Pamela A. Malkus
Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, by Ray Rhodes Jr. Chicago: Moody, 2018, 262 pages, $19.99.
The life of Susannah Spurgeon could have as easily been subtitled by the verse “When I am weak, then I am strong.” For that matter, Charles Spurgeon’s life and legacy could have been summarized by the same verse. Much of this couple’s lives were marked with incapacitating pain and physical, even emotional, weakness, which did not paralyze their determination or halt their assurance of the Lord’s provision to enable them to serve the needs of the church at home and around the world.
Ray Rhodes Jr.’s recent biography of Susie Spurgeon is proclaimed by the Spurgeons’ great-great-granddaughter as the most detailed and historically accurate account of the beloved wife of Charles Hadden Spurgeon written to date. Rhodes’s thorough research from Susannah’s own writings and those of family and friends who knew her well unlocks new information that provides a clear picture of her love for her husband, and her amazing work for the local and global church, both before and after Charles’s death.
Early in the book a vignette from the time of their engagement reveals the Spurgeons’ mutual submission to the Lord and their calling as a ministry couple (61). It sounds a warning to those contemplating Christian marriage and ministry to respond to the admonition of wise elders (in this case Susie’s mother) about the peculiar struggles they would experience and the importance of their particular calling.
A year into their marriage they welcomed twin boys into their home, which were to be their only children. More than two chapters (chs. 9 and 10) are devoted to devotions in the Spurgeon household. Charles Spurgeon’s friend and student, William Williams, made these observations:
At 6 PM the entire household gathered in the study for worship. The portion read was accompanied with exposition … Then how full of tender pleading, serene confidence in God, and of world embracing sympathy were his prayers! When bowed before God in family prayer, he appeared a grander man even than when holding thousands spellbound by his oratory. (93)
Charles had been concerned for London’s poor orphans since he first moved to the city in 1854. He witnessed homeless, impoverished children lining the streets and alleys around town in threadbare clothing and looking emaciated. Even though the Spurgeons had only the twins, Susie and Charles would nevertheless help to care for hundreds of children through two orphanages started under Charles’s ministry.
Another ministry they began was the Pastors’ College. It began with one student and was initially funded by the Spurgeons’ own household budget. Susie supported Charles’s passion and training for poor pastors. When bedridden for years, Susie, before and after Charles’s death, administered support for these poor pastors in their rural ministries by frequent gifts of theology books to augment their understanding of the Scriptures. An entire chapter in the book is given to the description of this twenty-year ministry by Susie. It describes her extraordinary dedication to this difficult work even for a healthy person, which Mrs. Spurgeon was not. Most were very thankful to receive this ministry; although there were some detractors as well, she bore it most kindly. This singular obsession, following care for her own family, shows that her goal was to educate pastors to better feed their congregations, effecting the spiritual health of all of England.
Susie described life without Charles as “bearable” after seven years of widowhood. She wasn’t paralyzed by her sadness. She engaged her time and efforts with the pastors’ book fund and auxiliary ministries, which included compiling a four-volume autobiography of C. H. Spurgeon.
This book gives insight into Susannah Spurgeon’s motivations and concerns, particularly her love for her husband and boys and for the church local and worldwide. This work is not filled with tedious repetition given in some other biographies but includes new information and succinct description that will satisfy the busy twenty-first-century reader.
Pamela A. Malkus is a member of Staunton Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Staunton, Virginia, and lives in Mt. Sidney, Virginia. She is the wife of retired Orthodox Presbyterian Church pastor Gerald Malkus, who serves congregations as an interim pastor. Ordained Servant Online, May 2019.