Iain Murray really needs no introduction to most readers here at Said, but in case you are new to the area, I would like to share a bit about Ian Murray. He is perhaps best known for his biographies on men like Jonathan Edwards, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and John Murray. However, he has written quite extensively in other areas of church history including Revival and Revivalism and The Puritan Hope. In all, Ian Murray has written 20+ books for Banner of Truth Trust which he co-founded in 1957.
Of special interest to this particular volume is the fact that Ian H. Murray served with Martyn Lloyd-Jones for a season. Because of this, Murray knows the rather private Lloyd-Jones unlike most people save Mrs. Lloyd-Jones and maybe a few others. In this book, Messenger of Grace, we learn more of the “insider” knowledge Ian Murray possesses of the modern-day Puritan.
Summary of Messenger of Grace
This book is not like a biography in that it does not follow a chronological order of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ (ML-J from here on) life. Rather, the author takes a more thematic approach to the ministry of ML-J. The book itself is separated into two parts. The first part deals more with an apologetic and description of various facets of his ministry. Part two has a pretty neat twist on it that lends to a quick synopsis of a few major “events” in ML-J’s ministry.
Part one consists of the legacy of ML-J and how some unfair tags were placed on the man because of the choice of what was published and what was not. For example, many claim that ML-J was not evangelistic because of his Romans and Ephesians series that have been published. Murray argues, and shows, that ML-J was probably more evangelistic in his speaking than expositional even though every sermon was expositional. Murray says as much on page 231, “Through fifty years, he preached more evangelistic sermons than those of any other kind.” ML-J rarely preached through a book, except in the case of Ephesians, but would rather preach through passages as directed by the Holy Spirit.
We are treated to a chapter on how ML-J prepared his sermons and how he went about constructing his message. The amazing component of this process was that while it was a routine for him, he never allowed himself to become reliant upon this. Chapter five, in my opinion, is worth the price of the book for those 10 pages. There is also a valuable chapter where Murray compares Spurgeon and ML-J. Interestingly, ML-J was not a great reader of Spurgeon even though he was a great admirer of the Prince of Preacher.
A couple other chapters in part one deal with key controversies that ML-J found himself involved with during his life. Ecumenism was one of those controversies and Murray attempts, I believe he does an adequate job, of defending ML-J’s actions which included a split with J.I. Packer that saw their involvement together in the Puritan Conference come to an end.
Part two begins with the actual letter ML-J sent to Packer that resulted in the end of the Puritan Conference. This letter is valuable in and of itself because much has been written against ML-J due to this letter. This is the first time the letter has been made public.
Chapter ten is nothing but 19 pages of quotes in different doctrinal areas. It will definitely be a resource for many young ministers who like to look for quotes from past saints. Chapter eleven is a listing of many (it is not exhaustive) of ML-J’s sermons. Chapter twelve is an exhaustive synopsis of all of the sermons that comprise the eight-volume series on Ephesians. Finally, Murray concludes with a short review on the book Is the Reformation Over that was not favorable to ML-J.
Critique of Messenger of Grace
The first thing I will discuss I only discuss because it is quite humorous in my mind. In the preface, on page xiii, Murray writes on the last line of the page, “…heard and I am thankful it can now be heard by so many more for…” As I turned the page to xiv I read the same exact line. I was reading the preface late at night and merely wanted to get past the preface before I fell asleep. I bet I flipped back and forth three or four times before I realized the same line had been printed twice! What made it even funnier to me is the last sentence in the preface where Murray says, “I am indebted to my wife for her close and necessary attention to the text at the proof stage” (xiv). I know full well that she had nothing to do with this oversight, but since I was so tired, and I have a strange sense of humor in the first place, I found myself laughing out loud at the mistake in that context.
Anything else that is under the heading of critique is positive in nature. For example, Murray’s personal anecdotes that are mixed in throughout this book are priceless. He offers insight into this man that few can. It is abundantly clear that this book was necessary to “clear the air” on a few issues because ML-J still speaks to us today. There is a new generation just now learning about this man and the ministry God gave him. I believe every young minister should learn from this man as though he was a contemporary of Edwards, Whitefield, or Spurgeon.
I have struggled with how to recommend this book. I am not sure if it would serve best to read before you read the biography (a must read) or if you should read the biography first and then fill in the gaps with this book. There is also the simultaneous problem of where should you read Preachers and Preaching (again, a must read)? The one thing that is absolutely true is that this book is a must own and read. Even if you only read chapters five and ten, you will be blessed beyond measure.