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Jane – Of whom the world was not worthy

June 1997 | by Faith Cook

Isle of Wight SOURCE Matchbox-Marketing, Pixabay
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Twelve-year-old Jane was one of a group of young people who came each Sunday afternoon to Legh Richmond’s home shortly after he began his ministry in Brading on the Isle of Wight in 1797. Some of the children seemed bright and responsive as he taught them from the Scriptures, but Jane, a quiet child, was notable for little more than her regular attendance and scarcely attracted the minister’s attention. Struggling at first with her reading, she slowly gained confidence and began to answer the questions he posed with tolerable accuracy.

On some sunny afternoons Richmond would take the class into his garden and teach them under the shade of a tree. Just beyond the garden fence lay the churchyard. Here villagers had been buried for many generations: some graves were marked only by a simple inscription, others bore a more elaborate epitaph, often in verse. Sometimes Richmond would send his class into the graveyard to study the words engraved on the headstones, pointing out that many of the graves belonged to children and therefore they too must be prepared for death. One day he asked his class to memorize the verses of an epitaph which he thought remarkable. Each child returned and repeated the words to him, but when Jane came back he was amazed to hear her say that she had also memorized the words of another epitaph which she had discovered on the next stone. Two of its eight lines read:

Hail! glorious gospel, heavenly light, whereby

We live with comfort and with comfort die.

The incident soon passed from Richmond’s mind. Nor did he notice Jane’s absence from the group during the following weeks. Weeks turned into months and still Jane was missing. One day an elderly village woman brought a message telling him that the child was seriously ill and was asking for him.

Conscience-struck at his neglect, Richmond questioned the woman more closely. ‘Sir, I go in most days to speak with her,’ she replied, ‘and all her talk is about the Bible and Jesus Christ, about life, death, heaven and hell and the books you used to teach her.’ Hurrying along the country track the next day, Richmond continued to chide himself for his negligence. Reaching the small thatched cottage with its wild honeysuckle creeping up the walls, he was unprepared for the sight which greeted him. Alone in an upstairs room lay the sick child; the only furnishing apart from two dilapidated beds was a small stool and an old oak chest. The floor was broken and uneven, the walls crumbling and the windows patched with paper. But most startling of all was the change in Jane’s appearance. The young face now bore every mark of one terminally ill with tuberculosis. A bright smile lightened her features as she saw her minister standing at the door. Then with tears streaming down her cheeks Jane said simply, ‘I am so glad to see you, Sir!’

Sitting down beside her, Richmond asked about her illness and about her thoughts on spiritual issues. The colour rushed to Jane’s cheeks as she began to speak of her desires after God and the salvation he offered to sinners. Now Richmond realized that behind the apparently dull exterior had been a child earnestly seeking salvation. ‘I had been thinking one day,’ continued Jane, ‘that I was neither fit to live or die: for I could find no comfort in this world, and I was sure I deserved none in the other. On that day you sent me to learn the verse on that headstone, and then I read the one next to it:

Hail! glorious gospel, heavenly light, whereby

We live with comfort and with comfort die.

I wished that glorious gospel was mine, that I might live and die with comfort; and it seemed as if I thought it would be so. I never felt so happy in all my life before.’ As he listened, Legh Richmond realized with joy that here in this dying child was the first convert of his ministry in that place.

Again and again in the following weeks Richmond picked his way along the country track to Jane’s cottage. She was growing noticeably weaker, but always he found the same eager spirit, the same longing to speak of eternal things, the same deep sense of sin and love for the Saviour. Her concern for her family weighed heavily on the girl’s mind. ‘O Sir,’ she exclaimed, ‘I wish you would speak to my father and mother and little brother, for I am afraid they are going on very badly. They drink and swear and quarrel … it does grieve me so, and if I speak a word to them about it, they are angry.’

Each time Richmond visited Jane, her mother appeared to be out. At last he realized that she could see him coming from the window and was making a hasty exit to avoid him. He decided to approach the cottage from a different direction so that he might have the opportunity of challenging her on her spiritual state. Arriving unnoticed on the next occasion, he paused at the sound of voices from Jane’s room. ‘Mother, mother,’ Jane was saying, ‘I have not long to live. But I must, indeed I must say something for your sake before I die. O mother! You have a soul – you have a soul; and what will become of it when you die?’

‘Oh dear, I shall lose my child – and what shall I do when you are gone, my Jenny?’ sobbed Jane’s mother. Afraid to interrupt, Richmond listened as Jane pleaded with her mother. ‘Mother, you must flee to Christ. You must repent and turn from your sin. Do so for your own sake, for my sake and for my little brother’s sake…’ As Jane’s strength was fast ebbing, Richmond decided he must make his presence known, but even so he could add little to the child’s earnest exhortations. As he was leaving Jane recovered sufficiently to say faintly, ‘Come again soon, Sir, my time is very short.’

Early the next morning, while it was still dark, a messenger hammered on the door of the vicarage with an urgent request that he should go immediately to Jane for her life was fast slipping away and she was asking for him. Legh Richmond hurried once more to the cottage. Standing at the half-open door, he heard Jane’s voice. ‘Do you think he will come? I shall be glad – so very glad to see him before I die.’ Quickly mounting the rickety stairs, Richmond stood beside the girl’s bed. Unable to speak she gazed at him until at length she said, ‘Sir, I am going fast. I was afraid I should never see you again in this world.’ ‘My child, where is your hope?’ enquired Richmond gently. Lifting her finger she pointed first heavenward and then to her own heart and replied, ‘Christ there, Christ here.’

Holding out her hands to her mother and father, Jane said simply, ‘Think of me when I have gone – remember your souls – O for Christ’s sake remember your souls.’ With one supreme effort she turned to her pastor and said, ‘Sir, you have been my best friend on earth – you have taught me the way to heaven, and I love and thank you for it. You have spoken to me of the love of Christ and he has made me to feel it in my heart – I shall see him face to face… He will never leave me.’ Quite suddenly she flung her wasted arms around her minister and declared, ‘God bless and reward you … Christ is everything to me… Sir, we shall meet in heaven, won’t we? Oh yes, yes, then all will be peace … peace … peace.’

She spoke no more: only a twelve-year-old village girl, but one indeed of whom this world was not worthy.