The Dancing Puritan

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Honoring Your Spouse: The Example of Susannah Spurgeon



Charles Spurgeon's library at his last home

Do you want the best for your spouse?  Love means that you are willing to joyfully sacrifice your own self-interests for the well being of your spouse. There is no other person that is to be as dear to your heart, as the person that you are bound to in covenant love.

Working for the best of your spouse is evident in small and large things. Susannah Spurgeon is a great example for us as we consider what this looks like. Following her honeymoon with Charles they moved into their first home together. As she thought of how to arrange the house, Charles was first on her mind. She believed that “the best room was always felt to belong by right to the one who labored much in the Lord. Never have I regretted this early decision; it is a wise arrangement for a minister’s house, if not for any other.”

Early in their marriage, after moving to their second home, and after the birth of their twins, Susannah writes:
Our children grew apace in the sweet country air, and my whole time and strength was given to advance my dear husband’s welfare and happiness. I deemed it my joy and privilege to be ever at his side, accompanying him on many of his preaching journeys, nursing him in his occasional illnesses, his delighted companion during his holiday trips, always watching over and tending him with the enthusiasm and sympathy which my great love for him inspired. I mention this not to suggest any sort of merit on my part, but simply that I may here record by heartfelt gratitude to God that, for a period of ten blessed years, I was permitted to encircle him with all the comforting care and tender affection which it was in a wife’s power to bestow. Afterwards God ordered it otherwise. He saw fit to reverse our position to each other; and for a long season, suffering instead of service became my daily portion, and the care of comforting a sick wife fell upon my beloved.
Charles Spurgeon also increasingly suffered affliction. He was often away from his wife, to seek healing for his own ailments. She was willing, though it was painful, to give her husband up for his preaching responsibilities or for extended times of separation due to his health issues. She wrote late in life:
 I thank God, that he enabled me to carry out this determination and rejoice that I have no cause to reproach myself with being a drag on the swift wheels of his consecrated life. I do not take any credit to myself for this; it was the Lord’s will concerning me, and he saw to it that I received the necessary training whereby in after years I could cheerfully surrender his chosen servant to the incessant demands of his ministry, his literary work, and the multiplied labors of his exceptionally busy life.
Charles Spurgeon was grateful to God for providing him such a wonderful wife. He wrote a letter of appreciation to Susannah in 1871:
None know how grateful I am to God for you, In all I have ever done for him you have a large share, for in making me so happy you have fitted me for service. Not an ounce of power has ever been lost to the good cause through you. I have served the Lord far more and never less for your sweet companionship.
Quotes above are from The Life of Susannah Spurgeon by Charles Ray

Saturday, September 6, 2014

People, Places, and Beauty: Thoughts on Friendship



I admit it; I am a bit enamored with tables, sofas, coffee, conversation, and beauty, especially when they are all connected. 

I am writing from the Legacy Hotel and Conference Center, located on the campus of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Like many hotel lobbies, there are multiple sitting areas—tables, sofas, and chairs. Most of them are arranged in such a way as to invite community. I am sitting on a small sofa, a round table is in front of me, and there are two other sofas facing the table and in close proximity. They are empty. It is as if they are waiting patiently for several people to ease over and start a conversation. Most people are checking out of the hotel this morning. No one seems to be hearing the call to “come and sit for a while.” And I am feeling the pressure to pack my goods, load my car, and head down the highway. Community awaits me, seven hours away.

Yes, I am drinking a cup of coffee; in fact it is my third or fourth cup. I have spent a couple of hours now reading the Bible, working on tomorrow’s sermon, and writing a book review. Soon I must leave. My week has been a mix of isolation and community. I have always thought myself to be a loner. However, occasionally there is a connection made that stirs up within me a longing for more—more conversation, more interaction, more community.

Last evening a friend and I walked together to the home of mutual friends. I enjoyed the conversation that flowed from our ten-minute walk together. It was good. We are united in various ways but there is one major common denominator—our friends. We walked to their home, together. 

Arriving at their home, we were greeted, as always, with a warm welcome, hugs, and food. The conversation was lively, the laughter robust, the joy obvious, and the experience— savory.

I am not sure exactly what connects the wires in a friendship. But when they do, it is natural—never forced. My friends here are from a different culture—from a world that I am unfamiliar with. How did we become friends? I simply needed to print a paper for my class. A fellow classmate said, “Come over to our house and print the paper.” I was relieved. I needed help that day. I could tell by the warmness of the invitation that the offer of help was sincere. I drove to his home. His wife had coffee and cookies waiting. Soon we were talking, laughing, and enjoying one-another’s-company. It was as if one moment we were just acquaintances and the next we were friends. I can't explain it except to point to the providence of God and the kindness of his people. That was nine months ago. Now, it seems that we have known one another for a lifetime. And with their friendship came another—the gentleman that I walked with last evening.

Am I really a loner? I am not sure anymore. There is something about the table, coffee, and the sofa. They offer promise— hope—that maybe someone will come over and talk for a while. They call the traveller to rest.  They remind me that the world will keep turning even if I sit for a minute, or an hour. And if two or three people stop by, you never know, a surprising friendship might ensue. When it does there is the delightful mixture of a table, several sofas, coffee, friendship, and beauty. I think that now I better understand what C.S. Lewis meant when he wrote in The Four Loves: “Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: "What! You too? I thought that I was the only one.”



Friday, September 5, 2014

A Thankful Wife and a Godly Husband

Spurgeon's Funeral Procession

When you die will your wife be able to thank God for giving to her a good husband?

On January 31, 1892 at 11:05 P.M., Charles Spurgeon died. By his bed a small group of family and friends gathered. Susannah Spurgeon, his wife of 36 years, led in praise to God. She thanked God for “the precious treasure so long lent to her.” 

That was not the first time that Susannah had thanked God for Charles. On April 2, 1854, in her grandfather’s garden, Charles asked Susannah to marry him. She writes: “To me 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."

From their engagement to the death of her beloved husband, Susannah never failed to give thanks to God for the gift of Charles.

Thanksgiving to God, for her husband, was as natural as breathing to Susannah. There is no evidence that she ever doubted his love, questioned his character, or failed to see him as anything less than a “precious treasure.” Though their marriage faced many trials, including sickness, there is no record of Susannah ever wavering in her opinion about Charles. 

Is it the most natural thing for your wife to thank God for giving her the “love of so good a man?” Will her natural reaction at your death be to thank God for “the precious treasure so long lent to her?”

Live in such a way, in the grace of God, that you give your wife every reason to think of you as a godly man and a precious treasure. You will need to take a fresh look, every day, at the gospel of Christ. After all, the gospel teaches and empowers you to love your wife.  The reason that Spurgeon was such a precious treasure to Susannah is because he was first and foremost a man fully saturated in the gospel.
Quotes above from the Autobiography of C.H. Spurgeon.

Ray Rhodes, Jr. is president of Nourished in the Word Ministries. Contact him here: NITW

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Charles Spurgeon: A Life of Reading and Writing Part Two



What did Spurgeon read? He read everything. He read all sorts of things. He read the Bible, the newspaper, Christian classics, history, biography, and fiction. He averaged reading six substantive books each week. Most of those books were weighty Puritan works. John Piper writes:
I think one of the reasons Spurgeon was so rich in language and full in doctrinal substance and strong in the spirit, in spite of his despondency and his physical oppression and his embattlements, is that he was always immersed in a great book—six a week. We cannot match that number. But we can always be walking with some great "see-er" of God. I walked with Owen most of the year on and off little by little and felt myself strengthened by a great grasp of God's reality. Piper Quote
A primary reason that Spurgeon was such a great writer was due to his reading habits. W.Y. Fullerton in C.H. Spurgeon: A Biography writes:
The whole Spurgeon Library, therefore, taking no count of tractates, consists of no less than 135 volumes in all, or, including the reprints, 176! If we add the albums and the pamphlets, we get an output of 200 books!
Fullerton writes of Spurgeon's personal library: "At the time of his death there were 12,000 volumes in Mr. Spurgeon's library, in addition to those that he had sent to furnish the well-filled shelves of the library at the College."  

12,000 volumes provided the foundation of his library but, as Fullerton indicates, Spurgeon had even more books.

Spurgeon wrote, read, reviewed, distributed, and treasured books. Fullerton writes, "To listen to his talk on books one would think that he had done nothing but read in the library all his life, and to mark his publications would fancy that he had done nothing but write" (Fullerton, 270).

Yet we know that Spurgeon did much more than read and write. He was a pastor, he was an itinerant preacher, he lead numerous institutions, and his services were constantly in demand.

We can distill down from Spurgeon several helps for reading and writing.

1.  Find Good Books. In Spurgeon's library there were many used books that he found in the catalogues of second-hand-bookstores. Whether used or new, find good books. Especially find hardback books that will last through the years and can be passed on to your children.

2.  Read Good Books. Books look beautiful lined across oak shelves. However, books are meant to be read and reading is essential to living. Spurgeon wrote: "Give yourself unto reading. The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own."

3. Read a Variety of Books.  It is assumed that you will regularly feast on the Bible. Beyond that read history, biography, hymns, classics, and good fiction. 
We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure time, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master’s service. Paul cries, 'Bring the books' — join in the cry. Spurgeon
4. Read as Much as You Can. Spurgeon was a uniquely gifted man. You are not Spurgeon but it is likely the case that you can read more books than you are presently reading. Start somewhere. If you are not presently reading, attempt just two pages per day. In a month you will have read 60 pages and in three months you will finish your book. Perhaps you train yourself to read one book per week? 

Ray Rhodes is President of Nourished in the Word Ministries where he is a conference speaker and author. Visit Nourished in the Word Here: NITW

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Charles Spurgeon: A Life of Reading and Writing Pt. 1



I have often asked leaders how they spend their time. Realizing that their success is inseparably connected to their daily disciplines, I am interested in their schedule. It is always the case that excellent leaders are diligent readers.

The work ethic of the British Baptist pastor Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) is well known. Spurgeon would often work eighteen hours a day. Yet it was not his work ethic alone that created the man that is still so honored. His reading fueled his work.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his fascinating book Outliers, writes about the importance (in various fields of work) of time, place, and family regarding a person's success. Gladwell's argument could be made in the case of Charles Spurgeon. When Spurgeon was only 18 months old he was sent to live with his grandparents. He would live with them for five years. His grandfather James Spurgeon served as pastor of Stambourne for 54 years. While living with his grandparents, Charles was exposed to the life and practices of a faithful evangelical minister. As he grew older he often heard his grandfather and other preachers engage in deep theological discussion around the dinner table. He was also exposed to his grandfather's library. That library fascinated Spurgeon and very early in his life he learned to read.
Charles was still a child when he first became aware of books. One of the bedrooms in the manse led off into a small dark chamber . . . . this chamber held an old Puritan library, and Charles was probably no more than three when he began pulling volumes out into the light and looking at the illustrations. Arnold Dallimore, C. H. Spurgeon: The New Biography, Moody Press 1984.
When Spurgeon was five or six years old he moved back into his parent's home. His father was also a pastor who had a solid library. He said of young Charles:
Charles was a healthy child and boy, having a good constitution and was of an affectionate disposition, and very studious. He was always reading books--never digging in the garden or keeping pigeons, like other boys. It was always books, and books. If his mother wanted to take him for a ride, she would be sure to find him in my study pouring over a book. He was clever, of course, and clever in most directions of study. . . . G. Holden Pike, The Life and Work of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 6 vols. (London: Cassel, 1898), 1:17.
When Spurgeon was six years old he read John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. It is estimated that he would read that one book 100 times before he died. Bunyan's classic gave Spurgeon a vast storehouse of vivid imagery through both its illustrations and its numerous word pictures. Those pictures would saturate Spurgeon's daily conversation and his preaching for all of his life. The appeal of Spurgeon, to the millions of people who would hear him preach in his lifetime, was not his physical appearance or charisma but it was, among other things, his ability to communicate beautifully.

The story of Spurgeon's success is built on a foundation of good books. His grandfather and father invested a portion of their resources in building libraries that would serve them and that would serve Charles well. Charles Spurgeon built his own library that, by the time he died, contained over 12,000 volumes. He would also become one of the most prolific authors in English history. It cannot be denied that Spurgeon's life of reading was instrumental to his life of writing. To be continued.

Ray Rhodes is President of Nourished in the Word Ministries. Ray is well known for his teaching and writing about marriage and family. He leads marriage retreats and Bible conferences. He is engaged in an ongoing research project on the marriage of Charles and Susannah Spurgeon. If you would like to schedule Ray to speak for your next event, send him a message at www.nourishedintheword.org

Friday, August 15, 2014

27 Years of Knowing: An Anniversary Recollection



August 15, 1987

I was late. You were waiting. It didn't seem to matter. Off we went, new friends headed to an evening of food and dancing. We were in for a surprise. Something happened. Perhaps it was a little bit like Emile de Becque and Ensign Nellie Forbush in South Pacific. They met at a dance and they knew. It does not always happen like that, does it? But did we know something, on that enchanted evening? Did we worry, as they did, that our feelings might not be shared by the other?   


Some enchanged evening
You may see a stranger,
you may see a stranger
Across a crowded room
And somehow you know,
You know even then
That somewhere you'll see her
Again and again.
From South Pacific

And so it began; so we began. Did we ever really feel uncomfortable with one another? Yes, there were moments of discomfort but those had more to do with circumstances than with one another. You laughed so much. Did I really bring a bit of happiness to you? Do you remember the salad, left over from a restaurant? I never liked tuna fish sandwiches but somehow with pickles and chips stacked on top, it was good. Or maybe it was good simply because you made it.

To think that I sometimes complain about a meal. Why? How can I be so foolish?

Do you remember singing at Georgia Tech? Or watching birds and squirrels while sitting on a bench at seminary? Or the day we found wild flowers growing beside hot asphalt? Do you recall picking those flowers and taking them back to our small apartment? You put them in a vase and our room came to life.

And then there was that morning. The city had closed in on us. We had to escape. The big-city-noise of New Orleans was left behind and Mississippi embraced us. The last verse of the final hymn was done. Her hair was gray, her eyes so sweet, she walked over. "You are going to my house for lunch today." She left us no choice. What a wonderful lunch. Though we had never met her, she took us in for the day. God gave rest.

The days turned into months, the months into years, and our nest grew. Sweet babies were cradled, nestled, and became ladies. Life got busier, faster, and sometimes my joy was not easy to see. 

27 years. Time has etched its marks on me. Spinning plates have taken their toll. I have made some choices that caused you grief. Grace. God's grace. Grace that pardons, forgives, and restores. When you look at me, do you see God's grace to a chief of sinners?

Our relationship has changed. It is deeper, I pray. Somehow you do not look 27 years older. You are wiser and more beautiful. I enjoy looking at your photograph on my desk. You are draped in white, wearing the wedding gown that you spent hours preparing for that day 27 years ago. You looked glorious! I still remember. I remember the kiss. I think that I had to wipe away a tear from your face. 

The other day, while you were napping, I looked at you. You were restful and so lovely. The burdens that we carry together were set-aside for the night. I was convicted. I am sorry that I do not tell you more often how beautiful you are. Yet, you never complain. Grace!

27 years. Can we do this for at least 40 more? Across that crowded room, 27 years ago, something happened. God gave grace. God provided. He knit our hearts together. We never have to wonder if God loves us. Let us never wonder about one another. And when we fail, let us hang on to grace.

Take my hand. Walk with me. Let's dance in the living room, sing on campus, and pick flowers together. Let's press our noses against the door of the chocolate store and savor the sweet aroma. Let's get in the car and drive away. Let's kiss in the kitchen and see if the children will come in close with us. Let's listen to Norah Jones sing love songs. Let's clean, mow, fix, cook, and play with our children and grandchildren. Let's go to a play. Lets get breakfast at that little shop in Dahlonega. Let's go to a sparsely attended movie and sit on the back row. The movie does not matter much. You know. Let's take one another by the hand and ask God to help us and to direct our steps. He will.

And when evening comes, let us look deep into one another's eyes. Let us never miss a kiss nor fail to say, "I love you." 

Across a crowded house, children run and play. I see you standing there. It is all so enchanted. Somehow I know. Somehow you know. I see it in your face. You see it in my eyes. Yes, we know. We knew then. 27 years of knowing. Happy Anniversary.

27 years of knowing!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Reading to Change Your Life



You are a reader. You read because you want to change in some way. I offer you an additional way of reading that does not require too much extra time. I assume that you have a main book that you are reading. You may have several main books (I do). By your main reading I mean that you are regularly working from beginning to end through a book. Not that you necessarily read every word, but you are dipping into the book enough to grasp the main idea and core principles related to that idea. You may be reading your main book for personal growth, understanding of a concept, or primarily for entertainment. All reading can be entertaining but much of your reading is for purposes beyond mere entertainment. Reading for mere entertainment (like going to the movies) is more of a dessert than a main course. Dessert is good but too much of it and your brain will decrease while your waist-line increases.

A practical way of additional reading is to read short sections of helpful books, journals, blog posts, and magazines related to a particular topic that you are pursuing. Here is an example from one of my recent reading experiences: I was reading Psalm 119 one morning. The writer of that Psalm is concerned to walk in the way of God and to avoid wrong. He writes in verse 11, "I have stored your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." Reading those words stirred up within me a desire to learn more about how to avoid sin. Here is what I did:

1. Read portions from Psalm 119 and engaged in a bit of artwork. I took a sheet of paper and wrote in the center of a circle, "avoiding sin." I then connected lines to the circle and wrote on them principles from Psalm 119 that, if applied, will help me to avoid sin. (The kind of artwork that I used is often referred to as mind mapping.)

2. I searched my library for 4-5 books that deal with the subject of sin and temptation. I chose, The Christian in Complete Armor by William Gurnall, Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices by Thomas Brooks, Temptation by John Owen, and The Sinfulness of Sin by Ralph Venning.

3. I did a quick scan through the chapter titles in each of the books, made a selection, and then read one page from that section. I simply added four additional pages of reading to the main books that I was reading that day. It took about 5 minutes. Because I chose excellent books, I found each one of the four pages rich with insight that helped me to learn more about how to battle against sin and temptation.

It is my goal to trust God, to do what is right, and to avoid the wrong path for my life. I could simply try to wish such a goal into reality but that would not help me to be successful. I could only pray and ask God to help me to do right. However, I must not only pray; I must put forth maximum effort in my pursuit of doing what is right. Each day brings numerous temptations to take an exit ramp off of the right road and to follow allurements that exit signs offer. Every day is a battle. And just as no Commanding Officer would send his troops into battle without preparation, skill, and weapons; so no Christian should travel down the road of life, unprepared. 

I want to start my day prepared. Reading is essential in preparing my heart and mind, and in equipping me with the strategic weapons that will be required to fight off temptation. Do some additional reading in an area that you are in need of particular help. You can do it in 5 or 10 extra reading minutes per day. You will be helped. I think you will be changed. Take the challenge and send me a note, I would love to hear from you.

Ray Rhodes, Jr. is President of Nourished in the Word Ministries (NITW). He is a conference speaker and author. To learn more about Ray or to schedule him to speak to your group, contact him here: .Contact