Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Romans 1:18

I must confess that I would easily trade 50 of today’s sermons for just one sermon by a great expositor such as D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones of last century. His deep and rich treasure chests make most sermons today look like mere tap water. So much preaching today leaves me cold I must say. But I just love to soak up some of the older great preachers, whether a Spurgeon, or a Boice, or a Stott, or so many others.

Consider a lengthy series of sermons Lloyd-Jones preached on the book of Romans. His careful and meticulous exposition of the book covered the years 1955 to 1968, and was eventually turned into 14 volumes. It is a masterful set of sermons, and no one should ignore this masterful work.

Of course Romans itself is a masterful work, perhaps the crown of Pauline theology. So to have around 5000 pages devoted to this marvellous epistle is a wondrous treat. One can never get enough of reading these glorious sermons. The only thing better would have been to hear them preached in person in London.

Image of Romans (Romans Series) Vol 1: Exposition of Chapter 1 - The Gospel of God
Romans (Romans Series) Vol 1: Exposition of Chapter 1 - The Gospel of God by Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Author) Amazon logo

Here I want to draw attention to just one verse – yes, just one verse: Romans 1:18. It is a vitally important verse in Paul’s argument in Romans, and follows on from vv. 16-17 which is the whole of the epistle in summary, and the entire gospel in shorthand.

After summarising the gospel in these two verses, Paul launches into a lengthy elaboration of what the gospel is all about. And this begins in v. 18: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”

Now the incredible thing is that Lloyd-Jones does not spend just one chapter on this verse. Nor two. He spends a full three chapters on this one verse, totalling 55 pages. And the riches found in these chapters are amazing. One could hear a year’s worth of sermons today and they would not equal the value of these three chapters.

One can read them in 30 or 40 minutes, but they need to be read again and again. How many of today’s sermons are even worth a second listen? I am just stunned when I read such works, and wonder how we can have lost so much from the pulpit today.

But here I want to glean a few nuggets from these three chapters, and try to capture a bit of the flavour of what is found here. Lloyd-Jones notes that Paul begins his whole theological argument with the wrath of God: “My dear friends, it is not enough that you and I should be clear about the evangel; our methods of evangelism must correspond to the Scriptures as much as our message does, and here is the method. He starts with the wrath of God, not with the needs of people as such, not with the things which were worrying them, not with that sin which gets them down, which they cannot overcome; nor with their unhappiness, and so on. Not at all! He does not mention these things. Instead, he speaks of the wrath of God!”

He reminds us that this doctrine permeates all of Scripture. It is found all over the Old Testament. And it is all over the New Testament as well. John the Baptist preaches it; Jesus preaches it; the disciples preach it.  Lloyd-Jones explains the importance of all this:

“Now this is so vital for this reason: it is this particular thing, that we are talking about at the moment, that differentiates the Christian message from all the cults. There are so many cults being offered to men in the world today, and they all come and they offer them happiness; they offer them deliverance from something that gets them down. That is always their approach; of course, it is bound to be, they must have something to recommend themselves, and they make their particular message so attractive…

“The one thing that makes it impossible for you ever to put this gospel in line with the cults is that it invariably starts with God, and holds men and women face to face with Him and their relationship to Him. Christian people, let us never so represent the gospel that men and women may mistake it for a cult. Let us be scriptural in our method as well as in our message.”

But the remarkable thing here is what Lloyd-Jones says about the mark of a cult 50 years ago is today the mark of most of our churches – even evangelical churches! Today how many so-called Bible-believing churches put things back to front?

How many churches today put all their emphasis on how men can be served, made to feel good, have their problems solved, make lots of money, and be successful? How many churches today are simply preaching a man-centred gospel which puts men as the priority, as if we are doing God a favour by adding him into the mix?

Lloyd-Jones has nailed it here, and it is such a tragedy that so much of the modern church has moved so far away from the gospel which Paul and the disciples proclaimed. As Lloyd-Jones says, “The business of the gospel is to bring people to God, and to reconcile them to God. Not to fill churches! Not to have good statistics! But to reconcile men to God – to save them from the wrath to come.”

That must be our message. It is God who has been wronged and it is God that we need to get right with. It is not about flattering people and making them feel good about themselves. It is about letting everyone know that our sin is so heinous that Jesus had to come to earth and die for our sins. We deserve the wrath of God, but he graciously offers us a way out.

But as Lloyd-Jones rightly notes, most people do not want to hear about this: “I suppose really there is nothing about the Christian message that is so hated, so much objected to, as this particular doctrine. And therefore I conceive it to be my duty in expounding this great passage, not simply to note and to mention the wrath of God, but to show you its integral place, its vital place in biblical preaching, in New Testament evangelism.”

Ten times alone in this epistle Paul speaks about the wrath of God. It is no mere tangential doctrine, but the heart of the gospel. If so, we may need to be far less flippant and cavalier about what we teach and preach: “I cannot understand a jocular evangelist. . . . Go back and read the lives of the men whom God has used in the mightiest manner, and you will invariably find that they were serious men, sober men, men with the fear of the Lord in them; ‘knowing the terror of the Lord’, they all said with the Apostle Paul. They were not afraid of the people or what they might think of the message; they were only afraid of what God might think of it, and so they started with it and proclaimed it, and God used it.”

The truth is, we can never fully appreciate the love of God until we understand the wrath of God. And we can never fully understand the wrath of God until we understand the enormity of our sin. “God hates sin. Sin is abhorrent to God. There should be no difficulty about the term ‘hate’. If you recognize love in God you must recognize hate also. All that is opposed to God is hateful to God.”

He continues, “it is clear that the very character and being of God as holy, makes this doctrine quite inevitable. You cannot mix light and darkness. You cannot conceive of sin as existing in the presence of God. God’s holiness insists upon this doctrine of the wrath of God. God must deal with sin. God must show his hatred of it. It is part of His own holiness and His greatness and glory that He should do so….

“The wrath is as much revealed as is the righteousness of God by faith. Therefore I do not hesitate to say that ultimately you cannot believe verse seventeen unless you believe verse eighteen as well – indeed, you will never see the real need for verse seventeen if you do not believe verse eighteen. The two things go together.”

Yes the two are inseparable. Calvary only makes sense when both the love of God and his wrath against sin are held together. “If you do not see the wrath of God when you look at the cross of Calvary’s Hill, it is very certain that you do not see the love of God either. It is there that you see the wrath of God revealed. . . . It is only as you have some conception of the depth of His wrath that you will understand the depth of His love.”

There is so very much more terrific material in these three chapters. His writing on the glory of God – what it means and how we are to pursue it – is priceless. So too is his exposition on what sin is – as opposed to sins. But all that will have to wait for another article. Suffice it to say that this sort of preaching is rarely heard nowadays.

Not only is this style of preaching quite rare (that is, detailed and careful expository preaching) but the message is rarely heard as well. Just ask yourself when was the last time you heard the wrath of God mentioned in a sermon in your church. Or judgment, or sin, or holiness, for that matter.

These seem to be long-lost doctrines that almost never get a hearing today. Yet if these vital biblical truths are not preached, then all the sermons in the world on the love of God will of necessity only be weak, ineffectual, and of course only half the truth.

We need to return to the preaching of old, the message of old, and the whole counsel of God. We do ourselves no favours when we water down the gospel to please men, fill auditoriums, and be popular. We instead simply dishonour God and let down those we are meant to be reaching.

[1733 words]

22 Replies to “Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Romans 1:18”

  1. Bill, I have been thinking about this subject a lot lately. I think the virus of Progress has not only infected our entire society, but it has become a tenet of today’s Christian faith. Rather than looking at the good things in our lives as blessings from God, we have made them our purpose, our objective. Do we think their presence in our lives is a badge signifying our righteousness?

    After reading your article, I went back to my email and (no joke) the very next email was from a large and mainline church here in the Dallas area with this message for me:

    It would be my privilege to guide you through the TEN SECRETS for success from God’s Word – secrets God wants to reveal to us so we can be free to experience and accomplish all He has planned for our lives.
    – A greater level of financial security than you have ever known,
    – More satisfaction in your family and friendships than you ever hoped for,
    – A greater level of success in your work than you thought possible, and
    – Realizing more of your dreams than you ever imagined!

    Now that I am paying attention and doing a lot of reading, it is clear that there were plenty of people with loud voices of warning back in the 60s and 70s….we completely ignored them.

    Boyd Hawkins

  2. Very sobering to learn that it was God’s wrath and holiness put *before* the needs of the people. This is probably a recipe for greater happiness as the less we are focused on ourselves the more happy we are likely to be.

    If you chase happiness you will lose it but if you fix on something external (ie God) then you will gain.

    “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Matt 16:25

    Damien Spillane

  3. Lloyd-Jones is an exceptional expositor. Not many preachers will achieve that gifted standard. However, the desire to be an expositor is far from the thinking of most preachers I hear in Australia today. The ‘fluff’ from the pulpit goes with the shallowness in the rock ‘n roll lyrics of the songs that are sung. I find most of the tunes unsingable!

    It is 8 months since my wife and I moved to Brisbane and the only expositor we have found is as dry as dust to listen to. He doesn’t know how to illustrate, apply and gab the attention.

    I’m of the view that we have a crisis in the pulpit. We visited a Baptist church a couple weeks ago and when a retired pastor in the congregation met us as we left the service, he said that this new church plant had to “meet the culture”. My response was that it was accommodating to the culture. The church of the first few centuries “met the culture” and influenced the Roman Empire. How? With the preaching of the Gospel.

    I’m tired of the froth and bubble from the singers and the preaching. We are in desperate need of a Holy Spirit revival that gets us back to faithful preaching of the Scriptures – from the text – and not some “story” that doesn’t relate to the text.

    I’m not holding my breath waiting for it to change as the contemporary approach seems to be coming from our training colleges.

    Spencer Gear

  4. I am doing a series at my church on the Cross, and my first sermon in the series was about the wrath of God. It didn’t make sense to me to preach about the Cross without starting with the doctrine of the Wrath of God.

    Thanks for that article Bill, I might buy the book.

    Fadi Raad

  5. Ahh rich rich rich Bill, it seems the preaching of the gospel in the early church was under girded by the reality of what the prophets had said and warned against in the Old Testament, especially the wrath to come and the day of the Lord. Something God centered. Today the messages seem man and his needs centered, usually after an hour of mind numbing sound and fury signifying nothing, stuff. Frankly I have no interest in attending services, more rightly called concerts with 15 minutes of pop psychology, positive self talk and slick cliche’s.

    Spencer describes it perfectly, I may not be very articulate but on the occasions we do attend a service it is increasingly irritating and we want to get up and leave. I would go a long way to hear someone like M.L Jones but where are they? Years ago even in the AOG we used to have these great English or Welsh bible teachers come thru and we sat on the edge of our seats at the wonderful truths they dug out. I think it all says a lot of what passes for bible colleges today, they seem to teach everything but a knowledge of the bible. I don’t know of one I could recommend.

    Rob Withall

  6. Talking about a warming of the body, it happened to me just as read this passage.
    (How many churches today put all their emphasis on how men can be served, made to feel good, have their problems solved, make lots of money, and be successful? How many churches today are simply preaching a man-centred gospel which puts men as the priority, as if we are doing God a favour by adding him into the mix?)
    Not so much a warming for me, rather a tingling or buzzing maybe even a ever so slight electrical shock that vibrates through my body. Sometimes it happens when i pray.
    Daniel Kempton

  7. God bless you. I have been a christian for only 2 years, and have recently felt God drawing me to some old books blessings and curses by derick prince and blood on the doorposts. i have read these books with such a hunger and have been of the same opinion, what we need preached is a good dose of some old truths, that still today are the same truths, i have got more from these books than anything else from our Sunday service. Holiness is something that we need to hear more of along with the word that puts fear and trembling into the hearts of those who are keeping seats warm. Water downed preaching only serves one purpose, ammunition for Satans workers to hold captive the broken hearted and to keep the the captives bound, the word of God is the living word designed to breathe life into the dry bones of the living dead. For us to be obedient to our creator we need to come before God with fear and trembling to hear those all important words well done my good and faithful servant, for you i am well pleased. there is nothing more pleasing to him than to hear his word preached in all its entirety, spoken the way it was meant to be spoken with boldness. When we said Jesus you are my Lord and saviour and i believe you died on the cross for me we need to take into our heart exactly what that really meant you have explained this in such a perfect way. God bless you
    Michelle O’Neill

  8. I was blessed to be converted in Wales and having the teaching of Vernon Higham who was mentored by Martyn Lloyd Jones. It was like meat to my starving soul. Once heard, never forget, no matter how far you try to run from it. What really upsets me is how words to hymns are being changed. One example is ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ where they have changed ‘with the Cross of Jesus going on before’ to ‘with the love of Jesus going on before’. The Cross was so significant in my conversion as indeed I feel of course in every conversion, and as you, say how can we know the ‘love of God’ unless we know His Wrath. Which is demonstrated on the Cross. Until we see and know that great sacrifice how can we realise the great love. Mr Higham used to say ” no further than the Cross we cling, no higher than His feet” I feel in my Christian walk I constantly visit the Cross to help me realise His Amazing Love. I am a sinner saved by Grace.
    Fay Allinson

  9. Spencer Gear. I fully sympathise with your description of what you meet by way of a church meeting in Brisbane. It is typical of what can be found in the great majority, almost without exception right throughout ‘western churches’ – UK, USA, Australia and elsewhere. Leaving aside Dr DMLJ aside for a moment as somewhat special and unique in his gifts and ministry. I suggest that there is a fundamental and basic fault line running through all of these churches, namely that they are closed systems which exalt and institutionalise things which God has not sanctioned and which cut us off from the source of real spiritual growth, namely one another.

    These are churches which have largely abandoned the New Testament criteria for meeting together which is for mutual edification.
    Radical and revolutionary as it may sound our meetings are not to perpetuate the practice of a “worship service” (not found in the NT), or of a ‘sermon’, or the role of a monologue by a ‘preacher/pastor’ week by week, or of a passive non participatory ‘audience, in complete neglect of the NT clear teaching about the functioning of the priesthood of ALL believers in an open meetings as given us in 1 Corinthians 12-14. The early church meeting was the God-created environment that produced spiritual growth, both corporately and individually (Eph. 4:11-16). We grow into spiritual maturity (and blessing) when we allow the many varied parts of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12) to actually function and to minister Christ to us. (1 Cor. 12:7) As somebody rightly asked: ‘How is that in many people can hear good preaching all their lives and yet not know who or what God is?

    I am not against preaching in its rightful context as primarily an evangelistic activity (not to be confused with teaching) aimed at the unconverted and outside the Christian gathering.
    Inside the church, with preaching directed at Christians it is merely a tradition, a one way monologue, and which is the greatest single barrier to a church functioning with mutual ministries as intended.

    Please explain why we totally ignore the NT pattern and substitute instead the closed ‘system’ which has minimum benefit, and minimum corporate edification which Paul teaches is the object of our meeting? (the word ‘edify’ occurs 8 times in 1 Cor 14 – all in the context of ‘body ministry’) Much more could be said, but I believe this identifies a major element of error in the majority of our churches.

    Graham Wood, UK

  10. Graham, appreciate your thoughtful comments to Spencer Gear! As I’m working though a few things at moment, and sorry to digress from Bill’s topic, but after reading what you have said, particularly the re: “I am not against preaching in its rightful context as primarily an evangelistic activity (not to be confused with teaching) aimed at the unconverted and outside the Christian gathering”, what do you think of Street Preaching?

    Eg: If it is okay, should Street Preaching be done in, for example, a city mall, street corner or public area (where it is legal), but people are swearing at the preacher/s to get out?

    Trevor Grace

  11. Dear Bill, Thank you for your timely choice of that great Puritan preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who was England’s most outstanding physician when God called him to an unknown work in Wales. His studies have been preserved under Google by his devoted daughter and grandson, and available online.
    In a privileged meeting with him, he inquired the source of the revival in Indonesia in the 70’s when 10 million believers were added to our Lord’s church. ‘Was it based on the authority of the Word of God?’ I assured him that was the secret. Petrus octavianus and his two German brothers taught faithfully in the Batu Bible College. During vacation, teams preached the whole counsel of God across Indonesia. Kurt Koch told the story of these revivals. Calvary, resurrection, His intercession dominated their preaching.
    When he prayed, his beloved Bethan led him homewards, ‘Martin you need rest.’ God had graced me with that sweet fellowship.
    Bill may I also give our web site for those who have indicated their parched yearning for the precious word.
    http://www.biblestories.stellaris.com.au or
    Christian Family Bible studies. Thousands of hours recorded of MP3 listening in Russian Federation and Ukraine in one year.
    Harrold Steward

  12. Graham, thank you for your kind comments. I’m of the view that a radical church will get back to:

    1 Corinthians 14:26: “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (NIV).

    In our contemporary ‘froth and bubble’ churches, there is a close down of the 1 Cor. 14:26 kind of ministry, not only in the large gatherings (which make such function impossible or very difficult), but also this every-member ministry of the gifts doesn’t happen in the home groups of the local church – even with the charismatics and Pentecostals.

    I have a heartache for a return to the 1 Cor. 14:26 functioning church.

    Spencer Gear

  13. Romans 1:17 without Romans 1:18 is just as useless as John 3:16 without the following 4 verses. I have often wondered why John 3:16 and 17 weren’t written in reverse, it would have made more sense that way. Is it because God knew our fragility, that we need the good news before the bad or is it because he wanted to see how trustworthy we can be with the whole counsel of God?
    Many blessings,
    Ursula Bennett

  14. Trevor, Thanks for your comments – though we are both slightly off topic. You ask about street preaching. I agree that of course where possible, and with those who are gifted to do it, then it should be done. Indeed is it not the NT norm as exercised by the Lord himself, the Apostles and the early church?. God has often owned it subsequently – think of the Wesleys and Whitefield in 18th century Britain.

    However, generally we seem to have reversed the biblical pattern with “preaching” in the church directed at Christians, and very little by way of evangelistic outreach to those who would never ‘darken the doors’.
    I was attempting to make the main point that there is no case for the former at all! It is a deeply entrenched tradition which replaces the opportunity for the whole church to be engaged in mutual ministry. The question arises: why is the pattern shown to us in 1 Cor. 12-14 so wilfuly ignored?

    Spencer, thanks too for your comments – I think we are on the same track!. Several of these issues are dealt with very effectively by Jon Zens in his small book ‘The Pastor Has No Clothes’.

    Graham Wood

  15. Hi Bill,
    A most timely reminder for me today while watching the memorial service for Margaret Whitlam on the TV.
    It struck me while seeing close up so many former politicians and the current movers and shakers of our land (many of whom are atheists of course) sitting there in a Christian church hearing the Word of God.
    I wondered what they were thinking, like all of us, our turn is coming ! and we get to meet our Creator one day. It was a sobering reminder for me, I fear God more than earthly death, thanks be to Jesus and a cross.

    Proverbs 9:10
    “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

    Dallas James

  16. I’m very pleased to say I am part of a church that does not leave the subject of God’s wrath untouched. In fact it is very commonly spoken of, as it is a major part of the gospel as it should be.
    Mario Del Giudice

  17. Yes, I have just come across the work of Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones.

    My heart burns when I hear the expository preaching of Romans. Oh how I wish we could hear such preaching of the Gospel where the wrath of God meets with the love of God on the Cross of His Beloved Son.

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