During the Second World War, a Scotsman who was in the service and was visiting London, went to Westminster Chapel. But the Chapel was closed, damaged by bombing, but on a piece of paper posted as a note, visitors were directed to a nearby hall. The visitor described a 'thin man' wearing a tie calling the people to worship. He thought the man was a church officer, and he appreciated his prayer, but then the man began to preach, beginning quietly enough. "This must be Martyn Lloyd-Jones," he thought. But for the next 40 minutes, he was unconscious of anything else in the world, hearing only this man's words. He had been caught up in the mystery of preaching. This man later became a well-known Church of Scotland minister named Tom Allen.
When he left that service, Tom Allen was taken up with the message, not the preacher. Lloyd-Jones (MLJ) would have thought little of conference addresses like this one about himself. He thought messages about contemporary men had done great injury, especially during the Victorian period. With man-centredness being the terrible bane of today's church, there is a danger in drawing attention to personalities. MLJ would quote the words of God, "My servant Moses is dead so arise and go over Jordan." He prevented several would-be biographers from writing anything, and reluctantly consented to an official biography, if only something could be written which would encourage those who were entering the gospel ministry.
MLJ believed that God was the God of tomorrow who would raise up servants who would enjoy blessings that he himself had not known. Frequently when he prayed it was particularly for a recovery of authority and power in preaching.
One must add another observation, that preaching was not MLJ's exclusive concern. He was concerned with the church fellowship, prayer meetings, and the promotion of foreign missionaries, but he was convinced that the spiritual health of the church depended on the state of the pulpit. On behalf of Christ, the true preacher speaks and the Lord himself is building his church in his sovereign way. So MLJ was conscious of what he spoke of as the romance of preaching. The preacher is but an instrument in the Lord's hands: the preacher is not in control. Preaching is the highest and most glorious calling to which anyone could be called.
So when we come to the subject of authority in preaching, there are a number of ways this could be addressed. The New Testament terminology on this theme should be studied, e.g. that 'Jesus spoke with authority', the phrase 'the word came with power', and the word 'boldness' which is surprisingly frequent in the NT.
The characteristics of preaching with power:
1. It always is attended by a consciousness of the presence of God.
Though a worshipper may be meeting in the midst of a large congregation of people, when the preaching is with authority, the individual forgets the person he has come with and the building they are sitting in, and even the one who is preaching. He is conscious that he is being spoken to by the living God. Thus it was in Acts 2. A remarkable illustration of this is the spiritualist woman in Sandfields in Wales, drawn to hear MLJ and was conscious that she was surrounded by 'clean' power. For the first time she was conscious she was in the presence of God. Thomas Hooker had such a sense of God about him that it was said that he could have put a king in his pocket.
2. There is no problem of holding the attention of the people.
It is a problem to keep people's attention. The preacher has his chain of thought, and all the people also may have theirs which are all very different so that they are taking in very little from the preaching. But authoritative preaching gets inside people because it speaks to the heart, conscience and will. Skillful oratory cannot come anywhere near to that preaching. True preaching made a moral and emotional earthquake in those who heard the word at Thessalonica. The well-remembered ship builder who built ships in his mind during Sundays' sermon could not lay the first plank when he was listening to George Whitefield preach. Conviction of sin and the reality of the living God became far more important to him than his business.
One Friday night in his series of lectures on theology, MLJ was preaching from Revelation on the final judgment on Babylon. Anyone listening to that exultant message would have found it impossible to have been occupied with any other subject; the great reality was such that awareness of anything else disappeared. The very date of that occasion was accurately quoted, easily memorable to the speaker because the next day he was getting married, but all thoughts of that were gone as he saw the overthrow of great Babylon.
3. Even children can understand it.
There is a mistake in thinking that preaching is chiefly to address the intellect, and thus the will. Rather preaching is to address the heart and soul of men and women. Preaching which accomplishes that can arrest a child as easily as a grown-up. Children did listen to MLJ because of the character of the preaching and the sense of God about it.
4. It is preaching that results in a change in those who listen.
It may be repentance; it may be restoration, or reconciliation; it may be strength given for those in the midst of trials, but powerful preaching always brings some real change. Sometimes they went away indignant and some of them were later converted. You cannot be apathetic under true preaching. Felix trembled. There was no certainty of conversions, but there was a degree of certainty that there will be power in that preaching. In Mrs. Bethan Lloyd-Jones' book on Sandfields, there is a reference to a professor of law at Liverpool who said that there were two men who kept the country from communism - Aneurin Bevan and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. His preaching affected communities. On November 15, 1967, he was preaching in Aberfan a year after a local disaster. His text was Romans 8:18: "the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory to be revealed in us." It had a great impact on the perplexed little religious community in the Taff valley.
to be continued
- Iain Murray