Marriage is under attack in our day; there is little doubt about it. We need only look to the divorce rates among professed Christians to see that believers have been far from immune from the spirit of this age. In his new book The Christian Lover: The Sweetness of Love and Marriage in the Letters of Believers, Michael Haykin says that “reading expressions of love from the past can be a helpful way of responding to the frangibility of Christian marriage in our day.” And so he offers a collection, a small anthology, of letters from husbands to wives and wives to husbands–letters that share the beauty of the gift that is marriage.
The book gets off to a bit of a slow start with letters from Martin Luther and John Calvin. Luther’s letters to his wife Katherine display more of a strange sense of humor than a passionate love for his wife while Calvin’s, which are actually letters to others after the death of his wife, show a man who grieves for the wife he both loved and respected, but who reveals little about that love. However, Haykin states that he included these letters to combat the common but false perception that Calvin was a dour man who lacked passion. The next letter is one from Lucy Hutchinson to her children, telling them of the love she shared with their father, John, a Puritan military commander.
The book continues and grows increasingly interesting chapter-after-chapter. There are letters between Phillip and Mercy Doddridge, Thomas and Sally Charles, Samuel and Sally Pearce, and others. Allow me a moment to share a few of my favorite excerpts.
On the first day of a new year, Adoniram Judson writes Ann, his wife-to-be of the life that awaits them on the mission field:
May this be the year in which you will change your name; in which you will take final leave of your relatives and native land; in which you will cross the wide ocean, and dwell on the other side of the world, among a heathen people. What a great change will this year probably effect in our lives! How very different will be our situation and employment!! If our lives are preserved and our attempt prospered, we shall next new year’s day be in India, and perhaps wish each other a happy new year in the uncouth dialect of Hindostan or Burma. We shall no more see our kind friends round us, or enjoy the conveniences of civilized life, or go to the house of God with those that keep holy day; but swarthy countenances will everywhere meet our eye, the jargon of an unknown tongue will assail our ears, and we shall witness the assembling of heathen to celebrate the worship of idol gods. We shall be weary of the world, and wish for wings like a dove, that we may fly away and be at rest. We shall probably experience seasons when we shall be “exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” We shall see many dreary, disconsolate hours, and feel a sinking of spirits, anguish of mind, of which now we can form little conception. O, we shall wish to lie down and die. And that time may soon come. One of us may be unable to sustain the heat of the climate and the change of habits; and the other may say, with literal truth, over the grave:
By foreign hands the dying eyes were closed;
By foreign hands thy decent limbs composed;
By foreign hands thy humble grave adorned.
Here is a brief portion of quite a lengthy letter from John Broadus to his wife Lottie (Charlotte):
Lottie, it is possible–of course it is–that I may not see you anymore. Four weeks, four weeks and I may have ceased to breathe. So I’ll tell you right now, here in the still night, in the room where at this hour we have often fallen asleep together, in the house where I first won your timid consent to be my bride, that I love you more now than ever before, more and more every year of the five–that I love you as much as I ever loved any other, or ever could have learned to love anyone that lives.
Lottie, won’t you love me too–don’t you? Won’t you pour all the wealth of your woman’s love, undoubting, without any reserve, into my bosom, and let it flood my soul with sweetness? Won’t you unlock every recess of your heart, and let all its affections rush forth in one rich, full tide of love? Won’t you forgive [me] if I have sometimes been exacting, apparently neglectful–won’t you forget that you have ever yielded to one moment’s skepticism about my love–won’t you just surrender your whole heart to trustful and joyful affection for your lover and your husband?
Some of these letters reveal an aspect to a person that may seem surprising or unexpected. Here is such a letter from Martyn Lloyd-Jones to his wife Bethan:
My dear Bethan,
Thank you for your letter of this morning, though I am very angry that you should have been up till 11.30 p.m. writing it! I see that you are quite incorrigible! The idea that I shall become used to being without you is really funny. I could speak for a long time on the subject. As I have told you many, many times, the passing of the years does nothing but deepen and intensify my love for you. When I think of those days in London in 1925 and ’26, when I thought that no greater love was possible, I could laugh. But honestly, during this last year I had come to believe that it was not possible for a man to love his wife more than I loved you. And yet I see that there is no end to love, and that it is still true that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I am quite certain that there is no lover, anywhere, writing to his girl who is quite as mad about her as I am. Indeed I pity those lovers who are not married. Well, I had better put a curb on things or I shall spend the night writing to you without a word of news.
The letters of Helmuth von Moltke to his wife Freya give an interesting glimpse of a man’s reflections upon life and marriage as he prepares for death–how he may stir his wife’s heart with the blessed good news of the gospel. It shows, as well, a man who perceived his wife as a great gift from God:
And now my dear, I come to you. I have not included you in my list because you, my dear, stand in a totally different position from all the others. You are not one of God’s agents to make me what I am, rather you are myself. You are my thirteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Without this chapter no human being is truly human. Without you I would have accepted love… . But without you, my dear, I would not have “had” love. I should not think of saying that I love you; that would be quite false. Rather you are the one part of me, which would be lacking if I was alone… . It is only in our union–you and I–that we form a complete human being… . And that is why, my dear, I am quite certain that you will never lose me on this earth–no, not for a moment. And this fact it was given us to symbolize finally through our common participation in the Holy Communion, that celebration which was my last.
In the Introduction to The Christian Love, Haykin says rightly that “Anthologies such as this one are inevitably somewhat eclectic and reflect personal preferences.” This is right and good. Though Haykin has inevitably chosen letters by a process that is somewhat less than objective, he has chosen well. I very much enjoyed reading this small collection of letters and commend it to you. With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, this may well be a good gift for your spouse. Read it and be blessed. Read it together and be doubly blessed.