Martyn Lloyd-Jones thought that preaching is practically impossible to define. Yet his definition is famous: “Logic on fire! Eloquent reason!” This simple phrase is powerful and poignant. But taken alone it oversimplifies Lloyd-Jones’s definition of preaching. In Preaching and Preachers, he began his attempt at defining it on page 52. The quest for a definition continued until page 99. He applied his sharp analytical mind to defining preaching, and the famous quote serves as a useful summary of his conception of it.
But if you want an accurate understanding of how he conceived of preaching, then you must be clear on exactly what Lloyd-Jones meant by “logic” and by “fire.”
By “logic” he did not mean simply any valid mode of reasoning, but a specific and definite set of theological propositions, what he called a theo-logic. The logic of preaching is the logic of the gospel. According to Lloyd-Jones, the preacher is called and commissioned to focus exclusively on the content of the gospel. This is because he believed that the Bible’s fundamental message corresponds to man’s fundamental need—his need for God. Everything that goes wrong in this life does so because man is not rightly related to God. And what “we all need above everything is the redemption that he alone can provide, and which will reconcile us to him. We cannot be blessed by God unless we are rightly related to him.”
He argued that reconciliation is the central theme of Scripture. The message of the Bible from beginning to end is designed to bring us back to God, to humble us before God, and to enable us to see our true relationship to him. The Bible “holds us face to face with God, and what God is, and what God has done.” The logic of preaching is the logic of redemption.
Yet this limited focus does not limit the preacher. There is no subject more gloriously full than the great riches of God’s grace in Christ. Preachers do not spend their time preaching on current events or offering political opinions because they are given a limited message. True apostolic preaching “does not take in those other things, for they are outside the limits of ‘the gospel of his Son.’ Yes! But within the limits, what wealth, what riches!” Our treasure is too great to trifle with trivialities.
The whole business of preaching and of the gospel is to bring men and women face-to-face with the living God.
For Lloyd-Jones, the church is a “specialist institution” that alone is called of God to deal with man’s deepest and most fundamental problem: his broken relationship with God. God has ordained that this fundamental problem be dealt with primarily through publicly declaring what God has done to remedy the problem. He believed that the church’s glory is that she alone has been called to herald this great message. The logic of the gospel is the logic of our proclamation.
By “fire” Lloyd-Jones did not mean simply any existential or emotional response to any type of sentimental stimuli. He meant a specific, Spirit-wrought response of the heart to the mind’s clear apprehension of the gospel logic. Lloyd-Jones highly valued reason, but he knew that it alone is not enough. He would remind his congregation:
Reason is a very wonderful thing—I am not here to say a word against it; in fact, I am trying my best at this moment to reason with you. I try to do it always. When I preach, I do not tell stories about myself or anybody else, I do not just make people sing choruses and try and work them up—I reason with them. God forbid that I should say a word against reason. I believe it is the gift of God to man, the thing that differentiates him from an animal. But reason alone does not help us at the most important points in life and with respect to the most important things.
The gospel logic that he labored to make clear must also be made personally real. When that happened, there was “fire.” He believed that the great aim of preaching is not simply to pass on information or even to merely make the gospel truths clear to the congregation. The great aim of preaching is to make the theo-logic of the gospel live, to make it deeply personal. It is not enough to know theoretically that man is sinful, one must know that I am sinful. It is not enough to know that Christ came to save the lost. One must know and be persuaded that Christ came to save me.
The great aim of preaching is to make the theo-logic of the gospel live, to make it deeply personal.
Speaking on the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, Lloyd-Jones clearly explained this concept. Even though this quote is long, hang in there. This paragraph is vital for clearly grasping Lloyd-Jones’s understanding of preaching.
I would add that I have often discouraged the taking of notes while I am preaching. It is becoming a custom among evangelical people; but it is not, as many seem to think, the hallmark of spirituality! The first and primary object of preaching is not only to give information. It is, as Edwards says, to produce an impression. It is the impression at the time that matters, even more than what you can remember subsequently. In this respect Edwards is, in a sense, critical of what was a prominent Puritan custom and practice. The Puritan father would catechize and question the children as to what the preacher had said. Edwards, in my opinion, has the true notion of preaching. It is not primarily to impart information; and while you are writing your notes you may be missing something of the impact of the Spirit. As preachers, we must not forget this. We are not merely imparters of information. We should tell our people to read certain books themselves and get the information there. The business of preaching is to make such knowledge live. The same applies to lecturers in colleges. The tragedy is that many lecturers simply dictate notes and the wretched students take them down. That is not the business of a lecturer or a professor. The students can read the books for themselves; the business of the professor is to light a fire, to enthuse, to stimulate, to enliven. And that is the primary business of preaching. Let us take this to heart. Edwards laid great emphasis upon this; and what we need above everything else today is moving, passionate, powerful preaching. It must be “warm” and it must be “earnest.”
Preachers are not information dispensers. Their job is to make the information come alive. He believed the best way to do this is to make the truths personal. The gospel is personal address. Lloyd-Jones believed passionately that Christianity in general and Christian preaching in particular “is not a discussion about ideas. It is a discussion about you.” The whole business of preaching and of the gospel is to bring men and women face-to-face with the living God. That is what he meant by “fire.”
For Lloyd-Jones, true preaching is the gospel “logic” of man’s condition in sin and God’s gracious provision for that condition set on “fire” by those truths being made explosively real and intimately personal. This was his definition of preaching. The gospel made clear. The gospel made real. Logic on fire.