THE DAIRYMAN’S DAUGHTER (Part 1/2)

THE DAIRYMAN’S DAUGHTER
A true account by Rev. Legh Richmond of the Isle of Wight (1772–1825)
[Reproduced (with minor editing) from a booklet produced by Academy Books, U.K., 1994, with written permission.]

Part 1 of 2


Preface


It is a delightful employment to trace and discover the operations of divine grace, as they are manifested in the dispositions and lives of God’s real children. It is peculiarly gratifying to observe how frequently, among the poorer classes of mankind, the sunshine of mercy beams upon the heart, and bears witness to the image of Christ, which the Spirit of God has impressed thereupon. Among such, the sincerity and simplicity of the Christian character appear unencumbered by those fetters to spirituality of mind and conversation which too often prove a great hindrance to those who live in the higher ranks. Many are the difficulties which riches, polished society, worldly importance, and high connections throw in the way of religious profession. Happy indeed it is, (and some such happy instances I know), where grace has so strikingly supported its conflict with natural pride, self-importance, the allurements of luxury, ease, and worldly opinions, that the noble and mighty appear adorned with genuine poverty of spirit, self-denial, humble-mindedness, and deep spirituality of heart. 


But in general, if we want to see religion in its purest character, we must look for it among the poor of this world, who are rich in faith. How often is the poor man’s cottage the palace of God! Many of us can truly declare that we have there learned our most valuable lessons of faith and hope, and there witnessed the most striking demonstrations of the wisdom, the power, and the goodness of God. 


Introduction 


The character, which the present narrative is designed to introduce to the notice of my readers, is given from real life and circumstance. I first became acquainted with the dairyman’s daughter by the reception of a letter, a part of which I transcribe from the original, now before me. 


Rev. Sir, 

I take the liberty to write to you. Pray excuse me, for I have never spoken to you. But I once heard you preach at Arreton church. I believe you are a faithful preacher, to warn sinners to flee from the wrath that will be revealed against all those that live in sin and die impenitent. I was much rejoiced to hear of those marks of love and affection which you showed to that poor soldier of the S.D. militia. Surely the love of Christ sent you to that poor man; may that love ever dwell richly in you by faith. May it constrain you to seek the wandering souls of men, with the fervent desire to spend and be spent for His glory. 


Sir, be fervent in prayer with God for the conviction and conversion of sinners. He has promised to answer the prayer of faith, that is put up in His Son’s name. “Ask what you will, and it shall be granted you.” Through faith in Christ we rejoice in hope, and look up in expectation of that time drawing near, when all shall know and fear the Lord, and when a nation shall be born in a day. 


What a happy time, when Christ’s kingdom shall come! Then shall His will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Men shall be daily fed with the manna of his love, and delight themselves in the Lord all the day long. Sir, I began to write this on Sunday, being detained from attending on public worship. My dear and only sister, living as a servant with Mrs —, was so ill that I came here to attend in her place, and on her. But now she is no more. 


She expressed a desire to receive the Lord’s Supper, and commemorate His precious death and sufferings. I told her, as well as I was able, what it was to receive Christ into her heart; but as her weakness of body increased, she did not mention it again. She seemed quite resigned before she died. I do hope she has gone from a world of death and sin to be with God for ever. 


My sister expressed a wish that you might bury her. The Minister of our parish, whither she will be carried, cannot come. She died on Tuesday morning, and will be buried on Friday or Saturday, whichever is most convenient to you, at three o’clock in the afternoon. Please to send an answer by the bearer, to let me know whether you can comply with this request. 


From your unworthy servant, 
Elizabeth Wallbridge. 


I was much struck with the simple and earnest strain of devotion, which the letter breathed. It was but indifferently written and spelt, but this the rather tended to endear the hitherto unknown writer, as it seemed characteristic of the union of humbleness of station with eminence of piety. I felt quite thankful that I was favoured with a correspondent of this description; the more so, as such characters were, at that time, very rare in the neighbourhood. As soon as it was read, I required who was the bearer of it. “He is waiting at the outside of the gate, sir,” was the reply. 


The Dairyman


I went out to speak to him and saw a venerable old man, whose long hoary hair and deeply wrinkled countenance commanded more than common respect. He was resting his arm and head upon the gate, and tears were streaming down his cheeks. On my approach he made a low bow, and said, “Sir, I have brought you a letter from my daughter; but I fear you will think us very bold in asking you to take so much trouble.” 


“By no means,” I replied; “I shall be truly glad to oblige you and any of your family in this matter.” I desired him to come into the house, and then said: “What is your occupation?” 


“Sir, I have lived most of my days in a little cottage at —, six miles from here. I have rented a few acres of ground, and kept a few cows, which, in addition to my day labour, has been my means of supporting and bringing up my family.” 


“What family have you?” 


“A wife, now getting very aged and helpless, two sons, and one daughter; for my other poor dear child is just departed out of this wicked world.” 


“I hope, for a better.” 


“I hope so, too; poor thing, she did not use to take to such good ways as her sister; but I do believe that her sister’s manner of taking with her before she died was the means of saving her soul. What a mercy it is to have such a child as mine is! I never thought about my own soul seriously till she, poor girl, begged me to flee from the wrath to come.” 


“How old are you?” 


“Nearly seventy, and my wife is older. We are getting old and almost past our labour; but our daughter has left a good place, where she lived in service, on purpose to come home, and take care of us and our little dairy. And a dear, dutiful, affectionate girl she is.” 


“Was she always so?” 


“No, sir; when she was very young, she was all for the world, and pleasure and dress and company. Indeed, we were all very ignorant, and thought, if we took care for this life, and wronged nobody, we should be sure to go to heaven at last. My daughters were both wilful, and, like ourselves, were strangers to the ways of God and the Word of His grace. But the eldest of them went out to service; and some years ago she heard a sermon preached at — church, and from that time she became quite an altered creature. She began to read the Bible, and became quite sober and steady. The first time she came home afterwards to see us, she brought us a guinea which she had saved from her wages, and said, as we were getting old, she was sure we would want help; adding, that she did not wish to spend it in fine clothes, as she used to do, only to feed pride and vanity. She would rather show gratitude to her dear father and mother; and this, she said, because Christ had shown such mercy to her. 


“We wondered to hear her talk, and took great delight in her company, for her temper and behaviour were so humble and kind, she seemed so desirous to do us good both in soul and body, and was so different from what we had ever seen her before, that, careless and ignorant as we had been, we began to think there must be something real in religion, or it never could alter a person so much in a little time. Her younger sister, poor soul, used to laugh and ridicule her at that time, and said her head was turned with her new way. ‘No, sister,’ she would say, ‘not my head, but I hope my heart is turned from the love of sin to the love of God. I wish you may one day see, as I do, the danger and vanity of your present condition.’ Her poor sister would reply, ‘I do not want to hear any of your preaching: I am no worse than other people, and that is enough for me.’ ‘Well, sister,’ Elizabeth would say, ‘if you will not hear me, you cannot hinder me from praying for you, which I do with all my heart.’ 


“And now, sir, I believe those prayers are answered. For when her sister was taken ill, Elizabeth went to wait in her place and take care of her. She said a great deal to her about her soul, and the poor girl began to be so deeply affected, and sensible of her past sin, and so thankful for her sister’s kind behaviour; that it gave her great hopes indeed for her sake. When my wife and I went to see her as she lay sick, she told us how grieved and ashamed she was of her past life; but said she had a hope, through grace, that her dear sister’s Saviour would be her Saviour too; for she saw her own sinfulness, felt her own helplessness, and only wished to cast herself upon Christ as her hope and salvation. 


“And now, sir, she is gone, and I hope and think her sister’s prayers for her conversion to God have been answered. The Lord grant the same for her poor father’s and mother’s sake likewise.” 


This conversation was a very pleasing commentary upon the letter, which I had received, and made me anxious both to comply with the request and to become acquainted with the writer. I promised the good old dairyman I would attend the funeral on Friday, at the appointed hour; and after some more conversation respecting his own state of mind under the present trial, he went away. 


He was a reverend old man; his furrowed cheeks, white locks, weeping eyes, bent shoulders, and feeble gait were characteristic of the aged pilgrim: and as he slowly departed, supported by a stick which seemed to have been the companion of many a long year, a train of reflections occurred which I retrace with emotion and pleasure. 


A Funeral 


At the appointed hour I arrived at the church; and after a little while was summoned to meet, at the church-yard gate, a very decent funeral procession. The aged parents, the elder brother and the sister, with other relatives, formed an affecting group. I was struck with the humble, pious, and pleasing countenance of the young woman from whom I received the letter; it bore the marks of great seriousness without affectation, and of much serenity mingled with a glow of devotion. 


A circumstance occurred during the burial service which I think it right to mention. A man of the village, who had hitherto been of a very careless and even profligate character, came into the church through mere curiosity, and with no better purpose than that of a vacant gazing at the ceremony. He came likewise to the grave, and during the burial service his mind received a deep, serious conviction of his sin and danger through some of the expressions contained therein. It was an impression that never wore off, but gradually ripened into the most satisfactory evidence of an entire change, of which I had many and long continued proofs. He always referred to the burial service, and to some particular sentences of it, as the clearly ascertained instrument of bringing him, through grace, to the knowledge of the truth. 


The day was therefore one to be remembered. Remembered let it be by those who love to hear “the short and simple annals of the poor.” 


Was there not a manifest and happy connection between the circumstance that providentially brought the serious and the careless to the same grave on that day together? How much do they lose, who neglect to trace the leadings of God in Providence as links in the chain of His eternal purpose of redemption and grace! 


“While infidels may scoff, let us adore.” 


After the service was concluded, I had a short conversation with the good old couple and their daughter. Her aspect and address were highly interesting. I promised to visit their cottage; and from that time became well acquainted with them. Let us bless the Lord of the poor, and pray continually that the poor may become rich in faith, and the sick be made poor in spirit. 


A sweet solemnity often possesses the mind while retracing past intercourse with departed friends. How much is this increased when they were such as lived and died in the Lord! The remembrance of former scenes and conversations with those who, we believe, are now enjoying the uninterrupted happiness of a better world fills the heart with pleasing sadness, and animates the soul with the hopeful anticipation of a day when the glory of the Lord shall be revealed in the assembling of all His children together, never more to be separated. Whether they were rich or poor, while on earth, it is a matter of trifling consequence; the valuable part of their character is, that they are now kings and priests unto God. In the number of departed believers, with whom I once loved to converse on the grace and glory of the kingdom of God, was the dairyman’s daughter. I purpose now to give some further account of her, and hope it may be useful to every reader. 


A Pastoral Visit after the Funeral 


A few days after the funeral of the younger sister, I rode over to visit the family in their own cottage. The principal part of the road lay through retired narrow lanes, beautifully overarched with groves of nut and other trees, which screened the traveller from the rays of the sun, and afforded many interesting objects for admiration in the beautiful flowers, shrubs, and young trees, which grew upon the high banks on each side of the road. Many grotesque rocks, with little streams of water occasionally breaking out of them, varied the recluse scenery, and produced a new, romantic, and pleasing effect. 


Here and there the more distant and rich prospect beyond appeared through gaps and hollow places on the roadside. Lofty hills, with navy signal posts, obelisks, and lighthouses on their summits, appeared at these intervals; rich cornfields were also visible through some of the open places; and now and then, when the road ascended any hill, the sea, with ships at various distances, opened delightfully upon me. But for the most part, shady seclusion and beauties of a more minute and confined nature gave a character to the journey, and invited contemplation. How much do they lose who are strangers to serious meditation on the wonders and beauties of nature! How gloriously the God of creation shines in His works! Not a tree, or a leaf or flower; not a bird, or insect, but proclaims in glowing language, “God made me.” 


As I approached the village where the good old dairyman dwelt, I observed him in a little field, driving a few cows before him toward a yard and hovel, which adjoined his cottage. I advanced very near him without his observing me, for his sight was dim. On my calling out to him, he started at the sound of my voice, but with much gladness of countenance welcomed me, saying, “Bless your heart, sir, I am very glad you are come; we have looked for you every day this week.” 


The cottage door opened, and the daughter came out, followed by her aged and infirm mother. The sight of me naturally brought to recollection the grave at which we had before met. Tears of affection mingled with the smile of satisfaction with which I was received by these worthy cottagers. I dismounted, and was conducted through a very neat little garden, part of which was shaded by two large, overspreading elm trees, to the house. Decency and cleanliness were manifest within and without. 


This, thought I, is a fit residence for purity, peace, and contentment. May I learn a fresh lesson in each, through the blessing of God, on this visit. 


“Sir,” said the daughter, “we are not worthy that you should come under our roof. We take it very kind that you should come so far to see us.” 


“My Master,” I replied, “came a great deal further to visit us poor sinners. He left the bosom of His Father, laid aside His glory, and came down to this lower world on a visit of mercy and love; and ought not we, if we profess to follow Him, to bear each other’s infirmities, and go about doing good as He did?” 


The old man now came in, and joined his wife and daughter in giving me a cordial welcome. Our conversation soon turned to the late loss they had sustained; and the pious and sensible disposition of the daughter was peculiarly manifested as well in what she said to her parents as in what she said to me. I was struck with the good sense and agreeable manner which accompanied her expressions of devotedness to God, and love to Christ for the great mercies which He had bestowed upon her. She seemed anxious to improve the opportunity of my visit to the best purpose, for her own and her parents’ sake; yet there was nothing of unbecoming forwardness, no self-consequence or conceitedness in her behaviour. She united the firmness and earnestness of the Christian with the modesty of the female and the dutifulness of the daughter. It was impossible to be in her company and not observe how truly her temper and conversation adorned the evangelical principles which she professed. 


I soon discovered how eager and how successful also she had been in her endeavours to bring her father and mother to the knowledge and experience of the truth. This is a lovely circumstance in the character of a young Christian. If it hath pleased God, in the free dispensations of His mercy, to call the child by His grace, while the parents remain still in ignorance and sin, how great is the duty of that child to do what is possible for the conversion of those to whom it owes its birth! Happy is it when the ties of grace sanctify those of nature. 


This aged couple evidently looked upon and spoke of their daughter as their teacher and admonisher in divine things, while they received from her every token of filial submission and obedience, testified by continual endeavours to serve and assist them to the utmost in the little concerns of the household. 


The religion of this young woman was of a highly spiritual character, and of no ordinary attainment. Her views of the divine plan in saving the sinner were clear and scriptural. She spoke much of the joys and sorrows, which, in the course of her religious progress, she had experienced; but she was fully sensible that there is far more in real religion than mere occasional transition from one frame of mind and spirit to another. She believed that the experimental acquaintance of the heart with God principally consisted in so living upon Christ by faith as to seek to live like Him by love. She knew that the love of God towards the sinner, and the path of duty prescribed to the sinner, are both of an unchangeable nature. In a believing dependence on the one, and an affectionate walk in the other, she sought and found “the peace of God which passeth all understanding”; “for so He giveth His beloved rest.” She had read but few books besides her Bible; but these few excellent in their kind, and she spoke of their contents as one who knew their value. In addition to a Bible and Common Prayer-Book, Doddridge’sRise and Progress, Romaine’s Life, Walk, and Triumph of Faith, Bunyan’sPilgrim’s Progress, Alleine’s Alarm, Baxter’s Saints Everlasting Rest, a hymn-book, and a few Tracts, composed her library. 


I observed in her countenance a pale and delicate look, which I afterwards found to be a presage of consumption; and the idea then occurred to me that she would not live many years. In fact, it pleased God to take her hence about a year and a half after I first saw her. 


Time passed on swiftly with this little interesting family; and after having partaken of some plain and wholesome refreshments, and enjoyed a few hours’ conversation with them, I found it necessary for me to return homewards. 


“I thank you, sir,” said the daughter, “for your Christian kindness to me and my friends. I believe the blessing of the Lord has attended your visit, and I hope I have experienced it to be so. My dear father and mother will, I am sure, remember it, and I rejoice in an opportunity, which we have never before enjoyed, of seeing a serious minister under this roof. My Saviour has been abundantly good to me in plucking me ‘as a brand from the burning,’ and showing me the way of life and peace; and I hope it is my heart’s desire to live to His glory. But I long to see these dear friends enjoy the comfort and power of religion also.” 


“I think it evident,” I replied, “that the promise is fulfilling in their case: it shall come to pass that at evening time it shall be light.” 


“I believe it,” she said, “and praise God for the blessed hope.” 


“Thank Him, too, that you have been the happy instrument of bringing them to the light.” 


“I do, sir; yet when I think of my own unworthiness and insufficiency, I rejoice with trembling.” 


“Sir,” said the good old man, “I am sure the Lord will reward you for this kindness. Pray for us that, old as we are, and sinners as we have been, yet He would have mercy upon us at the eleventh hour. Poor Betsy strives hard for our sakes, both in body and soul; she works hard all day to save us trouble and I fear has not strength to support all she does; and then she talks to us, and reads to us, and prays for us, that we may be saved from the wrath to come. Indeed, sir, she’s a rare child to us.” 


“Peace be to you, and all that belong to you.” “Amen, and thank you, dear sir,” was echoed from each tongue. 


Thus we parted for that time. My returning meditations were sweet, and, I hope, profitable. Many other visits were afterwards made by me to this peaceful cottage, and I always found increasing reason to thank God for the intercourse I enjoyed. I soon perceived that the health of the daughter was rapidly on the decline. The pale, wasting consumption, which is the Lord’s instrument for removing so many thousands every year from the land of the living, made hasty strides on her constitution. The hollow eye, the distressing cough, and the often too flattering red on the cheek, foretold the approach of death. I have often thought what a field for usefulness and affectionate attention on the part of ministers and Christian friends is opened by the frequent attacks and lingering progress of consumptive illness. How many such precious opportunities are daily lost, where Providence seems in so marked a way to afford time and space for serious and godly instruction. Of how many may it be said, “The way of peace have they not known”; for not one friend came nigh, to warn them to “flee from the wrath to come.” 


But the dairyman’s daughter was happily made acquainted with the things, which belonged to her everlasting peace before the present disease had taken root in her constitution. In my visit to her, I might be said rather to receive information than to impart it. Her mind was abundantly stored with divine truths and her conversation was truly edifying. The recollection of it still produces a thankful sensation in my heart. 

Part 2 of 2 
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