How Mary Jones and Thomas Charles triggered a mission to the world, Part 6

Posted in Blog, Mary Jones


My wife, Sheila, and I are looking forward to attending the opening of Mary Jones World at Llanycil, Bala, north Wales, on Sunday 5 October 2014 – the bicentenary of the death of Thomas Charles from whom Mary received her Bible at the end of her long walk across Welsh mountains. Mary Jones World is the realisation of a dream Bible Society has been praying for – to see the story of Mary Jones and Thomas Charles told to a new generation. A new state-of-the-art visitor and education centre will give residents of Bala, Gwynedd and Wales the chance to learn about the Bible’s impact not only on the Welsh nation but the world. For a wider audience the centre will celebrate the birth of Bible Society which has grown from its roots in the foothills of the majestic Snowdonia National Park to nearly 150 Bible Societies around the world.

Here, then, is the sixth instalment of the story of how Mary Jones and Thomas Charles triggered a mission to the world.

Due to over-work and his severely damaged thumb, Thomas Charles’s health deteriorated. In a loft in Charles’s house in Bala on Sunday 23 November 1800, an old shoemaker named Richard Owen, who was also a deacon in the Bala church, prayed earnestly for Charles, who was now aged forty-five.  Owen remembered how King Hezekiah’s life was extended by fifteen years in answer to prayer (2 Kings 20:6). 

 “Fifteen years, O Lord!” he cried.  “Add but fifteen years to the life of your servant!  Spare him for fifteen years more to your Church and your people!” 

 He repeated the prayer several times and the earnestness of the prayer thrilled the group. The next day, Thomas Charles endured the agony of a dangerous operation: a surgeon amputated his thumb without anaesthetic.  He made a slow recovery and lived for another fourteen years and forty-six weeks.

 When he recovered, Thomas Charles travelled to London to honour his regular preaching engagement at Lady Huntingdon’s chapel at Spa Fields, Clerkenwell. He asked for contributions towards a proposal for contracting with a printer for an edition of the Welsh Bible and hoped to secure some financial help for the distribution of cheap and low-cost Bibles among the Welsh poor. 

 Although ten thousand copies of the Welsh Bible had sold out within months of publication late in 1799, the SPCK had turned down requests either to reprint it or bring out a new edition. Bible work only formed one aspect of the SPCK’s objectives.

 One morning, Thomas Charles woke early. His thoughts turned, as they often did, to the thousands of poor people in Wales who couldn’t afford to buy a Bible, and thousands more who didn’t care whether they had a Bible or not

 Why can we not establish a Bible Society in London on a similar basis to the Tract Society? he thought. He got up, dressed, and went out to consult friends on the subject. 

 The first person Charles met was Joseph Tarn, then in his mid-thirties, a friend from Spa Fields, one of the founders and now treasurer of the Religious Tract Society (RTS). The RTS had been recently established to produce wholesome literature to replace what the members thought of as the worldly ballads and stories which hundreds of hawkers were selling door to door. The RTS’s plan was to print short pithy statements of Christian truth for newly literate working class people rather than concentrating on the Scriptures themselves.

You can read episode 7 of this story on this blog tomorrow.