Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the Puritans
No preacher more influenced my early Christian life (which began at 22 years old) than Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981). I have grown ever more thankful for his books over the past eight years. But I have yet to read Iain Murray’s biography. Last Tuesday during the bookstore tour, Sinclair Ferguson slapped a magic sticker on the cover of the biography and, like lightning, was discounted 65-percent. It was time to buy.
A thorough reading of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years (1899-1939) will have to wait until I’m done with Spurgeon’s autobiography, but last night I did sneak a read of the first 100 pages. I was especially drawn towards Lloyd-Jones’ early comments on the Puritans. Lloyd-Jones is quoted by Murray as saying,
“The Puritan is not the strong man. He is a very weak man who has been given strength to realize that he is weak. I would say of all men and women that we are all weak, very weak, the difference being that the sinners do not appreciate the fact that they are weak, whereas the Christians do. … I have mentioned Baxter, Bunyan and Fox, but if you wish to have the best description of all of what Puritanism means, read the epistles of St. Paul. During the air raids many of us, indeed most of us, objected to the restrictions that were imposed upon us by the army commanders. We objected to dark blinds and shaded lights. We objected because we did not realize the danger, we did not realize that we were at the mercy of those powers that were in the air or might be there at any moment. But the army commanders knew and carried out the preparations on our behalf. Sin is ignorance, and we object to the restrictions and the vigor of the Puritan regime, but let me remind you that the Puritans are, and were, the commanders-in-chief of God’s garrison upon earth. … Is it surprising that, to the Puritan, life is a serious matter, demanding the whole of his time and attention? If you have once seen the face of God, there is nothing else worth seeing as far as you are concerned. All these other things merely obscure the vision, therefore they must be swept away … If anything interferes with the worshipping of God it must be destroyed. … It is because of these feelings that the Puritan is always a crusader. To him Christianity is a fight, a noble crusade, not merely a defensive action against the principalities and powers, but also a challenge to and an assault upon their fortress. … Oh! how far have we wandered from this! ‘Plain living and high thinking’ are no more! The church is no longer distinct from the world, for instead of the church going out into the world we have allowed the world to capture the church from the inside. We nearly all recognize the position. When will we return to Puritanism? Let us be up and clear the brushwood and the thorns that have overgrown the face of our spiritual world!” (1:99-100).
This quote is pregnant of content for further meditation. Here are a few thoughts that come to my own mind.
(1) Modern day Puritanism. Lloyd-Jones was convinced that Puritanism was as relevant in his day as the seventeenth century. We should not only read Puritans, he challenges, but we should be Puritans. Lloyd-Jones — and for that matter C.H. Spurgeon — were tutored by the piety, spirituality and preaching of the Puritans. They patterned their spiritual lives after the Puritans sobriety and earnestness. What does modern day Puritanism look like?
(2) The Puritan weakness. The idea today is that Puritan literature is reserved for the really strong Christian but this is not the case. The Puritan is a weak man. Approaching the Puritan literature is to be done out of a deep sense of personal frailty and weakness. Until we are well acquainted with the indwelling sin that remains in our hearts, the pride, the self-righteousness, the tendency towards unbelief and worldliness and laziness, Puritan literature will not be appealing. Entrance into the Puritan spirituality is through a low doorway and readers must bend and bow down in humility to enter. The Puritan’s are not for the strong, they are for those who ‘appreciate’ their own weakness. The Puritan is a weak man and the Puritan works were written for weak men.
(3) The Puritan warfare. Puritanism embodies the spiritual struggle of Paul. Working out salvation, killing the remaining sinfulness, being diligent and spiritually alert and sober are the sure marks of the Puritan. Puritanism is dressing for spiritual battle. The illustration of the bombing raids speaks the uncomfortable restraints of the Christian in this life. Puritan literature will not appeal to readers seeking to preserve these comforts.
There are other principles here in this quote by Lloyd-Jones, but this short excerpt answers the question: Who would read the Puritans today? Puritan literature will never appeal to a reader until he has seen the wickedness of his own heart and his post-conversion, continued gullibility to sinfulness. Likewise, the Puritan literature will seem insignificant until we approach dressed in our battle uniforms, prepared for lifelong (and uncomfortable) disciplined spiritual warfare. It was in this humble self-knowledge and this declaration of war against what beclouds the beauty of God to the spiritual eye that prepared Lloyd-Jones for Puritan literature.