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Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones and his early relationship with Welsh evangelicals

January 2015 | by Eryl Davies

Lloyd-Jones’s relationship with Welsh students and later with the Bala Conference pastors stands in sharp contrast to his relationship with evangelical pastors in Wales during the pre-war period. The former was a dynamic, warm and open relationship, while the latter was a more distant one.

Lloyd-Jones explains why he had kept aloof from pre-war evangelicals in Wales: ‘I had no links with the Bible Institute or with any part of the Convention Movement, nor “Nantlais”, nor the Magazine.

‘I have always regarded Keswick-ism as an attempt to implant English Arminianism in Wales — an attempt which did not take. The Faith Mission to Wales, an imitation of the Faith Mission to Scotland, also failed. I can remember the two lady evangelists at frigid Llangeitho trying to teach children to sing a chorus in the Lushai dialect’.

Considering the demise of the evangelical faith during this period, his response appears surprising. However, he explains: ‘Their preachers were primarily evangelists and not enough discrimination was shown when evangelising.

‘After 1929, R. B. Jones started denouncing people as false to their vows, whereas in reality these people had always been unregenerate. Under the bad influence of Dr T. T. Shields, who was strongly anti-catholic, R. B. Jones went into the attack with his “Three Rotten Apples” speech, using personal names in accusations. The whole 1925–1930 phase was negative, harsh and almost barren’.

Calvinism

These alien influences, coupled with a harsh, negative approach, were unacceptable to Lloyd-Jones. But there was more that troubled him: ‘I deplored the calling in of popular-style preachers, such as Jack Troup, Peter Connolly, John McNeill and W. P. Nicholson.

‘Indeed I had debates with R. B. [Jones] and W. S. [Jones], who insisted on the new method, whereas I was saying — Go back to the real preachers. One strand in Keswick preaching was the Brethren technique of drawing together a number of scriptural references into a topic address (not sermon). This humble gathering of Scriptures was regarded as a cure for carnal, over-emotional preaching, but it ran right against the Welsh tradition’.

Underlying the unease he felt, therefore, was not only Arminianism, but the adoption of ‘new methods’ involving a changed attitude to preaching. The latter, he thought, ‘ran right against the Welsh tradition’ of proclamation and exposition with its prayerful dependence on God for power and fruitfulness.

This background also throws further light on Lloyd-Jones’s convening of an Evangelical Presbyterian Ministers’ Fellowship in Sandfields Presbyterian Church [now Bethlehem Evangelical Church, Sandfields] on 30 December 1930.

The timing is significant. Here was a positive response on his part to the ‘1925–1930 phase’, which he regarded as ‘negative, harsh and almost barren’. It also represents an even stronger Calvinistic direction on his part and one intended to steer a path outside the Conventions in Wales and the popular Keswick teaching and influence.

Only seven ministers and four church elders attended the December meeting, but they felt the need to co-operate with ‘those who believe and preach the evangelical truths of the gospel’ who were burdened about revival.

They promised to pray for one another, for revival and to emphasise regeneration and conversion in their congregations, as well as the assurance of salvation and holiness of life. Unlike the Prayer Union, early in the century, this fellowship functioned apart from the Conventions, Keswick-in-Wales and the ‘new methods’ approach. Rather, it had a strong Welsh emphasis with the traditional view of preaching and revival.

This new Fellowship of pastors/elders was an encouragement to Lloyd-Jones and others. There was also considerable blessing on Lloyd-Jones’s ministry in Sandfields, especially in 1931/32, when the numbers of people ‘from the world’ added to the church peaked.

IVF

In contrast to pre-war evangelicalism in Wales, what happened amongst students in the Welsh colleges in the 1940s and 1950s was radically different. For example, it was not imported from England, nor was it linked to the ‘Convention’ movement.

The work amongst students was indigenous, involving a significant number of Welsh language students; it was spontaneous and fruitful. In contrast to the ‘barren’ 1925–1930 period in Wales, hundreds of students were being converted and enlivened.

Some historians major on the late 1940s in tracing the deepening relationship between Lloyd-Jones and students in Wales, but it is important to look much earlier for the burgeoning of the relationship.

For example, it was in 1941 at the annual IVF [Inter-Varsity Fellowship] Conference in Cambridge that J. Russell-Jones, with four other Cardiff students, introduced themselves to the conference speaker, Lloyd-Jones. Isaac D. E. Thomas from the Bangor Christian Union was also present.

They arranged to meet ‘the Doctor’ for coffee and reported to him what was happening in the colleges in Wales. He was delighted to hear of gospel success.

Later that year, J. Russell-Jones wrote to Lloyd-Jones suggesting a separate national IVF Conference in Wales, as he felt more students would attend from the Welsh colleges. The correspondent was surprised when Lloyd-Jones advised against such a development.

The fact that many young people going to university were now ‘unchurched’ troubled Russell-Jones, and he recognised that the role of Christian students in colleges was crucial in witnessing to their peers. This point was made to ‘the Doctor’, but nine years elapsed before ‘I came to see that the churches were so mixed that such a movement standing for evangelical truth was justifiable’.

It was Glyn Owen and Gwyn Walters who led twelve students to Cambridge for the 1942 IVF Conference, when Lloyd-Jones gave the presidential address; he was again in contact with the Welsh contingent.

Welsh students

For several years leading up to the first Welsh IVF Conference in 1949, students from Wales were attending annual IVF Conferences in England.

At an IVF Leaders’ Conference in Swanwick, Derbyshire, in 1948, a group of Welsh students met informally to arrange a Wales IVF Conference for the following year. Co-opting Lloyd-Jones’s daughter, Elisabeth, also gave weight to their invitation for her father to become the main speaker in the first Welsh IVF Conference in 1949. He agreed!

Wynford Davies was ‘mainly responsible’ for that first conference. Like others, he recognised that the growth of witness in Christian Unions in the Welsh colleges, like the ‘immense encouragement’ in Bangor in 1949, plus the increase in the number of evangelical theological students, made the Conference a necessity with ‘about sixty’ attending.

Back in North Wales, as we noted, students and other young people were being saved; some had met with God in 1948 and 1949. Lloyd-Jones himself was given unexpectedly two profound experiences of the Lord in the summer of 1949.

These two parallel paths were converging. It was in the 1949, 1950 and 1951 Welsh student conferences, where Lloyd-Jones ‘taught a whole generation of Welsh evangelical students, many of whom were candidates for the ministry struggling against the prevailing theological liberalism in their denominations, basic evangelical and reformed doctrine’.

It is too strong to claim he achieved this ‘almost single-handedly’, as there were Calvinistic pastors like W. M. George (Llanelli), H. H. Williams (Cross Hands), I. B. Davies and Emlyn Jones (Neath), for example, who exerted some influence, but Lloyd-Jones was the key player ensuring that ‘much of Welsh evangelicalism would be both theologically literate and guided in a thoroughly Calvinistic direction’.

This can be illustrated by considering three students who were present and later became leaders in the Ministers’ Conference. John Thomas, converted in the 1945 Llanelli mission, then inducted as minister of Lloyd-Jones’s first church at Sandfields in 1953, claimed he learned more from these talks given by Lloyd-Jones than he had learned in his theology course over four years.

Derek Swann felt deeply indebted to Lloyd-Jones for making divine election ‘heart-warming stuff’, whereas Gwilym Roberts was overwhelmed by the awareness of the glory and sovereign power of God following these conferences.

Evangelicals

The three IVF Welsh Conferences, 1949–1951, had a profound effect on many students, though not all ‘embraced his reading of the contemporary church situation’. Geraint Fielder confirms that ‘the Welsh Evangelical Ministers’ Conference grew out of the student one’.

From 1948, Lloyd-Jones preached for a number of students as they began their ministries. This was so when Glyn Owen was inducted into his first pastorate at Heath Presbyterian Church, Cardiff, in 1948, and for John Thomas in Bethlehem, Sandfields, in 1953.

It was natural therefore that Lloyd-Jones should be invited to address the first Ministers’ Conference in 1955. During this crucial period of 1955–1961, as more young men were ordained and attended the conference, their relationship with ‘the Doctor’ was being cemented.

On 15 November 1954, a letter was sent to Presbyterian ministers in South Wales who were known to be evangelical. The term ‘evangelical’ referred to Christians who believed the Bible to be God’s reliable and infallible Word. The Bible was their supreme authority in all areas of faith and practice.

Evangelicals are passionate and clear about the Christian gospel. This glorious gospel, like a golden thread running through the Bible, centres on God’s saving action through the virgin birth, sinless life, obedience and sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, on behalf of sinners, as well as his physical resurrection from the dead and victorious ascension to heaven, where he rules over the universe and the church.

The necessity of new birth and conversion, that is, repentance from sin and personal faith in Christ, are emphasised, together with the work of the Holy Spirit in believers and in the church. Between such believers there is a deep spiritual unity which runs across denominations.

By the 1970s, the term ‘evangelical’ had become somewhat elastic in its meaning and has continued to be modified in recent years.

It was an encouraging letter which was sent in November 1954. Reference was made to ‘a number of rallies’ held during the previous twelve months and attended by young people, mostly from English-language Presbyterian churches in South Wales.

Only a week before the letter was sent, a rally was held in Sandfields, Aberavon. The numbers of young people present ‘were greatly increased’. And the letter offers a reason for this remarkable increase. It was a result of groups of young converts being formed following the student-led campaigns and other evangelistic efforts in the area.

For this reason the letter was sent urgently to ministers, for them to discuss and pray over the situation and then to respond.

Quarterly meetings

On 19 November, 18 Presbyterian ministers responded to the letter and met. Apologies and good wishes were received from seven others. There was a good mix of ages, with almost half the number being younger men recently ordained. Key decisions were made, like agreeing to plan quarterly preaching rallies with a strong commitment to ‘the conservative evangelical position’.

They also decided to form an ‘Evangelical Presbyterian Ministers’ Fellowship’. Only Presbyterians could belong to the Fellowship, which would meet in January, April, June and October.

One of these meetings would be a three-day conference, but ‘open to evangelical ministers of all denominations’. Dr D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was chosen unanimously as the main speaker. ‘No formal advertising of the conference was to be made, but members were encouraged to invite those they knew to be of like mind’.

They met quarterly, as planned, for prayer and discussion of important doctrines, as well as overseeing the rallies for young people in their churches. The following details provide insight into these meetings and the struggles they faced.

By the January 1955 meeting in Neath, ‘a list of almost one hundred ministers who were being contacted was approved and added to’. This was an encouraging number, especially as care was taken in approving each name. It was also agreed that, because ‘some of the older and retired ministers would be unable to attend’, they should receive a newsletter requesting their prayers.

Interestingly, after ‘an excellent lunch provided by Mrs I. B. Davies at the manse, it was agreed in future that members would provide their own food in order not to burden any one family or church’. In the afternoon discussion which followed, ‘Rev. Gordon Roberts raised questions concerning the Parable of the Sower and the messages to the churches in Revelation chapters 2–3’.

Then ‘a most profitable discussion followed in which many problems and difficulties were dealt with. The blessing continued into a period of prayer’…

After the profitable second Ministers’ Conference in June 1956, 23 ministers attended the next Fellowship meeting in October 1956, in the home of Rev. and Mrs Emlyn Jones, Neath.

Apologies were received from five regulars. In warmly welcoming new members, the chairman referred to ‘the friends from other denominations and to those of the Monmouthshire Prayer group’.

Joint meetings

Membership was now no longer exclusively Presbyterian and a decision was made to have a joint meeting of the Evangelical Presbyterian Ministers’ Fellowship and the Monmouthshire Ministers’ Prayer Fellowship.

The latter was interdenominational and the joint meeting was scheduled for 25 January 1957 in Central Hall, Newport. After discussing the practical details, Rev. Emlyn Jones gave ‘a provoking paper’ on ‘Preaching’ and a ‘very full and lively discussion followed, which revealed the deep hunger in the hearts of many for a visitation of God’s Spirit’. Appropriately, ‘prayer followed the discussion’.

Less formal minutes were recorded for the combined meeting, held as scheduled on 25 January 1957 in Newport. A total of 30 ministers attended, but disappointingly no details concerning the attendees or the address and discussion are provided.

We are simply informed that ‘an excellent paper was given by Rev. J. Russell-Jones’. His subject was ‘The Holy Spirit and the ministry’. And, ‘Many present confessed to have passed through a searching time. Many contributed to the discussion which followed’.

These brief minutes include a small postscript: ‘In view of the success of this meeting a second one was held at the home of Rev. and Mrs W. K. Sharman of Cardiff’. No date is provided, but it represented the Spring quarterly meeting in April that year.

Rev. Wynford Davies, Tonypandy, ‘gave an address of a very high standard on the Life of the Minister, drawing liberally from Rev. Richard Baxter and others. The high standard of personal discipline in the life of the minister of God in the past awakened a sense of shame in many present and, by general assent, the need of reform among evangelical ministers was clearly seen’…

The trend towards further interdenominational cooperation accelerated. This was evident in their June 1957 Ministers’ Conference, when the Evangelical Presbyterian Ministers’ Fellowship handed over responsibility for the conference to the Evangelical Movement of Wales (EMW).

At this conference, Presbyterian representatives like I. B. Davies, Vernon Higham and John Thomas met with members of the EMW ‘to discuss under the chairmanship of Rev. Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones the future of the Ministers’ Conference’.

Eryl Davies

This edited extract is from Dr Davies’ recent book, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Evangelicals in Wales: Bala Ministers’ Conferences 1955-2014, Bryntirion Press; 442 pages, £14.99; ISBN: 978-1-78397-056-8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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