Monday, February 18, 2013

Book Review - Setting Our Affections Upon Glory

In an essay written in 1985, theological giant J. I. Packer is said to have commented on the preaching of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “Through the thunder and the lightning, I felt and saw as never before the glory of Christ and of his gospel ….” Though the “thunder and lightning” of this great preacher may be difficult to apprehend by reading his sermons in a book, the “glory of Christ and of his gospel” reverberates through every page of this recently published collection of Lloyd-Jones sermons entitled Setting Our Affections Upon Glory. This compilation of the Good Doctor’s preaching is notable for its gospel-centeredness, its emphasis on doctrine, and its relevancy and timeliness.

The nine sermons in Setting Our Affections Upon Glory are permeated by a gospel-centeredness that, with regularity, brings the Christ, the cross, and the resulting Calvary-wrought salvation before the eyes of the reader. Lloyd-Jones does not miss an opportunity to remind the listener, or reader in this case, of the issue of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3).  He continually reminds us, with creativity and conciseness, that the essence of Christianity is “the great doctrine of the atonement. You cannot be a Christian without this” (118). His emphatic and insistent proclamations of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2) give evidence of the great value and singular priority he attributes to the gospel: “Reconciliation! There is nothing in the whole world today as valuable as this. To be reconciled to God! To know that our sins are forgiven! The wealth of the universe cannot purchase this. There is nothing more valuable” (95). These sermons will help you understand why Packer “felt and saw as never before the glory of Christ and of his gospel.”

D. M. Lloyd-Jones, as well as the many manifestations of his ministry, is known for the priority he places on doctrine in general and Reformed doctrine in particular. He frequently admonishes the reader to note the importance of doctrine in the life of the Christian. He reflects that the early church “was a gathering of people who had undergone a profound change as a result of listening to the apostolic preaching” (53, emphasis mine) and that, in terms of the church both then and now, doctrine “comes before fellowship, and unless our fellowship is based upon doctrine, it is not a Christian fellowship” (55-6). These are strong words for one who was noted for his high regard for the church. For the author, doctrine’s importance rested on the fact that “you cannot preach the gospel without doctrine” (117). Lloyd-Jones valued preaching and thus he valued doctrine. The prominence doctrine holds in Lloyd-Jones’ mind is evident throughout the book: In the church, “teaching and doctrine must have the pre-eminence, the precedence, the priority. They must always come in first position” (61). This book is evidence that he was a preacher who esteemed doctrine.

This collection of Lloyd-Jones’ preaching was originally delivered in 1969. However, the timeliness and relevancy of these nine addresses is conspicuous. It seems the great preachers have a penchant for framing things in such a way so as to reveal the issue that is common to all ages. They deal with the heart of the matter. For instance, Lloyd-Jones warned of the church’s dangerous practice of prostrating themselves to the idol of popularity: “The church asks: What do people actually want? What do they like? What do they think? And we pander to them” (50). This is a remarkable assessment of the modern church and this preacher saw it in his day. Or consider this concern that is raised: “I have sometimes feared that we are rapidly getting to the stage in which there will only be two or three preachers-if even that many-in the world. And the rest of the world will be listening to them on tapes or on television or something else” (110). We now know that the “something else” the author was concerned about are downloads and podcasts and Youtube and iTunes. His apprehension on this matter is almost prophetic as we see the danger of blogsniffers and website groupies following an increasing smaller number of big name preachers. His sermons are applicable to us today because he saw the unchanging dangers that the church faced. Ponder his foreboding of the treacherous nature of tolerance: “It is that in our fear and dread and horror of being called narrow we could swing so far to the other extreme and in the end be so wide and so broad and so large that we lose our landmarks altogether and end by not knowing what the real meaning of the word Christian is … A charity and a tolerance that is prepared to include everything! That seems, to me, to be the greatest danger” (146). That is an incredibly accurate accusation against today’s churches by a minister who preached over 40 years ago.

For its pervasive gospel-centeredness, for its continuous concern for doctrine, and for its timely relevancy, this volume of sermons is noteworthy. A preacher will often be lauded by those who he leads. But when a preacher is admired and acclaimed by his peers, both great and small, it is likely his preaching will be efficacious and edifying. These sermons by D. M. Lloyd-Jones are just that. They have power in written form that build us up and encourage us. Setting Our Affections Upon Glory is a welcome addition to a growing number of this great preacher’s published sermons.

I recommend this book.

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