Interview with Ray Rhodes Jr. {The Prince of Preachers, Ordinary Faithfulness, and What We Owe to the Lady Who Gave Away Books}

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of reviewing the book Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon. It was easily one of the best biographies I have read in quite some time. You can read my review for it here. Today, I am honored to have the author, Dr. Ray Rhodes Jr. join me to talk about the book, Charles and Susannah, and what their legacy means for Christians today. I hope and pray it is as encouraging to you, as it was to me!

Thank you so much for joining me, Mr. Rhodes, this is such a pleasure!

I’ve looked forward to it! I was reading through your website and it is well done, lovely job. Glad to know you, and point all my daughters to you as well!

Oh, thank you! That is so kind! I am so excited to be able to chat with you. You said you had been reading on my website, so you probably saw that I look for books that will encourage, equip, and really spur on believers, especially young adults and children, to live for Christ. It can be hard to find such books in this day and age. When I found Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, I was so excited, and was not disappointed when I read it! I finished it in one day. It was fabulous.

Wow. That’s encouraging!

It was wonderful and so I wanted to ask you a few questions about Susannah, Charles, and the book writing process. First off, where did your interest in the Spurgeons begin? What started that?

Well, I’ve been a pastor for thirty years and most of, or a lot of at least, conservative pastors are interested in Spurgeon. Not entirely sure when I first heard of him, but I read the first major biography of Spurgeon in 1990. That captured my attention, and since then I’ve been reading other biographies and books about Spurgeon.

I didn’t know anything about Susannah, but fascinated, I just couldn’t get enough of Spurgeon, and so little bits of her life came through in his biographies. Finally, I came across the little Banner of Truth biography of Susannah, you probably have it. It was done in 1903 by a man named Charles Ray, and it was good. Banner of Truth put it together with one of her little devotional books and it was a small biography, more of a summary.

I went back to seminary for the second time in 2013, and while I was there I was working on my doctorate, so I had to choose a thesis to write on. I wanted to do something on Spurgeon, and wanted to try and find an angle that no one had really considered before. So I thought about his and Susannah’s marriage, and couldn’t really find anything. A few articles here and there, but that was all. I couldn’t find any book about their marriage.

So I started looking into that, and was really surprised that no one had done a singular work on their marriage. I narrowed the thesis down to a particular topic, and it was the Role of Bible Intake and Prayer in the Marriage of Charles and Susannah Spurgeon. So I got to know Susie through that research, and was able to make a trip to London and surrounding areas, meet her great-great granddaughter, also Susannah, who wrote the afterword and an endorsement for the book. She is a young mother in London, who is from Ireland. That was really fascinating. I got to see some of the sites that were important to Charles and Susannah, along with his first church, north of London.

After I finally graduated in 2016, I was talking to various people connected to publishing and wanting to write a book on Spurgeon’s marriage. That was the direction I was going in at the time. Along the way, I found out that there was interest in a biography of Susannah, and was encouraged to direct my attention that way. The interest was simply that when I talked to people and let them know nothing had been done on Susannah, they said this is probably what we need to do instead of a book on their marriage. Really, I got to do both in the biography.

Finally, I got connected to Moody and then in no time almost, they were excited about the project and wanted to do it, and my excitement was growing as well. That’s how the process got started, and before I knew it I was going back to London, Paris, and southern France, to do more research. The rest is history.

Really it was a snowball effect, the more I learned the more I wanted to know, and the more fascinated I became. I came to her with presuppositions that she was simply Charles Spurgeon’s wife, she gave away a lot of books to poor pastors, and she was sick. That was it, and I think that’s what a lot of people know about her. But as you saw in the book, there is really quite a bit more to this remarkable lady.

That is really interesting. Their marriage, you describe it as being light-hearted and fun several times in the book. They lived in the Victorian Era, and I think a lot of people come to this period of history with the presupposition that everyone was very cold and there was very little emotion and very little enjoyment in family life. What are some aspects of Charles and Susannah’s marriage that you found fascinating or surprising?

During that era, a lot of times marriage and family were romanticized. Yet the reality was often, not such, as you were saying. Things were colder. Children were mostly seen and not heard, that sort of thing. Families really were not as close as some would imagine. But Spurgeon, when he met Susannah, his attention and interest in her grew rapidly. Really, within a few months.

She saw him preach the first time in December of 1853, and she had no interest in him at all at this point, even as a pastor. She was sort of offended by his countrified ways. But by April of 1854, she was spiritually struggling and it was bothering her a great deal and one of her family members told Spurgeon about it. He sent her The Pilgrims Progress, and she slowly began opening up to him. They become close friends, and he gave her a great deal of spiritual guidance.

So from April of 1854 until June of that same year, they were good friends, then in June he revealed his feelings for her and they were engaged in August. It was a rapid love story in their early days. They got married in January following that.

In their marriage, what was one of the most surprising things to me, is just the affection that they displayed unashamedly. For example, Thomas Spurgeon, one of their sons, writing after her death, talks about how open their love for one another was. Especially Charles’ love for Susannah. He was very open with his expressions. His love letters are touching, moving, and surprising. It’s hard to imagine. I didn’t think of the Prince of Preachers, this great pastor, this avid reader and thinker, of writing such beautiful love letters. He often talks of daydreaming and longing to see her. He did so many kind things to show his love for her, and she responded as well with beautiful letters. They really had a very romantic relationship.

They loved to walk together and Spurgeon had a strong sense of humor. He would make her laugh and they would often laugh together about mistakes they had made, especially his mistakes. They loved viewing nature, and they enjoyed traveling together during the first few years of their marriage. She actually hiked the Alps during this time. Charles sat in the carriage with his publisher, talking books and theology, and Susie was out front exploring the sights and sounds of the mountain passes.

They were very interested in art and loved the great museums of the world. They were very sweet, romantic, and cultured, Susie especially.

They were also able to work together as a team, very well. With the Book Fund, she gave away 200,000 books, which was encouraged by Charles, and supported by him. There were times he would sort of veto things so that she could rest. She would easily get over-commited and he saw to it that she got the breaks she needed. They really were just a great team.

She was a strong supporter of his ministry. After his death, her singular desire was that God would be glorifed through the distribution of Charles’ sermons. She is very responsible for us having Spurgeon’s works available today. So many dynamics of their marriage amaze me.

The unique thing though, is that they were separated so much of the time. That’s hard for us to understand, in American culture today. We are thinking, and rightly so, that date nights and all the rest are extremely important. That era was different though in the way folks thought about that, these absences were not uncommon. Spurgeon’s commitment to his ministry was top priority and between that and the traveling he had to do for health reasons, separation was normal and frequent for them. It worked though, because they both embraced it. If she had not embraced his calling as a pastor, then it simply wouldn’t have worked. It was a unified purpose and mission.

But even during his travels, he didn’t leave her alone. He made sure she was cared for when he was traveling and he wrote her everyday. He sent her gifts from time to time. They had a household of employees, which was common in Victorian households, even among common or middle class families. She wasn’t ever just suffering at her home while he was off galivanting. He made sure she was taken care of, loved, and comforted even when he was away.

I think it is such a testimony, their marriage, based on what you are saying, to the fact that when Christ is really the center, the unity, of a marriage, and both husband and wife’s first priority is to serve Him, and support each other in doing so, even through distance and suffering, a close and beautiful relationship can be maintained. It’s really neat to see.

Yeah, you said that very well, and very concisely. I should’ve just said that! That’s exactly right, they loved Jesus. Both of them. And as you know, Spurgeon was very Christ-centered in his personal life and in his sermons. If you’ve ever read one of his sermons, you know it doesn’t take long to find the Gospel and he was continually presenting it in new ways and perspectives from Scripture. Both of them were like that. They were very prayerful, very spiritual people.

I’m actually working on, what I hope will be a book, talking about their spirituality in their marriage and more. They both had deep commitments to Bible reading and prayer. Family woship was a top priority and when Charles was away, Susie would lead it. They prayed for each other, and wrote about it, while separated as well.

I think for me, reading it, was encouraging, because today, even among Christian circles, its really hard to find examples of women who are so dedicated to Christ, and to serving Him in whatever circumstance they find themselves in. Susie had this contentment and willingness to work within her suffering, difficult situations, in her home, in her marriage, it was just really encouraging to see her passion for Christ in all of those ordinary, and often hard places. What would you say was the thing that benefitted you most, personally, from your study of Susannah and Charles?

Like you were saying, just the strong conviction. I come away from their story convicted. In my own marriage, wanting to be more faithful to express my love for my wife, and communicate that. Spurgeon was a great communicator. I can imagine that many of the things he said to Susannah, any Godly woman would love to hear from her husband, with sincerity. Not just simple flattery, but a genuine love that came through in his letters and actions. The way he wanted to make sure she was cared for.

He was just very sweet. One time he sent her a letter in a biscuit can, and in England a biscuit was like a cookie, but they call them biscuits. So essentially he put the letter in a cookie container and had it sent to her.

He was attentive, and even if we don’t travel, and are home all the time, it is easy to become so familiar with our surrounding that we don’t notice one another. So we have to be really careful and intentional to care for each other at home, and especially when sepreated.

I’m also convicted by their spirituality. They were committed students of the Word. They read many books, a lot of classics. They read widely. Spurgeon would consume about six subtenant books a week. And doing that while answering up to 500 letters, managing the church, 60 institutions, and writing books himself.

Now, that said, we shouldn’t be discouraged by that. Charles and Susie were uniquely gifted by God for their purpose, their calling, their situation. So I can’t be Charles Spurgeon. You and other Christian women cannot be Susie Spurgeon. We have to use the gifts and talents God has given us to the best of our abilities. Confessing our shortcomings, and resting in Christ’s sufficiency for us, as it was for them, at the end of the day.

I think you could look at their story and become discouraged, thinking, “well I can’t be that” and feel sort of hopeless. Instead, we should look at their story of faithfulness, and simply desire to be more faithful. I can’t do what Charles Spurgeon did. I can’t reproduce his life. The good news is: I’m not called to do that. I’m just called to be faithful. So let that be what you walk away from the Spurgeon’s story with. Because, put simply, their story teaches us to do all that we can, as long as we can, as faithfully as we can, to the glory of God. They had lots of responsibilities. They were sick. They were afflicted, yet there is this great body of work that they have left for us as an example.

“I’m just called to be faithful. So let that be what you walk away from the Spurgeon’s story with. Because, put simply, their story teaches us to do all that we can, as long as we can, as faithfully as we can, to the glory of God.”

Dr. Ray Rhodes Jr.

I’m often asked what was Susie’s greatest legacy. You could look at the book and see how she cared for poor pastors, you could look at her own writings, her work in starting a church, all of that. Great legacies. But I think her greatest contribution, is him. She gave the remaining years of her life after Charles’ death to making sure his books and sermons were translated and distributed around the world. So when you go to the book store, and pick up a Spurgeon book, I think we owe that to Susie. We would not have Charles Spurgeon, without Susie. Without her, he would’ve probably still been a great man, but he would not be as beloved as he is today if it weren’t for his wife. We owe what we have of Charles Spurgeon, to Susie Spurgeon.

Wow, that is really an incredible legacy. For my last question, if Charles and Susannah were alive today, what do you think they would say to encourage the church?

Charles was pretty simple, especially to the way the church was structured. Scripture was where you went to see how that ought to be. He would preach often from just one verse, and expound on it in his sermons. He believed strongly in corporate singing and prayers. I think he would say to the church at large, that you don’t have to do ten thousand things or ministries to be faithful. Keep the Gospel central. Keep Christ central. Don’t get swept away by the trappings of the culture, or even mainstream evangelicalism. We can easily be swayed. It’s easy to desire more attendants, and increase this or that. Simply, I believe he would say: be faithful to the small things, that are really the big things. Never lose sight of Jesus and the faithful preaching of the Word.

Individually as Christians, he would say: keep the faith. Persevere through hardships and rest in His sovereignty. All our trials and suffering have an expiration. Our suffering and pain is only for a little while. This is really a short journey through pain and sorrow before an eternity of serving Christ perfectly.

That is really profound and encouraging, at least for me. Thank you so much for joining me! I could go on for hours talking about this! Haha! I love Church history, biographies, etc. Mainly because I find it encouraging to see the brothers and sisters that have come before us and the legacy they have left, and how everyone of them points to eternity. I walk away, like you said, being told the keep the faith. Stand strong. Keep Christ at the center. Your book, does an amazing job at getting that message across. It was such an encouragement to me, and I know it will be to others as well. I think reading Susie renewed my appreciation for church history, hymns, writings of the past, and for the legacy that people who wrote them left. So thank you, for writing the book, and encouraging believers, and for joining me for an interview today.

Thank you, Madelyn, for having me! I would encourage you as well. Im thankful for your work, so thank you, and keep up the good work, keep the faith.

You can keep up with Ray on his website here.

2 thoughts on “Interview with Ray Rhodes Jr. {The Prince of Preachers, Ordinary Faithfulness, and What We Owe to the Lady Who Gave Away Books}

  1. Thank you for sharing your interview with Ray Rhodes. I was encouraged & inspired by his testimony of researching Susannah & Charles. Iā€™m going online now to order Susie.
    Have a joyful day sweet friend.
    Lovingly, Susan

    Liked by 1 person

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