“How often is the poor man’s cottage the palace of God”.
These words were penned in the 1700’s from “The Dairyman’s Daughter”, about a young lady who was raised in a poor farmer’s home on the Isle of Wight. Her father, Joseph Wallbridge was a lover of truth, simplicity and integrity who raised his children to love these same virtues. Hard work and thrift enabled him to provide for his family, never with a surplus but adequately to meet their needs.
Elizabeth Wallbridge was one of three children who hired herself out to a wealthy family as a servant. She was captured by the opulence that wealth brings and with her wages bought for herself fine clothes and jewellery, hoping somehow to escape her feelings of being poor. But there was an event that was to change her life’s direction. She had heard about these fiery preachers who called people “to escape from the wrath which is to come” and to become followers of Jesus Christ. When one came into her area she sought permission from her employer to attend and donning her best clothes she left with a friend, more out of curiosity than conviction. That night her heart was gripped by truth and though others mocked, Elizabeth Wallbridge’s “heart was strangely warmed”.
Knowing what Christ had done for her she sought to bring others into that same life-changing message. She knew that all her good works could not bring her salvation but faith alone in the redeeming work of Christ on the cross and trust in His resurrected power working in her life. Wallbridge began to share Christ with whoever would listen, beginning with her aging parents and her siblings. Though her family had attended a main stream church their minister was more concerned about philosophical discussions than Christ. Strange that one could attend a Christian church for years and yet never hear about Christ’s redeeming love.
Then a tragic event placed her squarely in a place where her life would take on new meaning. Her sister had become ill and died. But for this event Elizabeth Wallbridge would have been lost to the sands of time but her story lives. Even tragedy can bring one into a fuller expression of God’s grace. She contacted a pastor who knew and taught Christ’s redeeming love to be the officiant for her sister’s funeral. This began a life-long correspondence between this pastor and herself.
Returning home to care for her aging parents, Elizabeth grew in “wisdom, stature and in favour with God and man”. Her continual expression of His love endeared her to the hearts of many and brought others into a saving knowledge of sin’s forgiven and the hope of everlasting life. Her correspondence reflects her deep love for Christ and her continual encouragement to the pastor to keep preaching Christ. This poor man’s cottage truly became the palace of God.
Yet poverty can be cruel and though rich in faith she weakened under the icy grip of consumption in the dampness of her home. Even as her strength waned her faith and her hope shone as a lighthouse to those around her for to Elizabeth Wallbridge, death was not her victor. Christ had dealt with that when He conquered sin and death and rose again in triumph. She had an unswerving conviction that because He lives she would live with Him forever. Even in her dying hours she proclaimed His victory and her victory in Him.
These words were penned by her pastoral friend after her triumph in dying grace and resurrected hope:
“But she shall be seen on the right hand of the Redeemer at the last day and will again appear to His glory, a miracle of grace and a monument of mercy”.
Elizabeth Wallbridge’s story is not peculiar to her alone. It is the story of so many that the Foundation work with throughout the world. It is the story of those who, though they may live in poverty by the world’s standards, are yet rich in faith with a firm hope in the Resurrected Christ. Many have known the transforming power of His grace and seen His hand of mercy. No longer slaves to sin they have become sons and daughters of the Most High God, heirs and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. The King’s banqueting table has been set for them, the invitations have gone out and the festal robes await their arrival.
May it also be said of us on that day that we are but miracles of His grace and monuments of His mercy.