Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Preaching and Principles

I did not know D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones personally.  I have spoken with a few people who did, and I have certainly listened to recordings of his preaching and read many of his books, but I do not count myself an expert on the man.  I am a second-hand witness at best, and I write this as a distant beneficiary of his ministry, not as some kind of expert.  But I can report with certainty that the ministry of Martyn Lloyd-Jones has had a profound influence on my life and ministry.  Two words in particular characterize the influence: Preaching and Principles.  

First, preaching.  By the time I was studying in seminary, I was already convinced that sound preaching was at the heart of a biblical pastoral work.  I knew from the Bible that Jesus and the apostles were preachers, and that the work God did in conversion and in building the church was carried out under the ministry of preaching.  I knew from Paul’s letters to Timothy that preaching was at the center of regular pastoral ministry.  And in my own life, I had observed very closely the way in which a vibrant and biblical preaching ministry shaped a congregation and bore genuine, lasting spiritual fruit.

But I was confused by homiletics.  Many of the books on preaching seemed to promote a formula that, if anything, sapped the power of preaching.  In some books, there was a kind of cookie-cutter approach, so that every sermon fit the same mold and was organized in the same fashion.  But then there were the endless – and sometimes quite complex – discussions about the particular nuances of contemporary culture (as defined by the book’s publication date).  It was as if successful preaching required first an analysis of the cultural streams which might be present in a given congregation; only after completing this analysis could one hope to preach a sermon.

Of course, I’m sure that none of the books or teachers put it quite this way.  But nonetheless, reading Lloyd-Jones in Preaching and Preachers was like entering an entirely different world.  Fundamentally, he understood that human nature did not change, even though fashions did.  The unregenerate mind would always need to be awakened by the power of the Holy Spirit; and, according to scripture, the Spirit of God generally used the Word of God – often the preached Word – to accomplish this great purpose.  Convictions about man and sin, combined with a robust theology of the Word and the clear example from revivals of the past, led him to a position of great confidence in the Lord’s ability to use preaching.  This confidence in God’s work made the tricks and insights of mere public speakers and armchair sociologists seem pale by comparison.  I’ve now read Preaching and Preachers numerous times, and it never fails to remind me of these basic truths.

It wasn’t simply Lloyd-Jones’ teaching about preaching that influenced me, it was also the preaching itself.  Once again, I’m no expert here – I never once heard Lloyd-Jones preach in person: all of my exposure has come through recordings.  But while power in preaching is usually something that is only communicated in person, I have been convicted and stirred in listening to his preaching.  I remember one occasion when I was driving with a friend, listening to Lloyd-Jones preach on John 8.  We started the journey in a lighthearted mood, but at the end of the sermon we actually pulled off of the road into a parking lot to discuss our lives and pray.  We were uncommonly moved.  It was so obvious that, just as Lloyd-Jones took the biblical doctrine of man and sin seriously, he also took the Word of God seriously.  He was charged with delivering God’s words to a congregation and he had the bearing of a serious messenger.

Of course, while Lloyd-Jones’ theology and practice of preaching was tremendously influential in my own life, the reality is that it was the principles of the man that undergirded all of this.  As I began to listen to his sermons systematically, and as I then began to read his books (most of which were based upon transcribed sermons or lectures), I began to see that this was a man who was fully persuaded of the theological truths he preached.  He was persuaded that human beings were by nature objects of God’s wrath; therefore he preached with urgency and seriousness.  He was persuaded that the work of the Holy Spirit was needed to dispel the spiritual blindness due to the Fall; therefore, he fervently prayed and he had little time for gimmicks which were designed to appeal to the desires of unregenerate hearts.  He believed in the greatness of God and of the power of God’s presence; therefore, he faithfully proclaimed God’s grace in Christ as the only solution to the real problems of the human condition.  From hearing accounts of his life and from reading the excellent biographies by Iain Murray, it seems evident that this extended beyond his public preaching and into his decisions he made and the counsel he gave.  In short, his principles guided his actions in a thoroughgoing way.

It is a testimony to the grace of God that someone in another country, whose death occurred when I was a young boy, and whose churches I never attended or visited should have been used in such a way in my life.  Indeed, it is a reminder of the powerful way in which God can use his Word, preached by a man who had been brought to life by the Holy Spirit, to influence people and ministries in ways hard to imagine.  For this, we have only the Lord to thank.

Jonathan Master