Yours, till Heaven: New Book by SBTS Alum Delves into the Romance of Charles and Susie Spurgeon
“I know of no other couple in Christian history who loved one another more demonstratively than Charles and Susie Spurgeon.”
Only the grace of God can explain Charles Spurgeon.
In 38 years as pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle (known as New Park Street Chapel during his early years), Spurgeon’s output was superhuman. He often preached 10 times per week at the Tabernacle and in other places. Spurgeon (1834–1892) led evangelistic activities between services on Sunday afternoons and weekday evenings. Then there were all the institutions and activities at the downtown London church that received input from the great pastor: an orphanage, a Colportage association, various almshouses, and numerous other gospel-driven social works. Spurgeon founded and lectured in Metropolitan Tabernacle’s Pastor’s College, where he interacted regularly with students. Both the church and college were active in missions activities in China, India, Africa, and other places.
Those facts are staggering, but they only scratch the surface.
Spurgeon weekly interviewed numerous prospective church members and anxious unregenerate souls under conviction of the Holy Spirit. He wrote more than 140 books, edited and published his sermon each Lord’s Day, and edited the monthly Sword and Trowel magazine from 1865 until his death. He also responded to some 500 letters per week.
With all that, we might naturally wonder: What kind of husband was he? What did the Spurgeon home look like with a perennially busy father? SBTS alumnus Ray Rhodes has spent the last few years tackling these very questions, and the results of his research are two profoundly encouraging books; first, there was the 2018 biography of Spurgeon’s wife Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon (Moody) and now a follow up on the Spurgeon marriage, Yours, till Heaven: The Untold Love Story of Charles and Susie Spurgeon, also from Moody.
Rhodes (DMin, SBTS) is founding pastor of Grace Community Church in Dawsonville, Georgia, and serves as president of Nourished in the Word Ministries. Ray and his wife, Lori, have six daughters and five grandchildren. Ray is also a longtime personal friend, and in this interview, we discuss the new book, his research work on Spurgeon, and the value of church history for the local church.
You’ve now written two books related to Spurgeon—one on his wife and another on their marriage. How has it impacted your ministry and marriage to study that great man so closely?
Studying Spurgeon is compelling because he lived so vigorously, marshalling time for the glory of God, not dividing life between the sacred and the secular. Life was sacred and to be lived for God’s glory. Spurgeon lived—evident in everything from meditating in his garden to reading six substantive volumes each week to enjoying friendship and to preaching. When he was walking with Susie or sitting with her in their home, they lived. They laughed. They wept. They prayed. They talked. They worked together. I am provoked to live my life and love my wife more devotedly because of Spurgeon’s example.
Spurgeon’s clarity is powerful. He was laser-focused on Christ and the gospel. Christ was his center and everything else revolved around Jesus.
We tend to think of Spurgeon as a master communicator in the pulpit. That is true. However, he was also a wonderful communicator with Susie. It is convicting that Spurgeon wrote a letter to Susie essentially every day that he was separated from her. His letters demonstrate creativity, thoughtfulness, encouragement, and honesty. He sometimes confessed his concern that he was not as spiritually fervent as he desired, and he asked her to pray for him.
In one of his letters to Susie, Spurgeon wrote, “Every word I write is a pleasure to me as much as it ever can be to you.” I want to grow in my skill of communication with my wife Lori—Spurgeon urges me onward.
As for ministry—I want to be Christ-centered in all that I do. A man cannot thrive in the ministry unless he is full convinced that Christ is his perfection and that the favor of Christ is all that matters at the end of the day. Spurgeon wrote, “I have put Christ in the centre as my sun.”
The new book is Yours, till Heaven: The Untold Love Story of Charles and Susie Spurgeon from Moody. Who should read this book and how will it help them?
Like you, Jeff, I love Christian history and biography. I think my book is a warm and approachable way to get a glimpse of and learn from two of history’s greatest Christians. So, married or single—I think that you will find a lot of encouragement and instruction from the book.
I think that folks who have faced a lot of suffering will find encouragement in Charles and Susie’s story—they suffered so much and yet kept the faith joyfully and they kept their marriage thriving. The book is really a rallying cry to keep the faith with confidence that Christ is with you.
And of course-married couples or those contemplating marriage will benefit from this book. We need more (not less) godly examples to help us in our marriage relationships. I think that Yours, Till Heaven offers help in a way a bit differently than many marriage books. The applications are found in Charles and Susie’s story itself—not as a list of application principles. I like the approach of actually looking at Charles and Susie’s marriage as a story and learning about marriage from them. They are our marriage counselors by example rather than “here are ten ways to improve your marriage.”
Spurgeon has always struck me as a man who is a “real person” who makes no bones about being flawed. Was Spurgeon’s marriage idyllic or were there negative aspects that help those of us (all of us) who don’t have flawless marriages? Do you think Susie ever nagged Charles or did he ever talk to her in a less than kind tone?
Charles and Susie were not flawless— they were “real people.” Spurgeon is sometimes described as “The people’s preacher.” Regular folks in London loved Spurgeon—he spoke their language and he was a fresh voice in the midst of many higher-brow preachers of the day. He brought “old-fashioned” theology packaged in everyday language to the people. Reading Susie’s writings, I felt like I was at her kitchen table having a cup of tea—she writes so warmly—so kindly, no pretenses.
It’s really hard to find major flaws in Charles and Susie’s marriage. I have had several folks raise questions about Spurgeon’s travels—surmising that he really wasn’t that great of a husband because he left his wife for long periods of time for ministry and due to his poor health. I think that we have to avoid the danger of importing our context back into that of the Victorian preacher’s world.
So, yes, he was gone from home a lot. And, after 1869 when Susie had surgery—she seldom travelled anywhere with him—she was mostly an invalid for the rest of her life. However, it must not be imagined that she was uncared for. Spurgeon had a number of servants (household employees) who attended to Susie’s every need. And he encouraged her to be as active as she could be in ministry. Plus, as I mentioned—he wrote her a letter every day when he was away. He longed for her when they were separated and she for him.
It should also be remembered that Susie, of her own desire and will, committed to never hindering Charles from his public ministry. Her level of sacrifice is staggering. All said I know of no other couple in Christian history who loved one another more demonstratively than Charles and Susie Spurgeon.
That said, both were lonely for the other. And as is obvious to me from Spurgeon’s writings that he struggled in his conscience with being separated from Susie so often. The demands upon his time were almost unbelievable.
I detect no nagging or unkind words in their marriage—they probably had some, but I haven’t found them. They both confessed to their struggles with sin.
What role did Susie play in his great ministry at Metropolitan Tabernacle?
Charles and Susie were married in 1856. Susie counseled lady baptismal candidates. After her death, many of those ladies testified to her wise counsel. For the first 12 years of their marriage, Susie was able to attend church services but from 1869 onward, it was rare that she ever entered the Metropolitan Tabernacle again—so acute was her health issues. However, from 1875 until her death, she engaged in Mrs. Spurgeon’s Book Fund from home—a ministry that she started and that was a part of the ministries of the MT. She was very concerned about the poverty of many pastors in the British Isles—many pastors had only a few books and seldom If ever a new book. Susie believed that if pastors had better resources that their preaching would improve, their churches grow stronger, and the gospel would be promoted far-and-wide. She ultimately gave away 200,000 books to poor pastors—and also ministered to their wives and children with clothes and other necessary items.
Susie’s greatest work at the MT was loving, praying for, and supporting her husband. She was all into his work; she believed in him and, therefore, his ministry. She gave herself during and after his ministry to promoting his writings and overall ministry.
Spurgeon often used humor in his sermons and by all accounts used it well. You have a chapter on laughter in their marriage. Talk about that. How important is that in every marriage—particularly within a pastor’s marriage?
Spurgeon’s depression is often considered—and he did get very low beneath the “dungeon of despair” at times. However, his overall demeanor was one of cheerfulness. He could walk into a room and within minutes people would be laughing at something he said. He loved to laugh, and he believed that laughter was not incongruent to the gospel. Christians should rejoice. Charles and Susie laughed together.
If a pastor and his wife do not have a sense of humor, then I don’t know how they can have a thriving ministry. Serving a church is a glorious calling—but is often taxing. Folks are faced with real problems and they look to the pastor for answers. And sometimes folks are not very agreeable. Many pastors struggle with depression. I don’t think Spurgeon would have made it—nor his marriage thrived, without a lively sense of humor. Spurgeon said, “Cheerfulness is the sunshine of the heart.”
What was the spiritual life like in the Spurgeon home? Was Spurgeon as good a leader in his home as he was in his church?
Spurgeon loved family worship and he expected that Christian families would participate in family worship twice a day—or at least once a day. He wrote a book, The Interpreter, as a means of providing helps to family worship. Every day—at least once a day—Charles and/or Susie led in family worship. And, when they traveled—they didn’t take a vacation from family worship. Everyone participated—children, guests, servants. Spurgeon read Scripture, gave a brief explanation of a passage, prayed, and the group sang hymns together. Charles and Susie’s son Thomas said that family worship was a “delightful item of each day’s doings.”
As well, Charles and Susie read Scripture faithfully. Susie read through the Bible every year and she meditated on smaller portions each day. Both Charles and Susie found great value in turning even one verse over and over in their minds—Spurgeon exhorted his congregation to “crush the grapes” of Scripture to get the “best wine.”
Prayer was the oxygen of the Spurgeon home. Charles requested of Susie, “Pray for me, my love; and may our united petitions win a blessing through the Saviour’s merit.”
One of Spurgeon’s friends felt that he was more powerful at home in prayer than even in the pulpit.
Why should pastors give themselves to reading Spurgeon deeply? What will they gain from it?
I have never read a Spurgeon sermon without feeling my heart “strangely warmed” (to borrow a Wesley phrase). When reading a Spurgeon sermon, expect to be arrested by the gospel—by the beauty and glory of Jesus. Read Spurgeon if you want to love Christ more deeply, think more devotedly on the gospel, and communicate more clearly. Spurgeon is gold.
And, I should add—read Susie. She left behind three devotional books, two books on the Book Fund, and was a major contributor to and co-editor of the massive four volume C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography. She, like her husband, was centered on Christ.
And, read their love story—I often tear up when I read of their tender expressions of love for one another and when Spurgeon dies to read of Susie praying at his bedside.
Charles and Susie’s love story—really is moving—challenging—and hopeful. The book title comes from a letter that Charles wrote Susie on the eve of their marriage. He signed the letter, Yours, till Heaven, and then. I write about the and then later in the book. Charles and Susie believed that they would love one another eternally in Heaven as they worshipped God around the throne—not as a married couple but as two people in a great innumerable multitude who love one another perfectly and worship God eternally. Through Christ we will join them one day.