The Dancing Puritan

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Susannah Spurgeon's Words of Comfort to Sick and Sorrowful Souls

A Cluster of Camphire: Susannah Spurgeon

Though Susannah Spurgeon was not as prolific an author as her husband Charles was, her writing had a poetic and yet practical quality about it that was similar to his.

Susannah wrote three devotional books, two books about the "Book Fund" that she managed, and was a major contributor to and co-editor of the massive four volume Autobiography of C.H. Spurgeon. Beyond that, she was a regular contributor to Spurgeon's monthly missive "The Sword and the Trowel" as well as the author of numerous tracts.

Today, I offer a few thoughts from "Soul Comfort" which is a chapter in Susannah's book A Cluster of Camphire: Or, Words of Cheer & Comfort For Sick and Sorrowful Souls. Susannah wrote this book after Charles Spurgeon died in 1892. It is not a stretch to imagine that this book was written as an expression of her own grief over the death of husband and the comfort that she found in Christ. There are 19 devotional readings in the book. Here are my thoughts about the book in general and "Soul Comfort" in particular.

1. She opens with Scripture (as she does in each day's reading). The first Scripture reading is Psalm 94:19, "In the multitude of my thoughts within me Thy comforts delight my soul." (KJV) Out of 19 readings in the book, six of them are from The Psalms, six from the Gospels, three from the Prophets, one from Exodus, one from Deuteronomy, one from 2 Corinthians, and one from Hebrews. There are eleven readings from the Old Testament and eight from the New Testament in A Cluster of Camphire. Susannah favors The Psalms and The Gospels

2. She prays Scripture. Like her beloved husband, Susannah starts with a passage but quickly turns to other texts in support of her theme. She seamlessly moves from Scripture to prayer to her own comments on the text. She prays for God to give her grace to "eat and drink abundantly" from "Thy table." She requests that God help her to speak of the "dainties" that his "love has provided." She requests of God that His truth will not only benefit her personally but, through her writing, that "the souls of others may enjoy the Heavenly manna, and be filled with the mingled and spiced wine of remembrance and expectation." She then prays that God will help her and her readers to better understand the Bible.

3. She Employs Scripture Throughout. In "Soul Comfort" she starts with Psalm 94:19, moves to The Song of Solomon, and then to 2 Corinthians chapter one. Along the way she picks flowers of Scriptural thought from both the Old and the New Testaments and places them in her devotional basket. It is obvious that she is very familiar with the whole of Scripture and is able to skillfully interact with various passages under her one theme of comfort. In this, she is very much like Charles.
Susannah Spurgeon picked flowers of Scriptural thought from the Old and the New Testaments and placed them in her devotional basket.
4. She is Conversant with Theology. In "Soul Comfort" she finds encouragement in God's grace. She writes of the doctrines of God's sovereign election, preservation, providential care, omniscience, and love. Mrs. Spurgeon not only knew the Bible, she understood how the parts of Scripture fitted into the whole of Scripture. For Susannah, deep theology was not first the trade of the professional theologian but was needed by and belonged to every Christian.

5. She Writes With a Practical Aim. She wants her readers to find comfort in the truths of God's election, preservation, providence, omniscience, and love. She sees Biblical language as food to nourish one's soul and wine to cheer one's heart. Susannah was a Calvinist. She believed, embraced, and found comfort in the doctrines of God's sovereign grace. For her, the doctrine of election was not first a subject for debate but a truth designed to "comfort our hearts" and to give us "good hope through grace." When meditating on the doctrine of God's preserving grace, Susannah declares: "If we would trust Him for the keeping as we do for the saving, our lives would be far holier and happier than they are." She argues that Christians miss much comfort by not pondering deeply God's preserving grace. When describing God's providential care, Susannah concludes: "Yes, truly, God's care for us is one of the sweetest comforts of our mortal life." She continues with a practical aim as she considers the doctrines of God's omniscience and of his love. For Susannah, the place for biblical theology was not the ivory tower of academia, but the heart, hands, and feet of the child of God.

For Susannah, the place for biblical theology was not the ivory tower of academia, but the heart, hands, and feet of the child of God.
6. She Writes Beautifully. There is no virtue in extolling the attributes of God in a vehicle of dull language. Susannah is captivated by God's grace and poetry springs from her heart, to her lips, through the nib of her pen, and then to her paper. Her lovely language is obvious throughout A Cluster of Camphire. One example is from her musing on the love of God. She asserts: "This truth has been running through the fields of previous thought, as a silver streamlet glides through the meadows;––here, it should deepen and expand to a broad and fathomless ocean, had I the power to speak of its height, and depth, and length, and breadth, and to tell of the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge." Susannah could have simply written that God's love was obvious in all of the other doctrines that she had expounded in her chapter. However, she chose to write of truth as a "silver streamlet" that "glides through the meadows" and ultimately into the "fathomless ocean." Even with such descriptive language, Susannah felt that her pen was wholly inadequate to describe the love of God.

Susannah Spurgeon's A Cluster of Camphire is marinated in Scripture and practical in application. It is poetic, descriptive, and beautiful in its presentation of Christ as the Christian's comfort. Read it to challenge your mind, warm your heart, and change your life.