In recent years I have been reading – relishing, absorbing and studying – books by or about Christians who have long since died. Several years ago when I completed the contract for my full-time employment and chose not to return to the job market, I purposed to read more classics on Christianity, theology and the Christian life. Think Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, A. W. Tozer. I also added more biographies of Christians to my reading list. Think Bonhoeffer (again), Oswald Chambers, Amy Carmichael, Richard Wurmbrand. Practical theology and written sermons coupled with stories of encouragement and examples of successes and failures in living the Christian life throughout the generations has had more influence on my spiritual growth and learning than any other input aside from the Bible itself.
I don’t use the word classic lightly. Unlike Disney, which always proclaims their latest offering as ‘an instant classic’, the Christian classics have stood the test of time and theological scrutiny, maintain their relevance, and are still in print. Having started last summer, I am currently two-thirds through Lloyd-Jones’ Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. It sounds so tedious. Why would anyone not in seminary read a huge volume on The Sermon on the Mount? Folks, this book is incredible! Based on transcribed sermons, which were given in a conversational manner (easy to read) in 1950’s London, I am continually underlining and amazed at the relevancy and application to my life today. Good sermons and good books are like that. The truths of Scripture don’t change and the nature of man hasn’t changed. When you overlay the two, looking at man in light of the truth of Scripture and the teachings of Jesus, it will always be relevant.
Allow me to share some examples from Lloyd-Jones’ volume.
Over the past few years the idea of hipster Christianity has gained momentum. There has even been talk of the hipster Jesus. We want Jesus to be popular, so perhaps viewing Him as a hipster is a positive development. But, in the context of Christians and persecution (Matthew 5:10-12), Lloyd-Jones has very relevant commentary. “If our conception of [Jesus] is such that He
can be admired and applauded by the non-Christian, we have a wrong view of Him. The effect of Jesus Christ upon His contemporaries was that many threw stones at Him. They hated Him; and finally, choosing a murderer instead of Him, they put Him to death. This is the effect Jesus Christ always has upon the world. But you see there are other ideas about Him. There are worldly people who tell us they admire Jesus Christ, but that is because they have never seen Him. If they saw Him, they would hate Him as His contemporaries did. He does not change; man does not change. So let us be careful that our ideas about Christ are such that the natural man cannot easily admire or applaud. (117)
This past year certain manifestations of sin have become more pronounced and accepted and, consequently, denounced by followers of Christ. There has also been talk of more war and more bombing. When I read these words, knowing Lloyd-Jones and his congregation had lived through the bombing of London during World War II, I knew he did not discuss this topic lightly. “The Christian’s concern is to view life in this world in the light of the gospel; and, according to the gospel, the trouble
with mankind is not any one particular manifestation of sin, but rather sin itself. . . If every man and woman in this world knew what it was to ‘hunger and thirst after righteousness’ there would be no danger of war. Here is the only way to real peace. All other considerations eventually do not touch the problem, and all denunciations that are so constantly made of various countries and peoples and persons will not have the slightest effect upon the international situation. Thus we often waste our time, and God’s time, in expressing our human thoughts and sentiments instead of considering His Word (italics added). (61)
One would think Lloyd-Jones was referencing social media with his last statement, but I am reminded human behavior is fairly consistent throughout the ages. His congregation had different reference points, but the truth of his statement is timeless.
There has also been much written, shared and discussed recently on God the Father, particularly in regards to God and the monotheistic faiths. Just a few days ago, while studying the Lord’s Prayer, which is found in the Sermon on the Mount, I read these words: “It is only those who are true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who can say, ‘Our Father.’ It is only the
people of whom the Beatitudes are true who can say with any confidence, ‘Our Father.’ Now I know that this is an unpopular doctrine today, but it is the doctrine of the Bible. The world today believes in the universal Fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man. That is not found in the Bible. . . it is only those who are in the Lord Jesus Christ who are truly children of God. We become the children of God only through adoption. (328,9)
Page after page, as Lloyd-Jones explains what these Scriptures mean and applies them to life, they seem more relevant than when he first penned them. This is why it is a classic. And this is why all followers of Jesus – housewives, seminary students, high school kids, the highly educated to the non-educated, the working middle-class, those on welfare – can be encouraged in their faith by digesting a classic. Today’s bestsellers might be an easy read with contemporary jargon and references to current events, but don’t disregard the meat that has encouraged, instructed and fed generations of Believers before you.
It’s a little late to put a classic on your Christmas list, but it’s not too late to buy one with your Christmas gift card.