16 April 2013

At the Bottom of the Mediterranean

Never has the church been so able in analyzing its difficulties. The books that come off the presses almost daily give expert analysis and diagnosis. But there is never any solution. We spend the whole time circulating round and round and reasoning and communing and talking together concerning our difficulties, and this has a paralyzing effect. Forgive me for using the following anecdote. It is because of my desire to bring out this point clearly. I shall never forget an incident that happened in my own ministry.

I remember preaching in my homeland of Wales one Sunday in the early 1930s. I was preaching in a country place, at an afternoon and then an evening service. And when I finished the service in the afternoon and had come down from the pulpit, two ministers came to me. They had a request to make. They said, “We wonder whether you’ll do us a kindness?”

“If I can,” I said, “I’ll be really happy to.”

“Well,” they said, “we think you can. There’s a tragic case. It’s the case of our local schoolmaster. He’s a very fine man, and he was one of the best church workers in the district. But he’s got into a very sad condition. He’s given up all his church work. He just manages to keep going in his school. But as for church life and activity, he’s become more or less useless.”

“What’s the matter with him?” I asked.

“Well,” they said, “he’s got into some kind of depressed condition. Complains of headaches, and pains in his stomach, and so on. Would you be good enough to see him?”

And I promised I would. So after I had had my tea, this man, the schoolmaster, came to see me. I said to him, “Well, now, you look depressed.” He was like the men on the road to Emmaus. One glance at this man told me all about him. You saw the typical face and attitude of a man who is depressed and discouraged. I said, “Now, tell me, what’s the trouble?”

“Well,” he said, “I get these headaches. I’m never free from them. I wake up with one in the morning and I can’t sleep too well.” He added that he also suffered from gastric pains, and so on.

“Tell me,” I said, “how long have you been like this?”

“Oh,” he said, “it’s been going on for years. As a matter of fact, it’s been going on since 1915.”

“I’m interested to hear this,” I said. “How did it begin?”

He said, “Well, when the war broke out in 1914, I volunteered very early on and went into the navy. Eventually I was transferred to a submarine, which was sent to the Mediterranean. Now the part of the navy I belonged to was involved in the Gallipoli Campaign. I was there in this submarine in the Mediterranean during this campaign. And one afternoon we were engaged in action. We were submerged in the sea, and there we were, all engaged in our duties, when suddenly there was a most terrible thud and our submarine shook. We’d been hit by a mine and down we sank to the bottom of the Mediterranean. You know, since then I’ve never been the same man.”

“Well,” I said, “that’s all right. But please tell me the rest of your story.”

“But,” he said, “there’s really nothing more to say. I’m just telling you that that’s how I’ve been ever since that happened to me in the Mediterranean.”

“But, my dear friend,” I said, “I really would be interested to know the remainder of the story.”

“But I’ve told you the whole story.”

This went on for some considerable time. It was a part of my treatment. I said again, “Now I really would like to know the whole story. Start at the beginning again.” And he told me how he had volunteered, joined the navy, was posted to a submarine which went to the Mediterranean, and everything was all right until the afternoon they were engaged in the action, the sudden thud and the shaking. “Down we went to the bottom of the Mediterranean. And I have been like this ever since.”

Again I said, “Tell me the rest of the story.” I am vey glad you are laughing, because you are really laughing at yourselves, as I shall show you. For the final time I said, “Let’s go over it all again.’ And I took him over it step by step. We came to this dramatic afternoon—the thud, the shaking of the submarine.

“Down we went to the bottom of the Mediterranean.”

“Go on!” I said.

“There’s nothing more to be said.”

I said, “Are you still at the bottom of the Mediterranean?”
--Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Setting Our Affections on Glory:Nine Sermons on the Gospel and the Church (Crossway, 2013), 73-75

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