A Famous Illustration of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
In August 1969 Dr. Lloyd-Jones was the principal preacher at the summer Institute of Theology in Pensacola. People today who were there still talk of the nine messages they heard him preach. They were the cream of his sermons, messages he had taken with him around the UK preaching to packed churches. They have now been reprinted, and the following is one of his memorable illustrations in a sermon on the road to Emmaus from Luke 24.
I remember preaching in my homeland of Wales one Sunday in the early 1930s. I was preaching in a country place at an afternoon and then an evening service. When I finished the service in the afternoon and had come down from the pulpit, two ministers came up to me. They had a request to make. They said, ‘We wonder whether you’ll do us a kindness.’
‘If I can,’ I said, ‘I’ll be happy to.’
‘Well,’ they said, ‘we think you can. There’s a tragic case. It’s the case of our local schoolmaster. He’s a very fine man, and he was one of the best church workers in the district. But he’s got into a very sad condition. He’s given up all his church work. He just manages to keep going in his school. But as for church life and activity, he’s become more or less useless.”
‘What’s the matter with him?’ I asked.
‘Well,’ they said, ‘he’s got into some kind of depressed condition. Complains of headaches and pains in his stomach and so on. Would you be good enough to see him?’
I promised I would. So after I had had my tea, this man, the schoolmaster, came to see me. I said to him, ‘You look depressed.’ He was like the men on the road to Emmaus. One glance at this man told me all about him. I saw the typical face and attitude of a man who is depressed and discouraged. I said, ‘Now tell me, what’s the trouble?’
‘Well,’ he said, ‘I get these headaches. I’m never free from them. I wake up with one in the morning, and I can’t sleep too well either.’ He added that he also suffered from gastric pains and so on.
‘Tell me,’ I said, ‘how long have you been like this?’
‘Oh,’ he said, ‘it’s been going on for years. As a matter of fact, it’s been going on since 1915.’
‘I’m interested to hear this,’ I said. ‘How did it begin?’
He said, ‘Well, when the war broke out in 1914, I volunteered very early on and went into the navy. Eventually I was transferred to a submarine, which was sent to the Mediterranean. Now the part of the navy I belonged to was involved in the Gallipoli Campaign. I was there in this submarine in the Mediterranean during that campaign. One afternoon we were engaged in action. We were submerged in the sea, and we were all engaged in our duties when suddenly there was a most terrible thud and our submarine shook. We’d been hit by a mine, and down we sank to the bottom of the Mediterranean. You know, since then I’ve never been the same man.’
‘Well,’ I said, ‘please tell me the rest of your story.’
‘But,’ he said, ‘there’s really nothing more to say. I’m just telling you that’s how I’ve been ever since that happened to me in the Mediterranean.’
‘But, my dear friend,’ I said, ‘I really would be interested to know the remainder of the story.’
‘But I’ve told you the whole story.’
This went on for some considerable time. It was a part of my treatment. I said again, ‘Now I really would like to know the whole story. Start at the beginning again.’ And he told me how he had volunteered, joined the navy, was posted to a submarine that went to the Mediterranean, and everything was all right until the afternoon they were engaged in the action, the sudden thud and the shaking. ‘Down we went to the bottom of the Mediterranean. And I have been like this ever since.’
Again I said, ‘Tell me the rest of the story.’ And I took him over it step by step. We came to that dramatic afternoon — the thud, the shaking of the submarine.
‘Down we went to the bottom of the Mediterranean.’
‘Go on!’ I said.
‘There’s nothing more to be said.’
I said, ‘Are you still at the bottom of the Mediterranean?’ You see, physically he was not, but mentally he was. He had remained at the bottom of the Mediterranean ever since. So I went on to say to him, ‘That’s your whole trouble. All your troubles are due to the fact that in your own mind you are still at the bottom of the Mediterranean. Why didn’t you tell me that somehow or another you came up to the surface, that someone on another ship saw you, got hold of you and got you on board his ship, that you were treated there and eventually brought back to England and put into a hospital?’ Then I got all the facts out of him. I said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me all that? You stopped down at the bottom of the Mediterranean.’
It was because this man was dammed up in his mind that he had suffered from this terrible depression during all those years. I am happy to be able to tell you that as the result of this explanation that man was perfectly restored. He resumed his duties in the church and within a year had applied for ordination in the Anglican Church in Wales.
Now I tell you this story simply in order to show you the condition of these men on the road to Emmaus. There they are: ‘We had thought . . . but, oh, what’s the use of thinking? They tried him and condemned him unjustly. They crucified him. He died, and they buried him. And he’s in the tomb.’ They are so certain of this that they have become oblivious of everything else and blind to everything else. And I have a fear, my dear friends, that that is the trouble with so many of us. We are so aware of the problems, so immersed in them, that we have forgotten all of the glory that is around us and have seen nothing but the problems that lead to this increasing dejection. That is my analysis of these men on the road to Emmaus.
Published in Setting Our Affections Upon Glory: Nine Sermons on The Gospel and the Church, pp. 73-76 (Crossway Books, 2013).
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