A young, insecure 22-year-old walks into a church in downtown London in 1948. Forty-three years later, this is how he describes the experience:
I remember it as if it were yesterday, though in fact it was an evening in 1948, when I was a Christian four years old in the faith. I have been told that this man and his ministry were in a class by themselves, was trying to imagine what might be special about them. My friend led me straight to a front pew a little left of center at the back of a great tiered gallery that ran all around the building; he told me it was the best place to see from, and seeing was important. I looked around. Westminster Chapel was a big, high, gloomy, lozenge-shaped Victorian structure seating 3000, 1000 downstairs and in each of the two galleries. Huge organ pipes rose up behind the pulpit, and the pulpit itself, the focal point for the eye, had been built as a large circular platform, drawing-room size, some distance off the ground (though below the level of the first gallery), with steps leading up to it on either side. Spurgeon’s Tabernacle had evidently been the architect’s model here. The decor was dark-colored, and the building was not well-lit.
The preacher was a small man with a big head and evidently thinning hair, wearing a shapeless-looking black gown. His great domed forehead caught the eye at once. He walked briskly to the little pulpit desk in the center of the balcony, said ‘Let us pray’ in a rather pinched, deep, Welsh-inflected, microphone-magnified voice, and at once began pleading with God to visit us during the service. The blend of reverence and intimacy, adoration and dependence, fluency and simplicity in his praying was remarkable: he had a great gift in prayer. Soon he was reading a Bible chapter (Matthew 11), briskly and intelligently rather than dramatically or weightily; and in due course the auditorium lights went out and he launched into a 45 minute sermon on history, and the story of God’s kingdom as the center of history, and the crucial place of John the Baptist in that story, as forerunner of the Savior-King who is at the center of the center, Jesus Christ the Lord. The sermon (as we say nowadays) blew me away.
What was special about it? It was simple, clear, straightforward man-to-man stuff. It was expository, apologetic, and evangelistic on the grand scale. It was both the planned performance of a magnetic orator and the passionate, compassionate outflow of a man with a message from God that he knew his hearers needed. He worked up to a dramatic growling shout about God’s sovereign grace a few minutes before the end; and from that he worked down to businesslike persuasion, calling on needy souls to come to Christ. It was the old, old story, but it it had been made wonderfully new. I went out full of awe and joy, with a more vivid sense of the greatness of God in my heart than I had known before.
The young, insecure 22-year-old? J.I. Packer.
The preacher? Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
The goal of these courses is to help us learn to preach like that.
Maybe not with the same passion and pathos, but as best as we can. Chances are, people will not remember our sermons as vividly nearly five decades after we preach them. But, by the power of the Spirit, and a humble desire to learn, we, too, can sit at the Doctor’s feet.
We can learn the skills of the “magnetic orator” and become a more passionate and compassionate persuader who calls needy souls to Christ. And who make the old, old story wonderfully fresh each week.
Over the course of this year, I hope to roll out a series of self-directed apprenticeships entitled “Preach Like the Doctor.”
Here is an overview of what I hope to offer:
Preach Like the Doctor: The Gospel (Part 1, The Early Evangelistic Preaching in Wales)
Status: In Development (projected completion date: June 2015)
Duration: 6 weeks
Summary: In this course we will focus on Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ early ministry in Wales. For anyone who has read Iain Murray’s biography, this is generally their favorite stage of his ministry. It is mine. I love this season of his life. The sermons are charged with a spiritual energy that still radiate through the pages nearly a century later.
Each week we will begin with a lecture to set the historical scene. Then we will fully immerse ourselves into two sermons, unpacking them and seeking to learn as much about preaching as we can. (For more about the process click here.) By the end of the course we will have a stock pile of extremely useful material, and we will have tried our hand at mimicking several of his most powerful rhetorical techniques.
We will also dive deep into his ministry. Here are some of the treasures we will find:
- We will look at his medical training and see how it impacted his ministry. There are valuable things we can learn, without having to endure 10 years of medical training.
- We will see that he was a great doctor. Actually, I think you will be amazed at just how great.
- We will see an unpublished sermon manuscript. You will learn why he wrote out full manuscripts for his evangelistic sermons… and then didn’t take them into the pulpit. Here we will learn about his sermon preparation and priorities.
- We will get a greater appreciation for the historical setting. The great depression hit Wales harder and longer than anything we saw in America. His powerful preaching was in the context of near total economic devastation. Here we will learn about the centrality of preaching the gospel while all the world seems to be falling apart.
- We will take a peak into the church minute book and learn some valuable lessons about his life and leadership during this time. How he actually moved quite slow in making changes in the church.
- We will look at the membership records and see how many people were added to the church and how many were removed.
- We will also look at one of the most significant but unknown aspects of his ministry, his discussion groups. This was the context in which he forged a powerful bond with the men in church. It was here that he conferred on them one of the greatest of all dignities: he taught them how to think.
- He ended his time in Aberavon almost completely burned out. When you see his weekly schedule you’ll understand why. We can learn some lessons about pastoral balance and time management.
Our Textbook: Evangelistic Sermons at Aberavon
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Courses Planned for the Future
I. Preach Like the Doctor: The Gospel (Part 2, The Later Evangelistic Preaching in London)
In this course we will take a look at Lloyd-Jones’ evangelistic preaching in London.
He entered London at almost the same time as Hitler’s bombers. By the time he retired, the church and the culture had changed dramatically. Here we will walk with Lloyd-Jones’ as he seeks to preach the gospel during the war, during the aftermath of the war, and then during the crazy counter-culture of the 1960’s.
This will be a 4-week course where we will look at some of his most powerful evangelistic series. We will learn some of the rhetorical techniques he used, how and why he preached the series he did, and how he sought to combat the avalanche of secularism that engulfed Britain.
II. Preach Like the Doctor: For Revival (The Sunday Morning Series)
This will be a 5-week apprenticeship where we sit under the Doctor’s ministry as he specifically addresses the Christian Church. Lloyd-Jones believed that the 1950’s and the early 1960’s witnessed the greatest degree of change the Christian world had seen in centuries.
The church in post-war Britain was reeling. It was commonly assumed that if the church was going to stay relevant in the atomic age, then drastic changes needed to be made in both the message and the methodology. The great question was: How was the church to reach modern man? In this tumultuous season, Lloyd-Jones diagnosed the situation and thought the most urgent need for the church was to come to a true understanding of who she really is in Christ. Here we will examine his great Sunday morning series:
- Week 1: 2 Peter
- Week 2: The Sermon on the Mount
- Week 3: Ephesians
- Week 4: Revival Sermons
- Week 5: John
We will drill down deeply into two sermons from each series, but I will also set the stage and give you the structure for each series, so you will be equipped to pursue further any areas of interest.
III. Preach Like the Doctor: Romans
I want to do a course on Romans, but I am not sure how to tackle it. This is Lloyd-Jones’ masterpiece. He preached 372 sermons on Romans, beginning on October 7, 1955 and making it to Romans 14:17 when he retired on March 1, 1968. (Actually, they were lectures, not sermons, this is an important distinction that we will learn more about).
In this series you see the Doctor’s great diagnostic skill on full display. My tentative game plan is to offer a 6-week overview that would hit the highlights and set you up for deeper study.
Also, in the audio recording of the Romans lectures we have a real treat. Here is one of the few places where you can hear the Doctor’s prayers. One of the remarkable things about this series is to listen to the doctrine he is trying to explain, and then hear him plead to God to open our minds to understand it.
IV. Preaching and Preachers: Master Class
The final course in the Preach Like the Doctor series will be a guided tour through Preaching and Preachers.
Preaching and Preachers, began as a series of lectures delivered at Westminster Theological Seminary in the spring of 1969. They represent the fruit of a lifetime of thought on the nature of preaching. For all of us who were unable to be there personally, this will be the next best thing. We will spend a couple of days on each lecture examining, unpacking, and asking questions of the Doctor. But since he will not be there to answer, I will do my best.
The fundamental thesis of Preaching and Preachers, and, indeed, one of the core convictions of Lloyd-Jones’ life, is that “preaching is the primary task of the Church, and of the minister of the Church.” For 6-weeks we will explore that reality in all of its fullness and glory.