by Ray Rhodes
Fact and fiction are intertwined in the modern recounting of the story of St. Valentine and his surmised connection with romance. However, he is remembered each year on February 14th, a day considered to be a day of love. Valentine’s Day is celebrated with cards, candy, and flowers given to one’s romantic interest. In 2015, Americans spent on average $142 per person on Valentine’s Day and almost $19 billion total. (1) However, while the business of romance is booming, the world is strewn with broken marriages and relational disharmony. The marriage of Charles and Susannah Spurgeon provides an encouraging counterexample of what love and marriage can be when Christ is front-and-center in the relationship.
Charles Spurgeon had a realistic view of marriage, realizing it “is not all sugar.” However, he also believed that “grace in the heart will keep away most of the sours.” He wrote: “It should be the husband’s pleasure to please his wife, and the wife’s care to care for her husband.” (2) Encouragingly, Spurgeon counseled, “When home is ruled according to God’s word, angels might be asked to stay the night with us, and they would not find themselves out of their element.” (3) What Charles and Susannah provide for those who will contemplate the pattern of their lives is not only a vision for a happy marriage, but also Scripture as an anchor that holds strong amidst trials and temptations.
Spurgeon considered the family to be “the grandest of all institutions.” (4) He sought to please Susannah, even in the small things of life. As Susannah recovered from surgery in 1869, the Spurgeons were also relocating to a new home. Susannah’s affliction was so severe that she could contribute little in the way of planning for their move. Lovingly, Charles took the lead and purchased items for their new home that would make it more enjoyable and accessible for Susannah. The lengthy quote below, from a letter he sent to Susannah during this time, reveals Spurgeon’s attention to detail and love for his ailing wife as he prepared their new home.
I have been quite a long round today, if a “round” can be “long.” First, to Finsbury, to buy the wardrobe,—a beauty. I hope you will live long to hang your garments in it, every thread of them precious to me for your dear sake. Next, to Hewlett’s, for a chandelier for the dining room. Found one quite to my taste and yours. Then, to Negretti & Zambra’s to buy a barometer for my very own fancy, for I have promised to treat myself to one. On the road, I obtained the Presburg biscuits, and within their box I send this note, hoping it may reach you the more quickly. They are sweetened with my love and prayers. The bedroom will look well with the wardrobe in it; at least, so I hope. It is well made; and, I believe, as nearly as I could tell, precisely all you wished for. . . . I bought also a table for you in case you should have to keep your bed. It rises and falls by a screw, and also winds sideways, so as to go over the bed, and then it has a flap for a book or paper, so that my dear one may read or write in comfort while lying down. I could not resist the pleasure of making this little gift to my poor suffering wifey, only hoping it might not often be in requisition, but might be a help when there was a needs-be for it. Remember, all I buy, I pay for. I have paid for everything as yet with the earnings of my pen, graciously sent me in time of need. It is my ambition to leave nothing for you to be anxious about. I shall find the money for the curtains, etc., and you will amuse yourself by giving orders for them after your own delightful taste. (5)
Spurgeon’s letter reveals a husband who was in tune with and who delighted in serving his wife. He believed that it was a husband’s responsibility to put his wife above himself, and he therefore opposed any postulating that man was the center of all things. (6)
It is impossible to contextualize the greatness of Charles Spurgeon apart from the contribution of Susannah. Spurgeon biographer Russell Conwell wrote that Susannah “was as remarkable a woman as he was a man.” (7)
Once while Spurgeon was traveling for ministry, he wrote a love song to Susannah titled “Married Love.” His beautifully crafted words include:
Over the space which parts us, my wife,
I’ll cast me a bridge of song.
Our hearts shall meet, O joy of my life,
On its arch, unseen, but strong. (8)
Some years after Spurgeon died, Susannah reflected:
None can be expected to feel the same rapturous delight in the sweet verses as I did, when I first read them; I was far more proud of them that I should have been of chains of gold or strings of pearls; and they have still the power to move my soul to an overwhelming tenderness both of memory and anticipation;—but they may at least touch a chord of sympathy in some loving heart, and set it trembling with the tones of the long-forgotten music of bygone years. (9)
During this “month of love” reflect on romance by considering the joyful marriage of Charles and Susannah Spurgeon. The example of their unselfishness, creativity, and thoughtfulness towards one another offers a breath of fresh air to stagnant and selfish relationships.
Ray Rhodes Jr. is president of Nourished in the Word Ministries (www.nourishedintheword.org) and pastor of Grace Community Church of North Georgia (www.gracechurchdawsonville.org). He is the author of Family Worship for the Christmas Season, Family Worship for the Thanksgiving Season, Family Worship for the Reformation Season, The Marriage Bed, and The Visionary Marriage, and has edited two other booklets. He is the author of numerous articles on marriage and family, and a regular contributor to The Dancing Puritan (www.dancingpuritan.com). He is a doctoral student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he is writing a dissertation on “The Role of Bible Intake and Prayer in the Marriage of Charles and Susannah Spurgeon.” He plans to continue his research in hopes of writing a book about Spurgeon’s marriage. Ray is married to Lori and they are blessed with six daughters, one son-in-law, and two grandchildren. Lori blogs at www.nitw4ladies.blogspot.com. You can connect with Ray on Facebook and at Nourished in the Word.
- https://nrf.com/media/press-releases/cupid-shower-americans-jewelry-candy-this-valentines-day. Accessed, 1-27-16.
- Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Practical Wisdom, 69.
- Ibid., 72.
- Iain H. Murray, Letters of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 1992), 163-64.
- C. H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (1875-1894; repr., Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 2008), 605.
- Russell H. Conwell, Life of Charles H. Spurgeon: The World’s Great Preacher (Philadelphia: Edgewood, 1892), 228.
- Spurgeon, Autobiography, 2:298.
- Ibid., 2:297-298.