Susannah Spurgeon (1832-1892)
While Susannah Spurgeon will always be remembered as the faithful wife and encourager of the great preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon, she deserves recognition in her own right by the Christian Church in connection with her fund for supplying theological books to clergymen and ministers too poor to buy them. The importance of this Christian work should not be overlooked or underestimated. At the time in which Mrs. Susannah lived, many ministers living in England were given such a poor wage that they could barely feed their families, let alone buy books to help them grow spiritually and improve their ministries. In fact, when the Book Fund was started it was discovered that many ministers had not been able to buy a new book for ten years!
Susannah Thompson was born on January 15, 1832 to Mr. and Mrs. R.B. Thompson in the Southern suburbs of the City of London. She was raised in a godly home and had earnest Christian friends as she grew up and she herself became a Christian as a young girl. But since, in those days, there were not many organizations or churches that encouraged young believers to pursue Christian service and or further their knowledge of God, there was a coldness and indifference common to the youth of that day, Susannah included.
On December 18, 1853, Susannah saw and heard for the first time the man that was to become her beloved husband. Charles Spurgeon was a mere youth of 19 and had been asked to preach in the famous New Park Street Chapel (now called the Metropolitan Tabernacle) in London. At the insistence of her friends, she attended the service. At this point in her life, Susannah had grown so spiritually cold that she didn't understand the clear Gospel preaching of this young man and she was not impressed with his preaching.
London buzzed with raves about the eloquent 19-year-old preacher, but as Susannah was decidedly unimpressed when she first saw and heard him, she commented: "So this is his so-called eloquence! It does not impress me. What a painful countrified manner! Will he ever quit making flourishes with that terrible blue silk handkerchief! And his hair—why, he looks like a barber's assistant!"
Susannah often saw him at the home of her dear friends Mr. and Mrs. Olney who were members of the church. Though they saw each other often, neither Mr. or Mrs. Spurgeon remembers their first introduction. It appears that it didn't take long for Susannah to get over her prejudices regarding Charles as a preacher and she soon realized her Christian life was far from what it should be. As Susannah listened to Spurgeon's preaching in the following weeks, she gradually turned her attention away from the dress of the messenger and toward the message he delivered.
She came to church more often as the Holy Spirit used Spurgeon's preaching to expose her shallowness and indifference to the things of God. She sought counsel from Charles and others. Learning of her desire to improve her Christian walk, Charles gave her and illustrated copy of The Pilgrim's Progress to help her along that path. On the book, he inscribed, "Miss Thompson, with desires for her progress in a blessed pilgrimage, from C. H. Spurgeon."
She was very impressed by his concern for her and after struggling for a few months, Susannah came to a full assurance of faith in Jesus Christ. On June 20, 1854 the two young people attended the brilliant opening of London's Crystal Palace together. Charles read Susannah a few lines from a book he was reading: "Seek a good wife of thy God, for she is the best gift of His providence... 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."
Charles asked Susannah in a soft voice, "Do you pray for him who is to be your husband?" Susannah's heart raced, her eyes fell, and she blushed at the young pastor's words. After the opening ceremonies, the young couple walked together through the Crystal Palace, the gardens, and down to the lake. Susannah wrote years later: "During that walk, in that memorable day in June, I believe God Himself united our hearts in indissoluble bonds of true affection, and though we knew it not, gave us to each other forever."
Charles and Susannah's new friendship deepened to something more over the next two months as it blossomed into love. When he proposed marriage, she joyfully accepted.On August 2, 1854, Charles and Susannah declared their love for each other in her grandfather's garden. Susannah later wrote with great awe "I left my beloved, and hastening to the house and to an upper room, I knelt before God, and praised and thanked him, with happy tears, for His great mercy in giving me the love of so good a man. If I had known, then, how good he was, and how great he would become, I would have been overwhelmed, not so much with the happiness of being his, as with responsibility which such a position would entail."
It was an odd courtship. Charles had little free time to devote to Susannah. One of their regular dates consisted of Susannah quietly minding her own business while Charles edited his weekly sermon for publication. Susannah once accompanied Charles to a speaking engagement in a crowded venue. As they walked in, Charles was preoccupied with the message he was about to deliver. He turned into a side door, completely forgetting about Susannah, who found herself abandoned in the crushing crowd to find her own way to a seat. Miffed, she left the building and took a cab home to her parents' house.
Mrs. Thompson was not as sympathetic to the perceived slight as her daughter expected her to be. Wisely, she urged Susannah never to try to make herself an idol in her fiancée's heart. Charles was God's servant first and foremost, and she warned Susannah that she must never hinder his ministry. Susannah wrote,
"I never forgot the teaching of that day; I had learned my hard lesson by heart, for I do not recollect ever again seeking to assert my right to his time and attention when any service for God demanded them."
During their courtship Charles and Susannah developed a kinship in spiritual things which only deepened in married life. They spent time reading together Jonathan Edwards, Richard Baxter, and other old Puritan writers. Together they published a collection of Puritan theology called Smooth Stones Taken from Ancient Brooks. From the beginning, their spiritual love was the bond that strengthened their earthly love.
In January, 1855, after Charles had received from Susannah a letter full of deep spiritual, heartfelt longing for the things of God, Charles wrote her, "Dear purchase of a Savior's blood, your are to me a Savior's gift, and my heart is full to overflowing with the thought of such continued goodness. I do not wonder at His goodness, for it is just like Him; but I cannot but lift up the voice of joy at His manifold mercies. Whatever befall us, trouble and adversity, sickness or death, we need not fear a final separation, either from each other, or our God. I am glad you are not here just at this moment, for I feel so deeply that I could only throw my arms around you and weep. May the choicest favors be thine, may the Angel of the Covenant be thy companion, may thy supplications be answered, and may thy conversation be with Jesus in heaven!"
Charles and Susannah were married on January 9, 1856. On September 20, 1856, Susannah gave birth to a set of twin boys in her New Kent Road home. She remained weak for some time after the birth of her sons and, though she eventually recovered, she never again gained full and robust health. Their love grew in the ensuing years. The many trials and troubles each faced only strengthened their spiritual oneness. By the time he was 30 years old, Charles suffered from gout and its accompanying depression.
Susie, as Charles called her, also was ill and did not leave the house for long periods of time. Being chronically ill, much of her life was spent suffering from physically ailments that kept her bedridden s lot of the time. She was often unable to accompany her husband to church. Discouraged and confused, Susannah cried out to God. Later, she would write,
"The moment we come into any trial or difficulty, our first thought should be, not how soon can we escape from it, or how we may lessen the pain we shall suffer from it, but how can we best glorify God in it."
But how could Susannah glorify God or minister with her husband while confined to a sick room? Yet, through difficulties and problems, both were able to have important Christian ministries. In spite of both of their physical ailments, Susannah became a true partner in Charles' ministry. Charles would call his "wifey" to come and help him on Saturday afternoons. Together they read commentaries and discussed the Scripture for the next day's sermon. Susannah was Charles' sounding board and emotional support. When he was discouraged, she read to him from Baxter's Reformed Pastor or from the poetry of George Herbert. Susannah counseled women and girls in the church and carefully taught her twin boys. She managed their household wisely, uncomplainingly endured separations as Charles traveled, and welcomed him home when he returned. Her days were full and their little family was happy.
Although weak and ailing much of her adult life, Susannah was a faithful trainer of her two sons in Christian doctrine and she had the joy of seeing them both become Christians at an early age. When they became grown men, both of her boys publicly recognized how much the influence of their mother's example and teaching played a part in their conversion.
Charles was a prolific writer and had most of his sermons published. In the summer of 1875 he completed the first volume of Lectures to my Students and he gave his wife a proof copy of the book, asking for her opinion. She told her husband that she wished she could place that volume in the hands of every minister in England. To that her husband replied, "Then why not do so: how much will you give?" Susannah was not prepared for his question, but it challenged her to see if she could spare the money from her housekeeping or personal account to fulfill her wish. At that time she remembered some money that she had put away whenever she had some extra. She went to her room and got the money and when it was counted she realized that she had enough money to pay for one hundred copies of the work. It was in that instant that the Book Fund was born.
The next issue of The Sword and the Trowel, a magazine put out by her husband, contained an announcement of Susannah's intention of giving out the books and inviting poor Baptist ministers to apply for the book. The applications proved more numerous than she anticipated and in that first distribution she gave out two hundred copies instead of the one hundred she originally proposed. In the following issue of his publication, Charles told of the many ministers desiring new books to increase their knowledge and improve their ministries and of the Book Fund that Susannah created to fulfill these needs. Money began to come in to finance the Book Fund so that books could be provided to needy ministers.
Susannah often worked from her sick bed, keeping track of the finances and corresponding with pastors. A room in their home was dedicated to storing and shipping books. As long as Susannah was well enough, volunteers would come in once every two weeks to help pack books for shipping.
Charles later wrote about the effect the labor involved in the book fund had on his wife.
"Our gracious Lord has ministered to His suffering child in the most effectual manner when He graciously led her to minister to the necessities of His servants. Let every believer accept this as the inference of experience: that for most human maladies, the best relief and antidote will be found in the self-sacrificing work for the Lord Jesus."
Charles became the most famous preacher in Victorian England. He was a tourist attraction, and many came to London just to hear him preach at the famed Metropolitan Tabernacle, which held six thousand people. A powerful expositor of the Scriptures and an eloquent evangelist, Charles also founded a pastor's college and orphanage that still exist today. His sermons were published weekly, and many of his writings continue to be published and still read today. Susannah continued the work of the Book Fund for the rest of her life. Her last thoughts before her death were for the Book Fund, and for the poor ministers who were benefited by its aid. In her will, she left a sum of money for the assistance of the work.
Though an invalid much of her life, beside the support she gave her husband in his ministry, Susannah spent time raising their twin sons, both of whom entered Christian ministry. Until her death, she operated her Book Fund, continuing to distribute Charles' books and writings free to pastors. Susannah also gave a good deal of time to literary work. Her most treasured work was C.H. Spurgeon's Autobiography, compiled from his Diary, Letters, and Records. As a writer, Susannah had a rare literary gift. She wrote several books in her lifetime including Ten Years of My Life in the Service of the Book Fund, Ten Years After, and several devotional books. Through trials and service, the Spurgeons' love for the Lord and each other only strengthened over time. Each was the greatest support of the other, and their spiritual bond deepened their love. Charles did not like to be called "reverend," so Susie's special name for him was "Tirshatha," which was the Persian word for "the revered one."
Charles' letters when the two had to be apart reveal the love that continued throughout their lives. In 1871, Charles wrote Susie:
"My Own Dear one—None know how grateful I am to God for you. In all I have ever done for Him, you have a large share. For in making me so happy you have fitted me for service. Not an ounce of power has ever been lost to the good cause through you. I have served the Lord far more, and never less, for your sweet companionship. The Lord God Almighty bless you now and forever!"
And later in the same year:
"I have been thinking over my strange history, and musing on eternal love's great river-head from which such streams of mercy have flowed to me. Think of the love which gave me that dear lady for a wife, and made her such a wife; to me, the ideal wife, and, as I believe, without exaggeration or love-flourishing, the precise form in which God would make a woman for such a man as I am, if He designed her to be the greatest of all earthly blessings to him; and in some sense a spiritual blessing, too, for in that also am I richly profited by you, though you would not believe it. I will leave this 'good matter' ere the paper is covered; but not till I have sent you as many kisses as there are waves on the sea."
Charles was a devoted, tender husband. Most of the letters we have between Charles and Susannah are found in his autobiography, which Susannah edited after his death. In publishing these, Susannah wrote:
"I have been trying in these pages to leave the 'love' out of the letters as much as possible, lest my precious things should appear but platitudes to my readers, but it is a difficult task; for little rills of tenderness run between all the sentences, like the singing, dancing waters among the boulders of a brook, and I cannot still the music altogether. To the end of his beautiful life it was the same, his letters were always those of a devoted lover, as well as of a tender husband; not only did the brook never dry up, but the stream grew deeper and broader, and the rhythm of its song waxed sweeter and stronger."
Happy woman and happy man! If Heaven be found on earth, they had it! At last, the two are so blended, so engrafted on one stem, that their old age presents a lovely attachment, a common sympathy, by which its infirmities are greatly alleviated, and its burdens are transformed into fresh bonds of love. So happy a union of will, sentiment, thought, and heart existed between them, that the two streams of their life have washed away the dividing bank, and run on as one broad current of united existence till their common joy falls into the ocean of eternal felicity. (Dr. Diana Severance) Charles and Susannah had been married thirty-six years when Charles died in 1892. Susannah wrote,
"For though God has seen fit to call my beloved up to higher service, He has left me the consolation of still loving him with all my heart, and believing that our love shall be perfected when we meet in that blessed land where Love reigns supreme and eternal."
Theirs was a model marriage, "Founded on pure love and cemented in mutual esteem."
Spurgeon died in the late nineteenth century. His views on wives, marriage and relationship may seem quaint and strange in a world where most women find it necessary to work outside the home. The selection below is from one of his sermons in which Charles described a happy marriage and the true wife, all the while describing his beloved spouse, Susie: Sometimes we have seen a model marriage, founded on pure love, and cemented in mutual esteem.
Therein, the husband acts as a tender head; and the wife, as a true spouse, realizes the model marriage-relation, and sets forth what our oneness with the Lord ought to be. She delights in her husband, in his person, his character, his affection; to her, he is not only the chief and foremost of mankind, but in her eyes he is all-in-all; her heart's love belongs to him, and to him only. She finds sweetest content and solace in his company, his fellowship, his fondness; he is her little world, her Paradise, her choice treasure. At any time, she would gladly lay aside her own pleasure to find it doubled in gratifying him. She is glad to sink her individuality in his. She seeks no renown for herself; his honor is reflected upon her, and she rejoices in it. She would defend his name with her dying breath; safe enough is he where she can speak for him. The domestic circle is her kingdom; that she may there create happiness and comfort, is her lifework; and his smiling gratitude is all the reward she seeks. Even in her dress, she thinks of him; without constraint she consults his taste and considers nothing beautiful which is distasteful to him.
A tear from his eye, because of any unkindness on her part, would grievously torment her. She asks not how her behavior may please a stranger, or how another's judgment may approve her conduct; let her beloved be content, and she is glad. He has many objects in life, some of which she does not quite understand; but she believes in them all, and anything she can do to promote them, she delights to perform. He lavishes love on her, and, in return, she lavishes love on him. Their object in life is common. There are points where their affections so intimately unite that none could tell which is first and which is second. To watch their children growing up in health and strength, to see them holding posts of usefulness and honor, is their mutual concern; in this and other matters, they are fully one. Their wishes blend, their hearts are indivisible. By degrees, they come to think very much the same thoughts. Intimate association creates conformity; I have known this to become so complete that, at the same moment, the same utterance has leaped to both their lips.
If greatness is determined by the amount of good a person does in the world, if it is only another name for unselfish devotion in the service of others, then Susannah Spurgeon goes down in history as one of the greatest and most beloved women of her time.