REMEMBERING 'THESE FORTY YEARS'
It is interesting to consider how the Lord was at work through
individuals in several countries during the 1950s to bring about the recovery
of the doctrines of grace and the setting up of a conference which was
to have such a crucial influence on the worldwide spread of the Reformed
Faith over almost half a century
by John J. Murray
As we took back over the turning points of the Reformed cause in the 20th century
I believe that the year 1962 stands out. In July of that year a conference
was held from 2nd to 5th in the city of Leicester. It was arranged by
the Banner of Truth Trust and attended by just over 40 men. The significance
of that conference should not be overlooked as we mark its 40th anniversary
and look back over the years (Deut.8:2).
It is interesting to consider how the Lord was at work through individuals
in several countries during the 1950s to bring about the recovery of the
doctrines of grace and the setting up of a conference which was to have
such a crucial influence on the worldwide spread of the Reformed Faith
over almost half a century.
The story begins in England with the Rev Iain Murray and the issuing
of a magazine called The Banner of Truth in Oxford in 1955. This led on
to the formation in 1957 of a Trust which through its reprinting of Reformed
classics was to play a major part in the re-discovery of the Reformed
Faith in England and further afield. Mr Murray was by then the assistant
to Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones at Westminster Chapel, London where these doctrines
had been preached with increasing power since 1939.
Meanwhile in the USA an exile Scot, Professor John Murray, was teaching
the Reformed Faith in all its fullness at Westminster Theological Seminary.
He was conscious of the need for a recovery of the doctrines of grace
on both sides of the Atlantic. At that time he was scarcely known in the
UK but invitations to speak at meetings in England coincided with the
re-awakening of Calvinistic truth. The first announcement of the work
which the Banner of Truth Trust planned to do, expressed indebtedness
to three men - Dr Lloyd-Jones, Rev W J Grier and Professor John Murray.
Through his identification with the Banner work Professor Murray developed
a much closer connection with the situation in England and gave further
momentum to the recovery of Reformed truth.
Among Professor Murray's chief concerns was the restoration of true preaching.
One who shared this view was the Rev J Marcellus Kik, a trustee of Westminster
Seminary. This subject was discussed with Mr Kik when he was present in
London in 1961. As a result he carried back to Professor Murray in Philadelphia
a proposal that a conference should be held for ministers the following
year in the UK, concentrating specifically on the need for a renewal of
Other men were consulted about this and among them was the Rev W J Grier
in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Mr Grier had made a courageous stand against
modernism in the Presbyterian Church in Ulster and subsequently founded
the Irish Evangelical Church (now the Evangelical Presbyterian Church).
He had set up the Evangelical Bookshop which even before the advent of
the Banner was supplying to readers in the UK good Reformed books imported
from the USA. His Church had strong links with the Free Church of Scotland,
sharing in the training of students and missionary work.
The fourth strand in the development was the interest of the Rev Kenneth
Macrae, minister of the Free Church of Scotland in Stornoway in the Outer
Hebrides, the largest Presbyterian congregation in the UK. He was conscious
of the drift that was taking place in Scotland and even within his own
denomination. He longed and prayed for a recovery of truth and godliness
and believed that 'the tide will turn'. The advent of The Banner of Truth
magazine in 1955 was an encouragement to him and he personally ordered
quantities of between 150 and 200 copies. It was with the prospect of
helping this work that he accepted the invitation to speak at the 1962
Conference. Although then in his 79th year he made the long journey from
the Isle of Lewis to undertake what were his first and last preaching
engagements in England. As well as speaking at Leicester he took the Communion
services in the Free Church of Scotland congregation in London and preached
for Iain Murray at Grove Chapel.
It was in this way that the Lord in his goodness brought men from different
countries and Reformed traditions together to apply themselves to the
restoration of preaching. A location was found through the good offices
of the Rev Sidney Lawrence at College Hall on the campus of Leicester
University. Dr Lloyd-Jones was not present in 1962 but spoke at the conferences
of 1964 and 1965. W J Grier opened the Conference with 'Preaching and
the Present Age' and closed it with 'The Preacher and Prayer'. Iain Murray
dealt with 'Preaching in England in the Past'. Professor Murray gave three
addresses on 'Preaching and i) Scripture 2) Sanctification 3) Judgment'.
The Rev Kenneth Macrae gave two addresses, 'Teaching Essential to Evangelical
Preaching' and 'The Danger of Compromise in Preaching'. These addresses
are available on tape. Among the 40 men who attended about 30 were ministers
in pastoral charges. The majority were from England but there were 12
from Scotland and 3 from Northern Ireland. Wales was not represented.
Most of the Scots were from the Free Church of Scotland and men, like
Mr Macrae, who rejoiced to see this new movement - Rev Alasdair Johnston,
Dumbarton, Rev James Morrison, North Uist, Rev Donald Mackay, Watten,
Mr Donald Macinnes, Inverness (who later became a probationer in the Free
Church but died shortly after) and four Edinburgh men who had recently
embraced the doctrines of grace. There were two ministers belonging to
the Church of Scotland. I was privileged to be Secretary of the Conference
and duly relieved men of the princely sum of £3, which was the cost
of attending. If your travel expenses amounted to more than a pound you
could claim help!
Back in Stornoway after the Conference Mr Macrae addressing his people
on 'The Present Prospects of the Reformed Faith', reported that he had
seen in England "a little cloud like a man's hand" (I Kgs.18:44).
Reflecting on the Conference he wrote to a friend:
"The earnestness and spiritual unity of those young fellows who
gathered at Leicester was for me a real tonic and encouraged me greatly.
So far, the movement towards the Reformed Faith may be weak and largely
unorganised, but that there is such a movement cannot be questioned, and
in it, by God's grace, there are tremendous possibilities. Worm Jacob
may yet thresh the mountains. May the Lord grant it so!"
MEETING IN 2002
Forty years on there were bound to be changes. The Conference met again
in Leicester on 15th April 2002 for the 38th time (conferences were not
held in 1963 and 1966). Of the 370 men who came together this April only
five of us could claim to have been present at the 1962 Conference. What
a thrill it was to consider that in spite of all the disappointments and
unfulfilled dreams there were so many men (and still the greater number
of them young!) eager to devour Reformed teaching and literature. The
presence of over 50 men from overseas testified to the worldwide effect
of Banner publications and conferences. One of the highlights of the conference
is to hear representatives of different countries tell of the work of
God in their situations. Space does not permit a detailed account of the
addresses given at this year's conference but it is appropriate that reference
be made to two speakers and their contributions.
The Rev lain Murray opened proceedings with an address on '1962-2002'
in which he traced the origins of the Conference; the changes that have
taken place over the years and the personalities that graced the Conference.
He sought to draw lessons: i) the fallibility of our hearts; 2) the need
to put far less confidence in men's gifts and abilities; 3) organisation
is not essential to unity; 4) not enough emphasis given to evangelism
5) the danger of being discouraged as we look at things temporal rather
than things eternal.
Perhaps it is on lesson three that opinions would tend to differ. It
basically reflects the view of Dr Lloyd-Jones who favoured a minimal basis
of doctrine for unity among evangelicals. Others would support the stance
taken by Professor Murray who argued for union on the basis of the whole
Confession of Faith. Otherwise, they say, how can one have a Church with
a full-orbed witness to the truth, and with subscription to a creed, order
and discipline? These issues will no doubt continue to be keenly debated.
While we miss the men of God who founded and sustained the Conference
in the early years the Lord has raised up others to take their place.
Not for the first time the ministry of Professor Edward Donnelly, Belfast
gave 'something special' to the Conference. Speaking on 'Paul the Pastoral
Theologian' he presented a masterly overview of Romans, I Corinthians
and Colossians. In his third address on the Wednesday evening Dr Donnelly
challenged men to preach Christ in His all-sufficiency and glory. At the
close a profound silence fell on the meeting and the chairman felt constrained
to ask for a time of prayer.
As we look back we find it difficult to know the Lord's purpose in restoring
the glorious Reformed doctrines to our land and to many other countries
and yet not granting the revival we anticipated would follow. His ways
are past finding out. Perhaps we had an indication at the Conference this
year that He has humbled us and taught us and that He will do us good
at the latter end (Deut.8:16).
Free Church Witness September 2002, Free Church Manse, Staffin Road,
Portree, Isle of Skye, IV51 9HP.