Engaging with Martyn Lloyd-Jones – A Review by Graham Harrison
Engaging with Martyn Lloyd-Jones: the life and legacy of ‘the Doctor’
Edited by Andrew Atherstone and David Ceri Jones
Nottingham: IVP/Apollos, 2011
376 pages, paperback, £16.99
ISBN: 978 1 84474 553 1
The book has emerged from a conference held at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, in December 2010 on ‘Martyn Lloyd-Jones: life and legacy’.
Some papers from the conference were omitted, many recast, but the overall aim remains to provide an assessment of this towering figure of 20th century theology. To the reviewer’s mind the question remains as to whether academia can produce a fair account of a man who had such a sceptical view of its theological and spiritual credentials. It is significant that none of the main papers were given to or delivered by men with predominantly pastoral experience. One wonders whether this was intended as something of a pre-emptive strike against Lloyd-Jones’ well-known attitude towards ‘experts’. The overall impression that the book gives of him is that ‘He was a great man, but . . . very much a flawed genius who went increasingly haywire towards the end’. It comes close to being an attempt in effect to damn him by faint praise while making the point that on all basic issues Lloyd-Jones was wrong.
There is a somewhat surprising exception to this in Atherstone’s paper which does give a much more balanced and non-judgmental account of pre-and post-1966 – not least in its treatment of Anglicanism.
The obvious advocates of Lloyd-Jones’ position were either given inconsequential papers (that is, compared with most others in the book) or else had their contributions omitted. Thus although Philip Eveson, Ben Bailey and Robert Strivens deal with important issues, they are not, in my opinion, really central. The contributions given at the conference of Eryl Davies and E. Wyn James are not included. That is also true of the paper given at the conference by Densil Morgan on ‘Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Calvinism’, but in the latter case the omission has not detracted from the volume.
What is lacking is firstly a full-blooded advocacy of Lloyd-Jones’ position; secondly, a realistic attempt to set him in the context of 20th-century evangelicalism; and thirdly, in the light of these some assessment of whether his views have been vindicated.
Thus, for example, were his views on the English temperament, the Church of England, and the fairly rigid social structure of evangelicalism, determined by a nationalistic bias that prevented him from judging things objectively, or was there at least a modicum of truth in them? That he was opinionated and dogmatic is undeniable. But these features were usually the outcome of acute observation, carefully considered thought, coupled with fearless statement of his convictions. To say this is not to assume his infallibility, nor in a servile way to go along with every opinion he advocated. But it is still possible to believe that he was right on most matters and that the subsequent history of evangelicalism has justified his views.
Although mention is made of the details of his moves from Cardiff to Llangeitho, to London, to Port Talbot and back to London, little attempt is made in the volume to trace the trajectory of his life and thought. It could and should have been noted that his varying backgrounds brought him into contact with a surprising variety of people and cultures, both intellectually and socially. Similarly, his intellectual brilliance and political awareness ensured that his views could be articulated rationally and forcefully.
In the same way the great decisions of his ‘career’ were not arrived at superficially or with little thought. Whether it was to leave medicine with its glittering prospects and go to industrial and poverty-stricken South Wales, or later to move back to the Metropolis and eventually to the pulpit at Westminster – these were moves determined by conscientious conviction. It is difficult to think of any individual in the national and religious life of the 20th century in whom they are replicated. His was a truly unique experience that brought him into contact with the highest and the lowest in society and that enabled him to practice his Christian convictions at all levels.
One other thing is lacking overtly from the book. It is the dimension of the effect he provoked on the part of those to whom his presence and the powerful expression of his views constituted something of an alien intrusion. That he was not English was a fact that soon became apparent. Nor did he come from Scotland which in a peculiar way (despite Gordon Brown) is still somewhat fashionable in London! He could not abide snobbery in any shape or form – whether or not it was expressed religiously, politically or merely socially. Many will have said – although Lloyd-Jones would no doubt have disagreed most strongly with them – that he was a self-made man who came from a remarkable family. Undoubtedly he possessed a boldness in advocating his opinions and something of a temperamental inability to be intimidated by persons or views contrary to his own. There can be little doubt that he was viewed as something of an irritant to the settled equanimity of the circles into which his gifts thrust him. It could not be gainsaid that he was intellectually brilliant, well able to hold his own in any company; he was a Christian of Calvinistic convictions and a preacher of remarkable power. But he was Welsh and unafraid to say so; he was not an Anglican but a dissenter and a nonconformist; furthermore, swimming against the tide was something that rarely seemed to bother him – particularly as usually and eventually he seemed to do it so well. Some find this hard to take – and, dare we say it, still do! Signs are not wanting in this volume that this attitude is still there, lurking, as it were, under the surface. Perhaps an open, full-blooded expression of such criticism would have been useful, if only to clear the air!
One other omission needs to be noted. There is nothing directly on Lloyd-Jones’ ecclesiological views. Apart, that is, from passing reference to Carl Trueman’s somewhat dismissive opinion that unlike Packer and Trueman, Lloyd-Jones had no ecclesiology. Such an attitude totally fails to account for his move from the Presbyterianism in which he had been brought up to the Independency which he clearly, although not unequivocally advocated in his latter years. Did John Owen and Thomas Goodwin have no ecclesiology? Theirs was neither Prelacy nor Presbyterianism, but it was distinctively and clearly held on allegedly biblical grounds.
It is now 31 years since Martyn Lloyd-Jones died. As Dr J. I. Packer says in his introduction to the volume, ‘Thirty to fifty years usually proves to be the first really adequate viewing distance for looking at persons and events of the recent past . . .’ The cause for which he stood and in favour of which he so tirelessly argued – the supremacy and uniqueness of the gospel coupled with the fact that in no way must it be compromised – seems largely to be downplayed today. His distinctive – some might say, his exclusive and excluding – position tends to be dismissed as the misguided bigotry of an undoubtedly great man who, tragically, had feet of clay.
Perhaps a personal observation might be included at this point from one whose ecclesiological and denominational views have admittedly been largely influenced by those of Lloyd-Jones. Having emerged from a typical ‘mixed’ denominational background in the mid-50s and eventually sensing a ‘call’ of God to the Christian ministry my views were deeply influenced by involvement in the Inter-Varsity Fellowship (IVF as it then was). It stood for a clearly defined position on biblical basics and was conscious that it stood for something more important than historical tradition, the Christian gospel. It was understood that while bigotry and pride were to be avoided criticism, even ridicule, were to be expected. This was thinking that at one time, if no longer, had animated the various Protestant churches. That might no longer be the case in most of those same churches which were under the de facto control of those who at best might throw an occasional sop in our direction while continuing their rigid domination of the ecclesiastical structures. To many of us it became clear that we were engaged in a battle that would involve us in standing for the truth, and in seeking to persuade by biblical arguments those who were the denominational ‘powers that be’. Being realistic, we understood that our convictions eventually would lead either to victory for us or else to defeat that would result in exclusion or secession from the denomination. We had no doubt that from the point of view of the creed and confessions of faith our case historically was unanswerable. But equally we were under no misapprehension as to the enormity of our task. For many of us, participation in the life and activities of the CU’s and the IVF simply confirmed us in our convictions and indicated the likely reception the advocacy of our views would receive. As some of us moved on into theological training it became increasingly evident that the positions of influence were held by men many of whose fundamental convictions were opposed to the biblical gospel. We became used to being pilloried as intellectual morons who were living in a bygone age and fighting battles of long ago. We needed, so we were told in effect, to ‘get real’. But in contrast to all that, our souls were fed by attendance at IVF conferences where men who were so clearly gripped by biblical Christianity taught us clearly what we rarely heard elsewhere. It was not that a secessionist mindset was being formed. Rather that our convictions about the gospel were confirmed and, in many cases, our hearts were ‘strangely warmed’ in the process.
I well remember the acute distress I felt, driving home from a theological conference in Tyndale House, Cambridge, where for the first time I was brought to realise that in many of these evangelical men there was a total disconnection intellectually between biblical conviction on the one hand and the implementation of that conviction ecclesiologically on the other. You may put it down to theological naivety on my part, but it has left an indelible impression not only of sadness but amazement. Men who seemingly were prepared to be criticised, even vilified, for their distinctive evangelical views were apparently unwilling to make those same views the basis of denominational division.
At which point let me return to a consideration of the contents of this important book. Appropriately it begins with an introductory chapter by the joint editors on ‘Lloyd-Jones and his biographers’. This touches on the growing number of men who have ventured into this realm. Beginning with Iain Murray’s two-volume effort (subsequently labelled ‘hagiography’), it passes on to the more critical appreciations first by the Doctor’s grandson, Christopher Catherwood, then via Alister McGrath (albeit obliquely through his biographical work on J. I. Packer) to the more hostile treatments in Gaius Davies, John Brencher, Donald Macleod and Carl Trueman, together with occasional comments on these from Densil Morgan, Stephen Clark and Geoffrey Thomas. Overall the chapter is a fair statement of the essence of the sometimes divergent views expressed by these individuals as it endeavours to set the scene for the remainder of the book.
As Atherstone and Ceri Jones point out in the final paragraph, ‘The team of historians brought together in this book represents a generational shift in Lloyd-Jones studies’ (p.37). As they go on to tell us, ‘half the contributors were still young children when he died . . .’ Perhaps herein lies both the strengths and weaknesses of the volume. But Lloyd-Jones was notoriously critical of ‘experts’, be they of the historical variety or any other. But surely it would have helped to have had the benefit of someone possibly with more direct acquaintance with the Doctor, and clearly in sympathy with his views, to have counterbalanced the opinions of these esteemed historians who back up their views with innumerable footnotes – as is their wont!
It is tempting to comment on the views expressed by these various biographers, but, all in all, sufficient subsidiary rejoinders made by a variety of critics are noted to render such an exercise unnecessary.
That brings us to the chapter entitled ‘Lloyd-Jones and Wales’, written by Dr David Ceri Jones, one of the book’s editors and, we suspect, probably its instigator. It is an important chapter and in some respects perceptive. Interestingly enough, it is written by a man ecclesiastically on the move. His parents were at one time members of Lloyd-Jones’ old Church, Sandfields. He himself has moved via Alfred Place Baptist (Aberystwyth) and the Church of Wales, St Michael’s, (Aberystwyth), to Borth – again Church of Wales – where he is a non-stipendiary curate. That means that although his grasp of Welsh equips him to understand the background of the chapter, it cannot be denied that his personal ecclesiastical trajectory could hardly be described as being in sympathy with that of Lloyd-Jones.
Wales, as Ceri Jones rightly points out, remained of vital importance to Lloyd-Jones to the end of his life. If anything, he under-estimates the degree of influence executed by the Doctor even over secular opinion in the country. Some have suggested that it was two men – Nye Bevan and Martyn Lloyd-Jones – who probably kept Wales from turning Communist between the wars! Interestingly enough I remember speaking to a Trade Union Convener informing him of the forthcoming visit of Lloyd-Jones to the Church of which I was Minister, to be greeted in response by ‘He’s the best since Nye Bevan’. The Convener came to the meeting and brought with him six Shop Stewards – which was just as well as their Union was the ETU (the Electrical Trades Union) and all the lights fused at 7:15 pm. Needless to say they had them on in a flash, so to speak!
Yes, there was a degree of romanticism attaching to the brilliant young Harley Street physician abandoning his glittering career to come to industrial and depressed South Wales. But the undoubted power of God on his nationwide ministry was what counted. Incidentally the experience left him with a deep-seated conviction that social reform was of necessity a by-product of the blessing of God on the gospel – not a precursor to it. This was a conviction that he had adhered to strongly throughout his life. Unlike some of the dilettante evangelicals who engaged in theoretical and unhistorical fantasies from the lives of Wilberforce and the Clapham sect, he knew by experience that only the gospel can change men and society.
Also, I well remember him telling me that for his first vacation at Sandfields he took with him the two volumes of Y Tadau Methodistaidd) and that they had a profound influence on him.
In the concluding section of the chapter, ‘Lloyd-Jones’ Welsh legacy’, Ceri Jones raises by innuendo rather than proof the old canard of young ministers imitating Lloyd-Jones’ homiletic style. He also blithely quotes Brencher to the effect that Westminster Chapel had become Lloyd-Jones’ ‘personal fiefdom’ (p.87) and that this was to become the pattern of church leadership followed by ‘many evangelical ministers in Wales’. He also argues that second-degree separation has also become common, encouraging a contentious spirit with multiple successive splits repeatedly taking place. In supposed contrast to the now ‘inward looking’ and blinkered Evangelical Movement of Wales (p.87), the picture is given of a resurgent Church in Wales, influenced by John Stott, and also a revitalised Evangelical Alliance Wales. In other words, Lloyd-Jones’ current impact on what might be regarded as his home constituency is rated as virtually nil. What is one to make of that? In a real sense, sad as it might seem, the description is true. Only a constantly diminishing number of (now) older ministers remember him and still fewer seem convincingly committed to the principles that were dear to him. But one must not rush to falsely drawn statistical conclusions about this. Rather, it is further evidence of the dire state of the land spiritually. As recently as a quarter of a century ago the present writer would have rated Wales as being ahead of England both in statistical attendance at public worship and with regard to what loosely might be described as the religious ethos of the nation. That is no longer the case. Apart from a few very rare instances, well-attended churches and chapels are the exception in the country. No longer can the once traditional picture of Wales that was sombre, largely chapel-going, sober and Sabbath-keeping be held to be even remotely recognisable as a description of contemporary society. Rather it is secular, anti-religious, contemptuous of its spiritual past and, if the truth be told, even antagonistic toward any semblance of heartfelt and life-changing religion. The worm has certainly turned – and with a vengeance. The glory days of our history which issued from and were preceded by what even secular historians used to recognise as religious revivals are long since passed and gone. This was evident in a recent fascinating four-part series on ‘The Story of Wales’ hosted by the well-known BBC newsreader, Huw Edwards. When it came to a survey of the 18th-century they managed to take a hop, skip and a jump over the Methodist Revival as though it had been non-existent. How what purported to be a responsible programme could have managed to ignore the transformation that turned the country from being a backward rural one into one of the most literate nations in the world, amongst other things, can only be understood in terms of the complete reversal of the caricature of Welsh life and culture that seems to go unchallenged in allegedly intellectual circles today.
The next chapter in the book is by Ian Randall of Spurgeon’s College, London, and the International Baptist Theological Seminary, Prague, and is entitled ‘Lloyd-Jones and Revival’. Incidentally it is worth noting that neither the subject nor the speaker was present at the original Oxford Conference – in which case it is a deficit in the latter that has been well remedied. Not only was the subject one which was close to Lloyd-Jones’ heart, it would be even more accurate to say that it was one that gripped him and gave impetus and meaning to the whole of his ministry. I remember him telling me on one occasion that he believed that one reason why God had raised him from his sick bed following his illness and subsequent resignation in 1968 from his ministry at Westminster Chapel was to enable him to go around the country preaching the need for revival. The present sad condition of Wales, not to mention that of Britain at large, would simply confirm him in his view. At one of the Bala Ministers’ Conferences in the 1970s someone raised the question as to why, if revival was so necessary, the alleged one of 1904-5 had not been more lasting in its results. It really was part of a suggestion that the ’04 was not all that some cracked it up to be. In other words, Was it really a revival at all? Lloyd-Jones’ response was simple and emphatic. Bad as things were (this was about 40 years ago) they would have been a thousand times worse had it not been for what God did in the land in those years. Many of the members of the Westminster Fellowship may remember him saying that on only two occasions had he experienced revival in his ministry. On both occasions he woke up and realised that he had been dreaming! This is interesting in view of the fact that there must have been thousands whose conversion could be traced to his ministries at Sandfields, Westminster and nationwide. But in his opinion he had never experienced revival.
But there can be no doubt about the depth of his conviction, indeed the passion, with which he preached the urgent necessity of revival as the only answer to the plight of the nation. This attitude is well captured by Randall in this chapter. He clearly demonstrates that this was a conviction with Lloyd-Jones throughout his ministry and it explains why, above everything else, he was ‘an 18th-century man’. No doubt some would rank this conviction as an obsession, even one that bordered on escapism; but for him it was the increasingly urgent need and the only thing that could turn the situation around. That he could hold such a position without descending into pessimism and discouragement was because of his strong biblical persuasion of the over-arching sovereignty of God.
Ever one to seize on anniversaries and turn them into occasions for contemporary profit, in 1959 he preached a series of sermons in commemoration of the 1859 Revival and in many ways, these sermons, together with his several addresses on characters involved in revivals, provide Randall with the basis for what undoubtedly is a chapter that fairly and accurately sets forth Lloyd-Jones’ views on the subject. It is interesting in view of the fact that some have sought to rule out the possibility of there being a revival before the Day of Pentecost, that all but two of the texts that Lloyd-Jones preached on in that memorable series were from the Old Testament. Given his admiration for Jonathan Edwards who, commenting on Genesis 4:26, ‘…then began men to call upon the name of the Lord’, said that, ‘…the way in which the greatest things have been done towards carrying on this work, always has been by remarkable pourings out of the Spirit at special seasons of mercy…’, this was hardly surprising. Lloyd-Jones was profoundly convinced not only of the need for revival but of the possibility of God sending one. If and when he did so, it would result in the phenomenal turn round both in the religious experience of those who were already Christians and in the turning to him of the most unlikely and hardened cases. That Lloyd-Jones saw something of this in Sandfields in the 1930s confirmed him in such a conviction.
Emphatically this was not a type of romantic escapism. His reading of, and explanation for, Christian history all pointed him to this conclusion. Of course, he realised that there could be what some might call ‘non-theological factors’ at work here. One instance of this would be the contemporary dismissal of the emphasis on revival on the basis that it is ‘Welsh’ – something of a national hangover that prevents its adherents from getting up and doing anything practical in church terms about the present situation. To some extent this may account for the steady downplaying of this note in many assessments of the Doctor, despite the fact that the 18th century work was manifestly wider than Wales. The fact that he had the temerity, not to say the audacity, to suggest that possibly there was something in the typical make up of the average down-to-earth and pragmatic Englishman that predisposed him in this direction caused (and still causes) some hackles to rise! But before such an opinion is dismissed as the predictable ravings of a nationalistic inhabitant of the land west of Offa’s Dyke it may be worthwhile remembering that this admittedly fervent Welshman spent the vast majority of his life living and working amongst Englishmen and that he was well capable of making adverse comments regarding his own kith and kin! Indeed from some of the latter he received severe criticism!
Of course, a basic part of his doctrine of revival related it to the baptism of the Spirit. This is something that Randall both acknowledges and also recognises as the potential grounds for the rejection of his position at least for some (p.113). Certainly more work needs to be done on the fact that many of those whose testimonies Lloyd-Jones happily used in support of his connecting revival with his understanding of the baptism of the Spirit would have disagreed with him at least in terminology.
This fact possibly provides a suitable point at which to move on to the next chapter ‘Lloyd-Jones and the Charismatic Controversy’. Originally given in the conference by William Kay under the title ‘Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ influence on Pentecostalism and neo-Pentecostalism’, there is no doubt that this revised and much altered paper, now rewritten under the names of three co-authors, Atherstone, Ceri Jones and Kay, is much improved in the process.
What it does is to outline the connections that Lloyd-Jones had, particularly from the 1960s onwards, with the growing number of men, some of them (mostly young) Anglicans who to a greater or lesser extent were to become connected with the emerging charismatic movement. This is quite a crucial area and has been variously seized upon by critics and supporters alike as stripping away the outer shell and showing what the real man was like. The former would view this as proof of Lloyd-Jones’ inherent Pentecostal tendencies, whereas the latter probably regard it as evidence of his willingness to rise above social and denominational barriers. By way of preliminary comment it is probably worthwhile noting that from the earliest days of his ministry in Aberavon, and even before that, he was well aware of men who had been deeply affected by the 1904 Revival. For example, Evan Roberts himself was known to Mrs Lloyd-Jones from her childhood on – in fact he attended their wedding in 1927. Furthermore, there were many ministers who had been touched by the Revival who came to him for help over 20 years after the Revival had ceased. Moreover, he was well acquainted with many of the adherents of the Gospel Halls that proliferated in the years following the Revival and who recognised in him and in the message he preached a kindred spirit, even if he did not dot all their i’s and cross all their t’s.
These mainly young Anglican curates who came to him for an assessment of what was happening to them were at an extreme end of the academic and social spectrum. Most of them were ex-public schoolboys educated at Oxford or Cambridge, ‘Bash-campers’ into the bargain. But they came to him probably for one main reason as far as they were concerned. The Doctor probably saw this as evidence of a long-held and deeply rooted conviction – he was looking for signs anywhere that would constitute evidence of the moving of the Spirit, be it in Cwmtwrch or in the more upper-class Home Counties.
Men such as David Watson, J. T. C. B. Collins, Michael Harper and David MacInnes were among those who came to see him. In his opinion, at least according to their recollections, the experiences they had had tallied with his own experience of ‘the glory’. This he had known first in a Bristol nursing home and then in rural North Wales back in 1949. He believed them to have been baptised with the Holy Spirit. But if this was felt to presage a coming together of two hitherto divergent streams of evangelicalism it was not to be. Generally speaking, the young clergymen involved moved in a more overtly charismatic direction, and in the case of Harper eventually to be received into the Greek Orthodox Church. Clearly this group was different in important respects from the older and more classic Pentecostals who had appreciated his ministry from his Sandfields days onwards. In later years, typical of these was W. T. H. (Billy) Richards of Slough. He was a member of the Westminster Fellowship and Lloyd-Jones preached for him on several occasions and actually delivered a tribute at his funeral in 1974.
Connections such as these together with the eventual publication of Lloyd-Jones’ sermons on Ephesians 1, Romans 8 and particularly two volumes, Joy Unspeakable and Prove All Things were the final proof, if any were really needed, as far as some critics were concerned that all the while he had been a closet Pentecostal. All this is duly documented in this chapter as are the criticisms that were made, sometimes very trenchantly, of the Doctor. The suggestion made by some was that these traits were marks of doctrinal declension, even of theological senility – although I doubt whether the latter suggestion was ever made to his face. It would have been easily refuted in that the Ephesian 1 sermons on the Sealing of the Spirit were preached in the winter of 1954-5, so that if he was showing signs of senility at least they were consistently betrayed from that time onwards.
In reality what was being brought to the surface in this dispute was something that went back to his fascination with the 18th century revival and its leaders. Whether or not they recognise the description, the Doctor affirmed that they had all been baptised with the Holy Spirit. This he affirmed to have been true of the Welsh Methodist Fathers, Whitefield and the Wesleys, together with a multitude of lesser-known men. Nothing else could account for the phenomenal effects on both sides of the Atlantic that were experienced in the Great Awakening or the Methodist Revival. This, as far as he was concerned, was part of the heritage of Calvinistic Methodism – the denomination in which he had been brought up, although by that time it had sadly strayed far from its moorings.
From Sydney (Australia), to Scotland, to sedate Sussex, evangelical critics were not slow to raise their objections. Amongst these were Erroll Hulse, who gathered a considerable number of Baptists of one sort behind him, and, possibly more cruelly, by Dr Masters of Spurgeon’s Tabernacle, who apparently refused to sell any of the Doctor’s books in consequence.
When, as the chapter goes on to state, the pastorate at Westminster Chapel was filled by Dr R. T. Kendall who seems to have become increasingly bizarre in his methods and techniques, and who subsequently claimed that all this was agreed, at least in principle with Lloyd-Jones, inasmuch as allegedly during the Doctor’s later years Kendall’s sermons – according to Kendall – were vetted by Lloyd-Jones, the proof was conclusive of Lloyd-Jones’ theological dubiety if not his heresy. The matter was not helped by the way in which Lloyd-Jones’ sermons on John 1:16-34 were issued. They came out in two volumes, months apart. Christopher Catherwood, their editor, subsequently claimed that this was because of the economic constraints imposed by the publishers. If so, from the point of view of Lloyd-Jones’ theological reputation it was a tragic blunder, even if the decision was at the insistence of a charismatic publishing house. Lloyd-Jones was nothing if not methodical in his preaching, and so to extract after the first 8 sermons of Joy Unspeakable the very sermons that put forth all the checks and balances that he had deliberately preached, and then delay their publication until the next year was not only asking for trouble, it was playing into the hands of those who were waiting to pounce. One can only assume that had Lloyd-Jones still been alive at the time of publication it would never have happened. Shortly afterwards I was preaching in Southeast Asia and came across some Christian bookshops that would sell Joy Unspeakable but that would not touch Prove All Things with the proverbial barge-pole and vice versa. The one lot were Charismatic, the other Reformed. Thankfully the two volumes are now printed together and in the right order and in a single volume so that people can make a balanced judgement on the whole argument. I remember speaking to the Doctor some years before he died and saying that he really ought to print his mature views on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. His reply was that he must do so, and that when he did it would be the two dozen or so sermons that he had preached in his series on John.
As the chapter concludes Lloyd-Jones became ‘a posthumous battleground for rival interpreters . . . He had become the totemic, and yet contested, icon in the struggle for doctrinal dominance in the contemporary church.'(p.155).
There follow two chapters, one by a Southern Baptist researcher, Ben Bailie, who is doing a Ph.D. on Lloyd-Jones’ preaching, and the other by the former principal (now retired) of the LTS, Philip Eveson, that deals with Lloyd-Jones’ developing views on ministerial education. It is not that they are unimportant, even though they were listed as ‘Short Papers’ in the original Conference, but I assume that few of my readers will want to cross swords with them.
Instead, I move on to Robert Pope’s chapter on ‘Lloyd-Jones and Fundamentalism’. In ‘ “the eyes of non-evangelicals … Most would not even have known his name”, and those who did know, ‘branded him as “fundamentalist” and fanatical.’ ” So reads Alec Motyer’s comment in a letter to John Brencher, Lloyd-Jones’ not altogether sympathetic biographer. Whatever be the validity of Motyer’s comment there can be no doubt that ‘fundamentalist’ was an epithet that was hurled in Lloyd-Jones’ face time and time again. From his famous but little-known controversy (it had been in Welsh) with Aneurin Talfan Davies, a son of the Calvinistic Methodist manse, now turned Anglican and who had risen to eminence in the Welsh BBC, to lesser men who derisively dismissed the Doctor and his followers as Martinets, the charge was not infrequently made. It had been the young J. I. Packer who had written what has become the classic refutation of the accusation that often has been charged against evangelicals. I refer to Fundamentalism and the Word of God. Douglas Johnson’s article on the subject in ‘The Christian Graduate’ back in the 1950s should have laid the charge to rest perpetually. But the terminology in more recent years has been widened beyond mere evangelicalism to be laid at the feet of those of any religion or none who would take their beliefs seriously and deem any violent action in its defence commendable. ‘Give a dog a bad name…’ seems to be the principle that lies behind the recrudescence of this charge.
But strong as were his evangelical convictions Lloyd-Jones never came into the ‘fundamentalist’ category. His was not a bigoted advocacy of the Christian faith, but one based on rational Biblical exegesis and the Bible’s own claims. On his first transatlantic visit in 1932 he met up with the scion of Canadian evangelicalism T.T. Shields, Minister of Jarvis Street Baptist Church, Toronto, but Lloyd-Jones disagreed with him because of his belligerent manner in advocating the gospel. Similarly at home in South Wales he took the same attitude with R.B. Jones, Minister of Tabernacle, Porth, although he often preached for him. When challenged along those lines his reply would be that he preferred the term ‘Conservative Evangelical’(p.217). But he made no bones about the fact that the men responsible for the original composition The Fundamentals were simply Christian men advocating the essential elements of the gospel. With the likes of them he had no arguments on these matters. Unfortunately the chapter ends with a conclusion that somewhat that leaves the slur of ‘fundamentalism’ still hanging over Lloyd-Jones. It brings together his ‘advocacy of withdrawal from doctrinally mixed denominations’ and ‘his suspicion of academia especially academic theology’(p.217). But these in no way justify the charge.
Again, and for the reasons already stated above, I pass by Robert Strivens; chapter on ‘Lloyd-Jones and Karl Barth’. Strivens does show that even in Lloyd-Jones’ early ministerial career in the 1930s when many British Protestants were becoming wildly enthusiastic about Barth and Barthianism as though it would prove to be the final nail in the coffin of liberalism, Lloyd-Jones was wiser. He read the man but remained sceptical and basically believed that Barth was fundamentally flawed as an expositor of biblical religion as re-established at the time of the Reformation.
But the next chapter by John Maiden on ‘Lloyd-Jones and Roman Catholicism’ simply cannot be overlooked, for it is here, as much as at any point, that there is a direct conflict between Lloyd-Jones’ position and what has become the emerging attitude to the Roman Catholic faith, not least amongst some Evangelicals. The basic question left in the air remains whether or not Lloyd-Jones was something of a blind bigot, never able to shake free of the prejudiced and typically Protestant nonconformist view in which he would have been brought up. In other words, how does the Roman Catholic Church’s claim that she is ‘Semper eadem’ comport with the changes that have taken place since Vatican II.
Once again it is worth noting that this paper was not given at the Conference, but undoubtedly it highlights an important aspect of Lloyd-Jones’ thought and one for which he has been much criticised. As much as any other section of the book it forces on the reader the question as to whether Lloyd-Jones was something of a hidebound relic, prevented by his inherited and blinkered views from moving with the times, or on the contrary did he display remarkable prescience and a discernment that has proved accurate in the light of subsequent developments in the evangelical scene? As Maiden points out Lloyd-Jones displayed a consistent attitude in his view of Roman Catholicism despite the variation in appearances on the part of Catholicism over the decades of the 20th century. It is true that he became more outspoken in his criticisms of Roman Catholicism in particular from the 1960s onwards, but this was no new theme to appear in his thinking. The publication of the Catechism in 1994 simply confirmed the accuracy of Lloyd-Jones’ criticisms and of the attitude to Rome taken by the XXXIX Articles.
During the first year of his ministry in Aberavon the proposed 1928 Prayer Book was rejected by Parliament. Subsequent years saw other Christians being dubbed ‘separated brethren’ by Roman Catholics and Vatican II introduced what seemed to be a kinder and less traditionally rigid structure. However, Lloyd-Jones’ attitude remained unchanged.
Perhaps it should be mentioned that none of this affected his attitudes towards and contacts with individual Roman Catholics. His own brother Vincent while at Oxford came heavily under the influence of Roman Catholics such as G. K. Chesterton, Hillaire Belloc, Evelyn Waugh and Ronald Knox (p.236), although he never converted to Rome. Lloyd-Jones was fully aware of the continuing catholic and high church tendency in the Church of England and perhaps even more so in the Church of Wales.
His post-1960 more outspoken attitude can probably be explained by two factors. Firstly, the subtle but, Lloyd-Jones would maintain, superficial changes in Rome’s presentation of what basically was a static power structure gave the appearance of moving with the times, while in reality adhering to what it had ever been. This had been its genius over the centuries. Secondly, he saw the softening attitude in particular on the part of Anglican evangelicals to the Roman Catholic Church and its claims. The old anti-Roman spirit which had been a marked feature of the evangelical Anglican position especially since the rise of the Oxford Movement in the 1830s was on the wane. One by one, barriers which had been heralded as bastions and which, were they to fall, would indicate that the time had come for an exodus from the Church of England, were effectively dismantled. Subscription by Ordinands to the Book of Common Prayer, and the XXXIX Articles – all were swept away by Parliamentary or Synodical decision and the legalising of priestly vestments had been accepted. Visits to Rome by a succession of Archbishops and Moderators followed, culminating in Pope and Prelate exchanging the kiss of peace.
All this was compounded by developments within evangelical Anglicanism that seemed to indicate in no uncertain terms which way the ecclesiastical tide was flowing. The scene within the Church of England was undoubtedly changing, as was evidenced with the 1965 publication of All In Each Place: Towards Reunion in England, edited by Packer and emphasising that future proposals for Anglican and Methodist reunion should not ‘create conscientious difficulties for Anglo-Catholics’ (p.250). The Keele Congress, which was to follow in 1967, confirmed these trends. I personally remember sitting next to J. I. Packer at the December 1966 Puritan conference at tea and raising with him what, to me, was the somewhat incredible prospect of the then Archbishop of Canterbury – Dr Ramsay – being asked to open the Congress. Packer’s response was that they could anticipate what Ramsay was likely to say and that he, Packer, was scheduled to give a keynote address following this which would provide opportunity for a riposte. But you can read that address in the published report of the conference in vain if you are looking for an evangelical response to what the Archbishop had said. Pope John XXIII’s benign features and his policy of aggiornamento, seemed to have had something of a soporific effect on the biblical and evangelical consciences of our brethren.
Lloyd-Jones’ concern at Rome’s claims in the areas of Authority (237), Ecclesiology (238f), Worship (239f), Eschatology (240f) and Temporal concerns (241f) were all swept under the carpet and reduced to the level of outdated criticisms that took no account of current changes. His fundamental position had been well expressed in one of his sermons in the Ephesians 6 series and subsequently published as a stand-alone booklet in 1966 under the title Roman Catholicism. ‘I would not hesitate to assert that this system, known as Roman Catholicism, is the devil’s greatest masterpiece. It is such a departure from the Christian faith and the New Testament teaching, that I would not hesitate with the reformers of the 16th century to describe it as “apostasy”.’
What I have already described as Lloyd-Jones’ prescience is possibly discernible in this whole area. The early accommodating attitude towards Anglo-Catholics seen already in Packer was to develop. Sadly, he has become one of the leading lights in the rapprochement advocated by ‘Evangelicals and Catholics Together’ and by his leadership in the movement embracing Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics in opposition to what seems to be the Pan-Anglican position that would legalise homosexual bishops in the Anglican hierarchical structure.
Maiden also touches on the dissolution of the old Puritan Conference and its replacement (after a year’s interval) by the Westminster Conference in 1971, following the publication of Growing into Union: Proposals for Forming a United Church in England. Packer, Colin Buchanan (both Church of England Evangelicals) were joint authors, together with Graham Leonard (who subsequently joined the Roman Catholic Church) and Eric Mascall (a well-known High Church scholar). The four authors had each ‘agreed on the whole text’. Keele’s successor, the National Evangelical Anglican Congress at Nottingham in 1977 seemed to continue the process. Roman Catholics were described as ‘fellow Christians’ and repentance was offered for previous denials of this fact.
Meanwhile Lloyd-Jones was involved in the foundation of the London Theological Seminary (the LTS). Although he personally had never been a member of any Protestant society he was very happy to establish the LTS ‘as not merely an evangelical but a definitely Protestant institution’ (p.257).
As Maiden points out, Lloyd-Jones’ objections were to Roman Catholicism as a body and a church. Personally he was on good, but uncompromising, terms with individual Roman Catholics. One of them, H. W. J. Edwards who lived in Trealaw in the Rhondda Valley, was an old-style G. K. Chesterton-like Roman Catholic yet he would go to Westminster Chapel to hear Lloyd-Jones and corresponded with him over the years. It was not that Lloyd-Jones believed that no Roman Catholics were Christians. In this, of course, he was absolutely in line with John Calvin and the other magisterial Reformers. But, like them, he would maintain that such were Christians, despite, not because of, the Roman Catholic Church.
This brings me on to what in many ways is the most surprising and at the same time possibly the most valuable chapter in the book. It is by one of the joint editors, Andrew Atherstone, a tutor at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and is entitled: ‘Lloyd-Jones and the Anglican Secession Crisis’.
It is surprising in that it is written by an Anglican who is a tutor at the theological college (which numbers Dr Packer amongst its distinguished alumni) but who contrives to give a remarkably fair and objective account of the whole furore surrounding Lloyd-Jones, notorious, some might say infamous, 1966 Evangelical Alliance address. He does it in a balanced way – much more so, be it said, than the tone and innuendo of some of the other contributions. To a real degree he succeeds in taking the lid off the pan of theological and denominational issues that were seething in 1966.
Earlier in the decade J. A. T. Robinson, Bishop of Woolwich, had published Honest to God and had also appeared as a witness for the defence in the notorious ‘Lady Chatterley’ trial; Mass Vestments and stone tables were legalised; ambiguously worded prayers for the dead were reintroduced, and the Prayer Book ‘was undermined by a bevy of new experimental services’ (p.262). These factors plus, for example, archiepiscopal visits to Rome precipitated not maybe a flood, but the beginnings of a trickle of Anglican defections usually to nonconformist Independent churches – a trickle that was to continue for some years to come. Atherstone lists them in the 1960s from Eric Lane, Herbert Carson, Moshe Radcliffe and others down to John Rosser and Peter Beale. Altogether they add up to about twenty, considerably more than the two quoted by John Brencher in his rather tendentious biography of Lloyd-Jones (p.262).
As Atherstone comes to his concluding paragraph he seems to leave it as an open question, ‘Who was to blame for shattering British evangelicalism’s peaceful coexistence?’ Was it Lloyd-Jones or Anglicans of the like of Stott, Packer, Buchanan, and other leaders in the Keele and subsequent Congresses? Atherstone certainly makes it clear as he puts it that ‘the testimony of these Anglican seceders of the 1960s and early 1970s has been largely airbrushed from the history books, resulting in a skewed simplistic picture of exclusivist Independent versus ecumenical Anglicans.’ (p.292)
What seems to be evident from his balanced account of these years is that the primary questions that Lloyd-Jones was posing in his 1966 address – What is a Christian? and, What is a church? – have been repeatedly sidestepped during the reporting of the debate and in the subsequent controversy. As a result it is surely less than surprising that the fundamental point that Lloyd-Jones was making in 1966 that, despite our lesser differences on the big essentials, Evangelicals of various hues are truly one with each other on these matters and, therefore, that we ought to be seen to be one in an age in which the very nature and continuing existence of biblical Christianity has been lost. In other words, surely the gospel demanded more than occasional trans-denominational fellowship such as existed in evangelicalism generally. Especially was this so if commitment to denominational bodies that had moved far from their evangelical origins was held to be sacrosanct. The latter sadly proved to be the case judging by the widespread reaction against his call.
To us, the point might seem to be obvious. But for whatever reasons – and they are various – not all view it in that way. As an unequivocal nonconformist and a dissenter I cannot but call attention to what I would describe as ‘the strange establishment mystique’ that seems still to dominate the thinking of many people, even fellow nonconformists. It can find no ground in the New Testament pattern of the church (nor, it should be said, in the overall biblical pattern as it develops in both Old and New Testaments). The attitude was epitomised in the arguments of Julian Charley (formerly one of Stott’s curates) reported by Atherstone (p.275). Old style Disestablishmentarianism might have slipped off the ecclesiastical and political agendas in the 21st century, and in an anti-religious age does not seem likely to make a return. But the fact remains that even in a paradoxical way among Freechurchmen and women ‘Establishmentitis’ seems almost to be built subconsciously into their character. They assume the rightful priority of the Church of England because it is the ‘national’ church and they dutifully tug their forelocks and bow and scrape in the appointed manner as they take their (subordinate) place in the procession of ecclesiastical dignitaries.
Undoubtedly there is more than a touch of this in the attitude of many Anglicans to the whole question of ecclesiology. Probably it was because he was never willing to kow-tow to this position that Lloyd-Jones was regarded as such an irritant by the generality who bothered with him at all, and more particularly by many Anglicans whose complacent ecclesiastical plumage was ruffled by the arguments of one who was not even an Englishman (and was not afraid to say so), even suggesting that a fair degree of snobbery probably lay behind what might be dressed up in pious language.
Certainly, as Atherstone’s account makes clear, there was something of a well laid plan put into effect at the 1965 Islington Clerical Conference. ‘The air was thick … with the protestations of undying loyalty to “our beloved Church” ’ (p.265) as the Church of England Newspaper reported. It continued, ‘One hopes that all the pink-faced young curates, secret thoughts of spectacular secession lurking in their breasts, felt suitably chastened for their cogitated disloyalty.’ Predictably Anglican Evangelicals’ big-guns were used to drive the message home – from Peter Johnson (Vicar of St Mary’s, Islington), Maurice Wood (then Principal of Oak Hill Theological College, but later to become Bishop of Norwich), Roger Beckwith (then Librarian of Latimer house) and John Pearce (Rector of St Paul’s, Homerton). Later in the year John Stott specifically addressed the issue, speaking at the annual meeting of the Church Society, as did George Marchant (Vicar of St Nicholas, Durham) together with Dr Packer at the Eclectic Society conference at Swanwick in September.
Later still Packer was to complain that Lloyd-Jones’ 1966 call was a ‘campaign of words without plans.’ (p.272). This position was elaborated years later by Carl Trueman who complained that Lloyd-Jones’ vague alternative to Anglicanism was ‘a non-ecclesiastical, non-confessional disaster.’ (p.272). Presumably he means that the Doctor had not produced a Presbyterian blueprint on which the forthcoming seceders could structure their theologyThis is interesting as it betrays either an ignorance or, more likely, a rejection of Lloyd-Jones’ often argued distinction between the primaries and secondaries in the pecking order of evangelical doctrinal priorities. It is well known that into the latter category he was willing to place matters of church government, Independency, Presbyterianism and even Episcopacy. Important as they were they simply did not compare with the fundamental issues that were and still are at stake in a situation which calls into question the very nature of the gospel.
On any reckoning this chapter by Atherstone must be reckoned as the most important one in the book. It is remarkably dispassionate and fair and does seem to hold out hope for future dialogue, if he is speaking for more than himself. Any past recriminations must be laid to rest and a new attempt be made at reconciliation between those who, as Lloyd-Jones truly believed, were brothers in Christ.
It would be unrealistic to put the final chapter of the book into the same category. Written by John Coffey, a Professor of History at Leicester University, and entitled ‘Lloyd-Jones and the Protestant past’, it is an attempt to position and assess Lloyd-Jones’ undoubted fascination with history and its employment in the mid-20th-century scene. ‘The histories we tell shape who we are’, says Coffey as he begins the chapter (p.293). But then in the pages that follow he virtually maintains that the histories told by the Doctor and the contemporary shapes he derived from them were really aberrations. As he proceeds through the chapter the strong disagreement of the author with Lloyd-Jones’ method and conclusions becomes evident.
Let me illustrate the mood of Coffey’s position with a series of verbatim comments that he makes. They show something of his mindset. ‘For Lloyd-Jones, the “technical scholar” was to be subordinate to the “biblical theologian” when it came to formulating doctrine.’ (p.298). ‘When the Doctor provided his diagnosis of evangelicalism’s ills at the Kingham Conference that established the Tyndale Fellowship in 1941, G. T. Manley slowly turned his back to the speaker in silent protest’ (p.321) ‘And since those around Lloyd-Jones were deeply shaped by a pietistic reaction against the social gospel, they displayed little interest in retrieving the riches of Puritan political thought.’ (p.300). ‘Warnings against “intellectualism” and “scholasticism” recurred throughout Lloyd-Jones’ lectures and addresses. They might be seen as part of a consistently anti-establishment ethos, which made him suspicious of the English metropolitan elite, state churches, high culture and the ivory towers of academia.’ (p.303). ‘… His own brand of historical reflection had little time for scholarly concerns. Instead, it was unashamedly utilitarian.’ (p.304) ‘During a decade of unprecedented cultural upheaval, Lloyd-Jones was dwelling on the past. The perils of the ecumenical movement loomed larger than the challenge of secularism. Despite Vatican II, he thought that little had changed; contemporary Protestants faced a Catholic Church that was at least as bad as in Luther’s day. Rome was not allowed to shift its ground and evangelicals did not need to adapt.’ (p.305) ‘Lloyd-Jones’ account of history was avowedly partisan. He found it to be impossible to be objective about Anglicanism.’ (p.305) ‘He recycled the old cliche that the Church of England in the early 18th century “was dead”…’ (p.305) ‘The strange appeal of Anglicanism he could only explain by resort to national stereotypes: “The via media appeals to the Englishman,” he suggested, and, “the typical Englishman has a dislike of definitions”.’ (p.305) ‘… he had neither the training nor the resources of a professional historian’. (p.306) (His 1967 Luther address) ‘… was a ringing endorsement of the Whig interpretation of history.’ (p.306) His views that the Reformation was led by a Spirit-filled man whereas the ecumenical movement was one of professors and ecclesiastics, ‘… resonated with pietist evangelicals, but it was dubious history.’ (p.308) ‘English Protestant history was now a tale of struggle between Puritan heroes and Anglican villains and there was simply no room for Packer’s (sic), for Puritans who tried to work within Anglicanism.’ (p.313) And so on!
That Lloyd-Jones was deeply interested in history is undeniable as is his support of the Banner of Truth Trust from the late 1950s onwards. But even here he is blamed. This ‘Puritan Publishing House’ has become very selective in its republication policy. Thus it has created a rather limited range of ‘approved’ Puritans, rather than reproducing something akin to the whole range of Puritan literary enterprise from Milton to the Arminian John Goodwin.
It is not surprising, therefore, to discover that in virtually every one of his historical parallels Lloyd-Jones ends up on the wrong side of the most up-to-date opinions amongst historians. Thus the Doctor turns out to have been out of touch with modern scholarship in what he believed and taught from Luther to the 19th century. ‘… He tended to remake the Reformers in the image of later evangelicals.’ (p.308) This was ‘dubious history’. His views on the Puritans needed to be corrected by those of Patrick Collinson. With regard to the 18th-century his views of ‘the 18th-century twist’, it is alleged, failed to see it was downgrading Puritanism in upgrading Revival. And in the 19th century Charles Finney becomes ‘the chief culprit’ (p.320) whose heavy hand has been upon all subsequent evangelical developments. As for the 20th-century he was highly critical of the resurgence of the social gospel and the cultural revolution led by Schaeffer and Rookmaaker. So in the judgement of this professional historian we can say that Lloyd-Jones was basically wrong all along the line.
Eventually Coffey concludes that as a result of the unfolding of all these developments there are now four competing views of true Puritanism: 1. That of Lloyd-Jones; 2. That of J. I. Packer; 3. R. T. Kendall’s version; and, 4. Carl Trueman’s return to Scholastic Reformed orthodoxy. He would seem to opt for some combination of Packer and Trueman as being the most satisfactory.
In any case, what many would judge to have been one of Lloyd-Jones’ strengths, namely his seeking of relevant historical comparisons, turns out in fact, at least in Coffey’s eyes, to have been his Achilles heel in that he has used, or should we say, misused it to illegitimately extract a historical parallel when none actually exists.
With regard to the late 20th century revival of enthusiasm for social involvement Coffey, like several others, assumes that the Doctor’s scepticism about its evangelical validity was born of the prejudice of his upbringing and of the circles in which he moved. But here, as in so many points, Coffey is simply wrong. Such views conveniently ignore the fact that for the first decade of his ministry Lloyd-Jones spent his time in what was possibly one of the most socially deprived areas of the British Isles. It had been his desire to go to such an area rather than to a more salubrious pastorate. He knew full well the arguments that were being advanced for the social application of the gospel as a means of evangelism. However, unlike many of the latter’s advocates he knew that nothing but the New Testament gospel proclaimed in the power of the Spirit would touch the problem and give any hope of a remedy. He practised what he believed and it worked!
In summary, therefore, this volume is certainly valuable inasmuch as it seeks to review objectively the life and teachings of a very great man. Reading it, one comes away with the distinct impression that had he acted upon the advice of many of his critics his ministry would have been very different. No doubt it would have been. In fact it would have been something of a flop! I well remember being confronted for the first time by someone who had come from a not dissimilar background to that of Lloyd-Jones. I was travelling back from Oxford, where I was a student, to my home in South Wales. At Didcot we picked up the train from Paddington. I found myself in a compartment (this must have been back in 1960) that contained two other men. It turned out that one was a Brethren missionary on furlough. The other who must have been an octogenarian was a retired Annibynnwr (Independent or Welsh Congregational) Welsh speaking retired Minister from London. I took out the book that I had brought with me to read on the train. It was the first volume of Lloyd-Jones’ sermons on the Sermon on the Mount, just published by the IVF press. My elderly companion recognised what the book was and who was its author. Immediately he initiated a conversation – or should I say an argument – that continued all the way to Cardiff, to the bemused and largely silent amazement of the Brethren missionary. ‘Why had not a man like him done an Albert Schweitzer and gone to darkest Africa where the medical needs were so acute?’ And so for the next two hours the discussion, or disputation, went on. To my rather young and relatively innocent eyes it was a revelation. I was being confronted by antagonism bordering on hatred that was being directed at the greatest preacher I had ever heard. It was, I say, something of an eye-opener to me. In some ways it prepared me for more of the same sort to come. But what I was quite unready for was the way in which about a half a dozen years later so many of the evangelical community were willing to part company with the man whom, they believed, was making a terrible mistake in the call he was issuing. There was, of course, no vitriolic hatred such as I perceived in the railway compartment. It was replaced by faint praise and words to the effect that ‘If only he had not become so divisive …’
This book will raise again these issues and will stimulate thought that is still supremely relevant to the contemporary ecclesiastical scene. If anything, the situation is far worse today than it was in 1966 and in Lloyd-Jones’ later years. No longer do we face the hostility of indifference. It has been replaced by arrogant opposition bordering on ridicule as any semblance of being a ‘Christian nation’ becomes increasingly farcical. What is a Christian? and, What is a Church? are still the questions that must be pondered and then answered with clarity by the church before she can hope to make any real impression on a hostile world. Conviction on those questions that is biblically based coupled with the heavenly anointing of preaching in the power of the Spirit remains the answer.
If due reconsideration of such issues moves us in that direction, the book will have done its work.
The Greatest Story Ever Told 10 June 2022
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