Mrs. Mowery is a former school teacher, and currently a wife and mother in Loveland Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.
Eight Women of Faith by Michael A. G. Haykin. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016. 160 pages. Paper. [Reviewed by Sarah Mowery.]
There is great value in reading Christian biography. In the words of, the witness of those who have lived—and died—by faith encourages us to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us” and “run with patience the race that is set before us.” Arguably, the majority of Christian biographies are about men, men whom God used mightily in the preservation and reformation of His church and in the spread of the gospel to foreign lands. Eight Women of Faith is precious because it serves as a reminder that women, too, are given vital roles in Christ’s church, supporting roles though they may be.
The book consists of brief sketches of eight godly women. Two of the women were single. Of the six who married, three were childless. All embraced the faith of the Protestant Reformation; some identified as Evangelicals, others as Puritans, and several, like the author, were Baptists.
The first chapter of the book is set in sixteenth-century England and recounts the witness of Lady Jane Grey. Jane’s legacy lies not in her nine-day reign over England in the middle of the sixteenth century, but in the earnest, eloquent defense of the Protestant faith she gave even as she faced execution. Though only sixteen years old, she loved not her life unto the death. The description of her witness on the scaffold moved me to tears. Though faced with persecution in seventeenth-century England, Margaret Baxter, the wife of Puritan minister Richard Baxter and the subject of the book’s second chapter, served as a succorer not only of her husband, but of many others as well. Bountiful fruit radiated from the Baxter’s loving, God-centered marriage. In chapter three, Haykin describes how twice-widowed Anne Dutton ministered with her pen, publishing critiques of John Wesley’s Arminianism and his teaching that Christians can attain “entire, sinless perfection” in this life as well as an exposition of Calvin’s view of the Lord’s Supper. Near the time of Mrs. Dutton’s death in 1765, a friend described her this way: “A woman of seventy-four laden with the fruits of the spirit.”
The reader crosses the Atlantic in chapter four to consider Sarah Edwards’s profound, perplexing “views of divine things.” I have read about Sarah’s extraordinary encounters before and especially appreciated Haykin’s note that “Sarah’s experiences were proven genuine by her refusal to look for God in any other place but his divine Word.” I also appreciated the attention that he gives to the fruits of these experiences, namely, serenity and absolute submission to God’s sovereignty, even as she attended to the “worldly business” that, as a mother of eleven children, constituted so much of her “service of God.” Chapter six also bears testimony to the godliness of Sarah Edwards: her daughter Esther Edwards Burr was also a notable woman of faith. Esther esteemed Christian friendship characterized by religious conversation as “one of the best helps to keep up religion in the soul” and lamented the neglect she saw in fellow believers when it came to the cultivation and maintenance of such friendships.
British hymn-writer Anne Steele is the focus of chapter five. Though plagued by ill health for most of her life, Anne was a prolific author of hymns that extol our glorious Savior and His sacred Word. Haykin writes about a third American in chapter seven. As a young woman, Ann Judson determined “to give up all my comforts and enjoyment here, sacrifice my affection to relatives and friends, and go where God, in his providence, shall see fit to place me.” That place was Burma, the foreign land to which Ann accompanied her husband Adoniram, the first American missionary, and where she faithfully labored with him until her death at age 36 in 1826. The subject of the last chapter of the book is likely its most famous: novelist Jane Austen. Haykin quotes a prayer that Jane wrote in its entirety. It is a “simple, unvarnished prayer” that evidences a “deep and sincere religious [Christian] faith.”
Eight Women of Faith is interesting and informative, but by no means exhaustive. It is a delicious hors d’oeuvre that serves to whet the appetite for more Christian biography. The author’s extensive notes at the back of the book might be a good place to look for your next course.