The life and legacy of Susannah Spurgeon

The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon

When Ray Rhodes, Jr. was investigating topics for his dissertation, he followed his life long interest in Charles Spurgeon and began to research Spurgeon’s marriage and the spiritual element of his relationship with his wife of thirty-six years, Susannah Spurgeon. Surprisingly, his interest led him away from “the prince of preachers” and toward a more focused attention to the life and legacy of the woman behind the great man.

This was not without its challenges. If you are a woman in Victorian era England and you happen to marry a famous man, it may appear to your biographer that you did not exist until you met and married your husband. To get the inside story and piece together the first 20 years of Susannah Spurgeon’s life, Rhodes had to resort to census reports, legal records, and old letters. Even discovering her mother’s name was a challenge!

The result however, is a treasury of background and the record of a courageous and  poured out life:  Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, wife of Charles H. Spurgeon. Ray Rhodes, Jr. chronicles Susie’s early days as a “city girl,” familiar with the cultural advantages of London and Paris, and her early introduction to Charles Spurgeon, a young country preacher whose appearance, speech, and mannerisms left her cold.

Susie was a fairly new believer when Charles took on the pastorate of London’s New Park Street Chapel in April 1854. She was in a spiritual slump that had gained the concerned attention of a mutual friend who then alerted Charles to the problem. Charles responded by giving a copy of the classic book The Pilgrim’s Progress to Susie, and then followed up by counseling with her.

That was the extent of their relationship until June of that year when they attended an event at London’s Crystal Palace (like a World Fair) together. He asked her, “Do you pray for him who is to be your husband?” With remarkable powers of interpretation, she understood that Charles was interested in pursing the role, and in August of that year he proposed and confessed his love.

Marriage and Ministry

Their engagement introduced Susie to the rigors of life with a well-known pastor. On one occasion, they were riding together to a service where he would be speaking, and he left her behind in the carriage, totally forgetting about her. The speaking engagement was near enough to her family home that she was able to run home in tears to her mother. Weeping and angry, she explained Charles’s oversight, and her mother served as peacemaker, challenging her daughter to accept the faults and follies of her preacher husband as the price of greatness.

The record does show that Charles improved with age, and their marriage in 1856 was a love story documented in daily love letters when they were separated  by geography, and charming nicknames and declarations of love that were most unusual in the Victorian era.Early on, Susannah resolved that she would give herself to the calling and ministry of her husband. This included stretching the family budget to support Charles’s Pastors College in its early days and making her home and time available in all sorts of ways.

Susie functioned in a role similar to a modern-day deaconess at New Park Street Chapel. However,  that does not mean she had no interests or influence of her own. When she finished reading the proof copy of Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students, she responded, “I wish we could give every pastor in England a copy of this book.”  Charles’s response was something akin to, “Make it happen!” And so she did, and the Pastor’s Book Fund was born. Over the course of her life, the book fund made 200,000 books available by donation to poor pastors.

The “Furnace of Affliction”

Letters and journals show that Susie traveled extensively with Charles, often leaving the comfort of a carriage and hiking the trails on foot. However, her health began to fail in 1868, and from that point on she was house bound, even requiring surgery for an ailment that was likely akin to endometriosis, but, like most gynecological issues of that era, was shrouded under the Victorian explanation: “delicacy forbids.”

Charles was also in poor health for most of his life, suffering from gout, a kidney ailment, and depression. Early in their marriage, in October of 1856, Charles was speaking at the Music Hall in London which seated several thousand listeners, when a prankster shouted “Fire!” In the panic that ensued, several died and many were injured, and Charles never fully recovered, manifesting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder for the remainder of his life. Susie ministered to him by reading aloud Scripture and the poetry of George Herbert.

The legacy of Susie Spurgeon is, in large measure, the legacy of Charles Spurgeon. Biographer, Ray Rhodes concluded in his research that the Spurgeon we study and revere today, particularly here in America where he is more well-known than in his home country of England, would not exist without Susie Spurgeon. Charles needed a wife, but not just any wife. He needed Susie, and God provided through a love story that wrote itself over the course of their 36-year marriage.

Of course, that is not all. Susie poured herself into her twin sons, both of whom became pastors and credited her with their early spiritual formation. Even in the midst of great physical pain and suffering, Susie wrote letters of encouragement to others along with three devotional books and two autobiographical accounts of the Pastors Book Fund. Following the death of her husband in 1892, Susie continued on in a fruitful and flourishing life that even included planting a church before her death in 1903.

Looking unto the Lord

Training her children and grandchildren, advocating for the care and provision of churches for their pastoral staff, providing reading and study material for those in ministry, and loving a sometimes high-maintenance husband ensured that Susie would stay in touch with her need to look to Jesus for adequacy in her many roles. The record of her life and ministry is an encouragement for present day ministry wives and leaders to find our own sufficiency there as well:

“As travelers on the great mountains refrain from looking down the steep precipices, keeping their eyes fixed on the heights above lest a sudden vertigo should overcome them, so may I look unto the Lord with humble, steadfast gaze, and receive courage and strength to press onward and upward in the path he has marked out for me.” (238)

Many thanks to Moody Publishers for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Looking unto Jesus,

michele signature[1]


I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, wife of Charles H. Spurgeon simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

If you enjoy reading biographies, you’ll find more on Susie Spurgeons’s husband and eleven other famous pastors in  12 Faithful Men: Portraits of Courageous Endurance in Pastoral Ministry. You can read my review here if you’d like a preview.

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 30 years, and together they have four sons, two daughters-in-love, two grandchildren, and one lazy St. Bernard. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

64 thoughts on “The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon”

  1. I must admit my ignorance of Pastor Spurgeon and his wife, Michele. What an interesting couple who faced so many challenges. How lovely that Ray Rhodes diverted his attention to Susie in his scholarly studies. There is so often a strong, unsung woman behind the man, and Susannah is a great example of this. Her story would be lost without his research.

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    1. That was my favorite thing about Ray’s work, Molly. Susie was presented as a whole and entire individual alongside her husband. It’s clear that she poured her whole self into his ministry in the way ministry wives often do, but she lost nothing of herself in this, and Ray managed to unearth the character of this strong historical woman!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Cool! It sounds like a great book! I often struggle with reading nonfiction, but Susie Spurgeon seems to have lived a life that will fascinate and capture my imagination anyway!

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  3. I have only focused on Charles Spurgeon and I regret not taking my time to learn about his marriage . Susie was the backbone I now see clearly . I love how even her twins served the Lord .

    Ministry wives are simply amazing because they are not credited as much yet they are the backbone to their husband

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  4. I have read Susannah’s biography titled, Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon, by Charles Ray. I was fascinated by her unwavering commitment to love and cherish her husband through all seasons. She became the help and support he needed to make it through a very dark time. And he helped her through physical ailments as well. Such a testimony of the purpose and glory of Christ-glorifying marriage. Thanks for this book review, Michele. I will add it to my books to read list.

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    1. Rhodes referenced that bio, Debi, and said that until he wrote his, this short work was the only written resource about Susannah’s life. Amazing really, when you think about the impact she had on her husband’s ministry and reach.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Doesn’t surprise me at all that this spiritual giant would have the foresight to choose such an equally spiritually strong and giving woman, Michele. Thank you for tirelessly reading these great books and providing so many helpful reviews. You efforts and insights are much appreciated! I’ll be pinning!

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  6. A fascinating post, Michele–Susannah must have been a Proverbs 31 woman! I read her story with great interest, having been a pastor’s wife myself for forty years. The record of her life and ministry is indeed an encouragement for present day ministry wives and leaders to find their sufficiency in Jesus. Oh–and that quote you chose for the conclusion is a keeper–must copy that into my quote journal. So glad I stopped by today, Michele, and will continue to do so!

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    1. Thanks for popping in, Nancy!
      I loved that quote, and just had to work it into the post so it could be shared with more people. Ministry wives and women in all kinds of ministry roles need positive and powerful role models to assure us that there are those who have walked the same road with maybe fewer benefits and less help, and have still managed to glorify God in the process!

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  7. After reading your review, I was reminded of an old book I have called “Women Who Have Worked and Won” by Jenny Chappell. I’m not sure when it was originally published, but the copy I have was presented to my aunt in 1909 from her Sunday School for attendance and learning scriptures. I just grabbed it out of my bookcase and found that Mrs. C. H. Spurgeon was the first story in the book. There is a photo of the two of them early in their marriage, a photo of Susie when she was older, a photo of their home in Clapham, and a painting of husband and wife in their garden. The others in the book are Emma Booth-Tucker, Frances Ridley Havergal and Pundita Ramabai. Ray Rhodes, Jr.’s book sounds like a worthwhile and enjoyable read. Thanks for sharing, Michele.

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      1. You are welcome. It’s just one of several books I have that were awarded to my aunt and my father from their Sunday school. And it is in excellent condition, too. I can’t lay my hands on it right now but I do have a book by Spurgeon published in about 1896. That was one of many finds at used book sales. In looking for that one I came across another called Great Workers for Christ by Jeannie D, Cochrane. It has no copyright date in it but it looks old. It has stories about John Howard, the pioneer of prison reform, Edward Colston, the Bristol philanthropist, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism and Lord Shaftesbury, the children’s earl, the workingman’s friend. This, too, is in fairly good condition. I love to find these old books, especially for 10 cents like the Great Workers book. It’s like hunting for and finding treasures.

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  8. This was such an interesting review as I have not ever wondered about, nor heard, of Charles Spurgeon’s wife. She was truly a remarkable and strong woman who had a deep faith and commitment both to God and her husband.

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    1. Yes, I’ve read about Jonathan Edwards’s wife, Oswald Chambers’s wife, but this is only the second book ever written about Susannah Spurgeon. The other one in 1903 was pretty short. Ray did a good job digging for background, and I think I appreciate Charles more now that I know more about his marriage.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I have read some of Charles Spurgeon, as well as information about him. I also enjoy so many quotes by him, so much godly wisdom. But I knew nothing of his wife. Now, I am interested in learning more about her and their marriage. Thanks for sharing another great review!

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    1. I knew about her helpful role in combating his depression by reading aloud to him, but there was so much more going on behind the scenes in that relationship–all of it good, and she was also functioning with her own chronic illnesses.
      Thanks, Cheryl, for reading1

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  10. Another must-read, Michele. Biographies of strong Christian women almost always go to the top of my TBR list. Thank you for the well-written review. I have that verse from Ecclesiastes rolling around in my head too. I have been thinking about it for weeks now. Very appropriate to accompany this book review!

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    1. I love it when an author manages to profile an historical woman without presenting her as little more than an appendage of her famous husband. Ray Rhodes did a good job with that. This is truly a bio of Susie, not just a spot light on her husband’s life.

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  11. I read and enjoyed this toward the end of last year. I was struck by how much she did even while a busy pastor’s wife and even not feeling well for so much of her life. And she seemed to have an innate sweetness. This year I am reading a devotional book made up of writings from several women of pasts generations, Susannah Spurgeon among them (Frances Ridley Havergal is another). I’ve been enjoying reading her own words. You can tell she was steeped in Scripture.

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    1. That sounds like a great collection. I want to focus on reading more “old” words. So much of my reading and writing is of the “hot off the press” variety, and I believe I’m missing out on some good things.

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  12. I am fascinated by the woman behind the man. I love that more are being highlighted to help provide a broader picture of the lives of some of these famous theologians. My mouth dropped open when I read that Charles left his wife in the carriage one time when he was speaking and she ran home to mom. Oh my! I guess we all have our moments. Thanks for another great review.

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    1. I had to include that “moment,” Mary because it left me astonished as well. It’s a good thing Susie’s mother kept a sane perspective on the whole thing.
      And I am also thankful for the growth in awareness of the role of ministry wives in the formation of some of our key historical figures.

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  13. Thanks, Michele for the great blog post and book review. I can’t believe I haven’t read this. I love Spurgeon! “Do you pray for him who is to be your husband?” That’s quite the pickup line! LOL I’m putting this on my reading list. I love reading about women behind famous men. Thanks for linking up at InstaEncouragements!

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  14. Thank you so much for sharing about this book. I read a biography about Susannah Spurgeon years ago and I loved it! I looked at her as a spiritual historical mentor.

    Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon looks like a must read for me. 🙂

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  15. I cannot even imagine how different it was to live then. I know this is about her life, but I can’t get over the struggle to find information about her. I am so grateful it is different now!

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  16. Michele, this was so fun to read. With out his wife, Charles’s ministry would have not been so impactful. This post reminds me how we can influence and help those around us, and maybe not even realize it. Our faithful love and service does live on in the life of others. Let us not get tired in helping.

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  17. What a fascinating post! I have to honestly say I never thought to learn more about her! Funny how we sometimes focus only on the well-known person but not their spouses? Thank you for learning more about her and for sharing it with us. Visiting from the #TuneInThursday linkup!

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  18. Fantastic piece! so interesting, thank you so much for sharing this. I would love to read this book about Susie. I love Spurgeon and it really is no surprise that this Godly faithful preacher had such a loving strong partner in life. Behind every great man! Eh?!

    Like

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