The Story of Banner
The video below provides a brief overview of the Banner of Truth’s history and work. To read a more detailed history of the Banner of Truth please view the article below the video.
Spurgeon wrote of Psalm 60 in his Treasury of David:
So far gone was Israel that only God’s interposition could preserve it from utter destruction. How often have we seen churches in this condition, and how suitable is the prayer before us, in which the extremity of the need is used as an argument for help…. For the truth’s sake, and because the true God is on our side, let us in these modern days of warfare emulate the warriors of Israel and unfurl our banner to the breeze with confident joy.
In the summer of 1955 in Oxford England, the minister of St John’s Church, Sidney Norton, was convinced that the words of Psalm 60 spoke directly to the conditions in the churches of Great Britain. He and his ministerial assistant, Iain Murray, were stirred to prayer in the spirit of Spurgeon’s comments, convinced that their generation needed not just a reviving, but a restoring of the truth.
They lived close to, and were stirred by, the places where Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer gave their lives for the truths of the gospel in the Reformation, where Owen and Goodwin had preached, and where George Whitefield was prepared for the eighteenth century revival. But they realised that in the mid 1950’s the memory of these men of God from times past was largely forgotten and locked away in little-known and unobtainable books. The great truths of God and the great works of God in times past were largely forgotten.
A magazine is born
In an attempt to start to address this situation, a magazine was published in September 1955. With the aims of the magazine and in light of Psalm 60, Mr Norton chose the name The Banner of Truth. A gift had been given to cover the printing costs, but nothing further was promised to readers of that first magazine; there was no certainty of a second issue. Little did Sidney Norton and Iain Murray then imagine that over fifty-five years later, the Banner of Truth magazine would still be in existence, with a new issue being produced each month!
The first magazine reflected its editors’ conviction that much of the best literature of historic Christianity had been allowed to fall into oblivion and that its recovery under God could well lead not only to a strengthening of the church today but to true revival. The origins of the Banner of Truth were therefore closely connected with the prayer that God would be pleased to visit Great Britain again in true awakening
Iain Murray’s interest in such literature had begun in 1951, when, as a young soldier in Singapore, a lady missionary had spoken to him and pointed him to the writings of M’Cheyne. Following on from the interest in M’Cheyne, on his return to England he had found the riches of long dead Puritan authors, hidden away in second-hand books. It was clear that the old Puritan authors had power in their writings. As the lives of more recent giants of church history such as Whitefield and Spurgeon were studied, it became apparent that the writings of the Puritans had been very influential in their lives. Seeing the way that God had used the writings of the Puritans in days gone by, Iain Murray and Sidney Norton longed to see such writings of the past readily available to the church once again. So along with the magazine in 1955, steps were taken to see if it might be possible to put back in print some of these treasures from the past.
But the hopes and plans were dashed when faced with financial reality, and the idea of publishing had to be put aside. In God’s providence, it was not the right time.
While the ideas of book publishing had to be put aside, help was forthcoming to produce another issue of the Banner of Truth magazine. In London, Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones was the minister of Westminster Chapel, and from the first issue of the magazine, he took a close interest in what was developing. In February 1956, a second issue of the magazine was produced, with half of the production costs covered, at his encouragement, by a gift from the deacons of Westminster Chapel.
The Banner of Truth Trust is formed
By late 1956, Iain Murray was in London as an assistant to Dr Lloyd-Jones at Westminster Chapel. One of his duties was to take a Wednesday night meeting. Initially this meeting was to be a biblical exposition, but Lloyd-Jones changed this, and under his direction, Iain Murray was tasked with giving addresses on church history.
One of those who regularly attended these Wednesday night meetings was a businessman, Jack Cullum. In his forties, dark haired, and standing 6ft 4ins tall (1.93m), he was a distinguished-looking character. As he listened to the addresses on church history and heard of the way that God had worked in times past, learned of the people God had used and what they believed, he was prompted to meet with the speaker and ask how it was that this thrilling history of the church was so little known to contemporary Christians.
Iain Murray’s answer was that quite simply it was because the books that told of these things, that were so rich in information and teaching, were almost all long out-of-print and consequently known to very few. When in the recent past second-hand Puritan books had been available, no one had wanted them and therefore British publishers generally took the view that such old titles were unsaleable and not worth reprinting. To most publishers of the day, the emphasis of that literature was not congenial to much that passed for biblical Christianity in the twentieth century.
Religious publishing had become too market oriented; too driven by the question of whether a title was saleable and to what degree it could be expected to be popular and profitable.
Hearing this, Mr Cullum became convinced that the classics of historic biblical Christianity should be put back into print. He had seen considerable success in his business ventures, and in his new found conviction, he was prepared to put in the resources to make things happen and to start a publishing company. This was not uniformly approved of by his friends and advisors. One advised him that were he to put resources into publishing, especially the publication of literature so long unread and for which there was no known demand, then such a venture would last no longer than six months.
But Jack Cullum’s commitment to the vision that he had discussed and deliberated on with Iain Murray was strong, and so, on 22 July1957, a non-profit charity was formed, named The Banner of Truth Trust in continuity with the name of the magazine. The main objective in the trust deed, reflecting Mr Cullum’s vision, stated:
“The object of the Charity is to promote in such parts of the world as the Trustees may decide the better knowledge and understanding of the doctrines of the Christian faith as taught by the Protestant Reformers and English Puritans.”
From these early days, Dr Lloyd-Jones was a close advisor to the work of the new Trust, and contributed to the choice of the books to be published.
The first books arrive.
Things moved quickly, and by November 1957, ten titles had been prepared and were at the printers. The first two, Thomas Watson’s Body of Divinity, and George Burrowes’ Commentary on the Song of Solomon were delivered in early January 1958.
Copies of the books were available at the first Friday-night meeting in January 1958 when Dr Lloyd-Jones resumed his exposition of the Epistle to the Romans after the Christmas holidays (messages which were later to be produced in a series of 14 books by the Banner of Truth Trust and are still available today). Recalling that occasion, Iain Murray writes,
it was his recommendation from the pulpit that sent many to buy them. The Burrowes he described as ‘one of the choicest books I have ever read in my life”; it was “published by a new Trust and, at ten shillings and sixpence, quite amazing. Old classics are to be reprinted at a cheap rate.’ The Watson book, he went on, consisted of sermons on the Westminster Catechism: ‘As you read this book you will be brought face to face with the essentials of the Christian faith.’ ‘I am not a member of this Trust,’ he added ‘I am speaking warmly of these books because of my esteem for them. I am extremely happy that this is being done so that modern Christians can read some of the great Christian classics.’ He was still more happy when the first eighteenth-century title, Select Sermons of George Whitefield, was published in February 1958. The books were literally on hand for the congregation at Westminster Chapel; they were not only on sale in the Book Room but storage was given free of charge for all the first titles on Chapel premises.
The Select Sermons of George Whitefield and Body of Divinity are still in print today, reflecting the policy of the Banner of Truth in publishing materials of enduring application – see the ‘What Makes a Banner Book’ page for more on this.
The work develops.
Later in 1958, the new Banner of Truth Trust established its own premises at 78b Chiltern Street, London, and employed its first member of staff.
The work grew steadily. 19,834 books were sold in the first year and by the mid 60’s sales reached 143,000 per year. The publishing of books broadened out to include authors from periods of church history other than just the Puritan period, and a number of books by contemporary authors also appeared. But all of the books published by the Trust reflected the same theology aimed at promoting experimental Christianity.
The direction and management of the Trust was strengthened with the appointment of a number of mature Christian men to the Board of Trustees who served as valuable advisors as the work developed. It soon became necessary to recruit additional staff to deal with the work involved in producing and distributing books to many parts of the world.
From the very beginning of the Trust, there had been a vision of being able to provide good literature not just to the UK, but also into overseas countries where the English language would be understood. In the early ‘60s, two members of staff who were originally from South Africa helped greatly to make this vision a reality, although the extent to which the books travelled around the world was a surprise to all. By 1967 Banner books were going into thirty-three overseas countries, and sales in North America were starting to overtake sales in the UK. This worldwide reach of the Banner of Truth publications continues to the present day. There are very few countries of the world to which our books are not shipped over any given two or three year period. Regular requests for books are received by our Edinburgh office even from countries where English is not the first language.
There are parts of the world that are well-developed markets for Banner books, the USA being the largest, and where people are well able to purchase books but there are also many countries that we ship to where Banner books are being supplied at highly subsidised prices or even free of charge. Much of this is financed through the Banner of Truth Book Fund.
The Book Fund work.
The Banner of Truth Book Fund was set up around 1960 at the suggestion of the staff (A fuller description of the history and work of the Book Fund can be found on the Book Fund page). The main aim of the Book Fund is to supply books to people who otherwise would not be able to afford them. The majority of the Book Fund consignments go to what were once known as ‘third world’ countries. Books are sent into prisons, given to pastors and missionaries, donated to theological colleges for their libraries and for graduating students, and made available for evangelistic purposes.
As the years have passed, the Book Fund has become a very important part of the work of the Trust, and we are very grateful for those who faithfully pray for and financially support this vital aspect of our work.
Expansion into the USA
Following a number of visits to the USA by Banner staff in the early ‘60s, an agreement was made in 1966 with Puritan Publications, based in Carlisle, PA, for them to become the distributor for Banner of Truth books in the USA. At that time, Puritan Publications was also distributing books for a number of other publishers. In 1973 Puritan Publications changed its name to Banner of Truth, focussed its distribution work to just Banner of Truth titles, and formally became the USA arm of The Banner of Truth.
By 1975 the USA work had outgrown the property where it was located and so a move was required. A building not too far from the original warehouse was found and eventually purchased. The work continued to expand and necessitated a further move in 1986, to a purpose-built warehouse and office in East Louther Street, Carlisle, PA. This building continues to be the home of the Banner of Truth, USA, where we have the pleasure of receiving many visits from customers and supporters of our work.
London to Edinburgh
Back in the UK, 1972 was an important year. The work of the Trust continued to develop, a new General Manager was appointed, Mervyn Barter, who was to serve for the next 27 years, and the Trustees decided to move the Banner of Truth Trust headquarters from London to Edinburgh. The following years saw the establishment of the Trust in Edinburgh, where it is still located, with offices in Murrayfield and a warehouse on the western edge of the city. From our Edinburgh HQ the overall work of the Trust is managed and all Trust publications are edited and prepared for publication.
Banner books in other languages
For many years, the Banner of Truth has translated and published a number of our titles in Spanish. That work is on-going and we are seeing an increasing demand for Spanish titles. During the last few years we have seen the beginning of a new venture, the translation of a number of our titles into Chinese and their legal publication in China. This is an exciting new venture and we look to the Lord to prosper this new work and to use it for his glory.
While the Banner of Truth only publishes books in English, Spanish, and Chinese, there are many Banner of Truth titles available in other languages. These are produced by publishers in other countries who contract with us for the rights to translate and publish our books in their own languages. On occasions we have helped to fund some of this work, paying for translation and printing work. This has helped to facilitate the publishing of many good books in different languages. Examples of recent projects include funding the translation and printing of some of J C Ryle’s works in Swahili, Ukrainian, and Lithuanian.
The Banner Conferences
One aspect of the ministry of the Banner of Truth that has not yet been mentioned is our conference ministry. In 1962 a conference for Ministers was held in Leicester, in central England. It was attended by about 40 men from around the UK. A further conference was held in 1964, and over the years the ‘Leicester Ministers’ Conference’ has become an established part of the Banner ministry that has seen much blessing and continues to the present day.
A Youth Conference was started in 1971 and by 1978 had become an annual event. These conferences for young people have proved to be some of the most encouraging conferences organised by the Banner, as Iain Murray writes: ‘Of all the conferences, the Youth Conferences were among the most encouraging… there were conversions as well as young people finding wives and husbands’! As with the Leicester Ministers’ Conference, the Youth Conference continues today. In the year 2000 and since, we have had speakers at the Youth Conference who themselves had previously been at the conference as young people, and also young people who were the teenage children of parents who had attended the conference in their youth.
An Australian Banner Conference, similar to Leicester, first met in 1979 and has since become a bi-annual event. The first USA Ministers’ Conference was held in 1978 and this too continues to the present day as an annual event. In Carlisle, England, our Banner Borders Conference meets annually in November on a Friday evening and Saturday for the encouragement of gospel work across northern England and southern Scotland.
Over the years, the conferences have seen much blessing and have been a help to many. The preaching and teaching delivered, and the fellowship and friendships nurtured, have been invaluable, especially for those attending from isolated and difficult situations. In particular at the ministers’ conferences, there is a unique opportunity for mutual encouragement, the chance to share blessings and difficulties with others in similar situations and this is part of what brings people back year after year.
The maturing and changing work
When the Banner moved its headquarters to Edinburgh in 1972, it was estimated that approximately one million books had been distributed. The next thirty years saw further development and consolidation of the publishing ministry, and by 2004 over ten million books had been distributed around the world.
The years since 1999 have seen many changes. Some long-established Trustee Board members have retired and new Trustees have joined; long-serving managers in the UK and USA have retired and new appointments made; rapid technological changes have taken place in the way books are prepared for production and in the printing processes; eBooks have arrived; ways of communication with customers and supporters have changed; the whole supply chain for books has changed. And it seems likely that the next ten years will see even more changes to the way that books are produced and distributed.
Reflecting on the origins and development of the Banner’s work, Iain Murray has written:
‘I am sure that all who have been closely involved in this work are conscious of many failures and they know that the praise for what has been good belongs to God alone. A.W. Tozer somewhere speaks of how Christian organisations in their middle and more prosperous years can become self-satisfied, uncritical of themselves and thus of dwindling value. We all need to be more watchful. There is certainly nothing unique about the Banner of Truth Trust. It has sought to do only what hosts of 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 only hope for continued usefulness lies 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 merely another business. Even books and the very doctrines of Scripture are not ends in themselves: they are to lead us to the knowledge of him for whom we must count all things but loss.’
While the last half-century have seen many changes, the policy and aims of the Banner of Truth Trust today remain the same as they were at the beginning in the 1950s – the advancement and dissemination of the knowledge and understanding of the Christian faith.
We thank God for past blessings, for the many faithful staff and Trustees who have served the Banner of Truth through more than half a century, and for the many supporters who regularly pray for our work and help us in so many different ways. We also thank God for the way in which He has sustained, used, and blessed the ministry of our books, magazine, conferences, and Book Fund. And in taking careful note of Tozer’s warning, we look to God alone to guide us in our future ministry, to keep us humbly dependent on him in his work, to protect us from error, to bless the work of our hands, and to keep us from ever seeking honour for ourselves, but always giving the honour to God. To God alone be the glory, for he alone is worthy.
Unless the Lord build the house, those who build it labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. (Psalm 127:1)