CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Lloyd-Jones on Heresy

Mar 11, 2019

I came upon a great quote by the great Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones today, and so I did a quick hunt for where it originally appeared. It did not take long to find the relevant volume. Given that anything by the Doctor is always worth running with and sharing far and wide, when I found the piece I figured it was well worth turning into an article.

The quote itself is this: “The great concern of the New Testament Epistles is not about the size of the Church, it is about the purity of the Church.” That in itself is a terrific line and certainly worth promoting. But the entire surrounding context is also great stuff, so let me share more of it with you.

It comes from his 8-volume collection of sermons on the book of Ephesians. In his volume The Christian Warfare he expounds upon Eph. 6:10-13. And this quote comes from chapter 8, “Heresies,” (found on pp. 108-120). In it he is commenting on a portion of Eph. 6:11: “Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”

Needless to say, the entire chapter is important reading, but let me offer portions of it here. He begins by noting how we err in underestimating the reality of a personal devil. This malevolent being is not just some vague and generic ‘principle of evil.’ Instead, says Lloyd-Jones:

A principle cannot be subtle. It is only a person who can be subtle. ‘The wiles of the devil!’ The Apostle’s whole object is to tell us that we are not fighting merely against flesh and blood, merely against some principle, or absence of principle, which is within us as flesh and blood, as men and women. He goes out of his way to say that it is quite otherwise. In other words what he says is the exact opposite of what is being taught commonly at the present time.

He continues in this vein for a bit, saying this “digression is important,” and then he goes on to look at some of the strategies of the devil. One general strategy is for people to flee from reality and eschew the “negative”. He says that many folks during the last great war who just “wanted to be happy and to enjoy themselves, and dismissed the man who kept on warning us as a ‘warmonger’, a ‘difficult person’ with whom nobody could work…” He then says:

Precisely the same, it seems to me, is happening in the realm of the spiritual today. People say, ‘Do not be negative; let us be positive; let us just preach the simple gospel’. But the Bible is full of negatives, full of warnings, ever showing us these terrible possibilities. If you find in yourself a dislike of the warnings of the Scripture and of this negative teaching, it is obvious that you have been duped by the wiles of the devil. You have not realized the situation in which you are placed.

He then gets to the issue of heresy. He goes into some detail here and is worth quoting at length. Says Lloyd-Jones:

A heresy is ‘a denial of or a doubt concerning any defined, established Christian doctrine’. There is a difference between heresy and apostasy. Apostasy means ‘a departure from the Christian truth’. It may be a total renunciation or denial of it, or it may be a misrepresentation of it to such an extent that it becomes a denial of the whole truth. But a heresy is more limited in its scope. To be guilty of heresy, and to be a heretic, means that in the main you hold to the doctrines of the Christian faith, but that you tend to go wrong on some particular doctrine or aspect of the faith. The New Testament itself shows us clearly that this tendency to heresy had already begun even in the days of the early Church. Have you not noticed in the New Testament Epistles the frequent references to these things? There is scarcely one of them that does not include mention of some particular heresy that was creeping in, and tending to threaten the life of some particular church. It is seen in this Epistle to the Ephesians; it is still more plain, perhaps, in the Epistle to the Colossians where heretical tendencies were entering through philosophy and other agencies. It is found likewise in the Epistles to Timothy.

Incipient heresy can be detected from the very earliest days. There is an enemy who comes and sows tares. I am not applying that parable in detail, I am using it as an illustration to show the kind of thing we are considering. The enemy’s object, of course, is to disturb the life of the Church, to shake the confidence of Christian people, to spoil God’s work in Christ. The Epistles were in a sense written to counteract these evils. The threat was already there in many different forms, for before the New Testament closes, all the major heresies were beginning to show their heads in the Early Church.

But from the second century of the Christian era the evil becomes still more evident and obvious. The simple fact is that for several centuries the Christian Church was literally fighting for her very life. With the conversion, and the coming in, of those who were trained in Greek philosophy and teaching, all kinds of dangers immediately arose, and the danger became so great as to threaten the whole life of the Church. People who called themselves Christians, and moved in the realm of the Church, began to propagate teachings that were denials of Christian truth. The threat became so great that the leaders of the Churches held certain great Councils in order to define the Christian faith. Their object was to pinpoint heresies, and to protect the people from believing them. Such confusion had come in that people did not know what was right and what was wrong. So the leaders met together in these great Councils, and promulgated their famous Creeds, such as The Athanasian Creed, The Nicene Creed, and The Apostles’ Creed.

These Creeds were attempts on the part of the Church to define, and to lay down, what is true and what is not true. And in this way they were able to brand certain teachers as heretics, and to exclude them from the life of the Christian Church. The confusion that led to the drawing up of the Creeds was a great manifestation of the wiles of the devil. And today there are many people who recite these Creeds in their churches every Sunday, and then in conversation tell you that what you believe does not matter at all — ‘believe anything you like!’ But the Creeds are a permanent reminder to us of the wiles of the devil in this respect.

Image of The Christian warfare: An exposition of Ephesians 6:10 to 13
The Christian warfare: An exposition of Ephesians 6:10 to 13 by David Martyn Lloyd-Jones Amazon logo

He is aware that many believers today have little time for all this. But they ignore these matters at their own peril:

Is there someone who feels at this point, ‘Well, really, what has all this to do with me? I am an ordinary person, I am a member of the Church and life is very difficult. What has all this to say to me?’ Or there may be someone who is recovering after illness and who says ‘Well, I was hoping to have a word of comfort, something to strengthen me along the way, something to make me feel a little happier; what has all this about Creeds and Confessions and the wiles of the devil to do with me?’ If you feel like that, the truth is that the devil has defeated you. The Apostle Paul says, ‘Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners’ (I Corinthians 15:33). He means that wrong teaching is desperately dangerous. He is there dealing with the great question of the resurrection, he is concerned with that one doctrine, and he says, Make no mistake about this; it is not a matter of indifference as to whether you believe in the literal physical resurrection or not. ‘Ah but,’ you say, ‘I am a practical man of affairs, I am not interested in doctrine, I am not a theologian, I have no time for these things. All I want is something to help me to live my daily life.’ But according to the Apostle you cannot divorce these things, ‘Evil communications’ —wrong teaching, wrong thinking, wrong belief — ‘corrupt good manners’. It will affect the whole of your life.

One of the first things you are to learn in this Christian life and warfare is that, if you go wrong in your doctrine, you will go wrong in all aspects of your life. You will probably go wrong in your practice and behaviour; and you will certainly go wrong in your experience. Why is it that people are defeated by the things that happen to them? Why is it that some people are completely cast down if they are taken ill, or if someone who is dear to them is taken ill? They were wonderful Christians when all was going well; the sun was shining, the family was well, everything was perfect, and you would have thought that they were the best Christians in the country. But suddenly there is an illness and they seem to be shattered, they do not know what to do or where to turn, and they begin to doubt God. They say, ‘We were living the Christian life, and we were praying to God, and our lives had been committed to God; but look at what is happening. Why should this happen to us?’ They begin to doubt God and all His gracious dealings with them. Do such people need ‘a bit of comfort’? Do they need the church simply as a kind of soporific or tranquillizer? Do they only need something which will make them feel a little happier, and lift the burden a little while they are in the church?

Their real trouble is that they lack an understanding of the Christian faith. They have an utterly inadequate notion of what Christianity means. Their idea of Christianity was: ‘Believe in Christ and you will never have another trouble or problem; God will bless you, nothing will ever go wrong with you’; whereas the Scripture itself teaches that ‘through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22), or as the Apostle expresses it elsewhere, ‘In nothing be terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake’ (Philippians 1:28-29). Our Lord says, ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33). There is nothing which is so wrong, and so utterly false, as to fail to see the primary importance of true doctrine. Looking back over my experience as a pastor for some thirty-four years, I can testify without the slightest hesitation that the people I have found most frequently in trouble in their spiritual experience have been those who have lacked understanding. You cannot divorce these things. You will go wrong in the realms of practical living and experience if you have not a true understanding….

Nothing is more urgently relevant, whether we think of ourselves in particular or the Church in general, than that we should be aware of heresy. Take the New Testament, take the history of the Christian Church, or take individual Christian experience, and you will see that true doctrine is always urgently relevant. It is of supreme importance for the whole life of the Church. The Holy Spirit is the power in the Church, and the Holy Spirit will never honour anything except His own Word. It is the Holy Spirit who has given this Word. He is its Author. It is not of men! Nor is the Bible the product of ‘flesh and blood’. The Apostle Paul was not simply giving expression to contemporary teaching or his own thoughts. He says, ‘I received it by revelation’. It was given to him, given to him by the Lord, the risen Lord, through the Holy Spirit. So I am arguing that the Holy Spirit will honour nothing but His own Word. Therefore if we do not believe and accept His Word, or if in any way we deviate from it, we have no right to expect the blessing of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will honour truth, and will honour nothing else. Whatever else we may do, if we do not honour this truth He will not honour us.

I would love to continue quoting from this vital chapter, but I have already gone too long here. If you do not have his eight volumes on Ephesians, they are of course well-worth getting. But in the meantime, if you want to read his entire chapter, you will find it here: www.the-highway.com/heresies_Lloyd-Jones.html

[2189 words]

24 Responses to Lloyd-Jones on Heresy

  • The whole armor is very necessary. There is a quote in babylon 5 that i feel it quite right for this time: “we are surrounded by signs and portents and I feel a darkness pressing at our backs”. keep safe the enemy is on the prowl.

  • Hi Bill,

    I am very inspired by men such as Martin Lloyd Jones, J.I Packer and Charles Spurgeon. I understand why you admire them so much.

    Their preaching and teaching is, in so many areas, rock solid. And very convicting. They do not try to please man, but rather just speak the truth and please God.

    But I struggle to overlook their Calvinism . This is probably an issue I need to deal with personally, that is, maybe I am the one overreacting. I admit this.

    But quoting from your article:
    “If you go wrong in your doctrine, you will go wrong in all aspects of your life”
    “There is nothing which is so wrong, and so utterly false, as to fail to see the primary importance of true doctrine”
    “Wrong teaching is desperately dangerous”

    Well, with this in mind, this is some of what Calvinism teaches:
    1. God did not die for all.
    2. God decrees (causes) ALL things that happen – this includes every rape, murder, abortion.
    (see John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 1, Chapter 16, Paragraph 3 and Book 1, Chapter 17, Paragraph 11)
    3. God predestines most people to hell
    (see John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 21, Paragraph 5 and Book 3, Chapter 23, Paragraph 6)

    To me, this is a significant deviation from the Bible? I personally do not understand why this doctrine gets a free pass? It seems wrong to me. God is Holy.

    But in all other areas I consider these men head and shoulders above the rest. God has certainly used them to spread the Gospel. And they certainly stand firm against the more liberal teachings sneaking into the Church.

    So should doctrine force me to avoid them?

    Kyle

  • Mr M, at his very best. I loved that Mr M. I could not find the 8 volume set- Ephesians on, Amazon UK. I wasn’t intending buying it obviously, but I was interested in seeing what the books looked like. I did see this book:- Christian Marriage: From Basic Principles to Transformed Relationships by the same author you mention. Would this be suitable for me to read or is it really for old adults? There is a copy that is available that isn’t new for less than £5.00. I don’t mind at all if it’s not new, but I would be disappointed if I found it hard to understand.

  • Thanks Sarah. I have around 70 books by MLJ but I do not have that one. But based on those 70, I am sure his volume on marriage would be well-worth reading.

  • I don’t know what bill will say Kyle but truth is truth even when coming from a flawed vessel. if you stay away from the areas they get things off you can still find much wisdom from them. none of us has everything right the best we can do is learn what we can from people and disregard what they have wrong. main thing is the most fundamental elements”

    The inerrancy of the Bible
    The literal nature of the biblical accounts, especially regarding Christ’s miracles and the Creation account in Genesis
    The virgin birth of Christ
    The bodily resurrection and physical return of Christ
    The substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross

    if they have them right then they are with it. while I understand the issue regarding predestination and who christ died for comes under the last we know christians are saved by his atonement and that they agree just that they disagree with who can become christian. mainly they confuse God’s knowledge (who would choose to come to christ and who wouldn’t) with predestination (choosing who goes to heaven and who goes to hell). Just because he knows who will choose christ doesn’t mean he forces that choice.

    I say get what you can with them and use multiple people to get as much truth as you can. as too why it gets a free pass we all have blind spots things we KNOW are true so we refuse to even examine them. how many christians get thrown out of churches today for correctly challenging a pastor on his incorrect belief because he KNOWS the truth and will not allow anyone to point out otherwise. sometimes pastors and theologians are the toughest to reason with because they are so sure they are right that they won’t even entertain the possibility they are wrong. (God would not let the be wrong)(often they rely on pointing out the years in the ministry as if believing a lie for a long time makes it true) Especially if they have not been challenged in years or ever.

  • Thanks Kyle and Paul. Sorry, I am just back from interstate. Life keeps busy! Paul in good measure gives the sort of answer I might have given. Kyle’s understanding of Calvinism might be a bit askew here, and there is much more to it than a few quick quotes of course. So Calvin is not quite fairly being represented in those short remarks. And all the issues discussed – predestination, the sovereignty of God, and the extent of the atonement (however one views it) – can find plenty of biblical support. How we understand these issues might be another matter. Consider just one of these matters, which I seek to address in more detail:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2017/06/12/predestination-election-new-testament-data/

    I might have to do more articles on these sorts of issues in the future. But thanks to both of you.

  • “Thanks, Sarah. I have around 70 books by MLJ but I do not have that one. But based on those 70, I am sure his volume on marriage would be well-worth reading”.

    Mr M, are you mocking me again? How can you have 70 books by this one author and I actively collect books by CS Lewis and I only have 18? Katie has pointed out to me, however, that if I get that copy of ‘Christian Marriage: From Basic Principles to Transformed Relationships’ I will have one book in my library you do not have, so I will ask my dad if I may order that book. I want you to know I may get my dad or brother to construct a special shelf which will be labelled, the book Mr M does not have that I do. Do not think I will ever sell you this last one remaining copy of this much sort after book, which is probably a first edition and signed by the author, which if I can get my 1960s pen that you have to put dye into to make it work, yes Mr M, us professional writers have proper pens like in the films. That book will not only be signed by the author but will have inscribed in it, ‘the last remaining copy of my best work I leave to Sarah, as I didn’t want greedy Mr M to have it.

    S&K xx.

  • Thanks Miss C and Miss M. Hmm, I better not tell you then how many Lewis books I have (although it is around 40!). So yes, you may have one book that I do not have, but next time I spot it second hand somewhere I will grab it, and then you will be back to square one!

  • Mr M, MR Wilson’s comment was brilliant. I do not understand what the problem is with Calvinists, to be honest like Mr Wilson says and I paraphrase take from others first what you hold in common with them and Mr Wilsons list of minimal requirements is universally accepted by all Christians including Calvinists at least the ones I have met anyway.

    I think one of the best online sermons to watch is John MacArthur and he is if I am not mistaken Calvinist Baptist whatever that is. If I listen to his sermons he says nothing that would go against my dads teaching or my church’s, which is evangelical conservative Christian. likewise Apologia church (studios) they have James white who is a Calvinist. apologia Church has as its mission to save little babies from slaughter from abortionists. I think we ought to judge by the fruits and the fruits are little babies are being saved from the executioner, then and only then will that baby have the opportunity in later life to argue over such matters as predestination. I wonder if that baby in later life will hug the predestinationist or those who criticise the one that stepped forward to save its life. I am trying not to criticise anyone since the question was based on theology by all concerned other than me, and I am openly admitting if I could save even one of those little babies and have the opportunity to love it even for an hour I would turn my back on my evangelical extremely good Bible teaching church and join Apologia Church since they would, and do, teach all the basic tenets of my own church + they save, little babies.

    The moral of the story perhaps is never let women rule over a family or a church since she would sell it to the devil to save even one little baby, as for the man, the church will be safe in his hands, heaven help the baby though, as only heaven will.

    Just thinking about those little babies makes my blood boil.

    I think you are going to have to do an article on this important topic, Mr M since we need to be united if we are going to bring abortion to an end, and you do not want your daughter in Christ doing another deal with the Apple tempter.

  • Thanks Bill. Thanks Paul. I appreciate your comments and response made above on this issue.
    I guess it will all be explained to us in Heaven.
    Kyle.

  • Hi Sarah,

    I too support Jeff Durbin at Apologia when it comes to calling out the evils of abortion.
    However, I am familiar with both Jeff Durbin and James White’s theology and they would both certainly say that God decrees (predestines) every abortion for his own purpose and glory.

    Now take another issue like sexual abuse. Would you tell an abused victim it was God’s divine purpose that it happened? That little ‘truth’ may send them to suicide! It would be a terrible thing to say. But that is exactly what they believe.

    I would rather say to that victim ‘God loves you’ and forbids people to do such evil things.

    Kyle

  • Thanks again Kyle. I do not mean to belabour all this, as the article was mainly about putting the Word of God first, etc., and NOT yet another debate on Calvinism vs Arminianism. Those battles can be fought in so many other places that they really do not need to be all rehashed here. But two brief remarks if I may.

    One, I am not a Calvinist as such (nor an Arminian), but I tend to lean in the Reformed direction. However, I am more than happy to quote folks when they have truth. I may not agree with everything that Calvin or Wesley or Lloyd-Jones or Stott, etc, says, but I am happy to quote from them when they speak truth.

    Two, as far as the old Calvinist/Arminian wars, it is always good form to fairly represent one’s opponents, and not simply resort to cheap shots and the like. Anyone can pick out something, isolated from context and fuller beliefs, and present it in a harsh and pejorative fashion, quite misrepresenting their actual beliefs. I could do that easily with the writings of the Arminians as well. So to claim that Calvin said that God ‘decrees every rape, murder, abortion’ when in fact he did not say that is being rather malicious and unfair. I pulled out my Institutes BTW to double check. Did you, or did you just pick this up from some anti-Calvinist video or website? And of course anyone – be it Calvin or his followers – who speak on this would have plenty more to say to give it its proper balance, nuance and clarity. So we would also have lengthy discussions about things like God’s decretive will versus his permissive will and so on.

    Bumper sticker misrepresentations of what important theologians have said really help no one. And if you want to drag in people like White here I could easily ask him to give the fuller version of events which he would have elaborated upon in tens of thousands of words, and not the truncated and misleading version. But as I say, we are somewhat veering off topic here. So thanks again.

  • Hi Bill,
    Point taken. I do get a bit passionate on this topic.
    I know my comments were brief, but honestly, I could write a very lengthy Scriptural defence on my position.
    I just try to keep my comments short on your website.
    Anyway – I apologise. I can tell from your response that I crossed a line.
    I certainly want to be part of this forum. And I very much support what you do.
    kind regards,
    Kyle.

  • Thanks Kyle. It is not so much crossing a line as setting up a straw man to knock down. Proper theological debates require a bit more. Perhaps I will do more pieces on all these matters, but given how complex it all can get, with entire libraries already penned on these topics, a few short 1500-word articles will barely do it justice, even in an introductory fashion. Bless ya!

  • Kyle as a person who was molested by my grandfather, as well as other members of my family, I can say God has used it, as well as my ASD and social phobia and lack of friends in childhood, to make me a better christian. (While I believe it caused homosexual feelings in me I was not able to act when young for above reasons and after getting stronger in my faith have not acted on them. I understand the struggle homosexuals have but I know what is right by God and stick to it.) Only looking back now can I see that. I am 41 but now understand things from my childhood much better. If I was so predestined to be molested so be it. it has helped me grow close to God. the whole predestination thing is a bit above me I know I am a christian and so I don’t worry about predestination. I try to do as much as I can with in my limitations to be a good christian. I get ignored mostly by I still plug away even though I sometimes wonder why bother talking to people who don’t listen. sometimes you feel like they guy wearing a cardboard placard with “the end is near” on it.

  • The question I have is whether when claimed Christian groups state outright that what God calls an abomination and a mortal sin, like homosexuality, something that should be blessed, is that heresy or apostasy? My reading of scripture is that this is clearly apostasy and will result in the person’s second death. You simply cannot actively oppose what God has said in either the New nor the Original, Jewish Covenants and be allowed to continue in that active opposition to God. This is effectively putting yourself in the position of being God yourself which was Satan’s sin of pride in the first place. Satan had to be removed by a war in Heaven but, in the case of humans, those who do this are not allowed into Heaven in the first place and are retained in Hell.

    My understanding of heresy is that, while the belief is wrong it is not necessarily mortal i.e. it will not necessarily result in the second death whereas apostasy means something akin to divorce and means the person is no longer covered by the New Covenant (or the original covenant in the case of the Jews) just as a divorce in humans means people are no longer covered by the marriage contract. The Jews who accused the early Christians of being apostate were, by the letter of the Old Covenant law, correct and Paul explains this by stating that the death of Jesus released people from the first covenant and allowed them to be covered by the New. There is, however, no such provision in the New Covenant. People who demonstrate they do not believe in God by opposing what He has repeatedly said, simply do not have coverage under the New Covenant and certainly not under the Old. As in all things God has allowed the necessary provision for mercy because without mercy none of us would make it, but contrary to what many groups preach, God’s grace and mercy is not a given. There is a threshold after which mercy is removed, not because God is harsh, because God will prove otherwise through His mercy, but because opposition to God is objectively unworkable.

  • That’s two times this week that Lloyd-Jones quotes have blessed me. Thanks for sharing yours.
    I don’t suppose you have a recommendation for a book of his that would be a good one for a first read?
    Not to be too picky, but one that can be chipped away at a bit at a time by someone currently mothering five smallish children, homeschooling three of them- who wakes at five being bounced on by several of the aformentioned small people?
    If it’s not too much to ask 🙂

  • Thanks Lauren. Hmm, a tough call with so much to choose from. But perhaps his classic Studies in the Sermon on the Mount might be a good one – found either in two volumes or one larger volume.

  • >>Mr Bracher
    I have generated two posts to you Mr Bracher, but Mr M nullified the first by one of his posts and the book thief did it again in his second post. Lol.

    I can see this subject is important to you and you have a passion for it, however, the post you sent me had logical errors in that I think are worth addressing with you as once you see them you will realise what you point out as errors and problems go away if you approach them in a realistic way.

    I agree with Mr M that this is not the place to do it, but if you want to communicate on this via email I am happy to do so.

    Do not worry about getting too passionate about what you believe is important, passion is good.

  • Hi guys,
    I was a little confused who Lloyd-Jones was when Mr M commented on him. I thought he was a politician in the wartime for some reason. so I did a little investigating and I found this:-

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vK89LP3mheQ

    that I think you adults will find interesting. There are many sermons on youtube of Lloyd-Jones too. He looks a very serious man indeed.

  • Actually that is PERFECT!!! I have lately been thinking of the great commission a great deal, and how it includes not just the kernel of the gospel being spread, but the entire teachings of Jesus.
    Which is challenging, as I am sorely perplexed by many of the teachings of Christ, if I am honest with myself.
    Oh- and on closer inspection- on that theme of thought, I looked and found that some time ago I had placed that very volume in my
    book wishlist and promptly forgotten it! (Not at the time knowing exactly who Lloyd-Jones was, but recognising him as a reformed-ish name that I had seen on my church’s library shelf in the past) So I am very encouraged and looking forward to picking up a copy soon!!
    Kind thanks for taking the time to make your recommendation.

  • Hi Sarah,

    Thanks very much for your response to my posts.
    I think it best just to leave it alone – keep the peace and all that.

    I have listened to many debates and Alpha & Omega programs with Mr White, so I don’t think I was representing him falsely.

    But Bill is right, I did sneak ‘Calvinism’ into this topic, which it really was not about at all.
    If Mr M does do a piece on Reformed Theology in the future, my response would cite, reference and quote everything to back it up. And also be very respectful – I promise.

    But until then, I will not mention the ‘C’ word again.
    Thanks Sarah. Thanks Bill.
    See you on the next post.
    Kyle.

Leave a Reply