I am not feeling well today, so am not going to be able to produce a well-thought-out blog post (do I ever?).
Anyway, as a result I am even more grateful than normal for a correspondend who has kindly on my request sent me some quotes from remarks Lloyd-Jones made at a Westminster Fraternal meeting on October 9, 1968. Earlier that year he had developed cancer and had resigned his position at Westminster. Now recovered from his operation, this was his first time back at a meeting of the Fraternal since prior to his illness. This is taken from Iain Murray’s David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith, 1939-1981, "The Last Visit to America," pp. 602-605.
There was perhaps never an occasion which brought out more clearly the bond between him and so many ministers than the meeting of the Westminster Fraternal on October 9, 1968. For many there was the excitement of seeing him for the first time since the last Fraternal he had attended at the beginning of February and the joy of witnessing his evident restoration to health. It was anticipated that he might give some kind of address which would put new life into us, and this he certainly did. He announced no subject and began by apologizing for ‘the interruption’ in his attendance, though it had been ‘beyond his control’. Until his operation, he went on, he had known remarkable health and would have found it difficult to visualize what illness would mean. From the experience of the past months he said:
I think I know now ‘the peace of God which passeth all understanding.’ Peace is a very real thing and I was given that in a way I shall never forget as long as I live. Negatively, I have to confess, I wondered afterwards why I did not feel as Paul, desiring to depart and to be with Christ. It wasn’t that I was craving to live, but looking back on it, there was a lack there. I knew I was going to get well. It seems to me I should have known something of that other aspect, facing death in the spirit of expectation. I regard it as a deficiency. Our relationship to the Lord should make it otherwise.
He then spoke solemnly of the folly of waiting for illness to happen to us before we give it thought, rather we should always be preparing for such a time. And one way to do that is to see that we love God with all our strength while we are well, for when illness comes, we shall have no strength and be ‘so weak we cannot even read, not even the Scriptures.’ Strength must be used now and reserves laid up for the day of trial.
"Our danger is to be victims of our routine—you get carried on by the momentum of the work until suddenly pulled up as Edmund Burke was by the death of an opponent in an election at Bristol when he was brought to say, ‘What shadows we are, what shadows we pursue’. We tend to exaggerate things which in the end are not vital, allowing ourselves to be moved overmuch. In the light of eternity we see things at their real value.
There is another thing to be said, and I am more concerned about this at present. The interruption of my ministry had a message for me. I was at Romans 14:17. I had dealt with ‘righteousness’, with ‘peace’ on March 1st, and there I was stopped. I was not allowed to deal with ‘joy in the Holy Ghost’. I have the feeling that this was not accidental. God intervened and I could suggest a reason why. I was able to deal with righteousness and peace (I had fleeting experiences of it), but the third thing is the profoundest of all. Why was I not allowed to deal with it? Because I knew something, but not enough about it. ‘I want you to speak with greater authority on this,’ God said.
I think that one reason why Dr. Lloyd-Jones gave us the confession of the last paragraph was that it provided a right starting point for his main theme. He had acknowledged his own measure of failure and thus put us in a position to search our own hearts before he proceeded to address our need.
"Here is what I would put before you. For six months, until September, I did not preach at all. For four months I have had the most valuable experience of being a listener. My general impression is that most of our services are terribly depressing! I am amazed people still go to church; most who go are female and over the age of forty. The note missing is ‘joy in the Holy Ghost’. There is nothing in these services to make a stranger feel that he is missing something by not being there. It is as though there is a weight upon us and the minister, feeling this, thinks he must be short. So the people come together in order to depart! Speaking generally, I think it is true to say this and there is little difference in this respect in evangelical churches.
It is a great thing to be a listener. You want something for your soul. You want help. I don’t want a ‘great sermon’. I want to feel the presence of the God I am worshipping and to know that I am considering some great and glorious subject. If I do get this, I do not care how poor the sermon is.
I suggest to you that our greatest danger is professionalism. We do not stop sufficiently frequently to ask, ‘What are we really doing?’ There is the danger of just facing a text and treating it as an end in itself with a strange detachment. It is all intellectual. Nor should our preaching be just emotional, or only to the conscience. Far too often it is one or other of these things. There is no life, no power! We of all people ought to have it. Joy and power are intimately related. One without the other is spurious."
He went on to take up a point which I do not think had been discussed at the Fraternal before. He was disturbed at the extent to which ministers were beginning to act as though giving ‘a running commentary’ on a passage was the same as preaching.
"People say it is biblical. It is not. It is biblical to bring out a message. A mechanical explanation of the meaning of words, etc. is not preaching. Scripture has to be fused into a message, with point and p
ower—a sermon has to be something that is moving and which sends people away glorying in God. We have got to bring a message and deliver it ‘in demonstration of the Spirit and of power’. M’Cheyne did not just prepare sermons. He had the burden of the people on his soul and he came from God with a message. This was the glory of a man like C. H. Spurgeon. His sermons had form and thrust and made an impact. This whole notion of a message needs to be recaptured. The hardest part of a minister’s work is the preparation of sermons. It is a trying process. There is an agony in it, an act of creation. That is why I feel so well at the moment, I do not prepare three sermons a week."
Such effective preaching is bound up with experience of the Holy Spirit. "The main trouble of evangelicalism today, apart from its slipping away from truth, is its lack of power. What do our people know of ‘joy in the Holy Ghost?’"
From this point on his address went on to the whole question of raising the standard of preaching and especially of gospel preaching—‘ the most difficult of all—it is the preaching that costs, that brings an element of burden to the preacher’. There was need, he urged, of more reading, but not for gramophone repetition in the pulpit. There had also to be more prayer, more use of history, more anecdotes ( I reacted too much against them’) and more confidence: ‘There is nobody hopeless in our congregations. All can grasp doctrines. But we have got to cook it well and make it attractive.’ ‘Use the best language, the best of everything.’
". . . In conclusion, he said, he thanked God for giving him a pause and a period for self-examination. Without this ‘joy in the Holy Ghost’ the situation in the country was hopeless. ‘But it is not hopeless. We must start with ourselves. Do I know anything of this fire, and if not, what am I doing in the pulpit?’
This is dynamite is it not? We need to listen to the message of The Doctors closing years with great care and allow it to drive us to our knees!