This little book, The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges did more for my Christian growth and maturity than any other.
I bought this book in the late seventies while I was still in college. This was the book that helped me come to terms with grace and our personal responsibility. Bridges gets the title of his book from Hebrews 12:14:
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.ESV
The author paraphrases, changing strive to pursuit.
The author opens the book with this illustration:
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 of 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 partnership with God, and he will reap it benefits only when he has fulfilled his own responsibilities.
Farming is a joint venture between God and the farmer. The farmer cannot do what God must do, and God will not do what the farmer should do.
We can say just as accurately that the pursuit of holiness is a joint venture between God and the Christian. No one can attain any degree of holiness without God working in his life, but just as surely no one will attain it without effort on his own part. God has made it possible for us to walk in holiness. But he has given to us the responsibility of doing the walking; He does not do that for us.
I cannot read those paragraphs without thinking of a movie I saw recently. Shenandoah is a movie about a farmer, Charlie Anderson, and his family in Virginia in the waning days of the Civil War. As they gather around the dinner table, the Anderson, played by Jimmy Stewart, prays, “Lord, we cleared this land, pulled every stump, plowed it, planted it and harvested it. If it weren’t for our effort this food would not be here; but, we thank you anyway.” So, Bridges’ analogy might be lost on farmer Anderson. And, I fear it might be lost on many of us too. How often do we take matters into our own hands, pulling stumps, clearing land, etc. in our lives, pushing God and His provision out?
In my own journey, as I embark on going to seminary, there have been numerous times that I have wanted to take over…there are too many stumps, I need to pull some myself, is my thinking. Then I remember Bridges’ analogy and a sermon I listened to recently. The speaker, Charlie Dates, in the Chapel of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, remarked, speaking of creation that God had nothing to work with when it came to creation, yet He created the universe. God does not need our efforts. He can handle all the stumps, no matter how many.
But, that does not mean that we sit back and take no responsibility over our growth in Christ. We have a responsibility to work out our salvation. This is not salvation by works, however, for Christians are sanctified once–for–all by the death of Christ—holy living is a part of the perseverance encouraged throughout Scripture. Bridges does a good job expounding on the farming analogy throughout the book. Highly recommend.