One of the beautiful things about the film Logic on Fire is the way it juxtaposes Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s sternness in the pulpit and his sweetness outside of it. In one of the opening scenes, his daughter Anne Beatt says, “He was grave in the pulpit,” which is followed by an image of him scowling in his black Geneva gown. But his grandson, Jonathan Catherwood, tells us that one of the most disturbing things about his legacy is that the glaring man on the book covers was nothing like the sweet grandfather they all knew at home.
So why was Lloyd-Jones so serious in the pulpit and so sweet outside of it? Because he entered the pulpit a burdened man.
Burden from the Lord
Lloyd-Jones’s preferred term for a sermon was a “burden.” He believed every time a preacher enters the pulpit he should come with a burden from the Lord. The burden should be a specific message God has given the preacher to be delivered at a specific time to a specific congregation from a specific text. This burden should shape every aspect of preaching, from the manner of delivery to the content. A preacher is a burdened man. The burden shaped his manner in the pulpit. For example, if challenged about his stern demeanor he would respond:
This is how Paul entered the pulpit—conscious that he was about to address immortal souls; aware of the terrible nature of sin; knowing the love of God in Christ. The great responsibility! The fear that he might in some way stand between the people and the message!
The burden was the driving motivation behind his many great sermon series:
- “The Sermon on the Mount” is driven by the burden that spiritual superficiality is the curse of the age.
- “Ephesians” is driven by the burden that the most urgent need for the church is a clear understanding of who we are in Christ.
- “The Gospel of John” is driven by the burden that the most urgent need for the church is a personal experience of what is true of us in Christ.
Repetition of Key Words
The burden shaped both the form and also the content of his sermons. A particular rhetorical device Lloyd-Jones used to drive the burden of his sermon home to the congregation was the repetition of key phrases.
One of the most striking and haunting elements of his preaching was the way in which he repeated and emphatically enunciated one or two key words through out a sermon. Generally, those words would be the specific words, or word, from the text that he desired to emphasize. One way to analyze every sermon he preached is simply to note the phrases he repeated. Since Lloyd-Jones never gave any of his sermons a title, practically all of the titles provided by the editors of his sermons are the key phrases that control and dominate that sermon.
Sometimes the repeated phrase would control his entire sermon. For example, in a sermon in the series on 2 Timothy 1:12, the phrase “that day” serves as the constant refrain. Lloyd-Jones repeated “that day” 37 times, each time enunciating the words with a rhythmic, Welsh growl that served to sear the words into the hearers’ subconscious. Weeks after hearing the sermon, one needed only to hear the phrase “that day” and the full force of the message would come back in all its rhetorical potency.
On other occasions, Lloyd-Jones would simply use a keyword to emphasize his main point for part of the sermon. For example, in his first message on Isaiah 40:1 the burden of the sermon explains that the gospel is a message of comfort that has been sent by God to man who is in a state of warfare. His first major point is, “The first thing we must always realize about the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it is a message sent by God.” In the actual preaching of the sermon, Lloyd-Jones begins this point at the 9:22 mark and ends right at the 17-minute mark, taking more than eight minutes to develop the point. But in those eight minutes he repeats “God” 53 times. In so doing, he sought to bombard the congregation with the fundamental reality that the gospel comes from God—it is God’s action, God’s activity, and God’s doing.
Another prime example comes from his four-part evangelistic sermon series on Psalm 1. The key word for the second sermon is chaff. The burden of the sermon is to unpack how true happiness should not be pursued. In this sermon he repeats, or better yet growls, the word chaff, often with a note of clear and obvious disdain, 61 different times. The cumulative effect is that the word enters into the hearer’s subconscious and creates a repulsion and desire not to be like chaff. By this method, he infused the scriptural words into the audience’s mind.
Of course, this approach is not unique to Martyn Lloyd-Jones. All great preachers have done something similar. Augustine did it. Chrysostom did it. Spurgeon did it. One of the marks of a great preaching is powerful repetition.
But for Lloyd-Jones, the apostles were the model. In commenting on Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, he exclaimed, “Now that is preaching! Do you get tired of hearing me saying the same things, my friends? Well, I am just doing what the apostle Peter did. I am sure he was right and I am sure I am right! Our greatest trouble is that we forget.”
Why was he so grave in the pulpit? The burden of the Lord demanded it. Every time Lloyd-Jones entered the pulpit he was a burdened man. And this apostolic repetition was the primary way in which Lloyd-Jones sought to brand his burden upon the minds of the congregation.