On December 18th, 1853, the congregation at New Park Street Chapel, the flagship Baptist church in Southwark, London, was abuzz over the young rural pastor expected to fill the pulpit. News of “the boy wonder of the fens”spread quickly to the big city. Yet, for all the excitement, the morning service was not well attended and several members set out to rally the saints, and invite as many as they could to the evening service. Their mission was accomplished. The evening service was full. Sitting in the pew that night was Susannah Thompson, a pretty, petite, and fashionable attendee who admits she was there “more to please her friends than herself.”
They say it takes just a few seconds to make a first impression. The good news for Charles is that they’re not always right. If they were, the poor man wouldn’t have stood a chance! By her own admission, Susie was not impressed. “I was not at all fascinated by the young orator’s eloquence, while his countrified manner and speech excited more regret than reverence … the huge black satin stock, the long badly-trimmed hair, and the blue pocket handkerchief with white spots which he himself has so graphically described,—these attracted most of my attention and I fear awakened some feelings of amusement.”
Thankfully not everyone was as prejudiced as Miss. Thompson, and it wasn’t long before the young preacher (barely twenty years old!) was offered a pastorate at the historic church. Years later, she reflects, “Ah!” how little I then thought that my eyes looked on him who was to be my life’s beloved; how little I dreamed of the honour God was preparing for me in the near future! It is a mercy that our lives are not left for us to plan, but that our Father chooses for us; else might we sometimes turn away from our best blessings and put from us the choicest and loveliest gifts of His providence.”
Born on January 15th, 1832, Susannah Thompson spent her childhood days between the Southern suburbs and the City of London. Though her parents attended church regularly, it wasn’t until later that her heart was regenerated and she was born again. Her earliest memories confirm she didn’t always have the highest view of church. Here she recalls one of the deacons. “To the best of my remembrance he was a short, stout man, and his rotund body, perched on his undraped legs and clothed in a long-tailed coat, gave him an unmistakeable resemblance to a gigantic robin; and when he chirped out the verses of the hymn in a piping, twittering voice, I thought the likeness was complete!”
But salvation would not fail to come to the woman destined to be the wife of “The People’s Preacher”! It was through the preaching of the Word; specifically Romans 10:8, by a Rev. Bergne, that she rose to life from the dead. “From that service,” she says, “I date the dawning of the true light in my soul. The Lord said to me, through His servant, ‘Give Me thy heart,’ and, constrained by His love, that night witnessed my solemn resolution of entire surrender to Himself.” Sadly, there were few opportunities for discipleship or service, and the young woman’s joyful salvation experience was followed by a period of “coldness and indifference.”
But things began to change for Susie. Not surprisingly, it was the same time the new Pastor showed up! Through his preaching, she began to “see that her life of indifference and non-service was far from being what it should be.” She sought counsel with one of the Sunday School workers known to have a heart for new converts. He likely went on to tell the Pastor because shortly afterwards Charles presented her with a copy of John Bunyan’s, The Pilgrim’s Progress. Susie opened up her heart and told him of her troubled soul. Years later she recounts how he ministered to her. “… he gently led me, by his preaching, and by his conversations, through the power of the Holy Spirit to the cross of Christ for the peace and pardon my weary soul was longing for.”
Out of this experience their friendship blossomed and on June 10th, 1854, they joined a group from church and attended a function at the Crystal Palace. Amidst the noise and chatter of the evening, Charles handed Susie a book into which “he had been occasionally dipping.” The book was Martin Tupper’s Proverbial Philosophy. He pointed his finger to a chapter on marriage. “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 [well-being]!” Then, he leaned over and whispered softly, “Do you pray for him who is to be your husband?”
Reflecting on this memorable night, Susie wrote, shortly before her death, “I do not remember that the question received any vocal answer; but my fast-beating heart, which sent a tell-tale flush to my cheeks, and my downcast eyes, which feared to reveal the light which at once dawned in them, may have spoken a language which love understood. From that moment a very quiet and subdued little maiden sat by the young Pastor’s side… when the formalities of the opening were over, and the visitors were allowed to leave their seats, the same low voice whispered again, ‘Will you come and walk round the Palace with me?’ … During that walk on 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 for ever.”
Within two months, Charles and Susannah were engaged to be married. An older Susannah recalls the blissful day he proposed. “…it was a time as solemn as it was sweet; and with a great awe in my heart, 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 should have been overwhelmed, not so much with the happiness of being his, as with the responsibility which such a position would entail.”
Charles was a gift from heaven to Susannah. Is it any wonder she referred to him as “the love of my heart, and the light of my earthly life”? Through his godly leading, she emerged from a long season of spiritual despondency and in keeping with 2 Peter 1:10, the young convert exhibited all the graces of the elect of God. She was now attending service regularly, seeking baptism, and church membership. But there remained some hard lessons to be learned.
Often, before preaching, Charles was so focused “he would fail to recognise her and merely greet her with a handshake as if she were some casual acquaintance or visitor.” It’s not hard to imagine how anyone could not take that to heart. But the pretty young woman was on an accelerated track; she would have to learn quickly. As his popularity grew, invitations to preach flooded in. On one occasion she accompanied him to a large hall in Kennington. As the couple made their way through a sea of people, Susie tried to stay close but suddenly her partner turned into a side door and disappeared. Poor Susie was left alone to fend for herself. “At first,” she says, “I was utterly bewildered, and then, I am sorry to have to confess, I was angry.” So, she did what mature young women do when they feel slighted. She ran home to her mother!
That night, her mother gave her invaluable counsel. “She wisely reasoned,” says Mrs. Spurgeon, “that my chosen husband was no ordinary man, that his whole life was absolutely dedicated to God and His service, and that I must never, never hinder him by trying to put myself first in his heart.” Susie, ever the teachable one, listened and her heart softened. Right then a carriage stopped in front of the house and a frantic Charles stormed in. “Where’s Susie? I have been searching for her everywhere and cannot find her; has she come back by herself?’ Mrs. Thompson sat her future son-in-law down and explained all that had transpired. She certainly had her work cut-out! Charles needed soothing too! His innocent heart could not believe his affections could be questioned in the first place! Susie describes what happened when the two parties came together. “Quietly he let me tell him how indignant I had felt, and then he repeated mother’s little lesson, assuring me of his deep affection for me, but pointing out that, before all things, he was God’s servant, and I must be prepared to yield my claims to His. 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.”
On January 8th, 1856, the wedding of Susannah Thompson and Charles Haddon Spurgeon took place at New Park Street Chapel. Despite the simplicity and modesty of the wedding, the streets were crowded with thousands of people hoping to catch a glimpse of the newlyweds. For their honeymoon, the couple traveled to Paris where Susie, a French scholar, acted as tour guide for her doting husband. Years later, during one of his visits to Paris, Charles offers a picture of their time together in one of his many love letters. “My heart flies to you, as I remember my first visit to this city under your dear guidance. I love you now as then, only multiplied many times.”
With a heart overflowing with joy, and a deep sense of the responsibilities before her, Susie looked to the future in faith, trusting God to lead them, but also to make her the wife He called her to be.
This concludes Part 1 of our 3-Part Series. Please join us tomorrow for Part 2. As a reminder, at the end of the series, I will be giving away two copies of Susannah Spurgeon: Free Grace and Dying Love (Morning Devotions with the Life of Susannah Spurgeon). If you are interested in participating, please leave a comment. You may increase your chances by sharing on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media. Just let me know what you have done, and I will add your name once for each share. The Giveaway will close on Friday, September 5th at 9pm EST. Winners will be notified via email.
 Christian History Magazine-Issue 29: Charles Spurgeon: England’s “Prince of Preachers” (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 1991).
 Charles Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1903), 8.
 Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 10.
 Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 9–10.
 Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 5.
 Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 7.
 Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 7.
 Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 11.
 Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 11–12.
 Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 14.
 Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 15.
 Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 15.
 Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 15–16.
 Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 19.
 Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 6.
 Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 24.
 Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 24–25.
 Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 25.
 Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 25.
 Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 25–26.
 Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 33–34.