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Dr Lloyd-Jones on Testimonies

Category Articles
Date January 5, 2010

It1 was customary among evangelical Christians at this date [the 1920s] to encourage the practice of giving ‘testimonies’ as a form of evangelistic witness, and equally common for ministers to include personal references of various kinds in their sermons. Given Dr Lloyd-Jones’ unusual career and its interest for the general public; given also, the spiritual experience which had so changed his life; it might well be supposed that references to his own story would have appeared frequently in his preaching. The case was exactly the opposite. References to himself in his sermons were brief and rare. Anything in the way of a testimony to his conversion experience was almost wholly absent. The omission was not an oversight on his part but the result of deep convictions.

For one thing, he noticed that the giving of testimonies tended to reduce all conversions to a similar pattern, to standardise experience in a way which went beyond Scripture. And yet, at the same time, testimony-givers were prone to emphasise what made their story noteworthy. No doubt the motives were often well-intentioned, but the effect could easily be carnal and man-centred. Hearers readily became impressed with the dramatic and unique features of a story, instead of with the grace of God which is identical in every conversion. In his own case – as the newspapers reporting his change of career had found – it was easy to emphasise the unusual and to speak of ‘the great sacrifice’ he had made in leaving Medicine, but he disliked such language intensely. To speak of any ‘loss’ in the context of being a Christian amounted, in his eyes, to a denial of the gospel. He never forgot the shock of once hearing a man say, ‘I have been a Christian for twenty years and have not regretted it’! Further, his view of preaching was such that to talk of ‘sacrifice’ in relation to that work was virtually absurd.

There could be no higher privilege than that of being a messenger of the God who has pledged his help and presence to those whom he sends. When, as happened at times, people referred in admiring terms to his self-denial in entering the ministry, he repudiated the intended compliment completely. ‘I gave up nothing,’ he said on one such occasion, ‘I received everything. I count it the highest honour that God can confer on any man to call him to be a herald of the gospel.’

Certainly his concern lest attention should be diverted to what is least important was one major reason for his lifelong unwillingness to employ his own testimony in preaching.

There was, however, a still more fundamental reason behind his divergence from normal evangelical practice. It was that he knew that the argument from experience could be matched by the claims and apparent results of other ‘gospels’. Do Christians claim to have obtained happiness and deliverance from fears? So do the converts to Christian Science and to other cults. ‘Our case’ he was never to tire of saying, ‘is not based upon experience, it is based upon great external facts.’ The business of preaching is the proclamation of the revealed truths of gospel history – truths indeed confirmed by experience, but independent of experience in their objective reality. Compared with those truths concerning Christ, as he said on the first Sunday he visited Sandfields, all else is as worthless ‘as paper is to gold’. His text that first November evening of 1926 remained his pole-star: ‘I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.’

Notes

  1. Iain H. Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years, 1899-1939 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982), pages 150-151.

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