Wednesday, December 14, 2016

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Surgeon of Souls

             On December 22, 1899, newspapers in America and Great Britain announced that the famous evangelist, Dwight L. Moody, who had preached to thousands on both sides of the Atlantic, had died. The press had no reason to note the birth of a baby boy two days earlier to grocer Henry Lloyd-Jones and his wife Magdalene in Cardiff, South Wales. Yet that boy -- David Martyn Lloyd-Jones – would grow up to be one of the most influential voices in 20th century Christianity. Some would call him “the modern Moody,” and others, “the last of the Calvinistic preachers.”
            In 1905, the Great Welsh Revival, with its epicenter near Cardiff, was in its waning stages. But what occupied the heart of Henry and “Maggie” Lloyd-Jones was nostalgia for their native Cardiganshire. Henry sold his grocery store and house on Donald Street in Cardiff and moved his wife and three boys – Harold, Martyn, and Vincent – to their new home. There the family joined the Calvinistic Methodist chapel, whose pastor had no sympathy for the “emotionalism” of the revival. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones recalled:

“Our minister was a moral, legalistic man . . . I do not remember that he ever preached the Gospel, and none of us had any idea of the Gospel. He and the head deacon, John Rowlands, looked upon themselves as scholars. Neither had any sympathy for the revival of 1904-05 . . .” (Murray, 1982, 3)

            Still, young Martyn received a solid grounding in Christian theology through his catechetical studies, and he gained something else: pride in his Welsh identity. His parents had followed a tradition, carried over from his mother’s family, of speaking to the children in English, while conversing with each other in Welsh. After about a year in strongly Welsh-speaking Cardiganshire, Martyn pleaded with his schoolmates: “Speak Welsh to me – I’m a Welshman now!” (Murray, 1982, 5)
            And a Welshman he was, with the budding eloquence of the bards and the fiery conviction of the Welsh evangelists of old. But it would be many years before these gifts would find full fruition.
            Although the Lloyd-Jones brothers delighted in theological debate, their primary concern by their teenage years was for their careers. Martyn’s interest was in medicine. In 1914 financial failure forced Henry Lloyd-Jones to seek opportunities outside Wales, finally settling in London, where Martyn attended Marylebone Grammar School. At age sixteen Martyn was accepted into medical school at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, where he distinguished himself, qualifying as Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians, Member of the Royal College of Surgeons, Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery, and M.D. Upon completion of his training, Martyn was offered the position of Chief Clinical Assistant to the renowned Royal Physician Sir Thomas Horder. He enthusiastically accepted.
            While he was distinguishing himself in the medical world, Martyn was also active in his local Calvinistic Methodist chapel at Charing Cross where his future wife, Bethan Phillips, also a medical student and daughter of a respected eye surgeon, attended.
            But another nearby chapel was about to have a profound influence on the direction of Martyn’s life. A certain Mrs. Brandon, a regular customer at Henry Jones’s dairy shop, invited the Lloyd-Joneses to attend services at Westminster Chapel in Buckingham Gate, where the dynamic preacher G. Campbell Morgan was pastor. Though Westminster Chapel was a short walk from their home, the Lloyd-Joneses were committed to their congregation at Charing Cross, where they could speak Welsh and sing Welsh hymns. Martyn did, however, attend Westminster on occasion, especially when the outstanding Welsh preacher Dr. Thomas Charles Williams was the visiting speaker. Scarcely could Martyn, aspiring to a medical career, have imagined that he would one day be successor to G. Campbell Morgan and preach at Westminster Chapel for nearly thirty years!
            In his mid-twenties, Martyn began to sense that all was not well in his spiritual life. Many factors in his life and in the world in general awakened him to the fact that the solution to the problems of mankind lay not in medicine, nor in politics. The problem was not in external factors but in the heart of man himself. This led to a startling personal conclusion: Though he had attended church all his life, read the Bible, taught Sunday school, and been esteemed a fine Christian by all, “[God] brought me to know that I was dead, ‘dead in trespasses and sins,’ a slave to the world, and the flesh, and the devil . . . . My trouble was not only that I did things that were wrong, but that I myself was wrong at the very center of my being” (Murray, 1982, 64).    Through this awakening Martyn came to understand the magnitude of God’s grace and Christ’s full atonement for his sins. That time of spiritual crisis from 1923-24 changed the course of his life, though he did not yet realize just how greatly.
            On February 6, 1925, Martyn gave an address to the Literary and Debate Society titled “The Tragedy of Modern Wales,” in which he expressed his profound concern for the spiritual condition of the principality. “It is my love and my devotion to the Wales of the past that makes me talk about the tragedy of Modern Wales. . . . My waking hours are filled with thoughts about her, and in my dreams I cannot escape from her; indeed everything else seems to be relative and subsidiary” (Murray, 1982, 67). This address was given shortly after he was admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons, yet that honor paled before the calling he increasingly felt to minister to his Welsh people.
            In 1926, he proposed to Bethan Phillips, who had just received her medical degrees. She accepted, knowing full well that she would not be marrying an esteemed surgeon and medical researcher but a nonconformist minister, most likely of some small church in Wales. Martyn’s decision to leave the medical practice in favor of the ministry met with mixed reactions. His response was succinct:  “I gave up nothing. I received everything. I count it the highest honour God can confer on any man to call him to be a herald of the gospel.” (Murray, 1982, 150)
            In 1927, shortly after Martyn’s marriage to Bethan, the couple moved to Aberavon where Martyn began his ministry at the Forward Movement mission chapel in Sandfields, a rough, working-class area in which church attendance had fallen off severely. Novelist Rhys Davies, in his memoir, My Wales, describes the impact of Lloyd-Jones’s decision:

Dr. Lloyd-Jones first attracted celebrity by abandoning his prosperous Harley Street medical practice and going down to Wales as a full-time missionary in a poor Glamorganshire district. The romantic heart of Wales was touched: it was won when chapels all over the country invited him to prove his oratorical gifts in their pulpits. (Cited in Murray, 1982, 312)

            Attendance at the Forward Movement chapel in Sandfields grew rapidly, as did the reputation of the preacher who came to be known through Wales and eventually the whole Christian world as “The Doctor.” Requests for him to speak began to come from all parts of the U. K. and America, from various denominations. Lloyd-Jones became involved in campus ministry through Inter-Varsity Fellowship, speaking in universities in the U.K. and the United States. In December 1935 he addressed a capacity crowd at the Royal Albert Hall on the need for the proclamation and application of the great truths of the Bible.
            After a 1937 preaching tour in America, during which G. Campbell Morgan made a special effort to hear him preach, Lloyd-Jones had the strong impression that his ministry in Sandfields was coming to a close. So in the summer of 1938, Martyn accepted a call to serve as assistant pastor to the aging Morgan at Westminster Chapel, where he succeeded Morgan as senior pastor for thirty years. During those decades at Westminster, Lloyd-Jones’s fame as an outstanding expositor of Scripture grew and many volumes of his sermons became valued possessions of pastors and seminary students.
            In 1968, major cancer surgery curtailed his ministry and he devoted himself to conference speaking, counseling young ministers, and writing. The cancer returned in 1979 and his condition grew worse throughout the following year. In early 1981 he knew his departure was near. He instructed Bethan and his daughters: “Don’t pray for healing, don’t try to hold me back from the glory” (Fritzius, 2016). David Martyn Lloyd-Jones went to his glory on the most fitting day for any Welsh preacher: St. David’s Day, March 1, 1981. His legacy continues in the lives of countless preachers, Welsh and otherwise, who have been influenced by his sermons, lectures, and stalwart example.

Fritzius, J. M. (2016, January 5). Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981). Retrieved from tlogical:
Murray, I. H. (1982). D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years, 1899-1939. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust.
Murray, I. H. (1990). D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith, 1939-1981. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust.

First published in the Welsh-American newspaper Ninnau & Y Drych, March-April, 2016.

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