Interview with Ray Rhodes on the Life of Susannah Spurgeon

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Tell our readers a little bit about yourself.

Hi Lee. Thanks for the opportunity to join you today. I came to know Christ as a teenager. When I was in my early 20’s, I began M.Div. studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS). In the midst of seminary training, I applied for and was accepted to an internship at the Baptist Student Union (Now BCM) at Georgia Tech (GT). I served at GT during the 1986-87 school year. While there a young lady (Lori) from another Atlanta college visited Tech for weekly Bible studies. We met, three months later we were engaged and six months later we married and moved back to New Orleans to complete my degree. I graduated in 1988. In April of 1989, I accepted my first pastorate, near Waynesboro, GA. Soon after, our first daughter Rachel was born. We now have 6 daughters, one son-in-law, three grandchildren, (and one on the way). I serve as president of Nourished in the Word Ministries (a teaching and writing ministry), pastor of Grace Community Church (SBC) in Dawsonville, GA, and owner of a small book service. I am the author of three books on Family Worship: Family Worship for the Christmas Season, Family Worship for the Reformation Season, and Family Worship for the Thanksgiving Season. I have also written for numerous publications, including the B&H Academic Blog and have published several booklets. I am presently writing a biography of Susannah Spurgeon. Recently, I graduated with a D. Min. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

How did you first develop an appreciation for Susannah Spurgeon?

For many years I have been interested in Charles Spurgeon. Until about four years ago, I didn’t pay much attention to Susannah. Early in my doctoral studies at SBTS, I was required to choose a thesis topic. I wondered if anyone had ever written about Spurgeon’s marriage. That thought would not let me go. I walked over to the SBTS library and began searching for books singularly devoted to Spurgeon’s marriage. I found that there is no stand-alone work on Spurgeon’s marriage to Susannah. I was stunned. Since my degree focus was Biblical Spirituality, I determined, after counsel from my supervisor Donald S. Whitney, to choose the topic, “The Role of Bible Intake and Prayer in the Marriage of Charles and Susannah Spurgeon” for my thesis. Over the course of my studies at SBTS my appreciation for Susannah deepened. During that time I travelled to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. While there, I met Christian George, curator of the Spurgeon Library, and he challenged me to consider writing a biography of Susannah. My interest continues to grow and I am now writing her biography. Interestingly, there is only one small biography of Susannah presently existing, written by Charles Ray in 1903. Spurgeon biographer Richard Day, writing in 1934 indicated that he planned to write a biography of Susannah. However, he died before his vision of a Susannah biography was realized. It is my desire to greatly expand Charles Ray’s biography of Susannah and to fulfill the dream of Richard Day.

What are three key features of her Christianity that shine brightest?

A. Susannah was spiritually minded. When Spurgeon faced challenging times, Susannah skillfully encouraged him. She read commentaries to him on Saturday evenings as he studied for Sunday sermons. She read George Herbert to him on Sunday evenings when he was discouraged. She comforted him with Bible verses when he was depressed.

B. Susannah was a faithful laborer in gospel pursuits, though afflicted. From 1868 until her death in 1903, Susannah was essentially homebound. However, from home she raised funds and gave oversight to a couple of major projects. She is best known for her work in “Mrs. Spurgeon’s Book Fund.” The Book Fund’s purpose was to send books to poor pastors. Susannah raised money to buy books (primarily authored by Charles) to mail to poor pastors across the British Isles. By 1903, the year of her death, she had given away 200,000 books. She also led a Pastor’s Aid ministry. Through that work she raised funds and collected goods to send to the families of poor pastors. Susannah, though afflicted, looked to Christ, fed her heart from the Word of God, and did all that she could to advance the gospel.

C. Susannah was committed to her husband’s legacy. Like Charles, Susannah was focused on Christ and the Gospel. Her ministries were gospel-centered and, therefore, grace oriented. After Spurgeon died, Susannah was a major contributor to and co-editor of the massive 4 vol. Autobiography of C.H. Spurgeon. What she did in ministry she did for the sake of the gospel and in remembrance of Charles.

What kind of wife was Susannah Spurgeon?

After their first ten years of marriage, due to sickness, Susannah was often left at home as Charles travelled to preach. She missed him tremendously. However, she often wrote to Charles and prayed for him.

Though Charles and Susannah enjoyed much happiness together, theirs was not an easy marriage. Along with challenges in ministry, both Charles and Susannah experienced loss of health. However, the young couple found in each other a source of strength and refuge. Susannah also encountered early difficulties related to her husband’s popularity and the demands of his calling; however, she determined never to be an obstacle to him. She wrote, “It was ever the settled purpose of my married life that I should never hinder him from fulfilling his engagements, never plead my own ill-health as a reason why he should remain at home with me.” Charles wrote to her, “I have served the Lord far more and never less for your sweet companionship.”

Charles and Susannah’s son Thomas wrote:

“A true helpmeet as proved by my dear father’s repeated testimony to her worth, by word of mouth and by the fact that he set it down in black and white, again and again.”

Thomas further recalled:

Thomas asserted: “Difficult to say, what she did not do for her husband during their early years.”

She: “Consoled him in his sorrow and disappointments.

Encouraged him “as an angel of God” when he was spoken against by opponents.

Nursed him in his sicknesses.

Entertained his guests.

Accompanied him on his foreign travels (while she was physically able).

She even once transcribed a sermon that he preached in his sleep.”

Charles considered Susannah “as dear as life.”

What kind of mother was Susannah Spurgeon?

Susannah was a mother very early in her marriage to Charles. It is likely that she conceived her twin boys while on her honeymoon with Charles in Paris. Charles and Susannah were married in early January of 1856. Twin boys were born in September. Perhaps a few words from her son Thomas will provide a glimpse into Susannah as a mother. Thomas recalled that his mother had “a most tender and loving character.” He further stated, “She lived and labored for her boys and her husband.” He asserted that she was a “wife and mother and a model of what each should be.” She taught the Bible to her children, pleaded with them to come to Christ, and Thomas traces his conversion to her pleading and her example. Though her other son, Charles Jr. was converted under the ministry of a missionary, his conversion was cultivated by the teaching and example of Susannah.

Charles and Susannah were not able to have children after the births of Charles and Thomas. Susannah was afflicted with health problems that required the attention of the father of modern gynecology. It is likely that the surgery performed on her (in the very early days of gynecology) resulted in her never being able to conceive again. However, she was a faithful mother to Thomas and Charles Jr. and she was also remembered as the “Mother of the College” (a reference to the Pastor’s College that Spurgeon started in his home).

Do we have much insight into what family worship was like in the Spurgeon home?

Spurgeon connected happiness with the spiritual exercises of Bible intake, prayer, and singing in family worship. He wrote, “Happy are they who let not the evening depart without uniting in supplication.” When Charles was out of town, Susannah maintained family devotions with their twin sons. This practice of godly women leading family worship had been modeled for Spurgeon from his childhood. His grandfather or father led family devotions when they were at home, but when they were away, their wives kept up the spiritual discipline. Charles and Susannah’s example is an encouragement to every Christian, including single mothers and wives of husbands who often travel for business. Whenever there is a Christian in the home who can read the Bible and pray, family worship is possible. Spurgeon asserted, “Parents—and mothers in particular—have a sweet influence on the family and the little ones.” Family worship need not be complicated. The elements of family devotions modeled in the Spurgeon home included Bible reading, prayer, and hymn singing. Spurgeon quoted Matthew Henry, as an example: “They who pray in the family, do well. They, who read and pray, do better. But they who sing, and read, and pray, do best of all.” Charles and Susannah’s piety in the home is an encouragement to Christian families today to worship God together.

One Response

  1. Emil Ghiurau

    So inspiring to have family worship. It is soo important yet I find it so hard to lead it in our family. Oh God give me strength to know that You are the one that blesses and gives, all you call us to do is to draw near to You in worshiping You, read and pray together as a family. So help me God!

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