The Fight of Faith by Iain H. Murray

11 10 2008

Of all the Christian authors whose works have blessed me, Iain H. Murray’s biographical writings come top of the list. Murray’s books are written in a beautifully unadorned prose, with a respectfulness of tone for their subject which is refreshing in a world of hero destroying literature. I also love the fact that Iain H. Murray has never attained Christian ‘celebrity’ status in spite of his considerable influence for the Kingdom of God – he is as humble in person as he is articulate in print.

The Fight of Faith is the second volume of Murray’s landmark biography of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I read the first volume (entitled The First Forty Years) in autumn 2002 when I had just commenced pastoral ministry in Armagh Baptist. To say that this volume was life changing would be something of an understatement. This volume introduced me to a theology and a manner of preaching which for me were hitherto largely untapped, and gave me a sense of perspective on how the minister ought to approach the teaching of the Word of God. All of Murray’s biographical works carry a didactic element which invites the reader to adjust their perspective and way of living in so far as his subject exemplifies godly living. The First Forty Years certainly achieved this for me, and I will be forever grateful.

The second volume has always daunted me a little in prospect. It stretches to in excess of 800 pages (by comparison with 412 pages in the first volume), and handles many of the more controversial issues which faced Lloyd-Jones during his ministry. I’ve dipped a toe in the book over the intervening years, but never felt able to commit to such a hefty biography. Such hesitation was not to my benefit, given the wonderful piece of Christian literature which Volume 2 represents.

The Fight of Faith opens with Lloyd-Jones ministering in London during the height of the Second World War as Assistant Minister to G. Campbell Morgan. It follows his work for the Lord through his installation to the full charge of Westminster Chapel, his widening influence through the student movement, the Westminster Fellowship, and transatlantic preaching ministry. Lloyd-Jones work in Westminster is presented as being singularly owned of God, with a sense of the power of His Holy Spirit in the warp and woof of the words spoken from the pulpit. Regardless of whether his ministry was exercised in his own pulpit, or across the country, the testimony of his hearers was universally of man used of God to communicate His truth.

In terms of Lloyd-Jones’ significance Murray does not merely emphasise his public ministry, but also the influence for good which he was to exercise over a generation. He was no pulpiteer, but a Pastor whose deep concern for the welfare of church members, fellow ministers, and those under conviction of sin were unquestionable. The work of the Westminster Fellowship and the extraordinary influence it had on the generation following Lloyd-Jones is portrayed in intimate detail, with his judicious work as chairman of many discussions fully illustrated with recorded exchanges. His work in helping to establish or encourage other agencies for God’s truth is also demonstrated, with his help to Geoffrey Williams and ‘The Evangelical Library’ as well as to Iain Murray and Jack Callum with the foundation of ‘The Banner of Truth’ showing his deep concern that historic Christianity be recovered worldwide.

A considerable section of The Fight of Faith is occupied with the controversies and difficulties that were faced by Lloyd-Jones, particularly in the 1960s. With the onset of ecumenism, Lloyd-Jones foresaw the problems which this movement would present to the evangelical world, and issued a clarion call for believers not to become involved in it. His radical stance with regard to those who were labouring in ‘mixed denominations’ led him in to some of his most lonely years. His advocacy of ministers removing themselves from those Churches which were involved in ecumenism was not welcomed, while his call for evangelicals to form a broader unity which transcended denominational lines was largely misunderstood. Murray traces the contour of this debate with candour and care, highlighting those times when Lloyd-Jones did not adequately explain his views, as well as those times when he spoke with an almost prophetic voice concerning the consequences of flirting with ecumenism or liberal theology.

Issues such as Lloyd-Jones’ views on pneumatology are well handled within the biography, with all of the references to the great preacher’s views on the topic carefully footnoted. While open to seeing a work of God by His Spirit, and not immediately dismissive of the fledgling Charismatic movement Lloyd-Jones was not a Pentecostalist. As the Charismatic gained momentum and found its expression through figures such as Du Plessis, Lloyd-Jones was quick to distance himself from it fully. This exposes many of the statements made within the Charismatic church that Lloyd-Jones was their advocate. Murray proves this to be far from the truth.

Lloyd-Jones’ work in the 1970s, following his retirement from Westminster Chapel in 1968, are particularly moving, with his encouragement of other ministers its most prominent feature. The closing section of the book, with its intimate portrayal of Lloyd-Jones preparing himself, his family, and the evangelical community for his death are moving in the extreme.

A regular charge laid at Murray’s door with regard to his writings about Lloyd-Jones is that they stray from biography into hagiography. Such statements can only be made by those who have not fully or carefully reads his works. Murray is routinely critical of certain stances, attitudes, and actions on the part of Lloyd-Jones, and is not slow to suggest ways in which he might have handled certain issues more capably. That Murray respects his subject, harbours great affection for Lloyd-Jones memory, and is grateful to God for His servant are incontestable – but these sentiments lend strength rather than weakness to his biographical writing.

I would not hesitate to call this two volume treatment of Lloyd-Jones my favourite book. It has taught me a lot, has humbled me before an unchanging God, and has challenged me afresh to uphold the sufficiency of God’s Word when taught in the power of God the Holy Spirit, to do the work of God in the world.

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