Mary Jones was born in December 1784, the daughter of poor weavers, Jacob and Mary Jones, who lived in a cottage called Ty’n-y-ddôl in the parish of Llanfihangel-y-Pennant. Mary was probably their only child. Sadly, Mary’s father died when she was only four years old. This was very hard on Mary and her mother especially since during this time Wales was suffering economic hardship. The common people suffered greatly while Britain and France were fighting wars in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s.
But God is good and can bring blessings out of the most trying circumstances. Because Mary needed to carry the lamp for her widowed mother to the evening Methodist Church meetings, Mary was allowed to attend when most children were not. Mary learned much about the Bible while attending these meetings and grew to love the Bible very much. As a result Mary came to faith at the tender age of 8 years old. Though very young, she was much more familiar with the Bible than most children her age. Because of her knowledge of the Bible and faithfulness in attendance Mary was received into church membership.
Bibles were very expensive in those days and only the church had a copy. The next closest Bible was at a neighbor’s farmhouse about two miles away. The farmer’s wife graciously allowed Mary to come by once a week and read it. Over a period of six years Mary walked to this neighbor’s home, and politely removing her clogs, went into the neighbor’s sitting room to read the Bible. She committed large portions of Scripture to memory. How Mary longed to have her own Bible!
The story of Mary’s 25-mile walk to the town of Bala to purchase her Bible is very famous. But more remarkable is the fact that Mary had to scrimp and save every penny of her earnings for six years before she had enough money to buy her Bible. It was not unusual for Methodists to walk that far to church, or even to go barefoot part of the way as Mary did. It was the great sacrifice Mary made over many years to save enough money to purchase her own Bible that is really heroic.
Mary had heard that a minister named Thomas Charles in Bala had Bibles for sale in the Welsh language. When she had enough money she trudged over the hills to his church to find him. He was happy to see her but he had bad news for her. Every copy of his Bibles had been sold. Thomas Charles was very impressed by Mary’s diligence however and he handed her the last copy that he had put away for another buyer. At last Mary had her very own Bible.
Someone (maybe Mary herself?) composed a poem expressing her joy. This poem has been preserved in the oral tradition of the Welsh:
Yes, at last I have a Bible,
Homeward now I needs must go;
Every soul in Llanfihangel
I will teach its truths to know;
In its dear treasured pages
Love of God for man I see;
What a joy in my own Bible
To read of His great love for me.
Mary Jones’s visit to Thomas Charles in 1800 so impressed him that he had no peace of mind until he could find a way to make more Bibles available for the people of Wales. He went to a meeting of the Religious Tract Society in 1802 and told them Mary’s story. It had such an overwhelming effect on them that they decided not only to make the Bible available in the Welsh language but to form and/or fund other Bible societies to make the Scriptures available to the whole world.
This led to the founding of the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1804. Around 300 people from several denominations volunteered to form the society. The BFBS would be non-sectarian. The governing committee itself would be made up of many different denominations. Bibles would be distributed “without note or comment.” The society was not interested in fostering a particular interpretation of the Bible. The society’s purpose in forming was to provide easier, less expensive or even free Bibles to all peoples.
Next the BFBS became concerned with translating the Bible into all languages of the world. It is quite interesting that one of the first international translations was the Gospel of John into the Mohawk language!
The BFBS provided Bibles for many famous missionaries such as William Carey, missionary to India. The society aided Robert Morris, first protestant missionary to China, with a Chinese translation. They also helped Henry Martyn with a Persian translation.
In just 10 years, 60 other Bible organizations sprang up as part of the group of Bible societies encouraged by the BFBS. By 1907, 204 million Bibles, New Testaments, and other portions of Scripture had been distributed. Today the British and Foreign Bible Society is known as The Bible Society. In 1946 the national Bible societies formed a worldwide fellowship called the United Bible Societies. They work with 137 Bible Societies in a global alliance.
A young girl in Wales, Mary Jones, had inspired all of this!
Mary went on to live a long life. In 1813 she married and had six children. Sadly, all but one died at an early age. The only remaining child later moved to the United States.
Around 1820, Mary and her husband Thomas moved closer to the coast to the village of Bryn-crug near Tywyn. This is where she spent the rest of her life.
Despite her poverty Mary remained a faithful and supporting member of the Calvinist Methodist church in Bryn-crug. She donated money regularly to the Bible society. In 1854, in celebration of the BFBS’s fiftieth anniversary, she contributed half a sovereign (a lot for a poor woman in her day) towards a special collection to send New Testaments to China.
Mary earned some of her income as a beekeeper. She sold honey and beeswax. She had a small garden full of fruit to support the bees. Mary loved these small creatures of God. She was never stung and often claimed that it was because the bees knew that the money was being sent to mission and Bible societies.
As she grew older Mary loved to tell young people the story of her walk to Bala. She loved the Bible she received from Thomas Charles reading it from cover to cover many times during her life. Mary memorized many large portions of Scripture and this was a comfort to her in her last days when she became blind.
Mary died in 1864. Near her bedside was her old and much loved Bible. Today, this Bible is kept in the British and Foreign Bible Society’s Archives in the Cambridge University Library. It is a copy of the 1799 edition of the Welsh Bible.
Inside on one of the pages Mary Jones wrote:
I Bought this in the 16th year of my age. I am Daughter of Jacob Jones and Mary Jones His wife. the Lord may give me grace. Amen.
Mary Jones His The True Onour of thie Bible. Bought In the Year 1800 Aged 16th.
A stanza from a popular Welsh hymn which Mary would have probably sung with great fervor goes:
This is Jesu’s dear Bible,
Precious gift of God’s right hand;
There we find the rule for living
And the path to Canaan’s land;
There we read our ruin’s story,
Eden’s sad and sorry loss;
There we find the way to glory
Through my Jesus and His cross.
The life of Mary Jones is truly one of inspiration and great courage. I pray that all Christians would love God’s Word so much.