Spurgeon’s Library in New Hands

NOTE: This article is reprinted with permission from As I See It, a monthly electronic magazine compiled and edited by Doug Kutilek. AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at dkutilek@juno.com.

by Doug Kutilek

And speaking of Spurgeon—early Sunday morning October 22, instant, I was watching a televised sermon by Dr. Phil Roberts, President of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, who was speaking at a church here in Wichita. In his introduction, he naturally discussed the seminary and its progress and growth (like all Southern Baptist seminaries, it is once again in conservative hands). And then he stated that, after two years of negotiation, MBTS had as of “last Tuesday” (October 10, 2006, if I figure the date correctly), signed a contract to purchase Spurgeon’s entire extant library from William Jewell College, and would take actual possession of it by November 15 of this year. He stated that some of the books need restoration, and this would be done right away, and the whole would be catalogued electronically.

William Jewell College, located in Liberty, Missouri, just northeast of Kansas City, is and has long been a notoriously apostate Baptist college (in AISI 9:1 we reviewed The Long Road Home by John P. Jewell, a testimony in part of how his conservative, fundamentalist faith was destroyed by the apostasy at William Jewell College as long ago as the 1960s). Spurgeon’s library came into that college’s possession in 1906. When Spurgeon died in January of 1892, his personal library, rich in old Puritan tomes, numbered an estimated 12,000 volumes. Upon his death, his two preacher sons Charles and Thomas, each naturally took numerous books from the library for his own use in the ministry. Other books were given away by Mrs. Spurgeon to the great preacher’s friends and co-workers, and many went to the library of Spurgeon’s college for pastors. The remaining collection then reportedly amounted to something over 7,000 books. In late 1904, after their mother’s death, Spurgeon’s sons put the bulk of the library up for sale through an agent, with the goal of selling it to a Bible college or seminary, but remarkably were unsuccessful in this effort.

In 1905, Mr. J. T. M. Johnson, a board member of William Jewell College, was in London for a Baptist congress, where he began the ultimately successful negotiations, with the help of Baptist editor Dr. J. W. Thirtle, for the purchase of the remaining collection for 500 British pounds—about 50 cents per volume! These were shipped in waterproof cases across the Atlantic to the American Midwest, far from the scene of Spurgeon’s London labors (but perhaps a providential act to spare them destruction in the ravages of World War II). The departure of Spurgeon’s library to America is not viewed favorably by all British Christians (see Ernest Bacon, Spurgeon: Heir of the Puritans [London: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd, 1967], pp. 150-1).

The collection was catalogued and placed, as I understand it, in the general stacks of the William Jewell library for several decades, until the pilfering of Spurgeon-owned volumes became intolerable (the collection “shrank” in the process by some 2,000 books, it seems). A $40,000 replica of Spurgeon’s study was created in 1965 in a basement room of the library, and the rest of the collection was placed there under lock and key where it has remained since; in August 1983, I visited the collection and was able to hold—and be photographed holding—one of the volumes there (it was vol. 2 of John Gill’s commentary on the Bible, 1854 edition; vol. 1, which lists a very young Charles Spurgeon as among the subscribers to the serial publication of this set, was out being rebound, or I would have held that one).

As long ago as 1984, Craig Skinner, in his book, Lamplighter and Son [Nashville: Broadman, 1984], about Thomas Spurgeon, said of the Spurgeon library’s location in the basement room at William Jewell: “The context and setting of the library deserves a better display than its current basement location provides… . The entire holding would be much more useful in a seminary setting, or at the least in a more visible and prominent one.” (p. 249)

And what Skinner thought more than 20 years ago should happen is now coming to pass. Midwestern, I understand, outbid another Southern Baptist seminary, Southwestern in Fort Worth, Texas, for the library—books, furnishings, everything—to the tune of $400,000, substantially more than the 50 cents per volume paid in 1906! Soon, Spurgeon’s books will housed and displayed in a setting much more congenial to his theological beliefs and opinions, certainly more accessible and likely better cared for. I think all friends and admirers of Spurgeon will rejoice at this development.

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