Ray Rhodes, Jr. serves as founding pastor of Grace Community Church of Dawsonville, GA and as president of Nourished in the Word Ministries. Ray has long been a Spurgeon enthusiast, and his doctoral thesis focused on the marriage and spirituality of Charles and Susannah Spurgeon. He spoke with us today about what modern believers can learn from Charles & Susie Spurgeon’s marriage.
Ray, what was courtship like back in Victorian-era England in general? Was this the way it was in the socioeconomic stratum to which Charles and Susie belonged?
Courtships typically happened in the company of others. It was not common for a young man and a young lady to be all alone. There would be some sort of “coming out” occasion for girls, indicating that they were available for romance. The type of occasion was dependent on the income and status of their parents. For lower-income, middle-class girls such “coming out” was indicated by more discreet actions. Sally Mitchell says in Daily Life in Victorian England that such could include “putting up their hair, wearing long skirts, joining the adults for dinner, making calls with their mother, and taking part in their parents’ ordinary social life.”
Charles and Susie were middle-class—initially lower middle-class, I think. And it wasn’t until some years after their marriage that Charles’s success had made their circumstances much more comfortable and that they would have been considered upper-middle class.
But Charles and Susie’s courtship was unconventional. There is no mention of them not being allowed to be alone. After their engagement, Charles met Susie at her home each Monday night to edit his sermon from Sunday for publication, and she sat beside him—quietly. The parents were at home, but there is no mention that they were in the same room with the two. Towards the end of the week, Susie walked several miles from her home, and Charles took a train from near his church to meet at the Chrystal Palace for an afternoon rendezvous. Charles was not much concerned about Victorian conventionalities, and, it seems that he and Susie were sometimes together unchaperoned.
The Spurgeons’ lives and the world they lived in seem so far removed from the world we’re living in right now. What are some of the things you think we learn from their marriage that would help strengthen ours?
Well, there are several lessons we can learn from Charles and Susie.
First of all, they had a robust spirituality from the earliest days of their relationship. They both were seeking God via prayer, Scripture reading, and church services. Both served in the ministry of their church: Charles as the pastor and Susie by ministering to female baptismal candidates. Charles was also an ardent believer in family worship—gathering the entire household for Bible reading, a brief exposition of the text for the night, prayer, and hymn singing. When Charles was away from home, Susie led family worship. This is what we can do with our spouse.
Secondly, they knew how important it was to communicate. Charles and Susie talked to one another; they communicated both in their home and during their walks outside. For the first twelve years, they would travel together often, and such times were filled with a lot of conversation. Susie helped Charles prepare his sermons by reading sections from commentaries and other books to him, and Charles valued her opinion. For example, he would hand her a manuscript from a book he had written and ask for her thoughts. This is more than communication; they really enjoyed time together, however scarce that might be. They talked, cried, and laughed together.
When Charles was away from home, he wrote Susie a letter every day. He didn’t find writing her burdensome; it brought him great joy. And she wrote to him often as well.
Charles’s communication with Susie was creative. It wasn’t unusual for him to include sketches of the places he had visited in his letters to her or to tell her how much he loved her and longed to see her. He was very romantic. Their son Thomas said that his father’s love for his mother was obvious in his conversation and in his writings.
Lastly, they pulled together. Susie is especially exemplary in this. During their engagement, she made up her mind that she would not do or say anything that might hinder Charles in his public ministry. And she kept that commitment with a stunning level of sacrifice. Charles Spurgeon had the great privilege of ministering with confidence that his wife at home was not begrudging his work. Though she missed him, he knew that she loved him. So he felt complete freedom to travel for his ministry, knowing that she unreservedly supported him. Beyond that, they also worked together in the church, in Mrs. Spurgeon’s Book Fund, and in all other aspects of life together. Mutual support is essential for a healthy marriage, and this applies to us, too.
Mutual support is essential for a healthy marriage, and this applies to us, too.
The Music Hall Disaster happened so early on in the Spurgeons’ marriage, and Charles fell into what appeared to be a lifelong depression. How did Susie help Charles in that regard throughout their marriage?
Here’s another thing that we can learn from Charles and Susie: supporting one another in sickness and health is vital to a happy marriage.
Susie would sometimes find Charles weeping. You see, Charles himself didn’t even understand why he was crying at times. But Susie would comfort him by praying for him and reading to him poetry, especially the poetry of George Herbert. It soothed his mind.
Susie herself battled chronic health issues for much of her life as well. How did Charles help her?
From 1869 until her death in 1903 (Charles died in 1892), Susie dealt with poor health—some female issues, we think. She had surgery twice, the first time about 12 years after her wedding. From that time forward, she rarely could travel outside of her home. Charles helped her by making sure all of her needs were met. He attended to her when he was home, and he wrote to her and sent her gifts from his travels.
By the time her health issues were at their most severe, Charles’s ministry had grown significantly. And because he was an accomplished author and sought-after leader, he was able to provide plenty of household support for Susie. This means that, like many Victorians, they had servants—a cook, a dressmaker, etc. Servants were paid; they were like employees back in those days. But in the Spurgeon home, the servants were treated like members of the family. They were loved and supported, and they participated in family worship. Susie was never left alone.
Learn more about Ray’s latest release, Yours, till Heaven: The Untold Love Story of Charles and Susie Spurgeon.