‘Harris is one of the great heroic figures in the Christian Church, and his story is truly an astonishing one.’ Lloyd-Jones (1973)
Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones was the greatest evangelical teachers of the 20th Century. Few would argue with that. His powerful and faithful teaching ministry both in Wales (1927-1938) and later in London (1939-1968) has continued to inspire leaders and movements around the world.
Leading evangelical preachers such as J.I. Packer and Terry Virgo were powerfully impacted by his passionate expository style of preaching. His was a voice of authority and certainty in an increasingly wishy-washy church context.
In 1950 Packer and others urged Lloyd-Jones to begin a regular teaching conference on the importance of the Puritans and the Puritan movement. Papers were delivered followed by robust discussion chaired (and adjudicated?) by Lloyd-Jones himself.
In 1959 he preached on ‘Revival: An historical and Theological Survey’, in 1964 on ‘John Calvin and George Whitefield’, in 1972 on ‘John Knox – The Founder of Puritanism’ and in 1973 on ‘Howell Harris and Revival’.
It is to this particular lecture that we now turn our attention. We’ve seen something of Harris’ amazing influence in Wales and we shall go on to see his continuing influence in England through the preaching methods of George Whitefield (Harris also pastored Whitefield’s London church in his absence). But what does ‘The Doctor’, as Lloyd-Jones was affectionately called, say of Harris?
Lloyd-Jones’ excellent lectures have been published by the Banner of Truth Trust (the publishing company he helped form) under the title ‘The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors’. Page numbers refer to that edition.
On Harris’ conversion
Lloyd-Jones mentions the phrase that was to have such an impact on Harris. He had been in church when, during an announcement for communion, the Minister had said, ‘If you are not fit to take Communion you are not fit to pray, and if you are not fit to pray you are not fit to live, and if you are not fit to live you are not fit to die.’
Lloyd-Jones remarks, ‘These words hit this thoughtless schoolmaster with great force…I emphasise this incident because it reminds us of one of the amazing things about being a servant of God. You can bring people to conviction of sin even through an announcement! You never know what God is going to use; your asides are sometimes more important than your prepared statements.’ (p.285)
On the descending of the Spirit as a definition of Revival
Of particular interest is that Lloyd-Jones emphasises Harris’ encounter with the Holy Spirit as the key experience of his ministry.
This is typical of Lloyd-Jones who was frankly fed up of what he saw as a misunderstanding of the dynamic role of the Holy Spirit which was then prevalent amongst Reformed teachers and preachers. Happily, things have normalised in our day but it was different then and a post conversion experience of the Spirit needed to be constantly emphasised.
Lloyd-Jones writes, ‘What is revival? Revival is an outpouring of the Spirit of God. It is a kind of repetition of Pentecost. It is the Spirit descending upon people.
This needs to be emphasised in this present age. For we have been told so much recently by some that every man at regeneration receives the baptism of the Spirit, and all he has to do after that is to surrender to what he has already.
But revival does not come as a result of a man surrendering to what he already has; it is the Spirit being poured upon him, descending upon him, as happened on the day of Pentecost.’ (p.289)
The Frenchman John Calvin (1509-1564) was undoubtedly the greatest expositor and commentator on the Scriptures that the Reformation period produced. In fact, his brilliant set of commentaries on most books of the Bible still sells well even today.
Although a multitude of reasons (both good and bad) have been suggested to explain his continued influence on Christian leaders, his skill in explaining the meaning of the Scriptures is his primary legacy.
In fact, those who have benefited from his writing will argue that it is not John Calvin, or ‘Calvinism’ in that sense, but the truth of Scripture that has had such lasting impact on the lives of Christians, missionaries and leaders.
Many preachers will have experienced the challenge of not finding help from modern commentators, only to discover that Calvin has both understood and explained the verses of Scripture they were studying.
His ability to explain difficulties, remove obstacles and apply the meaning of the text is precise, appropriate and full of spiritual life. In my opinion, every preacher, Teacher or Evangelist, should purchase a copy of his commentaries.
He describes his conversion as ‘sudden and unexpected’ and his immense intellectual powers were redirected from the study of law to the Bible. When he was only 26 he published what has become one of Christianity’s greatest classics ‘The Institutes of the Christian Religion’.
The Institutes, written and later enlarged while Calvin was in Switzerland in exile from France. It was dedicated to the King of France, and was written to prove that the teachings of the Reformers and their followers was not a new departure but the orthodox, apostolic Christian Faith.
Calvin’s hope was that the King of France would read it, be convinced by it, and call an end to the terrible persecutions that were taking place.
No! That didn’t happen. Rather, Calvin himself was once again declared to be a heretic.