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The Presentation of the Gospel – Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Category Book Excerpts
Date March 6, 2024

The following address, published in Knowing the Times: Addresses Delivered on Various Occasions, 1942–1977, was given at a conference of leaders of the Crusaders’ Union, Sion College, London, on 7 February, 1942.

The presentation of the gospel is a subject which is always important. It is always important because of the eternal consequences that depend upon our attitude towards the gospel. There is no need for me to argue that it is especially important at the present time, and for two reasons: because of the general apostasy, of the failure on the part of the churches to present the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in the way in which it should be presented; and because of the consequent godlessness and the sheer materialism which, increasingly, characterize the life of the people. It is a subject of urgent importance also because of the nature of the times through which we are passing. Life is always uncertain, but it is exceptionally uncertain today. We who are Christians should always weigh our words and be careful how we present the gospel; surely, that ought to be impressed upon us more definitely than ever before as we come into contact with men and women in the Services, who may lose their lives at any moment, and as we live daily in a world where bombs are dropped, and where death comes suddenly to people. So we are met to consider what I venture to affirm is the most important question that men can ever consider. And as we do so, we must be struck afresh by the remarkable way in which God has committed this all-important task of the presentation of the gospel to us. What a marvellous privilege it is, what a striking honour, that the Lord God Almighty should have entrusted this work of propagating and preaching the gospel to men like ourselves! It is a wonderful privilege, but, at the same time, it is a terrifying responsibility; it is a responsibility that devolves upon us all, and it devolves upon the leaders of the Crusaders’ Union in a very special manner. You are in contact with boys; your position as leaders of these young lives makes your work one of great seriousness.

This subject is so large and important that it is obviously impossible to deal with it adequately in one address. All I can do is select what I regard as some of the most important principles in connection with it; and I shall try to be as practical as I can. There are two main things I wish to emphasize: first, the positive principles which govern this work; and second, some of the dangers which are ever ready to threaten us as we engage in this ministry. We shall not only deal with this subject in general, but also in terms of work among boys. That is an important distinction, and one also, unless we are very careful, which we can turn into a very dangerous distinction. There has been a marked tendency in the last years or so to divide up Christian work according to age groups. I have never been very enthusiastic about these divisions into age groups – old age, middle age, youth, children, and so on. By that I mean that we must be careful that we do not modify the gospel to suit various age groups. There is no such thing as a special gospel for the young, a special gospel for the middle-aged, and a special gospel for the aged. There is only one gospel, and we must always be careful not to tamper and tinker with the gospel as a result of recognizing these age distinctions. At the same time, there is a difference in applying this one and only gospel to the different age groups; but it is a difference which has reference only to method and procedure.

The Nature of the Gospel

Now were I asked to speak on this subject in certain circles, my first business would be to attempt to define the nature of the gospel, and I would go on to ask, What is the gospel? In many circles people have gone astray; they have fallen into heresies; they preach a gospel that, to us, is no gospel at all. To such I would need to define the content of the gospel, but with you here that is unnecessary. I take it for granted that we are all agreed about the great fundamentals, the foundation principles of the Christian faith. What we are especially concerned about is the presentation of that gospel to the boys with whom we come into contact. There may be some of you who may ask, ‘Is it necessary that we should thus spend time in considering the presentation of the gospel? Is that not something that we can take for granted? If a man believes the gospel he is bound to present it in the right way. If a man is orthodox and believes the right things, his application of what he believes is something which will take care of itself.’ That, to me, is a very grave error; and anyone who is tempted to speak in that way ignores not only his own weakness, but, still more, the adversary of our souls, who is always attempting to frustrate the work of God.

This is a contention which I think I can prove in two ways. I am concerned to show you how you cannot take it for granted that a man who believes the right thing is of necessity one who can present that right thing in the right way. There are, for instance, men who are sound evangelicals in their belief and doctrine; they are perfectly orthodox in their faith, yet their work is utterly barren. They never get any results; they never hear of a convert as a result of their work and ministry. They are as sound as you are, yet their ministry leads to nothing. On the other hand – and this is my second proof – there are those who seem to get phenomenal results to their work and efforts. They take a campaign, or preach a sermon, and as a result, there are numbers of decisions for Christ, or what are called ‘conversions’. But many of these results do not last; they are not permanent; they are merely of a temporary or passing nature. What is the explanation of these two cases? It seems to me that the only explanation is that, somehow or other, there is a gap between what the man believes and what he actually presents in his teaching or preaching. The danger in regard to the first type is the danger of just talking about the gospel. This man believes the truth, he exults in it; but instead of preaching the gospel, he praises it, he says wonderful things about it. The whole time he is simply talking about the gospel instead of presenting the gospel. The result is, that though the man is highly orthodox and sound, his ministry shows no results whatsoever.

The danger in regard to the second man is the danger of being so interested in, and so concerned about the application of the gospel and with getting results that he allows a gap to come in between what he is presenting (and what he believes) and the actual obtaining of the results themselves. As I have said, it is not enough that you believe the truth; you must be careful to apply what you believe in the right way.

Methods of Study

There are two main ways in which we can study this subject of the presentation of the gospel. The first is to study the Bible itself, with special reference to the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of the New Testament. That must always be put first if we would know how this work is to be done. We must go back to our textbook, which is the Bible. We must go back to the primitive pattern, to the norm, to the standard. In the Acts and in the Epistles we are told, once and for all, what the Christian church is, what she is like, and how she is to do her work. We must always make certain that our methods conform to the teaching of the New Testament.

The second method is a supplementary one; it is to make a study of the history of the Christian church subsequent to the New Testament times. We can concentrate especially on the history of revivals and the great spiritual awakenings; and we can read also the biographies of men who have been greatly honoured by God in the past in their presentation of the gospel. But here we must notice a principle of the greatest importance. When I say that it is a good thing to go back and read the history of the past and the biographies of great men whom God has used in the past, I hope that we are all clear in our minds that we need to go back beyond the last seventy years. I find so many good evangelicals who seem to be of the opinion that there was no real evangelistic work until about 1870. There are those who seem to think that evangelistic work in Great Britain was unknown until Moody came to this country. While we thank God for the glorious work of the last seventy years, I do plead with you to make a thorough study of the history of the church in the past. Go back to the eighteenth century. Go back to the time of the Puritans and even further back still, to the Protestant Reformation. And go back even beyond that, and study the history of those groups of evangelical people who lived on the Continent at the time when Roman Catholicism held supreme sway. Go right back to the time of the Early Fathers who held evangelical ideas. It is a history which can be traced back unbroken even to the primitive church itself. Such a study is of vital importance, lest we tend to assume, through taking a false view of history, that evangelistic work can only be done in a certain way, and by the application and the use of certain methods. I would commend to you a very thorough study of that great American divine, Jonathan Edwards. It was a great revelation to me to discover that a man who preached in the way he did could be honoured of God as he was, and could have such great results to his ministry. Jonathan Edwards was a great scholar and philosopher who wrote out every word of his sermons. He was very short sighted, and he used to stand in his pulpit with his manuscript in one hand, and a candle in the other hand, and as he read his sermon men were not only converted, but some of them literally fell to the ground under conviction of sin and the power of the Spirit. When we think of evangelistic work in terms of the popular evangelism of the last seventy years, I think we might be tempted to say that a man who preached like that could not possibly get conversions. Yet he was a man who was used of God in the Great Awakening on the American continent in the eighteenth century. So I would plead with you to be thorough in your study of church history and of the great things which God has done in various eras and periods. Those, therefore, are the two main lines along which we approach this subject – the study of the Bible and a study of the Christian church.

Having done that, we shall find that the following great foundation principles stand out very clearly as governing this whole subject.

I. The supreme object of this work is to glorify God. That is the central thing. That is the object that must control and override every other object. The first object of preaching the gospel is not to save souls; it is to glorify God. Nothing else, however good in itself, or however noble, must be allowed to usurp that first place.

2. The only power that can really do this work is the Holy Spirit. Whatever natural gifts a man may possess, whatever a man may be able to do as a result of his own natural propensities, the work of presenting the gospel and of leading to that supreme object of glorifying God in the salvation of men, is a work that can be done only by the Holy Spirit. You see that in the New Testament itself. Apart from the Spirit, we are told, we can do nothing. You read in the Bible of men attempting to do things in their own strength, but they fail completely. In the subsequent history of the Christian church you find men who cease to be the instruments of the Holy Spirit, and their ministry at once becomes barren. There was no change in their natural powers, proving, therefore, that the work is a work which ultimately can only be achieved by the Holy Spirit Himself.

3. The one and only medium through which the Holy Spirit works is the Word of God. That is something which I can prove quite easily. Take the sermon which was preached by Peter at Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. What he did really was to expound the Scriptures. He did not get up and give an account of his own personal experiences. He unfolded the Scriptures; that was always his method. And that is also the characteristic method of Paul, that ‘he reasoned out of the Scriptures’ (Acts 17:2). When he dealt with the Philippian jailer you find that he preached unto him Jesus Christ and the Word of the Lord. You will remember his words in the First Letter to Timothy, where he says that it is the will of God that all men should be saved, and brought to a knowledge of the truth (I Tim. 2:4). The medium which is used by the Holy Spirit is the truth.

4. The fourth principle, therefore, is that the true urge to evangelization must come from apprehending these principles, and, therefore, from a zeal for the honour and glory of God and a love for the souls of men.

5. There is a constant danger of error and of heresy, even among the most sincere, and also the danger of a false zeal and the employment of unscriptural methods. There is nothing to which we are exhorted more frequently in the New Testament than the need for a constant self-examination and a return to the Scriptures themselves.

There, I think, you have five foundation principles which are taught very clearly in the Word of God, and which are confirmed abundantly in the subsequent history of the Christian church.

The Application of the Principles

This brings me to the second main division of our subject, which is the application of these principles to the actual work of the presentation of the gospel. This is a subject which divides itself up quite naturally into two main sections. There is first the work of evangelism, and then the work of edification and instruction in righteousness.


As we engage in evangelistic work, it is of vital importance that we ask ourselves before we begin: What am I out to do? What am I going to attempt? What do I want to achieve? What is my real objective? I suggest that there is only one true answer to these questions, and it is this: I am anxious that souls should be reconciled to God, because, being what they are, they are dishonouring God, and because, being in a state in which they dishonour God, they are in danger of perdition. That is the purpose of all evangelistic work – to bring those souls into a state of reconciliation with God. That is the object. It is not merely to get boys to make a decision; it is not simply to get them to live another way of life; it is not simply to get them to join a class or a church. Your object in presenting the gospel to them is to put them right with God.

Now there are very grave dangers that have arisen, and will arise, in connection with this work of evangelism. There is, first of all, the danger of exalting the decision as such, and this is a danger especially when you are working among the young. I have not time to enlarge upon it, though I must use the term – the psychological difference between children and adults. I think we all know enough about psychology to realize that children are very much more impressionable than older people. There is a sense in which it is true to say you can influence children to do almost anything you like. You know the claim of the Roman Catholics, who say, ‘Give us a child until he is seven, and we have got him for life.’ The danger of exalting decision as such expresses itself in a number of ways. It shows itself sometimes in the use of music. There are people who talk about singing, and the use of music – and especially of choruses – as something which they use to ‘work up a meeting’. They rely upon music and the singing of choruses to produce the desired effect of bringing about decision. Others, perhaps, tend to make use of stories, rather than music, in much the same way. There are those who have the gift of telling stories in a moving and effective manner. Others seem to put their reliance upon the personal charm of the speaker. For instance, a man was telling me about a friend of his who was doing some work among the troops, and he described him in this way: ‘He is doing a grand work. He is just the right type of man; he is so cheery and breezy.’ There is none of that kind of thing in the New Testament. Would Paul, for instance, be described as being a particularly cheery and breezy kind of man?

Perhaps I may be allowed to digress at this point. Have you ever observed that some of the most honoured servants of God in evangelism have been extremely ugly men? Let me commend that to you as a study. There is a danger of the evangelist relying upon the attractiveness of his own personality to produce results. Then there are some who try to develop what I can describe most accurately as the cricket-team spirit. They seem to produce an atmosphere which is comparable to that of a football or cricket team. They stand for the idea of being all in it together, of playing the game. That is something which, of course, appeals very much to boys, and something which of itself is quite harmless, and can be very useful. My point is that there is a danger at times of stressing it to such an extent that decisions are produced by that team spirit rather than by an understanding of the truth. But the most serious of all dangers is that of seeking to produce decisions as a result of pressure brought to bear upon the wills of those who are listening. There is the danger of a man so using his personality, his will power, and his capacity to domineer over others as to force those who are listening to respond to his appeal.

These are some of the results which follow this undue exaltation of the decision as such. I could illustrate what I have been saying at very great length. For instance, I have heard repeatedly of a certain popular evangelist, who has an amazing gift for telling stories; he is quite a genius in this respect. His word-pictures are such that you can see exactly what he is describing. This man tells his stories and he seems almost to mesmerize his congregation. At the close of the meeting he invites people to go to the decision room, and they go there in flocks. But those who work in the decision room are agreed in saying that when they ask them why they have come, their reply is that they do not know, but that the speaker told them to come. It is not that the truth has convinced or convicted them. They are influenced by the stories to which they have listened, and then they seem to act in an automatic manner. Music can produce the same effect. You can so sing a chorus that eventually you become intoxicated. The power of music is such that that is the effect it has upon some people; and, in reality, they do not know what they are doing; they iust respond mechanically to any command or invitation given to them.

The second danger is that people may arrive at a decision from a false motive. Sometimes people decide for Christ simply because they are anxious for someone else’s experience. Here again is a danger to which boys and young people are particularly exposed. In other words, I am trying to warn you against the danger of basing your message upon the effect of your own experience, or that of someone else. The boy who is listening to you may be anxious to be like you, to have what you have, or to be like someone of whom you have spoken, and to have what that someone else has got. While we think he is deciding for Christ he is simply coveting another’s experience. Or it may be a desire to have this wonderful type of life of which he has been told. The gospel of Jesus Christ does give us a very wonderful life, and we praise God for it, but the true reason for becoming a Christian is not that we may have a wonderful life; it is, rather, that we may be in a right relationship with God. Again, Christ is sometimes presented as a hero. The heroic instinct is prominent in all of us, and especially in boys. If we over-emphasize that aspect of the gospel, it may be that the boys, or even older people, may join our Bible class or church simply because the message has appealed to their heroic instinct.

There is also a danger of people coming to a decision, and this again is very true of boys, as a result of what is called accepting the challenge of the Christian life. They regard it as a great adventure, as something to which they must aspire, as setting out upon a great crusade.

And then the last danger which I want to emphasize under this heading is the terrible fallacy of presenting the gospel in terms of ‘Christ needs you’ and giving the impression that if a boy does not decide for Christ he is a cad. These are not artificial points that I have made. I am drawing not only on my own experience, but on those things which I have discovered in my reading, and from the problems one meets in the Christian ministry as a result of the use of false methods. There is a measure of truth and value in many of the things I have mentioned, but the point I want to emphasize is that none of these things, good as they may be in themselves, must ever be allowed to take the supreme position. I do not mean by this that you must not sing at all in your meetings. Of course we may sing, but let us not rely too much upon our singing. Let us use these things so far as they are legitimate, but let us always regard them as aids and helps, rather than the actual thing which produces the results.

Well, says someone, all that is negative. How do you suggest the work should be done? I reply again, we simply go back to those five principles to which I have referred, and they can all be summarized in this: we must present the truth; it must be a positive exposition of the teaching of the Word of God. First and foremost we must show men their condition by nature in the sight of God. We must bring them (and I include boys here) to see that apart from what we do, and apart from what we may have done, we are all born the ‘children of wrath’; we are born in a state of condemnation, guilty in the sight of God; we are ‘conceived in sin, and shapen in iniquity’ (Ps. 51:5). That is the first thing.

Having done that we must go on to show the enormity of sin. That does not just mean that we show the wrongfulness of certain sins. There is nothing so vital as the distinction between sin and sins. Far too often we spend our time in calling attention to particular sins, whereas our real business is to convict of sin, the thing itself which destroys us, and which shows itself in the form of particular sins. Then we must call upon our hearers to confess and acknowledge their sin in the sight of God and of men. After that we must go on to present the glorious and the wondrous offer of free salvation which is to be found only in Jesus Christ and in Him crucified. We must show that only He can remove the guilt and power of sin; that Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, bore ‘our sins in his own body on the tree’ (1 Pet. 2:24), and that it is only as we yield and surrender ourselves entirely to Him that, at one and the same time, we are made right with God, and are enabled to live a life that is well-pleasing in His sight. The only decision which is of the slightest value is that which is based upon the realization of that truth. We may get men to decide as a result of our singing, as a result of the charm of our own personality, but our business is not to get personal followers. Our business is not simply to increase the size of Bible classes or organizations or churches. Our business is to reconcile souls unto God. I repeat that there is no value in a decision unless it is based on an acceptance of the truth.


My second subdivision in regard to the presentation of the gospel is the work of edification. This is a big subject and all I can do is simply to throw out certain principles. Nowhere is the danger of a false method more real than in this particular matter of edification, by which I mean teaching concerning sanctification and holiness. The danger is shown very clearly in the New Testament itself. You cannot read the New Testament without realizing at once that the early church bristled with problems and dangers and with incipient heresies. There were people, for instance, who said, ‘Let us continue  in sin that grace may abound.’ There were those who said that as long as you were a Christian it did not matter what you did, that as long as you were right in your beliefs, your body did not matter and you could sin as much as you liked. That is known as antinomianism. There were those who claimed that they were sinless. There were those who went in for ‘knowledge’, who claimed some special esoteric experience of which other, inferior Christians were ignorant. There were those who, the First Epistle to the Corinthians tells us, described themselves as the followers of Christ – some of Paul, others of Apollos, and others of Christ (1 Cor. 1:12) – the select few at the top. And there were those, clearly dealt with in the Epistle to the Colossians and 1 Timothy, who went in for some kind of asceticism forbidding people to marry or to eat meat. If you read the subsequent history of the Christian church you will find the same thing emphasized constantly. Take the monks, for instance, and the hermits, the people who said you could not really be a Christian while you were engaged in any ordinary vocation. And then various movements arose in the Christian church. The people who went in for those things were very earnest and quite honest; they all started by believing true doctrines, but they were subject to the danger of heresy and error, and wandered from the true path.

If I might summarize all these dangers, it is the danger of isolating a text or an idea and building up a system round it, instead of comparing Scripture with Scripture. It is the seeking of a short cut in the spiritual world. People attempt to arrive at sanctification in one move, and thus to forego the process described in the New Testament. The way to avoid that danger is to study the New Testament itself, and especially the Epistles. We must reject anything which is not based soundly upon the teaching of the Epistles. We must be very careful that we do not take an incident out of the Gospels, and weave a theory around it, when the incident which is described has not even the remotest connection with the subject of holiness or sanctification. We must realize that our standard in this particular matter is to be found in the Epistles. If you go to the Epistles I think you will find very clearly set out the principle that our life is not to be based upon some sudden experience, but rather upon certain deductions that we are to draw from the truth which we have believed. May I commend to your special study the word ‘therefore’ in the Epistles? It is a very important word. First of all the writer lays down the doctrine, and then he says, Therefore – in view of that, go on to do this. Our living of the Christian life must be a deduction from our doctrine.

What is the doctrine? Well, it is constantly repeated. The reason why we should live a holy and sanctified life is because of what we claim to believe concerning Christ, because God is holy, and because of the hope that is set before us. In other words, the New Testament does not invite us to live a holy and sanctified life in order that we might enjoy happiness; but it tells us to do so because Christ has offered Himself for us, and because He has shed His blood on Calvary. The New Testament tells us that we have been redeemed from our sins by the precious blood of Christ, and therefore we have no right to live a sinful life. It does not leave a gap between our believing on Christ as our Saviour and our receiving Him as our Lord: the two things are one. Sanctification of life arises directly out of the doctrine of the death of Christ on the cross. It teaches us that we are to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of the Lord. That is what we get in every single New Testament Epistle. There is constant exhortation to those early believers to apply, and to put into practice in their lives, the truth which they claim to have believed and accepted.

Let me summarize all that I have been trying to say to you thus. If you want to be able ministers of the gospel, if you want to present the truth in the right and only true way, you must be constant students of the Word of God, you must read it without ceasing. You must read all good books that will assist you to understand it, and the best commentaries you can find on the Bible. You must read what I would call biblical theology, the explanation of the great doctrines of the New Testament, so that you may come to understand them more and more clearly, and may therefore be able to present them with ever increasing clarity to those who come to listen to you. The work of the ministry does not consist merely in giving our own personal experience, or talking about our own lives or the lives of others, but in presenting the truth of God in as simple and clear a manner as possible. And the way to do that is to study the Word and anything and everything which aids us in that supreme task.

You may say to me: Who is sufficient for these things? We have other things to do; we are busy men. How can we do this which you have asked us to do? My reply is that none of us is sufficient for these things, but God can enable us to do them if we are really anxious thus to serve Him. I am not much impressed by these arguments that you are busy men, that you have much to do in the world and therefore have no time to read these books on the Bible and to study theology and for this good reason: that some of the best theologians I have met, some of the most saintly, some of the most learned men, have had to work very much harder than any of you, and at the same time have been denied the advantages that you have enjoyed. ‘Where there’s a will there’s a way.’ If you and I are concerned about lost souls, we must never plead that we have no time to equip ourselves for this great ministry; we must make the time. We must equip ourselves for the task, realizing the serious and terrible responsibility of the work. We must learn, and labour, and sweat, and pray in order that we may know the truth ever more and more perfectly. We must put into practice in our own lives the words to be found in 1 Timothy 4:12-16. God grant us the grace and the power to do so, to the honour and glory of His holy name.


Further Resources on Evangelism and Ministering to Children:


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