Now on display at the James P. Boyce Centennial Library is a sample of a newly acquired collection of Charles Haddon Spurgeon books.
Spurgeon (June 19, 1834 – January 31, 1892) became England’s most famous Baptist preacher of the 19th century, pastoring London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle for over 30 years. Spurgeon edited The Sword and the Trowel, and many of his sermons were printed in books and the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit for worldwide dissemination. In his later years, Spurgeon contended against encroachments of theological liberalism in the Baptist Union, known as the “Downgrade Controversy.” For his lifelong commitment to preaching the gospel of Christ, his stalwart adherence to the doctrines of grace, and his courageous stand for orthodoxy in the face of opposition, Spurgeon continues to inspire new generations of admirers.
The Spurgeon Collection was accumulated by the late Gerald and Ethel Primm, and it was gifted to the library by their sons John Spurgeon and Mark David Primm. Before her marriage, Ethel Louise Brown earned the Master of Religious Education from the seminary’s Woman’s Missionary Union Training School in 1945. Gerald C. Primm led a distinguished life as a World War II combat pilot, recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, pastor of several Baptist churches in North Carolina, and a friend to many Baptist institutions, including a notable tenure as a Southern Seminary trustee from 1985 until 1996. The Primm family accumulated a personal collection of nearly 500 volumes of Spurgeon books, including many early London printings. The collection includes a complete run of The Sword and the Trowel volumes which Spurgeon edited, a set that has yet to be reprinted unabridged. In Primm’s estimation, he personally possessed “perhaps the best collection of Spurgeon’s writings in America outside his own personal library, which was purchased after his death” and now resides at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.1
Primm’s interest in Spurgeon began in 1949, when Ethel recommended that he read Richard Ellsworth Day’s biography of the great British Baptist pulpiteer, The Shadow of the Broad Brim. The narrative left a profound impression upon Primm, who recollected:
As I laughed and wept my way through the book, God kindled a fire in my heart that has never gone out. That spark from Jesus through Spurgeon has continued to burn in my soul these almost twenty years! In the years since, I have endeavored to collect in my library every book Spurgeon ever wrote.2
Primm played a unique role in steering the Southern Baptist Convention back to its conservative roots. For three years, the Eller Memorial Baptist Church of Greensboro, North Carolina— which Primm pastored — published an American edition of The Sword and the Trowel after the London edition ceased publication after 1968. He received assistance from co-editors M. O. Owens Jr. and Clark H. Pinnock, outspoken Southern Baptist champions of biblical inerrancy during the inception of the denomination’s conservative resurgence (Pinnock later embraced open theism). In the life and ministry of Spurgeon, Primm understood parallels to the doctrinal challenges facing Southern Baptists in the 20th century. As Primm observed:
Our denomination has come upon difficult days because of liberalism and the social gospel that has infiltrated our institutions and many of our pulpits. As in the days of “The Downgrade Controversy” when Spurgeon took up “THE SWORD” to fight heresy and apostasy in the Baptist denomination in England, so today we have picked up his fallen “SWORD” to use it against the errors of our day.3
Along with other likeminded conservatives, Primm became an early and active supporter of the Baptist Faith and Message Fellowship, which incorporated in 1973 and disseminated the Southern Baptist Journal, a monthly newspaper that aided in the unification of the burgeoning conservative movement.4 Primm also reprinted Spurgeon’s The Mourner’s Comforter(1975, 2007) and a compilation of messages titled Paradoxes, Mysteries, Riddles, Enigmas, and Comfort for Christians (2002).
The staff of the James P. Boyce Centennial Library hopes that current and future generations of students will find similar edification in their usage of this collection. Access to the collection can be facilitated through the Archives & Special Collections office located on the library’s second floor. The Archives also holds Spurgeon manuscripts, galley proofs, and an important 1887 letter regarding the Downgrade Controversy handwritten for Western Recorder editor T. T. Eaton.
1 Gerald C. Primm, “Editorial,” The Sword and the Trowel: American Edition (January 1969): 2.
3 Primm, “Editorial,” The Sword and the Trowel: American Edition (July-December, 1971): 23.
4 James C. Hefley, The Truth in Crisis, Volume 5: “The Winning Edge” (Hannibal, MO: Hannibal Books, 1990), 22.