From Iain Murray, Co-Founder, The Banner of Truth Trust
25 June 2009
We arrived home from a month in the United States two days ago and there was a welcome pile of letters, as well as e-mails. Instead, then, of trying to repeat news to you all, please forgive another ‘general letter’. Some of you were remembering us in prayer and for that we are especially thankfully. None of us can assume the help of God. A. W. Tozer says somewhere, ‘If the Holy Spirit were taken out of the world, half our activity would go on just the same.’ How much wisdom is needed to keep us from the latter ‘activity’!
We arrived in Washington D.C. on May 20 – no more beautiful city in the world at that time of year, with the red-brick pavements and overhanging trees in the fresh greens of Spring. Our purpose was to catch up with friends at Capitol Hill Baptist Church and 9 Marks Ministry. This is ever a valued stopping place, not least for discussion over authors, new and old. One memorable morning began with a dozen young men and a 7 am ‘reading’ from the Puritan, Richard Sibbes, on 2 Corinthians 1. After Washington, we were in six States, beginning with Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and the Banner Conference at near-by Messiah College. At different locations, that conference has now been held since 1978. From there Jean and I went on to Draper’s Valley, the new location of a friend’s ministry among the mountains of south-eastern Virginia. Our host then drove us on to Dillon in South Carolina, and from there two plane flights to Oklahoma City where I had the main engagements of this visit. The occasion was the annual ‘Warfield lectures’ organized by Grace Bible Church in conjunction with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. This was a second visit to these friends in Oklahoma.
Two more planes then took us back to Asheville in North Carolina, and to Bonclarken, the conference centre belonging to the Associate Presbyterian Church (ARP) in the Blue Mountains. The annual General Synod of that denomination was about to commence at that venue. Ministers and elders came from many parts of the United States, and (for some) the days began with 7 am Psalm-singing in the open-air. The meetings over three days were full of interest, and there was more preaching than I had been accustomed to hearing at General Assemblies in Scotland and Australia. The preachers included Sinclair Ferguson (whose congregation belongs to the ARP) and Denis Prutow, professor at the Reformed Presbyterian Sem inary at Pittsburgh, who preached a memorable message from ‘Your God Reigns’ (Isa. 52: 7). The friend of my youth, John R. de Witt, was installed as Moderator for the coming year. The afternoon of each day was marked by thunder storms, and the last of such crashing velocity that all power failed and proceedings concluded in semi-darkness with no microphones. From there we descended, with the de Witts, into South Carolina for a relaxing a happy final period at Columbia where Sinclair Ferguson now ministers at First Presbyterian (www.firstprescolumbia.org).
A s well as traveling, I was able to get through a good deal of reading, including the important new volume of Dr Lloyd-Jones’s sermons from John 4, Living Water published by Crossway ($28 in the US, or £28 in the UK from Lloyd-Jones Recordings Trust – the price difference shows how expensive the UK has become in comparison with the US).
Impressions from the trip:
1.These few weeks have been a wonderful reminder of how large is the family of God and of w hat a privilege Christians have from their common unity with Christ. The simple thought that Christ is with all his people is more remarkable than we can well comprehend.
2. To travel in America is to be reminded of a nation that is at war. One sees many service men and women moving about in uniform and not infrequently thanked by others for their service to the country. Evangelical chaplains are also active in the armed forces. The mood contrasts with a dying patriotism in Britain.
3. While bearing in mind that what I see is a small and unrepresentative part of a nation, it can nonetheless be said that there is much to be encouraged by in the US. One continuing proof of that is the extent of the sales of good books. The Banner hardbacks at Oklahoma were very rapidly bought up, none remaining. At another place there was no problem in disposing of 50 copies of Andrew Bonar’s Memoir of Robert M. McCheyne. What is more, it is often young men who are at the forefront of this interest in the older literature. We need have no fear that God has forgotten the promise, ‘One=2 0generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts’ (Ps. 145:5).
At the same time it has to be said that there is one element that is currently little to be seen in the churches; the record of all the great revival periods in the US speak of a kind of subdued ‘silence’ that pervaded public worship, arising from a sense of the presence of God. The current lack lies deeper than the difference between so-called ‘traditional’ versus ‘contemporary worship’. At its root lies the lost belief in the gravity of sin and of the posture that becomes us in the presence of God. On this point see chapters 40-42 in ML-J’s Living Water.
4. Much calls us to humiliation and prayer. Calvin’s image of the need of the church remains relevant: ‘Call to mind the fearful calamities of the church, which might move to pity even minds of iron. Nay, set before your eyes her squalid and unsightly form, and the sad devastation which is everywhere beheld. How long, pray, will you allow the spouse of Christ, the mother of you all, to lie thus prostrated and afflicted thus, too, when she is imploring your protection, and when=2 0the means of relief are in your hand?’
– Iain and Jean Murray