News Articles

Charles Spurgeon’s fragile library receives volunteer group’s care

LIBERTY, Mo. (BP)–Wearing cloth gloves, they pore over their subject, risking disease at every turn. They work cautiously, knowing one false move could destroy the delicate material. Are they scientists unraveling the mystery of an obscure malady? No, they’re archeologists of sorts, preserving and repairing volumes from the private library of the great Baptist pastor Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
The Friends of the Spurgeon Library, who fondly refer to themselves as FOSLs, are volunteers from all over the United States who diligently work to restore the books of Victorian minister Spurgeon, who lived from 1834 to 1892. Some of the books date back to the late 1400s; most are in desperate need of repair.
“Many of the books are infected with a fungus that spreads to nearby books and to those handling the books,” said Jerry Cain, vice president and chaplain of William Jewell College, Liberty, Mo., where the collection is housed.
In fact, Mary Henry, who rebinds the books, went to the hospital after coming in direct contact with the fungus. Fortunately, antibiotics cleared the infection.
To protect the handlers and other books, contaminated books are wrapped in a special paper until they can be rebound. Currently, the volunteers repair about 50 volumes per year.
Housed on the lower level of William Jewell College’s Curry Library, the Spurgeon collection contains 6,618 volumes, including many of Spurgeon’s personal works, as well as those of other noted Christian writers.
Spurgeon was one of the most prominent English Baptist pastors of the 19th century. In 1859, he preached in the Crystal Palace in London to a congregation of 23,654 people.
The collection is regarded as the world’s finest library of Puritan literature. Among its treasures: the first edition serial “All the Year Round,” a weekly journal published by Charles Dickens.
“Most of his novels came out one chapter at a time in a magazine,” Cain said. “At the end of the year, the articles were bound together in one book. We have the original articles.”
The library also contains collections of hymns by Issac Watts, John Rippon and Samuel, John and Charles Wesley. Editions of the Bible include the Englishman’s Greek New Testament, which provides the Greek text and interlinear literal translation, and The Prefaces to the Early Editions of Martin Luther’s Bible, which illustrate the reformer’s principle of “justification through faith.”
The oldest book in the collection is a commentary on the Book of Psalms by Cardinal Juan de Torquemada; it is written in Latin and was published in Rome in 1476.
William Jewell College secured the Spurgeon Collection in 1906. During the sessions of the Missouri Baptist General Association (now the Missouri Baptist Convention) in 1905, it was announced that the personal library of Charles Haddon Spurgeon was available for purchase in London for 500 pounds. In less than 10 minutes, Jewell negotiated to buy the collection and have it transferred to the Liberty campus.
A replica of Spurgeon’s personal library serves as the focal point of the collection. After cataloging the entire collection, the volunteers are concentrating on restoring the volumes that line the shelves around the desk.
As they gingerly thumb through the books, they search for Spurgeon’s personal notes. “Any margin notes or underlined text give us insight into what Spurgeon found interesting,” Cain said. “In some cases, we’ve discovered letters between the pages. Those are a real find. There are a wealth of curiosities waiting to be uncovered here.”
The FOSLs gather twice a year at the library to continue restoring the books. Bill Lancaster, the group’s president, is vice president of sales for Associated Grocers in Grandview, Mo. “I believe the Spurgeon library represents a clear expression of the ministry of the gospel of Christ,” Lancaster remarked. “It would be a shame to see this collection deteriorate, so we dedicate our time to making the books useful again — for Jewell students, scholars and the general public.”
Keeping Baptist history alive motivates FOSL founder and board member Gary Long, pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church, Springfield, Mo. “I sense a growing apathy among Baptists today toward our heritage,” he said. “But we must understand our past before we can chart our future.
“We have a wonderful heritage of faith, and this library represents a great part of that rich past. We must work hard to preserve it.”
His commitment is shared by many across the nation, with board members ranging from pastors to business people from Maryland to California.
Lancaster has been a fan of Spurgeon since the age of 18. “His theology is clear, and he is easy to read,” he pointed out. “His writings manifest the message of Christ, and I want to be a part of lifting up his example.”
Both Lancaster and Long agree it’s easy to become frustrated when faced with their daunting task, but they find the company of fellow members energizes them. “We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but we are all serious about the work and focused on its importance,” Lancaster said. “We’re all busy people, but it’s important to come together to achieve a common goal.”
The Friends would like to rebind 700 books in the next six months, which will require an aggressive membership drive. Lancaster believes that the drive isn’t about money but rather about working for the glory of Christ.
When he dreams about the future of the library, he would like to uncover other books in Spurgeon’s collection that the pastor’s family members may have. He also would like to see an on-site bookstore selling Spurgeon’s works and, in a perfect world, he would like the library housed in a separate building.
Membership in Friends of the Spurgeon Library costs $25 per year; the cost to rebind each book averages about $30. The organization’s mailing address is in care of William Jewell College, 500 College Hill, Liberty, MO 64068.

    About the Author

  • Carolyn Chapman