As a teenager, Bill Lancaster began admiring Charles Haddon Spurgeon because he found the nineteenth-century English Baptist pastor's theology concise and lucid.
Now, at age 58, when he is not working as vice president of sales for Associated Grocers in Grandview, Missouri, Lancaster spends much of his time diligently restoring the books of the "Prince of Preachers," who lived from 1834 to 1892.
As president of FOSLs—Friends of the Spurgeon Library—Lancaster leads a corps of volunteers from around the United States. They work cautiously, knowing one false move could destroy the delicate material. They are archaeologists of sorts, preserving and repairing volumes from Spurgeon's private library.
"I believe the Spurgeon Library represents a clear expression of the ministry of the gospel of Christ," Lancaster says. "It would be a shame to see this collection deteriorate; so we dedicate our time to making the books useful again—for students, scholars, and the general public."
Jerry Cain, vice president of William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, where the collection is housed, says volunteers repair about 50 volumes per year. Wearing cloth gloves, they pore over their subject, risking disease at every turn. "Many of the books are infected with a fungus that spreads to nearby books and to those handling the books," Cain says.
Housed on the lower level of the college's library, the Spurgeon collection contains 6,618 volumes. It includes many of Spurgeon's own works, as well as those of other noted Christian writers.
The library also contains collections of hymns by Isaac 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." William Jewell College secured the collection in 1906.
As preservationists 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 says.
Some of the books date from the late 1400s; most are in desperate need of repair. Despite the daunting task before them, volunteers believe it must be done. "We're all busy people, but it's important to come together to achieve a common goal," Lancaster says.
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