C.H. Spurgeon is known by many as the Prince of Preachers. Though his ministry ended over a century ago, his powerful, gospel-centered sermons continue to draw readers closer to our Savior. Indeed, I have found it impossible to read a single sermon by this incredible servant of God without having my affections for Christ deepened and enlivened.
I have always wondered, however, who his wife was. Who was the woman behind the man whose sermons took England by storm and whose fame eclipsed all of his contemporaries? Was she a positive force behind his ministry? Was she as passionate about Jesus as he was? What was her spiritual life like?
When I unwrapped Free Grace and Dying Love for one of my Christmas presents, I was brimming with anticipation; just aching to get to know this woman who in many ways stands in the shadow of her prestigious husband. Boy was I in for a treat!
In this one book there are really two separate works. The first is a collection of morning devotions written by Susannah Spurgeon herself and the second is a short biography of Mrs. Spurgeon written shortly after her death. Having both of these works in one volume was a blessing, as it allowed me to get a full picture of the life and heart of Mrs. Spurgeon. For review purposes, I will treat them separately.
The Life of Susannah Spurgeon
This short biography by Charles Ray is positioned second in the book, but I decided to read it first in order to know the woman behind the devotions I would read later. As I mentioned earlier, this biography was written shortly after Mrs. Spurgeon’s death and for a very specific purpose: to shed light on the life of a woman who impacted countless others.
Of course there are many reasons that would warrant a biography on a woman like Mrs. Spurgeon. For instance, she was married to one of the most famous preachers of all time. This alone would cause us to be interested in her personal, home life because it would shed further light on C.H. Spurgeon, himself. But beyond her famous husband, was a devoted follower of Christ who lived in a body that was plagued by extreme sickness–so much so that much of her life was spent as a shut in. Her trust in the Lord’s sovereignty and determination to still be of use to Christ’s church naturally leads us to be curious about her personal devotion. This, leads to Ray’s purpose in writing her biography: to chronicle the life of the woman who created and sustained the Book Fund.
The Book Fund was a precious ministry Mrs. Spurgeon began as she realized the need many pastors–particularly poor pastors– had for good, theologically robust resources. When it came to her attention that many pastors were unable to buy even a couple books for their own personal study, she knew that something must be done. After all, the spiritual lives of these men and their congregations were hanging in the balance! And so, she began the Book Fund with her own small fortune and then opened up the opportunity for others to contribute as well. This work had a tremendous impact on the pastors it blessed, and as you can imagine, the congregations they shepherded. It also provided the perfect avenue for Mrs. Spurgeon to be able to serve the Lord from her own home.
Though the creation of the Book Fund is the climax of this biography, the many details of Mrs. Spurgeon’s life found within its pages brought life to this woman and her incredible marriage. Above everything–even the Book Fund–I was impressed by the intimate and incredibly romantic relationship she and C.H. Spurgeon shared. Though they were often forced to be away from each other for large periods of time, their love for one another never wavered and their affections for one another are eloquently recorded in the many letters C.H. Spurgeon wrote to his treasured “wifey”. It is clear that Mrs. Spurgeon was a precious encouragement to her husband, both in word and in devotion to the Lord. Her content spirit, even in such trying circumstances, was an anchor for the man whose great many responsibilities would have chafed at a great many wives (myself included!). This of course leads perfectly into a short review of the devotional portion of this book.
Free Grace and Dying Love
This morning devotional was originally published under the title, A Carillon of Bells. Considering that I had to look up what a “carillon” was, it is probably a good thing that the title was changed.
There are 24 short devotionals in all and each one of them deserves thoughtful, meditative reading. It became obvious to me after the second devotional, that Mrs. Spurgeon was a force to be reckoned with in the area of writing. If you are a fan of C.H. Spurgeon’s sermons or his devotional, Morning and Evening, you will not be disappointed by Mrs. Spurgeon’s similar ability to draw your heart toward the Savior. Her intimate relationship with the Lord is exquisitely illustrated through her artful use of the written word. Indeed, I found her words hanging with me for days at a time, as it quickly became evident that she was just as “quotable” as her husband.
I would say that her words are particularly suited for those who have known, or are are currently walking through trials (which, would we not say includes everybody?). Mrs. Spurgeon writes from the struggles and joys of her heart, which belonged to a body plagued by infirmities. These difficulties obviously influenced the tone of many of her devotionals, but it is also clear that they were written shortly after her dear husband’s death, which created a major vacuum in this devoted wife’s life. The maturity of her character and the doctrinally rich foundation of her relationship with God shine through as she navigates the murky topics of pain, suffering, and death.
The hope she expresses in the Son of God, even in the darkest of circumstances will spark a similar joy within your own heart as you read this wise woman’s words. Here is one such bit of the encouragement:
Come again to your dear Lord, my soul, and bring to his feet all that perplexes and grieves you; you will surely hear him say, ‘Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid; all your sorrows are known to me, and I am guiding and directing all that concerns you. Is it more difficult to trust my love in earthly sorrows than for eternal joys? (Emphasis mine)
There are even greater gems to be found in this work, but I will leave them to you to discover and embrace on your own. Obviously I would encourage you to read this book; it is one that I will treasure and go back to over and over again. I know that you will find great blessing within its pages.