In the ceremonial hall at my secondary school, an old Latin sign hangs high and booms at you, advising on your future prospects. It proudly suggests that if you are of the highest calibre, join the ministry; those of reasonable aptitude, be a physician; and people of a ‘dimmer’ nature, be a politician. No-one would seek to dispense such career advice nowadays; but Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981), more simply and affectionately known as ‘The Doctor’, would neatly have slotted into the top echelons of the first category. Although medicine was his first profession, his name probably more closely aligns with Jim Packer, John Stott and Billy Graham, because of his primary work of joining the ministry. He was one of a rare breed to have tried out both medicine (finding that he could not remain in it, for the sake of the gospel), and his more distinguished career in full-time preaching.
A doctor of distinction
Lloyd-Jones trained in Bart’s hospital, London. Dr Gaius Davies, himself a Bart’s graduate, wrote this about the Doctor:
Those who trained at other medical schools would say: ‘You can always tell a Bart’s man, but you can’t tell him much!’ …In the Doctor’s case you could not tell him much because he…seemed so effortlessly to be able to encompass the field of medical knowledge.
Sir Timothy Horder, physician to the Queen, spotted his talent and made him a trainee. His research on subacute bacterial endocarditis done under Sir Timothy gained him his medical degree, and he subsequently embarked on a number of cutting edge research projects, which could have earned him several doctorates over his short career. His abilities led him to prominence very quickly, and he gained membership of the Royal College of Physicians shortly after he had qualified. While chiefly known as a teacher of the Bible, his instruction of medical students was equally impressive. Many an undergraduate would try to slip into a ward round or demonstration to see the Doctor in action.
He was a man well ahead of his time. The buzzwords of ‘evidence based medicine’ and ‘whole person medicine’ came in much later, but he was a strong proponent of both. He was a stalwart supporter of CMF since its inception in 1949, and was regularly invited to give talks, both on Scripture and for other general insights.
Although he did not remain in medicine, he always kept in touch with the profession regularly and read up on the latest papers and insights. His Sunday afternoons as a minister would be spent reading the British Medical Journal as a form of relaxation – perhaps not something that many of us would aspire to!
A preacher with prowess
Much press excitement surrounded his departure from medicine in the late twenties, particularly in light of the promising career ahead of him; all this was in a context when doctors wielded considerably more power eighty years ago. He gave it up to work in a small church in Aberavon, South Wales, for ten years. The congregation over that time swelled from a little over 50 to 600. He embodied his own definition of preaching: ‘Logic on fire, eloquent reason.’
At the heart of his work lay timeless truths. He was a passionate man of Scripture and noted that times of decline in the church always coincided with periods of poor preaching and belief in the authority of the Bible. He believed that it was shallow to think that ‘improving’ education, politics, and globalisation changed the real needs of man. Man is still in sin, unable to redeem himself; God still provides the answer in Jesus. Who would say that his words here would mean any less now?
Never has there been a greater opportunity for preaching than there is today, because we are living in an age of disillusionment…That is why we are witnessing this… protest and every other kind of protest; that is why people are taking drugs…Is not this then the very time when the door is wide open for the preaching of the gospel?
His main time in the ministry was based at Westminster Chapel in London, which started in 1938. His most famous work is his 13-year exposition of Romans on Friday nights in the ’50s and ‘60s, dealing with each verse and each section. All kinds of people flocked to the Chapel to listen to one of Paul’s devoted students, and here his gift of preaching was used to the limit. He retired in 1968 after 30 years, devoting time to itinerant preaching and writing down his thoughts for future generations.
A man of magnanimity
The Doctor had a great sense of each individual’s needs and how to teach them. Some he would instruct gently; others, if he knew that they could take it, would be set aside as an example, to be ‘dressed down’ for uttering comments deviating from Scripture: he exposed the fallacy of their statements through logic, in the hope that everyone present might learn.
Many people came to him with their troubles – pastors, students, family alike. His son-in-law, Fred Catherwood, said this about him: ‘When he talked to you about your problems, he was thinking of you entirely – never remotely about himself. You had not only his undivided attention but his total commitment, until the problems had been sorted out to his satisfaction and to yours.’ It would be difficult to find someone to say anything to the contrary; and his vast knowledge in many different areas, both secular and spiritual, made him a ‘natural’ in this area.
For medical students, what appeal does he have for us today? We are often ignorant and dismissive of the past – but we cannot dismiss this man. The scholar and servant in the Doctor faithfully preached week by week from the Bible – knowing it to be God’s book in which salvation and its working out were told. He understood the place of medicine – but he also knew the supreme importance of a faith in the living God. I can look no further than these authoritative words, which he spoke on whole person medicine to a meeting of Christian doctors in 1957. Particularly if you’re near graduating, I hope sincerely that you remember these:
Christian doctors, there is only one way in which we can really make men whole! Modern medicine has gained much for mankind and it may yet gain more. But, when it has done its utmost, it can only prolong man’s life for a few more years. It cannot do more than repair a man’s mind and body. It has to leave him there. It has nothing to say to the most vital element in man’s nature. At this point Christianity alone can step in. When it does so, however, it can impart to a man something of incomparable worth. But before any of us can share it with others, we must become Christians ourselves. Every doctor needs himself first to go to Christ. Then, with confidence, he can become a servant of the Lord of the New Testament who went about making men whole.
- www.mlj.org.uk – a comprehensive collection of sermons by the Doctor available online
- www.banneroftruth.org – Extensive bibliography available on Martyn Lloyd-Jones plus short books and his written commentaries, including his famous exposition of Romans
- Lloyd-Jones DM. The Doctor himself and the human condition. London: CMF, 1982
- Catherwood C (ed). Martyn Lloyd-Jones: chosen by God. Crowborough: Highland Books, 1986