A Few Reflections on Preaching and Preachers by Martyn Lloyd Jones
By Timothy Raymond
There have been a small handful of books that have so affected the course of my life that I view them more as encounters than as simple words on paper. In God’s mysterious providence, the book Preaching and Preachers by Martyn Lloyd-Jones certainly falls into this category. Since this year marks the 40th anniversary of its publication, I thought I might join Kevin DeYoung, Ligon Duncan, and Adrian Reynolds and offer a few of my own reflections on this monumental work.
I started reading Preaching and Preachers almost immediately after being called to my present church as preaching pastor. I’d love to say that that was intentional, but it wasn’t (at least as far as my planning went). I had heard many people say great things about the book (e.g., John MacArthur claiming it was one of the most influential books he had ever read) and picked it up, perhaps simply because I had nothing better to read at the time. However, in retrospect, I don’t think I could imagine a better book to help get a new preacher off on the right foot. For some reason, the book turned out to be a combination of meeting with a guru on a mountaintop and a pummeling by the Incredible Hulk. One section so disturbed me (in a sanctifying way) that I had to put the book down and literally walk away from it, afraid of it. Having read much in the field of homiletics, Preaching and Preachers remains in my top 5 favorite books on preaching and definitely the most enjoyable book on the subject I’ve ever read.
To commend this volume to those of you who may have never read it, those of you who may have read it decades ago, or those of you questioning the power and relevance of preaching for the health of the contemporary church, here are three areas where the book powerfully encouraged and exhorted me:
1. An Exalted View of the Primacy of Preaching – To read is Preaching and Preachers to encounter a view of preaching that’s almost surreal. MLJ viewed preaching as the heart of the life of the local church and wasn’t afraid to say so. (Was MLJ ever afraid of anything?) To him, everything else could fail, so long as the sermon confronted the congregation with the voice of God. Perhaps his view of preaching is a bit hyperbolic, but then again, maybe it’s not. God did choose to do miracles through MLJ’s sermons, and listening to or reading his sermons today gives credibility to his claims. For those of us who struggle to keep our congregations awake or who doubt whether or not preaching can actually connect with the modern man, Preaching and Preachers is a wonderful encouragement to keep at it.
2. A Sacred View of the Calling to Preach – Another area where MLJ stands out as unusual is in his view of the calling to preach. For MLJ, no one autonomously seeks this privilege for himself; the Lord seeks out and sovereignly calls His preachers, in a manner analogous to His summoning of Old Testament prophets. It was this area where the Lord so fearfully disturbed me. For MLJ, to seek to be a preacher without a divine summons approximates the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. I imagine it was this view of the calling to preach that gave MLJ’s words the gravity and power no one can deny. Even in print today, God’s Spirit seems to unusually brood over MLJ’s words. And I can attest that no preacher, living or dead, has so thrashed my conscience as MLJ.
3. An Urgent View of the Necessity of Unction – Due in part to the theological tradition in which I was raised, this was a subject I was almost completely ignorant of. Concisely, unction refers to God supernaturally pouring out His Spirit on a preacher while in the act of preaching, resulting in an experience that’s easier felt than described. If you’ve ever been in a sermon like this, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Everyone I’ve asked testifies that this was their experience sitting through RC Sproul’s sermon at the 2008 Together for the Gospel Conference entitled “The Curse Motif of the Atonement.” You lose any sense of time, you forget that there are people sitting around you, you feel as if your chest is about ready to implode, you almost forget to breathe or blink, and you’re simply held captive to God speaking to you through the preacher’s words. In most cases, that’s an experience of unction. Now MLJ, like Spurgeon and many of the Puritans before him, believed that unction is the great secret to preaching and that God sovereignly gives unction in response to the desperate prayers of preachers. You need not agree with his exegesis or his theology of reoccurring post-conversion Spirit baptism (I certainly don’t) to agree with his major premise. (For a better defense of the Spirit’s work of unction, see Al Martin’s Preaching in the Holy Spirit.) Really imbibing this idea has completely transformed my prayer life and view of preaching. I pray daily that God will pour out His Spirit the upcoming Sunday. As I approach the pulpit I do so with the clear awareness that unless the Spirit falls, my words will be spoken to a valley of dead bones. I owe this directly to Preaching and Preachers.
Preaching and Preachers is certainly not a perfect book. It is amusingly dated in certain places and dogmatic on a few things you might find odd (e.g., MLJ was strongly opposed to the audio recording sermons). It also isn’t very strong on how to transition from exegesis to exposition. However, if you’re looking for a swift boot to the pants to preach the Word in season and out, I can’t imagine a better book than Preaching and Preachers.
Timothy Raymond has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. Tim grew up outside Syracuse, NY and previously served at Berean Baptist Church, Nicholson, PA (member and teacher during college and seminary) and Calvary Baptist Church, Sandusky, Ohio (seminary internship location). Tim met his wife Bethany at college, and they were married in May 2001. Tim enjoys reading, weight-lifting, wrestling with his three sons, and attempting to sleep.