The Banner of Truth Trust – Iain H. Murray – Part 1
The Banner of Truth Trust
Iain Murray continues the story
Last month’s article traced the story of the Banner of Truth Trust from its formation in 1957 until 1960, during which time the Trust was financed largely by businessman Jack Cullum. Through the 1960s and till his death in 1971, Jack’s own business required his attention, but the Banner was always his first love. The first books published carried his business address. The ministry of Dr Lloyd-Jones was fundamental to everything.
Originally, Jack Cullum and I were the only trustees and we saw the need to strengthen the work by bringing other men on to the board.
From the outset we were advised by Professor John Murray and the Rev. W. J. Grier — one of the few men in Britain with the vision to spread Reformed literature imported from the USA.
Both men also came to take a leading role in the Leicester Ministers’ Conference. They were appointed as trustees along with two younger men whose counsel had come to mean much to us — Ian S. Barter and John Gosden
The need overseas for better literature in the English language was brought home to us by the Trust’s business manager Erroll Hulse and Roger Hodgkinson (another South African on staff) but we were all surprised at the extent of the call for books from abroad.
By 1967 our books were being exported to 33 countries, led by North America, Australia, South America and New Zealand. In fact sales in the USA and Canada were beginning to outstrip those in Britain.
North American sales had increased sharply in 1964 when we first exhibited at the Christian Booksellers Convention in Chicago. This brought us into contact with Puritan Publications of Carlisle, Pennsylvania — one of whose leaders, Ernest C. Reisinger, came to London for the Puritan Conference in 1966.
Puritan Publications was in due course united with the Banner, with the management in the USA in the dedicated hands of James Eshelman. This strengthened links with new friends in America, including Walter J. Chantry of Grace Baptist Church, Carlisle, and Albert N. Martin of Montville, New Jersey.
Al Martin first came to speak at the Leicester Ministers’ Conference in 1967 and his regular preaching at that conference in following years was a major help and encouragement.
Mr Reisinger, who died in 2004, became a Banner trustee and ever delighted to spread good books (his favourites being Pilgrim’s Progress and the Westminster Confession of Faith).
Move to Edinburgh
John R. de Witt, who had read the early issues of the Banner magazine as a student in Michigan, became our second American trustee. He served for two years (1967-69) in the ministry of Grove Chapel, Camberwell — where I was his colleague and Jack Cullum a deacon.
Had there been any wish to put the Trust under the control of a church it would have been easy to do so at that time, but it would have been a serious mistake. The work had to remain inter-denominational.
The 1970s saw many changes. Soon after Jack Cullum’s death in 1971 the operation was moved from London to Edinburgh and Mervyn T. Barter joined the permanent staff in the key role of business manager — a role he sustained for over 25 years.
The trustees had hoped to retain a London address but this did not happen and perhaps it was a loss. The move to Scotland took the Banner ‘off-centre’ as far as Britain was concerned, but it coincided with a growing sense of the Trust’s international role.
It also brought new helpers — notably Sinclair B. Ferguson (whose influence on the editorial and authorship side began in the mid seventies) and Maurice Roberts (whose aid meant much long before he became editor of the Banner magazine in 1988).
The international development of the work also involved conferences, and Al Martin and I spoke as far afield as South Africa, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia. Indeed, it was through a second Banner conference in Sydney in 1980 that a ministerial call came to me, and Sydney became our happy home through most of the 1980s.
The world looks different from different vantage points and nothing was more encouraging than to see the Word of God working among Chinese as well as Australians.
The assertion that the Atlantic was the ocean of the twentieth century but the Pacific will be the ocean of the twenty-first may well prove true. The Far East is almost certain to become a pre-eminent Christian locus. Banner conferences continue in Australia bi-annually.
There have been many other changes since the Trust’s removal to Edinburgh. Professor Murray died in 1975, W. J. Grier in 1983 and S. M. Houghton in 1987. The last-named was a quiet, saintly man whom I first met at Sidney Norton’s home in 1955-56.
His editorial labours for the Trust were immense and yet would have remained scarcely known had he not been urged to write his reminiscences (My life and books: Reminiscences of S. M. Houghton; published posthumously in 1988).
The board of trustees was further strengthened in the 1980s by the appointment of Lady Catherwood, the late John Marshall of Hemel Hempstead, and James R. Peaster of Yazoo City, Mississippi.
All who have been closely involved in this work are conscious of failures and know that the praise for what has been good belongs to God alone. A. W. Tozer somewhere speaks of Christian organisations in their middle prosperous years becoming self-satisfied, uncritical of themselves, and thus of dwindling value. We all need to be watchful.
There is certainly nothing unique about the Banner of Truth Trust. It has sought to do only what many others have done before and what others seek to do today in different organisations.
It is but one agency, raised up to serve the churches and its continued usefulness must lie in a humble dependence on God. Organisations can all too easily become an end in themselves and Christian publishing has often fallen from being a mission to being just another business.
Even books and the doctrines of Scripture are not ends in themselves — they are to lead us to the knowledge of Christ, for whom we must count all things loss.
The knowledge of God
The objective of the Trust remains today what it was at the outset — to help strengthen the knowledge of God. A truer knowledge and a purer love for God will always be the paramount desire of believers as long as they are in this world. We need to be lifelong pupils in the school of Christ.
But in the past century great obstacles to such knowledge have gained currency throughout the English-speaking world — especially Pelagianism and Arminianism. These errors have led generations of Christians to set aside the doctrines of the Reformation and Puritan eras — along with the wealth of literature which those eras along with the wealth of literature which those eras produced.
Man, it was now said, can become a Christian whenever he wills; evangelicalism became preoccupied with how to bring men to make the right ‘decision’. Biblical doctrine ceased to be the all-authoritative basis for Christian action.
Such belief in man’s ability was not new, for we are all born with that erroneous confidence. What was new was that churches forgot how differently the Scriptures had once been understood.
To learn that all is of God’s grace introduces us to a new world of thought. As Spurgeon said, ‘When I was coming to Christ, I thought I was doing it all myself’. But learning otherwise he went on to say, ‘I felt that I had grown on a sudden from a babe into a man — that I had made progress in scriptural knowledge, through having found, once for all, the clue to the truth of God’.
This was exactly the experience of those who shared in the beginnings of the Banner of Truth Trust. The doctrines of grace ‘burnt into the heart’ (to use Bunyan’s words) have transforming power. And, among other things, those truths change our taste in literature.
That is what happened to Whitefield when he discovered that authors who had been cast aside as dull and antiquated Puritans were, in truth, ‘burning and shining lights’. In his later years he wrote of them, ‘A peculiar unction attends their writings to this day, and for these thirty years I have remarked that the more true and vital religion hath revived, either at home or abroad, the more the good old Puritan writings have been called for’.
But though such literature remains at the heart of the Trust’s publishing programme, we have not confined our attention to the books of one or two centuries. Balance is needed. Different epochs and different countries have all contributed to the wealth of literature which has come down to us.
We are thankful that the Trust’s range of publications is drawn from authors both old and modern and from all Protestant denominations. We need the whole Word of God and the final test of a good book is whether it deepens our relationship to God himself.
©Banner of Truth magazine