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Religious Tract Society

The Rev. George Burder (1752-1832) had started printing tracts on his own, but his bookseller went out of business. He went to London to investigate, but also attended the London Missionary Society's Anniversary Meeting  in 1799. After the sermon by Rowland Hill, he called for a meeting of a few individuals. The meetings was held at St. Paul's Coffee House over a period two days and The Religious Tract Society was born.[1]

     Rev. George Burder saw the need of a tract publishing society that focused on the home country of England as a mission field. For many years it was a small scale, non-denominational society run by volunteers. The society grew and took on paid staff, book publishing and new buildings. The expansion continued to periodicals and to any publication with general Christian principals. Operations peaked in the 1880's and then fell off. In 1932, it was called Lutterworth Press after the Village of John Wyclifff's rectory.[2]

Principals of the RTS at the founding time:

1. ‘The Tract should contain pure truth, flowing from the fountain of the New Testament, uncontaminated with error, undisturbed with human systems; clear as crystal, like the river of life.'

2. ‘There should be some account of the way of a sinner's salvation in every Tract; so that, if a person were to see but one, and never had an opportunity of seeing another book, he might plainly perceive that, in order to his salvation, he must be born again of the Spirit, and justified by faith in the obedience unto death. A Tract without this is very defective indeed.'

3. ‘It should be plain; according to the rhetorician's rule, "that the meaning shall be not only so plain that it may be understood, but so plain that it cannot possibly be misunderstood." '

4. ‘It should be striking; should have strong, pithy expressions, lively representations of truth, and pathetic addresses.'

5. ‘It should be entertaining. A plain, didactic essay on a religious subject may be read by a Christian with much pleasure; but the persons for whom these Tracts are chiefly designed will fall asleep over it. This will not do; it is throwing money and labour away. Narrative, dialogue, and other methods which ingenuity will suggest must be employed to give an agreeable relish to truth, and to season it so as to whet the appetite of the reader.'

6. ‘It should be full of ideas. In the Tract, truth should be compressed. The motto of every Tract should be multum in parvo; and if the foregoing qualities be attended to, there is no danger of compressing too much. Sermons may indeed be diffuse, having to be heard only once, but the printed Tract may be read again and again until fully comprehended.'

7. ‘Finally, Tracts should be adapted to various situations and conditions: for the young and for the aged, for the children of prosperity and of affliction, for careless and for awakened sinners, and for entering into the reasonings, excuses, temptations, and duties of each, and pointing out to them the way of the Lord.'

Here is the compendious programme which, without essential alteration, has outlasted the hundred years. As a guide to the Tract-writer, a touchstone for the Tract-critic, and a help to the Tract-distributor, there could be scarcely anything better. The stedfastness of the aim and the simplicity of the expression show the earnestness with which the fathers and founders of the Society went to work, and explain the success with which, under God, its efforts have been crowned.

Their periodical publications included:

Little Dots (1887-1950) - a publication for very young children.

The Child's Companion (1824-1922) - Children's Magazine.

The Boy's Own Paper (1879-1967) - Boy's magazine.

The Girl's Own Paper (1880-1956) - Girl's magazine.

The Sunday at Home - Magazine for adults.

[1]Samuel Green, “The Story of the Religious Tract Society for 100 Years.” (London: Religious Tract Society, 1899.)

[2]Dennis Butt and Pat Garnet, “From the Dairyman’s Daughter to Worrals of the WAFF.” (London: The Lutterworth Press, 2006)