Jan 12, 2009

The Christian Lover: The Sweetness of Love and Marriage in the Letters of Believers

8 Min Read

Marriage is under siege in our time, and Christian unions are not going unscathed. Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin believes that love letters written by Christian husbands and wives of the past can help strengthen the ties that bind believing spouses today. In this anthology, Haykin brings together letters from one or both parties in twelve significant relationships from church history. The contents range from courtship communications to proposals of marriage to final words before dying, but most have to do with the ups and downs of married life. In the end, The Christian Lover is a celebration of marriage, an intimate window into the thoughts of men and women who were deeply in love with both God and one another.


Introduction - "How greatly are we inclined to the other sex," Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) observed in the spring of 1725 after he had met Sarah Pierpont (1710-1758), whom he would marry just over two years later. This observation serves as a concise summary of God's divine purpose in creating humanity male and female. At the heart of marriage, as conceived by God in the primal state, is the intention that the husband delight in and passionately love his wife, and vice versa.

xvi - For many in Western Europe, the Reformation in the sixteenth century was not only a rediscovery of the heart of the gospel and the way of salvation, long hidden under centuries of superstition and theological error, but a recovery of a fully biblical view of marriage. After the death of his wife Idelette in March 1549, John Calvin (1509-1564), for example, wrote to his fellow Reformer, Pierre Viret (1511-1571): "I am deprived of my excellent life companion, who, if misfortune had come, would have been my willing companion not only in exile and sorrow, but even in death." This simple statement from one of the central figures in the Reformation, who was normally very discreet about his personal feelings, reveals a view of marriage poles apart from that of medieval Roman Catholicism. For the Reformers and those who followed in their steps--such as the Puritans of the seventeenth century and the evangelicals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries--marriage had an innate excellence, was vital for the development of Christian affection and friendship, and was one of God's major means for developing Christian character and spiritual maturity.

xix - With the significant increase of divorce in Western societies during the past fifty years and the call for the legal recognition of gay and lesbian unions, there is little doubt that marriage in general is under heavy attack in our day. Neither are Christian marriages immune. Divorce has become a frequent option after serious marital discord for Christians, and homosexuality has not left Christian marriages unravaged. This small anthology grows out of the conviction that the Reformers and the Puritans were right on the big issues about love and marriage, and that thinking about the past with regard to this issue and reading expressions of love from the past can be a helpful way of responding to the frangibility of Christian marriage in our day.

Page 2 - At Easter 1523, Luther arranged for the escape of twelve Cistercian nuns in empty barrels from a nearby Roman Catholic nunnery. Luther found himself acting as a matchmaker for most of these women over the course of the next two years, until all were married save one, Katharina von Bora (1499-1552). She apparently had her heart set on marrying Luther. When they eventually did marry, in June 1525, Luther had a strange trio of reasons for his entry into the state of matrimony: "to please his father, to spite the Pope and the Devil, and to seal his witness before his martyrdom"! Those were not the most romantic of reasons for marrying, but Martin and Katie came to have a fabulous marriage. One gets a glimpse of the joy they found in each other when he stated, "I give more credit to Katherine than to Christ, who has done so much more for me."

Page 7 - If Martin Luther was the pioneer of the Reformation, his younger contemporary, John Calvin (1509-1563), should be regarded as the Reformation's systematic theologian. For nearly all of his ministry, from 1536 till his death in 1564, Calvin was in exile in Francophone Geneva. These years in Geneva were interrupted, though, by a period spent in Strasbourg from 1538 to 1541, and it was during that period that Calvin married. At the urging of a number of friends, including his close colleague Guillaume Farel (1489-1565), Calvin had drawn up a list of the attributes he sought in a wife. He was not really concerned with physical beauty, he told Farel on one occasion. Instead, he was looking for a woman who was chaste, sober-minded, prudent, patient, and able "to take care of my health." Farel told him that he knew just the woman, but it didn't work out. Then a woman from the upper class was proposed. But she couldn't speak French, about which Calvin was not at all happy. Calvin was also afraid that her social status might be an inducement to pride. Calvin's brother Antoine (d.1573), though, was keen about the marriage. So Calvin agreed to consider marriage as long as the woman promised to learn French. This was at the beginning of 1540. But by late March of that year, Calvin was saying that he would never think of marrying her "unless the Lord had entirely bereft me of my wits."

Page 38-39 - True Christian love, like that of Henry Venn for his wife, ever seeks to direct the beloved's affections first of all to God. Far from diminishing the affection between the human lovers, such a Godward focus deepens it. Such is the paradox of love between the sexes when rightly placed in subordination to love for God.

Page 44 - The love letters between Thomas and Sally [Charles], written throughout their married lives, provide a tremendous picture of what a Christian marriage should look like. The kind of forthright honesty Sally demonstrated with her future husband at the beginning of their relationship is essential to any strong Christian marriage. Honesty and transparency, however, are vital not only for the start of a relationship but for its continuance and growth. These letters also reveal how love is rooted in friendship. One's spouse must be one's best friend.

Page 66-67 - Samuel Pearce to Sarah Pearce [London, September 7, 1795]

. . . Every day improves not only my tenderness but my esteem for you. Called as I now am to mingle much with society in all its orders I have daily opportunity of making remarks on human temper and after all I have seen and thought my judgment as well as my affection still approves of you as the best of women for me. We have been too long united by conjugal ties to admit a suspicion of flattery in our correspondence or conversation. . . . I begin to count the days which I hope will bring me to a re-enjoyment of your dear company.

[Dublin June 24, 1796]

. . . For my part, I compare our present correspondence to a kind of courtship, rendered sweeter than what usually bears that name by a certainty of success and a knowledge of the suitableness of my dear intended. Not less than when I sought your hand, so I now covet your heart, nor doth the security of possessing you at all lessen any pleasure at the prospect of calling you my own, when we meet again the other side of St. George's Channel.12 . . . O our dear fireside! When shall we sit down toe to toe, and tête-à-tête again. Not a long time I hope will elapse ere I reenjoy that felicity.


Michael Haykin never ceases to surprise with his gift for producing unusual books on neglected aspects of church history. Here he gives his readers insights into the love lives of some of the great saints of the past, bringing out their humanity in touching and unique ways. An unusual book, certainly, but well worth reading.

--Dr. Carl R. Trueman, Professor of historical theology and church history Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pa

The Christian Lover is both insightful and inspirational. Your heart will be touched as you gain a brief glimpse into the love shared by these heroes of the faith. Be prepared for the unexpected. The passions of these couples will surprise you, but you will not be disappointed.

--Dr. Daniel L. Akin, President Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C.

Michael Haykin is to be congratulated for compiling this remarkable collection of beautiful love letters from some of the most significant and faithful Christian leaders in the history of the church. These inspiring letters, along with the informative introductions, will provide great strength and guidance for Christian couples at a time when the institution of marriage is facing challenges from numerous directions. I heartily commend this wonderful volume.

--Dr. David S. Dockery, President Union University, Jackson, Tenn.

In an era in which love is equated with the adolescent, hormonal romance of popular music, Michael Haykin serves the church with a decidedly different vision of Christian love. The Christian Lover demonstrates a deep, authentic view of Christcentered love.

--Dr. Russell D. Moore, Dean of the School of Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky.

The Christian Lover portrays some of our most revered historical personalities as men of deep marital love. Haykin's work enhances (rather than diminishes) the pictures we have of them as towering scholars, faithful pastors, pioneering missionaries, and bold martyrs. This epistolary anthology of the Puritan and Reformed divines' marital love may serve as a great buttress to the continued testimony of the goodness of marriage as the Creator's provision for a companionship of joy in the highest order. May all in the church who read these accounts of love be awakened to the passionate pursuit of the lifelong, unbreakable, satisfying relationship every marriage should be. My heart was stirred more with each letter.

--Rev. Eric C. Redmond, Pastor, Hillcrest Baptist Church, Temple Hills, Md.

C. S. Lewis once made the striking statement that "Christianity has glorified marriage than any other religion: and nearly all the greatest love poetry in the world has been produced by Christians." The Christian Lover provides a double lens by which to view the Christian ideal of wedded romantic love. One is the author's selection of a dozen Christian couples and their life stories. The other is a sampling of letters these men and women wrote, from which we can catch glimpses of what a romantic relationship between husband and wife can be--anytime, anywhere.

--Dr. Leland Ryken, Professor of English, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Ill.

About the Author

Michael HaykinDr. Michael A. G. Haykin is professor of church history and biblical spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., where he also serves as director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies. Dr. Haykin earned his B.A. in philosophy from the University of Toronto and his M.Rel. and Th.D. from Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto.

He is the author of numerous books, including One heart and one soul: John Sutcliff of Olney, his friends, and his times (Evangelical Press, 1994); 'At the Pure Fountain of Thy Word': Andrew Fuller as an Apologist (Paternoster Press, 2004); Jonathan Edwards: The Holy Spirit in Revival (Evangelical Press, 2005); and most recently, The God who draws near: An introduction to biblical spirituality (Evangelical Press, 2007).

Dr. Haykin and his wife, Alison, and their two children,Victoria and Nigel, live in Dundas, Ontario. They attend Trinity Baptist Church, Burlington, Ontario, where he and his wife are members and where he has served as an elder.

**Retail $15.00 | Ligonier's Price $12.00
Hardcover 4 x 6 | 101 Pages
ISBN 1-56769-111-0 | Released January 2009

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Table of Contents and Sample Chapter
High-Res Images: Front Cover | Back Cover