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In Appreciation of the Evangelical Library

Category Articles
Date February 3, 2012

I am, apparently, something of a book nerd. I did not realise this, but it does occasionally get pointed out or exposed (for example, when someone makes a passing reference to some musty volume, and my instinctive response is, ‘Which edition?’ or something of that order). It feels very normal to me. But there we go.

It is, perhaps, as a result of said nerdery that I have had a little involvement with the Evangelical Library (including delivering the lecture on ‘Hugh Latimer’s Preaching’ that is found on my blog, as well as among others at the Library).

You may not have heard much or anything about the library, but I wanted to take a moment to encourage you to consider using and supporting this institution, for several reasons.

First, because of its history. The nucleus of what has become the Evangelical Library had its origin in the labours of a man called Geoffrey Williams. Geoffrey Williams was, if I might put it this way, a book nerd extraordinaire. Williams not only loved certain books, he loved – most importantly – the substance of those books, being concerned for the preservation of the best in the Reformed and Puritan strain of evangelicalism. If I remember rightly, it was Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones who – among others who shared Williams’ appetite for the truth found in these tomes – urged the establishment of the library on a more formal basis in a more central location, and eventually the Beddington Free Grace Library found its way to Chiltern Street in central London and became the Evangelical Library. It remained in Chiltern Street until forced out by the gradual deterioration of the premises yoked with the spiralling costs not just of maintaining but improving a central London property. Horrible tales of desperate measures to keep intruding rainwater from damaging valuable volumes are told on stormy nights by old preachers seeking to terrify their young protégés! The history and the legacy of the library call for some interest and concern among Reformed evangelicals today: many of those from whom we learned our theology cut their teeth on Evangelical Library materials, or were themselves taught by those who shared its vision and devoured its wares.

Which brings me, neatly, and secondly, to that vision. This is given on the Library’s website as follows: ‘the restoration of the Word of God at the heart of the Christian community, the continuing necessity of reforming the church which teaches that Word ““ and, ultimately, the revival of the people brought about by a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.’ I would hope that this trifold aim would continue to engage us today.

A third reason is its stock: the library holds about 80000 volumes and periodicals galore (a rich but often overlooked resource for researchers), including an array of older works not readily available elsewhere or vast quantities of more modern texts that might lie beyond the pocket of many readers. Its collections of church history, doctrine and devotional reading are particularly impressive. Most excitingly for the bibliophile, budding or otherwise, is that delightful assortment of older works, many of them exceedingly hard to find in their physical form and unavailable online. Most of these (except the rarer and more valuable books) are available through a mail order service, removing the need for visits to the library proper while still providing the benefits of membership.

Of course, the world has moved on since the library was first established, and – in addition to the online catalogue – there is an ongoing effort to digitise some of the library’s collection.

A fourth reason is its situation. Now, I am sure that some visitors to its present premises will shy like a startled mustang when they read that its situation might be a reason to use and support the library. After all, Chiltern Street was a genuinely central location, fairly easily accessible, not far from Baker Street. The Gateway Mews at Bounds Green – though a straightforward ten minute stroll north from the Underground station of the same name, and just off that marvel of modern travel delight, the A406, or North Circular ““ does not enjoy those same benefits and surroundings. Nevertheless, while it is not the easiest place to drop into (hence the value of the mailing service), that relative inaccessibility make it a fine place to research or study. In particular, the reference room, known as the Robert Sheehan Puritan and Research Centre, is an especially pleasant, quiet spot, and there are a number of nooks and crannies (as opposed to crooks and nannies) where one can settle down to a spot of deliberate and focused reading (not to mention the array of computers if one is not in the mood to bring one’s own). Seriously, if you are looking for an environment with a little peace to get some serious study and thought out of the way, then the Evangelical Library is a good place to consider. Whisper it softly, but there are also bursaries available for serious scholars: contact the library to discover more.

A fifth and final reason to support the library is its events. There are at least three ‘Lunchtime Lectures’ each year, when some fascinating topic is covered by a competent scholar, and ““ on at least one occasion – by me. These are usually historical-theological-literary nuggets and well worth attending, giving opportunity both for instruction and for discussion. In addition, there is an annual lecture – this year’s takes place on Monday 2nd July 2012 when Ian Hamilton will address the gathered hordes on the history and contribution of Princeton Seminary – which often has a broader theme. Furthermore, from time to time there are special study days. For example, coming up on Tuesday 27th March 2012 we will be considering the topic of the Great Ejection, under the title 1662 and All That. Dr Garry Williams of the John Owen Centre will speak on ‘1662 and its aftermath’; Gary Brady, chairman of the Library trustees, will speak on ‘1662 and the men who were ejected’; and Dr Robert Oliver will address ‘1689 and the toleration of dissent’. The day begins at 10am and ends at 4pm, and costs £25 in advance (£30 on the day).

I am sure that there are other reasons, but here are five to put before you. Might I therefore encourage you, finally, to consider supporting the Library? Membership costs a mere twenty-five of your earth pounds for a year, entitling you to a whelming – it wouldn’t be quite right to describe it as overwhelming – package of benefits. Gifts and legacies are always gratefully received. And, as charity and church secretaries up and down the land are wont to say, ‘Your attention is drawn to the advantages of Gift Aid.’

So, please, consider supporting this noble institution. It is by no means obsolescent, and – for those who love the truth and are inheritors of a good tradition with its feet both in past centuries and in more recent decades – I think it is genuinely worthwhile.

Jeremy Walker is Pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church, Crawley and a trustee of the Library.

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