A book with a funny title.

February 8, 2009

I just finished reading Marriage to a Difficult Man: The Uncommon Union of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards by Elisabeth D. Dodds.

I’ve been meaning to read it since reading Noel Piper’s Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God a few years ago.  Piper quotes frequently from this book, and after reading Piper’s chapter about Sarah Edwards, I wanted to read some more about this woman who’s usually obscured in the shadow of her husband (not that that’s a bad thing).

But it does have a funny title.  It also doesn’t help that the title, Marriage to a Difficult Man, is written with bold yellow lettering on a dark and somewhat somber cover.  Noel Piper related how her 10-year old son went up to her and asked with a concerned look, “Does Dad know you’re reading this?” when she was using it as a resource for her own book.  I was surprised I didn’t get any comments from people when I read it in public, but on my third day of reading it, my brother gave me kind of a funny look and asked, “Dude, what are you reading?”

This book was full of little nuggets here and there, but here’s the nugget that outgleamed them all (for me):

When Burr [Esther Edwards’ husband] suggested to Belcher that his name go on the building, Belcher declined, with the graceful retort that he aspired to be “useful rather than conspicuous.”

It’s somewhat of an “aside” and has little to do directly with Jonathan or Sarah Edwards, but it gripped me nonetheless.

Here this great man, Belcher, had the opportunity to have his name engraved and “preserved” on the new building of what is now Princeton University, yet he declined.  He loved Christ, and he simply wanted to be useful for his Lord.  He didn’t want his name (and in connection, his person and his deeds) to be inscribed in large letters on some grand edifice.  In fact, God forbid he become so conspicuous that people remember him and praise him rather than Christ.

To be useful and not conspicuous.  That was his aspiration, because Christ’s glory was his ultimate aim.

And that was how Jonathan and Sarah Edwards lived, too.  Though Jonathan Edwards made such an impact, his day-to-day ministry for much of his life was in a parish where he was misunderstood and little regarded.  And maybe many women today would chafe at the thought of Sarah Edwards managing the day-to-day affairs of her home rather than launching a more conspicuous career, but her own glory wasn’t her aim.  She desired to be useful, and none can dispute that God has long blessed the work of her hands … and her heart.

The book had its share of the author’s interpretation and twist on matters, but then again, so does this post. :]


14 Responses to “A book with a funny title.”

  1. garnet Says:

    ooh i remember reading about it in noel piper’s book! is it a good read? would you recommend it to me? : )

  2. tia Says:

    garnet: absolutely! i think you’ll enjoy it. nothing mind-grappling like your g.k. chesterton or c.s. lewis (haha), but it’s an illuminating read into the lives of j. & s. edwards!

  3. Cassandra Says:

    Sarah Edwards sounds like my kind of gal.
    And although Belcher was a great man, I had to giggle when he said he didn’t want to conspicuously have his name on a building because well, it is a funny name! =)

  4. tia Says:

    cassie: i considered making a comment about his “unfortunate” name, but i didn’t want to offend anyone who might still have that name … but since you mentioned it, just between the two of us: hehehe.


  5. David Says:

    In the same vein – I was at a funeral on Friday of a man who, before he died, had been asked which hymn he wanted. Apparently he replied, without hesitation, “When I survey the wondrous cross… then the focus will be on the Prince of glory and not on me”.

  6. tia Says:

    david: that’s awesome. he must have delighted God’s heart with those words. they’re a little reminiscent of john the baptist’s “He must increase…” thanks for sharing that!

  7. jennifer lee Says:

    are you taking good care of my books?
    no bending back the covers! no sticking pens or pencils in the middle and closing the covers on them! =)
    (i love you, but i’m not kidding)

    and thank you… i don’t remember the belcher (hehe) part, but i do remember “his day-to-day ministry for much of his life was in a parish where he was misunderstood and little regarded”
    that is the impression of edwards that stays with me most. as i read about his early life as a young believer, that keeps coming back and i am heartened to think of this proud young man who grew up to be a quieter, albeit still struggling with pride, older man.

  8. tia Says:

    jenn: with the exception of several coffee stains and torn pages, they’re in mint condition! ;] (i love you, and i’m kidding)

  9. cathiekimn Says:

    Sounds like a good book… I’ll add it to my growing list. :] Steven & I are reading through “Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor” by D.A. Carson, a biography on his dad Tom Carson. I’ve just read the preface and the first chapter, but Tim Challies says it was one of his favorites of 2008. That’s high praise! I’m so excited :]

  10. nathan Says:

    agghh! ugly pride. It reminds me of when Jesus says to shine the light so that people may see (us!) and that they’d glorify God in heaven b/c of it.

    Kinda makes reverse sense. Recommend any good edward biographies? There are too many, and i just listened to some old resolved sermons and was reintrigued!

  11. tia Says:

    cathie: i know what you mean by the growing list … let me know how the rest of that book is! (i value your opinion just as much as tim challies’s!)

    nathan: you (probably) can’t go wrong with the edwards biography by john piper. but sorry, i can’t say i’ve read any other biographies about him … i’ve read more about sarah! :]

  12. Caroline Says:

    mm…i love that quote. 🙂

    i’m trying to buy some biographies. do you have any recommendations?

  13. tia Says:

    yes! not in any particular order …

    a chance to die (amy carmichael) by elisabeth elliot
    shadow of the almighty by elisabeth elliot
    elizabeth prentiss by sharon james
    c.t. studd by norman grubb
    autobiography of charles spurgeon by … :]
    the hidden smile of God (bunyan, cowper, and brainerd) by john piper
    a passion for the impossible (lilias trotter) by miriam rockness
    faithful women and their extraordinary God (on several women) by noel piper
    and any book in the “church leaders of the last century” series by j.c. ryle
    12 extraordinary women by john macarthur
    12 ordinary men by john macarthur

    i like biographies ……..

    anyone else, feel free to add to this list!

  14. Jessica Says:

    There’s another interesting biographical book written by Edna Gerstner titled “Jonathan and Sarah Edwards: An Uncommon Union.” I haven’t read it yet, but looking forward to read it in the near future. 🙂

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