Posts Tagged ‘William J. Petersen’

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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