Monday, September 1, 2014

Book Review: Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled

Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. 2009. Crossway. 139 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled is a collection of sermons preached by Martyn Lloyd-Jones in 1951 in London. The sermon collection focuses, as you might have already guessed, on John 14. The sermons go verse by verse through the first half of the fourteenth chapter. They include, "Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled," "Believe in God," "Believe Also In Me," "In My Father's House," "I Go To Prepare A Place For You," "I Will Come Again, and Receive You," "I Am The Way, The Truth, and the Life," and "Greater Works Than These Shall He Do."

The foreword, by his daughter, reads in part:
He sought to show that these familiar words were not only relevant in funerals but could be applied to all facets of our lives, and the way in which he handled these words was characteristic of his ministry. He did not use them as a kind of soothing refrain that would lull our fears to rest. Rather, he went through them carefully, showing that the way to deal with our fears was first to confront them and recognize them and then to realize that the answer to them was only to be found in the great and unchanging truths of the Christian gospel. So he shows what these truths are: belief in God, belief in Jesus Christ and his work, the certainty of his promise that he will take us safely to his Father’s house, and so on. These are foundational doctrines, but he does not deal with them clinically. Throughout we are reminded of the love that brought it all to pass.
The sermons are just as relevant today as when they were first preached decades ago. Truth is truth no matter when proclaimed. Readers can learn a lot by reading great preachers and theologians from the past. I would say that Lloyd-Jones wrote with urgency, much as A.W. Tozer wrote with urgency. It seems to this reader that it is even more urgent for these truths to be proclaimed, shared, and "rediscovered" today. This world needs gospel truths. And gospel truths are exactly what you'll find at the core of Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled.

In the first chapter, the author shows that everyone shares a common need or has a common goal. Everyone is looking for a "quiet heart." (A quiet heart, I believe, means freedom from fear, worry, anxiety, restlessness, etc. A quiet heart is the exact opposite of a troubled heart.) He first points out that there are many different ways the world tries to solve this problem, to fill this need. He examines them one by one: refusing to think (escapism), optimism, fatalism (resignation), stoicism, mysticism, and psychology. He concludes that at best they "simply help us postpone our problems, they do not solve them; and none of them can give us real joy or satisfaction." He then introduces the gospel suggesting that the gospel is the best way--the only way--to achieve a quiet heart. He writes,
What seems to me to be so entirely different about the gospel, at the very beginning, is that it always faces facts, it is always realistic, it never conceals anything. Read these chapters of John’s Gospel, and you will find that our Lord brought these men face-to-face with the very worst, whereas all the other teachings and philosophies try to hide the worst from us. My heart will not be really quiet until I have been told the very worst and faced it, and then I can surmount it. I do not believe in a teaching that simply plays tricks with me. I have no use for a philosophy that tells me there is no such thing as matter, and because of that there can be no pain, and therefore I do not have pain—when I know there is pain. I know that may work psychologically; it may convince me for a time—I believe the lie and am relieved. But I do not merely want to be relieved of my pain. I want the disease to be faced and tackled. The gospel commends itself to me because of its truth, because it does not just say, “Well now, let’s forget our troubles and think of something beautiful.” It says, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33). It says that in a world like this, dominated by Satan, there will be “wars and rumours of wars” (Matthew 24:6). It is psychology and not the gospel that just tries to make us forget our troubles for the time being. The gospel of Jesus Christ always, therefore, of necessity annoys certain people, people who think that a place of worship is just a place where you listen to beautiful things, and therefore while you are sitting there, you forget your problems and the problems of the world—these people are certain to be annoyed. The gospel confronts us with facts. It is all based upon a person; it is based upon certain things that happened historically. It comes and tells me, “Let not your heart be troubled.” But it comes in the light of Gethsemane and Jesus’ trial and cruel death upon the cross, the broken body, the burial, the utter hopelessness and despair. Then, and only then, it goes on to tell me of the Resurrection and the glory of the Ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit, and that puts me in an entirely different position. It has taken me through the facts, through the tunnel of darkness to the dawn that lights the other end. Moreover, it commends itself to me because it gives me an explanation and satisfies my mind. The gospel has given this philosophy of history. It not only gives me the facts, it explains them; it puts them into a coherent whole. And the thing that commends itself most of all to me is that it does not leave it all to me, but it links all to the power of God. “Let not your heart be troubled”—why? “Believe in God, believe also in me,” says Christ; in other words, “Trust me.” I have mentioned those who spend long, weary hours in all the details of a busy everyday life; they cannot follow “the mystic way.” What can I offer them? If I do not have a gospel that can give them a quiet heart, I have no gospel worthy of the name. But thank God, I do have a gospel for them. I have a gospel that tells them that the one who walked through this world and triumphed over it, even over death and the grave itself, has said, “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you” (John 14:20), so that into their unutterable weakness comes the might and the power of the Son of God who has vanquished death and the grave, and against him nothing and no one can finally stand.
The remaining seven chapters focus on the gospel. Who is God? Who is Jesus? What is the gospel? What does it mean to believe in God? What does it mean to believe in Jesus Christ? What does God promise us? How does believing in God's faithfulness transform us, prepare us? Why is it important to have an eternal perspective? What is the meaning of the death of the Jesus Christ? What does his death mean to you?

The book is practical, thought-provoking, and rich in scriptural truth or doctrine. Lloyd-Jones asks tough questions. He does. He wants you to listen, to pay attention, to think, to decide. And the subject is truly life-and-death. It's a serious book that feels personal. He wants you to contemplate this life and the next. He wants you to choose to think about eternal matters now. He knows that no one likes to think about death, that no one wants to think about death, that it can make people uncomfortable. But he also knows how important it is for people to come to terms with life, with reality.
What of your view of that next world, your view of death, your view of the life that lies beyond death? Does it frighten you? Does it seem strange to you? Does thinking about it like this help you or does it depress you? What is your view of it? That is the greatest question you can ever face. We have to face it. We cannot avoid it. What is your feeling about it? Do you have this blessed certainty? Or does the thought of death and leaving this world and going on leave you with a sense of despair and fear and strangeness? That is the question. It all depends upon your view of the next world, and that, of course, depends ultimately upon your view of God and upon your view of the Lord Jesus Christ.
As I said, he writes with urgency which is a good thing, in my opinion. I love how the book celebrates--exalts--Jesus Christ. I love the emphasis on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For those who aren't quite sure what it means to "believe in God" or "believe in Jesus Christ" this book would be a great choice.

It is to me a tragedy that so often we rob ourselves of the actual message of some of the most glorious statements in Scripture [John 14:1-3, 27] simply because we regard them as literature. We are content with some general effect or influence that they may produce upon us instead of taking the trouble to arrive at their exact meaning and their precise import. Now that, I think, is very true of these words, words that may be most familiar to us in funerals. They are words of comfort and consolation, which we tend, therefore, to think of far too often as some kind of beautiful music or some wonderful diction. So we never get any further, almost feeling at times that it is a sacrilege to analyze something that is so beautiful. We have heard those words many times, but I wonder what would happen if we suddenly had to sit down with paper in front of us and face a question such as, state the doctrine contained in those familiar words—what exactly do they say? Have these words, I wonder, come to us merely in that general manner, that kind of general consolation, that can be done equally well by beautiful music or by any beautiful thoughts or passages of literature? Or have we derived comfort and consolation from them because we have realized the doctrine that they are announcing?
He is the center of this New Testament message and gospel. He is the one who, though he is the Son of God himself, is ready and willing and able to meet us exactly where we are. He even takes the trouble to read our minds and thoughts in order to answer our questions before we ever ask them, and he gives us consolation before we even give expression to our need and unhappiness. So as he said this to the disciples, he says it, of course, once and forever, to all others who at any time or in any age or in any place know this same condition of the troubled heart. Here in these three chapters, chapters 14, 15, and 16 of John’s Gospel, our Lord administers this final comfort and consolation to all who feel overwhelmed and bewildered by the problems of life and of existence. I suppose that in many ways it can truthfully be said that the greatest need of men and women in this world is the need of what is called a quiet heart, a heart at leisure from itself.
The Bible must be taken in its own way; it must be accepted on its own terms. There are no shortcuts once you begin to deal with God. God demands something that is central from us—he demands total allegiance. You cannot take things out of the gospel of Christ. You must take the gospel as it is without any modification or qualification.
Half our troubles in this matter lie in the fact that the world is too much with us. We are in the midst of it, we are immersed by it all, and we are lost in the details. So what the Bible really does with us, in the first instance, is just to take hold of us and drag our attention away from the immediate scene to God. This is not escapism, because having brought us to confront God and his Son, it brings us back to the problem, and then it enables us to overcome it.
“I go to prepare a place for you”—the whole of the gospel is in that statement; in that one verse is packed the whole of Christian theology and doctrine.
The gospel is not an account of how you and I are to save ourselves, how we are to climb the steep ascent of heaven, and how we can obtain admission for ourselves. It starts by telling us that we can never do it, but it goes on to tell us that he has come deliberately into this world to do it for us. The only one who can ever admit us into heaven is the Lord Jesus Christ, and what we have in these words is the beginning of his own exposition of the meaning of his death and resurrection and ascension.
The effect of the gospel upon men and women is to bring them to see themselves as strangers in this world of time. They hang on loosely to time and the things that happen in this world and see themselves as pilgrims bound for eternity—that is the big, the thrilling thing. The business of the gospel of Jesus Christ, therefore, is not to reform the individual or the whole world; it is to take hold of us one by one and to bring us out of it, to give us a new birth, a new life, a new beginning. It makes men and women children of God. It gives them a new outlook, a new power, and sets before them the blessed hope of life with God in eternity.
The central matter of the gospel is that we should know God and enjoy him for all eternity.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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