The Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Seminary recently added to its growing collection of resources courtesy of a generous donation from Leroy Cole, a former longtime pastor in the Flint, Michigan area.
The donation adds hundreds of new volumes and historical artifacts to the Spurgeon Library, including original editions of Spurgeon’s own publications and secondary sources written about the 19th century Baptist preacher.
Library curator Geoffrey Chang and the seminary were connected to the donor, Leroy Cole, through a longtime friend of MBTS, Gary Long. Long serves as pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo. and as president of the Particular Baptist Press.
Through a series of phone calls and in-person meetings last fall, the two sides finalized the donation. The collection was transferred to the seminary’s campus located in Kansas City, Mo., in November 2020.
Cole’s contribution to the Spurgeon Library is unique, in part, because of his own background and passion for training future ministers.
Cole trained for ministry at Bible Baptist Seminary in Arlington, Tx. in the 1960s before beginning work as a bi-vocational church planter and pastor and as a toolmaker by trade. In 1967, he founded Cole’s Machine Inc., an automation and tooling service center, and subsequently planted Emmanuel Baptist Church in Otisville, Mich., along with a committed core group. The church in Otisville still meets for regular worship services, and the machine company’s operations are ongoing, managed now by members of the Cole family in nearby Davison, Mich.
Though different, Cole’s two career trajectories meshed in unexpected ways.
In his first year of seminary, Cole was introduced to several noteworthy theologians, among whom were figures such as John Calvin and Charles Spurgeon. The early exposure to Spurgeon’s writings began for Cole a lifelong fascination with the famed Baptist minister’s life and ministry. Cole estimated by the time he and his wife moved from Arlington, he had amassed a library of roughly 2,000 volumes, a large percentage of which were books written by or about Spurgeon.
After seminary, Cole dove headlong into entrepreneurial efforts in business and in church planting. The similarities between the two were not always obvious but did exist. “In the trade I was in, for anything I did, I wanted the tools to do it with. (In ministry), the books are the tools. (Libraries) are toolboxes for pastors and Christians.”
Cole’s perspective and passion for resourcing ministers resembles Spurgeon’s own ministerial philosophy. Spurgeon was well-known for his desire to train men aspiring to the ministry, most notable through the founding of The Pastor’s College in London, known today as Spurgeon’s College. Cole found an outlet for a training post of his own via his personal library and livable retreat space provided on his property in Otisville.
“One day, I looked around and thought why did the Lord give me this? What does he want me to do? Why did he put me in this place?” Through the line of questioning, Cole began entertaining the idea of ministering to other pastors, particularly young pastors just beginning in ministry.
Eventually, Cole moved his substantial personal library to a basement space in his home and extended an open invitation to pastors and men in ministry to use the space for personal retreat.
Cole views the space as an opportunity for pastors to have temporary reprieve from the daily pressures of pastoral tasks and responsibilities. “I know there are times being a pastor where things come at you and you just need to get away to someplace. You need half a day or a day to just catch your breath. All pastors experience that. So, I wanted this to be a place for that. It’s always open; anyone can come.”
Over the last three decades, Cole has held men’s morning fellowships in the space, hosted a number of prominent theologians, church historians, pastors, and authors at his home, and, at times, has continued to purchase more books to add to his collection. It is not uncommon for visiting pastors, at Cole’s urging, to walk away with a box filled with books from the collection to keep and use in their own ministry. Cole’s posture towards equipping the next generation via the written word made for an apt connection with Midwestern’s Spurgeon Library.
Last summer, when the opportunity to donate his Spurgeon items was presented, Cole says he was honored at the prospect. Speaking to Library curator Geoffrey Chang, Cole observed: “You want these sorts of things to be taken care of beyond yourself. (At the Spurgeon Library), you are already on the path. You have the substance, dedication, and support for the Library. What we have seen is absolutely wonderful.”
Chang expressed gratitude for Cole’s donation and for similar support: “We are continually encouraged by the support of our work at the Spurgeon Library. The generosity and eagerness of those who aim to help is remarkable and ensures students and those interested in Spurgeon’s life and ministry will have no shortage of resources at their disposal for years to come.”
Chang added that donations like Cole’s bode well for the ongoing work at the Spurgeon Library and for future forays into further Spurgeon research.
“We are just beginning to understand (Spurgeon’s) ministry. The more we understand it, the more we will benefit from it. To understand Spurgeon, you have to understand the times he lived in. You can have students check on different aspects of Spurgeon’s ministry and the ministry at the Tabernacle. The goal is not to remake Spurgeon in our day, but to see him for who he is. We realize we have the same gospel, we serve the same Lord, and we’re given the same tools in terms of God’s Word.”
New Lost Sermons publication released
Also in November 2020, Midwestern Seminary and B&H Academic announced the release of Volume 4 of The Lost Sermons of C.H. Spurgeon, an ongoing research project from the seminary’s Spurgeon Library.
The volume is the latest in a series of publications bringing to light previously unpublished sermon material from Charles Spurgeon’s early years in ministry. The Lost Sermons volumes include transcriptions of Spurgeon’s earliest sermons along with substantial introductory comments and annotations. The material is compiled by the staff and research team at the Spurgeon Library.
Series General Editor and Midwestern Seminary Provost Jason Duesing reflected on the significance of the timing of the sermons’ publication: “Spurgeon’s sight was set on Jesus Christ from the moment he ‘looked’ to him in his conversion and remained there throughout his ministry.
“What makes The Lost Sermons project so special is the fact that these sermons have the gospel and the pursuit of godliness at their core, and they arrive in a day, much like Spurgeon’s own, of theological downgrade. Thus, it is our hope that The Lost Sermons of C. H. Spurgeon will further Spurgeon’s pointing and direct the gaze of all readers to Jesus Christ.”
Geoffrey Chang, curator of the Spurgeon Library and editor of two forthcoming Lost Sermons volumes, echoed Duesing’s sentiments: “With volumes 4 through 6, we get a window into Spurgeon’s maturation as a preacher and pastor. Far from simply being an itinerant village preacher, these sermons reveal young Spurgeon as a pastor concerned about the theological questions, the suffering, and the temptations of his people…In other words, before Spurgeon ever made the London headlines, he was laboring faithfully and fruitfully in a Cambridge village. These sermons tell that story.”
To learn more about the ongoing work of The Spurgeon Library at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, visit spurgeon.org
Volume 4 of The Lost Sermons of C.H. Spurgeon is available now. To learn more about the Lost Sermons project and for purchase information, click here.