a macro level. I have looked at my life and seen progress on a grand scale. I have seen areas where I have made much progress and have seen certain sinful habits and desires fall away. For this I am very thankful and acknowledge the Spirit’s work. But the book helped me understand the importance of examining my life on the micro level. While I have certainly made great strides in some big areas, I continue to be amazed at my propensity for sin in small areas. There were several times that I was led to stare my sin directly in the face and react with amazement at just how polluted my heart has become. Perhaps one of my greatest sins, and the greatest sins of all humans, is to trivialize sin. But, and this has been on my heart many times in the past months, I have come to see that to trivialize sin is to trivialize the love of God. For several months I have had a slip of paper on my desk on which I wrote, “When we make light of sin, we make light of the love that saved us. The greater our appreciation of our sin, the greater our appreciation of God’s love.” The Pursuit of Holiness helped me understand just how true this is. When I examine the Scripture and understand what God demands of me, I also understand how far I fall short and how great a Savior was required to save a sinner like me.
The second area this book challenged me was in understanding the relationship of desire and reason. I know from my experience in life that, while God works primarily through reason, Satan focuses his attacks primarily through my desires. I can think of hundreds of times where my desires have been opposed to what I knew was right. There have been countless times when I have fallen into sin because I allowed my desires to have their way over reason. Truly Satan has a powerful weapon at his disposal! Yet how often has my reason had to overcome my desires? How often do I have to interrupt a truly sweet time of fellowship with the Lord because I know I have work that must be done. Certainly not nearly as often as the times I have decided to forsake my time with the Lord because I have desired to do something (anything!) else. While I have always known this to be true, this book has helped me understand the necessity of realigning and training my desires so that I desire what is good. When my heart truly desires obedience I will remove a sword from Satan’s hand.
And so I commend this book to you. You will not have to look far to find testimonies of the power of The Pursuit of Holiness. It has endorsed by, among others, John MacArthur, John Piper, J.I. Packer and R.C. Sproul. And perhaps more importantly, it has been endorsed by hundreds of thousands of brothers and sisters in Christ who have been challenged by it to live lives of holiness. This book is a classic and, to echo John MacArthur, is well deserving of the honor.