Interview with Sinclair Ferguson, introducing YOU MUST READ: BOOKS THAT HAVE SHAPED OUR LIVES

Published on May 18, 2015 by Fred Zaspel

Banner of Truth, 2015 | 287 pages

Many of our readers are already gratefully familiar with the work of Banner of Truth, and at least those of us old enough to look back a few decades can appreciate the massive influence God has given it. This new book commemorates its 60th year of publishing ministry. Today, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, member of the Banner of Truth Trust board and one of the editors of the book, tells us about this unusual title.

Books At a Glance (Fred Zaspel):
Tell us briefly what this book is about and the occasion that brought it together.

Thank you for asking, Fred!  You Must Read is a book about great books. The double entendre in the title is deliberate!

We asked around three dozen preachers, teachers and authors to select a book that had made an impact on their life and ministry and to write a few thousand words about the book and why they thought it had been a help to them and would be a help to others. So in a sense the various chapters are “Books at a Glance” made personal! It is the kind of book you can begin anywhere, dip into, or if you are so inclined read from cover to cover. Great bedtime reading, good to give to someone to encourage them to read. And since most readers will recognise some, perhaps many of the names of the contributors it also has the kind of personal dimension that I think everyone enjoys.

There are several unique features of the book which belong to its “back story.” 

One is that we felt it would be helpful to other readers, not least younger ministers, to know what books had influenced preachers and authors they might know and admire. 

Another is that we decided that all the books would be works published by the Banner of Truth Trust. Since the Trust has published hundreds and hundreds of great books in the past sixty years we felt that people, including ministers and students, could find the list overwhelming. By publishing a book like this we thought we could help direct attention to some of the books that had left a mark on the ministry of others, and in that way say “Here are books you really must read.” At the end of the day the Trust doesn’t publish to make a profit (it is a Not-for Profit company) but to make important books available, well produced, and at reasonable prices.

In addition, we wanted to find some small way of honouring the work of the Trust’s founding trustee Iain Murray and his wife. The book is dedicated to them to celebrate sixty years of the Trust’s work, the sixtieth anniversary of The Banner of Truth magazine, and also — as it happens — their sixtieth wedding anniversary. Iain and Jean would have been very uncomfortable with any “let us now praise famous men” expressions of gratitude, but we felt that this would be an encouragement to them and a way of stimulating others to reading great books. The desire to honour Iain and Jean is also the reason there are chapters in the book written by various trustees — it wasn’t that we assumed we fitted into the category of “preachers and authors people admire”! 

Books At a Glance:
Explain for us something of the role and the work of Iain Murray over the years at Banner. And was his endeavor an immediate success? What were those early days like for him?

The Banner began life sixty years ago through the shared vision of Iain Murray and a businessman by the name of Jack Cullum who shared his passion to get great books from the past into the hands and hearts of contemporary Christians, and especially ministers of the gospel. At that time, sixty years ago, because the books were reformed in theology they met with a double reaction — many younger men devoured them, feeling that at last they had access to literature that married together robust biblical doctrine with profound application. On the other hand there was criticism, I think largely from older men, perhaps feeling a little threatened by these books written by people whose names they knew only vaguely as giants of the past, that (as I remember reading in an early review of one of the first books) The Banner of Truth was “flooding the market with cheap Calvinism”! It is a testimony to Iain’s sense of burden, vision, and drive that the Trust’s work has proved its worth in the long term, and in some ways has stimulated others to emulate it. In these sixty years I think the only book he has not had any hand in finding, approving, writing, or encouraging the publication of, is You Must Read — which says something good about the ability of the contributors to keep a secret!


Books At a Glance:
Can you give us a sense of the impact Banner of Truth has had in these 60 years?

It is hard to quantify. Sales figures by no means tell the whole story. But the books are available now all over the world, many of them translated into other languages, some now being legally published in China.

Perhaps a good index of their impact might be the simple fact that sixty years ago hardly any Christians in the English speaking world had ever heard of John Owen, or Thomas Watson, few knew the doctrinal convictions that drove C.H. Spurgeon’s remarkable ministry, and only academics and a handful of others read Jonathan Edwards, and so on. When I was a student there were only  four hardback volumes of Dr Lloyd-Jones in print (Sermon on the Mount in two volumes, his Spiritual Depression — its Causes and Cures, and Faith on Trial); now there is a superabundance of material that has been so helpful to so many. And so large numbers of Christians are daily fed on the riches of these authors’ works.

In general terms I think it would be fairly widely recognised that the ministry of Banner books has been an important influence in the recovering, fresh discovering, and strengthening of reformed and biblical preaching. That certainly has been a central goal of the Trust, largely through the publication work, but also through our Book Fund which for many years has sent free Banner books to people serving the Lord all over the world. And then the annual Banner conferences in the U.K. and the U.S.A have brought ministers and leaders together as well as providing us with an opportunity to encourage them with a few days to browse through the books and buy them at a deep discount! At the same time, while the Lord has blessed the work we are conscious that there is a new generation we need to introduce to the riches God has given the church in great Christian books, and we are eager to press on to do that.

Books At a Glance:
What in your estimation are some of the more important titles Banner has published over the years – other than your own, of course. J  Are there some that stand out for any reason?

It is not easy to choose! Thomas Watson’s books have been great favourites because of his remarkable combination of rich doctrine, clearly presented in an unusually easy style (for all that he quotes classical writers and expects people to know who they were!), and all done with wonderful practical application. Obviously the republication of John Owen’s Death of Death with its Introduction by J.I. Packer was hugely influential. The Puritan Paperback series, some of which are great classics has been well received. The Valley of Vision has had an enormous impact on people.

Then of course the publication of the Works of Owen and of Jonathan Edwards were really publishing events of great magnitude. For another publisher in the 1960s to have thought of publishing a sixteen volume set of Owen’s Works, and then later his seven volumes on Hebrews (only one volume, in Latin, being left out of the twenty-four volume set!) would have been regarded as publishing suicide. Yet in the providence of God there has been an appetite for these books. At the same time other, smaller contemporary books have had an enormous impact, including John Blanchard’s evangelistic book Right With God, Walt Chantry’s Today’s Gospel, and of course Iain Murray’s own book The Forgotten Spurgeon. And many more! No doubt each person would have his or her own favourites, not least among the many biographies, such as John Paton, or the Memoirs of M’Cheyne, or Thomas Boston, or Arnold Dallimore’s work on Whitefield, or Iain Murray’s work on D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Then there are sets like Professor John Murray’s Collected Writings which have been so helpful to many, but we wish more people had them. On and on it goes… time and space fail me to tell of Richard Sibbes and J.C. Ryle, of Dabney and Thornwell, of John Calvin and John Newton, ..!

Books At a Glance:
You’ve written a number of Banner titles over the years. Your The Christian Life is one of my favorites – I’ve given out so many copies over the years that I have often thought I should ask for commission! Do you have any more Banner titles in the works currently?

Commission comes in the form of moral obligation to write something for Books At a Glance! 

Yes, I am working on a couple that hopefully will appear in the coming months. 

One is a book on the major “moments” in the ministry of Jesus, from his incarnation to his return, which Derek Thomas and I have done together. At the moment it is called Ichthus which we hope will be an intriguing enough title. I am sure there will be a fish symbol somewhere on it as well as the usual Banner symbol of the George Whitefield Statue! It is a “popular-level” book which we have written  to try to help people re-center on the person and work of Christ. It isn’t really possible to be Christ-centred without being Christ-full, and that is one reason we have been working on this particular book together.

And then I am just finishing a book which should be available before Christmas this year on The Real Meaning of Christmas. Whether or not we “celebrate” Christmas, and in whatever form, it remains a time of the year when there are opportunities for Christians to give a little book to friends as a gift, or add it to a gift we are giving without seeming to be angular and difficult! So I am hoping that this will present the meaning of Christmas to strengthen believers and at the same time encourage others to think beyond the tinsel and glitter and come to know and trust the Saviour.

And then, the Lord willing, I will get into the list of “still to be written” books! Thank you for asking!

Editor’s Note:  You may like to take a look at our recent blog introducing this new book.

Buy the books


Banner of Truth, 2015 | 287 pages

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