The Christian Lover: The Sweetness of Love and Marriage in the Letters of Believers
Michael A.G. Haykin with Victoria J. Haykin
Reformation Trust Publishing, 2009
Carl Trueman, Professor of historical theology and church history at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), captures well my response to The Christian Lover.
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.
I discovered this book while perusing my Facebook page – a friend had posted a link to the Kindle version offered for free at the time. I was interested because Michael Haykin is a personal friend whose work I appreciate, particularly his historical research of Calvinistic Baptists – a heritage that I happily want to share.
Michael Haykin is a prolific author and editor (see “Books & Papers” here), but this particular title struck me as so unique, I immediately downloaded it and began reading. I did not put my iPad down until the last word. Trueman is right: “An unusual book, certainly, but well worth reading.
Marriage has fallen upon hard times. Not only is western culture floundering on the very understanding of what constitutes marriage, the Christian church also seems increasingly comfortable with ending marriages for any number of reasons.
In his Introduction, Michael Haykin reminds us that:
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.
But as is sadly too often the case with many biblical principles, Haykin says:
A cursory study of the history of love and marriage within Christian circles will reveal, however, that this divine ideal has not always been heeded and , indeed, sometimes has been rejected.
He supports his assertion with examples of faulty views of marriage from such notable church fathers as Jerome (4th Century Bible scholar) and Augustine (Latin-speaking theologian of the same era). This influence carried in the Middle Ages through the influence of Bede (ca.673-735) and other Roman Catholic authors of that period.
Haykin believes that the Reformation brought, not only a “rediscovery of the heart of the gospel and the way of salvation”, but also “a recovery of a fully biblical view of marriage.” He gives the remainder of the Introduction to showing how Calvin (1509-1564), the 17th century Puritans, and 18th & 19th century evangelicals rehabilitated marriage, bringing it back to a solid, biblical foundation.
Correspondence between twelve couples spanning the 16th – 20th centuries forms to heart of this book.
Martin & Katharina Luther
John & Idelette Calvin
John & Lucy Hutchinson (17th Century)
Philip & Mercy Doddridge
Benjamin Beddome & Anne Steele
Henry & Eling Venn
Thomas & Sally Charles
Samuel & Sarah Pearce
Adoniram & Ann Judson
John & Lottie Broadus
Martyn & Bethan Lloyd-Jones
Each couple is introduced with a brief overview of the lives and ministries, followed by correspondence that passed between them. The letters reveal a full range of human emotion – deep and abiding love, concern for one another’s spiritual well-being, as well as genuine passion to serve the God they love.
I could not help notice how the language and writing style changed through the centuries, becoming tighter and much less adorned as they move toward the 20th century. Rarely, if ever, does one see the richness of expression evidenced in earlier times. Letter writing itself has fallen on hard times.
The marriages portrayed were not perfect, but they were rooted in love for God, commitment to God’s design for marriage, and devotion to one another as husband and wife. This is surely worth reading.