“At evening time it shall be light.”
Mrs. Hall better known among her friends as “Old Nanny Hall,” lived in a very humble cottage in the village of Crakehall in the North Riding of Yorkshire. She was a member for nearly forty years of a Particular Baptist Church; but it appears from her own confession that she knew little of the power and preciousness of true religion until God in His wisdom was pleased to lay His afflicting hand on her. For three years previous to her death she was confined to her bed with a spinal condition attended with almost constant pain, and an internal complaint of a very distressing nature. Well do I remember my first visit to her; it is now upwards of two years since, and she had then been confined for more than a year to her sick bed. I was accompanied by a veteran defender of the truth as it is in Jesus – one who loves the unfashionable but glorious doctrine of Jehovah’s sovereign, eternal, unconditional, unchangeable love to His elect people; proved by giving His dear Son to live and die for them, and manifested to them in their regeneration, perseverance, and final glorification. Being myself young in experience, my views of Divine truth were at that time unsettled and wavering. On entering the small and at the first glance rather cheerless-looking apartment in which she lay, I made some remark upon its scanty dimensions and apparent want of comfort, when she raised her head from the pillow with a look of astonishment, and exclaimed, “Oh, bless the Lord! it was made for me; it is just right; nobody in the world is so well off as I am!” And half-an-hour’s conversation with her brought me to the same conclusion. She told us that, although dependant upon God from day to day for temporal mercies, she never wanted any good thing. And so strong was her faith on this point, that she declared her firm conviction that when God gives a promise to His people, and faith to rely upon it, sooner than He would break His Word, were ordinary means to fail, He would work a miracle as He did in the days of Elijah, and make the fowls of heaven the messengers of His faithfulness and truth. She then spoke of richer blessings of His grace, dwelling much upon her own worthlessness, and the wonders of His love in Christ Jesus to one so vile as herself. She seemed to look back upon the long period of her profession with nothing but shame and confusion of face, and appeared almost afraid to believe that God had indeed set His love upon her and
made her an eternal monument of His discriminating grace and mercy.
My visits after were frequent and I hope profitable; but being at length called, by God’s good providence, to a distance, I saw no more of her for twelve months or more. On my return, I found her gradually sinking in body, but growing in grace, and in the knowledge and love of God. “When I saw you last,” said she, “I spoke of the hope that was in me with fear and trembling; I was often harassed with doubts and fears; but now they are all gone. It
is now a certainty; I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.” In fact, the whole of her experience, from that time to her departure, was a firm reliance upon, and a patient waiting for the appearing of her Lord. Sometimes, indeed, I found her rejoicing with joy unspeakable, and full of glory.
To show how completely the fear of death was destroyed, I may mention the following incident. On one occasion, after speaking of the wonderful manner in which God had raised up friends for the supply of her temporal necessities, she expressed her surprise that, taking little or no support, she did not lose flesh or become thinner. Suspecting the real nature of the apparently healthy appearance, I regarded her with fixed attention, as I told her that it was dropsy – in her case certain premonitory symptoms of approaching dissolution. I have seen death steal upon his victim in various forms. I have seen the stout-hearted sinner shrink with horror from his approach; and I can recall the time when my own cheek has blanched with terror at the bare anticipation. But in the prostrate form before me not a muscle moved – not a feature betrayed the least trace of uneasiness; but fixing her eyes upon me for a moment, as if to assure herself that what I had told her was true, and then raising them to heaven with a joyous smile, she said, “It is all right. Glory! glory! for me to live is Christ; to die gain!” And with a strength of voice which astonished me, she sang-
“There is a land of pure delight,
Where saints immortal reign;
Infinite day excludes the night,
And pleasures banish pain.”
Here her strength failing her I repeated the remainder of the hymn, while the exultant expression of her countenance plainly told what a rich foretaste she had already enjoyed of the coming glory.
During her long illness she was sorely beset by a host of Arminian thieves, who vainly endeavoured to convince her of what they considered her errors. I call them thieves because although they could not shake her confidence, they succeeded at times in robbing her of her peace. With their lies they made the heart of the righteous sad. “As for my flock they eat that which ye have trodden with your feet, and they drink that which ye have fouled with your feet” (Ezek. 34. 19). For some time, previous to the closing scene however, these physicians of no value were not suffered to disturb her. Some from one cause, and some from another, ceased to visit her; and thus this afflicted and sorely-tried servant of God could adopt the language of the Psalmist, and say, “By this I know that thou favourest me, because mine enemy doth not triumph over me. And as for me, thou upholdest me in mine intregrity, and settest me before thy face for ever. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and amen.”
One evening I happened to be reading to her the twelfth of Hebrews, when, if I am not mistaken, one of her Arminian friends was present. When I came to the passage, “To the general assembly and Church of the first-born, which are written in heaven,” she suddenly interrupted me with the exclamation, “Yes written in heaven! written in heaven! and where are the men or devils who will get there to scratch them out?”
To another, who pitied her very much, saying, “Poor thing! poor thing!” Nanny answered, exultingly, “Poor! If Christ be rich, can I be poor?”
During the whole of the three years of her affliction she was never heard to utter a murmuring word. Her sufferings seemed almost forgotten and lost in a constant sense of God’s goodness towards her. “The people of God had plenty to do,” she said, “and vastly more than they did do, to thank Him for all His mercies.”
Thus with unwavering confidence, leaning upon her Beloved, she entered the valley no longer dark to her, although for some days previous to her change she was unable to speak and her bodily sufferings were at times very severe, yet the joyful expression of her face told that the last enemy was beneath her feet. She strongly reminded me of a child who had been long absent from home, joyously preparing for her return. I was lost in wonder. “Can this be the king of terrors?” thought I. No; he was the long-looked-for messenger of mercy. The night was far spent; he came to announce the dawn of eternal day. On the morning of Whit-Sunday, 1851, she peacefully fell asleep in Jesus.
I have given you a hasty sketch of the last days of my dear departed sister in Christ. She wished for no other inscription above her grave but this –
“A sinner saved by sovereign grace.”
W. S. Robinson.