Christians love to hear stories of those who were martyred for the sake of Christendom. It ignites a passion to live and die for the cause of the cross. Stories of saints who persevered, even in the face of imminent danger ever upon their heads, to bring the Gospel to as many people as they could drive us to ponder on what loving Christ could mean for us. It causes such a pounding in the heart and such stirring in the soul.
Simple as it is, the story of The Dairyman’s Daughter, written by the minister Legh Richmond, had the same impact on me. Indeed, God is glorified both in the grand gesture of a martyr and in the simple life of piety of a poor cottager.
First published in a tract form in 1814, The Dairyman’s Daughter is a short narrative of the friendship and interactions that the writer had with Elizabeth Wallbridge a few months before and on the day of her death. Being widely known during the 19th century, the tract had been translated into 19 languages and had been the humble means to bring many men and women to Christ.
In less than 50 pages, I got to sit inside a humble cottage not just to listen to edifying conversations, but to see what a heart that is strongly gripped by the love and grace of our Savior Jesus Christ looks like. It was like a chance to be an eyewitness to a soul that truly and greatly rejoiced in the salvation it has obtained; to a spirit that was firmly upheld by the hope of that glorious day when it is at last united with its Maker, finally freed from sin. Oh, truly I cannot help but proclaim: “Praise be the God who saves and saves to the uttermost!”
I want to share some of my personal learnings from this short story with some excerpts from the text. In doing so, I hope to convey why I think this reading would be profitable to anyone who would peruse it.
A changed heart is seen in a changed life
The best testimony of Elizabeth’s redemption was not given by Elizabeth herself but by her family and those who had been acquainted with her, even for a short time. How her heart (not her head) was turned from the love of sin to the love of God was so evident in her change of principle and practice, that it invited ridicule from those that she considered friends. How I pray that it could be said of me what the dairyman said of his 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.”
We should desire to do good both to the body and soul of our unconverted parents
The minister wrote:
“I soon discovered how eager and how successful also she had been in her endeavors 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.”
Elizabeth was clearly, in matters of spirituality, a leader in her household. God mightily used her life in order to bring her parents to the sober realization of their need for a Savior. Yet, Elizabeth made herself available for the service of her parents. Being a dutiful daughter, she ensured that she did all she can in their home for their comfort. She did not simply profess the love of God but showed them to her parents that they may see her good deeds and praise her Father in heaven [Matt. 5:16].
God’s power to save is made manifest in the faithful proclamation of His Word
In this narrative, we would find two accounts of individuals who came to service only out of personal motives, with no intention at all to take heed of what the preacher had to say that day, but found themselves at the end of that sermon in the serious conviction of their sins and in grave desire to turn from their wicked ways thereafter. Such is the power of God’s truth. They do not return to Him empty but will accomplish the purpose for which He sent it [Isaiah 55:10-11]. We know that our God is not a whimsical God [Eph. 1:11]. Every preaching of the Word accounts for the glory of His coming kingdom. This truth should inspire us to pray that God will enable the ministers of the Word to hesitate not; to grab every opportunity to stand before a congregation and faithfully proclaim the Gospel.
Telling the story of her conversion, the dairyman’s daughter shared:
“He opened the riches of divine grace in God’s method of saving the sinner. I was astonished at what I had been doing all the days of my life. He described the meek, lowly, and humble example of Christ; I felt proud, lofty, vain and self-consequential. He represented Christ as ‘Wisdom;’ I felt my ignorance. He held him forth as ‘Righteousness;’ I was convinced of my own guilt. He proved him to be ‘Sanctification;’ I saw my corruption. He proclaimed him as ‘Redemption;’ I felt my slavery to sin and my captivity to Satan (1Co 1:31). He concluded with an animated address to sinners, in which he exhorted them to flee from the wrath to come, to cast off the love of outward ornaments, to put on Christ, and be clothed with true humility (Mat 3:7, Col 3:8-10, 1Pe 5:5).
From that hour I never lost sight of the value of my soul and the danger of a sinful state. I inwardly blessed God for the sermon, although my mind was in a state of great confusion.”
Lastly, no clothing is more becoming on a Christian woman than that of humility
I blessed God for this reproaching to my wicked soul. Elizabeth stated it clearly and beautifully:
“The preacher had brought forward the ruling passion of my heart which was pride in outward dress; and by the grace of God, it was made instrumental to the awakening of my soul. Happy, sir, would I be if many a poor girl like myself were turned from the love of outward adorning and putting on of fine apparel, to seek that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”
The struggles of the dairyman’s daughter are something that every Christian who longs to live a life that is pleasing before a Holy God knows and feels.
“Sir, I think I can. My mind has lately been sometimes clouded, but I believe it has been partly owing to the great weakness and suffering of my bodily frame, and partly to the envy of my spiritual enemy, who wants to persuade me that Christ has no love for me, and that I have been a self-deceiver.”
“And do you give way to his suggestions? Can you doubt, amidst such numerous tokens of past and present mercy?”
“No, sir, I mostly am enabled to preserve a clear evidence of his love. I do not wish to add to my other sins that of denying his manifest goodness to my soul. I would acknowledge it to his praise and glory.”
“Often I mourned over my sins, and sometime had a great conflict through unbelief, fear, temptation, to return back again to my old ways, and a variety of difficulties which lay in my way. But he who loved me with an everlasting love drew me by his loving kindness, showed me the way of peace, gradually strengthened me in my resolutions of leading a new life, and taught me that, while without him I could do nothing, I yet might do all things through his strength.”
How she remained faithful, ever praising her Savior until her last breath, is a testimony that God is able to preserve to the end those whom He has called as His own [1 Cor. 1:6-9]. He has taken them into His hands and they shall remain there [Isaiah 40:11].
A life that is lived for the glory of God is a taste of heaven. And so there should be much rejoicing in the death of the saints. The pain of separation is but a trifling compared to the joy we would feel when we finally meet them again in the City of God, never to part again.
“Just so far as I can cast my care upon him, I find strength to do his will. May he give me grace to trust him to the last moment. I do not fear death, because I believe he has taken away its sting. And oh, what happiness beyond! Tell me, sir, whether you think I am right. I hope I am under no delusion. I dare not look, for my hope, at anything short of the entire fullness of Christ.”
May the story of the dairyman’s daughter give us the desire to spend and be spent for God’s glory.
SOLI DEO GLORIA!