- Courtship Days
LESS than two months after the incident at the Crystal Palace, C. H. Spurgeon formally proposed for the hand of Susannah Thompson. They were in the little old-fashioned garden of the girl’s grandfather, with its high brick walls, straight, formal gravel paths and small lawn, — “rather a dreary and unromantic place for a declaration of love,” as Mrs. Spurgeon described it. “But,” she says, “people are not particularly careful as to the selection of their surroundings at such a moment, and do not often take pains to secure a delightful background to the picture, which will for ever be photographed on their hearts. To this day I think of that old garden as a sacred place, a paradise of happiness, since there my beloved sought me for his very own, and told me how much he loved me. Though I thought I knew this already, it was a very different matter to hear him say it, and I trembled and was silent for very joy and gladness.” What words the lover used we are not told, but Mrs. Spurgeon has declared that the verbal confession was “wonderful,” and writing forty years afterwards she could ask, “Was there ever quite such bliss on earth before?” They were one in heart, in soul, in inclination, and even at this stage the great preacher had communicated to his fiancee much of his own spirituality and earnestness. There was more than mere earthly affection in their love for one another, and both felt that indeed the finger of God had marked out at united course for them. “To me,” says Mrs. Spurgeon, “it was a time as solemn as it was sweet; and with a great awe in my heart, I left my beloved and, hastening to the house and to an upper room, I knelt before God and praised and thanked Him with happy tears for His great mercy in giving me the love of so good a man. If I had known, then how good he was and how great he would become, I should have been overwhelmed, not so much with the happiness of being his, as with the responsibility which such a position would entail.”
In the diary which the young girl kept she thus made a record of that memorable day — August 2nd, 1854, — “It is impossible to write down all that occurred this morning. I can only adore in silence the mercy of my God, and praise Him for all His benefits.” Miss Thompson now attended New Park Street Chapel pretty regularly, and before long she sought for membership and became a candidate for baptism. The preacher asked her to write out her confession of faith, probably for his own personal perusal only, and this she did in a manner so satisfactory as to elicit a letter from him in which his joy at the work of grace in her soul can scarcely find utterance. “Oh? I could weep for joy (as I certainly am doing now’,’’ he wrote, “to think that my beloved can so well testify to a work of grace in her soul. I knew you were really a child of God, but I did not think you had been led in such a path. I see my Master has been ploughing deep and it is the deep-sown seed, struggling with the clods, which now makes your bosom heave with distress. If I know anything of spiritual symptoms, I think I know a cure for you. Your position is not the sphere for earnest labor for Christ. You have done all you could in more ways than one; but you are not brought into actual contact either with the saints or with the sinful, sick or miserable, whom you could serve. Active service brings with it warmth and this tends to remove doubting, for our works thus become evidences of our calling and election. “I flatter no one, but allow me to say, honestly, that few cases which have come under my notice are so satisfactory as yours. Mark I write not now as your admiring friend, but impartially as your Pastor. If the Lord had intended your destruction, He would not have told you such things as these, nor would He enable you so unreservedly to cast yourself upon His faithful promise. As I hope to start at the bar of God, clear of the blood of all men, it would ill become me to flatter; and as I love you with the deepest and purest affection, far be it from me to trifle with your immortal interests; but I will say again that my gratitude to God ought to be great, as well on my own behalf as yours, that you have been so, deeply schooled in the lessons of the heart and have so frequently looked into the charnel-house of your own corruption. There are other lessons to come, that you may be thoroughly furnished; but, oh! my dear one, how good to learn the first lesson well! I loved you once, but feared you might not be an heir of Heaven; — God in His mercy showed me that you were indeed elect. I then thought I might without sin reveal my affection to you, — but up to the time I saw your note, I could not imagine that you had seen such great sights and were so thoroughly versed in soul-knowledge. God is good, ‘very good, infinitely good. Oh, how I prize this last gift, because I now know, more than ever, that the Giver loves the gift:, and so I may love it too, but only in subservience to Him. Dear purchase of a Savior’s blood, you are to me a Savior’s gift, and my heart is full to overflowing with the thought of such continued goodness. I do not wonder at His goodness, for it is just like Him, but I cannot but lift up my voice of joy at His manifold mercies. Whatever befall us, trouble and adversity, sickness or death, we need not fear a final separation, either from each other or our God I am glad you are not here just at this moment, for I feel so deeply that I could only throw my arms around you and weep. May the choicest favors be thine, may the Anabel of the Covenant be thy companion, may thy supplications be answered, and may thy conversation be with Jesus in Heaven! Farewell; unto my God and my father’s God I commend you. Yours, with pure and holy affection as well as terrestrial love, C. H. Spurgeon.”
Surely a remarkable lover’s letter and one which speaks volumes as to the character of both the writer and the recipient. C.H. Spurgeon had said that there were other lessons to come that she might be thoroughly furnished, and this was true not only in her soul’s experience, but also in the preparation and schooling for the position of a minister’s wife. Some of these lessons, Mrs. Spurgeon herself has told us, were far from pleasing, but she learned them well, and became the stronger and more earnest for the teaching. At times the preacher would be so absorbed in his great mission, when about to preach, that on his fiancee entering the vestry, he would fail to recognize her and merely greet her with a handshake as if she were some casual acquaintance or visitor. Once there was a more trying experience still. C. H. Spurgeon was to preach in a large hall at Kennington on a certain afternoon and Miss Thompson accompanied him thither in a cab. The pavement outside the building was thronged with people as were also the entrance hall and staircase leading to the auditorium, and the maiden had hard work in struggling through the mass of people and trying to keep near her lover. Suddenly he turned in at a side door on the landing, leaving Miss Thompson to manage as best she could in the throng eagerly pressing forward to get into the hall. The burden of souls was resting heavily upon the preacher, and occupied with the momentousness of the message he was to deliver, he had forgotten all about his poor fiancee.
Miss Thompson’s feelings at what she considered an unpardonable slight, may easily be imagined. “At first,” she says, “I was utterly bewildered, and then, I am sorry to have to confess, I was angry.” She at once returned home, without making any further effort to get to a seat, her indignation and grief increasing momentarily. But the young girl possessed that best of gifts a wise and loving mother, who with the greatest tact sought to soothe her daughter’s ruffled spirits. “She wisely reasoned,” says Mrs. Spurgeon, “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. Presently, after much good and loving counsel, my heart grew soft, and I saw I had been very foolish and willful; and then a cab drew up at the door and dear Mr. Spurgeon came running into the house in great excitement, calling, ‘Where’s Susie? I have been searching for her everywhere and cannot find her; has she come back by herself?’ My dear mother went to him, took him aside and told him all the truth; and, I think, when he realized the state of things, she had to soothe him also; for he was so innocent at heart of having offended me in any way, that he must have felt I had done him an injustice in thus doubting him. At last, mother came to fetch me to him, and I went downstairs. Quietly he let me tell him how indignant I had felt, and then he repeated mother’s little lesson, assuring me of his deep affection for me, but pointing out that, before all things, he was God’s servant, and I must be prepared to yield my claims to His. I never forgot the teaching of that day; I had learned my hard lesson by heart, for I do not recollect ever again seeking to assert my right to his time and attention when any service for God demanded them.” The incident closed happily with a cozy tea at her mother’s house, and Mrs. Spurgeon speaks of the sweet calm which reigned in the hearts of all after the storm of the afternoon.
When a few weeks later the preacher was to fulfill an engagement at Windsor he wrote and asked his fiancee to accompany him, adding, “Possibly, I may be again inattentive to you if you do go, but this will be nice for us both, — that Charles may have space for mending, and that ‘Susie’ may exhibit her growth in knowledge of his character, by patiently enduring his failings.”
In April, 1855, Miss Thompson paid a week’s visit to Colchester in company with her fiancé, to be introduced to his parents and family. It was a very happy holiday, the fact that the lovers were together all day, and that the Rev. John Spurgeon and his wife “welcomed and petted” their future daughter—in-law, being the principal contributory causes. When the young minister was in London he had little time for courtship, and when he did visit his fiancee at her Brixton home he usually took proofs of a sermon with him to revise for the press. “I learned to be quiet and to mind my own business while this important work was going on,” says Mrs. Spurgeon. “It was good discipline for the Pastor’s intended wife.” Even in these early days C. H. Spurgeon was abused in the press, and he found some consolation in writing to his fiancee, who did much to comfort and sustain him. “I am down in the valley,” he says, in a letter of May, 1855; “partly because of two desperate attacks in The Sheffield Independent and The Empire, and partly because I cannot find a subject. Yet faith fails not. I know’ and believe the promise and am not afraid to rest upon it. All the scars I receive are scars of honor; so faint heart, on to the battle! My love, were you here, how you would comfort me; but since you are not I shall do what is better still, go upstairs alone and pour out my grief into my Savior’s ear.”
About this time Miss Thompson’s parents removed from Brixton to Falcon Square in the City of London, and the lovers saw more of one another than they had hitherto done. The young maiden commenced to help her future husband in his literary work and very proud she was of the honor and trust thus implied, although the responsibility seemed at first overwhelming. His wonderful popularity and success as a preacher naturally delighted and awed the timid maiden, but with the pleasure was mingled something of anxiety and distress, for the strain on the preacher’s physical power when addressing the large congregations that gathered at Exeter Hall was tremendous and his fiancee, sitting watching him from the body of the Hall, often felt she must rush to his succor. “A glass of Chili vinegar,” she says, “always stood on a shelf under the desk before him, and I knew what to expect when he had recourse to that remedy. Oh, how my heart ached for him! What self-control I had to exercise to appear calm and collected and keep quietly in my seat up in that little side gallery! How I longed to have the right to go and comfort and cheer him when the service was over! But I had to walk away, as other people did, I who belonged to him and was closer to his heart than anyone there! It was severe discipline, for a young and loving spirit.” When the preacher went to Scotland in July, 1855, his first long journey by rail, he wrote many letters to his fiancee, giving her an account of the services he conducted, and the crowds who flocked to hear him, and asking her to pray that he might be sustained and helped, and his preaching blessed to the souls of the people. “I shall feel deeply indebted to, you,” he says in one note, “if you will pray very earnestly for me. I fear I am not so full of love to God as I used to be. I lament my sad decline in spiritual things. You and others have not observed it but I am now conscious of it; and a sense thereof has put bitterness in my cup of joy. Oh! what is it to be popular, to be successful, to have abundance, even to have love so sweet as yours, — it! I should be left of God to fall and to depart from His ways? I tremble at the giddy height on which I stand, and could wish myself unknown, for indeed, I am unworthy of all my honors and my fame. I trust I shall now commence anew and wear no longer the linsey-woolsey garment; but, I beseech you, blend your hearty prayers with mine, that two of us may be agreed, and thus will you promote the usefulness and holiness and happiness of one whom you love.”
His affection for the maiden of his choice grew deeper, if that were possible, during this absence. “I have had daydreams of you while driving along,” he writes in one letter. “I thought you were very near me. It is not long, dearest, before I shall again enjoy your sweet society, if the providence of God permits. I knew I loved you very much before, but now I feel how necessary you are to me; and you will not lose much by my absence, if you find me, on my return, more attentive, to your feelings, as well as equally affectionate. I can now thoroughly sympathize with your tears, because I feel in no little degree that pang of absence which my constant engagements prevented me from noticing when in London. How then must you, with so much leisure, have felt my absence from you even though you well knew that it was unavoidable on my part! My darling, accept love of the deepest and purest kind from one who is not prone to exaggerate, but who feels that here there is no room for hyperbole.” It must have been no ordinary woman who could draw such letters from Charles Haddon Spurgeon.