In this compilation of previously unpublished sermons, well-known pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones powerfully exhorts Christians to focus their affections on the God of the Bible, addressing issues such as prayer, the church, and evangelism.
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About the Author
Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981), minister of Westminster Chapel in London for 30 years, was one of the foremost preachers of his day. His many books have brought profound spiritual encouragement to millions around the world.
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THE ACID TEST
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
2 CORINTHIANS 4:17–18
In the last two verses of the fourth chapter of the second epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul brings to a kind of grand climax the series of amazing and astonishing things that he has just been saying. This is, undoubtedly, one of the great statements in the Scriptures, one of those nuggets that we find standing out here and there, especially in the writings of the great apostle Paul. There are variations even in the writings of the holy men of God who were guided and controlled as they wrote the Scriptures, and this is undoubtedly one of the most eloquent and moving passages.
I say that in order that I may issue a warning. I always feel, when we read a passage like 2 Corinthians 4, that there is a very real danger that we should be so affected and moved and carried away by the eloquence, the diction, the style, the balance that we pay no attention to the message. This is true, I think, of many psalms. There are people who read the psalms not to get their message but because of the beauty of the language and the diction. Some people, it seems, even use them as a kind of soporific. Carried away by the lilt and the cadence and the beauty of the language, they pay no attention at all to the meaning. So I feel, always, when we handle such a passage that we have to take ourselves in hand, discipline ourselves, and make certain that we do lay hold of the message.
We must remember that this great apostle was not a literary man. We must not think of him as a man in a study surrounded by his books, sitting down to produce a great masterpiece of literature or eloquence. That is not the case at all. This man was a preacher, an evangelist, a pastor, a teacher, a founder of churches. So when he produces a great passage like this, it is something almost accidental. What happened was that he was so moved and so carried away that he found himself writing like this almost unconsciously. We must bear that in mind lest we miss the message and be affected by the sound of the language and the beauty of the passage merely from the standpoint of literature.
I emphasize this because actually the apostle here was writing in very difficult conditions. Literary men, such as the poets, generally need to have favorable circumstances before they can produce their best work. I remember a postcard that G. K. Chesterton sent to a friend of mine who had written to him asking, "Why is it that the poets can be so glorious in their poetry but often are so disappointing in their personal lives and in their beliefs and in their prose?" Chesterton's reply was this: "Poets often sing what they cannot say." And that, it seems to me, is the exact antithesis of what is true of the man of God, the true Christian. If we cannot say these things as well as sing them, there is very little value in them. So here is the apostle Paul, a man writing out of the midst of great troubles — he even gives us a list of them — and yet surrounded as he is by trials and tribulations, this is what he is able to say: "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."
Now I want to consider these two verses with you because I believe that a great need in the Christian church today is for a body of people who can speak as Paul does. I think this is also the supreme need of our world as it is at the present time, full of so much uncertainty and toil and trouble. I believe the church and the world are waiting for a body of people who can take their stand by the side of this apostle and join him in making this great declaration. So it would be good for us to examine ourselves in the light of this statement. Is this our attitude toward our modern world? Is this how we are facing the present and the unknown future, which is so full of foreboding?
Let me put it to you like this. I am suggesting that in these two verses we have the acid test of our profession of the Christian faith. When I say acid test, I mean the most delicate, the most sensitive test, the test of tests. Let us imagine that I put the following question to you: What is the acid test of any man or woman's profession of the Christian faith?
I can imagine someone without any hesitation saying, "That's perfectly simple. No problem there. My acid test is the test of orthodoxy. It's obvious. If a man does not believe certain things, he is clearly not a Christian. He may be a good man, but if he does not believe a certain irreducible minimum, he cannot, in fact, call himself a Christian. Whatever else he may be, a man who doesn't believe in God, in the being of God, is not a Christian. If he doesn't believe in the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, his incarnation, his miracles, his atoning death, his physical resurrection, his ascension, the sending of the Holy Spirit and the person of the Spirit, why, if he doesn't believe these things, he just cannot be a Christian. The test is orthodoxy."
What do we say to that? I think we must agree at once that the test of orthodoxy is not only a valuable test, it is vitally important. I agree a hundred percent. Unless a man does believe this irreducible minimum, he just cannot be a Christian. And yet while I say that, I am not prepared to accept the test of orthodoxy as the acid test of one's Christian profession for this reason: as we know from history, perhaps some of us from personal experience, it is quite possible to be perfectly orthodox and yet to be spiritually dead. There is such a thing, after all, as having or giving an intellectual assent to the truth. There have been people in the church who have been thoroughly orthodox — they have accepted biblical teaching, they have believed it all, they have often fought for it — and yet it can be said of them, in the words of Paul, that while "having a form of godliness," they are "denying the power thereof" (2 Tim. 3:5). Many have denied in their daily lives what they have professed and claimed to believe on Sundays. They have been quite orthodox, but at the same time without life, without power. Because of the terrible danger of a mere intellectual assent, orthodoxy, while it is absolutely essential, is not sufficiently delicate to merit the designation of acid test.
Then I see someone hurriedly saying, "You're perfectly right. To me the acid test of whether or not people are Christians is not so much what they say as the life they live. That's the test. Speech is easy. The question is, are they moral? Are they upright? Are they philanthropic? Behavior and morality — this, to me, proclaims what people are."
What do we say here? Of course, we agree at once that conduct is an absolutely vital test. If people do not live this life, then no matter what they may profess, clearly they are not Christians. The Scriptures make this terribly plain and clear to us in so many passages. The life lived is absolutely vital. Morality is an essential part of this Christian faith of ours. And yet, though I say that, I again must hurry to say that I will not accept this either as our acid test. This point is particularly important at the present time, when the popular and prevailing view is that conduct is the acid test. But we cannot agree to that for this good reason: there are many men and women who live highly moral and ethical lives in this world, people who do much good and are great benefactors of the human race, yet who cannot be called Christians. Why not? Because they deny God himself and the very elements of this faith. There are many humanists and others against whom you cannot bring any criticism on moral grounds; you cannot point a finger at them. So if you judge merely by behavior, if you put this up as the acid test and say that belief is unnecessary, you are denying the whole of the Christian faith. Morality is essential, but it is not enough. It does not constitute the acid test.
Then I imagine a third person coming forward and saying, "Well, I'm still in agreement with you, and I wouldn't have suggested either of those tests. No, it's quite simple. The acid test is the test of experience. That's the vital thing. What I want to know about people who make a profession is this: Can they say, 'Whereas I once was blind, now I see'? Has there been some great crisis, some climactic experience in their lives that has turned them around and made new people of them? This is the vital thing, the test of experience."
Here, again, is a most important test. No one is born a Christian. You have to be born again to become a Christian. Experience is a vital part of our whole position. I am not postulating that you must have some standard experience, that you must be able to point to a particular moment and a particular preacher, a particular text, and so on. But I am postulating that men and women who are Christians are aware that the Spirit of God has been dealing with them and has done something vital to them. They are aware that they have new life within them. Experience is essential. Yet I am not prepared to accept this either as what I am calling the acid test of our profession, for this obvious reason — and again it is so important at this present time: if you make the test of experience the acid test, what have you to say to the many cults that are flourishing round and about us? After all these cults give people experiences. I am thinking of cults such as Christian Science. One of the most dramatic changes I have ever seen in a person's life was in the case of a lady who became a Christian Scientist. She was entirely changed and transformed — a great experience! Obviously the cults emphasize experiences. They would not succeed if it were not for this. They obviously have something to give to people, otherwise they would not be flourishing. So if we put up experience as the ultimate standard, the acid test, we are left without any reply at all to these various cults. Experience is essential, but it is not enough. It is not delicate and sensitive enough to merit the term acid test.
"Well," says somebody, "if you're rejecting all these tests, what's your test?"
Let me suggest it to you. My test is the test we have in these two verses that we are considering. Why is this the acid test? It is because it includes the other three tests, covers them, and guarantees them. In other words, I am suggesting that the acid test of our profession is our total response to life, to everything that takes place within us and around us. Not partial but total. And this, I emphasize, is a guarantee of these other aspects to which I have been referring.
During the last war, in my ministry in London I often used to say that what determines whether or not you and I are Christians is not what we say on vacation and not what we say when we are in our studies or reading a book somewhere and reading about theology and reading the Scriptures. That is not the ultimate test. The acid test of our profession is this: What do you feel like when you are sitting in an air-raid shelter and you can hear the bombs dropping round and about you, and you know that the next bomb may land on you and may be the end of you? That is the test. How do you feel when you are face-to-face with the ultimate, with the end? Or I might put it in terms of young men engaged in action on the field of battle. What is your response as you are facing life and death and all the great ultimate questions? What is your reaction? Or, coming nearer home, let me put it like this: the ultimate test of our profession of the Christian faith is what we feel, what we say, and what our reaction is when a hurricane comes3 or a tornado or some calamity produced by nature or some violent epidemic, a disease that brings us face-to-face with time and eternity, with life and death. The ultimate question is, what is our response then? Because that is exactly what the apostle is saying here.
Paul is surrounded by many troubles and trials and problems. They could not have been worse. Yet he looks at them all and says, "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." Do we react like that as we look at the worst, as we look at life at its darkest and its starkest? I suggest that this is the acid test because, you see, it covers my orthodoxy. The only people who can speak like this are those who know whom they have believed, those who are certain of their faith. Nobody else can. Other people can turn their backs upon disasters and whistle to keep up their courage in the dark, they can do many things, but they cannot speak like this without being orthodox. This test also guarantees conduct and morality, because the trouble with people who merely have an intellectual belief is that in the moment of crisis their faith does not help them. They feel condemned. Their consciences accuse them. They are in trouble because they know they are frauds. And in the same way this test also guarantees the experiential element, the life, the power, the vigor. People cannot speak like this unless these truths are living realities to them. They are the only ones who are able to look upon calamity and smile at it and refer to it as "our light affliction, which is but for a moment," which "worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."
So here is the great test for us. Can we speak like this? Do we speak like this? We may be orthodox. That is not enough. We may be good people. That is not enough. We may have had some great thrilling experience. That is not enough. How do we stand up to the ultimate questions? We have seen the apostle's answer, and the question I now want to put to you briefly is this: What was it that made him write in this way and manner? What is the explanation of his ability to face all these things? He has given us a list of his trials. "We are troubled," he says, "on every side ... we are perplexed ... persecuted ... cast down ... always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus. ... We which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake" (2 Cor. 4:8–11). And yet, having given us the list, this is what the apostle says: "our light affliction, which is but for a moment." What enabled him to say this?
Now, once more, many people at the present time would come to us and say there is no problem there at all. They say, "Surely this is just a matter of temperament." Someone will say, "I'm a psychologist, and I discovered in my reading of psychology that there are different types of temperament, different types of personality. Some people are born optimists, some are pessimists. Some have a depressive, pessimistic outlook; others are sanguine by temperament. There are people who always see a silver lining in every cloud. It does not matter how dark things may look, such people always smile, and they say, 'It's all right. Don't be depressed. Things will get better. This isn't the end, you know.' They are born optimists. They are like corks. It does not matter what happens, they keep on bobbing up to the surface. And no doubt," says this person, "your apostle Paul was a man who happened to be born with this sanguine, optimistic temperament. That's why he refused to be discouraged and depressed and kept on being cheerful in spite of everything."
But anybody who knows anything about the apostle Paul knows that this is entirely wrong as an explanation of his language for, beyond any question, by nature and temperament the apostle Paul was a depressive person, a man who could be easily discouraged. These Corinthians had depressed him and discouraged him. They had made insulting remarks about him. They had said, "His bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible" (2 Cor. 10:10). They had hurt him grievously, and he tells us in chapter 7 of this very epistle, "When we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears" (v. 5). Paul was about as far removed as is possible from your natural optimist, the person with a sanguine temperament. No, no! This is not psychology. And thank God it is not. If the gospel of Jesus Christ were merely something that enables the natural optimist to speak as Paul does at the end of 2 Corinthians 4, then what would happen to those of us who are natural pessimists? No, the glory of the gospel is this — it can come to men and women of every conceivable type of temperament and outlook and enable them to speak like this. It does not depend upon us as we are by nature. It depends upon what the gospel has done to us. Psychology is not the explanation.
"All right," says somebody, "if it isn't temperament, surely it must be that the apostle Paul had espoused a particular philosophical outlook."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Setting Our Affections Upon Glory"
Copyright © 2013 Elizabeth Catherwood and Ann Beatt.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
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Table of Contents
Foreword John Schultz 9
1 The Acid Test 11
2 The Great Watershed 29
3 What Is the Church? 47
4 The Church Today: The Road to Emmaus 67
5 "So Great Salvation" 87
6 Evangelism: A Very Modern Problem 105
7 The Highway to Revival 127
8 The Narrow Way 145
9 A New and Living Way 161
What People are Saying About This
“A faithful source of biblical clear-headedness and a model for preaching that shapes our palette for the deep things of God and his gospel.”
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