The Dancing Puritan

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Devotional Method of Susannah Spurgeon

My favorite picture of Susannah Spurgeon

When Susannah Spurgeon touched pen to paper, beautiful and practical sentences flowed forth. Though she displayed variety in her writings, she is best known as an author of devotional literature. Contained within her works are glimpses into her own devotional method. Consider one of her readings, "The Light of Life" from her book A Cluster of Camphire.

1. She was Marinated in Scripture.  "The Light of Life" reading contains at least 13 Scripture references: 10 from the Old Testament and 3 from the New Testament. Each reading underscores a point of Susannah's concern and is employed for practical application to her life. Susannah grieves that the Lord's face is hidden from her (Psalm 31:16). She recognizes that one reason God may have hidden His face is due to her sin. Therefore, she confesses her transgressions by recalling Isaiah 59:2, Job 42:6, and Psalm 6:2. Susannah almost effortlessly weaves through Scripture in her devotion. She engages with the Bible so freely because it is hidden in her heart through memorization and meditation.

2. She Prays as She Considers Scripture. Her primary method of prayer is to pray as she goes rather than having a time for Scripture reading and a later time for prayer (though she did that as well). For example, she quotes Psalm 31: 16 "Make Thy face to shine upon Thy servant." (KJV) She then cries out to God:
 As a night without stars, so is my soul, O Lord, if Thou hidest Thy face from me! My feet falter, my steps are uncertain, my hands grope as at midnight, my heart is oppressed by an unspeakable fear and dread. O blessed Light of my life, what has caused Thee to withdraw Thyself? Why art Thou hidden behind these thick clouds, so that I cannot rejoice in Thee?
Reading Scripture pulled out from within her heart longings for God that produced prayer. This pattern is found throughout the "The Light of Life."

3. She Applies Scripture as She Reads and Prays. Again, she does not compartmentalize her daily disciplines, but they are woven together into a multicolored tapestry. Susannah is concerned about God's face being hidden. She prays and even asks God why He had covered His face. She concludes that His face was concealed due to her sin. She quotes Isaiah 59:2 in defense of her conclusion. She writes of having acknowledged her sins and repented of them. She asserts that she "hates the sin which so constantly surges up within me, defiles my holiest service, and dares intrude even into my prayers." She then cries out to God for healing.  For Susannah, knowing Scripture demanded that she apply Scripture to her life.

4. She Employs Christian Authors Who Help Her to Think Deeply About God. Both Charles and Susannah were conversant with Christian thinkers from a variety of theological stripes and they were quite willing to glean helps from them whether they fully agreed with them or not. In "The Light of Life," Susannah looks to Andrew Murray. She quotes him: "The true victory over sin is this; -if the light comes in, the darkness is expelled." She applies his words: "Yes, just as the mists and shadows roll away from the sky when the sun is risen upon the earth, so do sins, and griefs, and fears flee before the brightness of the uplifted face of a pardoning God." Murray helped her to think more deeply on God's grace.

5. She Had Hymns in her Heart and on Her Lips. When Charles Spurgeon was but a boy, his grandmother gave him money for every hymn that he memorized. I challenge you to find even one sermon by Spurgeon that does not include at least one quote from a hymn. Susannah writes similiarly. She takes the following verse from Horatius Bonar's hymn: "O Light of Light, Shine In!"

O Light, all light excelling,

Make my heart Thy dwelling;

O joy, all grief dispelling,--

To this poor heart, come in!  

What Can We Learn From Susannah Spurgeon's Devotional Practices?

1. The Value of Marinating in Scripture. Wouldn't you like to have a ready grasp of both the Old and the New Testaments? Jesus, referring to Deuteronomy 8:3, taught that: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." He quoted this passage as he was being tempted by the devil. Do you want to know God and learn how to live skillfully in this devilish world?  Then get to know "every word that comes from the mouth of God." What will be your plan for marinating in Scripture? Marinating requires not only reading the Bible but also letting it soak in via meditation and memorization. 

2. The Importance of Allowing Scripture to Stir us up to Pray and Obey.  Susannah quotes a passage of Scripture and then almost immediately she is crying out to God in prayer. Learn to read the Bible in a soul-convicting manner by considering several questions in reference to your reading: A. Is there a command to obey? B. Is there a warning to heed? C. Is there a promise to embrace?  D. Is there a principle to apply? Use those and other such questions. Pray while reading: "LORD, help me, from this passage, to know you and to know how to better live for you." The passage that you read will itself lend ideas on how to pray, what to pray for, what sins to confess, and what comforts to receive. Remember that those who are blessed do not merely hear or read the Bible, they obey God (James 1:22).

3. Confess Your Confidence in God and in His Word. Susannah believed that she was praying to God and that He really heard her and that He would answer her prayers. Where does this sort of faith come from? "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17) 

4. Employ Godly Christian Literature as a Part of Your Regular Schedule. Have you read Augustine's Confessions? What about Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress? Are you familiar with Packer's Knowing God? Have you heard of Spurgeon's Morning and Evening? Even though Andrew Murray is problematic in some areas, a discerning Christian can benefit from his writings. Start with an author who is well known historically as one who will help you to think more deeply about Christ and the Gospel. One reason that I love both Charles and Susannah Spurgeon is that they constantly point me to Christ. 

5. Get Good Hymns Down Deep in Your Heart. Susannah (and Charles) was especially fond of Frances Ridley Havergale's poetry and hymns. Of course you should know Charles Wesley and Isaac Watts and their hymns. As many churches jettison hymns for other songs, and many parents do not teach the hymns to their children, the next generation will lose a great treasure of hymnody unless we are able to turn the tide. Learn hymns, use them in your daily devotional times, teach them to your children, and encourage your church to include great hymns into each Sunday's congregational worship.

Today's post is a good example of how to profitably read a book. Reading Susannah Spurgeon's A Cluster of Camphire helped me to think about my devotional practices. Perhaps "devotions with Susannah" can help you as well.

Ray Rhodes is a conference speaker, pastor, and the author of several books. He is presently writing a biography of Susannah Spurgeon. If you would like to invite Ray to speak for your next event, his contact information can be found here.