For most husbands - whether admitted to or not - these words are terrifying. I know. Having been asked to 'guest blog' on the subject of a husbands' role in marriage, I've been reminded again of my many short-comings. What a standard: as Christ loved the church.
Thankfully, help is at hand. As well as biblical examples and godly present day models of sacrificial husbandship, we have two thousand years of church history to instruct us. It's on this latter front that Doreen Moore's "Good Christians, Good Husbands?" offers a valuable resource. In this page-turning book, Moore examines the colourful marriages of three renowned evangelicals: John Wesley, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards. What becomes clear is that while all made a significant impact for the gospel worldwide, they were variously successful on the home-front:
John Wesley's marriage to Molly Vazeille has become notorious for its volatility. Biographers have variously described it as "one of the greatest blunders he ever made", "a preposterous union", "a martyrdom that lasted thirty years", "the fatal mistake", "a severe trial" and "a thirty years war." Another biographer summed up John's choice: "Had he searched the whole kingdom, he would hardly have found a women more unsuitable...than she whom he married."
If you needed witness to this, a shocking incident that a friend later recalled should suffice: Molly caught dragging John across the living room by the hair during an argument. The eventual result was a virtual split toward the end of their marriage. On a most sad note, John could finally record in his journals of being informed of Molly's death "a day or two after her burial."
What made for such an unhappy marriage? Moore, though not bypassing Molly, especially highlights John's shortcomings: 1) His haste in marrying; 2) His refusal to consult his brother Charles for marriage advice (as he had earlier vowed); 3) His innocent though naive expressions of affection to other women in letters- making Molly understandably jealous; and 4) His view that marriage was a seperate entity from his ministry and only valuable if it 'enhanced' that ministry.
George Whitefield, I'm glad to say, enjoyed a happier marriage . This, in spite of the fact that like his contemporary John, George was an enormously busy man. Even Wesley, who preached 40,000 plus sermons himself, could speak of Whitefield's "unparalleled zeal" and "indefatigable activity."
Nevertheless, Whitefield's marriage to Elizabeth James basically stood firm. Moore attributes a number of factors: 1) Although Whitefield promised 'not to preach or travel a single mile less' because married, he did talk this through with Elizabeth before tying the knot!; 2) Whitefield and Elizabeth were assured that their marriage was 'a calling from God', however hard it became; 3) Whitefield was more careful than Wesley in his relationships with other women, protecting Elizabeth against feelings of jealously whilst on his many travels.
Ultimately, though, Whitefield's marriage can't be said to have been all it might have been. "Ministry", as Whitefield understood it, finally trumped "marriage." In Doreen Moore's summary: "When they had been together, all was pleased. They were happy in Jesus and happy in one another. Ultimately, however, it was Whitefield's ministry that would have his heart."
Jonathan Edwards' marriage is portrayed most positively of the three. In this sense, Moore's book seems to move across a spectrum: from monstrous to mediocore to marvelous! Indeed, 'marvelous' might seem an appropriate word for Jonathan's marriage to Sarah. Statistically, they were married 38 years and had 11 sons and daughters. A recent study of 1400 Edward's descendants looks at the lasting impact, revealing 100 lawyers, 66 doctors, 13 college presidents, 30 judges, 65 professors, 80 public office holders, 3 senators, 3 governors, 1 vice president, and many pastors and missionaries from their lineage!
Beyond the quantities, however, there was also a great qualtity to their marriage. After a visit and brief stay in the Edwards' home, George Whitefield remarked: "A sweeter couple I have not seen."
What were some of the reasons for Jonathan's greater success ? Moore mentions: 1) His daily devotions with his family, which he did not fail to perform ; 2) His frequent conversation with his wife over 'matters of religion'; 3) His commitment to relaxation time with family each day.
However, the chief matter that distinguished Edwards marriage from that of Wesley and Whitefield was a biblical one. For Edwards, a man's responsibilities to his wife and church were not in conflict, at distance, or in order of priority. Moore sums up Edwards' view in this key paragraph:
"He saw himself as the preacher of his family, and equally as the preacher of his church. He also saw himself as the husband or parent of his family as well as the spiritual husband or parent of his church. He was marrried to the work of the Lord and he was married to his wife. He was a minister of the gospel both in his family and in his calling to vocational ministry."
So husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church - seeing your family as part of your ministry, not apart from it.
And wives, serve your husbands - drop this book into his Christmas stocking...
(Colin is married to Nicki and is an Assistant Pastor at Charlotte Baptist Chapel, Edinburgh.)