Terry Virgo, founder of the Newfrontiers family of churches, was asked to name the five most influential preachers in his life. Not the five best, the five that had influenced him most.
The second preacher to greatly influence me was during the next three years of my life when I had the privilege of attending Westminster Chapel to hear the remarkable Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He added further dimensions to my understanding of preaching and himself said that you learn more about preaching by exposure to a preacher than by reading books about it, though such books are certainly not to be despised.
His contribution? First, theological underpinning and framework. My pastor certainly preached the Bible and made it live but the Doctor helped me to think theologically and systematically, building truth on truth. If I was used to hearing preaching from the gospels and from Old Testament characters from Mr Ernest Rudman, I began to delight in Apostolic doctrine from the Epistles through the Doctor.
But he was by no means simply a Bible explainer, or purely an expositional preacher. He was immensely a man of the Spirit. The power was palpable! Two occasions among many stand out in my memory. The first was when in Romans 1, he highlighted the three times when Paul refers to ‘God gave them over’. I have never known such impact through preaching. The power was intense, frightening and truly awesome. I have never experienced revival but when the service ended no one moved for long moments. Hundreds sat in hushed awareness of the majesty of God and the true horror of God giving you up and never speaking to you again.
The other was a time he spoke from Acts 8 on Philip’s impact in Samaria. His joy in the power of the gospel through Philip’s preaching and the mighty influence of the Holy Spirit through the accompanying signs was electric. Afterwards I asked him about the radical nature of his message.
He surprised me by asking me how many points had he announced he was going to make? I remembered, “Three”. Then he pressed, “How many did I speak on?” I couldn’t remember a second or third. “One”, I said. “Right, but God opened it up while I was speaking”.
He pointed to some notes on his desk, laughed and said “those notes will do for next week!” His dependence on the Holy Spirit and openness to his immediate influence was stunning.
When listening to him I often thought ‘If C H Spurgeon was more impressive than this I simply can’t imagine how.’
He was of course a Medical Doctor. His approach was diagnostic. When he began to open up a passage you felt you were in such safe hands. He was going to make it clear, unravel it and make it so relevant to life.
He was a mighty man of God. In hearing him you felt you were encountering the God that he so evidently served. No entertainer, he used no humour. When listening to his recordings today they seem strangely of another era, but his impact on a whole generation of preachers is impossible to measure. He certainly influenced me.
You can read Terry Virgo’s blog here. I’ll blog another of Terry’s five most influential preachers next week.