The Practice of Godliness was written as a sequel to perhaps the more widely known book, The Pursuit of Holiness in 1978, which has sold over a million copies to date. Practice of Godliness has sold over 600,000 according to my 2008 publication. It has been on my shelf for a while now, and I picked it as my first book for 2019 because I see much need in my life to grow in godliness, I long for a deeper alignment of my thoughts, actions, ambitions, and impact with the heart and character of God. I wish to experience more of the benefits of God that the Psalmist writes about, the greatest of which is God himself.
Chapter one begins with the reason we ought to pursue of Godliness, namely, that godliness holds promise for those who are established in it. In the words of that great Apostle Paul to his son in the faith, Timothy: Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come ~ 1 Timothy 4:8. Bridges then reminds readers that so many of Paul’s exhortations and teachings frame the issues of Christian maturity around terms of ungodliness and godliness and gives us several examples to prove the point. If the scriptures frame our growth in such terms, we ought to be mindful of them and thoughtfully consider what godliness actually means, which will be a necessary precursor to the great aim of this book: before we can practice godliness, we must know what it is.
The rest of the the chapter is given to explaining what godliness is, and a bit of what it is not. According to Bridges, godliness includes Christian character, but it is also more than that. He takes Enoch as his example, whom Moses twice describes as one who ‘walked with God’ and whom the author of Hebrews says was ‘one who pleased God’, and says it is the devotion to God that manifests as a walk with God and a pleasing of God that is at the heart of godliness.
Bridges is careful to highlight both attitude and action, together, as integral to godliness. Godliness is devotion in action, but it is not an activity. It is a personal attitude, but it is not just an emotional feeling. It is discipline, but it is not merely a time of private Bible reading and prayer (however important that discipline may be). While devotion consists of both, it is the attitudes he expands upon first, and rightly so: although actions may entrench and reinforce attitudes (practice makes perfect), attitude is ultimately the source of action.
Devotion to God (the heart of godliness) is comprised of three attitudes toward God, and are given here in Chapter one as bullet points, each receiving a full section in the next chapter: Fear of God, Love of God, Desire for God. God is the focus of each of these attitudes, and so simply put, devotion is a life focused on God, and it is this devotion to God that that results in a life that is pleasing to Him. Godliness therefore, for Bridges, is devotion to God that results in a life that is pleasing to Him.
I was encouraged out the gate when reading this book that I had picked up a volume worth reading, both for its balanced, holistic approach to godliness and for it’s faithfulness to the truth of Scripture. As I reflect on my own devotion to God, there are many things to be encouraged about, and in other areas there is discouragement mixed with hope for transformation. I know there is a deeper walk with the Lord to be had than what I am experiencing currently, and yet how to get there can be perplexing when I forget that the walk is not TO him but WITH him. I am realizing it can be difficult to trust that at times when the responsibilities and pressures of life seem to pile up.
When it comes the attitudes listed, I am thankful to say that many years ago the Spirit taught me the fear of the Lord in a profound way with abiding results. I don’t always fear God as I ought to, but at the end of the day there is no question in my mind who it is that I will have to give an account to, and that has proven to be a powerful cure for much ungodliness in my life.
I believe that attitudes of desire for God and love of God are areas I would benefit from growth the most. Since I have read further than this already, I am aware that the Love of God that he is referring to here is an attitude of recognizing the Love that God has for us, and attitude of receiving and resting and abiding in the Love of God for us as his children, rather than our love for him. That is an area that I am so knowledgeable in and yet desire a more pervasive experience of, and I believe that is the key to a growing desire for God above the multitude of other desires that can and do take hold of my heart.