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Mary Jones and Her Bible

by J. A. W. Hamilton

Holy BibleMary Jones was born in the year 1784, in a beautiful little Welsh village called Llanfihangel-y-Pennant [Wales], overshadowed by mountains, wild and lonely, and in sight of the broad waters of Cardigan Bay. Her father was a weaver by trade, working the hand-loom in his own home, and taking periodical visits to the nearest towns to sell the cloth he had woven. Her mother was a simple but noble country woman, and Mary was blest that both her parents loved and served the Lord Jesus. From earliest years she had been told the sweet old stories of the Gospels, and the stirring incidents of the Old Testament, until her imaginative mind peopled the countryside in which she dwelt with the figures of sacred history.

But in Mary's home there was no Bible! A little meeting-house on the hillside was the place where her father and mother worshipped, and there the precious Word of God was read and expounded to attentive ears and hearts. But Mary may not go there. She was still too young, and no one dreamt of the hunger in the child's heart for God's Holy Book. "Mother," Mary asked one day when she was about eight years old, "Father is sick, and cannot go to the meeting. May I go and carry the lantern for you?" Receiving permission, she joyfully lighted the old-fashioned lantern, and set out to guide her mother along the rough way to the meeting-house. Night after night she continued to do this, even on the moonlit ones, so anxious was she to attend where the Word of God was read. "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path" (Psa. 119:105), her mother said one evening as they proceeded on their way. "Yes, mother I know that text. How I wish I knew ever so many more like that." ''How glad your father and I would be to teach you dear, but it is years since we learnt any." "Why have we not a Bible of our own?" queried Mary eagerly. "Because they are scarce and dear," replied her mother sadly. "Your father is a good tradesman, Mary, but still we can only get sufficient money for the necessities of life, and much as we would like it, we cannot buy a Bible."

Time passed on, Mary busy with her home duties, feeding the hens, gathering the eggs, taking care of the bees, sweeping, scrubbing, and dusting. Wholly uneducated, for she had never attended school, yet intelligent and thoughtful beyond her years.

One day her father, returning as usual from marketing his cloth, brought the good news that a school was to be opened in a neighbouring village, and asked Mary would she like to attend? "Oh, father, may I?" she cried. 'I'll learn to read, and then I shall some day read the Bible!" "You forget we have no Bible," said her mother.

As soon as the school opened Mary was enrolled, and walked daily the two miles back and forward without a grumble. The teacher, a man of great discrimination, noticed her studious ways, and encouraged her in every possible way. So rapid was her progress that in two years' time she was able to read. Then a Sunday school was formed, and there Mary's desire for the Word of God was deepened and strengthened. Approaching a lady of her acquaintance one day, she asked humbly, "Please, ma'am, may I speak to you a moment?" "Surely, my child. What do you wish to say?" she answered kindly. "Two years ago, please, ma'am, you were so kind as to promise that when I had learned to read, I should come to your home and read your Bible." "I did. I remember quite well,” answered the lady. "Well, child, do you know how to read?" "Yes, ma'am," said Mary; "and now I have joined the Sunday school, and I have lessons to prepare. If I may come to you once a week, I shall never thank you enough." "No need for thanks, little woman. May the Lord make His Word a great blessing to you. Come, and welcome."

Into the family of this kind and good woman Mary was received with all care and kindness, and when admitted to the parlour, where the Bible lay on a table in the centre of the room, covered reverently with a clean, white cloth, her delight knew no bounds. Presently the child raised the napkin, and opening the Book at random read, "Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me" (John 5:39). "I will! I will," she cried, feeling as if a voice had spoken to her. "Oh, if only I had a Bible of my own."

When Mary had finished her Sunday school lesson, and was returning home, her great resolution was formed. "I must have a Bible of my own," she cried. "I must have one, if I save for it for ten years!" But saving was of necessity slow. Mary had no way of getting money but by earning it, and she was only a child of ten years. Still, where there is a will there is a way; and Mary began to do lots of little odd turns for her neighbours. Sometimes she nursed a baby when its mother was busy at the washtub, or gathered sticks and brushwood for fuel. A kind friend also gave her a couple of hens for her very own, and by selling the eggs she was able to add to her little store. One day she found a purse heavy with money, and meeting the farmer who had lost it and was anxiously looking for it received a bright silver sixpence as reward. Running home, she dropped it into the box beside its meaner companions, and there it lay for many a long year. But at last the the joyful day came when Mary cried, "Oh, father! Oh, mother! only think! Mrs. Evans has paid me for my work more than I expected, and now I find I have enough to buy a Bible."

Her father stopped his loom, and held out both his hands. "Is it really so, Mary? After six years' saving. May the Lord be thanked, Who has given you the patience to work and wait to get the thing you wanted. Bless you, my little maid!" "Tell me, dear father, where am I to buy the Bible? There are none in Abergynolwyn." "I cannot tell you, Mary, but you would do well to ask the preacher." Mary accordingly went the next day to inquire, and found that she could not get a copy of the Welsh Bible nearer than Bala, twenty-five miles away.

Yet the long distance, the unknown road, the far famed but to her-strange minister, although a little frightening her, did not for a moment turn her from her purpose. Even her parents consented, believing that the Lord was leading their child and would protect her. So borrowing a wallet from a neighbour to carry her treasure in, she set off at daylight on a Spring morning in 1800. Her one pair of shoes, too precious to be worn on a twenty-five mile journey, she placed in the wallet and walked bare-foot. She set out at a good pace, not too quick, for that would have tired her ere half her journey was ended, but steadily and lightly, her head erect, her clear eyes shining, and a healthy flush on her rounded cheek. About midday she rested, ate some food, washed her face and hands and feet in a clear, rippling stream, and then proceeded on her way. The shades of night were falling ere she reached Bala, and following the instructions of the local preacher, she went to the house of Mr. Edwards.

At an early hour Mr. Edwards called her, and with a beating heart she accompanied him to Mr. Charles' . After a few words of explanation, Mary was invited into the study. "Now my child," said Mr. Charles, "don't be afraid. Tell me all about yourself, where you live, what your name is, and what you want."

Thus encouraged, Mary told all about herself, and her parents, of the long years of saving for the purchase of a Bible, and how she had come to Bala, when the sum was complete. As she told him all the story, and he realised some of her bravery and patience through all these years of waiting, his usually bright face clouded over, and turning to David Edwards, he said, "I am indeed grieved that this dear girl should have come all the way from Llanfihangel to buy a Bible, and that I should be unable to supply her with one. The Welsh Bibles I received from London last year were all sold out months ago, except a few copies which I have kept for friends whom I must not disappoint."

Mary had been looking into Mr. Charles' face with her great dark eyes full of hope, but as she understood what he had said to David Edwards, she dropped into the nearest chair covered her face with her hands, and sobbed as few young people ever sob. It was all over, she thought, all in vain. The years of praying, and saving, and waiting; the long walk, the weariness and pain, all of no use. Mr. Charles was greatly touched at the sight of her grief, and with his own voice unsteady, he laid his hand on her head, and said, "My dear child, I see you must have a Bible, difficult as it is for me to spare you one. It is impossible, quite impossible, for me to refuse you."

Mary looked up with such a rainbow face of smiles and tears, such a look of joy and gratitude, that tears rushed to the eyes of both Mr. Charles and David Edwards. Mr. Charles now turned to a bookcase, and took from it a Bible, and handing it to Mary, said, "I am truly glad to be able to give it to you. Read it, study it, treasure up its sacred words, and act upon its teaching."

Mary, overcome with joy and thankfulness, began to sob once more, but now sweet and happy tears. Mr. Charles turned to his old friend, and said, "Is it not a sight to touch the hardest heart, a girl so young, so poor, to walk from Llanfihangel to Bala, fifty miles here and back to buy a Bible? From this day I can never rest until I can find out some means of supplying the pressing need of my country, that cries out for the Bible."

In the winter of 1802, Mr. Charles visited London, full of this one great thought and purpose, although not as yet seeing how it was to be accomplished. Consulting with friends of the committee of the Religious Tract Society, he was introduced at the next meeting, and made an earnest appeal, telling the touching story of the little Welsh girl. In the hearts of the hearers the greatest sympathy was aroused, and after two years—in 1804—the British and Foreign Bible Society was established. At its first meeting £700 was subscribed, and the first resolution of the committee was to bring out an edition of the Welsh Bible for the use of Sunday schools, and the first consignment of these reached Bala in 1806. So in this short period, the great work was accomplished, the direct result of the efforts of a brave and clever girl to obtain a copy of the Word of God.

Mary's Bible, now in the possession of the British and Foreign Bible Society, contains in her own hand-writing this statement: "I bought this in the 16th year of my age. Mary Jones, the true owner of this Bible." She lies buried in the little churchyard at Bryncrug, and a stone is raised to her memory by those who loved to recall her beautiful life, and the important, if humble part she had taken in the founding of the great institution, the the British and Foreign Bible Society.

From Twelve Clever Girls by J. A. W. Hamilton. London: Pickering and Inglis, Ltd., 1937. Chapter 5.

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