It has often been the case that those things I incorporate into our daily routine for the purpose of encouraging my husband turn out to be the very things that encourage me the most. God is kind to me in this way. A great example of this has been the times of the day in which I read aloud from the Scriptures or some book written by or about a godly man. We have just recently completed the first volume of Iain H. Murray’s two volume biography: D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The First Forty Years. My husband has been a long time fan of Dr. Lloyd-Jones, so it seemed like a good place to find inspiration. While I enjoy a good biography, I didn’t really anticipate that this would be any more than an interesting read for me. I was wrong.
I have to confess, the various Welsh names gave me no end of trouble – they neither lent themselves to being read phonetically (too many vowels or consonants crammed together to be sounded out properly), nor along the rules of Swahili pronunciation – which is my fallback for anything that feels foreign to me. I am sure that ML-J would have been unable to control hysterical laughter at my failed attempts. Suffice it to say, I breathed a sigh of relief when he moved to England. But that was only from an oratory perspective.
The true inspiration for me was in the early years of his first pastorate at Sandfields. As is often the case when I read about other eras of Christian history I was struck by how the issues of that day corresponded with the ones we face today. There was a trend in the churches of Wales toward social gospel at the expense of sound biblical teaching. When ML-J came to Sandfields he found a church that was involved in a number of activities meant to draw people in. Among these were “football, musical evenings, a dramatic society, and a Brotherhood on Saturday nights”. This approach seemed to me to be quite similar to the marketing techniques used in today’s churches to bring people in the doors with the thought that once there, they will hear the truth and be converted. Unfortunately, the efforts of attracting the man on the street often take precedence over the consistent teaching and preaching of biblical truths that speak to the needs of the soul. Certainly this was Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ perspective, as he soon did away with (or in one case changed the goal of) all the extraneous programs and focused on the faithful preaching of the Word. All who watched expected to see the church fall into further decline than had already been experience. Instead, God chose to bring revival. Through the exposition of Scripture, many who were long standing members began to consider their own hearts and conclude that they had never been converted at all. In addition, there were many in the community at large who were hardened in their sin and rejection of God, but who found themselves drawn in one way or another to the Sunday services, and were changed for evermore.
What struck me next was the way in which ML-J conducted himself when revival came. He refused to give interviews to the local newspapers about what was happening at Sandfields. He refused to publish statistics about numbers of conversions, baptisms, or church membership, so concerned was he that no honor be given to man for the Spirit’s work. This set him at odds with both the society in which he lived, and among others who were in the ministry at that time. But it did not quench the work of the Holy Spirit in the community in which he served. What church of this day wouldn’t be tempted to tweet each conversion, or at least give an update on Facebook?
It was so good to see confirmed in history what I believe the scriptures teach: That God moves when and where He chooses. That His ordinary means of grace ( preaching the Word, prayer, and church ordinances) are all that are required of us, and other things can be an indication that we don’t really trust that God can save sinners without us to help Him along. Being faithful in these things does not ensure revival. Certainly there were other times when Dr. L-J conducted himself in the same manner without seeing revival occur. But these are the things that God has instructed for his people to be faithful to attend.
But I am not a pastor, so how did this book bring encouragement to me, a woman, a layperson, a caregiver? Let me explain. First of all, I was given a deeper appreciation for the elders of my own church who faithfully protect the means of grace in our congregation. They are tenacious in keeping the priority on sound preaching and teaching, the ordinances, and the fellowship of our members. While we have not been blessed this year with a revival in our midst, I can be fairly certain it is not due to the lack of faithfulness on the part of my elders. And I am reminded by Lloyd-Jones that I do not need to look for ways to “make” revival come. It is not my place to do more than to pray fervently for my pastors, my church, and the Holy Spirit’s good pleasure. I am often tempted to try to force God’s hand in this. I wonder if there is something else I need to be doing. Is there something else that should be a part of our church community? Reading this biography, I was reminded of the story of Gideon – a small army, made smaller, and then smaller, by God’s instruction, so that when the victory came, there would be no way that man could be mistaken as the cause. This seem to be the approach L-J took in his ministry. He was not a man pleaser, he was not a marketer. He stood in the pulpit provided for him and he applied the scripture to the lives of the people who listened. And people came. It turned out people were hungry for the pure, unadulterated truth. And as the attenders began to be transformed in their personal lives, they were noticed in their communities in such a way that others wanted to come and see what had changed them. I can do that. I can listen to the preaching of the word, I can apply it to my life. And if God is pleased, my conduct will be what draws people to Him. Don’t get me wrong, I am a supporter of those who go into all the world and preach the gospel. I support such people with my prayers and my money. But my life has not lent itself to this kind of action. So it comforts me to know that my obedience, in my small world, can be used by God if He so chooses.
In addition to this, I was encouraged not to lose hope for those in who seem to have rejected Christ and hardened their hearts toward Him. I don’t have to manipulate them, or badger them into believing (for in fact, I can’t). But I can love them, and do good to them, and pray for them. I have been reminded that Jesus is a friend of sinners and so must I be. Several of the people who came to believe during ML-J’s first years at Sanfields were in their last years of life. As long as there is still breath in a body, there is hope that God will be pleased to draw them to Himself. I was heartened to pray with more consistency and faith for my loved ones, and to do so with the confidence that God can save sinners, and that He is often pleased to do so. And I became convinced once again that my main approach to evangelism needs to be that of conducting my life according to the instruction I find in the Word of God. Some of those who came to Christ during those years were never approached directly by anyone trying to evangelize them. Instead, they overheard conversations, or observed changes in others that made them consider their own lives. It made me think about what others might see in me when I am just going about my daily life. How many times do my actions confound the words that I would say?
I would venture to say that I was not Iain Murray’s target audience when he wrote this biography, but I am thankful that he wrote it none the less. I think I would tend to agree with my pastor, Eddie, who said, “If Iain Murray wrote it, it is worth reading.”