The Death of Hannah Winslow
By her husband, Octavius Winslow, 1867
The writer shrinks from any express allusion to an event so personal and sacred to himself as that which the reader is aware suggested the subject of this address, and which now so affectingly and forcibly illustrates it. No other course, however, was open to him of meeting the numerous inquiries of distant friends, for whose sympathy he is sincerely grateful, and to whose wishes he would respectfully bow. The narrative is simple and brief.
On Monday morning, October the 8th, the writer left home to fulfill a pulpit engagement in town. Mrs. Winslow, with some members of the family, accompanied him to the station. Arriving half an hour before the departure of the train, an opportunity was afforded for that quiet, unreserved fellowship so rarely permitted amid the incessant and absorbing claims and excitement of professional and public life. It seemed as if a lifetime of thought and feelings were crowded within the space of that fleeting half hour! It was a remarkable circumstance, and this it was which gave a character and a history to the entire scene, that the writer was at the time suffering from a depression of spirits in a way quite unusual, and to a degree almost overwhelming.
A "horror of great darkness" came over him, tinging, at the moment, with its somber hue, every object upon which the mental eye rested. Even nature, painted with the brilliant hues of a warm autumnal sun, seemed to lose its beauty and its charm. He freely communicated his feelings to her who leaned upon his arm, treading with him. Alas — how unsuspected by either of us — the last stage of wedded life! I remarked to her that the words of Paul, when parting from the Ephesian Elders, most appropriately expressed what I then felt, "Behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there."
And now it was her mission to sympathize and comfort. And if ever, through a life of unswerving fidelity to duty and love, she rose to the loftiest height of that mission, it was then! From that moment — how fleeting and precious were those moments now — a tide of the most spiritual and consolatory thoughts, enriched with some of the most appropriate promises and portions of God's Word, flowed as a silvery stream from her lips. Her whole soul, animated to a degree, seemed moved with an inspiration from above. One of my daughters remarked that "she never saw her mamma appear so heavenly as then."
She dwelt with great earnestness upon . . .
the faithfulness of God,
the rectitude of all His ways,
the utter impossibility of any variation in His love,
the knowledge that Jesus had of all His people's needs,
and the power and readiness with which His heart was prepared to meet it.
The train appeared in sight and the moment of separation came. Her last words uttered in a rapid but tender tone of subdued earnestness were "we must look up, and not down; the Lord is all sufficient and will do all things well, good bye." And we parted.
Soothed in spirit and girt as with new strength, I fulfilled my engagement in town on Tuesday morning, the 9th, selecting as the basis of my discourse 1 Samuel 22:2, "And every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him, and he became a captain over them."
In illustrating the points of resemblance between David and Christ the true spiritual David, it was natural that prominence should be given to the idea of suffering as the school in which Christ, as the Captain of our salvation, was perfected in His work of obedience to the divine will, and equally perfected as the sympathizing High Priest of His Church — this suggesting another and a deeply consolatory thought that, if the discipline of suffering befit the sinless Savior — then how much more it became the sinful and imperfect sons of God whom he was bringing to glory; and that, though the pathway led through the furnace seven times heated, we should yet come forth sevenfold more compliant with the will of our heavenly Father, perfected in obedience, in holiness, and in every grace through suffering.
While engaged in this service, Mrs. Winslow was passing down the valley with the Captain of her salvation at her side, Himself perfected by "the suffering of death", skillfully and gently to lead her through its lone and solemn shadow safely and triumphantly up to glory.
On her return from the station on Monday morning, Mrs. Winslow called at the depot of the Religious Tract Society, and made a selection of some of its publications suitable for her "mothers class" which she had met weekly for more than nine years; and with whom, in the afternoon of that day, she closed forever her labors for Jesus on earth.
The temporal and spiritual blessing of which she had been the instrument to that humble circle, assembling in an obscure room beneath the sanctuary week after week for years, eternity alone will fully reveal. Many a neglected home has been made more home like, and many a dreary hearth has burnt more brightly — through her thoughtful and kind agency. But more blessed far than this — many a happy death bed has testified, and many a hidden gem decking her brow in eternity will witness, that, her quiet, unobtrusive service for Christ and for souls in this lowly sphere of Christian labor was not in vain in the Lord. The most touching spectacle at her funeral was the presence of many of her poor woman, clad in simple mourning, and grouped in tears and lamentations around her grave.
She spent the last evening of her life in the drawing room, in the bosom of her family, cheerful and happy. Towards its close she retired to her own room, and penned a few lines to him from whom she had parted in the morning. From the sacred interest which always attaches to a document of this kind, and, as reflecting the religious tone of mind and feeling which dictated it, as on the eve of eternity, the writer ventures to offer a short extract. It may be proper to simply premise that the approaching Conference of the Evangelical Alliance at Bath, together with a powerful work of grace then transpiring at Weston-super-Mare, had moved to its depths her spiritual and prayerful feelings, and had incited her to ardent longings that the "arm of the Lord" might be made bare in our midst.
She was most earnest that much prayer should precede the meetings of the Conference, importunate in her suggestion that the committee, in its preliminary arrangements, should include an especial devotional service on its behalf. This "burden of the Lord" lay with oppressive weight upon her mind; and the writer has reason to believe was, in her private devotions, transferred again to Him in the holy fervency of prayer. What relation this lowly incident may have had with the remarkably successful and happy result of the Conference, who can tell? Certain, that her sudden departure on the eve of its assembling, and her interment on the day of its opening, invested with a tone of subdued and hallowed feelings its introductory proceedings; and elicited on the part of the council, as from the meeting, a graceful and touching expression of Christian affection and sympathy.
The following is the extract. How firm the confidence in God which it breathes. How simple her faith in the power of prayer. How earnest her spirit for the increase of the Savior's kingdom and glory! May it be a word in season to him that is weary.
"I am quite sure that the Lord is determined to draw His dear people to a sole reliance upon Himself in this matter (the Conference), as well as in everything else. He has said, "Thus says the Lord God, I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them." Oh, that the Lord may awaken in us a deep spirit of wrestling prayer! Captain _________ told me that the work at Weston was the result of a few dear believers meeting together in prayer for the blessing which the Lord alone could give. He has graciously heard, and sent the answer. Let us wait upon Him for the heavenly blessing, and we too shall not be disappointed. There is indeed deep need of it!
"May the Lord bless and comfort you, strengthen your hands and confirm your feeble knees; for though the vision tarry, it shall surely come. May the Lord will fulfill the promise upon which He has caused us to hope. May he be near to you tomorrow, and enable you nobly to testify for a despised Jesus. May He anoint you for His great work, and bless you richly; for "those who water others, shall be watered themselves."
When this letter was delivered in town — she had entered the realms of glory, and was in the immediate presence of her Lord, Him breathing words of love and blessing as she went up into Heaven.
She arose on Tuesday morning, the 9th, with some degree of pain in the head, but with much animated solemnity of mind and warm glow of sweet affection. To one of the servants engaged in her room, she spoke with tender earnestness about her soul, taking her by the hand and exhorting her to discharge her duties as unto the Lord, in all things striving to live for eternity, and then most emphatically remarked, "We must all try and live lovingly together, not knowing how soon we shall be called to part." The maid retired from the room in tears.
After making her family arrangements for the day, she descended to the parlor and sat down to her work. By her side were found several of the tracts she had purchased the previous day, one of which bore the almost prophetic title, "Homeward Bound!" Soon after twelve o'clock one of her daughters entered the room and found that her mamma had apparently fainted. Alas! It was a stroke. She was partially insensible. Medical aid was in immediate attendance, and hopes were cherished that she would rally. A second stroke, however, quickly followed, and then all hope was gone. All that the highest skill could suggest, or the fondest affection apply, failed to retain a spirit for which the Lord had need, and for whose flight to glory attendant angels waited.
One ray, and one only, of mental consciousness for a moment trembled upon the dark cloud. She raised her hand and looked intelligently and earnestly upon her wedding ring, and then the portal of glory opened upon all of Heaven, and tranquility and peacefully her ransomed spirit was caught up to meet the Lord!
"No earthly clinging,
No lingering gaze,
No strife at parting,
No sore amaze;
Bur sweetly, gently,
She passed away!
From the world's dim twilight
To endless day!"
It was only of the closing scene that the writer ventured to speak. And yet, in concluding his brief sketch, he may be permitted to refer to one or two facts in her history glorifying to the divine and sovereign grace to which we ascribe all that she was.
Her conversion to Christ was remarkable. At an early age, and in the midst of a ball given by her father on her introduction into society, the Holy Spirit convinced her of the emptiness and vanity of the world, and of her deep need as a sinner of something more real to make her holy and happy. Overcome by her feelings, she seized a favorable moment and retired from the mirthful scene. And while the music was floating and the dance was swimming and the joyous laughter rang merrily throughout the hall, robed in her ball dress she was in her room — a lovely girl with the sunshine of but eighteen bright summers upon her youthful brow, prostrate in prayer and tears before God! What a spectacle for angels! How sovereign the grace of God! How marvelous His ways, and past finding out! She returned to the festive pageant — a changed and new creature!
Thus early began, and thus early and forever closed, her connection with the mirthful world. That world never lost one more fitted by nature to enjoy and adorn it, than when on that memorable night she bade it a solemn and lasting adieu. In youth surprisingly lovely, as, in later life, imperial in matronly beauty; elegant in her tastes, pure and simple in her mind, gentle and winning in her address — she was in every way eminently qualified to lend a grace and charm to its most brilliant and cultivated circles. But she "chose the better part." She tasted the world's cup of joy and found it lacking, then turned away and sought in true religion, nobler, more satisfying and enduring bliss.
That night she gave her heart to God. That night, in all the radiant brightness, in all the dewy freshness, in all the sweet fragrance, and in all the budding hopes of her youth — she consecrated her whole being to Christ. A few months later, she confessed the Savior before the world, and by a public profession of faith, united herself with the Christian Church; often, in after years, referring to the deep, almost ecstatic, emotion with which she joined on that interesting and solemn occasion in the well known hymn-
"Jesus! And shall it ever be,
A mortal man ashamed of Thee?
Ashamed of You whom angels praise,
Whose glories shine through endless days!"
Did she ever regret the choice she made? Never, to life's last and latest hour! From that memorable night until the moment that Jesus said to her, "Come up higher!" — religion's ways were to her ways of pleasantness, and all its paths were paths of peace.
O lover and follower of the world — sighing and thirsting for more than its poor, delusive joys can ever give! Turn from its shrine, its phantoms and dreams — and learn from her example to seek true happiness in Christ. Make her choice your choice, let her God be your God, her companions your companions, her life early devoted to the Savior the model of yours; and, as she died so you will die, in the blessed and assured hope of spending your eternity in Heaven, "ever with the Lord!"
Henceforth, until its close, suddenly and in its prime, her life in all its relations, duties, and trials, was the Lord's — regulated and hallowed by the holy principles of the divine religion she professed. As a mother, she was devoted, affectionate, and self-denying. As a minister's wife, she was sympathizing and helpful, often supplying a lacking link in pastoral service. As a friend, she was loving, gentle, and true. And yet, none were more acutely sensible of the many infirmities inseparable from a sinful nature, or the countless shortcomings attaching to a nature but partially sanctified by grace, than she.
The writer speaks as before God, and speaks it to His glory, that he never knew a saint cherish more profound views of personal unworthiness, or more gratefully acknowledge indebtedness to divine grace. And yet her love to the Savior was deep and ardent; it was more than a sentiment — it was a passion which swept her whole being onward in unreserved obedience to God, and in simple, quiet service for Christ.
Her social fellowship was a sweet example. She always shrank from making a mere formal, idle call. And when urged sometimes simply to leave a card of inquiry or remembrance, she would remark, "Oh, it looks so worldly!" She never paid a visit without gently introducing the subject uppermost in her mind and dearest in her heart — the all momentous subject of vital religion. Her conversation was a sweet savor of Christ in every place. And many now testify that that hallowed savor still lingers; and it will continue so to linger in undecaying power long after the place that knew her knows her no more. The perfume of Jesus' name never dies. The alabaster box which breathed it may be broken, the beautiful vase which contained it may be destroyed, but the holy fragrance lives forever!
Referring to her social life, it is but just to remark that it was almost entirely restricted to her visits among the sick and afflicted, and to her labors of love among the poor. But few were acquainted with these her shaded and quiet walks of usefulness. Her Christian work, like the glow-worm of night, shone the most luminous when no eyes but those of God were upon it.
She was a diligent and even a critical reader of the Bible. It formed a marked and instructive feature of her Christianity. The prophecies of Scripture especially engaged her thoughtful and prayerful study. Her acquaintance with prophetical truth was surprising, far beyond the ordinary standard. She read fulfilled prophecy in the light of past history, and she interpreted present history in the light of unfulfilled prophecy. It was to her a lamp shining in a dark place. Her prophetic views were sober and practical, their influence upon herself distinguished by . . .
a strong intellectual development,
deep spirituality of mind, and
singular heavenliness of life.
The coming of the Lord, and the illustrious events synchronizing with, and clustering around, this great central fact of prophecy, formed an especial feature of her study, and was the "blessed hope" that imparted a deep-toned solemnity to the present, and gilded with brightness all her future. More need not be said. She . . .
walked in close fellowship with God,
labored zealously for her fellow beings,
was entwined in the affections of all who knew her,
lived in patient waiting for Jesus, and
died a penitent and believing sinner, trusting alone to the blood and righteousness of her divine Redeemer, "looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life."
She is gone! "Nothing in her life befit her like the leaving it." Who does not envy such "an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ?"
Again we sadly exclaim, She is gone! Earth has one saint less — and Heaven one angel more. Standing before the throne, she has received the welcome and the diadem of her Savior, and is resting that once aching head, and yet deeper aching heart, upon the bosom of her Lord!
Instant death to her was Instant Glory!
She is not here. She is risen.
She is not here — her ransomed soul
Dwells in no vaulted tomb;
Its race was run — it spurned control,
And sprang to reach the heavenly goal
Before death had cast its gloom.
Before one tear was wept below,
Joy filled the courts above;
No parting pang was she to know,
God took her from a world of woe
To His own world of love.
Widely heaven's gates their portals throw,
Swiftly she passed to rest,
Eye has not seen what met her view,
As on the seraph's wing she flew
To lean on Jesus' breast.
The joys that to her soul belong,
No human thought can share,
Ear has not heard the rapturous song,
And wondrous harping of the throng
That hailed her advent there.
The mortal shroud alone waits here
To clothe that soul again;
When all the dead in Christ appear,
When perfect love has cast out fear,
When Jesus comes to reign.
This casket shall be glorious, when
The Savior's voice shall call;
But the dear life, the precious gem
Set in the Royal Diadem,
Now crowns Him Lord of all.