Old Yankee Stadium’s Best Night Ever

THE OLD STADIUM in the Bronx—built nearly 100 years ago—closed for business in 2008. The house that Ruth built had been home to the New York Yankees since before the days when their line-up was dubbed “Murderer’s Row.” Ghosts of legends like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle inhabited the place.

But the edifice located at East 161st Street and River Avenue in the Bronx was much more than a baseball park; it was America’s premier outdoor arena. If we were to pick a place that has been to us what the Coliseum was to Rome in days of glory, most would nominate Yankee Stadium, whether they liked the Yankees or not.

Looking beyond the Yankees, and their inseparable relationship with the stadium, we note that the venue provided the backdrop for many sports and cultural events that transcended baseball. From concerts, to religious services, to a national memorial service for victims of horrific terror just twelve days after 9/11, Yankee Stadium has been part of the scenery of American life.

When it comes to sports, the stadium has not just been a place for home runs, but also the field of battle for gladiators of the gridiron and soccer stars.

And, of course, there was the boxing.

Louis-schmeling-1938It’s been a generation since a championship fight was held at Yankee Stadium (Muhammad Ali vs. Ken Norton in September 1976), and they were becoming rare events for the venue even then. But during the sweet science’s heyday in the 1920s-1950s, the stadium ring planted over second base was the scene of many epic battles.

Sugar Ray Robinson, often referred to as the greatest “pound for pound” boxer of all time, had already won welterweight and middleweight titles. On a dreadfully hot night in June 1952, he tried to win the light-heavyweight crown against champion Joey Maxim. And he was clearly winning when he succumbed to heat exhaustion in the fourteenth round. He did, though, last longer than the referee, who had been carried out two rounds earlier.

Jack Dempsey, on the comeback trail seeking a rematch with Gene Tunney, fought at Yankee Stadium in 1927. Tunney fought there, too. In fact, there were 30 championship fights held on that field.

Calling something the best, or most significant, is always subjective and therefore risky. But I think I’m right when I suggest that Yankee Stadium’s greatest moment did not involve Babe Ruth or even Reggie Jackson. It wasn’t even a baseball game.

Eight-four years ago, two boxers climbed into the famous stadium’s ring and squared off in the most historic boxing match, if not sporting event, of the decade – maybe the century. Max Schmeling and Joe Louis had fought in the same ring two years before, and the former world heavyweight champion from Germany had somehow, some way, found a flaw in Louis’ style.

The Brown Bomber from Detroit (the Yankees would soon be called “Bronx Bombers” as a take off on Louis’ nickname), as he was called, had been well on his way to pugilistic immortality, easily dispatching opponents—even former champions – hardly breaking a sweat. He seemed to be invincible. But the first fight with Max ended with Joe on the canvas in the twelfth round trying to remember who and where he was.

It was the 1930s and the world was becoming a very ominous and confusing place. Hitler’s Nazi-Germany was on the move, and the dictator was beginning to look invincible himself.

Schmeling, as a German, was blocked from fighting James J. Braddock for the title, even though he was clearly the number one contender. It fell to Louis to fight the Cinderella Man in 1937. Braddock was defending his title for the first time. Louis went down in round one of that fight – only to come back strong and knock Braddock out in the eighth.

Yet, though he was the champion in name, Louis knew that he wouldn’t be able to think of himself that way until he could settle his score with Mr. Schmeling. Most fight fans felt the same way.

In ancient times there was something called representative warfare, where one man from an army would do battle with an opponent sent by the enemy, and the larger conflict would be decided by this “one on one” ordeal.  The Philistine giant, Goliath, who taunted the ancient Israelites, proposed this kind of settlement to the issues of his day. Then he met a boy named David.

In 1938, as the world was becoming increasingly polarized in the face of impending war and as it was becoming clear to all people of freedom and good will that the Nazis were evil, the situation was ripe for a representative battle of sorts. And the rematch of Joe Louis and Max Schmeling fit the bill.

51sD86yfPZL._SY300_So, on June 22, 1938, veteran referee Arthur Donovan gave his ring instructions to two determined boxers as nearly 70,000 Yankee Stadium spectators looked on. More than 100 million radio listeners tuned in from around the world. This was the largest broadcast audience ever up to that time and included just about half of the American public. That morning, the New York Journal-American had a large cartoon in the paper, one that showed a stadium and two figures in a boxing ring.  Hovering above the ring was the image of an immense globe bearing the face of a man. He was looking down on the scene on behalf of all humanity.

Yes, it was that big of a deal that night.

Author David Margolick, in his definitive account of that evening entitled Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling and a World on the Brink, wrote: “The fight implicated both the future of race relations and the prestige of two powerful nations. Each fighter was bearing on his shoulders more than any athlete ever had. One didn’t need to be an anthropologist to know there had never been anything like it, or a soothsayer to know there would never be anything like it again. If Louis won, no rivalry on the horizon could possibly generate as much excitement. And with Europe and, inevitably, America, on the brink of war, the world would soon enough have more than prizefights on its mind.”

If you ever get a chance to see a film of the fight that night, try to find the audio of the radio broadcast by NBC’s Clem McCarthy as well. His gravelly voiced blow-by-blow description turns the ear into an eye. Joe Louis was ready this time – he knew what he was fighting for, and he didn’t want to waste any time.

Seven seconds into the bout, Joe Louis snapped the head of his opponent back with a left-jab, then another, and another. Later opponents would suggest that Louis’ jab wasn’t a Muhammad Ali-type punch but more like putting a light bulb against your face, then breaking it. Thirteen seconds later he had Schmeling on the ropes. McCarthy could hardly keep up: “And Louis hooks a left to Max’s head quickly! And shoots over a hard right to Max’s head! Louis, a left to Max’s jaw!  A right to his head! Louis with the old one-two! First the left and then the right! He’s landed more blows in this one round than he landed in any five rounds of the other fight!”

You get the picture.

In two minutes and four seconds it was over. But no one felt cheated. There were no catcalls that might usually accompany a lop-sided battle. Referee Arthur Donovan later said: “A referee lives a lifetime in two minutes like that.” 

So does a nation.

The rest is history. The defeat of the German in the ring didn’t slow the world’s long slide into war – nor could it have. Louis went on to fight again and again and again, defending his title successfully fifteen more times before December 7, 1941. Schmeling went home in disgrace. Nazis didn’t like it when someone from their master race got beaten up by a black man.

A few months after the fight, on November 9, 1938, as Nazis terrorized Jewish businesses and houses of worship during Kristallnacht, Max Schmeling sheltered two Jewish young people in his hotel suite in Berlin.

Joe Louis served his country in uniform during the war and emerged after to continue his career, though the clock was running out on his days of glory. He died in 1981. His former foe helped pay the cost of Joe’s funeral. Max Schmeling, who lived to be just seven months shy of a hundred years old, died in 2005.

Their brief, but explosive meeting in June 1938 at Yankee Stadium captured the attention of the world and the imagination of our nation. So, the great ballpark should be remembered as a place for more than baseball.

Yankee Stadium was a field of dreams, history, and glory.

My Conversation with Brian Lamb about JFK’S GHOST on CSpan Booknotes

I’ve been a fan of all things books on CSpan for decades. I did a talk for them back in 2011 about The Shooting Salvationist. So, it was wonderful to be invited to be a guest on Booknotes for this conversation with Brian Lamb, the founder of all things CSpan.

Here’s a link to the interview. It’s just over 38 minutes in length.



My new book was released by Lyon’s Press June 1, 2021. It’s titled, “JFK’S GHOST: Kennedy, Sorensen, and the Making of Profiles in Courage.”

My Dad gave me a copy of Profiles when I was a kid.

I still have it.

He also gave me my first history books­­. They were given away with a purchase of laundry soap each week at the A&P grocery store in Taylor, Michigan where I grew up.

John F. Kennedy, then the President of the United States, wrote the Foreword.

I’ve been interested in the Kennedy story ever since, and now I finally get the chance to write about it.

The story of the writing, publication, popular reception, of Senator John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Profiles in Courage, is in many ways a window into the era of all things Camelot to come. And as with so many legends, the myths had a superfluous quality to them, because so many of JFK’s accomplishments were significant on their own merit and in no real need of enhancement.

Kennedy’s rise to the pinnacle of political power after World War II is a compelling story of ambition, wealth, skill, and a measure of cunning. He was prone to sickness—near death on a few occasions—yet he won the White House in 1960 with an image of youthful and vibrant energy. He brought erudition, charm, wit, and charisma to the presidency in ways never before seen.

A few years later, Richard Nixon, Kennedy’s rival, would win the presidential prize. However, his pathway to it was mocked as contrived and image-laden. There was even a bestselling book written about it shortly after the Nixon family moved to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue called, The Selling of the President—a cynical look at how Roger Ailes (of future Fox News notoriety) and many others manipulated (in the book’s view) the political process and Nixon’s image en route to victory.⁠1 But Nixon’s 1968 team simply borrowed from the Kennedy playbook from the 1960 campaign cycle.

Not that anyone noticed.

Like all successful politicians, Kennedy brought a tight-knit entourage with him wherever life and work took him—men and women who would do just about anything for him, and often did. They covered for him at times and worked as one to keep the flame of his image burning bright even long after he was gone.

They still do.

Winning the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1957 was a vital piece of the puzzle in JFK’s ascendance to the presidency. And it is clear that to Kennedy himself the award was one of his proudest achievements. He would be hyper-sensitive to his dying day about any criticism or rumor that cast doubt on his authorship of Profiles in Courage.

John F. Kennedy was 39-years-old when he won the Pulitzer, and it was well-timed. He seemed to instinctively understand how beneficial it would be to have that kind of award on his political resume. After all, the man he hoped to succeed in less than three years was nearly three decades older and had a career of hands-on leadership and management experience on his side. Jack had never run anything more than a small crew on a PT boat and his office staff. Hardly a match for the commander of all things D-Day. It was understandable that Jack was afraid of being perceived as young and inexperienced, not all that ready for the responsibilities of the presidency. He needed to add a good measure of gravitas to his c.v., and the Pulitzer was a pathway to what biographer Robert Dallek described as the “the stamp of seriousness” he needed to win high office.⁠2

With the publication of Profiles, Kennedy’s name recognition soared nationally. The book was an instant best-seller and received stellar reviews. Because of it, Jack would go on to receive several honorary college degrees. Profiles became a global publishing phenomenon, and was translated into dozens of languages, “from Persian to Gujrati.⁠3” He was increasingly seen as an erudite man of letters. Much of the book was reprinted in mass circulation periodicals. He was uninvited with new speaking invitations from far and wide, and all this with the 1956 Democratic National Convention scheduled for that Summer in Chicago, where he already had his eyes on the possible vice presidential nomination on a ticket with Adlai Stevenson.

Of all honors he would receive throughout his life, none would make him happier than his receipt of the Pulitzer Prize. And all of the abuse he would receive throughout his life, none would make him more angry than the charge a few months later that he had not really written it.

But winning that prize put a spotlight on Jack Kennedy, one that, at times, resembled a target on his back. The attention carried with it scrutiny of the sort he had never really experienced before on the national stage. There was a measure of envy on the part of his political peers, who resented all the attention he was getting. Soon rumors began to circulate—rumors that Kennedy had not actually written the book, and that sales figures were being manipulated to ensure the book’s longevity on bestseller lists. The FBI even started a file, sensing that Kennedy could be vulnerable to a fraud charge.⁠4

If the rumors were proven to be true, and there was a genuine charge of fraud, all of Kennedy’s hopes and dreams, as well as those of his diehard circle of admirers and boosters––not to mention his father––would come to nothing.

And there would never be that brief and shining moment in America remembered ever since as Camelot. — DRS

[David R. Stokes is a ghostwriter, best-selling author, historian, broadcaster, and retired pastor. His forthcoming book, JFK’S GHOST: Kennedy, Sorensen, and the Making of PROFILES IN COURAGE, will be published by LYONS PRESS June 1, 2021]

1 a cynical look: The Selling of the President, Joe McGinness

2 “stamp of seriousness”: An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963, by Robert Dallek, p. 210

3 “from Persian to Gujrati”: Kennedy, Theodore Sorensen, p. 68

4 The FBI even started a file: An Unfinished Life, Dallek, p. 210

Three Presidents Who Roared in the 1920s

THE ROARING TWENTIES BEGAN 100 years ago this month. During that fascinating decade, the White House was occupied by three Republicans, who, though largely dismissed and forgotten these days, may actually deserve a fresh look.  

On August 2, 1927, President Calvin Coolidge had breakfast in the White House residence with his wife, Grace, and remarked to her “I have been president four years today.” It was one of those quick, concise, directly-to-the-point sentences she had been used to hearing since they met in 1905. It was also something the American people were familiar with, having nicknamed the 30th president “Silent Cal.” He had a 9:00 meeting with reporters in his office that morning. Before fielding a few questions, he told those gathered: “If the conference will return at 12:00, I may have a further statement to make.”

Curious, but compliant, in those long-since-gone days of semi-civility between presidents and the press, the journalists found their way back at noon. An hour or so before that conference encore, Coolidge took a pencil and wrote a message on a piece of paper. He handed it to his secretary with the instruction to take it to his stenographer and have him make several copies – enough for the newsmen who would be at the 12:00 meeting. Ever the frugal man, he suggested that the brief statement could be copied several times on the same sheet, thus only using a few sheets of paper. He told the secretary not to give the note to the stenographer, though, until about 11:50 a.m.

He really wanted to manage this story.

He asked for the pages to be brought to him uncut and before the reporters were admitted to the office, he took a pair of scissors and cut the paper into smaller slips. When he was just about ready, he told his secretary: “I am going to hand these out myself; I am going to give them to the newspapermen, without comment, from this side of the desk. I want you to stand at the door and not permit anyone to leave until each of them has a slip, so that they may have an even chance.” An “even chance” at a big scoop, that is. The handwritten note from the president said: “I do not choose to run for president in nineteen twenty-eight.”

Though the now classic Broadway play (made into several film versions), The Front Page, was yet a year away from being published and produced, it comes to mind with the image of dozens of reporters rushing to find telephones.

Calvin Coolidge could have been re-elected if he had wanted the job for another term. His anointed successor, Herbert Hoover, won big in 1928, though it is clear that Coolidge was less-than-enthusiastic about the “Great Engineer.” It is one of those curious “what ifs” of history – would Coolidge have dealt with the coming of the Great Depression better than his successor? Historians tend to bunch the three Republican presidents of the 1920s – Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover – together in a way suggesting they were identical triplets separated at birth. But there were many differences – some subtle, some not so much.

Herbert Hoover, all of his speechifying about “individualism” notwithstanding, was not the fiscal conservative many today make him out to be. He had a strong interventionist streak in his personality. In many ways, he helped to turn a recession into the Great Depression. Ironically, when closely examined, Hoover’s approach to economics had more in common with his successor than it did with the two men preceding him in the White House.

Warren G. Harding generally ranks in the bottom five when studies are done about the effectiveness of our chief executives. In fact, Hoover fares better than the man from Marion, Ohio. This is largely due to the scandals that came to light after his untimely death in San Francisco in 1923 – the affair known as Teapot Dome. Also, some of Mr. Harding’s personal behavior was less-than-presidential.

What is usually missed about Harding, though, is how effective he was on the issue of the economy. When he assumed the presidency in March of 1921, he inherited a mess. Woodrow Wilson had expanded the role and size of government dramatically, incurred a $25 billion dollar debt, and cracked down on political opponents – even imprisoning some (socialist activist Eugene V. Debs, etc.). In fact, the economic problems in the 1920-1921 depression were actually worse in many ways than the Great Depression a decade later. But that downturn didn’t last as long – thankfully. Warren Harding cut federal spending and lowered taxes. And in less than two years the number of unemployed in the country fell from 4.9 million to 2.8 million.

Oh – and Harding set the political prisoners free, even inviting Debs to the White House. He was a classier act than many now remember.

By the time Calvin Coolidge became president upon the death of Harding in August of 1923, the country was on its way to enjoying some great years of prosperity. He was a fiscal conservative who tried his best to stay out of the way. He knew that the government functioned best as a referee – not as a participant in the economic game – or as a team owner.

After he was elected in his own right, he told the nation in his March 4, 1925 inaugural address: “I want the people of America to be able to work less for the government and more for themselves. I want them to have the rewards of their own industry. That is the chief meaning of freedom. Until we can re-establish a condition under which the earnings of the people can be kept by the people, we are bound to suffer a very distinct curtailment of our liberty.”

Coolidge died suddenly on January 5, 1933, after Hoover had been badly beaten by Franklin Roosevelt. He did not live to see what a prolonged depression looked like, but one suspects that he would have ventured an opinion or two. His words would have been brief and directly on point. – DRS

David R. Stokes is a best-selling author, historian, broadcaster, and retired pastor. His forthcoming book, JFK’S GHOST: Kennedy, Sorensen, and the Making of PROFILES IN COURAGE, will be published by LYONS PRESS later this year.

The First Carol of Christmas

What’s your favorite Christmas song?

That’s a very subjective question.

Some like to hear about “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” – others love to think about bells “jingling.” Yet, others tear up (with good reason) thinking about a “Holy Night” so long ago.

They may even want to fall on their knees.

I think, though, that the greatest Christmas song ever written is one with no familiar music. The tune is no longer available to us. But, the lyrics – ah, those lyrics – well – they’re inspired!

When the Apostle Paul was writing to Pastor Timothy about everything from order in the church to the dangers of greed, he gave us an easily overlooked Christmas nugget that endures. In his first letter to his young protégé, he slips in a profound Christmas song, sandwiched between practical admonitions.

It may be not be a toe tapper like “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” – but it completely captures the essence of Christmas.

That essence is incarnation.

We are not told the “style” of music – nor are we told the instrument or instruments used to express it (if any). We are just given the WORDS. They are inspired words – and they have endured. They are ancient words – yet ever new.

So – this season let us reach back for one of the forgotten “oldies” – a first century worship favorite. They likely sang it in places like Ephesus, Thyatira, and Philippi. You can make up your own music – but don’t mess with the words.

They are an enduring Christmas gift.

And – one…two…three…

“He appeared in a body,
Was vindicated by the Spirit,
Was seen by angels,
Was preached among the nations,
Was believed on in the world,
Was taken up in glory.”
— I Timothy 3:16 (NIV)

Have a Blessed day! ––DRS

[DAVID R. STOKES is a retired pastor and best-selling author. He is the founder of CRITICAL MASS PUBLISHING, specializing in helping pastors and other thought leaders write and publish their own books. www.criticalmasspublishing.com ]

Chamberlain, Truman––and Cyrus

When the word “appeasement” was first identified with the foreign policy of a nation, it was on purpose. Now a term of derision generally applied to political leaders who seem to be clueless about apparent danger, it was never really a “bad” word until it became forever identified with foreign policy failures in Great Britain under the premiership of Neville Chamberlain. The word itself simply means to pacify or soothe. Most of us understand that there is a measure of this required for peaceful and civilized living and discourse.

But when appeasement met Adolf Hitler, it was manipulated, twisted, scorned, and ultimately dismissed. Winston Churchill famously remarked “an appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” To paraphrase the words of Sean Connery playing a character in the 1987 movie The Untouchables, Mr. Chamberlain brought a paper knife to a gunfight in 1938 when he met Hitler and Mussolini in Munich.

While Chamberlain was staking the future of his nation on appeasement as official policy, Harry Truman, a freshman U.S. Senator from Missouri, kept his eyes on developments in Europe. Great Britain seemed to be determined to feed Europe to the Nazi crocodile one bite at a time. Truman knew and noted that the policy of appeasement was not just in play over the fate of Czechoslovakia, but it also had another deadly and dreadful application—one that would impact the Jewish people.

The British government released a White Paper on the issue of Palestine in May 1939. Since the 1917 Balfour Declaration, and during the years of the British Mandate, they had been largely supportive of Jewish migration to Palestine and the general idea of a Jewish state there. The 1939 policy statement changed all of that. It advocated severe limitations on Jewish immigration to Palestine at a time when European anti-Semitism was reaching critical mass.

By the way, the 1939 British White Paper was a big hit in Berlin.

Churchill saw it differently. He spoke to the House of Commons on May 22, 1939: “as one intimately and responsibly concerned in the earlier states of our Palestine policy,” and insisted that he would not “stand by and see the solemn engagements into which Britain has entered before the world set aside.”

Senator Truman, who was a long way from being well known or even noticed, weighed in on the matter and his words were inserted into the Congressional Record:

“Mr. President, the British Government has used its diplomatic umbrella again… this time on Palestine. It has made a scrap of paper out of Lord Balfour’s promise to the Jews. It has just added another to the long list of surrenders to the Axis powers.”

The road to the Holocaust was paved with appeasement.

By the end of World War II, that once obscure Senator from Missouri was President of the United States. The world had emerged from a global conflict and also knew the horrors of the Holocaust, the bitter fruit of Anti-Semitism enabled by appeasement. And before long, Mr. Truman was faced with a decision about the region he had talked about in 1939.

In a singular act of political courage, and against the advice of men he admired very much, President Truman officially recognized a new nation in Palestine—a homeland for the Jews—just eleven short minutes after David Ben Gurion announced its birth in Tel Aviv.

Truman signed a single typewritten page. It is on display these days at the Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri. It shows the President’s cursive corrections, including a wording change from “new Jewish state” to “State of Israel”—as well as the directive: “Approved May 14, 1948.”

This was a bold step for the American president, one opposed by powerful members of his own administration. Secretary of State George C. Marshall was so strongly opposed that he told his boss that he might not vote for him that November.

But Harry Truman was a savvy politician with an appreciation for history—ancient and recent. He never attended college, but he was well read. As a young boy, when chronic near-sightedness kept him from some more strenuous activities, he would lose himself in books.

Reading helped the boy with thick glasses become a great visionary.

According to historian Michael Beschloss, among his favorite books was a “gold-trimmed, four-volume history called Great Men and Famous Women.” One of the men chronicled was Cyrus the Great, King of Persia (modern day Iran), who enabled the Jewish people to leave their exile and go back to Palestine. That’s right, a pro-Israel Iranian leader. It is likely that this ancient story was on Truman’s mind as he dealt with the Jewish-Palestine issue. More recent history, particularly the events of the late 1930s, also influenced his presidential decisions.

President Truman had an incredible sense of the past’s power to influence the present and future. The internal world of thought, nurtured as a child through the reading of history, was very present in the man.

Shortly after leaving office in 1953, while visiting a Jewish school in New York City, he was introduced as “the man who helped to create the State of Israel”—Truman interrupted and said: “What do you mean ‘helped create?’ I am Cyrus! I am Cyrus!”

[DAVID R. STOKES is a retired pastor and best-selling author. He is the founder of CRITICAL MASS PUBLISHING, specializing in helping pastors and other thought leaders write and publish their own books. www.criticalmasspublishing.com ]


Any pastor with a heart for biblical exposition who has come of age since the midpoint of the 20th century will inevitably find himself drawn to the pastoral works of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. In fact, the books that bear his name have not only grown out of his pulpit work; they are nearly word-for-word transpositions of his spoken sermons or studies.

A short walk from the majestic dignity of Buckingham Palace, there is a church which has a royal history of its own. Princes of the pulpit have reigned there. Names such as John Henry Jowett and G. Campbell Morgan adorn the history of legendary Westminster Chapel. These men helped to create the spiritual climate of their times. They were giants of the faith, the English spoken word and biblical exposition.

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones was responsible for the most vital period in the life of Westminster Chapel. A man of unparalleled intellect and prodigious sermonic output, he left his mark on both sides of the Atlantic-and around the world.

Born in Wales in 1899, he grew up during the glow-and afterglow-of the great Welsh Revival, though he would come to spiritual maturity and clarity a bit later in life. The residual influences of that nation-wide awakening cannot be fully measured but were, no doubt, significant.

As a young student, Martyn was drawn to the sciences and ultimately to medicine, first as a study, then as a career. Following his schooling, he joined the staff of a teaching hospital and became clinical assistant to Sir Thomas Horder, one of the most famous heart physicians of the day.

Martyn was so young when he took his exams that he had to wait to become a full-fledged physician. Horder’s “Socratic” approach to logic and learning had a significant impact on the future preacher’s mind. Evidences of this color his later work as a preacher and writer.1

While on the road to fame and fortune as a doctor of medicine, God clearly had another plan. There was a battle raging in the soul of this brilliant man. The Great Physician was calling this young heart physician into the work of the healing of souls.

Lloyd-Jones was courting Bethany Phillips, who attended the same church. He shared his inner struggle with her. Soon they were married. Shortly thereafter he became a minister of the gospel.

He was called to lead a small congregation in Southern Wales: Bethlehem Forward Mission Church in Sandsfields, Abervon. This was a working-class congregation in a community beginning to feel the impact of economic depression. The region had become a stronghold for Marxist-Leninism-preying on the fears and prejudices of the labor class. Lloyd-Jones’ early and enduring success in this first pastorate is credited as one key factor in saving the region from Communism. Local Marxist leaders were converted under the power of his preaching and joined the church. This congregation grew from a gathering of about 90 people to more than 850 in slightly less than 12 years.2

Even in his first years of ministry, Martyn was marking himself as someone skilled at making the ancient text relevant to the contemporary need. One church member, a retired preacher in his 80s, who heard him in these formative years remarked, “Though you are a young man, you are preaching the old truths I have been trying to preach all of my life … but you have put a modern suit on them.”3

The young preacher found himself preaching to a wider audience as opportunities presented themselves around the United Kingdom. Among those who heard him and came away moved and impressed was the great London pastor, G. Campbell Morgan.

Morgan was, by the late 1930s, winding up his second tenure as pastor of Westminster Chapel in London. Though reluctant at first, Lloyd-Jones agreed to an assistant role in London. As the nation basked in the short-lived euphoria of Neville Chamberlain’s Munich gambit in 1938, he moved his family to London. Soon, the world would be at war. This was the social backdrop for the beginning of a spiritual explosion God was preparing for this already historic church. For nearly five years, Lloyd-Jones and Morgan alternated conducting the morning and evening chapel services from month to month.

By 1943, Morgan was moving into retirement, and Lloyd-Jones was assuming a pulpit role that would help guide his nation through the end of the war and into the post-war/Cold-war world. Until his retirement from this post in 1968, he preached to capacity crowds of 2,500 on Sunday mornings and evenings and 1,200 each Friday night. Though there was clear and unmistakable numerical and spiritual success, it was noted by admirer James Packer that “to Lloyd-Jones the kind of revival he had known in his first pastorate had never been fully experienced in London.”4

Lloyd-Jones saw himself as building on Morgan’s foundation while simultaneously charting his own course as an expositor. Morgan had built his ministry around what could best be characterized as devotional preaching. Much of his teaching was based on the four Gospels. Lloyd-Jones, however, found his home and greatest preaching fulfillment in the exposition of the great doctrinal epistles, once remarking that Morgan had “left them for him.”5

The experience of following a legend made Lloyd-Jones particularly sensitive and considerate about how he treated and worked with those who had the unenviable task of following him. Westminster successor R.T. Kendall basked in a wonderful relationship with his great predecessor. They had a standing appointment every Thursday from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. Mrs. Jones would serve lunch; Kendall would read every word of Lloyd-Jones’ preparation for the upcoming three weekend services. He did this for four years! Kendall later wrote, “Surely no minister in this country had such a privilege.”6

The ministry of Lloyd-Jones was primarily a preaching ministry. The pulpit was central to every aspect of the spiritual program at Westminster. This was the food for growth and foundation for success.

From his studies on the Sermon on the Mount to his work on revival, to a book on spiritual depression, to his Reflections on the Work of God’s Spirit (Joy Unspeakable), Lloyd-Jones tackled themes that resonated with the heart of his hearers. His thorough preparation, animated delivery and complete dependence on the power of God in the preaching moment bore the fruit of a ministry with a contemporary impact and lasting legacy.

From the standpoint of understanding Martyn Lloyd-Jones as a preacher of the Word, there is no greater key or resource than the fruit of what happened during six vital weeks when he was 70 years of age-The Westminster Seminary Lectures on Preaching. Those lectures remain available on audio-cassette and survive in printed form embodied in the classic book Preaching and Preachers.7

In the preface to this work, Jones said that he had been told by those at Westminster that he could lecture on any subject he might choose. He chose preaching, and preachers have been blessed ever since! He referred to his method in these discourses as “thinking aloud” with those studying for the ministry and called the style “conversational and intimate.” In fact, what is in print in Preaching and Preachers is, but for a few “minor corrections,” what he actually said in the lectures.

Early on in these messages, he discounted what he referred to as “Baldwinism.” This was a reference to a past Prime Minister of Great Britain-a man regarded as a “technocrat” in contrast to the typical orator-politicians of the era. Stanley Baldwin’s tenure as leader of that nation fell between men such as David Lloyd-George and Winston Churchill, both men noted for their eloquence. His leadership style was one of attention to detail and personal relationships, but he was definitely NOT a gifted speaker. He was seen by many as the political prophet of a new era-representing a new breed of political leader.

Martyn made the point that it was a mistake to think that the eloquence and rhetoric and the careful use of language had ceased to be relevant to ministry effectiveness. One can only imagine what the great preacher would think of what preaching has become in some circles in the early days of the 21st century. He would no doubt be less than impressed with any emphasis on methodology that de-emphasized preaching. To him preaching was paramount. He suggested, “The greatest men of action have been great speakers.” He had no patience with the trend “to discount the value and importance of speech and oratory.” One can only imagine how he would find the tendency to cut corners in our Internet age hard to bear. To him, preaching was to be “logic on fire.” Furthermore, he was of the opinion that a “revival of true preaching” is a time-honored method God uses to herald great spiritual movements and revivals. His thinking was “a theology which doesn’t take fire” is inherently suspect.

His favorite preacher was George Whitefield. One Lloyd-Jones biographer, Tony Sargent, has gone so far as to say, “Whitefield caused him to see the distinction between what is preached and the act of preaching.” A great actor of the 18th century, David Garrick, commenting on Whitefield’s power as a speaker, once said that he wished he could even utter the word “Mesopotamia” as he did. In other words, Whitefield was a master of the spoken word, obviously admired by Lloyd-Jones. This admiration translated itself into a distinctive philosophy of preaching as the supreme method of ministry-modern or otherwise.

The most thoroughly discussed aspect of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ view on preaching is of what he called “unction” in preaching. This was a term he used to describe a desired state in the preaching moment, one that saw intense and thorough preparation meet the clear empowerment of the Spirit of God. He believed that this “unction” produced greater clarity, power and boldness in preaching. It was more than a merely human expression of urgency. It was being lifted up by God’s power as the Word preached was going forth.

He reminded those students (and us by extension) that they were not “simply imparting information.” Rather, they were “dealing with pilgrims on the way to eternity … dealing with matters not only of life in the world, but with eternal destiny.” To him nothing could be “more urgent.”

This “unction” has a mysterious element to it, as described by him. He saw it as something that could not be conjured or manipulated, but the work of a Sovereign Lord. Yet, it was, to him, something to be desired above all other aspects of the preaching life and experience. He described it this way:

It gives clarity of thought, clarity of speech, ease of utterance, a great sense of authority and confidence as you are preaching, an awareness of a power not your own thrilling through your own being, and an indescribable sense of joy. You are a man “possessed,” you are taken hold of, and taken up. I like to put it like this-and I know of nothing on earth that is comparable to.

  1. Christopher Catherwood, Five Evangelical Leaders, 1985.
    Tony Sargent, The Sacred Anointing: The Preaching of D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, p. 53.
    3. Ibid., p. 158.
    4. Ibid., p. 151.
    5. Warren Wiersbe, Living with the Giants, p. 187.
    6. R.T. Kendall, The Anointing, introduction.
    7. In this next section I quote liberally from Preaching and Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Zondervan Publishing House, 1971).
    8. Iain Murray, The First Forty Years, p. 328.
    9. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Kingdom of God, p. 8.

[DAVID R. STOKES is a retired pastor and best-selling author. He is the founder of CRITICAL MASS PUBLISHING, specializing in helping pastors and other thought leaders write and publish their own books. www.criticalmasspublishing.com ]



I’VE BEEN LOOKING FORWARD to season three of THE CROWN on Netflix for quite some time, but I did wonder if the change in the casting of major characters would work.

Karen and I watched the first episode of the new season last evening and all of my “concerns” about watching someone new in the lead role as the Queen vanished.

Olivia Colman brilliantly picks up where Claire Foy left off.

The new season begins in 1964––a fascinating time in Great Britain. Political change is in the air, a move to the left as Winston Churchill withers away.

And there is a hint of espionage involving politicians and even the royal household.

Being a student of that era, and having written about it in great detail in my books, I watched for historical inaccuracies and more than annoyed my wife with my running commentary.

The series is well done.

Speaking about my books, though it is certainly self-serving, I do very much believe THE CHURCHILL FUNERAL PLOT would be a great companion to this new season for THE CROWN.

If you haven’t yet read it––it might be worth checking out. I enjoyed researching and writing it a couple of years ago.

Here are the links:

Print Version


Amazon Kindle Version
Nook (Barnes & Noble)
Apple Books



One Monday several years ago, my wife and I traveled to Williamsburg, Virginia. Some friends had graciously offered their condo to us for a few days of relaxation. We had been looking forward to the trip for several weeks—a nice getaway at the end of the summer. The weather was perfect and we toured local sights that day. At dinnertime, we found a nice local eatery—a “home cooking” kind of place. I ordered the fried chicken.

Anytime I get the chance, I order the fried chicken.

But by the time the food came, Karen and I were lost in quiet thought and just picked at the stuff on our plates. It was one of those strange moments when spouses seem to be inside each other’s minds because at the same instant, we both said we felt a strong pull to return to our home in Northern Virginia. There was nothing pressing. Everything back there was covered, but it’s as if we had been in picturesque Williamsburg for a month and were homesick for routine. So, we blew off the getaway, packed our bags, and headed up the road. We arrived home about ten o’clock that night and found ourselves feeling a little silly for having cut such a nice trip so short. There had to be a reason, we thought.

The next morning we understood all too well, as a beautiful September day turned generationally horrific.

It was Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

People over seventy-five years of age remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news of a surprise attack on American forces in a faraway place called Pearl Harbor. Those a generation younger likely have the same recollection about November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. But I imagine no memory quite compares with the images of that September day seared on our souls.

The pages of history are filled with horrific things. Back in the years 1940-1942, Great Britain experienced what we did in 2001 just about every day. Think about that—hundreds of enemy bombers raining death and destruction from the skies every day and eventually every night.

A year or so earlier, as the clouds of war gathered over Europe for the second time in a generation, the Ministry of Information in the United Kingdom developed some slogans for morale building—mantras that leaders felt would help people cope with what was believed to be coming—all-out war. We would call them “affirmations” today. The words were carefully designed for billboards, the walls of buildings, and other venues for public notice.

The first of these said, simply: “Freedom Is In Peril. Defend It With All Your Might.”

The next one was a little more to the point: “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory.”

The third poster in the series was actually never released. It was designed to be part of the public information plastered everywhere if the Germans actually invaded—a big concern at the time. The Nazis were fast advancing across Belgium and France and the threat to England seemed imminent and inevitable. But then, on May 10, 1940, Winston Churchill replaced the ever-wobbly Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister. This change at the top rendered the need for mere paper posters obsolete. They now had all the best slogans in the flesh.

The new premier’s face quickly became the most famous image of the era and his voice its soundtrack. Churchill’s passionate eloquence tapped into the dormant, but indomitable spirit of a battered population.

Legendary newsman, Edward R. Murrow, was famous for his broadcasts from the blitz and the trademark phrase, “This is London.” He reported from rooftops all over the city as bombs fell from the sky. And in many ways, his words helped prepare Americans for battles yet to come. After the war, Murrow remarked that Churchill had “mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”

On June 18, 1940, Churchill addressed the House of Commons, where he had lived out most of his, at times, erratic political career. He talked about how the Battle of Britain was about to begin:

Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their Finest Hour.’

On September 11, 2001, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani demonstrated energetic and effective leadership when he seized the moment and guided that most unmanageable of all municipalities through a very dark and difficult time. He was nothing short of an inspiration to the nation.

When Mr. Giuliani reached the point of exhaustion in the early hours of Wednesday, September 12th, he went home and revisited a book he had been reading the previous few nights. It was the full-length biography of Winston Churchill, written by Roy Jenkins. The mayor of New York was reading about how the British Prime Minister had led his country through the Battle of Britain. There is no doubt that Giuliani drew inspiration from Churchill’s powerful example.

So, the third Ministry of Information slogan, having been rendered unnecessary by Churchill’s persona and vocabulary, never made it to billboards in 1940: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

A poster produced by the British government in World War II, with the text ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’ on a background of the flag of British Guiana, circa 1939. (Photo by SSPL/National Archives/Getty Images)

As far we know, most of the copies of the original poster were destroyed at the end of the war and turned to pulp. But a few survived—hidden for six decades. In 2000, a bookseller from northeast England discovered a copy tucked away among some old books bought at an auction. Eventually, other copies were unearthed in archival collections at the Imperial War Museum and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in London. And, as inexplicably happens every once in a while, the slogan eventually went viral. — DRS

God and the Guns of August

ONE HUNDRED AND FIVE YEARS AGO THIS SUMMER, the world lurched and stumbled into the most destructive war it had ever seen. Eventually, sixty-five million men would be mobilized. Twenty million would die. Another twenty-one million would be wounded. In the conflict’s wake—and as world leaders planned, plotted, and partitioned—much of the planet became a hot zone as an Influenza epidemic wiped out another twenty-five million people.

Historians and scholars are still trying to figure out what happened that fateful summer a century ago. Was the casus belli of what was then called “The Great War” (or informally, “The War to End All Wars”) the inevitable result of a tangled web of alliances and treaties ebbing and flowing between the nations of Europe? Or was it because there had been a decades-long arms race, including the proliferation of a new class of warship, the Dreadnought? Were political leaders guilty of hubris? Did soldiers and sailors really believe the whole thing would be over in a matter of months?

One of the better books on the subject came out in 1962. It was written by Barbara Tuchman and titled, The Guns of August. It chronicles the miscalculations, underestimations, and shortsighted decisions made by European leaders in the aftermath of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip on June 28, 1914.

President John F. Kennedy, a voracious speed-reader, devoured the book when it came out. A few months later, when faced with his own unique crisis-laden situation, having to do with Soviet missiles being placed in Cuba, he read it again. He wanted to get a copy to the Captain of every ship on the “quarantine” line he had established to intercept Russian ships bound for Havana during those tense days.

But was what we now call World War I merely about military might meeting political folly? Or were the roots of the conflict in something more philosophical—even spiritual?

In 1983, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Soviet dissident, received the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion at a ceremony in London. During his acceptance speech he may very well have explained not only the “revolution” that wrecked his homeland, but the underlying cause of the colossal conflict that wreaked havoc on the world beginning in 1914:

“More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why this has happened.” [Emphasis added]

For decades, continental Europe had been creeping and convulsing away from its historic religious underpinnings. Across the English Channel, Great Britain was drifting as well, but the impact of pulpit giants during the latter part of the nineteenth century mitigated the spiritual decline, at least somewhat.

This was not the case in France or Germany. The French Revolution had left in its wake the kind of tyranny that would rear its ugly head again and again over the next two centuries.  The revolt that began in 1789 was in many ways the sinister ancestor to Communism and Fascism. And in Germany this “rationalism” gained a theological foothold in seminaries and churches.

The living God was being replaced with the worship of “reason.”

It wasn’t long before destructive philosophical systems began to congeal. Karl Marx crafted a political and economic vision for a world without God.  Charles Darwin published his ideas about human origins.  Then Friedrich Nietzsche and others of his ilk began to cherry-pick all the new ideas characterizing the zeitgeist of nineteenth-century Europe and take them to their logical conclusion: God was dead.

The inevitable fruit of this long slide downward was best articulated in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s last novel, “The Brothers Karamozov,” published a few months before his death in 1880. In one chapter, a character contemplates, “Without God and the future life? It means everything is permitted now, one can do anything?” This is often paraphrased in a quote attributed to the novelist: “If there is no God, everything is permissible.”

The rest, as they say, is history. — DRS