Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones Monday: Was the Doctor a Charismatic?

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones Monday: Was the Doctor a Charismatic? May 15, 2006
In last week’s final chapter of the Doctor’s exposition of Ephesians 1:13, I said that I would quote MLJ’s own experience, which occurred in the summer of 1949, and which Iain Murray refers to as one of the most remarkable [years] in Dr. Lloyd-Jones life. The following excerpt is from his biography, David Martyn-Lloyd-Jones The Fight of Faith 1939-1981, The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, The University Press, Cambridge, 1990, “Wales and the Summer of 1949, pp. 207-221. Following Murray’s quote are some thoughts on whether Lloyd-Jones was or was not a charismatic.

When another year’s ministry his eleventh at Westminster Chapel ended in June 1949, Martyn and Bethan [his wife] went down to Sunnyside, Newcastle Emlyn . . . .

At this time in Newcastle Emlyn, Dr. Lloyd-Jones was going through a personal struggle of which he very rarely spoke and never in public. He was suffering from depression which he attributed to his low physical condition. With the depression, however, there came a temptation in the form of a fiery dart of doubt. The doubt did not concern his faith or his ministry, but it had to do with a person whose regard for him had long been of great support to his whole life. The temptation was to question the reality of this friend’s regard. This suspicion was entirely without foundation and he did not give way to it, yet the power of the temptation put him into an agony of spirit: There are times, he would later say, “when the enemy concentrates on individual Christians, on Christian churches . . . when the devil makes a broadside attack upon you and would sweep you off your feet. This awareness that the onslaught was from the devil did not, however, bring him comfort for the temptation had brought with it a discovery about himself. The attack had come at a point where it could have success: it was an appeal to his pride. Not my pride in the ministry, but my carnal pride. More than thirty years later he could only speak of it with pain: It was a terrible thing, it was the thing that revealed to me ultimately the pride of the human heart. I knew I was a sinner without any hope at all, but I never realised the depth of the pride of the human heart. Eventually I saw it was nothing but pride. Carnal, devilish pride. And I was humbled to the ground.

We do not know precisely what stage in the above temptation he had reached when they left Newcastle Emlyn on July 13. Bethan returned to London, while he proceeded to a Nursing Home near Bristol where he had booked a place some weeks earlier for the treatment of his catarrh. This institution was run by Dr. A. B. Todd, a highly individualistic physician of whose judgment he had a high opinion. Here he spent nearly two weeks largely on his own in a private room. For the first few days the inner tempest continued. Besides his usual reading of Scripture, he had with him some of the writings of A. W. Pink which he had often found helpful, but now nothing seemed to give him any spiritual comfort. Then one morning he awoke soon after six a.m. in a complete agony of soul and even feeling a sense of evil in the room. He once spoke of the well-known episode in the life of Luther in terms which he could have applied to his own experience at Bristol, “He was deeply conscious of the devil’s presence in his room and he could not get away from him. Then, as he started dressing, and at the very moment when his eye caught just a word in a sermon of Pink’s which lay open beside his bed the word glory instantly, “like a blaze of light, he felt the very glory of God surround him. Every doubt and fear was silenced. The love of God was shed abroad in his heart. The nearness of heaven and his own title to it because overwhelming certainties, and, at once, he was brought into a state of ecstasy and joy which remained with him for several days.

Dr. Lloyd-Jones never wrote of this experience, and he was very reticent to speak of it. He believed that the experience was the work of the Holy Spirit testifying to his sonship. (Romans 8:16). In the similar experiences of others (to which he referred on a number of subsequent occasions) it is observable that two features, in particular, paralleled his own. First, there was the sense of light and glory. In the words of William Guthrie: It is a glorious divine manifestation of God unto the soul . . . It is a thing better felt than spoke of. It is no audible voice, but it is a ray of glory filling the soul with God, as He is life, light, love and liberty, corresponding to that audible voice, “O man, greatly beloved (Daniel 9:23). Another Puritan, Thomas Goodwin, writes: There is light that cometh and over-powereth a man’s soul and assureth him that God is his, and he is God’s. Secondly, there was the suddenness and the unexpectedness with which the assurance came. Speaking of such an occasion, Robert Bruce could say, “I leapt no sooner on my horse but the gates of heaven were cast open to me, while John Flavel and Christmas Evans were alone in the course of journeys when they similarly met suddenly with God . . . .

It was on [a] visit to Pant-y-Neuadd that Dr. Lloyd-Jones had a second experience akin to that described above. The Davies farmhouse was busy with visitors and he had retired early one Saturday evening. Alone in their bedroom, he was reading the Welsh hymns of William Williams in the Calvinistic Methodist hymn book when he was again given such a consciousness of the presence and love of God as seemed to exceed all that he had every known before. It was a foretaste of glory.

Iain Murray pauses at one point in this chapter to ask what effect the experiences of 1949 had upon Dr. Lloyd-Jones life and ministry, and it might be interesting to read what Murray says. The following are excerpts from this aside.

In the first place, it is clear that God permitted the sustained demonic assault in order to deepen ML-J’s insight into the wiles of the devil and his knowledge of the only power which can counter such an adversary. In this way his ministry was to be made a greater means of deliverance and help to many other Christians in times of similar darkness . . . No small part of Dr. Lloyd-Jones ministry in the years ahead was to help Christians to know their enemy and how to resist him. His emphasis in this regard became akin to Martin Luther’s.

With regard to his own spiritual life, the experiences of 1949 deepened his own conviction both about his own superficiality, as well as the superficiality of much evangelical religion. All that he allowed himself to say about himself was: I was brought to the end of myself in a way that had never happened before. I really saw the depths of sin and that man’s ultimate problem is his pride.

There was, it must further be said, a degree of change in the content of Dr. Lloyd-Jones ministry after 1949 in another respect. It was not a change in doctrine, but of emphasis. From this date he was conscious of the addition of a larger measure of the experimental in his preaching, and he came to see that this was the redressing of a balance which he had sometimes been in danger of losing after 1932. [MLJ himself describes it this way:]

But then 49 I think was a real turning point. That is when I got my true balance. I had been becoming too intellectual, too doctrinal and theological, because when I came to London I suddenly found I was the teacher, the theologian, and it tended to make me lose my balance, although that had started in Sandfields by reading Warfield.

Murray concludes,

Dr. Lloyd-Jones came to look back on 1949 as a year when he had been guided by God with unusual clarity . . . But more than . . . this, was the humbling and the strengthening which he received for the long years ahead. He had learned more of what it means to enjoy the love of God. Dr. Lloyd-Jones had not been praying for assurance, or for the Holy Spirit, when he was so unforgettably helped at Bristol and at Bala, but such dealings of God with those called to serve Him are not uncommon. In the words of Isaac Ambrose, three hundred years earlier: Sometimes when Satan is most busy, the Lord steps in with his own testimony, and stops the lion’s mouth that he can say no more.

* * * * * * *

For those of you who have been following this series, the question may be left in your mind, “Was the Doctor a charismatic? In this regard, Murray shows in a chapter in his biography entitled Crosswinds how confusion over this question may have evolved. Murray recounts that MLJ began a series on the Gospel of John in 1962 which went on for the next three years. In preaching through the Gospel of John, he indicated to his congregation that what he had in mind was not a verse-by-verse exposition, but rather an application of the teaching that is found in this Gospel to the state and condition of the Christian world. The theme, then, was the fullness of the Lord Jesus Christ available for His people. Of these sermons, the 24 sermons preached from November 15, 1964 to June 6, 1965 were published posthumously in two volumes, Joy Unspeakable and Prove All Things. According to Murray, the fact that these became the most controversial of all his published material was due in considerable measure to ignorance of the context in which they had been preached. Some have spoken as though their contents show at least a measure of support for the burgeoning charismatic movement. Had they been preached ten years later, that supposition might have been understandable, but the fact is that there was no charismatic movement in England in 1964. The very term was still unknown.

In a talk given by John Piper during the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors in 1991, A Passion for Christ-Exalting Power: Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the Need for Revival and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, Piper provides some interesting insights into this question:

From the beginning to the end, the life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a cry for depth in two areas depth in Biblical doctrine and depth in vital spiritual experience. Light and heat. Logic and fire. Word and Spirit. Again and again he would be fighting on two fronts: on the one hand against dead, institutional intellectualism, and on the other hand against superficial, glib, entertainment-oriented, man-centered emotionalism. He saw the world in a desperate condition without Christ and without hope: and a church with no power to change it. One wing of the church was straining out intellectual gnats and the other was swallowing the camels of evangelical compromise or careless charismatic teaching. For Lloyd-Jones, the only hope was historic, God-centered revival.

In this biographical sketch, Piper talks about many of the things that have previously been quoted on this blog from the Doctor’s exposition of Ephesians 1:13 in particular MLJ’s emphasis on the love of God being shed abroad in our hearts as a result of the sealing (baptism) of the Spirit, and the assurance that accompanies this experience in knowing the reality of our adoption as sons of God.

Piper then points out that Lloyd-Jones was definitely not a Warfieldian cessationist, and in fact, came out very strongly against the Warfield kind of cessationism. However, he then clarifies this:

Lest you think Lloyd-Jones was a full-blown charismatic incognito, let me mention some things that give him balance and made him disenchanted with Pentecostals and charismatics as he knew them. Piper lists eight areas in which MLJ had problems with charismatics, and I will quote only brief parts of each point. For an in-depth study of what Piper has to say here, the article is, as noted above, available on the Desiring God site.

  • He insisted that revival have a sound doctrinal basis.

  • Charismatics put too much stress on what they do and not enough emphasis on the freedom and sovereignty of the Spirit.

  • Charismatics sometimes insist on tongues as a sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which Lloyd-Jones rejected.

  • Charismatics claim to be able to speak in tongues whenever they want to. This, the Doctor argues, is clearly against what Pau
    l says in 1 Corinthians 14:18.

  • Too often, experiences are sought for their own sake rather than for the sake of empowerment for witness and for the glory of Christ.

  • Charismatics easily fall into the mistake of assuming that if a person has powerful gifts, that person is thus a good person and fit to lead and teach. This is not true.

  • Charismatics characteristically tend to be more interested in subjective impressions and unusual giftings than in the exposition of Scripture.

  • Charismatics sometimes encourage people to give up control of their reason and to let themselves go. MLJ disagrees.

Piper then goes on to say:

But having said all that, by way of warning and balance, Lloyd-Jones comes back to the strong affirmation of openness to the supernatural demonstration of power that the world needs so badly. Of those who sit back and point their finger at the charismatic excesses of good people he says, God have mercy upon them! God have mercy upon them! It is better to be too credulous than to be carnal and to be smug and dead.

And finally, Piper adds this:

So in my mind, there is a real sense of urgency in asking, “What is his counsel to us as we navigate between uncritical and unbiblical gullibility on the one side and Spirit-quenching resistance on the other?

His basic counsel is this: You cannot do anything about being baptized with the Spirit except to ask for it. You cannot do anything to produce it. Nevertheless you should labor in prayer to attain it. We must be patient and not set time limits on the Lord. He cites Dwight L. Moody and R. A. Torrey and A. J. Gordon and A. T. Pierson as ones who sought the baptism of the Spirit, pleading for a long time. In fact, Lloyd-Jones had a special liking for Moody’s repeated prayer: O God, prepare my heart and baptize me with the Holy Ghost power.

But, says Piper, “it seems that there is more that we can do than only pray. If a prepared heart is important, then there are means of grace besides prayer that cleanse the heart and conform it more and more to Christ. One thinks of meditation on the Scriptures and exhortation from fellow Christians and mortification of sin along the lines of Romans 6 and so on.

But not only that, Lloyd-Jones teaches that the Spirit can be quenched by certain forms of barren institutionalization. Concerning the deadness of formal churches he says, It is not that God withdrew, it is that the church in her wisdom and cleverness became institutionalized, quenched the Spirit, and made the manifestations of the power of the Spirit well-nigh impossible.

Now that, exclaims Piper, “is a powerful statement from one who believes in the sovereignty of the Spirit that certain forms of institutionalization can make the manifestations of the Spirit’s power well-nigh impossible. If the Spirit in his sovereignty suffers himself to be hindered and quenched, as Lloyd-Jones (and the apostle Paul!) says, then it is not entirely accurate to say that there is nothing we can do to open the way for his coming. It is only that we cannot constrain him to come. Or to put it another way, while it seems we cannot make the Spirit come in power, we can do things that usually keep Him from coming.

In concluding, Piper says that for Lloyd-Jones balance and motive were important in seeking this sealing of the Spirit, and closes his talk with this quote from the Doctor, with which I will also end this series:

Let us together decide to beseech Him, to plead with Him to do this again. Not that we may have the experience or the excitement, but that His mighty hand may be known and His great name may be glorified and magnified among the people.

Browse Our Archives