I love a good biography. I love a good biography when it’s a “standard” or “pure” biography that simply describes a person’s life from beginning to end. But I also love a good biography when it is written purposefully or thematically—when instead of chronologically detailing all the events of a person’s life it provides selective details and draws lessons for its readers. This is exactly the kind of biography Mary Mohler has written about Susannah Spurgeon in Susannah Spurgeon: Lessons for a Life of Joyful Eagerness in Christ. And it’s a joy to read.
Susannah Spurgeon was, of course, the wife of the great preacher Charles Spurgeon, a man so uniquely gifted and whose influence was so vast, that everyone around him stood in his shadow. Yet while Susannah was in no way ashamed to be so closely identified with her husband that she is often only described in relation to him, she had a life, ministry, and impact that was all her own. Yes, she was Mrs. C.H. Spurgeon and plenty pleased with that fact. But she was also her own person with her own gifts, her own talents, her own means of serving others both alongside her husband and apart from him.
Mohler writes this book with the particular audience of Christian women in mind. There is a sense in which it flows out of her ministry at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in which she serves as Director of the Seminary Wives Institute. “My goal,” she says, “is to write about what we as women—primarily women married to men in ministry, but also to Christian women in general—can learn from the remarkable life of Susannah Thompson Spurgeon.” And while she is neither a historian nor a biographer, “I have been a ministry wife for forty years and counting, and have been training future ministry wives for twenty-five years, so I have some stories to tell.”
And that introduces one of the strengths of this book. Because this is not a formal biography, she is able to make it personal and to integrate some of her own experiences—a factor that adds both human interest and life application. In fact, each chapter ends with a number of questions meant for quiet reflection.
Along the way, she chooses to focus on six themes, each of which is applicable to Christian women in general and to ministry wives in particular. She looks at Susannah’s life prior to being married and to her conversion to Christianity; she looks at her marriage and her devotion to her husband; she looks at her commitment to her home, both as a mother and as someone who carried out a ministry from the home; she looks at the deep physical suffering that for many years left her housebound and often bedridden; she looks at her response to some of the controversy she and her husband endured and also to her years as a widow. The book concludes with a selection of Susannah’s own writings for she was a talented and widely-read author in her own regard. In each case, Mohler quotes both original writings by Susannah and Charles Spurgeon along with information gleaned from their many biographers. And in each case, she ensures that the events of Susannah’s life lead naturally to application that is relevant to today’s readers.