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Martyn Lloyd-Jones: His Life and Ministry
by Sir Fred Catherwood
With the death of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a great pillar of the 20th century evangelical church has been removed. A pillar, however, is too static a metaphor to describe such a figure, for his spiritual and intellectual leadership created a new dynamic which owed little to the church he entered in the mid-twenties. By the fifties its full impact had been felt; by then there were ministers not only in Britain but around the world, who understood and preached a full-blooded gospel. That gospel once more rested fairly and squarely on the framework of reformation theology, based on the sure foundation of apostolic and biblical authority, and irradiated by the example of 18th century evangelism.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones was brought up in Welsh Calvinistic Methodism, first as a boy in Wales and then as a teenager and student in London, when the Charing Cross Chapel, which his family attended, was living on the left-over emotion of the Welsh revival. There was little doctrine to counter the rising trend of liberalism or to bring out the distinction between church-goers and true Christians. The three Lloyd-Jones boys enjoyed intellectual debate, but each was more committed to his career than to his professed faith.
Martyn's career was medicine. He went from school to Barts, one of the great London teaching hospitals, and was brilliantly successful. He succeeded in his exams so young that he had to wait to take his MD, by which time he was already chief clinical assistant to Sir Thomas Horder, one of the best and most famous doctors of the day. By the age of 26 he also had his MRCP and was well up the rungs of the Harley Street ladder, with a brilliant and lucrative career in front of him. Then something happened.
Slowly, reading for himself, his mind was gripped by the Christian gospel, its compelling power and its balanced logic, like the majestic self-supporting arches of a great cathedral. He had no dramatic crisis of conversion, but there came a point when he had committed himself entirely to the Christian gospel. After that, as he sat in the consulting room, listening to the symptoms of those who came to see him, he realised that what so many of his patients needed was not ordinary medicine, but the gospel he had discovered for himself. He could deal with the symptoms, but the worry, the tension, the obsessions could only be dealt with by the power of Christian conversion. Increasingly he felt that the best way to use his life and talents was to preach that gospel.
At the same time he faced another crisis. He wanted to marry Bethan Phillips, who attended Charing Cross with her parents and two brothers. Her father was a well-known eye specialist and Bethan was about to qualify as a doctor at University College Hospital. After what had been a long courtship he told her that he wanted to give up Harley Street and become, a Minister. After a year in which God clearly guided her too, they married and in 1927, after their honeymoon in Torquay, they moved in to their first home, a small manse in Aberavon, beside Port Talbot.
The dramatic move of the young Harley Street specialist and his new bride could hardly fail to attract attention and the press descended on them. Mrs. Lloyd-Jones once turned a reporter away at the front door with 'no comment' and was horrified to read the headline next day ' 'My husband is a wonderful man' says Mrs. Lloyd-Jones.'
The press description of the solidly built two storey Manse as a 'dock-side cottage' did not go down very well with the office bearers. The local doctors were not too happy with the new arrival either. They felt certain that he had come to show them up and poach their patients. It could all have gone sour. But it didn't.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones was not another young minister fresh out of a liberal theological college, trimming his message to contemporary opinion and the prejudices of his congregation. He was determined to preach the message with the crystal clarity in which it had come to him. That was too much for some of the congregation and they left. But in their place - slowly at first- there came increasing numbers who were gripped by the truth, the working class of South Wales. The message brought them and the power of the Holy Spirit converted them. There were no dramatic appeals, just a young man with the clear message of God's justice and his love, which brought one hard case after another to repentance and conversion.
He was not able to throw off his medical career entirely. In the South Wales of Cronin's The Citadel his brilliant diagnostic skill was in short supply. After a few years during which he was deliberately ignored by the local medical fraternity, he was called to a case which defied diagnosis. He knew exactly the nature of the obscure disease, from which the patient would apparently recover and then die. His prognosis was borne out exactly and the general practitioner said: 'I should go down on my knees to ask your forgiveness for what I've said about you.' After that it was difficult to keep down the medical calls on his time.
The church in Aberavon grew with the steady stream of conversions. Notorious drunkards became glorious Christians and working men and women came to the Bible classes which he and his wife conducted to learn the doctrines of their new-found faith. And around South Wales, other churches, often starved of sound teaching and of preaching which dealt with the world as it was in the depth of the great slump, invited him to their pulpits. His reputation grew across the Principality - and outside.
The evangelical with perhaps the greatest national standing in the thirties was G. Campbell Morgan, Minister of Westminster Chapel. When he heard Martyn Lloyd-Jones, he wanted to have him as his colleague and successor in 1938. But it was not so easy, for there was also a proposal that he be appointed Principal of the Theological College at Bala; and the call of Wales and of training a new generation of ministers for Wales was strong. In the end the call from Westminster Chapel prevailed and the Lloyd-Jones family with their daughters, Elizabeth and Ann, were finally committed to London in April 1939. He had begun his ministry there, on a temporary basis, in September 1938.
Campbell Morgan personified the evangelical tradition after Spurgeon. He was an Arminian and his Bible exposition, though famous, did not deal in the great doctrines of the Reformation. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was in the tradition of Spurgeon, Whitefield, the Puritans and the Reformers. Yet the two men respected each other's positions and talents and their brief partnership, until Campbell Morgan died at the end of the war, was entirely happy.
September 1938 saw the Munich crisis and a very uncertain future for the new ministry. For the next year the family lived with the Doctor's widowed mother in Vincent Square and, when the war finally came, they moved to Haslemere in Surrey. But the services at Westminster Chapel went on, apart from a brief time in the Livingstone Hall, until in 1944 a flying bomb exploded on the Guards Chapel a few hundred yards away, covering the Westminster Chapel preacher and congregation in fine white dust. One member of the congregation opened her eyes after the bang, saw everyone covered in white and decided that she must be in heaven!
For the next year the services were again in the Livingstone Hall nearby. Meantime the Doctor had become sole minister and had moved into a manse in Ealing just as the flying bombs started to rain on London. But he, his family and the Chapel were spared. He had been given an assurance by God that the Chapel would not be destroyed.
London, the great metropolis, is a sink for provincial reputations. Great Scottish orators have come to nothing in the face of sharp London audiences. The bombing, the flying bombs and the difficulties of travel hit central London churches and the new minister's style and message were not that of Dr. Campbell Morgan. But Dr. Lloyd-Jones's preaching met a need and his reputation spread. For everyone who left the Chapel, someone else arrived, so that by the end of the war he had a firmly settled congregation and a well established position.
In his approach to the work of the pulpit Dr. Lloyd-Jones did not follow Spurgeon. He believed in working steadily through a book of the Bible, taking a verse or part of a verse at a time, showing what it taught, how that fitted into teaching on the subject elsewhere in the Bible, how the whole teaching was relevant to the problems of our own day and how the Christian position contrasted with currently fashionable views.
He kept himself in the background and tried to show his congregation the mind and word of God, letting the message of the Bible speak for itself. His expository preaching aimed both to let God speak as directly as possible to the man in the pew with the full weight of divine authority and also to minimise the intervention of the preacher and the watering-down of the direct and authoritative message by human intrusion and diversion.
His style was that of sharp clinical diagnosis, analysing the worldly view, showing its futility in dealing with the power and persistence of evil, and contrasting the Christian view, its logic, its realism and its power. He had the ability to clothe his clinical analysis with vivid and gripping language, so that it stayed in the mind. He could be scathing about the follies of the world and give a contrasting vision of the wisdom and power of God in a way which brought strong reaction from his audience. People would walk out, determined never to come again; yet, despite themselves, they would be back in the pew the next Sunday until, no longer able to resist the message, they became Christians.
After the war, the congregations grew quickly. In 1947 the balconies were opened and from 1948 until 1968 when he retired, the congregation averaged perhaps 1500 on Sunday mornings and 2000 on Sunday nights.
On Friday nights, he continued his Aberavon practice of discussion classes; using the Socratic method, he made the members of the class work through the logic of their own confident assertions. He would try to bring out contrasting views, matching the proponents against each other, putting the objections and solutions no one had thought of, until finally he led the class to a conclusion with which few of them could by then disagree. He would himself confront the few who could stand it, leading them inexorably down their own false trail to the precipice at the bottom! Afterwards he would apologise and say: 'I know that a lot of people hold the view you put, and I cannot be as brutal with them in public as 1 have been with you, but 1 know you are big enough to take it!' In the early fifties the Friday night discussion had become too big and there was a demand for a straight Bible study, so in 1953 the Friday night Bible studies took over for a much larger audience in the main church. He began with a series on Biblical doctrine and then commenced the long study on Paul's letter to the Romans which was subsequently published in book form.
At the beginning of the war Dr. Lloyd-Jones had become President of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship of Evangelical Unions and was deeply involved in advising and guiding their founder and General Secretary, Dr. Douglas Johnson. In 1939 and then after the war, he and Douglas Johnson met with the leaders of the movements of other countries and formed the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students.
Both the British and the International movements have since grown greatly and both owe a great deal to his formative influence. He encouraged them to add to their pietism and evangelism a strong backbone of sound doctrinal teaching. To those who argued that 'intellectualism' detracted from evangelistic zeal, he pointed out that a sound basis of belief was the only sure foundation for evangelism. This -change of emphasis was enormously important in the battle for the minds of students and in ensuring that IVF was not a passing student enthusiasm.
But Martyn Lloyd-Jones also made sure that IVF conceded nothing to the liberal wing of the church. He took the view of Francis Bacon, the founding father of modern science, that science was about secondary causes and that men had no business to believe that they could enquire into the great primary cause beyond what God had himself revealed.
He was utterly unimpressed by the theory of evolution well before scientists themselves had begun to express doubts. For that reason, he saw no need for a theory of 'creative evolution'. Theology came first. What were we taught about the Creator in his own revelation to us? Theology must guide our attitude to science, not the other way round. As a distinguished physician, trained in medical science, and also a theologian, he could understand both theology and science and his views carried weight. The IVF increased in strength, while in course of time the once strong Student Christian Movement, with its liberal views, faded from sight.
It was not long before this powerful leadership produced a group of young ministers and theologians and a regular forum for discussion. This was the Puritan Conference, which met regularly every December under his chairmanship. In its early days some Anglicans were among the leading figures, as was lain Murray. There was a strong feeling for the need to go back to the theological foundations of the Protestant tradition, to the period when a hundred years after the Reformation, its theological implications had been worked out. Papers were read and discussed and Dr. Lloyd-Jones chaired the meetings with skill and authority. The proceedings were good-humoured, but no one was allowed to get away with slipshod thinking or to make theological slips.
The conference influenced scores of young ministers each year and established a tough theological position in face of the rise of situational ethics and the general repudiation of authority by the clerical establishment in the fifties and sixties. The 'Banner of Truth' publishing house and The Evangelical Magazine were both started with help and encouragement from Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who also powerfully backed the work of the Evangelical Library.
On a pastoral level, he led a monthly ministers' fraternal since the early forties, when pastors discussed all the problems they faced both within the church and in its outreach. Here his ever widening experience, his profound wisdom and his down-to-earth common sense helped many a young minister with apparently unique and insoluble difficulties.
A strong character and a strong leader cannot avoid controversy. Believing, as he did, in the power of the Holy Spirit to convict and convert, he was profoundly opposed to the tradition which had grown up since Moody and Sankey of large meetings with soft music and emotional appeals for conversion. Though he never made any public criticism of particular evangelists, he never took part in or supported the large crusades. Billy Graham came to see him at the Chapel in the fifties, but though he never criticised the Graham crusades, he would not support them either.
However, it was in his relations with the Church of England that the most serious controversy came. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a strong believer in evangelical unity. He did not believe that denominational barriers should separate those who had a true faith in common. And, as the ecumenical movement gathered impetus and the liberal wing in the churches made greater and greater concessions to the currents of worldly opinion, he came to believe that the right answer was for the evangelicals to leave the compromised denominations and form their own grouping. He had no illusions about the possible ultimate fate of new church groupings. They might, in their own time, go astray. But he maintained that each of us had to do the best for our own generation, regardless of what might come later, and that the ecumenical movement put those who stood for the long line of truly Christian theology and practice in an impossible position.
The crisis came in a meeting chaired by the Rev. John Stott, leader of the evangelical wing of the Church of England. Martyn Lloyd-Jones made an immensely powerful appeal to his large audience to come out of the compromised denominations. The meeting was a watershed. The evangelical Anglicans went one way and evangelicals in the nonconformist churches went the other. When the Congregational Union merged with the English Presbyterian Church, Westminster Chapel left the Congregational Union and joined the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches. Many evangelical ministers in the Baptist Union and the Methodist church left those bodies some with and some without their congregations.
The British Evangelical Council linked the FIEC and other small evangelical denominations. These churches have held their own in face of the secularist trend, while the traditional nonconformist churches have gone into steep decline. On the Anglican side, some evangelical theologians took a leading part in attempting to find accommodation between the Evangelical, Anglo-Catholic and Liberal wings and, most regretfully, the Puritan Conference to which they had initially contributed, was disbanded. In its place, those who took the same view of the ecumenical movement as Dr. Lloyd-Jones, formed the Westminster Conference, which he continued to chair and lead with vigour. This avoided the issue becoming a continual grumbling controversy between the majority opposed to the ecumenical movement and the minority who believed in remaining in the ecumenically-linked denominations.
He had always pointed to the combination in the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists of the doctrine of the Calvinists and the enthusiasm of the Methodists. In the sixties, he became anxious lest the newly recovered emphasis on sound reformed doctrine should turn into an arid doctrinaire hardness. To counteract this danger he began in his teaching to emphasise the importance of experience. He spoke much of the necessity for experimental knowledge of the Holy Spirit, of full assurance by the Spirit, and of the truth that God deals immediately and directly with his children - often illustrating these things from church history.
Early in 1968, in his 68th year, Dr. Lloyd-Jones had a major operation and, though he recovered fully, he decided that the time had come after 30 years at Westminster to retire as minister. His ministry had, on any reckoning, been greatly blessed by God. There had been a steady stream of conversions, many remarkable and, above all, a wide variety of people from all walks of life had been taught the breadth and depth of Christian doctrine.
At the Chapel were soldiers from the nearby Wellington Barracks, workers from west-end hotels and restaurants, nurses from the big hospitals, the 'Antioch club' of actors and actresses from west-end theatres, civil servants junior and senior from Whitehall, and chronically unemployed coming in from the Salvation Army hostel. His last sermon, on June 8 1980 was preached in the church of a minister who had come to the Chapel as a newly-converted building labourer, as tough and sharp a young Cockney as you could find. Dr. Oliver Barclay, Douglas Johnson's successor and General Secretary of IVF (now UCCF), used to attend the Chapel and also his successor Dr. Robin Wells.
The church was always full of students, especially overseas students, among which was the now President Moi of Kenya. The Chinese Church used to attend in the morning and many Plymouth Brethren in the evening. When the Exclusive Brethren split up, many who lived in London came to Westminster Chapel. And, of course, there were many professional workers, teachers, lawyers, accountants and perhaps more than a fair share of those who had some mental deficiency. Young and old, rich and poor, men and women, bright and dull, all seemed to come in equal measure to hear the Christian message put with a power and authority not often matched.
All kinds and conditions of people came to see him in the vestry afterwards, where he would spend hours patiently listening and wisely advising. One of them has written: 'I have a lovely memory of going to him in deep personal need, yet very afraid of his formidable public manner. His gentleness and winsome kindliness, coupled with such straight simple advice, won my heart. His brain and brilliance as a preacher earned respect and admiration; that other gentler side, shown to me in private, made one love him.'
In the 12 years after his retirement he continued both the Fraternal and the Westminster Conference and gave a great deal of his time to counselling other ministers, answering letters and talking endlessly on the telephone. Freed from the rigid routine of Sundays at Westminster he was then able to add to the outside engagements he had taken as a minister, especially by taking weekends at small and remote causes, which he loved to encourage.
After much protest, he began to do some television. When Joan Bakewell on late evening TV said that she was surprised that anyone listened today to such old-fashioned views, he said, 'They may be old-fashioned, but they can still fill the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Tell me a modern politician who can do that.' Wherever he went, he filled the halls and churches.
He believed that, even in a secular age, people respond to the uncompromising truth, - a view which was confirmed as he saw the liberal churches emptying and the evangelicals maintaining their cause. He travelled to Europe and the United States again, but refused new and return invitations to other countries.
Perhaps the most lasting result of these years was in the time it gave him to turn his sermons into book form. He had already published a number of small books such as Why does God allow war? and Spiritual Depression, which was a best-seller. The first of the bigger books had been the two volumes of Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. Now he set out to publish two series, on Ephesians and on Romans, bringing out one or two books a year.
Although sermons are notoriously unpublishable today, all the volumes in these series sell well throughout the English-speaking world, showing that there is a real demand for reasoned, analytical and applied Bible exposition. He had many letters from all corners of the earth. One day, for example, he was visited by the Rev. Chuck Smith of Calvary Church, Costa Mesa, California, who told him that the books had transformed his preaching. He had once driven himself into mental breakdown trying to use his personality to put over the message. Since then he had let the Bible speak for itself and said that both his ministry and his own health had benefited enormously. What he did not say was that his Sunday morning congregation was then up to 24,000!
Martyn Lloyd-Jones had a very happy home, which was open every Christmas to those members of the church who had nowhere else to go. Before Christmas the carollers from the church came to the manse after their rounds and the conclusion of the evening was a fiercely fought table tennis match between the minister and his wife, spurred on by the cheers of the party. In retirement he used to take his older grandchildren on in argument. They were like young cubs going for an old lion, daring where no one else would dare, thrown back by a growl, but bounding in again at once.
In 1979 illness returned and he had to cancel all his engagements. He was even-minded about the prospect of preaching again. He had seen too many men going on well after they should have stopped. In the spring of 1980 he was able to start again, but a visit to the Charing Cross Hospital in May revealed that his illness demanded more stringent treatment which kept him from preaching. Between wearing sessions in hospital, which he faced with courage and dignity, he carried on working on his manuscripts and giving advice to ministers, but by Christmas he was too weak for this. To the end, however, he was able to spend time with his biographer (his former assistant, lain Murray).
Towards the end of February 1981, with great peace and assured hope, he believed that his earthly work was done. To his immediate family he said: 'Don't pray for healing, don't try to hold me back from the glory.' On March 1st, St. David's Day and the Lord's Day - he passed on to the glory on which he had so often preached to meet the Saviour he had so faithfully proclaimed.
This material originally appeared in the Christian monthly newspaper, the Evangelical Times.
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