Susannah Thompson Spurgeon: A Life of Sacrifice, Suffering, and Service (Part 1 of 3)

Mrs C H SpurgeonOn 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”[1]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.”[2]

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.”[3]

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.”[4]

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!”[5]

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.”[6] 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.”[7]

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.”[8] 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.”[9]

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.”[10]  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]!”[11] Then, he leaned over and whispered softly, “Do you pray for him who is to be your husband?”[12]  

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.”[13]

Facesimilies_of_Loves_KeepsakesWithin 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.”[14]

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”?[15] 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.”[16]  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.”[17] 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.”[18] 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?’[19]  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.”[20]

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.”[21]

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.

[1] Christian History Magazine-Issue 29: Charles Spurgeon: England’s “Prince of Preachers” (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 1991).
[2] Charles Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1903), 8.
[3] Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 10.
[4] Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 9–10.
[5] Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon,  5.
[6] Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 7.
[7] Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 7.
[8] Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 11.
[9] Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 11–12.
[10] Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 14.
[11] Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 15.
[12] Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 15.
[13] Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 15–16.
[14] Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 19.
[15] Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 6.
[16] Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 24.
[17] Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 24–25.
[18] Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 25.
[19] Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon,  25.
[20] Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, 25–26.
[21] Ray, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon,  33–34.

Announcing an Upcoming Series on Susannah Spurgeon and a Free Book Giveaway!

Pretty Susannah
Susannah Thompson Spurgeon (Born January 15, 1832. Died October 22, 1903.)

From Abraham and Sarah, to Martin and Katie Luther, Scripture and church history afford a broad spectrum of Kingdom couples. Holy matrimonies brought into union by Divine Providence for the express purpose of building the Church. In as many as have been gifted to the body of Christ, I do not know of a sweeter love story than that of Charles and Susannah Spurgeon. In sickness and health, in good report and evil, Susannah faithfully loved and nurtured the man whose labors, generations later, still bless the church. I am convinced if the man himself were with us today he would not hesitate – not for one second, to tell us he was a better minister, a better man because of her. If you’ve ever read a sermon, consulted a commentary, or benefitted at all from his work, it’s not just him you should be acknowledging but his devoted helpmate, Susannah Thompson Spurgeon. Like many other pastors wives who quietly serve in the shadows of their husbands, we, the Church, owe a galaxy of thanks to Mrs. Spurgeon for her life of service, sacrifice, and suffering. Without her, the greatest preacher and evangelist of the nineteenth century could never accomplish all that he did.

On Tuesday, September 2nd, Heavenly Springs will commence a three-part series on Susannah Spurgeon. The series will cover, among other things, her courtship and marriage, her invaluable service to her husband and the ministry, her debilitating chronic illness and her faithful encouragement in her husband’s darkest hours. It is my hope that this brief presentation will help you appreciate this adorable saint. It’s safe to say that Charles Spurgeon was absolutely in love with his wife, and it’s not hard to see why. She has endeared herself to my heart, and I trust she will do the same for you, too.

FREE BOOK GIVEAWAY! 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).  I chose this book because it contains two works in one volume. Starting Tuesday, September 2nd, if you are interested in participating, leave a comment at the end of each presentation. You may increase your chances by sharing on Facebook, Twitter, or other social media.  Just let me know what you have done in your comment, and I will add your name once for each share.

The schedule for the series is:

  • Tuesday, September 2nd – Part 1 (The Book Giveaway will open.)
  • Wednesday, September 3rd – Part 2
  • Thursday, September 4th – Part 3
  • Friday, September 5th – The Book Giveaway will close at 9pm EST.
  • Saturday, September 6th – Winners will be notified via email.

Have a beautiful Labor Day weekend!  Hope to see you back on Tuesday!

Singing in the Fire: An Excerpt from the Diary of Susannah Spurgeon

Mrs. C.H. Spurgeon“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 harmouny out of these hard, apathetic hearts, let the furnace be heated seven times hotter than before.” 

Charles Ray, Mrs. C.H. Spurgeon (Essex:  Passmore & Alabaster, 1903), 81-82.

The Indefatigable Monica of Hippo: Hope for Weeping (and Praying) Mom’s

Augustine and Monica
Augustine and Monica

Augustine is considered one of the greatest theologians of all time.  Christian History magazine writes, “After Jesus and Paul, Augustine of Hippo is the most influential figure in the history of Christianity.” [1]  If the familiar adage is true, “Behind every great man is a great woman” there can be no greater example than Augustine and his mother, Monica. But don’t take my word for it. Take his.

“It is to my mother that I owe all.”

“If I am thy child, O my God, it is because Thou gavest me such a mother.”

“If I prefer the truth to all other things, it is the fruit of my mother’s teaching.”

“If I did not long ago perish in sin and misery, it is because of the long faithful tears with which she pleaded for me.”

That’s a powerful witness to a mother’s influence, don’t you think? But don’t be fooled. It didn’t come easy. Monica’s short 56 years on earth were marked by travail and tears – largely for a wayward son who, more often than not, gave her reason to despair and not hope. From her life story, I’ve gleaned a few lessons to encourage parents – especially mothers – to persevere in prayer for wayward children.

GOD’S PURPOSES WILL BE ACCOMPLISHED REGARDLESS OF AN IMPERFECT UPBRINGING: Even though Monica came from a devout Christian home, her parents (oddly enough) arranged her marriage to a pagan. He was a foul-mouthed, ill-tempered man, who subjected his wife to the pain of multiple adulteries. Though Monica rejoiced to see his conversion to Christianity one year before he died, his influence on Augustine was considerably bad and seemingly irreversible.  But God’s grace is greater. Too many Christian parents, especially those who came to Christ later in life, live with the guilt of the “damage” they’ve done to their children.  But God overrules our mistakes!

SEXUAL IMMORALITY WILL NOT HAVE THE FINAL WORD: As Augustine grew into manhood he struggled with sexuality. By the time he was 16 years old, he admits, “the frenzy gripped me and I surrendered myself entirely to lust.” Having learned his father’s promiscuous ways, he admits to “floundering in the broiling sea of … fornication. ” He lived with a woman out-of-wedlock for over 13 years and fathered a son with her. As God began to work in Augustine’s heart, his prayer reveals an inner turmoil. “Give me chastity … but not yet.”  Though Augustine describes his break-up in extremely painful terms (it was clear there was a deep emotional bond between the two) the relationship was nonetheless permanently severed. Maybe you despair over a sexually immoral relationship your child is involved in.  As time goes on the unholy partnership gets deeper, more attached, and more complex.  But with God, none of that matters! When He says, “It’s over!” It’s over. Period.

THE TRUE GOSPEL PREVAILS OVER A COUNTERFEIT GOSPEL: At age 17, Augustine left home to attend school in Carthage. There he became a member of a Christian-gnostic group called Manichaeism. The particular sect he was involved with “saw themselves as the sole possessors of true Christian knowledge and interpretation of the Bible. Other Christians, they maintained, believed absurdities about God and accepted falsified versions of the Scriptures.” [2] Augustine was not just an adherent, he was an ardent defender who employed his strong oratory skills to lead others into this error. At Rome, Monica pleaded earnestly with Bishop Ambrose.  “Talk to my son!” she begged.  But the Bishop wisely refrained. He knew Augustine was not ready to listen. Instead he told Monica, “Go your way; as sure as you live, it is impossible that the son of these tears should perish.” [3] God, in His time, shook the foundations of Manichaeism and led Augustine to the saving knowledge of Christ. Maybe your child has been seduced by a false gospel. Remember, no matter what lie has taken up residence in your child’s life, God can tear it down and bring it to naught.

DON’T MAKE JUDGMENTS BASED UPON WHAT YOU SEE: For years it seemed like Augustine grew worse. His journey was a long one. “He had periods of skepticism and doubt; there was a gradual detachment from past errors, fits of starts and stops.” [4] But after 32 years of vain and worldly pursuits, the tears and prayers of his mother caught up. Augustine recounts the day the Word came alive: “Not in revelry and drunkenness, not in chambering and shamelessness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh” [Rom. 13:13–14]. I neither wanted nor needed to read further. Immediately with the end of that sentence, a light, as it were, of certainty poured in my heart and put all my shadowy doubts to flight.”  If, at any point, Monica would have settled on what her eyes saw, she would have missed out on the great work that God brought about! Remember, this is a walk of faith!

The 4th-Century pagan philosopher, Libanius, once exclaimed, “What women these Christians have!” [5] Well, if Monica is any example, I can certainly see how he can say that. Maybe you are a hurting mom.  You’ve wept, you’ve agonized, you’ve prayed and still, your wayward child grows worse. Pray on, sister!  It’s true, not every child is destined to be an Augustine but God will be glorified in all your tears and prayers. Or, maybe you know a Monica. Churches are full of them. I have a few in my life. I know that behind their smile is a broken, hemorrhaging heart. Pray for her. Encourage her when she grows weary. And tell her about Monica, whose twenty-five years of weeping and praying ended in a torrent of triumph!

Recommended Reading:  Augustine: A Mother’s Son by Dolina MacCuish

[1] Christian History Magazine-Issue 15: St. Augustine of Hippo (Worcester, PA: Christian History Institute, 1987).
[2] Stephen Cooper, Augustine for Armchair Theologians, Armchair Theologians Series (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 8.
[3] Christian History Magazine-Issue 67: St. Augustine: Sinner, Bishop, Saint (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 2000).
[4] Stephen Cooper, Augustine for Armchair Theologians, Armchair Theologians Series (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 9.
[5] Christian History Magazine-Issue 17: Women in the Early Church (Worcester, PA: Christian History Institute, 1988).