These thoughts came to my mind after reading a blog post by Adrian Warnock in which he brings to his readers’ attention a talk given in 1971 by the late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (a copy of Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ original talk can be found here). Here’s some of what Dr. Lloyd-Jones had to say:
“I believe the same thing is happening in the realm of what I call a ‘theological scholasticism’ which is beginning to manifest itself amongst us—a ‘theological scholasticism’ in which we talk about the doctrines of grace instead of talking about God, the doctrines of salvation instead of Christ, the living Saviour. I believe that this is a new form of Deism. I could convict so many today of a new Deism. You know what that means. It took this form at the beginning of the eighteenth century: God was regarded as the great Creator, described as a great watch-maker. He made the watch, He wound it up, and then He put it down and He has no more to do with it. That was their way, you see, of denying miracles. Miracles are nonsense, they said. God does not interfere. He has made the watch, He has put it down, and on it goes; He does not interfere with it. Deism! Well, I suspect a new kind of Deism is with us. I was referring to it partly yesterday in talking about miraculous healing and miracles and things of that kind. On some sort of theological and biblical grounds, as they would claim, they say that miracles cannot happen today, because all this ended with the Apostles. As if to say, ‘Oh yes, God acted then; but He hasn't acted like that since.’ He is shut out, on a priori grounds, on what they call biblical and theoretical grounds. They say, ‘God does not act like that now.’ They are shutting Him out. Is not that Deism? Who has given them the right to say this? The Scriptures do not say it, but they are saying it.”
“Now I say that this shuts out God. The fact that men talk a lot about God does not mean that they really believe in the living God. They are talking about God; they are making statements about God; they are experts on the attributes of God; but they seem to shut out the living God, God Himself, the acting God. By their theories, He is not allowed to act. This is Deism; it is a kind of theological scholasticism. And this is the terrifying thing, that you can be talking about God and His attributes and so on, and yet have no contact with and no personal knowledge of this living God.”
“And now it seems to me that it comes to this. I feel that the message that God is giving to us in this conference is in the words of Malachi. I believe He is saying this to us: ‘Prove me now’—‘Prove Me. I am there; you prove Me.’ This has become a tremendous conviction with me. Maybe because I am facing my last years and I have been defending the faith—and people have praised me for doing it. Rubbish! What a miserable failure it has all been! From now on I am determined to do one thing only, and that is to give God no rest nor peace, until He does prove Himself and show Himself. I have expended so much energy in reasoning with the people about this faith. We have got to do that, it is part of preaching. But if we stop at that it will avail us nothing. But what I now am concerned about and I am concentrating on is this—asking God to show Himself, to do something, to give this touch, this manifestation of power. Nothing else will even make people listen to us. See, you bring out your apologetics; the others will answer. Every time you say something, you may say ‘This is unanswerable; nobody can turn this back.’ The reviewers wholly dismiss you, say you are a fool, you are ignorant, you do not know what you are talking about. That is what they will say. I can tell you now. You write your books. That is what you will get. I have had it! You see, one scholar…and another answers him. And they are satisfied. No, no! Nothing is going to call the attention of the masses of the people to the truth of this faith save a great phenomenon, such as the phenomenon of the day of Pentecost, the phenomenon of any one of the great revivals, the phenomenon of a single changed life. This is something that always arrests attention, maybe curiosity—what does it matter? The people come and listen. And the preacher has his opportunity. Nothing will avail us save this manifestation of the activity of God.
“My plea, therefore, is simply this—and with this I close—that we keep this ever in the forefront of all our thinking, all our preparation of sermons, and all our praying in particular. We must not be content until we have had some manifestation of the activity of God. We must concentrate on this. This is my plea, that we concentrate on this, because it is the great message of the Bible, so substantiated by the lessons of history. That is obviously today the only thing that gives us any hope as we face the future. And God seems to be saying that to us. ‘Prove Me now. Try Me. Risk your everything on Me. Be fools for My sake. Cast yourselves utterly upon this belief.’ Let us put it like this: Do we really believe that God can still act? That is the question; that is the ultimate challenge. Or have we, for theological or some other reasons, excluded the very possibility? Here is the crucial matter. Do we individually and personally really believe that God still acts, can act and will act—in individuals, in groups of individuals, in churches, localities, perhaps even in countries? Do we believe that He is as capable of doing that today as He was in ancient times—the Old Testament, the New Testament times, the book of Acts, Protestant Reformation, Puritans, Methodist Awakening, 1859, 1904-5? Do we really believe that He can still do it? You see, it is ultimately what you believe about God. If He is the great Jehovah—I am that I am, I am that I shall be, unchanged, unchanging, unchangeable, the everlasting and eternal God—well, He can still do it. And I believe He is saying to us, ‘Try Me. Prove Me. Cast your all upon Me. Go on until I have given you the proof you desire.’ Then we will forget the trees for a while, and we will see the grand power of our God, and God's gracious and eternal purposes in His dear Son. We will first be humbled, and I think many of us will feel that we have never been Christians at all. It will not be true; we are. But what we will experience then will be so great and glorious, so overwhelming, that we will scarcely believe that we have ever known anything about these things at all. May that day soon come!”