[Reformation Heritage Books has graciously provided this biographical and reprint essay on the life and works of William Bridge. You can find this information and others in the book, Meet the Puritans.]
William Bridge [1600-1670]
William Bridge was a native of Cambridgeshire. He entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge in 1619, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1623 and a master’s degree in 1626, then served for several years as a fellow at the college. While a student at Cambridge, he was greatly influenced by John Rogers’s lectures at Dedham, Essex.
Bridge was ordained a priest in the Church of England in 1627. Two years later, he was appointed a lecturer at Saffron Walden, Essex, where he began to show some nonconformist influence, refusing to wear the surplice and hood on the basis that he had not been licensed by a bishop. In 1631, he was licensed and did conform. About that time, he was appointed lecturer at Colchester, Essex, and was also asked to give the Friday lectures at St. George’s Tombland, Norwich. In 1632, he became rector of St. Peter Hungate in Norwich. In 1634, he was brought before the consistory court and temporarily suspended for espousing limited atonement and condemning Arminians. Two years later, the new bishop of Norwich, Matthew Wren, who led a vicious campaign against nonconformity, deprived Bridge. Bridge’s supporters petitioned the king on his behalf, claiming that Wren was undermining the economy. Bridge did not respond to charges made against him, but remained in Norwich until he was excommunicated and ordered away from English soil.
Archbishop Laud wrote to the king, “Mr. Bridge of Norwich rather than he will conform, hath left his Lecture and two Cures, and is gone into Holland.” Charles I responded in the margin, “Let him go: we are well rid of him.”
Bridge settled in Rotterdam by May of 1636, where he succeeded Hugh Peters and began co-pastoring a congregation with John Ward. He renounced his Church of England ordination and was ordained as an Independent by John Ward, whom he in turn ordained. Eventually Ward was deposed in 1639 for opposing Bridge and recycling too many old sermons. Jeremiah Burroughs replaced Ward as Bridge’s co-pastor.
Bridge returned to England in 1641, where he became better known for his Puritan views. In 1642, he was appointed as a member of the Westminster Assembly of Divines and proved himself a noted Independent. With Burroughs, Thomas Goodwin, Philip Nye, and Sidrach Simpson, he wrote An Apologetical Narrative to promote Congregational polity and present objections to Presbyterianism.
In 1642, Bridge accepted a position as town preacher at Yarmouth, where he organized an Independent church, and formally became its pastor in the fall of 1643. He labored there until 1662, when he was ejected from the pulpit by the Act of Uniformity.
Bridge was an excellent preacher, able scholar, and prolific writer with a well-furnished library. He arose at 4 a.m. each day to search the Scriptures, confess his sins, and commune with God. He often studied for seventeen hours a day, yet did not become an ivory tower theologian. His parishioners viewed him as a charitable and candid pastor whose ministry helped many people.
Bridge was often called to preach before the Long Parliament and was consulted by Parliament on church-related issues. He was also a prominent member of the Savoy Conference and a well-known writer.
Bridge spent his last years at Yarmouth and Clapham, Surrey, where he preached for an Independent church, which he probably founded. Reportedly, “the people flooded in such numbers to hear him that by 7 a.m. there is no room to be got” (Barker, Puritan Profiles, p. 87). He died in Clapham on March 12, 1671.
The Works of William Bridge [SDG; 5 volumes; 1990].
First published in three volumes in 1649, in two volumes in 1657, and later expanded to include all the writings of Bridge in five volumes in 1845, The Works of William Bridge (reprinted from the 1845 edition) is full of practical Puritan teaching. Topics such as the gospel mystery, the great things of faith, Christ and the covenant, and evangelical repentance are covered with keen insight and pastoral warmth.
Chapters in volume 1 include: “The Great Gospel Mystery of the Saints’ Comfort and Holiness,” “Satan’s Power to Tempt and Christ’s Love to and Care of His People Under Temptation,” “Grace for Grace, or the Overflowings of Christ’s Fullness Received by All Saints,” “The Spiritual Life, and Inbeing of Christ in All Believers,” “Scripture Light the Most Sure Light” (sermons on 2 Peter 1:19 which elicited a response from the Quaker, George Whitehead), and “The Righteous Man’s Habitation in the Time of Plague and Pestilence” (an exposition of Psalm 91 to encourage believers while the plague ravaged London).
Volume 2 includes: “A Lifting up for the Downcast,” “Five Sermons on Faith,” and “The Freeness of the Grace and Love of God to Believers Discovered.”
Volume 3 contains “Christ and the Covenant” (a series of ten sermons taken down by note-takers), “Christ in Travail,” and “Seasonable Truths in Evil Times” (nine sermons preached in the London area, including one that asserts the repression of nonconformists is part of God’s design to test them).
Volume 4 contains “Seventeen Sermons on Various Subjects and Occasions” and “Evangelical Repentance.”
Volume 5 contains “The Sinfulness of Sin and the Fullness of Christ,” “Eight Sermons,” “A Word to the Aged,” “The Wounded Conscience Cured” (asserts the right of subjects to defend themselves and of parliament to declare what the law is), “The Truth of the Times Vindicated” (insists that truth must be defended even as it acknowledges that civil war is the worst form of conflict), “The Loyal Convert” (condemns “service-book men” who do not uphold the Solemn League and Covenant), and “The Doctrine of Justification by Faith Opened.”
A Lifting Up for the Downcast [BTT; 288 pages; 1988]
This book, based on Psalm 42:11, is a collection of thirteen sermons on spiritual depression. It has helped hundreds of God’s people battle discouragement. Bridge addresses the following causes of depression: great sins, weak grace, miscarriage of duties, lack of assurance, temptation, desertion, affliction, and inability to serve. This book is packed with comforting advice showing why believers ought not be discouraged no matter what their condition.
The final sermon, “The Cure of Discouragements by Faith in Jesus Christ,” is worth the price of the book. “Be sure that you do not go to God without Christ, but with Christ in your arms,” Bridge says (p. 276).
A Word to the Aged [SDG; 20 pages; 2003]
In this booklet, William Bridge addresses particular sins to which the elderly are most inclined, such as a complaining spirit, bitterness, and impenitence. Pointing to the Lord Jesus Christ as the remedy for the sins and infirmities of old age, he gives counsel on improving the remaining years of the elderly so that their lives might more glorify the Lord and be pleasing to Him.