Carl Trueman recently met with J. I. Packer to present him with an honorary doctorate. As part of his time with Packer, he also conducted an interview with him that will be posted on the Westminster Theological Seminary website.
One of the questions focused on Martin Lloyd-Jones. Packer’s response was telling of the man’s spirituality: “He took more of God into the pulpit with him than any other preacher I have ever known.”
It may be that Packer remembers the past better than it was. That often happens as we age and the distance between the actual experience and the recollection of that experience can smooth the rough edges of what happened. But this does not always happen. Sometimes past experiences can become worse over time. In this instance, I have not known Packer to exaggerate or embellish or to diminish what happened, either in his writing or speaking. I am inclined to trust his assessment of Lloyd-Jones. What a wonderful commendation. It is reflective of God’s grace in his life.
Lloyd-Jones realized that preaching was about content and that content, the Bible, was focused on God in all His fullness, and His plan to redeem a people for Himself to the praise of His glorious grace (to steal from Article 1 in our Statement of Faith). But he also knew that it was about believing and living that content, of the reality of union with Christ, that made preaching what it was.
Read carefully what Lloyd-Jones says about preaching, as his intent in preaching achieved his desired/prayerful goal as evidenced in Packer’s words. This is how he speaks of preaching in the section “The Essence and Aim of Preaching,” Preaching & Preachers, 40th Anniversary Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), pp. 110-111:
What is preaching? Logic on fire! Eloquent reason! Are these contradictions? Of course they are not. Reason concerning this Truth ought to be mightily eloquent, as you see it in the case of the Apostle Paul and others. It is theology on fire. And a theology which does not take fire, I maintain, is a defective theology; or at least the man’s understanding of it is defective. Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire. A true understanding and experience of the Truth must lead to this. I say again that a man who can speak about these things dispassionately has no right whatsoever to be in a pulpit; and should never be allowed to enter one.
What is the chief end of preaching? I like to think it is this. It is to give men and women a sense of God and His presence. As I have said already, during this past year I have been ill, and so have had the opportunity, and the privilege, of listening to others, instead of preaching myself. As I have listened in physical weakness this is the thing I have looked for and long for and desired. I can forgive a man for a bad sermon, I can forgive the preacher almost anything if he gives me a sense of God, if he gives me something for my soul, if he gives me the sense that, though he is inadequate himself, he is handling something which is very great and very glorious, if he gives me some dim glimpse of the majesty and the glory of God, the love of Christ my Saviour, and the magnificence of the Gospel. If he does that I am his debtor, and I am profoundly grateful to him.
Trueman concludes with a commendation to Lloyd-Jones and a challenge to those of us who preach the Word of God today.
One can be nostalgic about the past, but I wonder how many of this generation’s archetypal, aspirational model preachers will have that said about them thirty years after their death? They were funny; they had huge churches; they took more stand up comedy into the pulpit — or onto the stage — than anybody else; they looked cool; they were branded and puffed by the powerful evangelical patrons as role models for the rest of us; they had great hair-does; they were so hip and young, at least until it became painfully obvious that they had passed forty many years before. I can imagine all these things being said. But that they took so much of God into the pulpit? That seems somehow less likely.
Those of us who preach need to reflect on Dr. Packer’s comment, repent daily of our pride and pray without ceasing that we take God, not ourselves, or Chris Rock, or our mastery of street talk or postmodernism, into the pulpit with us. A preacher should be remembered not for the numbers he once attracted or for his slick engagement with the wider culture but for whether he spoke the words of God as a man of God.