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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mrs. Hunter's Happy Death

Mrs. Hunter and her peers in the late eighteenth century did not consider questions of religious belief unimportant, but their primary concern was not that they get things right intellectually. For them the life of faith was more about the heart than it was about the head. So Mary Clulow -- not yet married and just a few months past her eighteenth birthday -- saw clearly what should be her life's principal ambition: to love God with her whole heart. (77)

Mary Clulow Hunter, an exemplary Methodist, was extraordinarily busy in "working out her own salvation." She was busy at worship and prayer, busy at reading the Bible, busy at doing good. She did not perceive her life to be divided into spheres -- "private" and "public," "work" and "play," "personal" and "social" -- as so many modern people are inclined to do. The whole of her life was consumed with her search for holiness, or "purity of heart." She perceived her every act -- from "attending to her little ones" to "visiting persons in the sick-ward," from "domestic duties" to her dedicated times of prayer -- as a part of this single, overriding concern. For Mrs. Hunter the life of faith was by no means confined to church -- to the contrary, she saw opportunities to exercise holiness at every turn and every avenue of life. She dedicated her daily living to fulfilling the most familiar phrase from Jesus' most familiar prayer: "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." (79) (Both quotes from Mrs. Hunter's Happy Death: Lessons on Living from People Preparing to Die. New York: Doubleday, 2006, by John Fanestil. The book has its own web site.)

Fanestil, until recently a twenty first century Methodist preacher, has written a fine book. The first half of it details some examples of "happy death" from his own experience, which he intersperses with the account of the life and death of Mrs. Hunter, who was twenty-six at the time of her death, in 1801. He makes clear that her life and death were typical, not exceptional, for the Methodists of her time. The second half is entitled "Lessons on Living from People Preparing to Die." The lessons are predictable enough -- prayer, Bible reading, taking up the cross, recognizing God's presence, praising God, loving one's neighbors, and similar portions of seeking God through our lives. In an appendix, the entire account of Mrs. Hunter's life and death, largely taken from her own journal, and edited by a J. Wood, is set forth.

Fanestil's people are diverse -- male and female, young and older, dying from various things.

The author spends a little time on doctrine, explaining something of the long-standing arguments between Arminians and Calvinists, but the book is, like Mrs. Hunter's life, about far more than that, and about something simpler than that.

Mrs. Hunter passed away on January 17, 1801.

Thanks for reading. Get this book, and read it, if you can.

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