Charles Spurgeon abandoned his fiancée on a Sunday afternoon. After lunch, a carriage took the betrothed couple from Susannah’s house in St. Ann’s Terrace to Kennington where Charles would preach. Susannah recounted the event:
…I well remember trying to keep close by his side as we mingled with the mass of people thronging up the staircase. 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 where the officials were awaiting him, without for a moment realizing that I was left to struggle as best I could with the rough and eager throng around me. At first, I was utterly bewildered, and then, I am sorry to have to confess, I was angry.
Susannah left the service and fumed all the way home. Her mother gently “tried to soothe [her] ruffled spirit” and offered some motherly advice about marriage:
[My mother] wisely reasoned that my chosen husband was no ordinary man, that his whole life was absolutely dedicated to God and His service, and that I must never, never hinder him by trying to put myself first in his heart.
Mrs. Thompson’s advice is worthy of reflection for anyone marrying into ministry:
1. Think twice before marrying a minister.
If Susannah sought anonymity, she would not discover it by marrying a minister—especially this minister. Charles would become the most popular preacher in the Victorian world. His first biography, The Modern Whitfield, was written five months after their wedding. Before their twin sons were weaned, Charles would become a household name on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Ministry is a unique calling with unique burdens that demands unique sacrifices. The problems Charles faced are common to most ministers: constant criticism, controversy, and conflicts. Susannah had to pick her husband off the floor when the weight of ministry prostrated him. She supported him when friends and family betrayed him. Bursts of depression were common to the Spurgeon household. Charles sometimes wept without knowing why.
Mrs. Thompson was right: marrying into ministry is no ordinary undertaking. It is a high calling that comes with a high cost – one that resulted in the premature death of Susannah’s husband. Yet years later, Charles reflected: “I think that, if I was a Christian young woman, I would marry a Christian minister if I could, because there is an opportunity of doing so much good in helping him in his service for Christ.”
2. Use your God-given talents in your Gospel-centered marriage.
Susannah witnessed Charles’s absolute dedicated to God the first time she saw him. Fresh from the farm, the 19-year-old “boy preacher of the fens” had “long, badly-trimmed hair,” waved a “blue pocked-handkerchief with white spots,” and spoke with such a thick Essex accent that it “excited more regret than reverence.”
Their friendship morphed into courtship, and one year after Charles baptized his fiancée, the two were married on January 8, 1856. A special police squad was tasked with controlling the thousands of spectators amassing outside the chapel.
God called Susannah to be a wife and mother. But she was also called to use her God-given gifts to start her own ministries, like the Book Fund, which by 1902 had sent 199,315 theological books to underprivileged pastors. Susannah’s abilities accelerated her husband’s ministries.
Because Susannah was a French scholar, she assisted him in translation. She co-wrote his first book, Smooth Stones Taken from Ancient Brooks. She played instrumental roles in the 66 ministries of the Metropolitan Tabernacle. And she even helped Charles prepare his sermons on Saturday evenings by reading aloud his Scripture text while he crafted his outline.
3. Ministry comes first for the married couple.
Mrs. Thompson gently reminded Susannah that ministry comes first. She was not saying a husband should neglect his family. Instead, she cautioned Susannah against distracting her marriage from the ministry to which they were called.
Charles demonstrated that marriage is an essential part of his ministry – a visible witness to the world of Christ’s bond with his bride, the church. He modeled Christ-like behavior toward Susannah and confessed, “She has been to me God’s best earthly gift, and not a little even of heavenly treasure has come to me by her means. She has often been as an angel of God unto me.”
Charles did not choose between family and ministry. He encouraged his family to participate in ministry. Little wonder both of his sons became ministers.
After Mrs. Thompson calmed her daughter, a carriage delivered the horrified young preacher to his future in-laws’ house.
“Where’s Susie?” he asked. “I have been searching for her everywhere, and cannot find her; has she come back by herself?” After settling his nerves, Mrs. Thompson escorted Susannah to Charles, where he patiently listened to her indignation and reassured her of his love and affection.
Years later when Susannah sought “to amuse him, or chase some gloom from his dear face,” she would remind Charles of the time he left his bride-to-be on the altar of ministry. To be sure, it was the last time he did until his untimely death in 1892.
The Spurgeons faced difficulties and disappointments in their marriage. Susannah suffered from a botched cervical surgery (and ensuing infertility), and Charles almost quit the ministry when a balcony collapsed and killed seven people. But the solidity and selflessness of their relationship proved undeniable, due in no small part to the gentle diplomacy and timely advice of Spurgeon’s mother-in-law.