God Set His Sermons on Fire

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899–1981)

Many called him the last of the Calvinistic Methodist preachers because he combined Calvin’s love for truth and sound Reformed doctrine with the fire and passion of the eighteenth-century Methodist revival (Five Evangelical Leaders, 55). For thirty years he preached from the pulpit at Westminster Chapel in London. Usually that meant three different sermons each weekend: Friday evening and Sunday morning and evening.

 

In July 1959, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and his wife, Bethan, were on vacation in Wales. They attended a little chapel for a Sunday-morning prayer meeting, and Lloyd-Jones asked those present, “Would you like me to give a word this morning?” The people hesitated because it was his vacation, and they didn’t want to presume on his energy. But his wife said, “Let him. Preaching is his life” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 373). It was a true statement. In the preface to his powerful book Preaching and Preachers, he said, “Preaching has been my life’s work . . . to me the work of preaching is the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called” (17).

Many called him the last of the Calvinistic Methodist preachers because he combined Calvin’s love for truth and sound Reformed doctrine with the fire and passion of the eighteenth-century Methodist revival (Five Evangelical Leaders, 55). For thirty years he preached from the pulpit at Westminster Chapel in London. Usually that meant three different sermons each weekend: Friday evening and Sunday morning and evening.

At the end of his career, he remarked, “I can say quite honestly that I would not cross the road to listen to myself preaching” (Preaching and Preachers, 14). But that was not the way others felt. When J.I. Packer was a 22-year-old student, he heard Lloyd-Jones preach each Sunday evening during the school year of 1948–1949, and he said that he had “never heard such preaching.” It came to him “with the force of electric shock, bringing to at least one of his listeners more of a sense of God than any other man” (Five Evangelical Leaders, 170).

Physician of Souls

Lloyd-Jones’s path to Westminster was unique. He was born in Cardiff, Wales, on December 20, 1899. He moved to London with his family when he was 14 and went to medical school at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, where he received his MD in 1921 and became Sir Thomas Horder’s chief clinical assistant. The well-known Horder described Lloyd-Jones as “the most acute thinker that I ever knew” (Five Evangelical Leaders, 56).

Between 1921 and 1923, Lloyd-Jones underwent a profound conversion. It was so life-changing that it brought with it a passion to preach that completely outweighed his call as a physician. He felt a deep yearning to return to his native Wales and preach. His first sermon there was in April of 1925, and the note he sounded was the recurrent theme of his life: Wales did not need more talk about social action; it needed “a great spiritual awakening.” This theme of revival and power and real vitality remained his lifelong passion (Five Evangelical Leaders, 66).

He was called as the pastor of Bethlehem Forward Movement Mission Church in Sandfields, Aberavon, in 1926, and the next year married one of his former fellow medical students, Bethan Phillips. In the course of their life together, they had two daughters, Elizabeth and Ann.

His preaching became known across Britain and in America. It was popular, crystal clear, doctrinally sound, logical, and on fire. In 1937, he preached in Philadelphia and G. Campbell Morgan happened to be there. He was so impressed that he felt compelled to see Lloyd-Jones as his associate at Westminster Chapel in London.

Lloyd-Jones and G. Campbell Morgan were joint ministers until Morgan’s retirement in 1943. Then Lloyd-Jones was the sole preaching pastor for almost 30 years. So many people were drawn to the clarity and power and doctrinal depth of his preaching that in 1947 the Sunday morning attendance was about 1,500 and the Sunday evening attendance 2,000. He wore a somber black Geneva gown and used no gimmicks or jokes. Like Jonathan Edwards two hundred years before, he held audiences by the sheer weight and intensity of his vision of truth.

Lloyd-Jones became ill in 1968 and took it as a sign to retire and devote himself more to writing. He continued this for about twelve years and then died peacefully in his sleep on March 1, 1981.

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