January 16, 2021

MLJ and the Holy Spirit

By Chaplain Mike

On this week leading up to Pentecost, we are listening to some prominent evangelical voices about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. We are doing this in order to understand the variety of views within evangelicalism, and ways the church has dealt with these differences. We also want to give our IM readers the chance to discuss their experiences with these teachings.

One of the greatest preachers and teachers of the 20th century was Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981). After training to be a medical doctor, Lloyd-Jones felt called into the ministry, and during his long career he became a prominent voice in the Reformed wing of the British evangelical movement. He ministered for 30 years at Westminster Chapel in London (1938-1968).

Known for his in-depth, expository style of teaching and preaching, Lloyd-Jones famously taught a Friday night study on Romans for 13 years. These lectures were published in a multi-volume set of commentaries.

As a young minister, I devoured those books. I was enlivened and inspired by his intellectual rigor, passionate love for Christ, and pastoral concern for the church. There was, however, one aspect of Lloyd-Jones that intrigued, confused, and stimulated me — his view of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Not charismatic or Pentecostal, MLJ nevertheless held a view of the Holy Spirit that allowed for a “baptism” or “sealing” of the Spirit that is a definite experience subsequent to salvation. In his volume on Romans 8:5-17, The Sons of God, he appeals to Scripture and church history to set forth his doctrine.

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones described himself as a “Calvinistic-Methodist,” an heir of both Whitefield and Wesley. With Whitefield, he proclaimed a doctrinally uncompromising gospel. With Wesley, he strongly promoted a religion of the burning heart. Nowhere is this more clear than when MLJ taught about the Holy Spirit.

In order to understand his view on the Spirit-baptism experience, one must keep two key concepts in mind:

  • The doctrine of assurance of salvation,
  • A belief in heaven-sent revival.

The key passage in Romans that Lloyd-Jones appeals to is Romans 8:14-16:

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God…

In his exposition, MLJ is attempting to show that one of the most important ministries of the Holy Spirit to the believer is to impart the assurance of salvation. Not all believers have assurance. All Christians have been regenerated by the Spirit and all have the Holy Spirit living within them, or they would not be Christians (Rom 8:9). But every Christian has not been granted the experience of feeling the love and acceptance of God that comes through receiving an additional experience from God through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He identifies this experience with the “baptism” of the Spirit and the “sealing” of the Spirit (Eph 1:13).

In his studies on Romans 8, MLJ discusses this in great depth, emphasizing the following:

  • A believer may have salvation without having assurance of salvation.
  • Even among those who have assurance, there are levels of assurance enjoyed by believers.
  • The ultimate level of assurance is supplied by God himself when he pours out “the Spirit of adoption” on us.
  • This is not something we make happen, it comes from God.
  • This is something we feel, deeply. It is not just a matter of understanding or deducing something. It is God making his love for us known to our hearts.

Here is what he says about this experience of the Holy Spirit:

This is something subjective, something which essentially belongs to the realm of feeling and subjectivity, and the emotions. It is something within us at a deeper level than the level of the intellect. That seems to me to be the vital point in this statement. In other words this does not result from certain actions on our part; it is the Spirit that produces it in us. It is not something of which you can persuade yourself. As we have seen, by applying various tests you can persuade yourself whether you are, or are not, being led by the Spirit, but that is not the position here. This is not in the realm of intellectual argumentation or demonstration; it is something of which one becomes conscious. This is — to use the obvious and the simple analogy — comparable to what we know in human love. You do not persuade yourself that you are in love; at least, if you do, or have to do, you are not in love! This is not a matter of persuasion; it is something you know; you become conscious of it. It is on a deeper level than that of the intellect and of reason and of argumentation. This is, in my view, a vital principle. It not only demonstrates the advance in the thought, it also shows us the graciousness of God in giving us these further proofs, these yet more certain proofs. So the nature of this proof is thoroughly subjective, and it is produced by the operation of the Holy Spirit. (The Sons of God, p. 235)

One illustration MLJ uses is one I found helpful in my own preaching. Alluding to the teaching of Puritan Thomas Goodwin, Lloyd-Jones said that one might picture a father walking down a lane with his young son. They are together, talking and enjoying one another’s company. Then, at one point, the father stops, reaches down, picks up the little boy, hugs him tightly and tells him how much he loves him. Setting him down again, they continue on with their walk. The son was no more a son after the hug, but he had new feeling of acceptance and a deeper assurance of his daddy’s love.

The “baptism of the Spirit” is like this, taught Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It is God’s divine “hug,” his loving Fatherly embrace that expresses his love to our hearts and makes us feel that love in a way that is beyond words.

Some other points MLJ makes about this:

  • This experience of God pouring his love on us leads to our great joy and love for God in response.
  • This experience may or may not be accompanied by phenomena.
  • This experience may come in various levels of intensity, and we should not make any degree of emotion or any particular phenomena normative.
  • The public giving of testimony about such experiences may therefore be misleading to others and might better be avoided.
  • As to the durability of the experience, we must not think this is “once for all,” and that we will never need God’s reassurance again.
  • This experience, based on reports we have from the testimony of Christians in the past, often comes to those who God wants to use in special service, to those who mourn and grieve, to those who God may be preparing for some great trial, and to people before they die.

Finally, it should be said that David Martyn Lloyd-Jones believed that “the Spirit of adoption” is one of the blessings God pours out on his people in times of revival.

The reason we see it so much in the Book of Acts and in the early church is that these inspired documents testify to the first great season of renewal and revival in the church’s history. Based on this interpretation, and because of his own familiarity with the Welsh revivals, MLJ was a proponent that God’s people pray always for God to pour out revival blessings on his people. He saw that as the only way to success for the church in the world.

Have you read Lloyd-Jones on this subject?

What is your take on his views?


  1. not really surprising to me that he’d be a “Calvinistic Methodist” seeing how the Welsh Presbyterian church came out of the Methodist movement… (as a lifelong Wesleyan who went to a Presbyterian college I still don’t get how that works) but I hadn’t actually read anything by Lloyd-Jones… am interested to do so now….

    • David Cornwell says

      I think you are correct here. This has a distinctly Wesleyan flavor to it and much in line with what Wesley himself taught about assurance. It brings to mind the testimony of E. Stanley Jones in his description of what it was like when the Holy Spirit flooded over him and into him him some years after he became a Christian. It was a life changing experience of assurance, cleansing, and power.

  2. Yes, I’ve read MLJ’s views on the Holy Spirit. In fact, I have two relatively uknown books by him on the subject–“Joy Unspeakable” and “The Sovereign Spirit.” I don’t even know if both are still in print. If you can find them, though, I highly recommend them.

    Also, John Piper sums up MLJ’s views well in this biographical sketch: http://ow.ly/1Oy2L

  3. This is a very interesting, very balanced take on baptism in the Spirit.

    I like that he clarifies that it can take a variety of forms. It may be accompanied by phenomena or not. This is helpful so people don’t expect the baptism of the Spirit to take a specific form and the Spirit can show up and do what it wills.

    I’m a little suspect of revival theology, but that may just be a lack of experience on my part. I became a Christian fairly recently. I know a lot of believers who experienced the “Jesus people” movement in the 70s and 80s in Southern California. I see people waiting and looking for the “next big thing” and they miss a lot of the little things God is doing all the time.

  4. Lukas db says

    1. I have not read Lloyd-Jones; I did not even know about him before reading this post.

    2. However, I agree with his take on the issue far more than any other writer we’ve yet discussed regarding experiences of the Holy Spirit. I have only two major points of contention, which may or may not be due to my lack of familiarity with Lloyd-Jones’ work. First, I am uncomfortable with his characterization of such experiences with special callings or revivals; and second, it seems to me that experiences of the Holy Spirit would have a lot more relevance and effect than simply granting a greater assurance of salvation (though they would almost inevitably do that as well). Though perhaps Lloyd-Jones thought so too, and we just don’t hear about it in this brief summary….

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