Engaging with the Doctor

photo1The first books I bought as a student from the Christian Union bookstall were Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Studies in the Sermon on the Mount and they had a significant impact on my spiritual development. They cost me 25 shillings, which was a considerable amount of money in 1970! The subsequent publication and purchase of his sermons on Romans were manna to my hungry soul.

This latest reflection on the life and ministry of the Doctor, Engaging with Martyn Lloyd-Jones, is a great read. It puts the great man and his ministry in context and helps us to understand in a better way the legacy he has left. In many areas, the Doctor was an outstanding thinker and preacher, but this volume also exposes some of his blind spots, particularly in the area of ecclesiology.

I found the chapter on the charismatic controversy to be particularly insightful. As someone who was raised and nurtured in a classic Pentecostal church, and who came to an understanding of reformed soteriology through Lloyd-Jones’ writings, I was intrigued by his openness to the continuing work of the Spirit in the life of the believer, especially his refusal to accept that the baptism of the Holy Spirit happens to every believer at regeneration. I was aware of his personal friendship with the Pentecostal pastor, W.T.H. Richards, but this chapter helps us to see that his sympathies for charismatic and Pentecostal pioneers ran much wider, and how his views caused considerable controversy and division within the evangelical and reformed community.

Lloyd-Jones was clearly critical of non-experiential Calvinism which he condemned as dead orthodoxy. He longed and prayed for revival conditions when the Word of God would be preached in power and demonstration of the Spirit. Perhaps this is one of the most important legacies he has left us, namely that our preaching should be Spirit-anointed. Exegetical precision and direct application are essential components of good preaching. But we need to admit that much preaching in reformed and evangelical churches is just plain dull. It lacks passion and power.

For the first five or more years of my pastoral ministry I read and re-read Preaching and Preachers, and was enthused and energised by the final paragraph:

“Do you expect anything to happen when you get up to preach in a pulpit? Or do you just say to yourself, “Well, I have prepared my address, I am going to give them this address; some of them will appreciate it and some will not?” Are you expecting it to be the turning point in someone’s life? …. Seek this power, expect this power, yearn for this power; and when the power comes, yield to him. Do not resist. Forget all about the sermon if necessary. Let him loose, let him manifest his power in you and through you. I am certain, as I have said several times before, that nothing but a return of this power of the Spirit on our preaching is going to avail us anything.”

That’s why the comment of J.I. Packer to my friend, Carl Trueman, in a recent conversation is very telling. In spite of their differences, Packer acknowledged that the Doctor “took more of God into the pulpit with him than any other preacher I have ever known”. Now that’s an aspect of preaching that every preacher should seek to emulate.

One Reply to “Engaging with the Doctor”

  1. Your early comment re the Doctor’s blind spots, particularly in the area of ecclesiology, calls to mind an occasion when MLJ was invited to the Province (Park Avenue Hotel, Belfast) to address a group who, at the time, were seeking to influence the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, through its General Assembly, to withdraw from the World Council of Churches – which actually happened, though not at that time.

    MLJ agreed to lend his name to the cause on condition that if the vote in the Assembly went against the cause that those who had advocated and lobbied for such a move would secede from the General Assembly and ‘go it alone’. The Movement that was advocating the withdrawal from the WCC were (rightly, in my view) not prepared to give such an assurance but were committed to press on until the objective was realised. MLJ, to my knowledge, took no further interest in the process.

    I don’t think he really embraced the denominational concept – maybe because of experiences of it elsewhere. John Ross right reminds us in a recent article for the Free Church of Scotland that there are currently something like 11 Presbyterian (denominations) in Scotland alone.

    I suspect that his stance was conditioned somewhat by his background in Wales and later by his close associations with independency!

    Thanks for stimulating my grey matter!

Comments are closed.