Although Charles Haddon Spurgeon was often called “The Last of the Puritans,” the title probably better belongs to D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981), whose strategic ministry at the heart of London spoke to the nation and impacted the entire world (and still does through his tapes and printed sermons).
The “doctor” – as he was rightly called, for he was a medical doctor – came out of Wales and the Calvinistic Methodist Church (Presbyterian). Not at rest in his promising medical practice in London, Lloyd-Jones took his bride to serve the Bethlehem Forward Movement Hall in Sandfields (Aberavon) in Wales from 1927-38. The deeply moving story of this ministry is given to us most powerfully in the first volume of lain H. Murray’s two volume (somewhat hagiographic study) The First Forty Years (Banner of Truth) and in his wife Bethan’s beautiful Memories of Sandfields 1927-1938 (Banner of Truth). Then it was on to London.
Joining G. Campbell Morgan as his associate during Morgan’s second ministry at Westminster Chapel, Morgan and Lloyd-Jones alternated preaching morning and evening until Morgan’s advancing age and weakness led to his retirement in 1943, when Lloyd-Jones took the succession. So very different in style and theology (Morgan was Arminian and Lloyd-Jones a five-point Calvinist), the team modeled Christian charity. Indeed Lloyd-Jones said at Morgan’s funeral that they “had never quarrelled at all” (Westminster Record, 19:7, 63). Like his contemporary, John Stott at All Souls, Lloyd-Jones drew huge throngs to Westminster and had a remarkable hearing before students and internationals and soon a world-wide ministry. The heart of it all was his aggressive and strong preaching.
Getting at his strengths
Whether at the very popular Friday night “Fellowship and Discussion Meetings” which filled the Chapel – and in which the famous multi-year series on Romans was delivered – or in the services on the Lord’s Day – when, for instance, the seven-year series on Ephesians was given – Lloyd-Jones used the Puritan sermon model with minimal exposure of the text and from that mini-text (several words or a clause) he would range over Scripture as a whole for analogies, parallels and further doctrinal confirmation of his relentlessly unitary sermon. This, in fact, is not exposition (in the Broadus/Robinson definition) but a textual-topical model.
The foundational premise in all of his preaching was an unflagging confidence in the integrity and authority of Holy Scripture. He never asked “is it true?” but always “what does it mean?” He drew every drop possible from a text. He obviously relished and delighted in what he was doing, as is witnessed in his masterful lectures at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia in 1969 (Preachers and Preaching, Zondervan).
Lloyd-Jones preached from within a keen sense of doctrinal construct; he loved doctrine and was always concerned about “sound doctrine” and the analogia fides, which Calvin defined as the consistency of the doctrine as taught in Scripture. We really have no choice here. No doctrine is bad doctrine. Still, Lloyd-Jones developed some rather idiosyncratic ideas, such as his curious interpretation of Romans 7 and his insistence that the “sealing of the Holy Spirit” distinctly follows conversion. This led some in the Pentecostal/Charismatic camp to claim him as their own.
Lloyd-Jones was taught by his medical mentor, Lord Horder, to use the Socratic method and he was a peerless logician. A bit feisty and always combative, he employed a withering logical test to wrong-headed thinking. He clashed with Stott on ecclesiological issues and, although full of praise for Moody and Sankey, he would not cooperate with Billy Graham. He was not afraid of controversy.
Lloyd-Jones was a scholar, a reader and a thinker, and had great appeal when many had supposed conservatives had left the arena. He was totally self-trained but his more cerebral and teaching methodology was, at times, more like a lecture. His involvement in the Westminster Library and the Westminster Ministers’ Fraternal gave opportunity for him to pursue life-long interests in the Puritans and touch many clergy.
Although his style was never bombastic and not oratorical, there was an eloquence and rhetorical splendor in his delivery, even though he very consciously disdained illustrations, eloquence and humor in the pulpit.
Lloyd-Jones was always and ever an evangelist. The Sunday evening service in both Wales and at Westminster was always evangelistic. His gripping Evangelistic Sermons (Banner of Truth) epitomize this burden and his series of sermons on Revival (Crossway, 1987) for the centenary of the British revival of 1859 are fascinating. He really grapples with the issue of “the phenomena of revival” in classic form. He never dodged issues.
He was a preacher who believed in and sought “the unction” of the Holy Spirit. While Tony Sargent’s study of unction in Lloyd-Jones is disappointing in some ways, he scores the point (Sacred Anointing, Crossway, 1994). J.I. Packer, himself shaped by Lloyd-Jones, calls this a “landmark study.” Lloyd-Jones always emphasized the inner life of the preacher in the communicative equation. Above all, he emblazoned it himself.
Probing his underside
I have myself voraciously consumed everything I can get hold of by Lloyd-Jones. Slants in his theology are not mine but he is the consummate craftsman embodying “exegetical conscience.” Still . . .
I do not believe the Puritan sermon (or Lloyd-Jones’ sermons) really afford the best structural model. Using the natural thought unit is more fair to contextual considerations and best models the use of Scripture for our listeners. Our first language is exegesis; our second language is doctrine. The text must not be subordinated even to doctrine.
Lloyd-Jones does very little with Biblical narrative and playing to his strengths almost always deals with a didactic passage. His sermons were 40-60 minutes in length and he sometimes prayed for half an hour in his pastoral prayer. Occasionally he lapsed into a curious allegorization, as when in preaching on Acts 9:33-34 he makes the healing of Aeneas a parable of what needs to happen in the church (The First Forty Years, 328 and 334). It was one of his favorite sermons – he preached it over forty times.
He could be overly critical, as when he savages S.D. Gordon of “quiet talk” fame without really understanding (Knowing the Times, Banner of Truth, 264), or in his caustic opposition to Keswick or Graham. He too quickly endorses Edwin Hatch’s odd notion that rhetoric ruined preaching (Knowing the Times, 270). Rhetoric is simply how we do it, for better or worse.
Although Lloyd-Jones disparaged illustration, he actually does use historic reference and allusion to good advantage. He is a little cranky here and on choirs. He will also use a literary reference or Shakespearean quote.
In his masterful sermons in Spiritual Depression (Eerdmans, 1965) he is personally applicatory, and in his 1963 sermons The Kingdom of God, preached during the Profumo scandals in Britain, we have the same. We could wish for more specific application in much of his preaching, but here he follows his colleague, Campbell Morgan, who had the view: leave it to the Spirit!
But who has ever preached such a series on the Sermon on the Mount as did the “Doctor”? Or who has ever opened Psalm 73 in such an incisive series as he did in Faith on Trial (Eerdmans, 1965)? I wonder if he would be using Powerpoint today. I wonder how different his preaching would be today. It was not his temperament and personality which engaged a city and a nation for thirty years at Buckingham Gate. It was his deathless conviction about the relevance of Scripture and his dedication to preach it.
David L. Larsen is professor emeritus of preaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. Before his retirement in 1996, he was chair of the department of practical theology and professor of practical theology at Trinity, where he served for 15 years.