Life in Jesus: A Memoir of Mary Winslow, edited by Octavius Winslow. Reformation Heritage Books, 2013, 554 pages. ISBN: 978-1-60178-290-8. [Reviewed by Debra Poortinga.]
This book brings you into the spiritual life of Mary Winslow, who lived on this earth from 1774-1854. This book is a compilation of her written correspondence through diary and letters, preserved lovingly by her son Octavius, who took great pains in the careful editing of these materials to present to “sinners called to be saints” a heart made beautiful by the dawn of grace.
Mary Winslow experienced much joy and sorrow in her life. Her origin of birth was the Bermuda Islands, only child of Dr. George Forbes. At the age of 17 she married Lieutenant Thomas Winslow, whose lineage goes back to the pilgrim founders of Plymouth. They moved to England. God gave them 13 children. Three of the children died before the age of one. Her husband’s abrupt retirement from the navy enhanced their decision to settle in the United States. She left England with her eight sons and two daughters and household servants, preceding her husband by a couple months in order to prepare a home for him. As providence would dictate, adversity came her way. Her infant daughter died in her arms within a short time of her arrival on the new shores of America, and her husband died back in England from illness. Adjustment to the great change of life experiences grounded her more in the “rock of her salvation.” The letters that give expression to these deep adversities are a treasure to read. One cannot but be moved by her acceptance of God’s will for her as being tried by fire. God is indeed a Father to the fatherless and a Husband to the lonely.
Her letters and diary entries give us a peek at one long departed from this earth, who had a longing for the heavenly glories that render one silent. In her diary she presses the importance of having a strong, intimate, daily communion with Christ. She demonstrates devotion to His Word, patience through trials, the sweetness of confession, her love of preaching, and her love of family and the family altar. She shares her thoughts on slavery. She was a constant encourager to family and friends through correspondence and visits. And last but not in the least, there is her transparency of heart, where time and again she urges us to take every care and anxious thought to the throne of grace and hold nothing back. “Deal unceasingly with God as God deals unwearyingly with us.” Letters to her sons, three of whom became ministers of the Word, and to her one daughter, as well as other family correspondence, are endearing to read and share. She must have come to love Puritan theology, for references are often made to John Owen, John Bunyan, and Samuel Rutherford. She was stalwart in her defense of baptismal regeneration, which was in her day as well as ours a fiery topic.
The last chapter of this fine book takes you to the final days of her earthly pilgrimage. She loved the truth of the resurrection and spoke often of the moment of departure and the awakening into glory and seeing our Lord and Savior and all the saints that have gone before us.
I strongly encourage you to read this book as a devotional. It should be read prayerfully, in order that the truths expressed may be impressed upon your hearts. Do read the footnotes; they too are a good read for the soul. We live in a different world today, but we, like her, are living in the last days, and we possess the same hope of glory. If it were possible, I would love to have tea with Mary Winslow and benefit from her godly advice for our own pilgrim journey.