The Three Bridges

I beheld, in my reverie, an island on which a dense crowd of people was assembled. The island lay low, and was secured from inundation by a dyke, but, although this dyke was of great magnitude, it so happened that the waters of the surrounding ocean were on a constant increase, and would, in course of time, sooner or later, break all bounds, and overflow the island. This fact was generally known by the inhabitants, and at certain seasons had the effect of producing fear and trouble amongst them. They felt that they must be overtaken and perish, unless, indeed, escape could be effected.

I noticed, moreover, that not far distant from the island, beyond a channel deep and rapid, there was a land of much beauty, and, from the elevation of its surface above the water, it was perfectly secure from inundation. To reach this land was an object of desire to the inhabitants of the island.

Now, a bridge had been thrown across the channel at a fearful cost by one, who had an interest both in the island and its people. It was erected at his own expense and was free of all toll or charge. Passengers might cross freely.

It so happened, however, that the kind builder of this bridge was little cared for by the islanders, and the bridge, therefore, which lay open to them, was much neglected. By this time it was very old, although still strong and firm—but in construction it was narrow, and, to the casual observer, of a somewhat unattractive appearance. Thus, this bridge was unpopular. The travellers were few, and these few had to be urgently persuaded to cross by it at all. Nothing but the sense of their danger, whilst on the island, would have induced them to set forth. On the bridge was a rise, over which they had to walk, and by this they were soon lost to the sight of the people on the island. I detected on the faces of the travellers marks of joy and gladness, and the further they went their step was the firmer, and, though none dared to loiter, yet I found that on overtaking one another they would speak together, and would specially notice the kindness of him who had constructed so good a bridge. I saw that sometimes they became footsore and sometimes weary; frequently difficult and rugged places had to be crossed, and now and then I noticed that from inattention there was a fall, and he that fell received a stain that adhered to him ever after. Yet the bridge was perfect and each traveller reached the shore of the land of beauty. Now, I wondered much because so few sought to escape by the bridge; but presently I discovered a reason.

Higher up the channel I observed a number of people in commotion. At that point two bridges had been built, one older than the other, and apparently more substantial. They had been erected after considerable premeditation, and with skill and care, so that the first bridge might not be necessitated, nor its rough and narrow pathway made a matter of compulsion.

On each of these bridges a heavy toll was charged. I looked closely. I saw that a number of agents were employed in directing passengers to each. To the one were carried in arms or on beds many who were either too young to walk, or else feeble and near to death, and, having been safely placed on the bridge, they were entrusted to the care of nurses, whose business it was to soothe, to lull, and to administer various drugs, which produced sleep and insensibility. Moreover, the nurses paid great attention to their patients. No pains were spared. All that could charm the senses was lavishly granted. Attire the most costly, and music and clouds of incense, added their enchanting power to the scene; but withal I noticed that at a certain point of the bridge was a hole over a part of the channel that was exceedingly deep, and where no foundation could be obtained for a pillar. Through this hole I saw with horror passengers, unwary and blinded by the clouds of incense and stupefied by the narcotics, fell, and were carried down by the stream.

With feelings of terror I turned to observe the other bridge. There I saw able-bodied people busily employed in all kinds of work. None were idle. It was a condition on this bridge that the passengers should thus exert themselves. Without doing so none could cross. Many went on hands and knees. Many cut themselves with stones and knives. Many walked by themselves, draped in garb of deepest black, anxious only for retirement from their companions. But, owing to the hardness of the terms, none were either happy or certain of reaching the end. As I looked along the bridge, and it was very long, I saw that it failed to touch the shore, and it was impossible for the passengers to cross the space. Again I shrank with horror, and turned from the awful sight.

I then looked toward the island, and, in spite of the numbers that had crowded on the different bridges, I found that the majority remained where they were, satisfied to risk the inundation. Accordingly, they strove to banish from their minds the fact of their danger; some were drinking, some eating, some planting, some building, but at the best giving signs of disregard to the near approach of their destruction.

The explanation of my reverie is easy. The island is the world, secured from judgment by the dyke of time. Nevertheless time will cease and judgment come, and “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Pet. 3:10). Such is the fearful but certain end of this world. The feeling of insecurity, produced by the declaration of the judgment of God, creates in the mind a desire for safety. To escape the judgment of God is the object before the mind of the sinner. But what is to be done? Sin has come in and has separated the soul from God—the moral distance is infinite. God hates sin, and must punish it. How then can the Sinner come near Him? Only thus: “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God had an interest in the world and in the people of it. He loved them, though He hated their sin. He planned their salvation, whilst He punished their sin. He brought in security for them on the ground of the judgment of their sin. He formed the bridge of atonement in the death of His Son on the cross, whereby sin is “put away,” and the soul of him that believes put in possession of “everlasting life.” This wondrous bridge was erected by God Himself, and is open for the guilty sinner without money, or price. Strange to say, yet true, this bridge is unpopular. It is narrow, though free, and man prefers a road that gives more latitude to his own will.

Hence he has constructed other bridges. There is the bridge of Baptismal Regeneration. It is of comparatively recent date, and promises well. On this bridge people enter young, and are cared for by a large and diligent staff of ecclesiastical nurses, who deal profusely in ritualistic arts and practices. They absorb in themselves the conscience of their patients, and silence their frequent fears and misgivings by any kind of spiritual opiate. At one point, however, the bridge breaks down. It fails to span a deep chasm in the channel called salvation. The passengers can never say that they are saved, forgiven, justified or made children of God. They become outwardly religious, but remain unpardoned. That question is viewed as a matter wholly of the future, and hence they move on unwarily and die in their sins. They cannot enter the land beyond the river.

Another bridge has been reared for those who are more able for work than the young. This is the bridge of works. Constructed originally in the days of Moses (in order to prove that the strongest man was only “without strength”), it has been exceedingly popular ever since. It seems to flatter the pride of man by saying, “if you can do these things you shall live.” Hence many make the effort. Now, one man entered on this bridge and succeeded in reaching the further extremity, when to his horror he found the incompleteness above referred to. He turned at once, and, retracing his footsteps, he warned his fellow-travellers by the following words, “By the deeds of the law shall no flesh living be justified;” and again, “As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse.” Not as many as refuse to enter the bridge, or, having entered it, break down on it, but as many as are on it, and are doing their utmost to persevere to the very end. This man, having forsaken the bridge of works, found safety in that of faith, accepting salvation on terms that were free—“without money, and without price.”

The majority, however, are careless. They believe in coming judgment, but they have “no fear of God before their eyes.” They eat, they drink, they buy, they sell, they build, they plant, they live, in short, for self and time, and put the claims of eternity aside. Some are infidel, some men of business, some men of pleasure; all have their own thoughts and engagements, but all turn a deaf ear to the voice that calls to them.

Dear reader, if you should be one of them, let me beseech you to “flee from the wrath to come;” or, on the other hand, if you should be on the bridge of works or on that of Baptismal Regeneration, let me in like manner warn you of the impossibility of entering the kingdom of God on that plan which was never made nor intended by Him.

The rather let me invite you to Him who says, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

Oh, the unspeakable sweetness of this rest! Rest from judgment. and the fear of it; rest from legal effort and the need of it; rest in the joy of a known salvation, and rest in the conscious love of Him who, at the cost of His own life, made heaven the certain abode of all who trust in Him.