EMINENT CHRISTIANS: 4. MARTYN LLOYD-JONES
I believe with all of my heart that what Lloyd-Jones once remarked regarding Jonathan Edwards, that quintessential Evangelical theologian, could be said of Lloyd-Jones himself: “Nothing is more striking than the balance of this man. You must have the theology; but it must be theology on fire. There must be warmth and heat as well as light. In Edwards we find the ideal combination—the great doctrines with the fire of the Spirit upon them.”
Lloyd-Jones was born in Cardiff, Wales, on December 20, 1899. His earliest experiences of church life were in the Presbyterian Church of Wales, heir to the Evangelical theology and fervent piety of Calvinistic Methodism. The latter was birthed in the fires of the Evangelical revival of the 18th century and nourished on the majestic doctrines of Evangelical Calvinism. Sadly, by Lloyd-Jones’ day, the Evangelical fervour and spirituality of the denomination had largely fallen prey to liberal theology. Instead of Calvinism’s rich and majestic vision of a sovereign God rescuing fallen human beings through the atoning work of his Son, Lloyd-Jones was raised on a tepid diet of faith in social betterment through education and political action.
In his early teens his family moved to London. There, during the momentous days of World War I, he enrolled as a student at the medical school of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, from where he received his M.R.C.S. and L.R.C.P. degrees in July, 1921, and that October his Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (M.B.B.S.). For the next three years, Lloyd-Jones worked closely with the physician to the royal family, Sir Thomas (later Lord) Horder (1871-1955), first as his junior house physician, then as his chief clinical assistant. In 1924 came a further honour when he received an important scholarship to study bacterial endocarditis.
Coming to Christ in the mid-1920s
Despite this dazzling rise to prominence in the medical world, Lloyd-Jones was having serious doubts about continuing in his chosen profession. In the words of his grandson, Christopher Catherwood, Lloyd-Jones was “struck by the ungodliness and moral emptiness of many of Horder’s aristocratic patients.” [“Martyn Lloyd-Jones” in his Five Evangelical Leaders (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1984), 55].
He became convinced that the root problem of many of his mentor’s patients was ultimately spiritual. They were seeking to live out their lives with no conscious relationship to the One who had created them and sustained them every moment of their lives. Their need, though, highlighted his own personal need for such a relationship. In Lloyd-Jones’ own words:
“I am a Christian solely and entirely because of the grace of God and not because of anything that I have thought or said or done. He brought me to know that I was dead, “dead in trespasses and sins”, a slave to the world, and the flesh, and the devil, that in me “dwelleth no good thing”, and that I was under the wrath of God and heading for eternal punishment.
He brought me to see that the real cause of all my troubles and ills, and that of all men, was an evil and fallen nature which hated God and loved sin. My trouble was not only that I did things that were wrong, but that I myself was wrong at the very centre of my being.” (Cited Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 1:64).
Lloyd-Jones’ conversion, which he never dated, took place at some point in 1923 or 1924. Attending it was a call and a passion to preach the gospel in his native Wales.
His first talk in Wales was in April, 1925, when he gave an address on “The Problem of Modern Wales” from the pulpit of Pontypridd Baptist Church. He concluded on a note that would be prominent in his preaching throughout his life: “what Wales needs above everything today is…a revival,…a great spiritual awakening such as took place in the eighteenth century under the influence and guidance of the Methodist Fathers.” (Cited Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 1:89).
Ministry in Wales, 1927-1938
At the end of 1926, he accepted a call to pastor Bethlehem Forward Movement Mission, a Calvinistic Methodist work in Sandfields, Aberavon. A few weeks later, on January 8, 1927, he married Bethan Phillips, whom he had loved for at least nine years prior to their marriage. Martyn and Bethan had a singularly happy marriage. According to their grandson, Christopher Catherwood, they “complemented each other and were able to strengthen each other” throughout their long lives together.
By the mid-1930s Lloyd-Jones’ preaching, characterized by a vigorous Calvinism, commitment to the vital spirituality of eighteenth-century Methodism, and concern for the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration and revival, had made him known throughout England and Wales. So it was that he came to the attention of G. Campbell Morgan (1863-1945), the well-known minister of Westminster Chapel in London. Hearing Lloyd-Jones preach in Philadelphia in 1937, Morgan determined to have the Welsh preacher called as his assistant.
At the time Lloyd-Jones was seriously contemplating leaving Aberavon. By the latter half of that year he had come to the distinct conviction that his work at Sandfields was over. The physical demands on his ministry were also telling on him and he sensed deeply the need for a change. One possibility was the principalship of the Calvinistic Methodist College in Bala, North Wales. But providentially, this offer of an academic position fell through and Lloyd-Jones went to Westminster on the eve of the World War II. As he would tell his biographer Iain Murray not long before his death, his life had witnessed a succession of events that he himself had never expected or planned on. His move to Westminster Chapel was certainly one of them. It turned out to be a crucial move, for being in the heart of London he was placed in a position to exercise an influence on the state of English-speaking Evangelicalism that would not have been possible if he had stayed in Wales. (Catherwood, “Martyn Lloyd-Jones”, 66).
At Westminster Chapel, 1938-1968
Lloyd-Jones served as Morgan’s associate pastor until the latter’s retirement in 1943. Lloyd-Jones then served as the sole pastor until his own retirement in 1968. The war scattered most of the large congregation that had delighted in Morgan’s preaching. Thus, when the war was over Lloyd-Jones had to rebuild the congregation from around one or two hundred. By the 1950s attendance was often close to two thousand. [For a brief discussion of the numbers that regularly attended the services at Westminster Chapel, see Michael A. Eaton, Baptism with the Spirit: The teaching of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1989), 14 and 33, n.2].
What drew these people was the clarity of biblical exposition, the spiritual power, and the doctrinal depth of Lloyd-Jones’ preaching. In the words of John Piper: “Like Jonathan Edwards two hundred years before, he held audiences by the sheer weight and intensity of his vision of truth.” [“A Passion for Christ-Exalting Power: Reflections on the Life and Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones” (Audiotape; The Bethlehem Conference for Pastors, Minneapolis, Minnesota, January 30, 1991)].
When Lloyd-Jones had a bout of cancer in 1968, from which he made a full recovery, he took it nevertheless as a sign to step down from the pastorate of Westminster Chapel. The final years of his life were devoted to guest preaching and in particular to writing, preparing his expository sermons for publication.
The impact of his ministry
The impact of his ministry was felt far beyond the congregations that assembled week by week to hear him preach. For instance, his support of such organizations as The Banner of Truth publishing house and the annual ministers’ conference known as The Puritan Conference (later called the Westminster Conference) was vital in the recovery of biblical Calvinism in the world of western Evangelicalism. He was also an influential figure in the Inter-Varisty Fellowship and a key player in the formation of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students.
His final days were typical of the man. Dying of cancer, he had lost the power of speech. On Thursday evening, February 26, he wrote a note for his wife Bethan and their family: “Do not pray for healing. Do not hold me back from the glory.” [Iain H. Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The Fight of Faith 1939-1981 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1990), 747-748]. The following Lord’s Day, March 1, 1981, he entered into that glory, which had been the deepest motivation of his life and ministry.
Beyond the books and articles cited above, see also:
- Leigh Powell, “Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981): A Personal Appreciation”, The Gospel Witness, 60, No.2 (April 9, 1981), 8-11; 60, No.3 (April 23, 1981), 7-11.
- Frederick and Elizabeth Catherwood, Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Man and His Books (Bryntirion, Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan: Evangelical Library of Wales/London: Evangelical Library, 1982).
- J. I. Packer, “David Martyn Lloyd-Jones” in Charles Turner, ed., Chosen Vessels: Portraits of Ten Outstanding Christian Men (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications, 1985), 108-123.
- D. Eryl Davies, “Dr D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: An Introduction”, Themelios, 25, No.1 (November 1999), 39-53.