(This article appeared in PREACHING MAGAZINE)
A PREACHER'S PREACHER
By David R. Stokes
A short walk from the majestic dignity of Buckingham Palace, there is a church which has a royal history of its own. Princes of the pulpit have reigned there. Names such as John Henry Jowett and G. Campbell Morgan adorn the history of legendary Westminster Chapel. These men helped to create the spiritual climate of their times. They were giants of the faith, the English spoken word and biblical exposition.
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones was responsible for the most vital period in the life of Westminster Chapel. A man of unparalleled intellect and prodigious sermonic output, he left his mark on both sides of the Atlantic—and around the world.
Born in Wales in 1899, he grew up during the glow—and afterglow—of the great Welsh Revival, though he would come to spiritual maturity and clarity a bit later in life. The residual influences of that nation-wide awakening cannot be fully measured but were, no doubt, significant.
As a young student, Martyn was drawn to the sciences and ultimately to medicine, first as a study, then as a career. Following his schooling, he joined the staff of a teaching hospital and became clinical assistant to Sir Thomas Horder, one of the most famous heart physicians of the day.
Martyn was so young when he took his exams that he had to wait to become a full-fledged physician. Horder’s “Socratic” approach to logic and learning had a significant impact on the future preacher’s mind. Evidences of this color his later work as a preacher and writer.1
While on the road to fame and fortune as a doctor of medicine, God clearly had another plan. There was a battle raging in the soul of this brilliant man. The Great Physician was calling this young heart physician into the work of the healing of souls.
Lloyd-Jones was courting Bethany Phillips, who attended the same church. He shared his inner struggle with her. Soon they were married. Shortly thereafter he became a minister of the gospel.
He was called to lead a small congregation in Southern Wales: Bethlehem Forward Mission Church in Sandsfields, Abervon. This was a working-class congregation in a community beginning to feel the impact of economic depression. The region had become a stronghold for Marxist-Leninism—preying on the fears and prejudices of the labor class. Lloyd-Jones’ early and enduring success in this first pastorate is credited as one key factor in saving the region from Communism. Local Marxist leaders were converted under the power of his preaching and joined the church. This congregation grew from a gathering of about 90 people to more than 850 in slightly less than 12 years.2
Even in his first years of ministry, Martyn was marking himself as someone skilled at making the ancient text relevant to the contemporary need. One church member, a retired preacher in his 80s, who heard him in these formative years remarked, “Though you are a young man, you are preaching the old truths I have been trying to preach all of my life ... but you have put a modern suit on them.”3
The young preacher found himself preaching to a wider audience as opportunities presented themselves around the United Kingdom. Among those who heard him and came away moved and impressed was the great London pastor, G. Campbell Morgan.
Morgan was, by the late 1930s, winding up his second tenure as pastor of Westminster Chapel in London. Though reluctant at first, Lloyd-Jones agreed to an assistant role in London. As the nation basked in the short-lived euphoria of Neville Chamberlain’s Munich gambit in 1938, he moved his family to London. Soon, the world would be at war. This was the social backdrop for the beginning of a spiritual explosion God was preparing for this already historic church. For nearly five years, Lloyd-Jones and Morgan alternated conducting the morning and evening chapel services from month to month.
By 1943, Morgan was moving into retirement, and Lloyd-Jones was assuming a pulpit role that would help guide his nation through the end of the war and into the post-war/Cold-war world. Until his retirement from this post in 1968, he preached to capacity crowds of 2,500 on Sunday mornings and evenings and 1,200 each Friday night. Though there was clear and unmistakable numerical and spiritual success, it was noted by admirer James Packer that “to Lloyd-Jones the kind of revival he had known in his first pastorate had never been fully experienced in London.”4
Lloyd-Jones saw himself as building on Morgan’s foundation while simultaneously charting his own course as an expositor. Morgan had built his ministry around what could best be characterized as devotional preaching. Much of his teaching was based on the four Gospels. Lloyd-Jones, however, found his home and greatest preaching fulfillment in the exposition of the great doctrinal epistles, once remarking that Morgan had “left them for him.”5
The experience of following a legend made Lloyd-Jones particularly sensitive and considerate about how he treated and worked with those who had the unenviable task of following him. Westminster successor R.T. Kendall basked in a wonderful relationship with his great predecessor. They had a standing appointment every Thursday from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Mrs. Jones would serve lunch; Kendall would read every word
of Lloyd-Jones’ preparation for the upcoming three weekend services. He did this for four years! Kendall later wrote, “Surely no minister in this country had such a privilege.”6
The ministry of Lloyd-Jones was primarily a preaching ministry. The pulpit was central to every aspect of the spiritual program at Westminster. This was the food for growth and foundation for success.
Any pastor with a heart for biblical exposition who has come of age since the midpoint of the 20th century will inevitably find himself drawn to the
pastoral works of Lloyd-Jones. In fact, the books that bear his name have not only grown out of his pulpit work; they are nearly word-for-word transpositions of his spoken sermons or studies.
From his studies on the Sermon on the Mount to his work on revival, to a book on spiritual depression, to his Reflections on the Work of God’s Spirit (Joy Unspeakable), Lloyd-Jones tackled themes that resonated with the heart of his hearers. His thorough preparation, animated delivery and complete dependence on the power of God in the preaching moment bore the fruit of a ministry with a contemporary impact and lasting legacy.
From the standpoint of understanding Martyn Lloyd-Jones as a preacher of the Word, there is no greater key or resource than the fruit of what happened during six vital weeks when he was 70 years of age—The Westminster Seminary Lectures on Preaching. Those lectures remain available on audio-cassette and survive in printed form embodied in the classic book Preaching and Preachers.7
In the preface to this work, Jones said that he had been told by those at Westminster that he could lecture on any subject he might choose. He chose preaching, and preachers have been blessed ever since! He referred to his method in these discourses as “thinking aloud” with those studying for the ministry and called the style “conversational and intimate.” In fact, what is in print in Preaching and Preachers is, but for a few “minor corrections,” what he actually said in the lectures.
Early on in these messages, he discounted what he referred to as “Baldwinism.” This was a reference to a past Prime Minister of Great Britain—a man regarded as a “technocrat” in contrast to the typical orator-politicians of the era. Stanley Baldwin’s tenure as leader of that nation fell between men such as David Lloyd-George and Winston Churchill, both men noted for their eloquence. His leadership style was one of attention to detail and personal relationships, but he was definitely NOT a gifted speaker. He was seen by many as the political prophet of a new era — representing a new breed of political leader.
Martyn made the point that it was a mistake to think that the eloquence and rhetoric and the careful use of language had ceased to be relevant to ministry effectiveness. One can only imagine what the great preacher would think of what preaching has become in some circles in the early days of the 21st century. He would no doubt be less than impressed with any emphasis on methodology that de-emphasized preaching. To him preaching was paramount. He suggested, “The greatest men of action have been great speakers.” He had no patience with the trend “to discount the value and importance of speech and oratory.” One can only imagine how he would find the tendency to cut corners in our Internet age hard to bear. To him, preaching was to be “logic on fire.” Furthermore, he was of the opinion that a “revival of true preaching” is a time-honored method God uses to herald great spiritual movements and revivals. His thinking was “a theology which doesn’t take fire” is inherently suspect.
His favorite preacher was George Whitefield. One Lloyd-Jones biographer, Tony Sargent, has gone so far as to say, “Whitefield caused him to see the distinction between what is preached and the act of preaching.” A great actor of the 18th century, David Garrick, commenting on Whitefield’s power as a speaker, once said that he wished he could even utter the word “Mesopotamia” as he did. In other words, Whitefield was a master of the spoken word, obviously admired by Lloyd-Jones. This admiration translated itself into a distinctive philosophy of preaching as the supreme method of ministry—modern or otherwise.
The most thoroughly discussed aspect of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ view on preaching is of what he called “unction” in preaching. This was a term he used to describe a desired state in the preaching moment, one that saw intense and thorough preparation meet the clear empowerment of the Spirit of God. He believed that this “unction” produced greater clarity, power and boldness in preaching. It was more than a merely human expression of urgency. It was being lifted up by God’s power as the Word preached was going forth.
He reminded those students (and us by extension) that they were not “simply imparting information.” Rather, they were “dealing with pilgrims on the way to eternity ... dealing with matters not only of life in the world, but with eternal destiny.” To him nothing could be “more urgent.”
This “unction” has a mysterious element to it, as described by him. He saw it as something that could not be conjured or manipulated, but the work of a Sovereign Lord. Yet, it was, to him, something to be desired above all other aspects of the preaching life and experience. He described it this way:
It gives clarity of thought, clarity of speech, ease of utterance, a great sense of authority and confidence as you are preaching, an awareness of a power not your own thrilling through your own being, and an indescribable sense of joy. You are a man “possessed,” you are taken hold of, and taken up. I like to put it like this—and I know of nothing on earth that is comparable to this feeling—that when this happens you have a feeling that you are not actually doing the preaching, you are looking on. You are looking on at yourself in amazement as this is happening. It is not your effort; you are just the instrument, the channel, the vehicle: and Spirit is using you, and you are looking on in great enjoyment to this. That is what the preacher himself is aware of.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was known generally as an expositor; but a closer look reveals that, though he followed the expository tendency to preach through books of the Bible (his studies on Romans and Ephesians stand out), he was, in effect, a “textual-topical” preacher. He often used an “inverted pyramid, moving a small piece of text to what the Scripture as a whole taught on the subject and what its theological ramifications were.”8
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a man with one eye on eternity and the other on his times. As such, though his preaching consistently followed a sequential path (e.g., preaching through a book of the Bible), he found creative and compelling ways to weave the Word around current events. For example, while he was preaching a Sunday morning series on “The Kingdom of God,” the country found itself in the midst of a crisis. Called “The Profumo Affair,” it involved the resignation of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s Secretary for War, John Profumo, over an affair he had with a young women who was at the same time involved with a Soviet Naval Attaché—raising concerns about espionage. U.S. President Kennedy watched this closely for his own reasons as the MacMillan government was nearly brought down (the Prime Minister resigned a few months later for health reasons).
Tackling such an issue was not hard for Lloyd-Jones. His rich biblical approach enabled him to touch on sensitive issues—even moral and political scandal—in a dignified and responsible way. Never drifting into a morbid fascination with the details of evil, he instead proclaimed the values of God’s Kingdom standing in contrast to the compromises and corruptions of the kingdoms of this world, yet, at the same time remaining a loyal countryman.9
He was a man who could pray in the pulpit for 35 minutes before preaching. He shunned radio work on the BBC because he believed that the medium would not recognize and convey the “unction” that was so precious to him and vital to his ministry. Some who knew him well, and who had observed his mind at work and gifts of leadership and communication, strongly felt that—had he taken another path—he could have been Prime Minister of the nation one day (if Whitefield was his preacher hero, David Lloyd George was his political hero). But, his thinking was certainly akin to that of another great English preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who once said, “If God calls you to preach, don’t ever stoop to be a king!”
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones had to cancel all speaking engagements due to illness in 1979, and he wrestled with health problems for many months. By February of 1981 he was telling his family, “Don’t pray for healing; don’t try to hold me back from the glory.”
On March 1 he went home to be with the Lord. A special day to any Welshman—the first of March is known as “St. David’s Day.”
1. Christopher Catherwood, Five Evangelical Leaders, 1985.
2. Tony Sargent, The Sacred Anointing: The Preaching of D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, p. 53.
3. Ibid., p. 158.
4. Ibid., p. 151.
5. Warren Wiersbe, Living with the Giants, p. 187.
6. R.T. Kendall, The Anointing, introduction.
7. In this next section I quote liberally from Preaching and Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Zondervan Publishing House, 1971).
8. Iain Murray, The First Forty Years, p. 328.
9. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Kingdom of God, p. 8.