In appreciation of the Evangelical Library
I am, apparently, something of a book nerd. I did not realise this, but it does occasionally get pointed out (for example, when someone makes a passing reference to some musty volume and my instinctive response is, ‘Which edition?’). It feels very normal to me. But there we go!
It is, perhaps, as a result of said nerdery that I have some involvement with the Evangelical Library (EL), making a small contribution here and there, including delivering a lecture on Hugh Latimer’s preaching (see library web site at www.evangelical-library.org.uk).
You may not have heard much or anything about the library, but I want 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 EL 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. He 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.
Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, among others, shared Williams’ appetite for the truth in these tomes and urged the establishment of the library on a more formal basis, in a more central location.
So, eventually the Beddington Free Grace Library found its way to Chiltern Street in central London and became the EL. 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 EL materials, or were themselves taught by those who shared its vision and devoured its wares.
This brings me secondly, to that vision. This is given on the library’s web site as ‘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 tri-fold aim would continue to engage us today.
A third reason is its stock. The library holds about 90,000 volumes and periodicals galore (a rich but often overlooked resource for researchers), including an array of older works not readily available elsewhere and 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 and 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.
But some find that its home just off the north circular — outside the congestion zone, and with free parking available — make it more accessible than otherwise. Nevertheless, while it may not be the easiest place to drop into (hence the value of the mailing service), that relative inaccessibility makes it a fine place to research or study.
In particular, the reference room, known as the ‘Robert Sheehan Puritan and Research Centre’, is a 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 on with some serious study and thought, then the EL 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 topics are
covered by competent scholars. These are usually historical-theological-
literary nuggets and well worth attending, giving opportunity for instruction and discussion.
In addition, there is an annual lecture. This year’s takes place on Monday 2 July, when Ian Hamilton will address the gathered hordes on the history and contribution of Princeton Seminary.
Furthermore, from time to time, there are special study days. For example, on Tuesday 27 March we will consider 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’s trustees, will speak on ‘1662 and the men who were ejected’; and Dr Robert Oliver will address ‘1689 and the toleration of dissent’ (more details on library web site or from 020 8362 0868).
I am sure that there are other reasons, but these are five. Might I therefore encourage you, finally, to consider supporting the library? Membership costs a mere £25 for a year.
This noble institution 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.