Surely, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who died in 1981, embodies the words of Hebrews 11:4: being dead, yet he speaks. The Doctor’s sermons live on in dozens of volumes published by various companies, and if you want to hear him preach, it is as easy as the click of a mouse. The Martyn Lloyd-Jones Trust is home to more than 1,600 of his sermons in downloadable audio format.
At the MLJ Trust website, you will find all 366 sermons from his verse-by-verse exposition of Romans, 232 sermons from his series on Ephesians, the 24 sermons that made up the book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Its Cure, among hundreds of others. Jonathan Catherwood, one of the Doctor’s six grandchildren, is a board member of the MLJ Trust and has been largely responsible for bringing the voice of his grandfather back to life. The Gospel Coalition interviewed Catherwood and asked him about Lloyd-Jones as a grandfather, a Christian man, and as a shepherd of the sheep at Westminster Chapel.
Editors’ note: A brand-new film on the life and ministry of Martyn Lloyd-Jones will debut at The Gospel Coalition 2015 National Conference: Logic on Fire: The Life and Legacy of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. TGC continues to feature a series of articles on Lloyd-Jones leading up to the film’s world premiere at 9:15 p.m. on Monday, April 13.
What was the Doctor like as a husband and father?
He was a sweet and gentle man who adored his girls and loved his wife deeply. No matter how far he travelled for mid-week engagements he would always try to be home that same night. My grandmother was his trusted counselor and adviser. She received 27 proposals of marriage, and the first and 27th were from my grandfather! For his girls he wanted them to take every advantage of their education (my grandmother was a medical doctor herself, having graduated from University College London in the 1920s), so both girls went to Oxford and became teachers. He was an inveterate letter writer to my grandmother, mother, and aunt throughout his life.
What are your fondest memories of him? What was he like outside of the church?
This is perhaps the hardest aspect of my grandfather’s life to convey to others. Occasionally my siblings and cousins and I would be asked by well-intentioned Christians if life with my grandfather at home was a matter of sitting at his knee to receive theological instruction. While, of course, we all knew that the gospel, and his service to that gospel, was the organizing principle of his life, he was very much the grandfather at home, playing billiards (yes, billiards!), croquet, and putt-putt with his grandchildren, and watching wrestling (the children-oriented, gentler U.K. version of that entertainment) and Little House on the Prairie with tea and cake. You could always go to him with any problem, and even if he did not tell you what you might want to hear as a teenager, the intensity with which he would listen to you, and the seriousness with which he tried to understand your position (however fatuous in my case!) gave you dignity, however undeserved, which made it easier to accept the answer. Typically, his method was Socratic. He never said, “You’re wrong, straighten up!” He would show enormous interest and ask you a series of questions, as if to get understanding, but really to help you, gently, come to see the untenability of your position.
We all know he was a great preacher, but what kind of shepherd was Lloyd-Jones? How did he lead those whom the Lord placed under his care?
It might surprise those who are used, these days, to senior pastors being protected by a flank of junior pastors, with no e-mail or phone contact being made available, that my grandfather, who preached before 2,000 souls each Sunday, would stay in the vestry after each sermon until the last person who wanted to see him had left, and that he let his home phone number be known to the congregation. In the 1960s that was no small thing, because there was no caller ID of course, so many of his evenings were spent on the telephone to one and all. He thought it was just part of his calling.
A myth about Westminster Chapel is that it was a preaching center, but going to Westminster was an all-day affair; people came in the morning with their lunch in hampers and stayed through afternoon meetings, the prayer meeting, and for coffee after the evening service. While many congregants were transitory because they were students or serving in the military, there was a core bedrock of families that were members for decades.
What might surprise us about the Doctor? Did he enjoy any hobbies or leisure-time pursuits?
I have mentioned some examples above, but as a Welshman he also loved the televised sheep dog trials, which for the uninitiated involves sheep dogs herding sheep into a pen on timed trials. Just try getting his attention when that was on! He also had a very sweet tooth and scandalized one host minister in the United States who was a strict Sabbatarian when he asked to stop at a Howard Johnson’s for ice cream after preaching the morning service. He always kept Cadbury’s mini-chocolates in his desk at Westminster Chapel for children who visited.
Some have called MLJ a 20th-century Puritan. Like Spurgeon, he possessed a great love for the Puritans. How do you react to this designation?
Nothing would make my grandfather happier than to be called a 20th-century Puritan! Alas, modern society has largely succeeded in equating Puritanism with narrow-minded legalism, when of course the absolute opposite is true. I cannot tell you how many times, running the MLJ Trust, I have heard from pastors who met my grandfather who tell me that his (my grandfather’s) principal advice to them was, “Read anything you can get your hands on from the Puritan writers.” He felt that the Puritans had spent their lives trying to know God and worship him in accordance with New Testament tradition, which is the only point of our lives on this earth.
What were his greatest strengths and weaknesses as a Christian and a pastor?
I’m afraid I am going to rebel on offering weaknesses! Of course, like all of us, he was a sinner redeemed by Christ, and no one felt that more keenly than he did. But I am his grandson, and I love him, so if there were weaknesses, I will let others opine. His greatest strength, from my perspective, was his ability to open the minds of the congregation to the vastness of the gap between our miserable state of sin and the holiness of almighty God, and God’s unimaginable mercy in bridging that gap through his Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I always tell people that if they want to listen to just one sermon to get a sense of my grandfather’s preaching, they should listen to “But God” from Ephesians 2 (all our sermons are free to play or download). Having preached a series of sermons on the first part of Ephesians 2, on the state of man without redemption, this sermon bridges to the next section on what God has given us through grace. What comes across in the sermon is the sense of complete wonder, one that he held throughout his life, that God would be willing to bridge that gap, and that Christ would be willing to come to us to make our undeserved redemption possible. In general, his objective was to have us focus on God the Father and Christ, not laterally at fellow Christians, politicians, or society, because while they may all be very worthy interests, his core belief was that if you want to make the world better, you need more Christians, and if you want to convict people of their sin, telling them they are wrong is never as powerful driving home the distance between ourselves and God, because that distance applies to all of us, saved and unsaved.
It is generally more effective to say, “How can we be reconciled to God?” than “Why can’t you be as good as I am?” After all, it’s by grace that we are saved, so that no man can boast.