31 Days, 31 Books
Reformation was announced to a broken and fallen Adam and Eve in the garden. God the Father purposed reformation from before all time. Jesus Christ came into the world for reformation. He taught the reforming message, reformed broken lives and bodies, and effected reformation of the world on the cross and assured reformation when He rose from the dead. He also gave a promise of further reformation. That promise was fulfilled in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is Reformation 24/7.
There are times in history where the work of the Holy Spirit in sending reformation, revival, and renewal is so great that whole churches, cultures, and societies are transformed. Just such a reformation swept Europe in the 1500s (and is called the Protestant Reformation), and parts of the Reformation deepened in England during the Puritan Era and took root in Scotland for many generations from the time of Knox and Melville through the times of the Covenanters. Reformation took root in the American colonies under the ministries and preaching of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield and others. Back in England at that time, reformation arrested the moral collapse of that land under the same Whitefield and the Wesleys. Revival took place in the Netherlands in the early 1800s and led to the raising up of great Christian leaders beginning with Groen van Prinsterer and continuing through the times of Kuyper, Bavinck, Dooyeweerd, and others.
Reformation can be seen in the totally unexpected revivial and resurgence of Calvinism in our own time.
One of the greatest of twentieth century students of the Protestant Reformation and its effects was Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones. Lloyd-Jones never believed that what happened in the times of Luther and Calvin or what happened in the days of the Puritans was merely history. He loved the stories, but he did not merely love them as stories. The histories and the stories, to Lloyd-Jones, were templates for how God works in the church. Lloyd-Jones believed in revival. He believed that what God did in 1517 and following would be done again and again.
Lloyd-Jones was doctrinally committed to Calvinism. He believed that a climate change in the church of his time would happen only if and when God so chose for it to happen. He affirmed the Sovereignty of God in salvation and the life of the Church. As always, when someone grasps the teaching of God’s sovereignty, when someone encounters the awesome and almighty power of God with even a glimpse of the power of God, they recognize that man, on his own, can do nothing.
But when a person encounters God’s Sovereignty, when they realize that all things happen according to the plan and purpose of God, they don’t sit back and do nothing. Quite the contrary, they are consumed in serving God. A true grasp of God’s grace results in works.
For Lloyd-Jones, the primary work of reformation and revival would and will come through preaching. The Reformation and all true reformations are the results of applying the preached Word to all areas of life and thought. But the change would not come through beginning in the outer areas and working toward the sermon. The sermon is where it would all begin.
Pastors are, first and foremost, preachers. The most basic and foundational counseling sessions for church members will the sermon. Theology is taught primarily not in the classroom or the seminary, but in the pulpit. The liturgical parts of the worship service are focused on building up to the sermon. The main administrative duty of pastors is administering the sermon. Even the fellowship of the church is an outgrowth of the preaching. The pastor’s main workday task, the bulk of his 8 to 5 hours, were to be focused on preparation of sermons for preaching.
This high vision of preaching was at the heart of Martin Lloyd-Jones’ many years of ministry. He lectured, taught, wrote, counseled, and attended meetings, but primarily he preached. But then, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Matthew Henry, Whitefield, the Wesleys, Edwards, Spurgeon, and, moving into our day, Sproul, Piper, Keller, and others are preachers. It really is amazing that God has chosen to use the foolishness of preaching to bring reformation and revival to the world.
I have been preaching off and on for some twenty plus years. I entered the eldership and the pastorate at an older age, around 37. For many years, my preaching was more ‘pulpit supply.’ In some cases, I was preaching because there were not any or many others who could take on the load. I preached because it needed to be done. I wasn’t begrudging it, but I saw myself as a history teacher who sometimes preached sermons, even if the “sometimes” meant “quite often.”
A little over two years ago, I resumed working as a pastor. Probably 90 to 95 percent of the pastoral work I do is preaching. I am not opposed to the other parts of ministery, but am tied down to another full time job–teaching history and literature. I have no idea how long I will be preaching extensively. I have been surprised to discover a love for the task and an awareness of my own inadequacies.
Martin Lloyd-Jones has been one of the dominating influences in my life. His book Preaching and Preachers was one of the best books I ever read on preaching, and I need to reread it…often. His series of sermons that are in his book Spiritual Depression have impacted my life greatly. His book The Puritans and Their Origins was a great delight. Lloyd-Jones loved church history. In recent months, Lloyd-Jones’s book The Sermon on the Mount was the apex of my study resources while I was preaching through that sermon. I have quite a few other books by Lloyd-Jones that I treasure, including most of his volumes on Romans and all of his works on Ephesians.
Lloyd-Jones not only understood and prayed for revival and reformation, he was used of God to bring it. I am an heir to the treasure he was and is to the church.
And then there is Iain Murray’s outstanding two volume biography of Martin Lloyd-Jones. I like it all, but the second volume transformed my life some twenty-five years ago.