Fourth, Lloyd-Jones and MacArthur were equally committed to serious study in their sermon preparation. Possessing commanding intellects, these two master expositors feverishly devoted themselves to the diligent study of the Scripture. The depth of their sermon preparation has determined the breadth of their ministry. Both men have labored to search the Scripture in order to discover its essential meaning, key doctrines, and timeless principles.
Digging Into the Scripture
As a promising medical student, Lloyd-Jones knew the discipline required in rigorous academic study. Following his demanding schooling, he joined the staff of the foremost teaching hospital in the world, St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. There he became the chief clinical assistant to Sir Thomas Horder, a leading heart physician and doctor to the royal family. Under this privileged tutelage, Horder’s Socratic approach to logic and learning sharpened the intellectual prowess of this future preacher. Horder acclaimed Lloyd-Jones to be “the most acute thinker that I ever knew.” Once converted and called into ministry, Lloyd-Jones applied his ingenious mind to the study of Scripture.
As Lloyd-Jones approached the Bible, it was as though he was examining a patient. Of each text, he asked probing questions, synthesized his findings, and determined the proper diagnosis. He said: “You have to question your text, to put questions to it, and especially this question—What is this saying? What is the particular doctrine here, the special message? In the preparation of a sermon, nothing is more important than that.” In scrutinizing the Scripture, Lloyd-Jones insisted that his analysis must involve studying in the original languages. He stated that the Greek and Hebrew “are of great value for the sake of accuracy; no more, that is all. They cannot guarantee accuracy, but they promote it.” Thus, he insisted, linguistic tools need to be employed in interpreting the Scripture. After digging into the text, Lloyd-Jones then urged the consulting “commentaries or any aids that you may choose to employ.”
In this pursuit, Lloyd-Jones’s entire life was “immersed in Scripture.” Using the Robert Murray McCheyne system of daily Scripture reading, he poured over four passages of Scripture each day, two in the morning and two at night. Those who knew him best said: “He knew that Bible inside and out!” For Lloyd-Jones, this gave him a thorough knowledge of the whole Bible. As he dug into each text, he looked for the doctrine taught therein. Lloyd-Jones said: “Biblical study is of very little value if it ends in and of itself and is mainly a matter of the meaning of the words. The purpose of studying the Scripture is to arrive at its doctrine.” Like a hard-working miner, he explored each passage until he extracted its theological gems, core doctrines, and biblical principles. Out of this daily reading and sermon preparation, he was armed with the truth and, in turn, preached the Word.
Rightly Dividing the Word
Hard study has been equally present in MacArthur’s sermon preparation. Iain Murray notes this relentless pursuit in study of the Scripture: “For forty-four or forty-five Sundays, through forty years, two new sermons have been prepared every week; in the early years it was three, as MacArthur also spoke at the church on Wednesday nights. The pattern of his week has been to give the best of his time, from Tuesday to Friday, to preparation for preaching.” This regimented study has been consistent over the lengthy span of more than four decades. Murray adds: “In early years, this meant some fifteen hours of work for each sermon; and he still requires from eight to ten hours.” Week after week, month after month, year after year, MacArthur has devoted himself to the meticulous study of the biblical text. The deeper he has dug down into the text, the stronger his pulpit has grown.
Regarding his approach, MacArthur states: “I always begin by reading the whole book. It is imperative for the expositor to be familiar with the overall message and flow of the book before he begins preaching any passages from it.” In so doing: “I also read the introductory sections in several good commentaries” in order to “become familiar with the author of the book, the addresses, the book’s theme or purpose, the date of its writing, and other important background material.” With the individual passage isolated, “I ask myself, “What is the primary message of this passage? What is the central truth? What is the main expositional idea?” Having found the main point, “I begin to look for the subordinate points that support it.” Subsequently, “The next step is a detailed analysis of its words and grammar” to find “any problems in the passage, such as an important textual variant, an unusual word, or a difficult grammatical construction.” Then he will “diagram the passage” to become “aware of the grammatical structure.” At last, “I put together a
MacArthur contends, “Rightly dividing the Word of truth demands great effort. It was originally written many years ago in very different contexts, today’s exegete has to work hard to bridge the gaps of language, culture, geography, and history. He must also do his best to understand the flow of the argument, as it would have been understood by its original readers” and “intended by its original human author.” In summary, MacArthur states, “The meaning of the Scripture is the Scripture. If you do not have the interpretation of the passage right, then you do not have the Word of God, because only the true meaning is the Word of God.” Consequently, MacArthur has shown himself firmly committed to finding the proper interpretation of the biblical text. Until he has it, he realizes, he can proceed no further.
Article by Dr. Steven J. Lawson
Used with Permission.