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Lloyd-Jones: Messenger of Grace[1] – A Review by Guy Davies

Author ,
Category Book Reviews
Date November 25, 2008

I was converted some years after the death of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, so I never heard the great man preach. But his published sermons and life story have had a profound impact on my life and ministry. As a relatively new believer, I devoured his sermons on Romans[2] and Ephesians[3]. ‘The Doctor’s’ emphasis on Reformed doctrine and experiential piety transformed my understanding of the Christian life. Not having met him personally, I had to make do with reading Iain Murray’s biography of Lloyd-Jones to give me a glimpse of the man behind the sermons. His D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years 1899-1939[4] (1982) and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith 1939-1981[5] (1990) are indispensable for those who wish to understand the impact of Lloyd-Jones on the history of 20th century Evangelicalism. But after over 1,200 pages of biography, what more could Murray have to say on his old friend, colleague and mentor? Well, this new book is not a rehash of the earlier biographical volumes. What we have here is a fresh analysis of aspects of Lloyd-Jones’ life and teaching that speak powerfully to our situation today.

‘The Lloyd-Jones Legacies’ sets the scene for the rest of the book. Murray draws attention to some of the key emphases of the preacher’s ministry, such as the need for God-centredness, church-based evangelism and revival. Lloyd-Jones often spoke of the need for preachers to be empowered by the Holy Spirit, and a helpful chapter is devoted to that important theme. We have seen a recovery of expository preaching in the last few decades, and fresh attention is being given to preachers developing their homiletical skills. But we need to be reminded that true preaching is not in word only, but in power, in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance. We need to pray for the Spirit’s empowering presence in preaching so that the Christ-centred Word is proclaimed with life-transforming effectiveness.

People tend to think that Lloyd-Jones was pre-eminently a Bible teacher, who gave lengthy series of sermons on Romans and Ephesians. But as Murray points out, that is only half of the picture. Most Sunday evenings, Lloyd-Jones would preach evangelistically. He would often base his sermons on the Old Testament, showing how that portion of God’s Word spoke to contemporary sinners in their need of a Saviour. This bucked something of a trend in many mid twentieth century churches, where the message of the Old Testament was neglected. How many of those who follow Lloyd-Jones in preaching series of expository sermons also maintain his commitment to preaching evangelistically? The chapter on ‘The Evangelistic Use of the Old Testament’ is a real challenge to us.

Lloyd-Jones’ sermons rarely had an obvious structure in that he did not announce his headings as he worked his way through the message saying, ‘Firstly…secondly…thirdly….finally.’ But that does not mean that the preacher failed to give attention to sermon structure. He put a lot of work into developing clear and logical sermons. He would begin with a basic skeleton, which was then fleshed out and developed. But just as skeletons give shape to a body, while remaining unseen, Lloyd-Jones did not like to give too much prominence to the structure itself. In ‘Skeletons in the Cupboard’, Murray does not ‘dish the dirt’ on his old friend. Rather he discusses the preacher’s method of sermon preparation, giving various examples of his ‘skeletons’. Preachers would do well to learn from Lloyd-Jones’ practice. All good sermons begin with a well thought out structure.

The proceedings of the Westminster Fellowship, a Ministers’ Fraternal, chaired by Lloyd-Jones were never recorded. But Iain Murray provides us with his notes on an address given by ‘The Doctor’ after a period of illness had kept him from the pulpit. This makes interesting reading, as Lloyd-Jones reflects on some of the preaching he heard while he was unwell. What he looked for in preaching was a sense of God, which he found was often absent. He complained that even some ‘Reformed’ preaching could be dull and predictable. Earlier in his ministry, Lloyd-Jones reacted against the use of illustrations and anecdotes in sermons, as they had been used excessively and therefore detracted from the message. But now he saw that he had gone too far, and urged preachers to make their sermons attractive, using anecdotes and illustrations to help their people to grasp the truth. He ruefully commented, ‘I am not sure my progeny have been a credit to me, or whether they reflect a defect in me.’ His Preaching and Preachers, which warns against the misuse of illustrative material, should be supplemented by a book like Stuart Olyott’s Preaching Pure and Simple, where a slightly more positive approach may be found.

In a fascinating chapter, ‘Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones Compared’, Murray compares and contrasts the two pulpit giants of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. One was English, the other Welsh. Unlike Spurgeon, with his multiple ministries and good causes, Lloyd-Jones was no organiser. But both men stood steadfastly for the truth of the gospel. Spurgeon sought to preserve the truth, which was being abandoned by many, while Lloyd-Jones worked for a recovery of the truth after years of neglect. It is encouraging to note that the Lord was able to use these two very different men to advance the cause of Christ.

Iain Murray’s admiration for Lloyd-Jones is evident on every page of this book. But this does not make him at all myopic. He can be critical when he thinks that the preacher was mistaken. There has been a lot of controversy over Lloyd-Jones’ views on the baptism with the Holy Spirit, especially as expressed in the book, Joy Unspeakable. Some claim that he gave impetus to the Charismatic movement and others accuse him of departing from the Reformed understanding of the work of the Spirit. Murray makes it clear that the sermons printed in Joy Unspeakable were originally preached in the mid-1960’s, before the Charismatic movement really took off. Lloyd-Jones was concerned that the Reformed movement was becoming overly cerebral, with so much of a focus on doctrine, that the experiential aspect of the Christian life was being ignored. He was also alarmed by the publication of John Stott’s Baptism and Fullness, where Stott argued that the baptism with the Spirit is non-experiential. Lloyd-Jones’ concerns might well have been justified. But Murray points out some flaws and inconsistencies in the preacher’s handling of the biblical material. He also questions his teaching on assurance, suggesting that it was different to what we find in earlier Reformed writers like John Flavel and Jonathan Edwards. This may be true, but I think his emphasis on the direct witness of the Spirit in assurance is biblically grounded in Romans 8:16. Lloyd-Jones’ views bear a remarkable similarity to the mature teaching of the Puritan Thomas Goodwin. In fact studying Goodwin on assurance some years after reading Lloyd-Jones on the subject, such was the close resemblance of their teaching, I found myself thinking, ‘Ah, this is the source of his doctrine.’ Murray tries his best to be fair to Lloyd-Jones, while at the same time highlighting problem areas in his teaching on the work of the Spirit. Those who have swallowed ‘the Doctor’s’ position hook, line and sinker will need to think carefully about what Murray has to say.

A further area of controversy was Lloyd-Jones’ call for Evangelical unity in 1966. Some blame him for needlessly dividing Evangelicalism over the issue of involvement in the theologically mixed denominations, while others have profound regrets that his proposals were not followed. In ‘”The Lost Leader” or “A Prophetic Voice”?’, Murray endeavours to set the record straight, giving an accurate account of what happened in 1966 and the subsequent fall-out. Lloyd-Jones had argued that Evangelicals needed to come together in response to the threat of the ecumenical movement. He was not proposing the construction of a new Evangelical denomination. But he reasoned that Evangelicals could not simply be content to be a wing of a comprehensive ecumenical grouping, which would ultimately include the Roman Catholic Church. That some Anglican Evangelicals were tending to think in such terms became clear at the Keele Conference in 1967. Murray agrees with Lloyd-Jones’ basic thesis, but he suggests that ‘the Doctor’ was wrong to charge Evangelicals who refused to leave their denominations with schism. But I think there may be something in the charge. If Evangelicals put fellowship with non-Evangelicals in their denominations before church-based fellowship with other Evangelicals, then they are guilty of schism.

We are still living with the effects of what happened in 1966, and the issue of separation from mixed denominations is still a live one. But we have to take account of a new breed of Evangelical Anglican. It seems to me that the men associated with Reform and the Proclamation Trust do not accept the comprehensivist agenda of John Stott and Jim Packer. They wish to remain with the Church of England, while holding tenaciously to the Evangelical faith and working to reform their denomination. As Murray makes clear, Lloyd-Jones did not insist on immediate secession from the denominations, neither did he break off contact with Evangelical Anglicans, especially those who were determined to fight their corner for the biblical gospel. But relations between Lloyd-Jones and Evangelical Anglicans were inevitably strained. Murray explains the reasons behind the preacher’s decision to end the Puritan Conference, associated as it was with Jim Packer.

Lloyd-Jones was right to spot the Rome-ward trajectory of the ecumenical movement. His concerns over how this would affect Evangelicals were justified when Packer sided with Anglo-Catholics in the publication Growing into Union (1970) and then later became involved in Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Murray’s review of Is The Reformation Over?, charting the development of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, (included in this book) further proves the point. The stance taken by Packer and others, in identifying themselves with men whose teaching undermines the gospel, has damaged their fellowship with other Evangelicals. Is this not precisely what Lloyd-Jones meant by schism in his 1966 address?

Lloyd-Jones was above all else a preacher, although he was careful to say that he did not live to preach. The remainder of the book is taken up with some choice quotations from his sermons, reflection on his preaching and an analysis of his messages on Ephesians. Those who have already read Murray’s biography of Lloyd-Jones will find much new and valuable material in this book. It is a reminder of the abiding value of the life and teaching of ‘the Doctor’. If you have yet to read the biography, then this will serve as an excellent introduction to Lloyd-Jones that will leave you wanting to know more about the man and his message.

Many have reason to be thankful to God for the life and work of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, me included. But as Murray makes clear, we should not uncritically accept all that he said and did. ‘Call no man teacher’, said our Saviour. Discussions in ministers’ fraternals should not be brought to a shuddering halt when someone pipes up, ‘the Doctor said…’. We face fresh challenges in the 21st century and we cannot keep harping back to what Lloyd-Jones might have thought about this or that. He was a faithful messenger of grace in his generation. Let us learn from him and above all else seek the blessing of God upon those who preach the Word today, that they may do so with biblical integrity, contemporary relevance and Holy Spirit power.

Oh, and the book includes a CD of Lloyd-Jones preaching on John 8:21-24, which I haven’t listened to yet as there is a danger that Welsh preachers end up sounding like ‘the Doctor’ if they listen to him too much. ‘Is there, my friend? No! No!’

1. Lloyd-Jones: Messenger of Grace
by Iain H MUrray
288 pages, paperback
£16.00, $28.00
ISBN 978 0 85151 975 3

2. Published by the Trust in 14 volumes, available individually or as a set.

3. Published by the Trust in 8 volumes.

4. D Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years 1899-1939
Iain H Murray
412 pages, clothbound
£17.50, $36.00
ISBN 978 0 85151 353 9

5. D Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith 1939-1981
Iain H Murray
862 pages, clothbound
£19.00, $39.00
ISBN 978 0 85151 564 9

Guy Davies is Joint-Pastor of Penknap Providence Church and Ebenezer Baptist Church in Wiltshire. This review was posted on his Exiled Preacher blog on 18 November 2008, and is used with kind permission.

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