High Profile Widows: Emma Moody and Susannah Spurgeon

Mother’s Day
Women’s History Month: March
Widows (and Orphans)

“My life as a happy one is ended! The world is gone for me! If I must live on … it is henceforth for our … children—for my … country, which has lost all in losing him.” ~Queen Victoria on the death of Prince Albert

Widowhood, it seems, falls naturally to older women; but regardless of when death comes, it has the same devastating effect. The widow feels the loss of headship. The head of the household is missing, and she must take up the reins of governing the home alone. Two of the most high-profile Christian women in history to suffer such loss were the wives of Dwight L Moody and Charles H Spurgeon, and one can only imagine that because these men were larger than life, the transition must not have been easy.

Dwight Lyman Moody (1837-1899) was the preeminent American evangelist of his day and one of the firsts, after George Whitefield, to have a megaministry. A native of Northfield, Massachusetts, Moody established, in his hometown, a girls school at Northfield (1879), a boys school at Mount Hermon (1881), Northfield Summer Conferences (1880), a publishing house named for and operated by his brother-in-law, Fleming H Revell, and the Colportage Library; in Chicago, Moody Church, Chicago Evangelization Society (1887), Moody Press (1894), and Moody Bible Institute (1899). Though this is little known, all his life Moody was active in the YMCA, which, in those days, was a religious organization, not a recreational center. Besides his day-to-day duties he engaged in mass evangelism in America and Britain with Ira D Sankey. It is said he traveled more than one million miles and addressed more than 100 million persons.

Moody visited Civil War battlefields and preached to soldiers who, he knew, could soon be going out into eternity without God. During the war (1862) he married Emma Charlotte Revell (1843-1903); they had three children: Emma Reynolds Moody (1864-1942), William Revell Moody (1869-1933), and Paul Dwight Moody (1879-1947). Their daughter Emma Reynolds Moody married Moody’s personal secretary, Arthur Percy Fitt (1869-1947), who would later write Moody’s biography. Their son William Revell Moody married Mary Whittle (1870-1963), daughter of Civil War soldier, Major Daniel Webster Whittle, who himself became a preacher after the war and traveled with Philip Paul Bliss. Daniel Whittle, who wrote “I Know Whom I Have Believed,” “Moment by Moment,” “There Shall Be Showers of Blessing,” et al, often visited in the Moody home. Paul Dwight Moody married Charlotte May Hull. Emma’s brother, Fleming H Revell, was Moody’s Northfield publisher. The publishing house lay across the highway from Moody’s homestead, which is beautifully situated overlooking the Connecticut River Valley. Moody’s homestead, his mother’s home, and Northfield School (now CS Lewis College) adjoin one another in a single panoramic view. Mount Hermon School is a few miles up the road.

Early in their marriage, the Moodys lived in Chicago and established a flourishing ministry there. But things changed the night of the Chicago fire (1871). Emma Revell Moody was only in her twenties. As she watched the city, the church, and their home burn and feared for her children who had been sent to safety, her hair turned white; it never regained its color. She was white-headed till the day she died. After the fire, the Moodys returned to Northfield. Though Moody kept his eye on the Chicago work, and visited there from time to time, he and Emma never again lived in Chicago.

RA Torrey, who knew Moody in Chicago and later pastored Moody Church, said of him: “Out of a very intimate acquaintance with DL Moody, I wish to testify that he was a far greater pray-er than he was preacher. Time and time again, he was confronted by obstacles that seemed insurmountable, but he always knew the way to overcome all difficulties. He knew the way to bring to pass anything that needed to be brought to pass. He knew and believed in the deepest depths of his soul that nothing was too hard for the Lord, and that prayer could do anything that God could do.”

If “we are immortal till our work is done,” we have to believe that God knew what He was doing when He took Moody at the premature age of sixty-two. Arthur Fitt tells of his dying, lying down, getting up, and exclaiming, “Earth recedes, heaven opens. I’ve been through the gates! Don’t call me back … If this is death, it is sweet!” A short while before, William and Mary Whittle Moody had lost their two young children: Dwight Lyman Moody (1897-1898) and Irene Moody (1895-1899). At death’s door Moody said, joyfully, “I see the children!” Being so much in and out of consciousness, and talking every time he waked, even rising and sitting in a chair, contemplating perhaps he’d live after all, he finally told the doctor to quit giving him hypodermics, that it was only prolonging the agony for the family. “I see earth receding; heaven is approaching. God is calling me. This is my triumph. This is my coronation day. It is glorious. God is calling and I must go. Mama, you have been a good wife … no pain … no valley … it’s bliss.” After the next relapse, he fell on sleep.

The presiding minister at Moody’s funeral was Cyrus I Scofield (1843-1921), pastor of the Trinitarian Congregational Church of East Northfield, Massachusetts, and editor of the annotated Scofield Reference Bible (1909). In his will Moody left Emma and Arthur in charge of the Chicago work and William in charge of the Northfield schools and property. Paul was to become president of Middlebury College, in Vermont. Emma and Arthur Pitt had one child: Emma Moody Fitt (1895-1970). William and Mary had more children: all girls. Paul and Charlotte had one child: Charlotte (1905-1950). Consequently, Dwight L Moody had no surviving male grandson to continue the name. Emma outlived her husband only four years; she died 10 October 1903 and was laid beside him at Old Round Top.

“Some day you will read in the papers that DL Moody of East Northfield, is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now; I shall have gone up higher, that is all, out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal—a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint: a body fashioned like unto His glorious body …. I was born of the flesh in 1837. I was born of the Spirit in 1856. That which is born of the flesh may die. That which is born of the Spirit will live forever.” ~Dwight L Moody

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) was to Britain what his contemporary Moody was to America. As you can see by their dates, their lives paralleled the Victorian Era. Moody was Evangelical; Spurgeon was Calvinist—though it would be too narrow to confine them to this strict nomenclature. Both were soul-winners and godly preachers. Both desired to see sinners come to Christ and to advance the kingdom of God on earth. Moody was primarily an evangelist; Spurgeon, primarily a pastor. Moody traveled across the United States and England: he was a man on the move. Spurgeon rarely left town; the farthest point he went was the south of France, for his health. Moody, a lay preacher, was undereducated and did not write well: he had a secretary for that. Though mentored, not formally educated, Spurgeon had a theological mind; he thought and wrote like a scholar. Both men suffered a deadly fire that altered their lives forever. Both left behind two sons to carry on their ministry. Like David, they served their own generation by the will of God (Acts 13:36).

Spurgeon, a firstborn, was the son of a preacher, James, and the grandson of a preacher, John. For some reason, his parents left the boy with his granddad. Charles had little formal education, but he was daily mentored by this old pastor, suggesting that an apprenticeship or internship may be more important than schooling. At age five he was reading Pilgrim’s Progress; at ten, theological studies. At fifteen, he was so good at math, an insurance company used his figures in an actuarial table.

At sixteen Spurgeon was converted at a Primitive Methodist Chapel (1850) in Colchester where he ducked for shelter during a snowstorm. Shortly afterward he became a preacher himself, being called the “boy preacher.” After much success in the pulpit, he was dubbed the “prince of preachers.” When someone suggested he was full of himself, Spurgeon remarked that if he was, he came by it honestly: since he’d preached his first sermon, no chapel was large enough to hold the people who wanted to hear him. Before he was twenty, he had preached more than six hundred times. At twenty, he was called to London’s famed Park Street Chapel, the largest church in the city, where he was to stay for the next forty years. The congregation outgrew Park Street Chapel, then Essex Hall, later Surrey Gardens Music Hall. At twenty-two, he was the most popular preacher of his day.

Susannah Thompson Spurgeon (1832-1903), slightly older than her husband, became his wife (January 1856) at age twenty-three. “[Before we were married, my mother] wisely reasoned 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” (Susannah Spurgeon).

It was an eventful year. Within ten months (September 1856) Susannah gave birth to twin sons: Charles and Thomas, the only children the couple were ever to have. A month later (October 1856) fire spread through Royal Surrey Gardens Music Hall as Spurgeon was preaching. The tragedy, which claimed lives as well as property, devastated him but did not stop him. “If we cannot believe God when circumstances seem to be against us, we do not believe Him at all” (Charles H Spurgeon). Five years later Spurgeon preached (1861) at London’s Crystal Palace to a congregation of near twenty-five thousand, without amplification. His usual sermon notes were no longer than a single page, and someone calculated he spoke at a rate of a hundred forty words a minute for forty minutes. Since he was not a handsome man, one must assume his voice was pleasingly deep and resonant and his sermons were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Indeed, he sometimes operated in the gifts of the Spirit, discerning specific sins in the congregation and calling sinners to an altar of prayer.

Like Moody, Spurgeon had a megaministry. Almost immediately he began publishing his weekly sermons, which, in time, were eagerly awaited even in the USA: Sunday newspapers in New York carried his column wired via transatlantic telegraph cable—providentially the cable was laid (1858) in time to carry the message.

Writing was one of Spurgeon’s gifts to the church: sermons, devotions, addresses, lectures, commentaries, autobiography, and his monthly periodical The Sword and the Trowel. Susannah helped with the Book Fund, a Christian literature society, designed to assist young ministers with acquiring a ministerial library. One of the most prized of Spurgeon’s offerings is his Treasury of David, a seven-volume commentary on the Book of Psalms.

He is still one of history’s most widely read preachers; his sermons alone, which sold more than 25,000 copies a week (1865) and were translated into more than twenty languages, fill sixty-three volumes. He founded Spurgeon College (1857); built Metropolitan Tabernacle (1861), which seated six thousand; created his own hymnal, using some of his own songs (1866); and opened the Stockwell orphanages (boys 1867, girls 1879). These were not mere church auxiliaries; at each one Spurgeon did the daily chapels and morning devotions. Since it was not unusual for him to preach ten or more times a week, it is estimated that in his lifetime he preached to more than 10 million people.

Spurgeon was a man of prayer. He credited his success to the fact that people were praying for him. He was active in prayer meetings and prayer gatherings. He knew what Jim Cymbala and the Brooklyn Tabernacle have learned: “Groanings which cannot be uttered are often prayers which cannot be refused” (Charles H Spurgeon). One day five young college students, spending a Sunday in London, went to hear Spurgeon preach. While waiting for the doors to open, the students were greeted by a man who said, “Gentlemen, let me show you around. Would you like to see the heating plant of this church?” Since it was a hot day in July, they were not particularly interested; but not wanting to offend, they consented. They were led downstairs, where a door was quietly opened and their guide whispered, “This is our boiler room.” Surprised, the students saw seven hundred people on their knees, praying for the coming service in the auditorium above. Softly closing the door, the gentleman then introduced himself: it was Charles Spurgeon.

Spurgeon was a man of the Word. During the Downgrade Controversy (1887)—the church was moving away from biblical inerrancy and the principle of sola scriptura—Spurgeon disaffilitiated from the Baptists, thus making his Metropolitan Tabernacle the largest independent church in the world.

Spurgeon did not approve of musical instruments and would not allow an organ in his church; the congregation sang a cappella. He smoked much of his ministry; but when someone asked his favorite brand, he gave it up—pipe, tobacco, cigars, and paraphernalia—saying he did not want to be remembered for his tobacco.

From a relatively young age, both Spurgeon and his wife suffered varying illnesses. Susannah was sickly and did not always attend church. Charles suffered gout, rheumatism, and Bright’s (renal) disease, for which he sometimes sought the warmer climate of southern France. He died prematurely, in middle age; Susannah outlived him by a decade, steadily working on the Book Fund. She gave Spurgeon’s marked Bible, bearing Spurgeon’s private handwritten notes, to DL Moody. She passed away 22 October 1903, less than two weeks after the death of Emma Revell Moody, thus ending an era.

After Spurgeon’s death, the pastorate of the Metropolitan Tabernacle passed to his son Thomas; Charles Jr took charge of the orphanages. The church suffered a series of misfortunes and downsizings. The Tabernacle, except the front portico and basement, was destroyed by fire (1898). It was rebuilt, but slightly smaller. It burned again during the Blitz of London (May 1941), again save for the portico and basement. It was rebuilt again (1957) on the same site, but on a different scale and design.

“Without Christ there is no hope.” ~Charles H Spurgeon

Copyright © 2012 Alexandra Lee

Photo Credit

About Christseekerk

Minister, Editor, Writer, Senior Citizen, Grown Children, Grandchildren. Interests travel, writing, reading, walking, golf.
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