Octavius Winslow (1808-1878)
‘It has been the distinctive aim, and the sincere desire, of my ministry to make known and to endear the Saviour to your hearts. Oh, how worthy is he of your most exalted conceptions, of your most implicit confidence, of your most self-denying service, of your most fervent love!’ There speaks Octavius Winslow in 1852, and those words capture immediately something of the character and measure of the man and his ministry.
He was born in London on 1 August 1808 and died in Brighton on 5 March 1878, at the age of 69. He is buried, along with his wife, in Abbey Cemetery in Bath.
His Godly Mother
Absolutely crucial to Winslow’s whole life and ministry, in the providence of God, was his mother, Mary. His book, Life in Jesus, is subtitled: ‘A memoir of Mrs Mary Winslow arranged from her correspondence, diary and thoughts by her son Octavius Winslow DD’, and it quotes on its title page Proverbs 31:28, ‘Her children arise up, and call her blessed’. He also edited a volume of her correspondence, entitled Heaven Opened, while his books The Glory of the Redeemer and The Atonement are both dedicated to her. In the dedication in the former of those two he speaks of his ‘deepest filial affection and gratitude’ to her, and in the latter he acknowledges that through her ‘early instruction and prayers, I am indebted under God, for my first acquaintance with, and for many of my maturer views of, the great doctrine’ which he here treats. She was clearly a remarkable woman. Born in 1774, she came under spiritual convictions shortly after her marriage which she entered upon at the age of 17. Jesus’ promise, ‘Ask and ye shall receive’ (John 16:24), and the words of Psalm 35:3, ‘I am thy salvation’, were central and vital to the divine dealings with her at her conversion. Her supreme delight became constant daily communion with Christ, and she exemplified in herself her own counsel to others: ‘Keep close to Jesus and you have nothing to fear from within or without’.
Her husband was Captain Thomas Winslow, descended from Edward Winslow, a Pilgrim Father who crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower in 1620 and became an early governor of Plymouth Colony. The Lord gave Thomas and Mary ten children. In the family connection she experienced a very great double sorrow. Only ten days after emigrating to New York in June 1815 with her ten children, her infant daughter died. Before the precious child could be buried, word came to her that her husband (an army man) also had died. So at the age of forty she was widowed, in a far-off land, and left solely responsible for her nine children. Captain Winslow had stayed on in England (the family had serious financial burdens) and planned to follow his family to America after a few months. For many years Mary had prayed for his conversion, and was at last comforted with the news that ‘He died in the assured hope of a humble penitent, a sincere believer, “looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life”’.
To add to her sorrows of bereavement, Mary was for some months afterwards overtaken with a season of deep spiritual darkness. As Octavius puts it: ‘Satan was permitted to buffet her, and for a time the dark waters went over her soul’. Yet the Lord sanctified to her deepest distress and she was both blessed and made a blessing to countless others. Especially was she blessed of God in this: the Lord gave her a remarkable assurance that all her children would be converted, and that she would have ‘an undivided family in heaven’. And it was so! Indeed, three of her sons became evangelical ministers (Octavius is the best known – the other two were Isaac and George) and three of her grandsons (Henry, Charles and James) also entered the ministry.
His Early Life
As already noted, Octavius was born in London on 1 August 1808, one of ten children. He was very poorly as a child. In a letter written from Twickenham Common to her own mother, Mary Winslow makes mention of this. ‘The Lord only knows whether I shall ever rear him. The physician in town pronounces him in a decline, but that the change of air may be of service. He is very dear and precious to me; but I desire to resign him into His hand, who is able to rescue him even from the grave; and if it be His blessed will to take him, I have a humble hope that He will give me grace to say, Thy will be done!’
Regarding that part of his life which he spent in America, two events are worthy of particular note: his ordination and his marriage. He attended Stepney College, graduated as MA at the University of New York, and subsequently received his DD from the Episcopal College of Columbia, also in New York. Octavius Winslow was ordained into the Christian ministry in New York on 21 June 1833, at the age of 24. As all ordinations to the ministry should be, it was a most solemn occasion. His mother refers to it most movingly:
‘Last evening dear Octavius was ordained. It was a most interesting service. You may suppose what I felt, when I saw my son kneeling, while the hands of the presbytery were laid upon his head, and prayer was offered that God would fit him for the great work to which he was being solemnly set apart. When I saw the hands of the ministers resting upon him, my prayer was, ‘Now, Lord, lay Thy hand, Thy blessed hand, upon him, and fill him with the Holy Ghost, that he may do Thy work from the heart, and be kept humbly sitting at Thy feet’.’
During the years 1836-7 he ministered in what was known as the Second Baptist Church of Brooklyn, New York.
At some point he married Hannah Ann Ring. The date may have been 2 April 1834. She was the daughter of a Colonel and Mrs Ring of the USA. Octavius and Hannah had children, and, in a letter to Octavius, his mother sends love to him, his wife and, as she calls them, ‘the dear chicks’, adding, ‘Do not let Octavius junior forget grandmamma’. Winslow returned to England, with his new family, in 1839.
His Three Pastorates
From his return to England until his death in 1878, Octavius Winslow ministered in three English pastorates: from 1839-58 in Leamington Spa, from 1858-67 in Bath, and from 1868-78 in Brighton.
First of all, Leamington Spa, in Warwickshire. He was minister of the church in Warwick Road, where (according to a Dictionary of Evangelical Biography) his ‘brilliant’ Calvinistic preaching ministry soon attracted a fashionable congregation.
It was during these years that two particularly heavy trials were laid upon the Winslows. The first, which occurred in 1854, was the death of Octavius’ mother, who was 79 years old. As any son of such a mother would have been, he was greatly stricken with grief, but was immensely comforted with the assurance that she was in glory.
Then on 6 August 1851, Octavius and Hannah’s eldest son, John Whitmore (known, it appears, by his second name, Whitmore) died tragically in a drowning accident. He was only 21. Unexpectedly there was found among Whitmore’s papers after his death a journal he had kept, which his family had known nothing about. His father published it with the title The Hidden Life: The Memorials of John Whitmore Winslow. This journal was a tremendous comfort to his shattered parents, especially for this reason: during his lifetime, evidently, Whitmore had been rather ‘quiet’ as regards his spiritual state, whereas the journal shows him clearly to be a true child of grace. Of their bereavement, Octavius writes: ‘Severe, yet wise and loving, has been the discipline by which God sought to chasten and subdue the heart’s idolatry; the heart, sincere and undivided, he will have’.
Let one fragment from the journal suffice here, written when Whitmore was 15 years old.
Christ’s unchanging love and tenderness scatter all the gloomy mists and dark clouds of our pilgrimage, and gladden the drooping spirit. Cheer up, tried and tempted Christian! A blissful eternity will make up for all the crosses and trials, the bitters and woes of the present. Then shall real happiness dawn upon your spirit, warming and delighting your soul through eternity.
There then followed the Bath pastorate, in the West Country. He became minister of Kensington Chapel, in the area of Bath called Walcot, on the London Road. It had been built in 1794 by John Palmer, City Architect of Bath, and was described as one of the ‘most ... prestigious building projects of Georgian Bath’. During Winslow’s Bath years, Kensington Chapel was listed as a ‘Calvinist’ chapel under the Baptist section of the directory of churches for the city, and Winslow himself was listed as a Baptist minister.
Two events from these years need to be noted. The first was the death of Octavius’ wife, Hannah. The statement on her grave records that she ‘died suddenly’ on 9 October 1866. The second was when Winslow preached at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, at the invitation of C H Spurgeon. This was on Tuesday evening, 4 April 1861, when his text was the words of Jesus in John 19:30, ‘It is finished’. The sermon is included in the 1861 volume of the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, and in it he invites his hearers to consider this cry from the cross (1) as the cry of a sufferer, (2) as the language of a Saviour, and (3) as the shout of a conqueror.
From Bath, Winslow moved to Brighton, on the Sussex coast. Here he was minister of Emmanuel Church in Norfolk Terrace. A Brighton directory for 1871 informs us that the Sabbath services were held at 11am and 7pm; there were services at 7pm on Monday and Thursday evenings; Litany and Sermon was held on Tuesday morning at 11am; and Communion was on the first Lord’s Day of the month after each service. The same source includes it as a ‘Church or Chapel of Establishment’, rather than a ‘Dissenting or other place of worship’.
Winslow himself opened this church in around 1868 as an independent Free Church, but he and his congregation all seceded to the Church of England. In 1870 the Bishop of Chichester ordained him and licensed the church. According to a description from around 1874, the church maintained a ‘strict Protestant character with a very plain altar and a service entirely devoid of ritual’. The emphasis was on ‘the eloquent preaching of the incumbent’ (Winslow), who was ‘a preacher of considerable power and ability, and can generally maintain the interest of his congregation, but (so it opines) his voice is insufficient to penetrate into every part of his large church’. The church could accommodate 1500 people, and the congregation in Winslow’s day was ‘numerous and influential’. They used, for the praise, a book of 929 hymns compiled by Winslow, ‘nearly all of them being recognised Dissenting effusions’.
His Blessed Death
Octavius Winslow died in Brighton on 5 March 1878, aged 69. Here follows part of his obituary in the Brighton Gazette of 7 March:
We regret to announce the death of the Rev Dr Winslow, the incumbent of Emmanuel Church. This melancholy event took place at the residence of Dr Winslow early on Tuesday morning. Dr Winslow had preached to his own church on Sunday, and his death was unexpected. Dr Winslow was a man who well adorned his sacred office. His unaffected piety, burning eloquence, uprightness, and genial, courteous, benign character, caused him to be respected in life by all who came into contact with him, and loved by those who had closer opportunity of observing his sterling worth. His death will be mourned particularly by the large congregation who Sunday after Sunday were attracted to hear the masterly expositions and the earnest exhortations which were delivered from his pulpit. Generally his loss will be felt by the evangelical party in the Church, to whom his name was a tower of strength.
We noted earlier that Winslow’s wife had died during the Bath years. She was buried in Abbey Cemetery in Bath, where her husband’s remains were also laid to rest. The inscription upon their ‘joint grave’ is as follows:
In fond memory of Hannah Ann, wife of the Revd Octavius Winslow DD and daughter of Colonel Z Ring, USA. Died suddenly in this city October 9 1866. ‘Caught up to meet the Lord’ 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Also to the fond memory of Octavius Winslow DD, who died at Brighton March 5 1878. Born 1 August 1808. ‘I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day’ Revelation 1:10.
When the soft dews of kindly sleep
My weary eyelids softly steep
Be my last thought, how sweet to rest
Forever on my Saviour’s breast.”
His Choice Writings
It is a great joy to observe the increasing number of publishers who have been and are reissuing his work. Moreover there is a website, www.gracegems.org, where many of his books (some of them currently in print, most of them not) are printed in full. If readers of this article are unfamiliar with Winslow’s writings and wonder where to start, the best place might be the two volumes Morning Thoughts and Evening Thoughts. Both published by Reformation Heritage Books, these are daily devotionals actually put together by Winslow himself from his many writings.
Someone may ask the question, ‘why read Winslow?’ My brief answer is this: because of the sheer magnificent, Christ-exalting, heart-warming, soul-enlivening, life-enriching, heaven-assisting quality of his spirituality. Will that do? To come rather more finely to the point, three things stand out from his writings: he is so full of Christ, so full of Christian experience, and so full of heaven. Surely these are the very things we all need to be full (and fuller) of!
The very titles of his works are appetising, even before you turn to the contents pages and then start reading the books. These titles include: The Glory of the Redeemer, The Fulness of Christ Unfolded in the History of Joseph, The Sympathy of Christ, The Lights and Shadows of Spiritual Life, Midnight Harmonies, Soul Heights and Soul Depths, No Condemnation in Christ Jesus, Our God, Help Heavenward, The Nightingale Song of David, Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul.
Let me conclude this article with a brief Winslow ‘treat’ taken from Midnight Harmonies.
Nothing is too insignificant to take to Christ. It is enough that you want Christ to warrant you in coming to Christ. No excuse need you make for repairing to Him; no apology will He require for the frequency of your approach; He loves to have you quite near to Him, to hear your voice, and to feel the confidence of your faith, and the pressure of your love ... And when you are dying, O! lay your languishing head upon the bosom of your Beloved, and fear not the foe and dread not the passage, for His rod and staff they will comfort you. On that bosom the beloved disciple leaned at supper; on that bosom the martyr Stephen laid his bleeding brow in death; and on that bosom, you, too, beloved, may repose, living or dying, soothed, succoured, and sheltered by your Saviour and your Lord.