This year I’m trying to read through Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ 14 volume exposition of Romans. Lloyd-Jones began teaching through Romans on Friday nights at Westminster Chapel in London on October 7, 1955. Thirteen years later, at the end of chapter 14, he was forced to retire from the pulpit ministry because of illness. He spent the rest of his life editing the manuscripts of his sermons. All his sermons were recorded on tape, and are available at https://www.mljtrust.org/free-sermons/book-of-romans/
In Chapter 19 of Volume 1, Martyn Lloyd-Jones did something relatively unusual for him (at least so far as I’ve gotten into this reading project): he told a personal story. He talked about one year in which he went on vacation right after preaching the Sunday service at Westminster Chapel, which seats 1,500 people. He and his wife were out in the country, and attended church where an aging preacher had announced he was due to preach three times. “It was a very hot day,” wrote Lloyd-Jones, and out of compassion for this faithful elderly preacher, he volunteered to fill in for him that afternoon. He writes:
I went into the pulplit and looked at my congregation. Including my wife, the congregation consisted of five people! Let me afmit it quite frankly and honestly, the devil came to me and tempted me, and he did so in this way. ‘Well, of course, with only five people– just give them a little talk!’ Quite apart from the fact that I am not good at that kind of thing, I recovered myself, and this is what I said to myself: If you cannot preach to these five people in exactly the same was as you preached last Sunday in Westminster Chapel, the sooner you get out of the pulpit the better! By the grace of God I was enabled to do so, and I have never enjoyed a service more in the whole of my life! The preacher who is dependent upon [the size of] his congregation is unfit to enter the pulpit.Romans, vol. 1, Chapter 19, p. 253
We all dream of filling huge auditoriums, preaching multiple weekend services, maybe even going multi-site with video feeds. But if we aren’t willing to give the same gospel to five people in a nursing home, we aren’t fit for the ministry. Oh, Lord, have mercy.