The Company of Pastors

Why So Serious?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones and preaching the burden of the Lord.


(This is the first of a series of posts I wrote for The Gospel Coalition. The Original Can be found here: Burdened Preaching Serious Gospel.)

Unknown-1One of the beautiful things about the film Logic on Fire is the way it juxtaposes Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ sternness in the pulpit and his sweetness out of it. In one of the opening scenes his daughter Anne Beatt says: “He was grave in the pulpit,” which is followed by an image of him scowling in his black Geneva gown. But his grandson, Jonathan Catherwood, tells us that one of the most disturbing things about his legacy is that the glaring man on the book covers was nothing like the sweet grandfather they all knew at home.

So, why was Lloyd-Jones so serious in the pulpit and so sweet outside of it?

Because he entered the pulpit a burdened man.

Lloyd-Jones’ preferred term for a sermon was a “burden.”[1]⁠ He believed every time a preacher enters the pulpit he should come with a burden from the Lord.

The burden should be a specific message God has given the preacher to be delivered at a specific time to a specific congregation from a specific text.⁠[2]

This burden will shape every aspect of preaching, from the manner of delivery to the content. A preacher is a burdened man.

The burden shaped his manner in the pulpit. For example, if challenged about his stern demeanor he would respond:

This is how Paul entered the pulpit—conscious that he was about to address immortal souls; aware of the terrible nature of sin; knowing the love of God in Christ. The great responsibility! The fear that he might in some way stand between the people and the message![3]

The burden would be the driving motivation behind his many great sermon series:

  • The Sermon on the Mount is driven by the burden that spiritual superficiality was the curse of the age.
  • Ephesians is driven by the burden that the most urgent need for the church is a clear understanding of who we are in Christ.
  • The Gospel of John is driven by the burden that the most urgent need for the church is a personal experience of what is true of us in Christ.

The burden would also shape both the form and the content of the sermon. In this article I would like to show you one particular rhetorical device Lloyd-Jones used to drive the burden of his sermon home to the congregation: the repetition of key phrases.

One of the most striking and haunting elements of his preaching is the way in which he repeats and emphatically enunciates one or two key words through out a sermon. Generally, those words would be the specific words, or word, from the text which he desired to emphasize. In fact, one way to analyze every sermon he preached is simply to note the phrases he repeated. Since Lloyd-Jones never gave any of his sermons a title, practically all of the titles provided by the editors of his sermons are the key phrases that control and dominate that sermon.

Sometimes the repeated phrase would control his entire sermon. For example, in a sermon in the series on 2 Timothy 1:12, the phrase “that day” serves as the constant refrain. Lloyd-Jones repeats “that day” 37 times, each time enunciating the words with a rhythmic, Welsh growl that serves to sear the words into the hearers’ subconscious.[4] Weeks after hearing the sermon, one needed only to hear the phrase “that day” and the full force of the message comes back in all its rhetorical potency.

Another great example comes from his four-part evangelistic sermon series on Psalm 1.⁠ The key word for the second sermon is “chaff.” The burden of the sermon is to unpack how true happiness should not be pursued. In this sermon he repeats, or better yet growls, the word “chaff,” often with a note of clear and obvious disdain, 61 different times.⁠[5] The cumulative effect is that the word enters into the hearer’s subconscious and it creates a repulsion and a desire not to be like chaff. By this method, he infused the scriptural words into the audience’s mind.

On other occasions, Lloyd-Jones would simply use a keyword to emphasize his main point for part of the sermon. For example, in his first message on Isaiah 40:1 the burden of the sermon is that the gospel is a message of comfort that has been sent by God, to man who is in a state of warfare. His first major point is “The first thing we must always realize about the gospel of Jesus Christ is that it is a message sent by God.”[6]⁠ In the actual preaching of the sermon Lloyd-Jones begins this point at the 9:22 mark and ends right at the 17:00 minute mark, taking just over eight minutes to develop the point. But in those eight minutes he repeats “God” 53 times. In so doing, he is seeking to bombard the congregation with the fundamental reality that the gospel comes from God—it is God’s action, God’s activity, and God’s doing.⁠[7]

Of course, this is not unique to Martyn Lloyd-Jones. All great preachers have done this. Augustine did it. Chrysostom did it. Spurgeon did it. One of the marks of a great preaching is powerful repetition.

But, for Lloyd-Jones, the apostles are the model. In commenting on Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, he exclaims, “Now that is preaching! Do you get tired of hearing me saying the same things, my friends? Well, I am just doing what the Apostle Peter did. I am sure he was right and I am sure I am right! Our greatest trouble is that we forget.”⁠[8]

Why so serious? The burden of the Lord demanded it. Every time Lloyd-Jones entered the pulpit he was a burdened man. And this apostolic repetition was the primary way in which Lloyd-Jones sought to brand his burden upon the minds of the congregation.

[1]See: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1972), 72-76.

[2]Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, 285

[3]Lloyd-Jones, “Romans: an exposition of Chapter I: The Gospel of God”, p. 214-215.

[4]D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, I Am Not Ashamed: Advice to Timothy (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1990), 182-200.

[5]Lloyd-Jones, True Happiness: Psalms 1 and 107 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), 9-26.

[6]Lloyd-Jones, The All-Sufficient God: Sermons on Isaiah 40 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2005), 4.

[7]Lloyd-Jones, The All-Sufficient God: Sermons on Isaiah 40 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2005), 4-6.

[8]Lloyd-Jones, “Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 12: Christian Conduct”, 117.

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