The Tragedy of Modern America

In 1925, a young Martyn Lloyd-Jones was filled with massive internal debate concerning his future. A rising star within the medical community, a brilliant thinker, and a recent convert to Christ, Martyn was overcome with a new passion, a passion to teach God’s truth at every possible moment. While not yet a pastor, he was invited to lecture at Charing Cross, the church he had called home. The lecture was not quite what was expected, but if Jones was anything he was thoughtful and consistent. What he spoke at Charing Cross in one of his first ever public addresses would contain the same principles he would hold to for the rest of his life.

Dr. Jones titled his lecture, “The Tragedy of Modern Wales;” and according to his biographer Ian Murray, Martyn passionately argued that Wales was in a tragic condition because of six main issues. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones was one of God’s many gifts to his church and I believe that these six points corresponds exactly to the tragedy of modern America.

1. A tendency to judge a man by his educational degrees rather than by his character.
“We worship today any man who knows many facts and we despise the man who knows the only thing that is really worth knowing.” (Murray, 68). Today, education is considered to be the answer to all of humanities woes, and in this, they are partly right. True education in Biblical truth, piety, and the accurate knowledge of God and man would go far in solving the problems in America, but this is not what our society exalts as true education. Educational success is diploma based, rather than wisdom based. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” but modern Americans want nothing to do with the fear of God. They already fear the god of their own making, themselves.

2. Financial success as the goal in all of life.
Need I even comment on the near prophetic nature of Jones’ observations? We are the richest culture in modern society, yet we seem to be the least fulfilled. Jones remarked that upon greeting another, the tendency is to ask “How is he doing?” and then expresses what we really mean is “Is he financially successful?” Perhaps today, it is not only money that is our idolatry. Perhaps the wealth of self-fulfillment and success is just as important to the modern American. Nevertheless, there is little question that the endless pursuit of earthly success has captivated the hearts of our fellow-citizens, and this is tragic.

3. A preoccupation with small human achievement as greatness.
What Jones references is the awe at which the Welsh tended to hold those who were “important figures,” and that being in clubs, smoking fine cigars, and being people of status meant greatness. It is not different in our “great” society. Hero-worship has reached an all-time high. We have magazines and periodicals that are snatched up by a population with nothing better to do than to delve into the random diets and shopping sprees of the stars, gawking at pictures of the rich and famous as they check their mail, go on vacation or marry another star for the third time. Jones would say, “Why is it that we avoid the one thing that will give us real status-the status that belongs to those who are brothers of the Prince of princes?” Sadly, this “hero-worship” is just as rampant in the confessing church. Big conferences with big names occur almost monthly. Christians do not need their local assembly and lowly pastors anymore; they have, after all, great preachers who will tell them everything they want to hear while never needing to put off their pajamas.

4. The making of public appointments not upon qualification, but wealth.
Observing the political scene today helps us see how this point is contemporary. While nepotism has always been a part of human nature and governmental policy, Jones felt that it had reached a corrupt high in his beloved Wales. Could the same thing not be said of our beloved nation whether in government, business, or the church? Frankly, most who curse the “good-ole-boy” mentality of public appointments would not argue against its practice if they were but invited to the club. This is a clear sign of national degradation.

5. The misuse of hymnody.
“Hymn-singing is to us what a glass of beer is to the Englishman.” This may seem like a strange point, but it is penetratingly true. In Jones’ day, the musical divide was not as pronounced as it is today. What he was speaking of goes deeper than the kind of music that people enjoyed, but why they enjoyed music at all. Jones makes the case that music (hymnody) is intended to glorify and praise God, but that modern Wales had turned all music into a means for sentimentality and mere emotionalism. Our society writes few hymns today, but we are avid consumers of music. Music is pumped into our homes 24/7, our businesses, our elevators, our ear buds, our cars. Music has become little more than air-wave filler and thus it is the most effective way to produce a desired emotional response. Shortly before Jones’ time, this worldly way of using God’s gift of music to stir the will and emotions of the masses was being employed in churches as well. DL Moody and the revivalists of the 19th century capitalized on the emotions of man and bottled this Christian sentimentality of music to urge emotional spiritual “decisions.” I think today, beyond our Christian circles, just how enamored our generation is with the sentimentality of music, and how this good gift has been misused to conform people to this world’s ideologies.

6. The State of the pulpit.
Jones said, “It is not at all surprising that many of our chapels are half-empty, for it is almost impossible to determine what some of our preachers believe.” As I read this quote, I had to check again when he preached this, remember, it was 1925, not 2015. But this was the greatest tragedy of modern Wales in 1925 and the greatest tragedy of modern America in 2015. Later, when he repeated this lecture, he added, “What Wales needs above everything today is not a republic, but a revival.” The state of the pulpit in America in 2015 is in disarray. Exposition is often played lip-service, but the great mass of people have no taste for a “Thus says the Lord” of the Old Testament Prophets. It is fulfilled what Paul warned Timothy of, that men would have ears they want to be tickled. Do not be deceived, as long as their ears desiring to be tickled with pleasant words of safety, there will be someone ready to tickle them.

My heart was stirred as I read Murray’s recounting of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ passionate and quite controversial lecture. And controversial it was. A reporter was in the audience and, of course, did what reporters tend to do, publishing the most inflammatory things said, some without context. But this did not dissuade the young preacher. Even when he was challenged later by aged pastors who were offended by this speech, he stood his Biblical ground. The tragedy of modern Wales, is the tragedy of modern America, will we fall to our knees before a holy God and plead that revival would break upon us if our God would be so kind? May he begin his work in our own hearts and may He turn our tragedy into eternal triumph.



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