Thomas Charles remembers the part played by Mary Jones in founding Bible Society, Part 11 of the Mary Jones story

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 eleventh instalment of the story of how Mary Jones and Thomas Charles triggered a mission to the world.

Dr Beilby Porteus, Bishop of London, took a keen interest in any initiative he thought likely to promote “truth, and virtue, and happiness, in any part of the world”. Porteus told Owen, his chaplain, that he very much approved of the idea of the Bible Society. He looked forward to great results from a combined effort by Christians of different views and hoped that bringing them together to pursue one grand objective would bring an end to the sad divisions which had for so long damaged the Christian world.

Joseph Tarn was anxious to share the good news with his friend Thomas Charles. He told him that the meeting had been attended by “from two to three hundred most respectable men from the several denominations of Christians – and nothing but the utmost harmony was heard”. He continued, “We cannot, my dear Brother, but rejoice together when we consider that this work had its beginning in a conversation which took place between us two one weekday morning that is ever to be remembered.” 

Thomas Charles replied: “I cannot express the joy I felt on receiving this information of a Society being formed for supplying the various nations of the world with Bibles. I hope it will prove a lasting (supply) of Welsh Bibles, and relieve my anxiety on that head. Those noble institutions, the Missionary, the Sunday-School, together with the Bible Society, added now to the other two, complete the means for the dispersion of divine knowledge far and near.” Towards the end of his letter he wrote, “Young females, in service, have walked over thirty miles to me with only the bare hope of obtaining a Bible each; and returned with more joy and thanksgiving than if they had obtained great spoils.” Even though Mary Jones was not in fact “in service”, he almost certainly had her in mind.

Joseph Tarn was early appointed Assistant Secretary and later Accountant to the Society, and retained these posts for over thirty years until the day of his death in 1837.

Ten days after the Society was formed, the West Indian planters met in the Tavern to consider a final demand from William Wilberforce that they agree a five-year suspension of the slave trade.          

The idea of distributing the Scriptures wasn’t new. It was one of the objectives of the SPCK when it was founded way back in 1698 and of the Society for Promoting the Gospel in Foreign Parts (1701). It was included in the aims of at least three other Societies.

What was new and distinctive about the British and Foreign Bible Society was its interdenominational nature from the start and the enthusiasm and single-mindedness of its founders. They wanted to print the Scriptures and distribute them not only in Britain but throughout the world. Some similar bodies had confined themselves to taking the Bible to particular classes and groups of people. This would be, as Joseph Hughes put it, an institution which originated in one nation for the good of all. 

The boldness and clarity of the Society’s objective might well have captured the enthusiasm of Christian people for a few years and then be quietly forgotten. But after its first hundred years the Society would already be described as “the greatest literary enterprise of the nineteen Christian centuries”.

You can read the next instalment of this story on this blog tomorrow.