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A Letter to a Minister’s Wife

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Category Articles
Date November 12, 2019

The following is taken from the excellent Memoir of John H. Rice, W. H. Maxwell (Philadelphia; 1835), pp. 334-337

* * *

Union Theological Seminary, Feb. 13th, 1828

My Dear Jane,
I have a thousand times purposed to write to you, since your marriage; but have never yet seen the time when I could fulfil my intentions. It was needless for me just to drop you a line assuring you of my love; for of this you know you have a large share. I wished to write something that might be profitable to you in the very important relation which you now sustain. But delay never makes any thing easier; and, at present, I can only send you a hasty scratch instead of a letter.

I regard you and Mr White with peculiar interest. You are one of my children, and he one of my students, and I cannot but wish that you both may be very happy, and very useful.

The first step in the accomplishment of these wishes is, that you should be very holy. The former is impossible without the latter. But according to the appointment of God, it is impossible to be very holy without the diligent use of the means appointed by the source of all holiness. Reliance on grace without employing means, is presumption; with them, it is faith. I cannot, however, enlarge on this subject; for it is not my intention to give you a sermon instead of a letter.

I am a minister, and have had a wife a long time. I feel, therefore, as though I could give some advice worthy of your attention as the wife of a preacher. Hear me, then, my daughter, and consider what I say as a token of parental affection. I have no object in view but your happiness and usefulness.

1. The life of a minister is the life of a student. His labours are the labours of a student. Now, nothing so exhausts the spirits of man, or is so apt to produce despondency, as this manner of living. And it is in the highest degree important, that he should have a companion blessed with a strong flow of cheerfulness, mingled with piety, to keep him up, or raise his mind when it is flagging or despondent. I would, therefore, most earnestly recommend to you the cultivation of a cheerful spirit. It is your part never to despond; but to keep your mind buoyant and alert, always relying on a gracious Providence, and cherishing a good hope of the success of the cause of Christ.

2. A minister has often to deal with much waywardness, and encounter much opposition. And it is hard for him not to contract, in these circumstances, some sourness or severity of temper. Yet nothing can win its way to the heart, and subdue it, but love; and it is your business continually to pour this softening influence into the heart of your husband, and make it as kind and tender as a woman’s when subdued by divine grace. It will be very much, then, for the good of your husband, as well as for your own happiness, to cultivate a very affectionate, conciliating, winning temper and manner — carefully avoiding all censoriousness, suspicion, and uncharitable judging of others.

3. Many ministers’ wives destroy their influence entirely by seeming to think that they have also a sort of official character, which gives them authority to dictate, prescribe, recommend, or oppose measures to be adopted in the congregation. The opposite course of conduct to this, is that of meek, gentle, and affectionate insinuation.

4. Many an hour of precious time is lost by the minister from his study and his closet, in consequence of the wife requiring the husband to pay attention to her, talk small talk, or listen to it. But a minister’s wife ought to remember that she is, in a certain sense, identified with her husband, and that a great deal of the respect and attention she desires to have, depends on its being thought that her husband is a growing man. She ought therefore to aid him in study for her own sake, as well as from motives of a higher and purer character.

5. If a woman is prudent, judicious, and refined in her taste, yet gentle and meek, she will do more than any other person can do, to correct bad habits of a certain kind in her husband, or to prevent their being formed. Thus she may correct striking and offensive mannerisms, or improprieties in word or gesture; tediousness in prayer, or in preaching, etc. I have often heard it asked of a preacher’s wife — ‘why doesn’t she tell her husband about his long prayers?’ And the remark has been made many a time — ‘that woman can’t be much, or her husband would not have such rough and uncouth manners.’

I would say much more, but time and paper would fail. I do not say these things because I suppose you particularly need them; but because I wanted to give you some token of fatherly affection. And I add as a final remark, that a heart entirely filled with the love of God, and into which the Spirit is fully breathed, will teach you better than anything else; because you will then, in every case, feel how you ought to act.

Mrs Rice loves you as I do; and I know she joins in the earnest prayer that in your present relation you may fully discharge every duty, be a blessing to your husband, and a faithful servant of the Lord.

Bless you, my daughter.

Yours truly,
JOHN H. RICE.


This article was first published in the January 1976 edition of the Banner of Truth magazine.

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