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 typically comes to mind among contemporary evangelicals when Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s name arises? I think of his incredible expositional series on the Sermon on the Mount, his 14-volume sermon series on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, or the eight volumes on Ephesians.
Many probably think of Lloyd-Jones as a pastor/shepherd for three decades at Westminster Chapel, his advocacy for the recovery of a robust doctrine of the Holy Spirit, or his warnings against dangers he saw in ecumenism.
But two areas seem to receive much less attention when it comes to Lloyd-Jones, though they were major themes in his preaching ministry: evangelism and revival.
Pleading with the Lost
Intimate Lloyd-Jones friend and biographer Iain Murray tells this insightful story about the Doctor and evangelism:
Dr. Lloyd-Jones regarded himself primarily as an evangelist. Those who knew him best also saw him in the same way. Mrs. Lloyd-Jones was once present with a group of men who, in her husband’s absence, were paying compliments to his abilities. As she listened to them she evidently thought that they were missing the main thing and surprised them by quietly remarking, “No one will ever understand my husband until they realize that he is first of all a man of prayer and then, an evangelist.”
Westminster Chapel set aside each Sunday evening for evangelistic preaching. Lloyd-Jones believed there is a difference between how a preacher addresses his sermons to the converted and the unconverted. He viewed preaching and teaching as somewhat different. Murray writes, “All preaching ought to be more than teaching, but in the case of evangelistic preaching it is imperative. It must reach the heart and the conscience or it will fail. It has got to be personal and pointed, and awakening. It will need to have something alarming about it.”
One of the least-known, but deeply intriguing Lloyd-Jones works was published by Banner of Truth Trust in 1995, Old Testament Evangelistic Sermons. With titles such as “When the Gods Fall” from 1 Samuel 5:1-4, “What Is Sin?” from 2 Samuel 12:13, “The Disease Man Cannot Cure” from 2 Kings 5:1, and “From the Mirage to Christ” from Isaiah 35:7, each sermon is, like all of Lloyd-Jones’ preaching, expository in nature, but proclaimed pointedly as a call to the unconverted.
In an age where it sometimes seems that John 3:16 is the earliest verse in the canon that ought to be marshalled for winning lost souls, Lloyd-Jones’s approach to evangelism might seem curious. But Murray lists three primary reasons why the Doctor chose to use the Old Testament so often in seeking the conversion of sinners:
- It reveals sin in its true nature. Murray writes, “Lloyd-Jones believed that the true difference between moralizing preaching on the Old Testament and true evangelistic preaching is that moralizing deals only with sin in terms of symptoms and secondary features. The essence of sin, the true seriousness of sin, can only begin to be understood when it is seen in terms of a wrong relationship and attitude to God himself.”
- It reveals the absolute futility of life without God.
- Above all else, the Old Testament is a book about God.
Tim Keller, whose preaching and ministry have been deeply affected by Lloyd-Jones, told me the Doctor’s evangelistic sermons have helped him to preach the gospel to skeptics in his ministry setting in New York City. Keller said:
The Doctor often preached out of the Old Testament to convey gospel truths of sin and grace because he knew that people could often grasp narratives faster than abstract propositions, and the narratives of the Old Testament were matchless at conveying human inability and divine grace. They depicted in concrete ways the theological themes made explicit in the New Testament epistles. Lloyd-Jones’s series on Genesis 3, for example, preached Sunday evenings in 1955, is a masterful, vivid depiction of the character of sin. It shows how sin depends on believing false, unfair things about the character of God, and how it leads to hiding and deception. He didn’t try to argue with secular people in an abstract way that yes, sin exists. He described sin’s contours and effects so well that you just couldn’t deny that it is a force in the world and in your life.
I listened to that series in the early days of my ministry in New York City, and it gave me a vision of how to preach about sin and grace to secular people. I learned there’s no use telling people about grace—about how much God loves them—until they first come to see the depth and seriousness of their sin. Similarly there is no use going to the other end of the spectrum and simply telling people that God is angry at them—unless you first give them some inkling about why he would be so, namely over their sin. I owe the Doctor a great, great debt for giving me a vision for preaching sin and grace to skeptical people in the heart of a great city.
Pleading for Revival
In 1859, one of the great revivals of the past 150 years came to Wales. God poured out his Spirit upon thousands in Wales, but the impact was seismic with tremors felt throughout Britain and the United States. Revival was especially profound among the Calvinistic Methodists of Wales, the spiritual and theological forebears of Lloyd-Jones. Thomas Philips wrote in 1860 of the revival, “The whole heathen world is being rapidly opened to the gospel.”
On the 100th anniversary of that great effusion of the Spirit of God, Lloyd-Jones, a Welshman by birth, commemorated the revival with a series of sermons at Westminster Chapel. In 1987, Crossway published the 24 sermons in a volume simply titled Revival. For Lloyd-Jones, the choice of topic was not merely a historical marker, but a renewed call for God to repeat his outpouring of the Spirit in 20th-century England.
This work is one of the best and most underrated volumes in the Lloyd-Jones canon. He began the sermons with a plea for revival from Mark 9:28-29, “The Urgent Need for Revival Today,” a mantle 21st-century evangelicals would do well to take up. “I do not hesitate to go so far as to say that unless we, as individual Christians are feeling a grave concern about the state of the Church and the world today,” Lloyd-Jones said, “then we are very poor Christians indeed.”
Before setting forth important revival-related topics such as expecting revival, characteristics of revival, the effects of revival, how revival comes, and praying for revival, Lloyd-Jones established, in six sermons, five hindrances to revival: unbelief, doctrinal impurity, defective orthodoxy, dead orthodoxy, and spiritual inertia. In the book’s next-to-last sermon from Isaiah 63:15-19, “The Heartfelt Fervor of Revival Prayer,” Lloyd-Jones commended Isaiah’s prayer for spiritual awakening in Israel as a model of both pleading and reasoning with God:
He (Isaiah) is in the grip of a strong emotion, and so he prays from the depth of his heart. And whenever the church is in a state of revival, you find the same thing. Whenever the Spirit of God comes down upon the church, forms are forgotten, liturgies are put at abeyance, and the Spirit moves in men’s hearts. And out of the hearts of praying people come their expressions of worship, their pleas, and their petitions—exactly what you have here, and in every other great prayer in the Bible.
Pleading for Us
These two emphases of Lloyd-Jones instruct evangelicals today in at least three ways.
1. Our preaching should always aim to edify the saints, but if it is gospel-centered as was Lloyd-Jones’s, it will also speak clearly to the dangerous footing of the unconverted.
2. We should not hesitate to preach the gospel from the Old Testament or use it in our evangelism efforts. The whole Bible tells the story of a holy God rescuing a people from sin and death through the redemptive work of his Son.
3. In every age, we ought to pray for revival. As Lloyd-Jones called England to petition God for revival in the 1950s, so we must call our churches today across the globe to pray for an outpouring of God’s overwhelming, effectual grace. As Lloyd-Jones told his congregation, that is our only true hope.