Studies In The Sermon On The Mount, by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
This book is technically the second volume of two dealing with Matthew 5-7, and this book covers Matthew 6-7. I was very pleasantly surprised by this book. The author, as one might expect from someone reading a serious-minded work on Christianity, is keen on challenging the reader. Nevertheless, the challenge does not come off as being mean-spirited because the author is so honest about his own concerns about his own approach and so filled, at least in this text, with humility about his life, that he is able to give very tough messages without coming across as a jerk. The true skill of this work is that the author demonstrates a mastery of the benefits of self-reflection when it comes to relating to others, and thus presents difficult truths in a way that do not trigger the defensiveness of the reader. This is a rare skill, and certainly not one that one finds often in life. All too often, in fact, people are far less gracious than the author here and manage to trip over themselves seeking to offend the listener through unsought and unappreciated advice that comes off as a power play and not speaking the truth in love.
This particular book is thirty chapters long and each of the chapters is a topical sermon that takes its core from Matthew 6 or 7. The author begins with a preface, discusses living the righteous life (1), learning to pray (2), fasting (3), the occasions for prayer (4), adoration (5), petition (6), treasures on earth and heaven (7), and the choice between God and mammon (8). There is a discussion of sin’s bondage (9), the need to avoid anxiety (10), birds and flowers (11) and their importance, little (12) but increasing (13) faith worry (14), judging (15), the mote and the beam (16), and spiritual judgment and discrimination (17). The author examines seeking and finding (18), the application of the Golden Rule (19), the strait gate (20) and narrow way (21), as well as false prophets (22). In addition there are discussion of the tree and its fruits (23), false peace (24), unconscious hypocrisy (25), self-deception (26), two men and two houses (27), what it means to build on the rock through patience or the sand (28), the trial and tests of faith (29), and a conclusion (30). All told the book ends up being a bit more than 300 pages long, with each of the chapters being a bit more than ten pages, or the length of a reasonable split sermon or so, filled with contents to challenge the reader in a gracious and subtle way.
Among the virtues of the reflection that the author has obviously cultivated (though I must admit to knowing nothing about him personally) is the way that this work demonstrates a layered approach that views multiple things as true simultaneously rather than pitting one level of truth against another. Without getting into doubtful matters, the author explores the way that Jesus talks about essential spiritual truths that cut to the heart about the way that people behave and seek to justify themselves. And in seeking to exhort and correct, the author expresses an awareness that it might seem presumptuous for him to be calling upon others to repent. The result is a kind of delicate discussion of important verses that the author applies to himself and therefore subtly applies them to the reader, because his approach wins the sympathies of the reader and encourages a similar mood of reflection and self-examination. It is a wonder that more authors do not adopt that sort of approach because it works a lot better than either servile flattery or attempts to boost oneself up through bragging as so many others do, or the approach of condemnation that leads the reader to defend oneself.