Lessons from the Life and Ministry of Martyn Lloyd-Jones

19 Mar

Session 9 – Public Lecture

Iain Murray

At 16, he was admitted to St. Barthelomew’s Hospital to train. By the time he was 26, he was rumoured to be about to be offered the assistant professorship there. But he left there to go to Sandfields in South Wales to a small mission hall, the same month he was married to Bethan. He served there for 10 years. Campbell Morgan asked him to come and assist him at Westminster Chapel, where he remained for 33 years. It is right in the middle of London, between the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace. He had surgery for cancer, which ended his ministry at Westminster Chapel, but he kept preaching and turned many of his recordings into books. He died in March 1981, not having been invalid for a day.

When he could preach no longer after preaching for 50 years, a friend asked him whether that was a disappointment to him. He said, “I did not live for preaching.” Elsewhere he said, “A life lived in communion with God is the only life worth living.” Our Lord said, instead of working for God, “Rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.”

1         His Theology

To understand someone, you need to understand God. This is theology, speaking about God. Speaking of preaching, he said, “Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire.” The theology is the important part.

Engaging with Lloyd-Jones has been recently published. To my mind, it has one outstanding weakness, it says very little about his theology. It describes his “reading of history with a firm Calvinistic bias.” Preaching has to start with theology and the life has to start with theology. Asking after a successful person is the wrong place to start. What is important is the message. Paul wrote, “I believed and therefore I spoke.” (2 Corinthians 4:13 ) What the man believes is far more important than the man himself.

As a medical student, Lloyd-Jones was taught to look at the whole person and identify the big thing. What he believed is foundational: The Bible is a message from God. God is working all things for His own glory. The work of salvation is at the centre of his purposes. “The sovereignty of God and God’s glory is where we must start… Everyone would be lost if God had not elected some… The church is a collection of the elect.” (Titus 1).

The key to Lloyd-Jones is what he believed. He may not have used the word ‘Calvinism’ much in his preaching or books, and he didn’t like parading the label. But with regard to the fundamental truths that were also taught by John Calvin, he lived them and believed them. Understanding the message comes before understanding the messenger. In the book of Acts, Luke focuses on the message, the word of God.

2         Where Did His Theology Come From?

Sadly, not from the denomination where he grew up. He became a communicant member without anyone asking him what he believed. In fact, he believed the opposite of what his denomination was supposed to taught.

This changed in his twenties. He was at the height of human success. The Hospital was a temple of Rationalism full of scientists proclaiming evolution. He found a problem they couldn’t explain. He found it in his colleagues, and then in himself: it was guilt. In His mercy, when he was 24 or 25, God saved him. He wrestled for months about whether he should join the Gospel and lost a lot of weight. Concluding that he was, he left the Hospital and moved to industrial Wales. There God used him. He said, “I found myself living a kind of life I had never imagined for a moment. There is only one explanation, the guiding hand of God… It is God who plans everything that happens everywhere.”

In Glasgow to speak, he was introduced by a professor who praised him for giving up his career in medicine. When he arose, he said, “I gave up nothing; I received everything. I count it the greatest honour God can give to any man to call him to be a herald of the Gospel.”

He discovered the works of Jonathan Edwards, and then B.B. Warfield (while in Canada). As his theology developed, it led him into declension. The newspapers spoke of him as ‘The Last of the Puritans.’ When he came to London, the ethos was different to what he believed in. Campbell Morgan wasn’t interested in theology and was an Arminian. Evangelicalism was perversely Arminian. Dr Lloyd-Jones came to a place where “the Reformed faith… was almost extinct.”

He was consoled by the thought that he wouldn’t be in London for too long. He went for 6 months and God put him there for 33 years in order to introduce a major change in English Evangelicalism. It was a change which was not welcomed by any means. There was not a church officer who understood what Lloyd-Jones was about.

Lloyd-Jones didn’t highlight doctrinal differences. He said, “We must take people as they are and not as we wish them to be.” He knew that people couldn’t be argued into change. The difference could not be ignored when war came. As others tried to comfort people, he preached his sermons published as “Why Does God Allow War?” saying, “What if we don’t deserve peace?” Dr Lloyd-Jones then faced the question of facing controversy. He believed that everyone united to Christ is one. A man may have orthodox theology and not be a Christian at all, but a person may have weak faith and be a Christian. How could he work within English Evangelicalism without provoking controversy?

It turned out not to be possible because:

  1. He believe that the prevailing idea on Gospel preaching was wrong on certain vital points. It has lost sight of the fact that the message is the Gospel of God. It doesn’t start with Jesus. It includes the Fall and the Law. “It is not good going to Jesus and saying, ‘Come to Jesus’… They have never seen their need of Him.” True Evangelical preaching begins with conviction of sin. The idea had become acceptable that these days, people don’t get convicted of sin. They would preach for man’s happiness and satisfaction rather than man’s Saviour. But Lloyd-Jones believed that the real purpose of preaching to the unconverted is to bring them to the end of themselves. If conviction is missing, the problem is with the preaching. Lloyd-Jones had a different approach to preaching the Gospel. The other approach is a complete denial of the Apostles’ teaching. “With man it is impossible, but not with God.” (Luke 18:27, also Romans 3:19). One lady said, “He speaks to us as though we are sinners.” Many left, but God brought them back. We needn’t be afraid of preaching the truth if we preaching it lovingly with the help of God. The solution is not a victorious life and a second blessing. But a Christian is a new creation. Lloyd-Jones’ book on the Sermon on the Mount and his printing of Ryle’s book on Holiness were both bombshells. He the view of the presentation of the Gospel was not the prevailing view.
  2. He disagreed over the way which Evangelicalism was moving on the worship of God. A reporter said of visiting the Chapel, “The worship at Westminster Chapel would have been easily recognisable by worshipers 300 years ago.” Imitating the 17th century is not the goal. Public worship is under God; it is not up to us to decide what happens. The form didn’t change for 300 years, not because of tradition but because what was done was what God appointed. Lloyd-Jones said, “As we think of God, we will we worship.” If they have a casual view of worship, they think that God is not to be feared. People who believe the WSC Q&A4 do not think this way: “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” He said “The worship of God is preferred before the safety of men and angels.” Before the Reformation, worship was an appeal to the senses “like a theatre,” Erasmus said. “We conceive salvation, not as something that brings us to God, but as something that gives us something… If we began with the greatness of God, all of our thinking would be revolutionised.”
  3. He disagreed on the subject of revival. Arminian belief led to a different view of revival. It said that spiritual revival would be continuous if we were obedient enough. Just as a person could decide to become a Christian, so the church could decide to have a revival. They confused evangelism with revival. Revival is accompanied by conviction and great fear (Acts 5:5, 11). The Holy Spirit doesn’t leave the church, but at times, God arises at indignation at the godlessness of men and pours out His Spirit. This has happened in Australia in the past. Lloyd-Jones said this belief disappeared because Calvinistic belief had been undermined. Our business is to go to God and find what He would do and have us to do. Continue in prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). “It is only since the decline of Calvinism that revival has been less and less common… Nothing so promotes prayer as Calvinism. Calvinists who do not pray are not Calvinists. The true Calvinist is concerned with revival because he is concerned with the glory of God.” It was a great shock to Lloyd-Jones that many Calvinists didn’t expect God’s work.

3         Preaching

Be clear about the purpose of preaching. It is not about imparting Biblical information, but bringing people into the presence of God (1 Corinthians 14:25). “It is a great thing to be a listener. You want something for your soul. I don’t want a great sermon. I want to worship God… If I get that, I do not care how good the sermon is.” It staggers me how may sermons begin with a little story. What’s wrong with that? The assumption that we have to start with something to attract people’s attention. What’s the whole service been about? It is a condemnation of the worship to do this! It is a great loss that we don’t have a single tape recording of a single service at Westminster Chapel. The worship of God began long before the sermon.

Know yourself. This is vital. Everyone is different. You mustn’t imitate. Our business is to know ourselves and pray to God that He will help mature us.

Some said that Lloyd-Jones wasn’t an evangelist because he didn’t invite people to the front of the building. Publishers are guilty, including Banner of Truth. The reality is that at least half of Lloyd-Jones’ ministry was directed to the unconverted, but they didn’t get printed. Mrs. Lloyd-Jones said, “My husband is first of all a man of prayer and next an evangelist.” We have many good preachers, but we are woefully short of evangelists.

Iain Murray, “Preaching has great power. Don’t be diverted from it. There are a thousand things to divert you from it. No. Preaching… Turn men to righteousness. Don’t let the Devil turn you aside.”


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"… What is your life? It is even a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away." James 4:14.