Some Things to Look For and Wrestle With by J. Ligon Duncan III

The new 40th anniversary edition of Preaching and Preachers contains this piece from  Ligon Duncan


I received my first copy of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Preaching and Preachers as a gift from a family in my home church as I was just beginning my studies in seminary. My copy was from the fourteenth printing of the first edition. I had been introduced to Lloyd-Jones as a teenager through his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (my mother had worn bare a copy of the original two-volume edition) and through the preaching ministry of my boyhood pastor who had been deeply edified by Lloyd-Jones’ sermons. Indeed, many of the “Gospel men” in the old Southern Presbyterian Church and in the nascent reforming movements of the early 1970s were profoundly affected by Lloyd-Jones through his preaching at the Pensacola Theological Institute at the McIlwain Presbyterian Church in August of 1969 (as Hurricane Camille was crashing ashore in Mississippi).

I read Lloyd-Jones’ preaching in written form before I read Preaching and Preachers. From the first, I was greatly impacted by the power of his sermons, even in printed form. Sentences and paragraphs from these sermons still grip me, utterly. I only heard audio recordings of his messages later, and the medium of his voice added a layer of effect that I had not been able to appreciate before.

Preaching and Preachers is a very different book from his books of sermons. It was given as a series of lectures, and it bears those marks. But it also bears the marks of a man who spent a lifetime preaching and thinking about preaching. Truly, Lloyd-Jones was one of the great preachers of his age. Even in these talks, the fire breaks through. Over and over again. The lecturer on preaching often becomes the preacher.

I encourage you to be on the lookout for some special aspects of this book. The following still arrest my attention when I reread it. I think that when you read this book, several (at least sixteen!) things will strike you.

1. How much the landscape of the church has changed since Lloyd-Jones mused on the background to the decline of preaching in our time. Nevertheless, his discussion is helpful and thought-provoking.

2. His crystal clear and emphatic definition of the work of church and pastor. “The primary task of the Church and of the Christian minister is the preaching of the Word of God.” He gives an overview and summary of his biblical case for this. His position is widely denied today but deserves reconsideration.

3. His assertion that great preaching always characterizes the great movements in the history of the Church. Reformation and revival, he says, are always attended by great preachers and great preaching.

4. His reflections on the social application of the gospel in relation to the primacy of preaching. Needless to say, this is a timely discussion for evangelicals again today. In connection with this subject, his argument that “the ultimate justification for asserting the primacy of preaching is theological” will supply you ample food for thought.

5. His emphasis on the importance of gathered, corporate, public worship. “Now the Church is a missionary body,” Lloyd-Jones says, “and we must recapture this notion that the whole Church is part of this witness to the Gospel and its truth and its message. It is therefore important that people should come together and listen in companies in the realm of the Church. That has an impact in and of itself.” “The very presence of a body of people in itself is a part of the preaching, and these influences begin to act immediately upon anyone who comes into a service.”

6. His rejection of what he calls “modern substitutes for preaching” (whether debates or discussion groups or conversation). Preaching, he says, “may be slow work; it often is; it is a long-term policy. But my whole contention is that it works, that it pays, and that it is honoured, and must be, because it is God’s own method.”

7. His taxonomy of three types of preaching: (1) evangelistic, (2) instructional-experimental (or experiential), and (3) didactic-instructional. Lloyd-Jones believed all three types were necessary, and all three should be explicitly theological. He fruitfully challenges us in this discussion to be theological in our preaching without turning our preaching into lecturing on theology, and he urges that we preach the Gospel, not preach about the Gospel.

8. His proposition that “a sermon should always be expository.” Lloyd-Jones defines the term “expository” and gives wise counsel on how to go about preparing such a message. This whole section bears thoughtful engagement.

9. His treatment of the preacher’s personality, authority, freedom, exchange, seriousness, liveliness, zeal, concern, warmth, rapport, urgency, persuasiveness, pathos, and power in the act of preaching. This section is solid gold. It is here that he says: “preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire” and that the chief end of preaching is “to give men and women a sense of God and His presence.”

10. His negative assessment of “lay-preaching” and his counsel on what constitutes a call to ministry. Accompanying this section are useful remarks on the training and preparation of preachers and what they need to know to do their work. Along the way, homiletics classes come in for a pounding!

11. His discussion of “the pew” wrongly controlling “the pulpit” is fascinating. We can make all sorts of mistakes when we try too hard to read the congregation. But Lloyd-Jones is remarkably balanced in this: “I would lay it down as being axiomatic that the pew is never to dictate to, or control, the pulpit. This needs to be emphasized at the present time. But having said that, I would emphasize equally that the preacher nevertheless has to assess the condition of those in the pew and to bear that in mind in the preparation and delivery of his message.”

12. His warning to preachers not to “assume that all who claim to be Christians, and who think they are Christians, and who are members of the Church, are therefore of necessity Christians” is timely. This warning may be controversial to some, but Lloyd-Jones needs to be heard here.

13. His urging that the need for more than one service on Sunday, for “all the people who attend a church need to be brought under the power of the Gospel.” Lloyd-Jones believed the congregational attitude should be, “I want as much of the Word of God, the presence of the Lord, the worship of God as I can get.” Surely this bears contemplation in our “one hour a week” era of Christian worship.

14. His wise counsel. “Keep the music in its place. It is handmaiden, a servant, and it must not be allowed to dominate or to control in any sense.” This is guidance more needed today than ever before.

15. His encouraging words about “the romance of preaching” may well provide a new hope and spark a new flame in tired preachers’ hearts. He reflects on the incomparable feeling of preaching the Word of God to your own people, never knowing when the message is going to unfold in ways you didn’t expect even as you preach it, and never knowing when God is going to change someone’s life using words that you are privileged to speak for him.

16. His emphasis on the unction or anointing of the Spirit. “What is this? It is the Holy Spirit falling upon the preacher in a special manner. It is an access of power. It is God giving power, and enabling, through the Spirit, to the preacher in order that he may do this work in a manner that lifts it up beyond the efforts and endeavours of man to a position in which the preacher is being used by the Spirit and becomes the channel through whom the Spirit works.”

You may argue with Lloyd-Jones from time to time as you read (I do!), but you will always find him a worthy and rewarding conversation partner. More than that, he is a wise mentor. If you are new to the task of preaching, simply engaging with Lloyd-Jones will be a good, shaping, directing exercise in the formation of your practice of preaching. And if you have been long at the task and are now weary in the work of preaching, you may remember some things that you thought you’d long forgotten and feel a renewed passion to proclaim the Gospel and preach the cross and minister the Word.


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