Henry Venn was the Vicar of Huddersfield from 1759-71, and his ministry was marked by a mighty outpouring of God’s Spirit in the town and area. Often the graveyard of the Parish Church would be crowded with people who couldn’t get into the building for worship. Some even stayed in the church building between morning and evening worship so as to get some of the best seats in the house!
In 1767, and aged 33, Venn lost his dear wife, Eling. They were devoted to each other, and she was a dynamic and highly competent partner with Henry in his ministry. He felt her loss deeply. Writing a month after her death, he poured out is heart to a friend. The letter was kept, and the excerpt below is intensely moving. I commend it to you, to read slowly, perhaps out loud. I think that it says so much which chimes with the thinking we’ve done about gender and relationships in our morning sermons at Hope, and how we are called to enjoy God’s gifts whilst appreciating, as the Apostle Paul says, “the time is short”. Venn writes:
I feel my debt to God enlarged in all His favours towards that other part of myself. I with gratitude adore Him for the precious loan of so dear a child of His, for ten years and four months, to be my wife. I think over, with much delight, the many tokens of love from God during the time of her pilgrimage and the consolations which refreshed and rejoiced her soul upon the bed of death. I consider her as delivered from the evil to come and in the possession of all I have been begging of God for her ever since we knew each other. Every degree of peace, of light, of joy I feel in Jesus immediately suggests the infinitely exalted sensations of the same kind which enrapture her spirit. And above all I have now to praise my Master that I have an experimental proof that He giveth songs in the night; that when dearest comforts are taken away, the light of His countenance, a little brighter view of His great salvation, a little stronger feeling of the tenderness of His heart, is more than a recompense for every loss we can sustain. I can now say from proof , “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Some brief thoughts on Venn’s words:
Marriage is the deepest intimacy. “That other part of myself”, as Venn calls his late wife. They knew the deep joys of marriage, in the midst of hard labours for the Lord. As they grew in knowledge of each other, so they grew more and more to need each other. Death was the loosening of those bonds.Venn felt, rightly, that it was the losing of something of his own self.
Marriage in Christ is a precious gift, to be enjoyed for a season. You can feel the ache in the words “ten years and four months.” He must have longed for many more years with Eling, but what he was given he was truly thankful for. Eling was now with the Lord and truly His, just as Venn’s marriage and the time they enjoyed together were ultimately the Lord’s. If grief was bitter to Venn, he was not bitter in grief.
The goal of marriage is death. Venn saw her death not as the abrupt breaking of his marriage and its grace, but its goal. He and Eling were married in order, one day, to be no longer married. Now in heaven, the work of grace was complete. She didn’t need to married any more. God was her Husband, and her heart fully His. As Venn notes, his prayers had reached their final answers.
Grief has grace for its food. Venn testifies that the knowledge of God’s love His wife was experiencing in full measure, he was himself receiving in his broken, grieving heart. Grace was His song in the night, and Gospel comforts were the food of His soul. His wife had been taken, but God has not left Him.
And so, perspective is everything. Life is short, and marriage – if given to us – is shorter. Heaven is the home of every loving heart, married or single. So we pass through this life, and we labour to bring the beauty of Christ to every relationship, for their good and for His glory.