By Joe Neil Clayton
The people of God are troubled to learn of the death of a beloved servant of Christ, brother H.L. Bruce, by his own hand. This perplexing news is considered incredible by those who have walked by his side, and have a deep appreciation for his steady affirmation of the Word of Truth. A mind so clear in the understanding and the presentation of the gospel, we think, cannot be the same mind that would contemplate an action so drastic, so uncharacteristic. Yet, as we consider the outcome, we are forced, reluctantly, to admit that it is altogether possible.
Brother Bruce was widely known, having served in churches across the Southwest and West. Born in Arkansas at Sulphur Rock in 1934, and growing to maturity in that region, he ultimately came to the decision to become a preacher of the Word. He has served churches in Texas at Mt. Pleasant, Pittsburg, Klute, Baytown, and most recently in Amarillo with two congregations, Pleasant Valley and Dumas Drive. At other times he worked in Colorado Springs, Colorado and Ontario, California. He has also worked in many Gospel Meetings in other places.
Brother Bruce had a reputation of integrity, boldness, and moral worth unexcelled, in the view of many who knew him. He effectively presented truth when in the pulpit, depending upon the content of his lessons to have the proper impact on his hearers, rather than personal style and eloquence. He had a ready command of the teaching of God, and could defend the truth ably.
Separate from his ability as a preacher, he was a respected father and husband, as well as showing Christian friendship with many across the country. He was generous with his time to aid others in their understanding of God’s Word. Yet, during the latter part of his life, he carried burdens that were not readily discernible to his friends and family. The problems that faced him have been experienced by many preachers of the gospel, but his ability to cope with them was perhaps less sufficient than found among his contemporaries.
When a man reaches the decision that, as a Christian, the most dedicated and rewarding service that he could render to the Lord Jesus is to become a preacher of the “gospel of grace,” he enters into that service with enthusiasm. He considers, as well, that this service holds the promise of saving many souls, a purpose and a goal certainly pleasing to the Lord. He therefore orders his life to fulfil this service, in order to reap these satisfying rewards for both himself and his Master.
Having made this decision, however, he may be unaware of the toil and trials inherent in this vocation (though some vicarious notion of this can be found in reading of the experiences of the evangelists of New Testament times). He may also be unaware of the personal temperament needed to fulfil his goals. When trials come, he may experience disillusionment because his resources to meet them are in short supply. If he retreats from his commitment, he usually is like John Mark, weakened only for a while. When the trial is past, he girds himself with the fortitude to try once again. He may have been strengthened by the experience of overcoming his doubts, but he may rather carry a deep scar of self-deprecation because of his temporary defection. So, he struggles on, embarrassed by his momentary retreat, fighting a battle within himself to recover his confidence, goaded by the knowledge that the expectations of his Master are demanding.
But experiences of this sort have the tendency to repeat themselves. Brethren whose minds center on worldly values, and worldly tactics to obtain them, cause endless heartache to men whose only goals are to hold up the truth, and live faithfully to it. The apathy of worthy brethren, also, allows those with less pure motives to have their way. The spirit of many a dedicated man has been sorely tested in the forefront of some such spiritual battle, when, like Uriah, he felt isolated and abandoned. He stands at a fork in the road at such times, one way seemingly hopeless, leading to bitterness and uncontrollable depression; the other more hopeful way leading to freedom from anxiety, where every problem is committed to God “by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving,” resting on the promise that “the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.” He mistakes the way, however, and enters on that road which tends to unsettle the mind, so that it does not meet problems soundly. This road may eventually appear to have no “point of return” to the disillusioned mind. In such a state, he may finally do harm to himself. We abhor the conclusion that a mind so influenced can be held responsible for its thoughts and acts, and this judgment brings us a measure of the comfort earnestly desired. Even so, regret and anguish come to those who see the resulting tragedy, and wonder why they did not prevent it.
This scenario may not fit the case of our beloved brother fully, but many of us were aware of his anxiety, and tried to lift it from him. He reached out to us, but we did not perceive the depth of his depression. We advised the course to take, based on what we knew, thinking that he would have the mentality of a survivor. Our advice was based on the yearning to see him find relief, and a return to that placid state which is interpreted by the Apostle Peter as “joy unspeakable, and full of glory.” But, tragically, we were too late in realizing the urgency that the situation demanded. Our tears are evidence of the anguish we feel for ourselves, for his bereaving family, for the church he served, and for all of his Christian friends who “weep with them that weep.”
But, the time has passed for our feeble help to bring back brother Bruce from the brink of despair. We mourn for him, as David of old mourned for the regal house of Saul, who also fell on his own sword in desperation: “Thy glory, O Israel, is slain upon the high places! How are the mighty fallen! Tell it not in Gath, Publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice. . . How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished! “
The family, the local church, the brotherhood, are all left behind to mourn, so, “leaving the things that are behind,” let us “wipe the tears from every eye,” renewing our commitment to be “like-minded, compassionate, loving as brethren, tender-hearted, humble-minded: not rendering evil for evil, or reviling for reviling; but contrariwise blessing; for hereunto were ye called, that ye should inherit a blessing.”
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 1, pp. 20-21
January 7, 1988