Faithful pastors are busy. However, occasionally God uniquely gifts a man for extraordinary work in ministry. That man cannot be fully imitated, but he can be learned from. Charles Spurgeon was such a man. Spurgeon authored 135 books, 63 volumes of sermons, and was the pastor of a mega-church and leader of 60 connected institutions. Susie Spurgeon was married to the most famous preacher, and one of the most famous men of the Victorian era.
In August of 1854, when Charles Spurgeon asked Susie Thompson to marry him, she prayed and thanked God “with happy tears for his great mercy” in giving her the “love of so good a man.” However, she confessed to not knowing fully, at that time, the extent of Charles’s greatness.
Susie didn’t fully grasp that being the wife of Charles Spurgeon would mean many lonely nights, ministering to him during times of deep depression, nursing him in sickness, encouraging him when he was attacked, and loving him when he was discouraged. Throughout their marriage, she encouraged him in at least five ways.
- She embraced his calling.
Susie considered herself “undeserving” to be the wife of “so eminent a servant of God.” Charles never considered Susie in such a light but saw her as “God’s best earthly gift to him.”
One evening Spurgeon was preaching at a venue in London, and he simply forgot his fiancée upon entering the building. Susie, broken-hearted, ran home to her mother. After the sermon, Charles realized that Susie was not in the building and he also quickly raced to the Thompson home. Before he arrived, her mother had wisely helped Susie to see, as Susie remembered, that her future 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.”
Such counsel may not be perfect, however, it drives home an important point. For a pastor to be faithful in ministry, his wife must embrace his calling. Soon after, Susie made a commitment that she faithfully adhered to for the remainder of her life. She wrote: “It was ever the settled purpose of my married life that I should never hinder him in his work for the Lord, never try to keep him from fulfilling his engagements, never plead my own ill-health as a reason why he should remain at home with me.”
This was an important turning point in Charles and Susie’s relationship. Charles faced “incessant demands of his ministry, his literary work, and the multiplied labors of his exceptionally busy life.” Susie stood as a strong anchor of support for her husband as she embraced his gospel calling.
- She was a thoughtful communicator.
Charles wrote to Susie as a “devoted lover.” Susie described their mutual affection and told of the “little rills of tenderness that run between all of the sentences [of their letters].” Charles asserted that Susie was “necessary” to him. During their engagement, Susie spent a week with Charles visiting his parents in Colchester. Afterwards, she penned a letter to him:
“Words are but cold dishes on which to serve up thoughts and feelings which come warm and glowing from the heart. I should like to express my appreciation of all the tenderness and care you have shown towards me during this happy week; but I fear to pain you by thanks for what I know as a pleasure.”
Charles knew that in Susie he had a woman who loved and affirmed him. On a Saturday evening, Spurgeon received a letter from Susie pronouncing God’s blessings upon him. “May his blessing rest in a special manner on you tonight, my dearly beloved; and on the approaching Sabbath, when you stand before the great congregation, may you be ‘filled with the fullness of God’”! Good night. Fondly and faithfully yours, –Susie.”
Since Charles and Susie were often separated, first by ministry concerns and later due to health issues, letter writing was their primary means of communication. Susie opened up her heart as best she could by dipping her pen in ink and putting its nib to paper. She appreciated Charles and told him so. Her letters indicate a concern for his busy schedule; she didn’t want to burden him when he was away. And in her letters, she revealed to him that she prayed for him.
Charles and Susie often walked hand in hand when they were at home together. They talked of birds, trees, flowers, and their animals. At times they, both sharing a keen sense of humor, laughed so hard that they cried. And then there were those times when sitting in the parlor, Susie shared her struggles with Charles and he with her and the highest form of communication was realized in their comforting of one another.
- She read to him.
As many pastors can attest to, Sunday evenings, after a day of preaching and ministering to their flock, are often difficult. Many pastors feel spent, empty, and experience depression. It has often been stated, only half-humorously, that many a pastor keeps a resignation letter in his top desk drawer to employ on Monday. Though there is no evidence that Charles Spurgeon kept such a letter handy, he nevertheless was often depressed at the end of a Sunday and at other times. After a particularly traumatic experience, Charles wrote: “Perhaps no soul went so near the burning furnace of insanity and yet came away unharmed.” Susie found that the best way that she could encourage him was to read to him.
Often on Sunday evenings, when Charles was weary from a day of ministry, he “would sit in an easy chair by the fire while ‘Susie’ would read a page or two of Good Master George Herbert.” Sometimes on Sunday evenings, Charles felt that his heart had been cold during his ministerial duties of the day. It was on those days that he wanted Susie to read to him from the writings of Richard Baxter.
Often their reading together brought great conviction to their hearts, and they wept. Susie wrote of their tears, “He from the smitings of a very tender conscience toward God, and I, simply and only because I love him, and want to share his grief.”
One biographer noted of Charles and Susie’s marriage: “God had certainly made them for each other. It was a love match, but also a spiritual partnership, as every true Christian marriage should be.”
On Sunday evenings (or some other time, a pastor will often feel empty and need the skill of a tender wife to minister personally to him by knowing what encourages and refreshes his spirit.
- She prayed for him.
Again, when our spiritual heroes are idolized, we miss how God worked in their humanness. Charles struggled, he felt, with pride, spiritual coldness, and despondency. It may be hard for us to imagine that the “Prince of Preachers” could have felt so low. He wrote to Susie, “I shall feel deeply indebted to you, if you will pray very earnestly for me. I fear I am not so full of love to God as I used to be. I lament my sad decline in spiritual things. You and others may not have observed it, but I am now conscience of it, and a sense thereof has put bitterness in my cup of joy. Oh! What is it to be popular, to be successful, to have abundance, even to have love so sweet as yours, -if I should be left to God to fall, and to depart from His ways?”
Charles desired that Susie pray for him and, therefore, “promote the usefulness, and holiness, and happiness of one whom you love.”
She often bent her knee in his study, beside the sofa, and elsewhere in their home, to pray for her beloved husband.
- She worked to promote his legacy.
Susie’s greatest legacy is that she promoted her husband’s legacy.
In 1875, just prior to the publication of Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students, Susie commented to Charles that she wished that every pastor in England could have a copy. Charles then gently challenged her to make it happen. Susie had initially thought merely in the realm of the theoretical. However, Charles’s encouragement motivated her to begin “Mrs. Spurgeon’s Book Fund.” For the next 28 years, Susie led this ministry, giving away almost 200,000 books to poor pastors, the majority of them were books written by her husband.
Susie realized how much books meant to Charles and she also felt deeply burdened over the lack of literary resources that many pastors across the British Isles experienced. In their poverty, with children to feed and cloth, and a wife needy for supplies, poor pastors could not spare a pound in order to purchase books. Susie prayed for them and worked hard to alleviate their burdens, not only with books, but also sometimes with financial aid, clothing, and stationary.
After Charles died, Susie devoted the rest of her life to promoting his gospel-driven legacy through her Book Fund, and by seeing to it that Charles’s sermons were translated and distributed around the world.
We have the body of literature from Charles Spurgeon that we enjoy, in part, because he had Susie as his wife. Who knows how much of Charles Spurgeon’s written legacy or even knowledge about him at all that we would have if not for Susie Spurgeon.
Wives, never underestimate how important you are to your husband’s work, whether he is a pastor or serving God in some other capacity.
Charles and Susie loved much, and they suffered much together. One evening she paced the halls, watching and praying for Charles’s safe return. Another morning she cried over his impending departure from her yet once again. As the tears streamed down her face, Charles calmed her by reminding her that her willing encouragement of him to travel in ministry was an offering to God.
Both Charles and Susie believed that their sufferings brought them nearer to Jesus.
Susie, looking to the words of Psalm 31:5 which say “My times are in thy hand,” declared:
“Not one or two important epochs of my history only, but everything that concerns me; –joys that I had not expected, –sorrows that must have crushed me if the could have been anticipated, –sufferings which might have terrified me by their grimness had I looked upon them, –surprises which infinite love had prepared for me, —services of which I could not have imagined myself capable; –all these lay in that might hand as the purposes of God’s eternal will for me.”
Such was the way that Susie, who faced sufferings of her own, ministered to her husband. Studying her life will lead you to applications on how to best minister to your husband, whether he is a pastor or not.
Some material is adapted from Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon. Quoted material is properly cited in the book.