Posts Tagged ‘famous Christian marriages’

How much do you know about great Christian leaders like John Knox, William Carey, David Livingstone, John Bunyan, and Johann Sebastian Bach?

If you’re like most Christians, probably not much.  But these men – and their wives – paved the way for evangelical Christianity to make significant inroads into their cultures … and our world.

I just finished reading all 502 pages of William J. Petersen’s book 25 Surprising Marriages: How Great Christians Struggled to Make Their Marriages Work by reading a mere 6 pages per day … and I didn’t want the book to end.

In fact, when I was done, I immediately wrote a glowing review of the book on Amazon:


Why did this book resonate with me so much?

First, I learned so much about the accomplishments of these impactful Christian leaders.  For example, did you know that:

*Hudson Taylor shocked his missionary colleagues in China by dressing like a Chinese teacher … complete with shaved head and pigtails?

*John Knox laid the groundwork for modern democracy by challenging Scotland to fight against unjust rulers?

John Knox House, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland
John Knox House, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland

*George Muller built orphanages in England by faith and prayer … and without asking for either public or private funds?

*William Carey – British missionary to India – learned foreign languages like Greek, Latin, Hebrew, French, Dutch and Italian in his spare time?

*David Livingstone sought to explore the interior of Africa because he believed that if slave traders got there first, Africans would never be open to the gospel?

*John Bunyan used to play tipcat – an early form of baseball – on Sunday afternoons?  (Had to throw that one in.)

*Francis Schaeffer was unknown outside his small denomination until he was in his fifties?

*When Johann Sebastian Bach was offered the job of music director in Leipzig, a councilman mumbled, “Since we cannot get the best, we will have to be satisfied with a mediocre one?”

*The great Jonathan Edwards – one of America’s premier thinkers – was forced out of his first pastorate?

*Adoniram Judson – an American – was imprisoned and tortured because the Burmese couldn’t distinguish Americans from Brits?

*John Calvin made so many enemies in Geneva that people used to name their dogs “Calvin?”

The Christian faith didn’t start the day you were born.  Our faith largely comes from Europe – especially Germany – through England and Scotland to the US.  The story of how it came to us is fascinating.

Second, I learned that getting and being married can be agonizing!

Did you know that:

*Hudson Taylor wrote Maria’s uncle in England to request her hand in marriage, unaware that Miss Addersley (Maria’s guardian and employer) had written to ask the uncle to turn down the proposal?

*Martin Luther married a runaway nun?  (Luther said that his marriage would “please his father, rile the pope, make angels laugh and devils weep, and would seal his testimony.”)

Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany
Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany
Place where Luther posted his 95 Theses, Castle Church
Place where Luther posted his 95 Theses, Castle Church

*C.S. Lewis married a former avowed atheist and Communist who had been divorced … and when he finally married Joy, they hid it from almost everybody?

*John Wesley did not marry Grace – the woman he really loved – because his brother Charles (the great hymn writer) arranged for Grace to be married to another man?

John Wesley Statue in front of Wesley Chapel
John Wesley Statue in front of Wesley Chapel, London

*John Wesley then married Molly, and that their marriage was “a miserable failure,” causing Wesley to write later in life, “Love is rot?”

*William Carey’s wife Dorothy became severely depressed in India … and never really came out of it?  (Some think she went insane.)

*David Livingstone disappeared for 4 1/2 years while exploring the interior of Africa … and that his wife assumed that she would never see him again?  (She did.  When I saw his memorial in Westminster Abbey, I was so moved that I burst into tears.)

*Billy Graham’s wife Ruth once dug her shoes into Billy’s shins (so he would avoid discussing politics) when US President LBJ asked Billy who his running mate should be before the 1964 election?

*John Bunyan was 31 when he married his second wife Elizabeth … and that she was only 16 or 17?

Tomb of John Bunyan, Bunhill Fields, London
Tomb of John Bunyan, Bunhill Fields, London

*Francis Schaeffer first met Edith by ordering her to break a date with another guy?

*Jonathan Edwards and his wife Sarah lived in a state of siege and rarely left their house for three years during the French and Indian War?

*Adoniram Judson’s wife Nancy developed a liver ailment in Burma and sailed to America for treatment … returning 28 months later?

*John Calvin put together a search team to find him a wife … and after three recommendations, was still a bachelor?

Third, I learned that these leaders willingly suffered for their faith in Christ.

Compared to these men and women, Hollywood knows little about love … and we Christians know little about suffering.

So many of these great leaders lost infants in childbirth and lost children to diseases.

They worried about finances … endured incredible hardships … and did it all because they believed God had called them to their particular ministry.

Missionaries like Hudson Taylor, William Carey, and Adoniram Judson and their wives sailed for months before arriving at their destinations.  Once they arrived in Asia, they not only faced hardships from the native people, but also from fellow missionaries.

And these people gave up so much to serve Christ.  For example, before Adoniram Judson sailed for Asia, he wrote the following letter to Nancy’s father:

“I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death.”

Surprisingly, both Nancy and her father agreed that she could marry Adoniram – who became the first American foreign missionary – even though she never saw her family again.

Finally, I resonated with a few of these leaders more than others.

I love Charles Spurgeon’s command of the English language … Billy Sunday’s affinity for baseball … John Knox’s courage in preaching God’s Word … and the desire of Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin to study and write without messing with “people problems.”

I could also relate to the fact that some of these leaders – notably Luther, Bach, Schaeffer, and Calvin – struggled at times with their temper.

Out of them all, I was more amazed by the stories of the missionaries – the Careys, the Livingstones, and the Judsons – than any of the rest.

In fact, some were so moving and meaningful that somebody should turn them into films.  We need to hear these stories … especially in our churches.

My prayer is that you will hear them too … by obtaining Petersen’s book and reading them for yourself.

Let me know what you think!

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Have you ever wanted to peak inside the marriage of a well-known Christian pastor, evangelist, or missionary?

That’s the goal of William Petersen’s delightful book, 25 Surprising Marriages: How Great Christians Struggled to Make Their Marriages Work, published by Timothy Press.

In the early 1980s, Petersen published a little paperback called Martin Luther Had a Wife.  The book contained 5 stories of great Christian leaders and their marriages.  Over time, Petersen published 4 similar books (I bought all 5), now compiled into one volume.

I read a few pages of each biography during my quiet time with the Lord, and I have found Petersen’s marital portraits to be encouraging, inspiring, and occasionally disturbing.

Let me share some of the more interesting/disturbing aspects of the first five couples portrayed in the book:

*John Newton was heavily involved in the slave trade from Africa to England before he became a believer.  He was guilty of deserting a ship, having indiscriminate sex with slaves (even raping one woman), and mocking Christ and the gospel.  After he finally came to Christ, he was refused ordination by the Church of England.

Yet he was so head over heels in love with Polly that his life eventually changed.  I can’t imagine anybody in our day waiting as long as John waited for Polly.  As I was reading about their romance, I thought to myself, “This is a far better story than most Chick Flicks in our day.”  He went on to become a small-town pastor, a prominent Christian leader, and the co-author of “Amazing Grace” as well as writing an autobiography, Out of the Depths.

*Dwight Moody was turned down for church membership the first time he applied.  Once an ambitious shoe salesman, he was outspoken, dominant, and impulsive, while his wife Emma was more reserved and yet far better educated.  Some people called him “Crazy Moody.”

Moody became an evangelist, traveled a million miles, preached to 100 million people, and saw 750,000 come to Christ.  He also founded the YMCA and the Moody Bible Institute.  And yet when people were disloyal to her husband, Emma acted like they had committed an unpardonable sin.

*Charles Spurgeon – one of my few Christian heroes – loved to smoke cigars … got gout when he was only 35 years old … and died at a relatively young age.  Saved at 16, he became the pastor of Park Street Chapel in London at 19.  His wife Susie was 3 years older than her husband and frequently corrected his mistakes in language or history.  When Spurgeon went on a preaching tour, they hated to be separated.

Although he lacked polish and refinement (qualities especially important in London at the time), Spurgeon went on to found a college and an orphanage, edit a magazine, write 140 books, and become one of the greatest preachers in history.  His book Lectures to My Students is one of my prized possessions, especially his chapters on depression and handling criticism.

In Spurgeon’s day, the sermons of prominent pastors were reviewed in the newspaper, and Spurgeon’s messages were often dissected in a negative fashion, which greatly wounded him.  He suffered from depression throughout his life, yet maintained a joyful sense of humor.  During one hot spell in London, when Spurgeon’s deacons refused to do anything about cooling down the worship center, Spurgeon took his cane and knocked out every window in the place.  While I wish we had audio or video of Spurgeon’s preaching (that will have to wait for heaven), thank God that his sermons are still in print.  If you’ve never read Spurgeon, you can download some of his books for free for the Kindle.  A master of the English language, there has never been anybody quite like him.

*William Booth was moody and prone to depression.  When he asked that his membership with the Methodist Church be renewed, Booth was turned down.  Unable to find a denomination where they felt at home, Booth and his wife Catherine eventually founded The Salvation Army, probably becoming the greatest husband-wife team in Christian history.

Throughout his lifetime, it was generally conceded that Booth’s wife Catherine was a better preacher than he was.  She also wrote many of her husband’s messages.  (He would request a topic, and she would do the research and writing.)  But sadly, after Catherine died, 6 of their 8 children defected from The Salvation Army.

*Billy Sunday – a famous baseball player in his day (Ty Cobb eventually broke his record for stolen bases) – was a leading evangelist in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  He and his wife Nell served the Lord faithfully for decades.  He consulted with his wife on everything he did.  When the Sundays would enter a town, their goal … get this … was to convert 20% of the people to Christ!  Crowds would line up for 8-10 hours to hear him preach.  It is estimated that 100 million people came to Christ during his ministry.  Sadly, 4 of their children died horrible deaths … their oldest son by suicide.

What have I learned by reading about these marriages?

*It’s much easier to get married in our day.  John Newton had to convince Polly’s parents that he’d be an acceptable partner for their daughter … and the process took years.  Newton asked Polly to marry him 3 times … and she only accepted his third request.  Because they could only write each other letters (no texting or emails back then!), couples sometimes lost contact with each other for months.

*These men depended upon their wives and believed that their counsel was the voice of God to them.  After Polly’s death, John Newton wrote, “She was my pleasing companion, my most affectionate friend, my judicious counselor.  I seldom, if ever, repented of acting according to her advice.  And I seldom acted against it without being convinced by the event that I was wrong.”

*Christian leaders are human beings before they’re anything else.  They are not promised exemptions from mood swings … physical ailments … wayward children … and financial difficulties.  We sometimes think, “If only I was as spiritual as __________, then God would bless my life.”  But even those who appear spiritual in public struggle with their emotions and relationships behind the scenes.

On occasion, I’ll write more about the marriages of famous Christian figures, like C.S and Joy Lewis … Martin and Katie Luther … and Hudson and Maria Taylor.  They both fascinate and encourage me!


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