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The Plight of Man And the Power of God: Romans 1 Paperback – March 10, 2009
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"What we have in these five expositions is the Gospel explained with great clarity and hope. Even today I used these timeless chapters with a non-Christian friend who is seeking to understand Christianity. I commend these messages to you."
(from the foreword) (Mark Dever ~ Senior Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church and President, 9Marks.org, Washington, DC)
Based on the Romans 1
About the Author
Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) was born in Wales. He was a dairyman's assistant, a political enthusiast, debater, and chief clinical assistant to Sir Thomas Harder, the King's Physician. But at the age of 27 he gave up a most promising medical career to become a preacher. He had a far-reaching influence through his ministry at Westminster Chapel in London, England from 1938-68. His published works have had an unprecedented circulation, selling in millions of copies.
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In the message entitled, "The Religious History of Mankind" Lloyd-Jones critiques the study of comparative religion and its conclusion that religion has evolved into Judeo-Christian monotheism. He argues that the gospel, though unchanging, is always relevant. The church is not to be soothing the world or ignoring it entirely. After all, our faith did not evolve, but came by direct revelation. Thus, Christians have a message of great importance that must be presented.
In the message entitled "Religion and morality," Lloyd-Jones argues that godliness should be our primary concern. In sin, man has made for himself new gods, one of which, Lloyd-Jones explains, is ethics. Many pursue ethics or morality commending religion as a means to that end. Here the case is made that "Godliness is essential to ethics;" that before there can be a Christian society there must be Christians. Some would argue that a Christian society would produce Christians, making this seem like a chicken or the egg type of argument. However, one needs to determine which is the primary Christian message: to live as Christ or to be crucified with Christ? If the gospel is that people should live as Christ, then nearly any means which results in Christ-like living would create Christians. However, if the cross is the gospel, then only lives being transformed by Christ will result in Christians and subsequently, Christian society. Understand, I am not dismissing Christ-like living. On the contrary, I am saying that the cross leads to Christ-like living (but not necessarily the other way around). Lloyd-Jones reiterates this in the final chapter when he says, "A new society is only possible when we have new men; and Christ alone can produce new men." Ultimately, "ungodliness is the greatest and central sin."
This brings the book to a message entitled "The Nature of Sin." Lloyd-Jones argues that a modern view of sin is that man is simply increasing in his moral consciousness, thus what we may call sin is nothing more than lingering animalistic instincts. Using scripture, he shows that instead, sin is much more. It is deliberate, and it is debasing. As evidence, he points to how common it is to give up worshiping God, and how many view mocking God as a "hallmark of intelligence." He attributes a diminishing intelligence in society as evidence of how sin depraves: "The modern man lives on newspapers and periodicals, repeats the views of others without thinking for himself, and spends his time listening to the wireless or sitting in a cinema."
Having discussed sin, the book moves on to the next message, "The Wrath of God." All are guilty of sin and punishment for sin is evident in the broken state of the world. Further, the Law of God was given, not as a means of fixing the world, but as a way to display the holiness of God. However, people reject the idea that a Holy God would have wrath against sin. Lloyd-Jones argues that such a view is flawed in that first, it only sees "wrath" in sinful, human terms, and second, it fails to realize the essential difference between people and God. Meanwhile, to dismiss the idea of wrath is to "ignore the announcement concerning the love and the grace, is not only the height of folly, it is also to condemn oneself to needless suffering and punishment; and at the same time it robs us of every excuse and plea."
The book concludes with the message, "The Only Solution." Lloyd-Jones acknowledges that for much of the world, the only accepted aspects of the gospel are moral teachings. However, it is the most often rejected aspects: of Christ and his atoning death, that are crucial. He points out that the Apostle Paul was proud of the gospel as it was God's way of saving. Further, the gospel is `the power of God' - it works. Finally, it is a way of salvation that is for "everyone, for anyone, for all." Having laid out the great problem of rebellion against a Holy God, Lloyd-Smith simply proclaims the glorious solution found in Jesus Christ.
I recommend this book for two reasons. First, it presents a classical view of the gospel.; from the problem of our sin to the atonement on the cross. There are always new ways to view the gospel, and it is crucial that Christians stay focused. Second, the book addresses every aspect in light of the opposing view. Granted, times have changed since these messages were presented in 1941, but the views of the world concerning the gospel have not changed much at all. I personally found many of the points made in this book to be extremely relevant to conversations I was having at the time and to my preaching ministry. Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones brings clarity to an all to often muddled gospel.
In chapter 1, MLJ presents a religious history of mankind. Here he counters the popular (but unfounded) theory that religion "evolves" in stages from animism to polytheism to monotheism, from which point man may even see that he needs no god at all. Instead, using Romans 1:21 as his starting point, he explains that what has happened is actually the reverse: "Man, says St. Paul, started with the knowledge of God, and if he lacks it now it is because he has deliberately suppressed and lost it." Furthermore, it is inherent in man to deny God, because of our state of sinful rebellion against Him. Therefore, our greatest need is to become aware of our sin, and of God's power through Christ to forgive us of our sin.
In chapter 2, the author contrasts "Religion and Morality". With Romans 1:18 as a source text, MLJ relates "ungodliness" to religious deficiencies, and "unrighteousness" to moral deficiencies. In the proper order of things, he says, right morality proceeds from right religion; that is, the true religion of Christianity. Our culture, though, has subverted these to the point where morality is more highly valued, and is seen as an end in itself, even within the Church. The terrible irony is that hundreds of years of humanity's brightest philosophers attempting to produce a morality independent of God and His commands has produced nothing but a breakdown of religion, which has resulted in a total collapse of morality. Morality alone is unable to free us from what truly keeps mankind in bondage; only God can free us from our sin and cause us to walk in righteousness.
Having shown us in great detail our need to understand our sin, MLJ focuses on the nature of sin in chapter 3. The reason it is so unpopular to focus on sin, he says, is because "if the Christian doctrine of sin is right and true, then the very basis of the modern doctrine of man is entirely destroyed." That is, all thoughts of man's ability to better himself individually and as a society are put to rest in light of the Bible's teachings on our total separation from God, and our inability to attain righteousness. Sin is rooted in our idolatry. We have placed other things (and, ultimately, ourselves) in God's place, which leads to the destruction of individuals, relationships, societies, and nature itself. It is a problem totally beyond our ability to overcome.
MLJ further expounds upon man's plight in chapter 4 by showing the result of our sin: God's wrath... which he says is the only doctrine less popular than man's sin! He emphasizes that, while many theologians attempt to focus on God's love to the exclusion of His wrath, these attributes are really two sides of the same coin. God cannot be a God of love without hating and destroying sin. He goes on to explain the difference between God's active wrath (where He directly intervenes to put an end to disobedience) and the far more common passive wrath (in which He simply allows sin to run its course, wreaking destruction everywhere). The danger when speaking of God's wrath is to go to the opposite extreme of those who speak only of His love. If God were a God of wrath only, our plight would be cause for despair. We must see that "It is only in the light of God's hatred and abhorrence of sin that we can really see His love, and appreciate the wonder and the glory of the gospel. The measure of His anger against sin is the measure of the love that is prepared to forgive the sinner and to love him in spite of the sin... The love of God is a holy love. It expresses itself not by condoning sin or compromising with it; it deals with it, and yet does so in such a way that the sinner is not destroyed with his sin, but is delivered from it and its consequences."
In the fifth and final chapter, MLJ reveals "the only solution". Were the Bible only the message of our plight, it would be terrible news! But instead, the message of the Scriptures is truly good news, because God has provided in Christ the means to escape from our sin! Because this news is so great, we must echo Paul's words in Romans 1:16, being unashamed of the gospel, because it IS the power of God for salvation... for everyone who believes! Unlike the things in which men have boasted, which have only limited appeal ("Philosophy only appealed to the wise and learned... There was not even one philosophy which appealed to all... Military might and power appealed to the strong and noble, and the ideals of law and justice had their own votaries. Nationalism appealed only to the citizens of the various countries... what one gloried in was anathema to another, and every attempt to produce something universal which would satisfy all had failed"), Christians may freely boast of the universality of the gospel! We must spread this message in truth and love to others, so that they, too, may be reconciled before a loving God.
The overall message of this book, in the author's words, are that "without a true anthropology, it is idle to discuss soteriology -- diagnosis must precede treatment." That is, we must not shy away from teaching the difficult doctrines of man's sin and God's wrath. If we do not have a right understanding of our sinfulness, our plight (anthropology), we will never see the necessity of our salvation (soteriology).
This book is an excellent resource for understanding both antropology and soteriology. It is short, engaging, and even more relevant now than it was nearly 70 years ago. I commend it to you wholeheartedly!
If you are God's child, you'll hear God voice loud and clear in any written book or sermon audio by this great and humble servant of God, the very dear Dr Martyn Lloyd's Jones.
God bless you as you read this great work!