Ray Rhodes, Jr. serves as founding pastor of Grace Community Church of Dawsonville, GA and as president of Nourished in the Word Ministries. He has served four congregations over three decades of pastoral ministry, and for fifteen years, he has led Nourished in the Word. Ray has published several books and holds theological degrees from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div.) and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (D.Min.). He is married to Lori, and they are blessed with six daughters and four grandchildren. Ray has long been a Spurgeon enthusiast, and his doctoral thesis focused on the marriage and spirituality of Charles and Susannah Spurgeon.
T4L: Thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview with Theology for Life Magazine, Ray. Can you tell us a bit about yourself, including the current ministries you are involved in?
Ray: Hi Dave, I am happy to be with you today. I have been married to Lori for 31 years now; we have six daughters, two son-in-laws, and four grandchildren. I enjoy reading, writing, and visiting Southern Seminary. I am a pastor and an itinerant conference/retreat preacher/teacher. What that means is that my church allows me to minister at other churches over the course of each year. With the release of Susie, I also look forward to speaking for various book events. As a pastor, I am an expository preacher and I am blessed to serve a lovely congregation.
T4L: As one of the experts on Susie Spurgeon, can you tell us how she supported, helped, and encouraged Charles during seasons when he faced depression?
Ray: Depression is hard on both the depressed person and their family and friends. Therefore, Susie felt the pain of Charles’ sorrows, and at times, she wept with him. So, I think that is part of it; Susie identified with her husband—she didn’t treat him as some sort of outcast, but she entered into his suffering and didn’t push him away when his heart was sad. She also prayed for him. She prayed for him before he preached, as he travelled, and throughout his sufferings, both mental and physical.
Susie genuinely loved Charles; therefore, she wanted to help him and much of that help came as she interceded on his behalf. Susie also read to Charles when he was depressed. Sometimes the poetry of George Herbert was just what he needed to lift his spirits. But, perhaps best of all, she supported him. She wanted him to do his work, which often necessitated travel from home. She missed him, but she encouraged him onward in his ministry. He was not worried while he was away from home that Susie was growing bitter due to his absence. She communicated lovingly to him by writing letters to him when he travelled. She was a helper to Charles—she identified with him, prayed for him, loved him, read to him, and supported him.
T4L: From certain historical documents, we know that Susie faced health issues of her own. What were those health issues and how did she help keep the home in order for Charles, despite them?
Ray: The specifics of Susie’s health issues are unknown. However, with almost absolute certainty, I can say that her health problems were gynecological in nature. The most famed gynecologist of the day did surgery on her, and after having twins early in her marriage to Charles, she never had children again.
The gynecological root of her health problems resulted in Susie experiencing pain throughout her body.
As for the Spurgeon home, Susie managed it well. After a couple of years of marriage, Charles and Susie hired household servants to help attend to the needs of their increasingly busy household. These domestic employess grew in number over the years and by 1892, at least nine people were employed (cooks, dressmakers, general servants, gardners, etc). Both Charles and Susie had help with their home. Due to the nature of Charles’s work, and the poor health of both Charles and Susie, they had to have help to keep their busy home open.
T4L: That sounds quite challenging. Having household help must have been a great blessing to both of them. How did Charles Spurgeon disciple Susie to deal with suffering?
Ray: Charles attended to Susie’s spiritual needs from the earliest days of their relationship. He ministered to her by providing good literature for her to read—such as books by John Bunyan and Thomas Brooks. He encouraged her to engage in active service for Christ.
After her sickness, Charles continued to encourage Susie to serve the Lord by doing what she could for His kingdom. Ultimately, Susie gave oversight to “Mrs. Spurgeon’s Book Fund”, through which she gave away 200,000 books (1875-1903). Susie read the Bible, read good books, and served God faithfully. Perhaps the best way that Charles helped Susie to deal with her suffering was by example. He served her, he cared for her. He was thoughtful to her needs, made sure that she had the help that she needed, prayed for and with her, and wrote her every day when he was away from home. His letters are instructive and spurred her onward in the Christian life.
T4L: That’s an excellent example that our pastors should consider following today. You’ve written about Susie as a ‘great suffer’. How did she endured intense physical pain and persevere through her own trials and still find time to serve the Lord?
Ray: Great question. Susie used her time wisely—meaning that when she was strong and able enough to work, she was efficient. She also had help; her main assistant with the Book Fund was Elizabeth Thorne, her dear friend. Elizabeth actually took over the fund after Susie died. As well, as previously mentioned, Susie had a lot of help around the house with household servants. She was disciplined with her devotional times; she read the Bible through each year and mediated on smaller chunks of Scripture.
But still, it is amazing what she did. She interacted with pastors, answering numerous—sometimes hundreds of— letters each month, kept a detailed accounting ledger of all money and books that came in and that were distributed, and chose the books that she mailed. She became a prolific author, was an editor, and she even planted a church. The simple answer is that God gave her strength and discipline and did through her the impossible in human strength. Susie also had a supportive and loving husband who encouraged her along the way, and sometimes took part of her responsibilities and covered them himself.
T4L: I think very few of us can actually understand just what it took to press on like Susie did. It amazes me that she was able to do so much, despite her physical pain and suffering. So, Ray, what can Christians today learn from Susie, to help them face loss and grief themselves?
Ray: I think that Susie would say to all suffering Christians, “Don’t quit. Do all that you can for Christ, while you can. Don’t complain, but thank God for His innumerable blessings.” Susie would also encourage us to trust God through the storms, to look for evidences of His grace, and to press forward in life. Susie’s earthly faithfulness was also directly connected to her heavenly vision. She longed for Heaven and allowed her future hope to motivate, encourage, and enable her through her sufferings.
T4L: An excellent point. We would do well to follow her example in looking heavenward. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview, Ray.
Ray: Dave, it’s been great being with you!