Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones Monday–A Dead Man Answers C. J. Mahaney!

The plan at the moment is to return to the Sealed with the Spirit quotes next week, but for now let’s allow MLJ to reply to C. J. Mahaney’s question What is the gospel? The Doctor does seem to agree with Mohler that in a sense the gospel is simple, and in another it is incomprehensible, but what strikes me about these quotes is the stress on the RESULTS of the gospel in our lives. Letting the gospel do its work before we fully understand it sounds like a very sensible approach, especially as, this side of eternity, we are clearly NEVER going to fully understand it! This piece reminded me of the controversy that surrounded a previous post of mine where I tried to explain the simple gospel.

I will let the Doctor speak for himself, but notice the way in which, after he has addressed the simplicity and directness of the gospel, he almost seems to begin addressing the exact same vagueness that is so prevalent today in those who would like to reinterpret classical Christianity. There really isn’t anything new under the sun! His words live on to challenge and inform a new generation

. . . we are impressed at the very outset by the fact that the gospel, in complete and entire contrast to all rival ideas and theories, is characterized above all else by an essential simplicity and directness.

I would not be understood as saying that the gospel is simple in the sense that I or anyone else can understand it or grasp it fully with the mind, but rather that it is essentially simple in its view of life and in the way it deals with life. As regards the gospel itself and all it means and implies, we have nothing to do but to acknowledge our feebleness and our nothingness and to cry out with St. Paul, “Great is the mystery of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16). It is baffling in its immensity. Its very presuppositions transcend our highest categories of thought and of philosophy. We shall never fully understand the gospel itself to all eternity; but while we cannot claim that we can understand the gospel, or say that it itself is simple, we nevertheless can understand its view of life and grasp it. Hence we may say that its main characteristics are simplicity and directness.

. . . there are large numbers of people outside the church and outside Christ at the present time solely because they have not grasped that all-important distinction. They have confused understanding the working of the gospel with understanding the gospel itself. They seem to have determined not to allow the gospel to work on their lives until they understand the gospel itself. Their reason for this course, they say, is that they do not desire to commit intellectual suicide and to submit themselves passively to what they do not understand.

The fear of passivity is a genuine and good one, for there are many powers about us which are ready to possess us; and it is generally the uncritical, those who refuse to think and who will not discriminate, who become the first victims of the latest craze or cult. The gospel places no premium on our ignorance. Indeed, it teaches us that we must use the mind and the powers with which God has endowed us. But when it is suggested that by submitting ourselves to the gospel and by allowing it to influence our lives, we are committing intellectual suicide simply because we cannot understand the gospel itself, then it seems clear that we are guilty of a fallacy and are behaving in an unreasonable and irrational manner.

Let me illustrate. It is clear, is it not, that we know much more about light and heat than we know about the sun itself? In other words, we understand a great deal about the functions and the working of the sun while the sun itself in its essential nature and constitution remains a mystery to us . . . .

In the religious and the theological realm it is much the same. The mystery of godliness remains a mystery and will ever remain so. The thing itself, as it was conceived and planned in the mind of God, is inscrutable and infinite; and as we contemplate it, our minds are baffled. But that is not the case with regard to the effects and the results and the working out of the gospel. Here we can apply a number of tests. We can compare the Old Testament and the New Testament. We can compare Scripture with Scripture, and we have expert manuals of instruction written by the apostles and others, and afterwards expounded by the saints and fathers, none of whom can be charged with lack of intellectuality. It is then in regard to the gospel view of life and its proffered remedy for the ills of life that we can say that the gospel is characterized above all else, and in contradistinction to all other ideas, by this essential directness and simplicity. And this is the explanation of the apparent paradox whereby the gospel has baffled and is still baffling the greatest philosophers the world has ever known, and yet the gospel can save a little child . . . .

Indeed, it is possible to go further and say with reverence that there is nothing so characteristic of God’s work in every realm as its essential simplicity and order. Look where you will, you see that God ever works on an uncomplicated design. See how He repeats the seasons year by year spring, summer, autumn, winter. Examine a flower, dissect an animal, and you will find that the basic pattern of nature is always simple. Simplicity is God’s method. Is it then reasonable to believe that in the most vital subject of all, the salvation of man and the ordering of his life, God should suddenly jettison His own method and become involved and complex? To suggest that is to suggest a contradiction in the mind of God Himself.

But one has more than a shrewd suspicion at times that the objection to the directness and simplicity of the gospel is not so purely intellectual as it would have one believe. The real objection is to be found elsewhere. There is nothing quite so convenient and comforting as a sense of vagueness in connection with religion. As long as it is kept nebulous and indefinite, and as long as its followers can be busy with various activities, they can persuade themselves that all is well with them. In the absence of clear, precise definitions no discomfort is caused. The more complicated the religion, the more accommodating and comfortable does it prove. There is nothing so disconcerting as a plain, direct gospel which, stripping away all mere decorations and embellishments and ignoring all nonessentials and make-believes, exposes the naked soul and flashes on to it the light of God. How much easier it is to appreciate the ceremony and ritual, to indulge in high-sounding, idealistic generalities, and to be busy with philanthropic actions how much more gratifying to the natural self are these than to face the simple direct questions of the Word of God. Idealists and humanists are rarely, if ever, persecuted.

. . . That there is nothing so characteristic of it as its essential simplicity is seen most clearly perhaps if we look at it in the light of some words spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ. He said, “The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. (Luke 11:34). If we work out the picture found in those words, we shall see plainly the simplicity of the gospel.

Bearing that in mind, let us now see what the gospel has to say about life. The first principle is that . . . there is only one thing that needs to be examined namely, the eye, the centre, the soul . . . Everything . . . depends upon the eye . . . . How masterly is the gospel, and
how thoroughly it knows us! How direct it is in its approach! Ignoring the trivialities and the nonessentials, it comes at once to the heart of the matter . . . .

How complex and how complicated is the modern treatment of the parts of man’s life! How futile, too, when the central principle is not right. If the eye is evil, the whole body also must be full of darkness, however great the struggle to make the different parts light. If the well is poisoned, the stream issuing from it must constantly contain poison . . . .

What needs to be treated therefore is the centre, the heart, the cause of the trouble and not the various manifestations . . . It is not what man does, or what he knows, or anything about him which needs to be put right, but man himself in his fundamental, central relationship to God. It is a poor physician who treats the symptoms and complications only and ignores the disease. And the disease is the soiled and tarnished condition of man’s soul as the result of sin. His spiritual eye is beclouded and blinded. The light of God cannot enter it. All the darkness within is due to that and that alone. That alone needs to be treated. How simple and direct is the gospel!

The above excerpts were taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Truth Unchanged Unchanging, Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, 1993, chapter 4, pp. 81-98.

In the introduction to the book, written by Lane T. Dennis, Ph.D., President, Good News Publishers, in February 1993, he writes:

“The message of Martyn Lloyd-Jones clearly stands the test of time. More than this, it speaks to our own generation like a prophetic voice from the past. With penetrating insight into our own situation today, he calls us back to the timeless truth of the gospel to Truth Unchanged, Unchanging.

“The chapters in this book were first given by Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones as lectures at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, in 1947. They were in fact the inaugural lectures of the Jonathan Blanchard Lecture series and were presented at the invitation of Dr. Carl F. H. Henry, then president of the Wheaton Alumni Association.”

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