Dr D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
There was concern once again over Lloyd-Jones’ health in the early summer of 1949. He felt exhausted and suffered from catarrh as well as other ailments, such as depression due to overwork.
Wisely, he decided to seek the medical advice of his former hospital boss, Lord Horder. The latter had no doubt that Lloyd-Jones needed a prolonged period of rest. Lloyd-Jones had a trip planned for July and August in the United States, with a punishing speaking schedule in churches and conferences.
Lord Horder directed that the trip should be cancelled in order to secure a period of rest. His advice was accepted so at the end of June he took his wife to west Wales. The following weeks were significant for many reasons.
Part of the summer break included several days’ residence during July at a clinic near Bristol, where he had treatment for catarrh. He spent much of the fortnight on his own in a private room, while his wife and family returned to London for a few days.
Darkness and light
Not only was he unwell, but, in addition, he had been struggling for some time with a temptation to question, against his will, the support of an important friend whom he valued. He had no evidence for doubting this friend, yet these powerful, negative thoughts contributed to his darkness of soul and depression.
Early one morning he sensed evil in his room and experienced ‘complete agony of soul’. He knew the devil was near, but as he dressed, the situation changed dramatically.
One of Arthur W. Pink’s sermons lay open alongside his bed and his eye suddenly fastened on the word ‘glory’ on one of the pages. Suddenly, he felt surrounded by God’s presence and the love of God was poured into him, giving him amazing assurance and degrees of joy and light he had never known before in his Christian experience. For a number of days, this overwhelming joy stayed with him.
It was an experience he did not write about and rarely referred to. He never gave a label to it. However, he regarded it as a genuine experience of the Holy Spirit in which he was given a deep certainty concerning his own personal salvation and an intense, intimate enjoyment of the Lord.
In late July, the whole family went to stay on a farmhouse near Bala. Still tired and listless, it took several days for Lloyd-Jones to regain any vigour. But on a Saturday evening in the farmhouse, he was alone reading the hymns of a famous Welsh hymn writer, William Williams (1717-1791), when he knew God’s felt presence and the reality of his love.
This experience seemed greater than even on the first occasion in the Bristol clinic. The realities of the gospel and of heaven became gloriously real to him once again.
Iain Murray, in his biography of Lloyd-Jones, suggests that these two experiences represented a new phase and emphasis in his ministry. He is correct. Reflecting much later on these experiences, Lloyd-Jones acknowledged it was ‘a real turning point’, in which he found a better balance between the doctrinal and experiential aspects in his preaching.
And the following days and months confirm this fact. For example, with little warning, some Christian students sought his help while he was holidaying at this time in North Wales. He had met the students earlier in the year, when he had preached evangelistically for them in Bangor University.
Now these same students were providing an evangelical witness for the first time in Wales’s National Eisteddfod, an annual Welsh language cultural festival which attracts thousands of people.
The festival rotates between North and South Wales and on this occasion it was held in Dolgellau, near to where Lloyd-Jones and his wife were on holiday. He agreed to help by speaking informally to the students before a meal, then preaching powerfully late that evening on Philippians 4:4 to a large congregation.
His meeting was reported the following day on BBC Wales, and Mrs Lloyd-Jones senior was surprised to hear her son had been preaching when he was supposed to be resting! The remaining holiday included a refreshing couple of weeks in Ireland.
He and Bethan were back in London in good time for him to preach in Westminster Chapel on Sunday 11 September. There was a problem, however. All his attempts to prepare a message for the Sunday morning service had failed, and it was only as he was in prayer on the Saturday afternoon that the words from Titus 1:2 came to his mind most powerfully: ‘God who cannot lie’.
It was an unforgettable moment, and he was overwhelmed, as the sermon was given him in outline. He was given exceptional power and freedom in preaching the following morning and the congregation were made aware of the glory and presence of God.
A few days later, he returned to Wales to address the first Welsh IVF Conference, which was held near Aberystwyth. About 60 students attended and Lloyd-Jones devoted three addresses to the subject of the biblical doctrine of man.
For the student chairman, it was a remarkable three days, with many students expressing appreciation of the Word. He addressed the conference again in the 1950 Easter vacation and this time on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
Many students, for the first time, discovered that, prior to any decision and repentance on our part, the beginnings of grace must be traced to the Holy Spirit’s miraculous work in regenerating the sinner.
The third Welsh IVF conference was in July 1951, when Lloyd-Jones responded to a request to speak on divine sovereignty. He delivered three powerful addresses on the subject, warning students that the subject should be approached from the Bible rather than from a prejudiced, ‘Calvinist’ or ‘non-Calvinist’ position.
The effect of these talks on the students was extensive and permanent. Some were converted; others struggled before submitting to a more God-centred theology, while others came to a deep assurance and joy in the Lord.
Because he did not want the students to depend on him, this was the last Welsh IVF conference that he would speak at.
There were other developments taking place in Wales, especially the emergence of the Evangelical Movement of Wales, largely through these students and conferences for Welsh language believers. Lloyd-Jones also spoke at their pioneering conferences in 1953 and 1955.
Then, in 1955, evangelical ministers within the Presbyterian Church of Wales established a ministers’ conference for their members, at which Lloyd-Jones was invited to speak. He accepted the invitation, but only on condition that evangelical ministers from other denominations were invited to attend.
This was agreed upon and, for the first time, evangelical ministers from different denominations conferred together; it was a milestone in expressing evangelical unity. His ministry on the Holy Spirit in this conference had a major influence on ministers.
Between 1955 and 1978, Lloyd-Jones attended the majority of these conferences in order to lead the discussions and give the closing message. His influence again was considerable, as he instructed, encouraged, challenged, and also pastored these ministers over the years.
It was during the 1950s and 1960s that Lloyd-Jones preached some of his most outstanding expository series of sermons, on Sundays in Westminster Chapel, and on Friday evenings.
Amongst the better known series are the six sermons in 1950 on Habakkuk (From fear to faith) and 60 sermons on The Sermon on the Mount from 1950-1952.
Just as influential was the long series on John 17 (The basis of Christian unity) in 1952-1953, Psalm 73 (Faith on trial) in 1953-1954, and 21 sermons on Spiritual depression: its causes and cure, which were preached from January-July 1954.
October 1954 saw the commencement of his Sunday morning exposition of Ephesians, which consisted of 260 sermons spanning a period of 8 years, ending in July 1962. His memorable Bible studies on Romans on Friday evenings started in October 1955 and ended only when he retired due to illness in March 1968.
He described all these sermons and studies as being ‘expository’, and for him all preaching needed to be expository. By this he meant that the preacher needed to indicate initially the relevance of the verses and then explain what they mean in their context.
However, expository preaching demands even more than this, for the preacher should then open up and apply the doctrine. That was what he himself endeavoured to do in expository preaching.
Lloyd-Jones wrote a brief article for the Evangelical Movement of Wales’ Welsh language magazine (Cylchgrawn efengylaidd, January-April 1950) expressing his desires for the year 1950.
It was a moving article that revealed the longings of his heart for even greater spiritual reality than he had hitherto known. ‘Before everything else’, he affirmed, ‘my chief desire is “to know Him”.’
He knew how easy it was to be satisfied and to be content with teaching or defending the faith or enjoying peace and joy in the Christian life. These things are the privileges of believers. However, to know the Lord more intimately was his great longing, and also for the church to experience a great revival that year.
Bethan Lloyd-Jones referred to the fact that her husband was first of all a man of prayer and an evangelist. He spent much time seeking and enjoying the Lord in private prayer. There were many times in London in the 1950s and 60s when the Lord drew so near to him that he needed to leave the study and talk to his wife in the kitchen about very mundane matters like the lunch menu.
He did this, he explained, in order to reassure himself that he was still on earth and not in heaven! No wonder that, as he prayed and preached in the Sunday services, people were often made conscious of God’s glory and presence, as well as the power and authority in his preaching.
Throughout this period, this note of knowing God was emphasised more and more both in his preaching at the Chapel and in churches and conferences outside.
For example, he told the evangelical ministers in Bala, Wales, in 1964: ‘My greatest problem is not to prepare my sermons but myself. And the only way is by a personal intimate knowledge of him. Our supreme desire must be to have communion with him’.
An extract from the author’s Bitesize Biography Dr D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (EP Books, £5.99, ISBN 9780852347607)