Several years ago Michael Haykin put together a short anthology of letters written by notable believers of the past about the subject of marriage. The letters provide interesting insight into a side of the Protestant Reformers, Puritans, and others that’s rarely seen in more traditional history books.
For example, John Calvin is often depicted as a cold and indifferent figure who loved theology but little else. Several of his letters, however, reveal that he also had a more tender side. Calvin cared deeply for his wife, Idelette. And when she died after an extended illness, Calvin poured out his grief in a letter to his friend Pierre Viret. On April 7, 1549, Calvin wrote,
Although the death of my wife has been exceedingly painful to me, yet I subdue my grief as well as I can…. Truly mine is no common source of grief. I have been bereaved of the best companion of my life, of one who, had it been so ordered, would not only have been the willing sharer of my indigence, but even of my death. During her life she was the faithful helper of my ministry (9-10).
A few days later Calvin wrote to Guillaume Farel describing his wife’s passing:
She was unable to speak, and her mind seemed to be troubled. I, having spoken a few words about the love of Christ, the hope of eternal life, concerning our married life, and her departure, engaged in prayer. In full possession of her mind, she both heard the prayer, and attended to it. Before eight she expired, so calmly, that those present could scarcely distinguish between her life and her death (11-12).
Many of the letters included in the book are of a very different sort. Luther’s letters to his wife, for example, are playful and quite humorous at points. The letters from Adoniram Judson to his future father-in-law and his future wife, Ann, depict the kind of sacrifice which the young missionary expected overseas ministry to entail. And the letter from Martyn Lloyd-Jones to his wife suggests a couple still very much in love after more than a decade of marriage: “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…” (88).
This great little book sits comfortably at the intersection of marriage and church history. If you are looking for a different kind of gift this Valentine’s Day, you might want to check this one out.