John Calvin

Life in Jesus

Octavius Winslow
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Soli Deo Gloria
340 Pages, cloth, $29.99

Life in Jesus is a most appropriate title for this cherished volume. By God's grace, Mary Winslow was one of those unusually gifted and vibrant saints whose walk of life and correspondence leave us both humbled and aroused - humbled, because we fall so far short of her standard of godliness in and through Christ Jesus; and aroused, because every line she writes fervently proclaims the worthiness and the amiability of the God and Savior whom we are called to serve with heart, soul, mind, and strength.
     Mary Forbes (b. 1774) was the only child of Dr. and Mrs. George Forbes. At age seventeen she married Lieutenant Winslow. Shortly thereafter, she came under spiritual convictions and was brought to gospel deliverance while pleading the promise, "Ask, and ye shall receive." Christ Himself spoke to her heart with power, "I am Thy salvation!" Her soul was saved and her burden of sin was gone.
     Throughout her checkered life, Mary Winslow experienced much joy and sorrow. Shortly after emigrating to New York with ten children, she lost her infant daughter. Before the baby could be buried, she received word from overseas that her husband had died as well. Widowed at forty, responsible for nine children, and scarcely settled in America, her entire life was turned upside down. Worst of all, spiritual darkness and despondency overwhelmed her for some months.
     Nevertheless, the Lord delivered her from all fears and darkness. He turned her darkness into light. Later, she could confess that affliction was for her welfare: "I think I have learned more of my dreadfully wicked heart and the preciousness of Jesus during this trial than I ever learned before." By gracious and seasoned experience, she learned how to habitually exemplify a spirit of unwavering faith in suffering. Moreover, God graciously granted her remarkable joys to balance her sorrows. He converted all of her children, fulfilling His promise to her that she should have an "undivided family" in heaven. Three of her sons became orthodox and able ministers of the Gospel; one of them, Octavius, would also become a well-known and prolific writer. It is he who skillfully interweaves comments about his mother's life throughout her numerous letters preserved in this volume.
     In Mary Winslow's letters her heart is revealed and profound spiritual lessons are communicated. As I reread Life in Jesus, I made a list of her most salient spiritual traits, of which some of the most prominent may be summarized and illustrated as follows:

1) Her intimate, daily life of communion with Christ. "Keep close to Jesus," she advises, "and you have nothing to fear from within or without."
2) Her continual disappointment with herself, combined with her refusal to be disappointed with her God.

I cannot trace a single thing I ever did in my whole life that affords me any real pleasure to look back upon, [but] when I have a glimpse of God as He is in Himself, as well as what He is to my soul, I sink in all my nothingness, melted into love, at His feet.

3) Her patience in adversity and thankfulness in prosperity:

I believe that every doctrine, as well as every word of God, is only effectually profitable as it is worked out by the trying providence of God in the soul's deep experience. . . . A thousand times have I thanked the Lord for all my trials and afflictions.

4) Her intense desire to observe spiritual exercises of faith in herself and in others, and her sorrow over the lack of such exercises. "Slumbering saints and dead sinners compose most of the congregations."
5) Her detestation for unbelief and exhortation to fervent wrestlings in prayer against it. "How much of needless care and anxiety does unbelief cut out for the tried believer in this wilderness world!"
6) Her determination to live by faith and not by sense. "They are two buckets - the life of sense, and the life of faith: when one goes up, the other goes down. . . . I am persuaded, the more we live by faith the holier and the happier we are."
7) Her uncompromising attachment to God's Word. Her son affirms that the "all-controlling principle of her life was the profound homage with which her whole soul bowed to the supreme authority of God's revealed Word."
8) Her longing to hear Christ richly preached in every sermon. To her son Octavius, she writes:

The more your sermons are filled with Christ, from first to last, the more will Christ honour your ministry. . . . The whole Bible points to Christ, and you must make it all bear upon the subject - Christ and the sum and substance of the whole. In Him, God and the sinner meet, and they can meet nowhere else. All the promises are in Christ Jesus, and we must get into Christ before we can get at the promises; and then they are all yea and amen to us.

9) Finally, and perhaps the gift in which the Holy Spirit enabled her to excel - her wrestling at the throne of grace, pleading the promises of God in prayer. "All night I continued in prayer, until, just before the dawn of day."
     Mary Winslow's letters are a veritable treasure of experimental and practical divinity. Living, vital Christianity is here set before us as an undeniable reality, flowing out of the resurrected Christ. In these pages we learn in her own words and by her example, how "to deal unceasingly with God as God deals unweariedly with us." The last chapter alone covering the final days of her earthly pilgrimage, is well worth the price of the book.
     We are grateful to Soli Deo Gloria for making this precious memoir available once more. For more than twenty years, I have longed to see this scarce work reprinted. The few used copies still in circulation have often been passed from one child of God to another in recent decades, but happily, Life in Jesus will now reach the hands and hearts of many more.
     Read this volume prayerfully. Use it as a daily devotional. Savor its godliness. As Mary Winslow advises, "Let us try to be more like Christ and less like ourselves." Let us pray that God may grant us more of that conformity to His Son which Mary Winslow so abundantly and graciously exemplified!

Dr. Joel Beeke
Grand Rapids, Michigan

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