Insights from the wife of the great preacher:
Five years ago an important biography was written about a very important woman. But because of the huge influence and popularity of her husband, she may have been somewhat overlooked at times. However, she played a very vital role in his life and ministry.
I speak here of Susie Spurgeon who was married to the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon. When the biography by Ray Rhodes first appeared I wrote a review of it. You can find that here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2018/12/01/a-review-of-susie-the-life-and-legacy-of-susannah-spurgeon-wife-of-charles-h-spurgeon-by-ray-rhodes/
I revisit it now for two reasons. One, almost four weeks ago now my own wife passed away. So I may be a bit more attuned to the stories of others, especially when a loved one passes away. Some relevant dates for the Spurgeons are these:
1856, January 8 – Susie and Charles marry
1875 – Susie begins her book fund
1892, January 31 – Charles dies, age 57
1903, October 22 – Susie dies, age 71
As can be seen, they were married for 36 years, with Susie living another 11 ½ half years after that. I had been married to Averil 44 ½ years, and I wonder how many more years I will live without her. Some couples have both spouses dying close to each other, while some others see a very long gap between their deaths.
And that leads to the second reason for this piece. Just yesterday, and out of the blue, a social media friend from America whom I have never met messaged me with a few quotes about Charles and Susie. Thanks Vicky M. – you are a champ.
I did a bit of sniffing around and eventually found both, full sources of the quotes. The first one has to with something Susie wrote around a year after the death of Charles. It is found in various places, including page 26 of the Rhodes volume. She had written this:
I am writing in my husband’s study, where he thought, and prayed, and wrote. Every inch of the place is sacred ground. Everything remains precisely as he left it. His books (now my most precious possessions), stand in shining rows upon the shelves, in exactly the order in which he placed them, and one might almost fancy the room was ready and waiting for its master. But oh! That empty chair! That great portrait over the door! The strange, solemn silence, which pervades the place now that he is no longer on earth! I kneel sometimes by his chair, and laying my head on the cushioned arms, which so long supported his dear form, I pour out my grief before the Lord, and tell Him again that though I am left alone, yet I know that “He hath done all things well.” Then wandering from room to room, looking with tear-dimmed eyes at the home treasures my dear one loved and admired, almost expecting to hear the sound of his footsteps behind me, and the sweet tones of his tender voice in loving greeting.—I have, alas to realize afresh how true were King David’s words when he said in his sorrow, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”
Rhodes goes on to say this:
Surrounding her as she worked were twelve thousand of her husband’s books, of which over half were either written by or about the Puritans that he loved so much. Spurgeon’s books, Susie’s “most precious possessions,” still sprawled through three rooms: the study, the adjoining library, and another smaller room nearby.
Susie pushed back from the desk and remembered her husband’s many encouragements to her. She could not—she would not—quit her ministry, regardless of her loneliness and poor health. She missed Charles terribly, but just as God had enabled her to serve Him through physical affliction, He would also help her serve Him as a widow.
Susie administered a book fund and an aid ministry that supplied books, money, clothes, and other supplies to needy pastors. She was a prolific author of five books and a major contributor to other publications (including the massive four-volume C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography). Biographer Richard Ellsworth Day, in his popular book about Charles Spurgeon, imagined that if Susie had not chosen to sink her individuality into Charles and his ministry, “she could have mounted the levels of Elizabeth Barrett Browning” in her own writing. In addition, Susie supported the Metropolitan Tabernacle, opened her home as a place of hospitality, served as the “Mother” of the Pastors’ College, and was even instrumental in planting a church.
The second thing Vicky had sent through was another neat quote from Susie. With a bit of sleuthing, I found it was from a book she had written in 1886 called:
TEN YEARS OF MY LIFE
In the Service of the Book Fund:
BEING A GRATEFUL RECORD OF MY EXPERIENCE OF THE LORD’S WAYS, AND WORK, AND WAGES.
BY MRS. C. H. SPURGEON
Here is the part that is worth being aware of:
A curious little incident happened lately during a time of prolonged sickness. At the close of a very dark and gloomy day I lay resting on my couch as the deeper night drew on, and though all was bright within my cosy little room, some of the external darkness seemed to have entered into my soul and obscured its spiritual vision. Vainly I tried to see the hand which I knew held mine and guided my fog-enveloped feet along a steep and slippery path of suffering. In sorrow of heart I asked, ‘Why does my Lord thus deal with His child? Why does he so often send sharp and bitter pain to visit me? Why does he permit lingering weakness to hinder the sweet service I long to render to His poor servants?’ These fretful questions were quickly answered, and though in a strange language, no interpreter was needed save the conscious whisper of my own heart. For a while silence reigned in the little room, broken only by the crackling of an oak log burning on the hearth. Suddenly I heard a sweet, soft sound, a little clear, musical note, like the tender trill of a robin beneath my window. ‘What can it be?’ I said to my companion, who was dozing in the firelight; ‘surely no bird can be singing out there at this time of year and night!’ We listened, and again heard the faint plaintive notes, so sweet, so melodious, yet mysterious enough to provoke for a moment our undistinguished wonder. Presently my friend exclaimed, ‘It comes from the log on the fire!’ And we soon ascertained that her surprised assertion was correct. The fire was letting loose the imprisoned music from the old oaks’ inmost heart! Perchance he had garnered up this song in the days when all went well with him, when birds twittered merrily on his branches, and the soft sunlight flecked his tender leaves with gold; but he had grown old since then and hardened; ring after ring of knotty growth had sealed up the long-forgotten melody until fierce tongues of the flames came to consume his callousness and the vehement heat of the fire wrung from him at once a song and a sacrifice. Oh! thought I, when the fire of affliction draws songs of praise from us, then indeed we are purified and our God is glorified! Perhaps some of us are like this old oak log – cold, hard and insensible; we should give forth no melodious sounds were it not for the fire which kindles round us, and releases tender notes of trust in Him, and cheerful compliance with His will. As I mused the fire burned and my soul found sweet comfort in the parable so strangely set forth before me. Singing in the fire! Yes, God helping us if that is the only way to get harmony out of these hard, apathetic hearts, let the furnace be heated seven times hotter than before.
The entire volume can be read online: https://www.google.com.au/books/edition/Ten_Years_of_My_Life_in_the_Service_of_t/26Q5AQAAMAAJ
Like her husband, Susie also suffered from various ailments and sorrows. But they both kept their eyes firmly fixed on Christ. Thank you Charles and Susannah Spurgeon. Thank you Ray Rhodes for the biography. And thank you Vicky for the encouraging message and reminder of their lives.