I had the pleasure several months back to sit down with Dr. Ray Rhodes Jr. and discuss his newest book, Yours ‘Till Heaven: The Untold Love Story of Charles and Susannah Spurgeon. Long-time readers will remember when he and I talked about his first book on the Spurgeon’s in 2018 (you can find that interview here).
Dr. Rhodes resides in Georgia where he pastors Grace Community Church in Dawsonville. He is the husband of Lori, father to six daughters, and grandfather to a growing number. It was, as always, a delight to hear him speak on the benefit the modern church will gain by taking a closer look at the faithful legacies of Charles and Susannah Spurgeon.
Thank you so much for joining me to talk about your newest book, which I’ve been very much anticipating, Yours ‘Till Heaven: The Untold Love Story of Charles and Susie Spurgeon. In 2018, you published Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, which was the first full length biography on Susannah. How does Yours ‘Till Heaven differ from Susie?
That’s a great question. There’s just so much to the Spurgeon’s story. When Spurgeon died, there was a new biography every month for two years, that’s twenty-four biographies in twenty-four months. That’s hard to believe! And still people have continued to write about Spurgeon. One of the reasons for that is there’s just so much. With the publication of Susie, we started to learn a lot more about his wife. I think most of us knew he was married to a woman named Susannah, that she was sick a lot, and that she gave books away. But I didn’t know anything else about their marriage, really, until I started digging. And as I looked, I realized that still, there’s so much to be told. I wanted to do a book that was singularly devoted to their marriage. When I did, I arranged it topically, and while I try to keep people up to date on the chronology, I took various topics and focused on them individually. This is a big difference between Yours ‘Till Heaven and Susie. There is some overlap, of course, but even when discussing the same events in both books, like their engagement or marriage, I tried to approach it from a different angle. It’s a fresh approach to their marriage.
What initially made you decide to even start researching their marriage? Was there something in particular that triggered the interest, or was it just something that developed over time?
I actually think my interest in writing about their marriage preceded the writing of Susie. It was back when I was getting my doctorate and writing about the role of Bible intake and prayer in Spurgeon’s marriage. That is when I really discovered how much this couple loved each other, and the beautiful, sweet, happy, joyful, romantic, even, marriage that they had. I came through the doctorate program at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary thinking, “this story needs to be told.” But the first opportunity that presented itself was to write about Susie. There was one small biography of her in 1903, but other than that her story was yet to be told. That was thrilling, and the research for that opened up even more of the story of their marriage to me.
So, I think the interest has been building since around 2014. I really wanted to get their story out there. One of the best parts of writing is finding a subject you are interested in and finding that no one has really treated that subject. That’s the exciting thing! I can still remember the day I started wondering, “has anyone written about the Spurgeon’s marriage?” I dug and dug, and nobody had. I knew people would like this, and would benefit from it. My own marriage, and other marriages could learn from it. I got excited, and have been since then.
Who do you hope will benefit from this book? Especially in the church at large, who are you hoping will read this book?
Great question. You know, when Susie came out, a lot of people imagined it was a book for ladies. Of course, women, God bless them, buy more books than guys do. Women are readers and that’s a really wonderful thing. But it really wasn’t a “ladies book” (whatever a “ladies book” is) and I don’t know that we need to draw that distinction so much. I think we just need God-centered theology and good stories of men and women alike to benefit the church as a whole. I had one pastor tell me he’d never read the biography of a pastor’s wife until he read Susie. Just like Susie was a story for men and women alike, Yours ‘Till Heaven isn’t just a book for married folks. It’s a book on relationships, and how we relate to one another in a better way. I think the lessons from their stories will be a benefit to any Christian. I think singles, engaged couples, married couples, any Christian really will benefit from their story. I don’t think it’s limited to married people only, just like Susie wasn’t limited to women only. But of course, like many women were especially encouraged by her story, I do think this one will build up the marriages of it’s readers.
Was there one thing in particular you thought would encourage believers today in reading the Spurgeon’s story?
There are many things, but one thing is that the Spurgeon’s marriage is an example of spirituality, meaning that they were both reading God’s Word, meditating on Scripture, faithful in prayer, faithful in family worship. At their home, every evening, whoever was there gathered to read the Bible, pray, and sing hymns together. It was their spirituality that really fueled their ability to persevere through hard times. Their marriage is an example of that perseverance. They kept their eyes on Christ, they suffered controversies due to Spurgeon’s faithful Bible ministry, they suffered illnesses, they suffered tragic events, and they suffered separation due to Spurgeon’s preaching schedule. I think learning to persevere with our eyes on Christ and being grounded wholeheartedly in God’s Word is an important lesson we can take away from their story.
What would you say impacted you the most during the process of researching and writing this book?
Writing is all romantic, it’s a piece of cake. Haha. Not really. Writing is actually very difficult, wonderful, but difficult. I think though that I was really drawn into this story. There are lots of ways to teach and the Bible uses both precepts and examples. When Jesus wants to teach about giving, He uses a widow with two copper coins. When Paul wanted to teach about giving, he used the Macedonian church, a poor group that desperately wanted to give to other poor Christians. I think that one of the great things I’m learning is that I love biographies and I love church history. The power of a Godly example is huge. We need that so much in our day. We need stories of more Godly men and women who start well, continue well, and finish well. I think that’s what impacted me the most with this book, was being drawn into their story and seeing a couple struggling with some of the same things I struggle with. Marriage, parenting, bills to pay, sickness to deal with, work responsibilities, and this couple set an example of how we can live with all of those things and do so in a way that glorifies God, and by His grace press on in faithfulness. I obviously can’t be Charles Spurgeon. I would be so frustrated if I woke up in the morning and decided, “I’m going to be Charles Spurgeon today.” I can’t do that. But I can learn from Spurgeon. That’s where our Christian heroes serve us well. We learn from their ups and their downs. We learn principles from their lives. I hope others pick up this book, and that it serves and ministers to them as the story has done to me. That’s why I write.