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Dr Lloyd-Jones was well equipped to write on spiritual depression: Part 2

May 2019 | by Geoff Thomas

Last month Geoff Thomas began looking at why Dr D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was so well equipped to preach, counsel and write on the subject of spiritual depression. He said that Dr Lloyd-Jones was such a well-rounded, intelligent, and tender personality; he was also utterly committed to the faith of the Scriptures; and he was a man who maintained the disciplines of private devotion. Here is the concluding part.

He was a man to whom people went for spiritual help.

At the end of his services he retired to his room behind the pulpit, was taken a cup of tea and soon a line of people would wait to have a private conversation with him. Some were there merely to bring greetings from their pastors in Australia or the USA, but others brought their concerns about a call to the ministry or their lack of assurance about a personal knowledge of God.

He would give himself totally to these people, listening, questioning, advising and praying with them. A friend was a member of Westminster Chapel and what she missed most of all after his retirement from the pastorate there was a minister to consult as once she had had. ‘I could say anything to him,’ she said to me.

For example, in 1954 an American evangelist held a long campaign in London which was not supported by Lloyd-Jones but was enthusiastically taken up by churches all over England; in fact claims were made that this was a revival.

My friend had become a counsellor at this crusade and was excited with the whole event and its methods of evangelism, so much so that she went to see her beloved minister and sat down with him in his room at Westminster Chapel and said to him, ‘We don’t preach the gospel in this church.’

She repeated the story to me slightly blushing and shaking her head in amazement at herself that she had actually said those words to the Doctor. He asked her whether she had been to the crusade, and then he explained to her why he did not give an altar call and ask for an immediate public response by walking to the front.

He explained to her his theology of evangelism from the Scriptures, and the methodology that he had erected on these convictions. He saw his own calling most of all as an evangelist to London.

He addressed her question and criticisms to her entire satisfaction and she came to appreciate his counsels all the more as time passed. He asked her on that night if she was a counsellor at the crusade and she told him that she was. He prayed for her that God would help her.

‘Later on I went to see him again,’ she told me, at a time of darkness in her life, when she had said to him, ‘We don’t love one another in this church.’ ‘Don’t say that,’ he said to her tenderly. ‘It’s the devil makes you say that.’ Again she shook her head ruefully at her uncharacteristic boldness and folly that had made her speak out like that.

Yet the point she was making to me was her trust in him, that she could go to him whenever she desired and speak her mind and share her fears and worries and he would not disdain her at all, or pretend to be shocked, or show annoyance. How she missed that when his ministry ended.

I quote those examples to underline the tenderness of Dr Lloyd-Jones. Speaking to a group of doctors about counselling people he told them  this: ‘What is needed is great patience and sympathy, and the power to put oneself in those people’s situation. The adviser must not hold to his own rigid position otherwise the man will simply become a tangent to a closed circle.

‘The adviser may end by feeling that he has taken the “Christian stand” and said all that was right. He may feel happy; but he may, by this very fact, have left the person in extreme misery. This is obviously bad counselling.

‘The point is that we must be very careful not to foist our opinions on others. The counsellor is not a dictator, he is simply there to give help. While he may give his views and, with care, put them quite strongly if asked, yet all that is put to the patient must be in a spirit of real sympathy, love and understanding.

‘As counsellors we must never be in the position of dictating to another person’s conscience. We have no right to imagine ourselves as “the conscience” of another! We are there to share with those who consult us experience, knowledge, wisdom and suggestions concerning the way of cure.

‘There are, unfortunately, Christians who feel it their duty to impose their own legalistic views on others. Our business, however, is to persuade, never to force. We must always be careful to avoid condemnation — especially in the case of a sick or agitated person. If the plain truth of the situation comes home to the patient that is one thing; but it is not our place to condemn’ (D. M. Lloyd-Jones, The Doctor Himself, Christian Medical Fellowship Publications, 1982, p.48).

He was a man confident that to grasp the person and work of Christ, the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the ethical demands of the Bible is itself a mighty power to transform people, to elevate and ennoble and enrich their lives.

He told me that the question he was asked virtually more than any other was whether he could recommend a Christian psychiatrist to the questioner. No doubt there were such men, and he did recommend them, but speaking to a general congregation he was giving the solution that applied, by far, to the majority of them.

His confidence supremely was in the sanctifying energy of the public means of grace, week by week: Sunday worship, the prayers and praises, the preaching of the Word and the mysterious influence which Christians have over one another. These were the chief means of transforming men and women, of ‘lifting up the downcast’ Christian.

A balanced preaching ministry would solve the majority of the personal problems of a congregation. Of course, Dr Lloyd-Jones had the highest view of gospel preaching.

He expressed it like this: ‘One thing I have looked for and longed for and desired. I can forgive a man for a bad sermon, I can forgive the preacher almost anything if he gives me a sense of God, if he gives me something for my soul, if he gives me the sense that, though he is inadequate himself, he is handling something which is very great and very glorious, if he gives me some dim glimpse of the majesty and the glory of God, the love of Christ my Saviour, and the magnificence of the Gospel.

‘If he does that I am his debtor, and I am profoundly grateful to him. Preaching is the most amazing, and the most thrilling activity that one can ever be engaged in, because of all that it holds out for all of us in the present, and because of the glorious endless possibilities in an eternal future.’

He was confident of the power of the preached word of God to deliver people from the darkness of sin and keep them in the joy of salvation.

He was a man who was prepared to help people in every way he could.

He would stay at Westminster Chapel until the last person had been counselled. He would write letters to people all over the world. When he began his ministry in Aberavon, people wrote to him requesting medical advice and he examined them as they travelled to his manse.

My father’s twin brother, Bryn, was a theological student in the Congregational College in Brecon but in his first week there he was informed that he was not in a good enough shape physically to become and continue as a pastor. His heart wouldn’t be strong enough for this work.

He was quite crestfallen about this and then a friend told him about a heart specialist named Lloyd-Jones who had come to pastor a church in Aberavon. Why shouldn’t he write to him and explain his dilemma to him? Perhaps he could have a medical examination from the Doctor.

So it was that Uncle Bryn became one of hundreds who sought such help from Dr Lloyd-Jones. The result was that the Doctor pronounced my uncle in fine shape, that there was no problem with his heart at all, and so he returned to college and entered the ministry.

When I recounted this incident to Dr Lloyd-Jones he had no recollection of the incident at all, and then he asked me how Uncle Bryn had got on. ‘He lived until he was 82,’ I told him. He beamed and laughed out loud smacking his hands, ‘O very good!’

He also journeyed extensively all over the United Kingdom to support ministers and evangelical causes. What anticipation to have Dr Lloyd-Jones preaching for you. No one else could draw a congregation except him and no one since his decease. How we miss him, the full church, earnest, moving singing of great hymns, happy crowds staying around for an hour after the service was over, quietly talking together and the central themes of the gospel preached by the Doctor with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven.

These occasions are remembered by some from 70 years ago, and people will tell you they remember the text on which Dr Lloyd-Jones preached at that distant meeting. Men struggling in divided small congregations would get such an uplift when he visited them. ‘This is the preaching, and these are the kinds of services we are aiming for,’ they would tell their church officers.

He was a man with a lucidity in explaining the human condition, engaging men’s minds in such an interesting and increasingly gripping manner that the troubles and fears that they had brought with them soon became forgotten distractions.

They were being filled with the word of the Lord as they felt themselves addressed by the Lord of the word. So their cares were put into perspective as God was magnified before them. On one occasion I was walking home hand in hand with my 8-year-old daughter Eleri after we had heard Dr Lloyd-Jones preaching in Aberystwyth.

I said to her, ‘What did you think of the meeting?’ She replied, ‘It was like Sunday mornings, only simpler.’ Ouch! There is no doubt that his preaching was so clear that young children could follow his reasoning.

The sermons of Spiritual Depression are accessible and very understandable. I also found Studies in the Sermon on the Mount most helpful, and yet Dr Michael Haykin says, ‘Personally I will never forget the impact made upon me by the reading of the first volume of Iain Murray’s biography of the Doctor, as he came to be affectionately called. It transformed my whole view of pastoral ministry and planted my feet in the rich loam of biblical Christianity.

‘I had read his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount in the mid-1970s, but they had had little effect on my thinking at the time. But after that first volume of Murray’s biography, I became an ardent reader of as many of Lloyd-Jones’ books as I could find.’

His lectures given at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia on his retirement from Westminster Chapel entitled ‘Preaching and Preachers’ are a fascinating read to any Christian and indispensable to any pastor. It has revolutionised the approach to ministry of many preachers.

He was a man persuaded that the person who had come to seek his counsels had more knowledge of all the circumstances involved than he himself had.

So he would interrogate the inquirer, who might have wanted a straight directive word to his problem, asking him, ‘Now what do you think?’ Leigh Powell of Toronto was once a member of Westminster Chapel. He went to Dr Lloyd-Jones as he had met a certain dilemma, but he was constrained by the Doctor to think through the issue as clearly and biblically as he could. Leigh Powell was helped and impressed by this approach.

This is his thought: ‘If there was no contradiction of Christian teaching, then the Doctor encouraged the individual to think it through logically and then to take the appropriate action. His counselling was a lifting up of the downcast. He used a variety of methods but would invariably engage the responsibility of the counsellee by requiring him to respond to a series of logical questions. The counsellee was taught to stand back from his small self-absorbed world and to view it from new perspectives.

‘We often carry our own burdens of worries as if we were some mighty Atlas. In fact, we are sinfully usurping the place of the Almighty sovereign Lord “upholding all things by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). I found the Doctor’s personal advice a great help when he showed me the biblical method of asking one’s self questions: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me?” (Psalm 42:5).

‘You do not slip into neutral gear and thereby open your mind to all the temptations of the devil. I later discovered that the psalms of lamentation began with these arresting questions and invariably ended in doxology, songs of praise and adoration: “Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God” (Psalm 42:11)’ (Eusebeia, Spring 2007, Leigh Powell, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a Doxological Minnistry, p.80).

This is the minister who wrote his studies on spiritual depression. May their counsels do much good to all who read them.

Geoff Thomas is a well-known author and conference speaker, and was pastor of Alfred Place Baptist Church, Aberystwyth, for over 50 years.