On this episode of Open Book, Stephen Nichols and John MacArthur discuss the Sermon on the Mount, misinterpreted parables, and a pastor known as “the Doctor.”
STEPHEN NICHOLS: It’s good to see you again, Dr. MacArthur.
JOHN MACARTHUR: Thank you, Stephen.
NICHOLS: We’re still talking about books that have influenced you, and we had talked about one London pastor already with John Stott. Now we’re going to talk about another. He’s known as “the Doctor,” and he’s Welsh. We’re talking about none other than D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
MACARTHUR: Of course I knew about him, and I had read some of his writings, but I was starting the book of Matthew at Grace Community Church. It was probably the most definitive book I taught in the history of my pastoral ministry.
NICHOLS: May I just ask you a question at this point? Were you planning at that point to preach through the New Testament, or did you just start with Matthew?
MACARTHUR: Yes, I wanted to preach through the New Testament from the get-go.
MACARTHUR: I didn’t know if I’d do it. I mean, who stays in one place long enough to do that, at the pace that I do it? Criswell did it because he took chapters, but—
NICHOLS: You do verses.
MACARTHUR: —I do verses, yes. Phrases.
NICHOLS: Phrase by phrase.
MACARTHUR: But I came to the book of Matthew, and I was fine until I got to chapter 5, and I got to the Sermon on the Mount, and all my dispensational background reared its ugly head. I had read a couple of commentaries by guys at Dallas Seminary, like Walvoord and others, and I said, “I do not believe this. I do not believe that the Sermon on the Mount has no relevance to the living church, and it’s some kind of a formula for living in the millennium in the future.” And I said, “I need help. I need help to understand this, and I need help, not on some kind of big picture. I need help with the details of this.”
NICHOLS: The details, yes. The fine print.
MACARTHUR: So, I got a copy of Martyn Lloyd-Jones Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. In the process of going through that, I jettisoned virtually all of that sort of dispensational stuff that had been concocted and imposed on the book of Matthew and on the rest of Scripture. It all died in the encounter that I had with Matthew 5 through 7.
MACARTHUR: Then once that became clear, by the time I got to the parables, I understood those correctly for the first time because they were all misinterpreted as well.
NICHOLS: And discipleship.
MACARTHUR: Well, yes.
NICHOLS: Jesus was going to come to demonstrate.
MACARTHUR: And the whole Lordship issue came roaring out of that. But yes, I devoured the Sermon on the Mount. I read it and reread it and scribbled it. I marked it up extensively because I was going through a metamorphosis in my mind. It was changing me, so I was having to let go of things and see things in a different way. Some of those bolts were already loose, but they completely came undone. Some of the dispensational bolts came undone under the influence of Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
NICHOLS: I just picture you right now like a submarine— bolts popping and the water flooding in.
MACARTHUR: Yes. I just wanted to be biblical, and here was a guy who had no formal theological training, a medical doctor, and he was just taking the Word.
NICHOLS: A brilliant, brilliant medical doctor.
MACARTHUR: Of course. And diligent in his study and well-read. It had the ring of truth. It had the ring of truth, but it wasn’t stuffy. It was alive to me.
NICHOLS: So, this is obviously going to impact your thinking. He’s going to revolutionize your thinking, and sort of tear down things and build up things. In reading that, do you think it impacted your actual preaching at all, your handling of the text, or not so much?
MACARTHUR: Well, in this way: as a preacher, I have to fully believe what I’m preaching. There can be no duplicity in my heart. I could never have preached the Sermon on the Mountain. I would have avoided it like a millennialist avoids the book of Revelation. I would have stayed away from that stuff because I wouldn’t have been sure what I was talking about.
It just empowered my confidence to preach. In that sense, yes, it affected my preaching. But what you’re after, I know from the way you’re asking it, is that Lloyd-Jones has a way of going from the text he’s dealing with everywhere else, and showing the implications of it. And of course, I loved that about him and that’s a path I followed. But I learned that another way, and that’s another book we’ll talk about.
NICHOLS: Okay. We’ll have to save that one. Did you ever meet Lloyd-Jones?
MACARTHUR: No. I never met him, but it’s an interesting little bit of history. Out of nowhere, after his death, we were contacted by his family. His family said, “We know about your ministry, and we run the Lloyd-Jones Trust tape ministry in England. We would like a living expositor to partner with the Doctor, and we would wonder if you would allow us to take your entire preaching library and make it a partnership with the Lloyd-Jones Trust. We’ll distribute both his preaching and your preaching together. So, we have an expositor who’s with the Lord and a living expositor.” And I’m talking to Tony Ruston, who runs that entire ministry, and this is the will of the Doctor’s wife, and his daughter and son-in-law, who was a member of parliament, and they want all of my preaching tapes to put on the Lloyd-Jones Trust deal.
NICHOLS: That’s great.
MACARTHUR: It was a partnership that came out of nowhere. I was able to go over there once we got that started. We had a wonderful partnership for many, many years together. I was in his home in Oxford, just jammed full of books. It was his summer home. And in the backyard, in the garden in the back, there was a thirteenth-century church just sitting in the back. And his dear wife, Bethan, hosted us there. She was also a medical doctor.
NICHOLS: I don’t think I knew that about her.
MACARTHUR: We got to know the family and Fred Catherwood. And then I became really good friends with Christopher Catherwood, Lloyd-Jones’ grandson, who was a Cambridge Oxford scholar and author and just a hilarious human being. I mean, absolutely hilarious. I got to know them. We had some great fellowship with Christopher and his wife. So, I never met the Doctor, but the Doctor was my mentor. He was the one who freed me from some of the blinders that I had to understand the Word, and that was transforming for me.
NICHOLS: Well, we have this great book.
MACARTHUR: It also cost me all my dispensational friends. Or most of them.
NICHOLS: Well, we’ll talk about that sometime. But you made new ones.
MACARTHUR: Yes, I did, like R.C.
NICHOLS: And the new ones love you very much.
NICHOLS: Well, we’ve got that book, we’ve got the family connection, and we have you breaking the silence after four hundred years in the silence room at Oxford.
MACARTHUR: It was the same as the Old Testament and the New Testament.
NICHOLS: Perfect. You’re a herald, so you have to talk. You can’t be silent. Well, thank you. Really appreciate that.
Transcript lightly edited for readability.