I’ve long been a fan of Charles Spurgeon, the famous preacher of 19th-century London. But I’ve never paid much attention to Susannah Spurgeon, his wife, until reading Susie, a new book by Ray Rhodes.
I should have paid attention sooner. Susie helps us appreciate both the Spurgeons. I not only know Charles better now, but I’m convicted and encouraged by Susannah’s example.
Susie and Marriage
Charles and Susannah obviously enjoyed a strong marriage. Charles became her pastor when he moved to London, and he soon took a personal interest. I’ve always been amazed by how Charles initiated a relationship. Visiting the opening ceremonies for the Crystal Palace, he handed her some poetry:
If thou art to have a wife of thy youth, she is now living on the earth;
Therefore think of her, and pray for her weal; yea, though thou has not seen her.
He then whispered in her ear, “Do you pray for him who is to be your husband?” Bold move!
From their writings, Charles and Susannah built a strong relationship. “Matrimony came from Paradise, and leads to it,” wrote Charles. “I never was half so happy, before I was a married man, as I am now. When you are married, your bliss begins.”
Susannah seemed to agree. She called Charles “the best man on God’s earth.”
Every married person knows how much work it takes to build a strong marriage. Charles and Susannah serve as a great example, particularly for those in pastoral ministry. I’m struck by the wisdom of this advice from Charles: “Let the husband love his wife as he loves himself, and a little better, for she is his better half. He should feel, ‘If there’s only one good wife in the whole world, I’ve got her.'”
We have lots to learn from their marriage.
Susie and Ministry
It’s also worth reading Susie to learn about her ministry. In 1855, Charles asked her to pull together quotes from Thomas Brooks. This became the basis of a book. Later, Susannah penned five books, numerous articles, and contributed to, compiled, and edited her husband’s four-volume Autobiography.
Susannah also founded and ran the Pastor’s Book Fund, which provided thousands of volumes to equip needy pastors. This was no small operation. In one month, she received 657 letters. She had to respond to these requests, raise funds, choose books, oversee packaging, and maintain records.
In her later years, Susannah was disappointed to discover that no Baptist church existed at Bexhill-on-Sea, a small coastal town she visited for a rest. After returning to London, she prayed about this need. She eventually encouraged a friend to go and pastor there, and provided for the establishment of a church, which still continues today. “Susie was not a young, energetic, and healthy church-planting visionary; she was a widow with physical limitations,” writes Rhodes. “And yet, it doesn’t seem that she gave much attention to any obstacles that might stand in her way.”
Susannah’s ministry, although not as well-known as her husband’s, was significant, and continues to influence people today.
Susie and Suffering
Charles and Susannah were no strangers to suffering. Charles struggled with his physical and emotional health throughout his life. Susannah also struggled with her health. From her mid-thirties on, Susannah struggled with an unknown illness, possibly endometriosis. “In 1868 my travelling days were done. Henceforth for many years, I was a prisoner in a sick chamber . . . “
We benefit from the example of those who remain faithful when suffering. Both Charles and Susannah show us how to suffer well.
Susannah has left behind a rich legacy. The final chapter of Susie describes her legacy as a wife, mother, disciple, leader, and more. An early biographer wrote, “If greatness depends on the amount of good which one does in the world, if it is only another name for unselfish de-votion in the service of others—and surely true greatness is all this—then Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon will go down to posterity as one of the greatest women of her time.”
Ray Rhodes has done us a favor by writing this book. I will continue to read biographies of Charles Spurgeon. But now I’m glad for a biography about Susannah Spurgeon. I not only enjoyed this book, but I’m encouraged and strengthened by her example. If you’re a fan of Spurgeon, I think you’ll like it too.