Few preachers had a greater impact on the 20th century world than Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ). A native of Wales, Lloyd-Jones initially achieved acclaim as one of the most promising young doctors in London. A protege of the Royal Physician “Lord Horder” MLJ was well on his way to a level of fame, fortune, and status that view could have dreamed of. Yet something was missing. MLJ looked around himself and saw people with problems that no doctor could fix; and doctors who lived hollow lives, in spite of their worldly success. By God's grace MLJ was born again, left a career in medicine, and set off to be a preacher of the gospel. Starting in the small, poverty-stricken Welsh town of Aberavon; he would eventually receive worldwide acclaim (and criticism) as the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London for over thirty years. Serving as a model of faithful, expository preaching; MLJ spent three decades combing over the Scriptures and proclaiming them with “a demonstration of the Spirit and power” until his retirement in 1968. He would eventually leave this world for the next in 1981, after a bout with cancer. Being a faithful witness unto the end, and exhorting his loved ones NOT to pray for his healing and thus “try to hold me back from the glory.” MLJ's life was an incredible testimony of God's grace and God's power through a faithful servant. And this is the subject of a new documentary directed by Matthew Robinson and produced by Media Gratiae Productions entitled, “Logic On Fire: The Life & Legacy of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.”
MLJ grew up the middle of three sons in the small town of Llangeitho, Wales. While the city had a strong spiritual heritage dating back to the 18th century preaching of Daniel Rowland; by the time of MLJ's childhood there was very little (if any) gospel being preached. Most the preaching was either presented as though all of the hearers were believers in Christ; or that there was no need for Christ at all. Consequently, most didn't even know the true gospel, much less embrace it. This included the Lloyd-Jones family, as MLJ once sadly testified that his father died having probably never even heard the gospel. This might have been true of MLJ also, if not for God's providence and a move to London.
Entering medical school at the age of 16, MLJ studied for several years at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, a world renowned institution of medicine and learning. Having become a church member at age 14; MLJ still saw religion as a “Sunday” matter with no real effect on his life. But indeed, life was empty. Something was missing. And in accordance with an ironic providence, MLJ eventually made his way to Westminster Chapel where he heard John Hutton preach a message with more gospel content than he was accustomed to. Who could have known that the unregenerate young man who sat and listened in the gallery of Westminster would one day pastor the church? Yet this would eventually come to fruition.
Longtime associate and well-known biographer of MLJ; Iain Murray stated that the effects of MLJ's conversion were more gradual than instantaneous. He began to see, by grace, that the answer to life's problems were not found in any worldly solutions, but in knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. Soon he would marry Bethan Philips and surrender his life to preaching by becoming pastor of the Bethlehem Forward Movement Church in Aberavon, Wales. Better known as Sandfields Chapel. This church, part of the Calvinistic Methodist tradition, was in decline when MLJ came on the scene. They sought to attract people, as many church's of the day did, by producing dramas and various “programs” to draw the people. MLJ sought another method all together. He determined to know nothing except “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” and to preach this message as the means of growing the church. And this he did, with the effects being spiritually volcanic.
Though MLJ hesitated to describe what happened in Aberavon as “revivial” it was clear that God was at work in an extraordinary way. Many conversions came about in the small town; and MLJ amassed quite a collection of whiskey bottles as newly regenerate drunks would bring the bottles to him in spiritual brokenness. The fellowship at the church was sweet and the people were close. Not surprisingly they were devastated when he unexpectedly announced his resignation eleven years later.
Many struggled to understand why MLJ would leave a successful ministry at Sandfields Chapel; but he declared quite simply “my ministry had come to an end.” Though he loved his native Wales and enjoyed unusual blessings there, he felt deep within that it was time for him to move on. Meanwhile in London, G. Campbell Morgan had embarked on his second stint as pastor of Westminster Chapel and longed to find the man who would eventually become his replacement. This, he believed, was MLJ and in 1939 he was called to be the Associate Pastor there. Soon, Campbell would retire and MLJ would settle in as the permanent Pastor; just as World War II was reaching it's crescendo in England.
The documentary does an excellent job of keeping interest by interviewing numerous people who knew MLJ during this time. Not the least of which was his two daughters, Elizabeth Catherwood and Ann Beatt, who tell countless fascinating stories of his life and his ministry. On one occasion during the war, MLJ was at the pulpit praying when the congregation heard the familiar hum of a Nazi bomb flying over the building. Striking just blocks away and shaking the church building, MLJ continued to pray until the congregation opened their eyes to find him covered in white dust that had fallen from the roof.
During these war years, many came and heard him preach; but not all of them would survive the war. This created a special sense of urgency that caused the hearers to consider eternal matters more than usual. The result, as in Aberavon, was numerous conversions.
Much of the documentary centers on MLJ's preaching, from whence comes the title “Logic On Fire.” This phrase was used by MLJ in a series of lectures presented to Westminster Seminary on preaching and thus contained his definition of what preaching should be, “logic on fire.” Not surprisingly, this is exactly how many would describe his preaching, as he presented a text then sought to apply it in exegetical, theological, and diagnostic fashion. He analyzed the Scriptures in submission to them as the very Word of God. Having been converted himself in adulthood; saved out of the rational world of medicine, he understood how the unconverted man thought. And was thus able to anticipate many arguments against the faith and answer them through the preaching. Sunday after Sunday, MLJ would present passages in verse-by-verse exposition. Visitors were plentiful and welcome, with many intellectuals of the day mixing with common folks to hear the glorious gospel heralded. At the end of the evening service, those who sought counsel would line up at his vestry door as he would try to speak with all who sought him, often staying until after 10 PM.
Throughout the documentary, MLJ's ministry is remembered by those who knew him and those who studied him. The aforementioned Murray provides deep and rich remembrances of life at Westminster. As do Andrew Davies, Geoff Thomas, Vernon Higham, and Eifion Evans, just to name a few. Add to this, the unique family perspective provided by his daughters, grandchildren, and others and the narrative rolls seamlessly.
In addition to the first hand accounts of Lloyd-Jones, we hear from several others who didn't necessarily know the man but who studied his ministry such as Justin Taylor, Paul Washer, Ben Bailie , Conrad Mbewe, Kevin DeYoung, Jason Meyer, Donald S. Whitney, and Ligon Duncan. Not to mention well-known Christian leaders such as John Macarthur, R.C. Sproul, and Sinclair Ferguson. All of these names come together to tell a rich and moving story of a life wholly devoted to God and His word.
In addition to the feature documentary film which spans almost two hours, the set comes with two other DVDs that contain several hours of additional interviews, not included in the main film. As well as a small, cloth-bound book, and five postcard sized pictures. Some of the most interesting stories in the additional disks involved MLJ's grandchildren as they talk of knowing the man as he was at home. A grandfather who was warm and loving, who loved to play and be silly with the kids, and who exhibited an extraordinarily kind heart to those in need. Grandson Jonathan Catherwood recounts how, as a young man, he toyed with atheism, agnosticism, and transcendental meditation. While many in the family were aghast, his grandfather calmly conversed about his interest and asked if he could read a book that Catherwood was studying. Later he visited with him and politely pointed out the errors in the book, as Catherwood eventually discovered for himself (by the grace of God). This kindness and patience from MLJ had a lasting effect on his grandson. And as another grandson, Adam Desmond remembered: “If you ever asked him for 'one' of something, he would give you 'three' instead.”
Throw in a beautiful soundtrack of Welsh hymns and rare home video footage of “The Doctor” and one can see the meticulous work put into the production of this great film about an even greater man. With all of that said I would heartily recommend the viewing and the purchase of “Logic on Fire” to watch for inspiration, edification, and encouragement. I sat down and watched it with my wife and children, frequently pausing to discuss MLJ's life and ministry. We laughed as we listened to MLJ's family tell stories, we marveled to hear the accounts of his ministry, we were awestruck to listen eagerly as his recorded voice reverberated the preached Word, and we cried when we witnessed the effect of his life and ministry on so many people. MLJ was a rare gift to the Lord's church. A chosen instrument, used of God to awake slumbering souls and enliven the spiritually dead. Rest assured that “Logic On Fire” will not disappoint.
Shane Kastler serves as Pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Lake Charles, Louisiana. He is also the co-host of "Church and State" heard each Thursday on Eternal Life Broadcasting (KELB 100.5 FM and KEBL 105.5 FM radio). He teaches Logic at Covenant Grace Academy and writes a weekly religion column for the Linn County News (KS). He has contributed articles to Economic Policy Journal, TargetLiberty.com, Lew Rockwell.com, Sword & Trowel, and ReformedLibertarian.com.