Walking with William Bridge

On my walk to last week’s prayer meeting, I invited the great Rev William Bridge. To anyone who did not read last week’s post about the prayer meeting, I’m walking 3-4 hours in the dark but downloading some puritan’s sermons to accompany my trek. With torch in my hand and God’s word in my ears, I strolled along as the most contented man in England. I went the long way, up Wytha Lane and past Middop Hall to avoid the boggy fields. So who was my erudite companion?


Picture credit: www.apuritansmind.com

William Bridge has no connection to our county of Lancashire, unlike Isaac Ambrose, but he was a fellow Congregationalist. Like us, he believed in the independence of the local church and that it should be a community of gathered saints rather than all and sundry who live within the parish boundary. I was pleased to visit a number of his churches in August as I holidayed in Norfolk. He had been the parson of St George’s, Tombland, in Norwich (below).

I chatted with the two clergy greeting visitors, pointing out the irony of their ridiculously Anglo-Catholic church once employing a leading puritan. Neither had heard of him; had he returned from the grave, he’d have set about their chancel with a hammer and a box of matches.

Secondly, I visited the Old Meeting House, the nation’s oldest congregational Church which Bridge founded. Dr Clements, the current pastor, assured me he was never actually the pastor, although his name is strongly linked to the church’s beginning and it is certain he preached there.


Thirdly, I called at Great Yarmouth Minster, where, during the Commonwealth, he used the chancel (above) for his congregational meeting while the Presbyterians used the nave. In 1661, he was ejected and worshipped in separate premises, illegally. That Great Yarmouth congregational church eventually drifted into cheerless Unitarianism (below), in which it remains to this day, though it proudly associates with its august, and theologically orthodox, founder.

Bridge had gone into Dutch exile in 1636 when Matthew Wren, his local bishop, had him excommunicated. King Charles, on hearing the good news, remarked that the country was ‘well be-rid of him’. In a few years’ time, many people would say the same of the King. Bridge returned shortly after, being one of the five independents to help write the Westminster Confession. From 1661, he still preached and was summoned at least once before the justices for breaching the Five Mile Act. He was called home in 1671.

I enjoyed his company last week. He gave several interesting points which, for want of pen and paper, and stable surface upon which to write, I could not record. Still, a couple remain in my memory. He wonders why the Lord allows His saints to suffer here in the world. He explains that a number of ‘graces’, what we might call virtues or godly characteristics, will not be available in the next life. Patience, for example, will be absent in heaven, for there we shall have all we want and need; we shall be denied no good thing, nor wait for anything. Here, however, we are denied much, and the blessings we seek must be hoped for and sought. Our suffering below enables us to exhibit those virtues which are ineligible for heaven, but still pleasing to God.

He explains why God receives more pleasure from a sinner trusting Christ than a sinner sent to hell. Whereas hell might satisfy divine justice, trusting Christ better satisfies justice, as well as His love. Would not a creditor prefer a debt be settled in full than have endless small payments offered? Yes, of course. By Christ, our debts are paid instantly and in full. This is a far more desirable conclusion than sending sinners to pay for their crimes in hell, like bankrupted debtors paying sixpence a week.

I’ll close with a few choice quotes, the first two taken from A Lifting Up for the Downcast:

“God hath provided promises of comfort, succour and relief, suitable to all conditions: I dare boldly challenge all men, to shew me any one condition, which God hath not provided a promise of comfort, mercy and succour suitable unto it.”

“Thus doth God, with whom are reserves of mercies, reserve his sweetest consolations, for the time of our sourest afflictions, and doth temper the one with the other in most fit proportion.”

"Seek not great things for yourselves in this world, for if your garments be too long, they will make you stumble; and one staff helps a man in his journey, when many in his hands at once hinders him."

“A praying man can never be very miserable, whatever his condition be, for he has the ear of God; the Spirit within to indite, a Friend in heaven to present, and God Himself to receive his desires as a Father. It is a mercy to pray, even though I never receive the mercy prayed for.”