Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
His Life and Ministry

By Sir Fred Catherwood


The following article appeared in the Evangelical Times (UK) on the occasion of the death of Martyn Lloyd-Jones in 1981, and we claim no copyright to it. Dr Lloyd-Jones was a fellow Welshman of mine and I wholeheartedly support his approach to reformed theology which refuses the excesses of legalism and hyper-Calvinism which are to be found on the ‘hardest’ wing of reformed theology. Like the good doctor our reformed theology is ‘open’ and evangelistically inclined. Also like Dr Martyn, whilst admiring Calvin we refuse to venerate him and are frank about the weaker areas within his theology.

Robin A. Brace.

With the death of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a great pillar of the 20th century evangelical church has been removed. A pillar, however, is too static a metaphor to describe such a figure, for his spiritual and intellectual leadership created a new dynamic which owed little to the church he entered in the mid-twenties. By the fifties its full impact had been felt; by then there were ministers not only in Britain but around the world, who understood and preached a full-blooded gospel. That gospel once more rested fairly and squarely on the framework of reformation theology, based on the sure foundation of apostolic and biblical authority, and irradiated by the example of 18th century evangelism.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones was brought up in Welsh Calvinistic Methodism, first as a boy in Wales and then as a teenager and student in London, when the Charing Cross Chapel, which his family attended, was living on the left-over emotion of the Welsh revival. There was little doctrine to counter the rising trend of liberalism or to bring out the distinction between church-goers and true Christians. The three Lloyd-Jones boys enjoyed intellectual debate, but each was more committed to his career than to his professed faith.

Martyn's career was medicine. He went from school to Barts, one of the great London teaching hospitals, and was brilliantly successful. He succeeded in his exams so young that he had to wait to take his MD, by which time he was already chief clinical assistant to Sir Thomas Horder, one of the best and most famous doctors of the day. By the age of 26 he also had his MRCP and was well up the rungs of the Harley Street ladder, with a brilliant and lucrative career in front of him. Then something happened.

Slowly, reading for himself, his mind was gripped by the Christian gospel, its compelling power and its balanced logic, like the majestic self-supporting arches of a great cathedral. He had no dramatic crisis of conversion, but there came a point when he had committed himself entirely to the Christian gospel. After that, as he sat in the consulting room, listening to the symptoms of those who came to see him, he realised that what so many of his patients needed was not ordinary medicine, but the gospel he had discovered for himself. He could deal with the symptoms, but the worry, the tension, the obsessions could only be dealt with by the power of Christian conversion. Increasingly he felt that the best way to use his life and talents was to preach that gospel.

At the same time he faced another crisis. He wanted to marry Bethan Phillips, who attended Charing Cross with her parents and two brothers. Her father was a well-known eye specialist and Bethan was about to qualify as a doctor at University College Hospital. After what had been a long courtship he told her that he wanted to give up Harley Street and become, a Minister. After a year in which God clearly guided her too, they married and in 1927, after their honeymoon in Torquay, they moved in to their first home, a small manse in Aberavon, beside Port Talbot.

The dramatic move of the young Harley Street specialist and his new bride could hardly fail to attract attention and the press descended on them. Mrs. Lloyd-Jones once turned a reporter away at the front door with 'no comment' and was horrified to read the headline next day ' "My husband is a wonderful man" says Mrs. Lloyd-Jones.'

The press description of the solidly built two storey Manse as a 'dock-side cottage' did not go down very well with the office bearers. The local doctors were not too happy with the new arrival either. They felt certain that he had come to show them up and poach their patients. It could all have gone sour. But it did not.

His style was that of sharp clinical diagnosis, analysing the worldly view, showing its futility in dealing with the power and persistence of evil, and contrasting the Christian view, its logic, its realism and its power. He had the ability to clothe his clinical analysis with vivid and gripping language, so that it stayed in the mind. He could be scathing about the follies of the world and give a contrasting vision of the wisdom and power of God in a way which brought strong reaction from his audience. People would walk out, determined never to come again; yet, despite themselves, they would be back in the pew the next Sunday until, no longer able to resist the message, they became Christians.

After the war, the congregations grew quickly. In 1947 the balconies were opened and from 1948 until 1968 when he retired, the congregation averaged perhaps 1500 on Sunday mornings and 2000 on Sunday nights.

Discussion classes

On Friday nights, he continued his Aberavon practice of discussion classes; using the Socratic method, he made the members of the class work through the logic of their own confident assertions. He would try to bring out contrasting views, matching the proponents against each other, putting the objections and solutions no one had thought of, until finally he led the class to a conclusion with which few of them could by then disagree. He would himself confront the few who could stand it, leading them inexorably down their own false trail to the precipice at the bottom! Afterwards he would apologise and say: 'I know that a lot of people hold the view you put, and I cannot be as brutal with them in public as I have been with you, but I know you are big enough to take it!' In the early fifties the Friday night discussion had become too big and there was a demand for a straight Bible study, so in 1953 the Friday night Bible studies took over for a much larger audience in the main church. He began with a series on Biblical doctrine and then commenced the long study on Paul's letter to the Romans which was subsequently published in book form.

At the beginning of the war Dr. Lloyd-Jones had become President of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship of Evangelical Unions and was deeply involved in advising and guiding their founder and General Secretary, Dr. Douglas Johnson. In 1939 and then after the war, he and Douglas Johnson met with the leaders of the movements of other countries and formed the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students.

Both the British and the International movements have since grown greatly and both owe a great deal to his formative influence. He encouraged them to add to their pietism and evangelism a strong backbone of sound doctrinal teaching. To those who argued that 'intellectualism' detracted from evangelistic zeal, he pointed out that a sound basis of belief was the only sure foundation for evangelism. This change of emphasis was enormously important in the battle for the minds of students and in ensuring that IVF was not a passing student enthusiasm.

Utterly unimpressed

But Martyn Lloyd-Jones also made sure that IVF conceded nothing to the liberal wing of the church. He took the view of Francis Bacon, the founding father of modern science, that science was about secondary causes and that men had no business to believe that they could enquire into the great primary cause beyond what God had himself revealed.

He was utterly unimpressed by the theory of evolution well before scientists themselves had begun to express doubts. For that reason, he saw no need for a theory of 'creative evolution'. Theology came first. What were we taught about the Creator in his own revelation to us? Theology must guide our attitude to science, not the other way round. As a distinguished physician, trained in medical science, and also a theologian, he could understand both theology and science and his views carried weight. The IVF increased in strength, while in course of time the once strong Student Christian Movement, with its liberal views, faded from sight.

It was not long before this powerful leadership produced a group of young ministers and theologians and a regular forum for discussion. This was the Puritan Conference, which met regularly every December under his chairmanship. In its early days some Anglicans were among the leading figures, as was lain Murray. There was a strong feeling for the need to go back to the theological foundations of the Protestant tradition, to the period when a hundred years after the Reformation, its theological implications had been worked out. Papers were read and discussed and Dr. Lloyd-Jones chaired the meetings with skill and authority. The proceedings were good-humoured, but no one was allowed to get away with slipshod thinking or to make theological slips.

The conference influenced scores of young ministers each year and established a tough theological position in face of the rise of situational ethics and the general repudiation of authority by the clerical establishment in the fifties and sixties. The 'Banner of Truth' publishing house and The Evangelical Magazine were both started with help and encouragement from Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who also powerfully backed the work of the Evangelical Library.

On a pastoral level, he led a monthly ministers' fraternal since the early forties, when pastors discussed all the problems they faced both within the church and in its outreach. Here his ever widening experience, his profound wisdom and his down-to-earth common sense helped many a young minister with apparently unique and insoluble difficulties.

A strong character and a strong leader cannot avoid controversy. Believing, as he did, in the power of the Holy Spirit to convict and convert, he was profoundly opposed to the tradition which had grown up since Moody and Sankey of large meetings with soft music and emotional appeals for conversion. Though he never made any public criticism of particular evangelists, he never took part in or supported the large crusades. Billy Graham came to see him at the Chapel in the fifties, but though he never criticised the Graham crusades, he would not support them either.

However, it was in his relations with the Church of England that the most serious controversy came. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a strong believer in evangelical unity. He did not believe that denominational barriers should separate those who had a true faith in common. And, as the ecumenical movement gathered impetus and the liberal wing in the churches made greater and greater concessions to the currents of worldly opinion, he came to believe that the right answer was for the evangelicals to leave the compromised denominations and form their own grouping. He had no illusions about the possible ultimate fate of new church groupings. They might, in their own time, go astray. But he maintained that each of us had to do the best for our own generation, regardless of what might come later, and that the ecumenical movement put those who stood for the long line of truly Christian theology and practice in an impossible position.

The crisis came in a meeting chaired by the Rev. John Stott, leader of the evangelical wing of the Church of England. Martyn Lloyd-Jones made an immensely powerful appeal to his large audience to come out of the compromised denominations. The meeting was a watershed. The evangelical Anglicans went one way and evangelicals in the nonconformist churches went the other. When the Congregational Union merged with the English Presbyterian Church, Westminster Chapel left the Congregational Union and joined the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches. Many evangelical ministers in the Baptist Union and the Methodist church left those bodies some with and some without their congregations.

The British Evangelical Council linked the FIEC and other small evangelical denominations. These churches have held their own in face of the secularist trend, while the traditional nonconformist churches have gone into steep decline. On the Anglican side, some evangelical theologians took a leading part in attempting to find accommodation between the Evangelical, Anglo-Catholic and Liberal wings and, most regretfully, the Puritan Conference to which they had initially contributed, was disbanded. In its place, those who took the same view of the ecumenical movement as Dr. Lloyd-Jones, formed the Westminster Conference, which he continued to chair and lead with vigour. This avoided the issue becoming a continual grumbling controversy between the majority opposed to the ecumenical movement and the minority who believed in remaining in the ecumenically-linked denominations.

He had always pointed to the combination in the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists of the doctrine of the Calvinists and the enthusiasm of the Methodists. In the sixties, he became anxious lest the newly recovered emphasis on sound reformed doctrine should turn into an arid doctrinaire hardness. To counteract this danger he began in his teaching to emphasise the importance of experience. He spoke much of the necessity for experimental knowledge of the Holy Spirit, of full assurance by the Spirit, and of the truth that God deals immediately and directly with his children - often illustrating these things from church history.

This material originally appeared in the Christian monthly newspaper, The Evangelical Times

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