Charles Spurgeon married Susannah Thompson on January 8th, 1856. She would become his truest partner, deepest confidant, and “the greatest of all earthly blessings.” Susannah described their life together as “two pilgrims treading this highway of life together, hand in hand,--heart linked to heart.”
But who was this woman who captivated the heart of the Prince of Preachers? Here are three things about Susannah you might not know.
1. Susannah Had to Learn a Hard Lesson About Marriage
Susannah married a man entrusted with great burdens. As one of the most influential men in England, Charles carried the heavy weight of ministerial responsibility on his shoulders. His work required hours of his time, energy, and output every week. While it would have been easy for Susannah to become bitter towards the demands of Spurgeon’s ministry, she instead made the commitment not to ever become an obstacle to her husband's kingdom endeavors.
During her engagement, Susannah learned a difficult lesson. Charles was invited to preach at an afternoon service and asked Susannah to accompany him. As she recalled:
“We went together, happily enough, in a cab…But, by the time we had reached the landing, he had forgotten my existence; the burden of the message he had to proclaim to that crowd of immortal souls was upon him, and he turned into the small side door…without a moment realizing that I was left to struggle as best I could.”
Susannah was bewildered and angry that her fiancée would so easily forget her. She promptly returned home to express her griefs to her patient mother who gave Susannah some helpful marriage advice. She said that Charles was no ordinary man and his whole life must be dedicated to the service of the Lord, and that Susannah “must never, never hinder him by trying to put (herself) first in his heart.”
Though difficult to hear, Susannah decided to align her desires with his and put the Lord’s work first in her own heart. Moments after she made this decision, Charles frantically rushed into the house, terribly worried about what had happened to his precious Susannah. The two had a good laugh, but Susannah left with a heart change that would affect the rest of their marriage.
From that day forward, Susannah concerned herself with the eternal implications of her husband’s ministry. She declared:
“It was the ever settled purpose of my married life that I should never hinder him in his work for the Lord, never try to keep him from fulfilling his engagements, never plead my own ill-health as a reason why he should remain at home with me…I thank God, now, that He enabled me to carry out this determination.”
2. God Forged Susannah's Character on the Anvil of Affliction
In addition to supporting Charles in his seasons of depression and illness, Susannah suffered from severe medical issues herself and spent much of her adulthood as an invalid. She often experienced such intense seasons of pain that she could barely move.
The details of her illness are still coming to light, but we know that her condition became severe enough to require surgery. One of the leading surgeons in Scotland performed an operation on Susannah that didn't go to plan. The result of the botched surgery was devasting. “Suffering instead of service,” she said, “became my daily portion.”
But Susannah believed God was using her brokeness to refine her character. Her physical agony drew her into closer proximity with a Savior who suffered for her and with her.
Even in the most excruciating circumnstances, Susannah demonstrated gratitude, joy, peace, and patience. She reflected, “We talked of the Lord’s tender love for His stricken child…I remember feeling that the Lord was very near to us.”
Susannah's heart, rooted in thanksgiving, trusted God to accomplish his strength through her weakness. “How very good [God] is to unworthy me,” she believed.
3. Susannah Founded a World-Wide Ministry
In 1873, Susannah finished reading her husband’s book Lectures to My Students. When Charles asked her how she liked it, she replied, “I wish I could place it in the hands of every minister of England.” He responded, “Then why not do so? How much will you give?”
This question propelled Susannah into action. She organized a charity called “The Book Fund” to provide complimentary copies of Lectures to poor ministers throughout England. At first, Susannah lacked the financial resources needed to make this dream a reality. But she joyfully bought one hundred copies herself and mailed them out to pastors in need. When she was too ill to attend the functions of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Susannah investing her time instead in the continuation of the Book Fund.
Susannah's act of scrappy, sacrifical vision launched into motion a charity that continued until her death.
As letters of thanks poured into Susannah's home, word quickly spread throughout England and numerous donations were sent to sustain her project. In one year’s time, Susannah distributed 3, 058 theological books to impoverished pastors. Nine years later, she distributed 71,000 copies.
Leveraging Our Lives
Susannah's enduring legacy beckons each of us to follow in her steps. Her strenuous determination in the midst of personal pain, her indefatiable endurance and resourcefulness, and her tenacious holy hustle reminds us that anyone and everyone can make a difference for Jesus Christ.
Susannah did not found her Book Fund by marshalling funds from others. Instead, it began when she made the decision to sacrifice her own time, energy, and resources. Little could she have known that God would pour his blessing on her project.
It's impossible to determine how much spiritual fruit resulted from the Book Fund. How many souls were saved? How many lives were changed? Perhaps one day we'll know. But because of her efforts, pastors were encouraged, missionaries were emboldened, families were strengthened, and churches were better equipped to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. When Susannah passed away in 1902, she had distributed throughout England a total number 199, 315 theological resources.
Today, may we learn to leverage our lives for the expansion of the gospel. May each of us develop a God-sized vision so big that only he can accomplish it. And with Susannah, may we use our brokenness and our blessings to make much of Jesus Christ, who, as Susannah testified, is “a very present help in trouble.”
About the Author
Selah Ulmer lives in Kansas City, Missouri and is pursuing her Masters of Divinity at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She serves at First Baptist Church of North Kansas City, and desires to see men and women of all ages know the Lord deeply and apply His word to their lives. You can follow her on Instagram @selah_ulmer.
Check out the newly-released Volume 2 of The Lost Sermons of Charles Spurgeon.