An Address To The Young Women of the Birmingham Ecclesia
BY SISTER JANE ROBERTS
Sister Jane Roberts was the wife of brother Robert Roberts for 39 years, from April the 8th, 1859 to her husband's death in San Francisco in 1898. She was eight years older than brother Roberts which no doubt aided her in that mature spirituality which the young Scottish brother was so eager to find in a companion. Robert Roberts came down from Aberdeen in 1857 to the larger and more sophisticated city of Edinburgh, accompanying a brother Barker who had been appointed by the Aberdeen ecclesia as a delegate to an annual gathering of brethren in Scotland. The first acquaintance was one-sided, but it is of interest to relate as it reflects the minds of both Jane Norrie and Robert Roberts even at this early stage. A proposal had been mooted to publish some articles from Dr. Thomas' "Herald" in a tract form. Strangely there was some strong opposition to this, mainly expressed on the basis that the proposal breached Bro. Thomas' copyright! When all had voiced their opinions and no little confusion had resulted, the young teenager from Aberdeen timorously dared to speak (Shades of Elihu in Job 32:6- 12)! Sensibly he proposed that brother Thomas be asked himself if he had any objection, though noting that he scarcely could imagine that the Doctor would object to anything that would extend the knowledge of the Truth! Of this intriguing incident Bro. Roberts later comments:
"My future wife was present. I did not know it, for I had no acquaintance with her; but she has often since remarked that my words on that occasion commended themselves to her as a little young common sense, in the midst of much senior fog" - (My Days and My Ways, p. 33)
Bro. Roberts visited Edinburgh twice more before they met, but it is obvious from the above that these two remarkable people had their hearts fixed with a common goal. It has often been commented that Robert Roberts revealed astonishing interest in Divine matters at an early age and a soundness of judgment well beyond his years. These qualities were never more significantly illustrated than in his choice of a companion for this life. He found the girls of his own age 'frivolous', and they on their part found him too taken up with the business of his Heavenly Father. When Jane Norrie came into his life he found remarkable and joyous companionship.
"Meanwhile, I was solaced with the sympathy and love of one sister in their midst ... When I was introduced to her, I was drawn to her with a power that soon ended in the closest intimacy. She was my senior by eight years; but this, so far from being an obstacle, was the reverse. It imparted to her a weight and sobriety of character that fitted her for the companionship which I desired. Girls of my own age were frivolous. One with whom I had tried to cultivate acquaintance in Aberdeen (a brother's daughter) asked me why I "jawed so much about the nations". There was no repugnance of this sort to the truth about Jane Norrie. On the contrary, her tastes were all in the line of intellectual and scriptural things. There was an inexhaustible fund of interest in this direction which supplied the material for conversation that never flagged. I met no one like her in this respect; and it was inevitable that our acquaintance should ripen fast, as it did, into the tenderest relation. I was only nineteen when we mutually agreed that we were suited for life companionship. Some of our friends were scandalised at such a result; but we felt sure our decision was a wise one, and therefore, without making a secret of it in any way, we shut our eyes and ears, and went on our way. Time justified our policy." - (My Days and My Ways, pp. 34-35)
These words were written by brother Roberts in 1890, after 31 years of married life. He could clearly remember their acquaintance blossoming rapidly to "the tenderest relation". Here were two younger people properly prepared for marriage in the Lord in which the emotions though profoundly stirred, were subject to and beautified by the eternal truths that were the inspiration of both their lives. It is not surprising that brother Roberts should further write of the abounding success of this marriage:
"Our married experience has been nothing but a pure blessing, spiritually and in all other respects." - (My Days and My Ways, p. 54)
Acquaintance with the life and work of Robert Roberts impresses us with the enormous vigour and volume of work that were seen in just one human life. And throughout all that a devoted sister kept up with him, positively stimulating his faith, revelling in his spiritual studies and cogitations, supporting him through the waves of ecclesial strife that swept across his path and succouring him in all the practicalities of this life.
At the end of his life, Jane Norrie's husband would say very touchingly, "Although I have been married for 40 years I still have a sweetheart in my wife". - (Robert Roberts, p. 170)
These quotations reveal the depth of mind of sister Jane Roberts. She was a true companion to her husband, a "help-meet" indeed!
After his decease she continued to play an active and valued role in the Birmingham Ecclesia. Her devout way of life, exhaustive knowledge and warmth of practical love complemented a rich character in Christ. Much of brother Roberts' mind lived on in her and her counsel was sought by many. It was very common for candidates for baptism to be "taken through" under her thorough and competent guidance.
The articles republished in this booklet constitute the quintessence of Sis. Jane Roberts' mind. It is felt that they have much to offer our sisters and young girls in assessing, in this so very different and ungodly age, the way of a woman of God. The reader will be impressed with her great attention to the Word of God; she literally embibed it seriously every day as the well- spring of her life. What a rich lesson lies in this for our sisters in this age of many attractions and vast propaganda through the various forms of media. Then the reader will be equally struck by her application of the Word in all the present chores of domestic life.
Sister Roberts died in October 1919, surviving her husband by twenty one years and arriving at the "good old age" of 90, a mother in Israel and a great influence for good in the Brotherhood. Fourteen years before she had written to Bro. C.C. Walker, who succeeded her husband as Editor of "The Christadelphian", to outline some thoughts for "when I die" and her letter, published in the November 1919 "Christadelphian", is here reproduced:
"My Beloved Brother,
"If the Lord delay his coming for some time longer, in the natural order of things I shall have to be laid to rest in Witton, till the time appointed, when the dead in Christ shall hear the voice of the Son of Man, and shall come forth to a joyful order of things, according to his promise.
"It would be according to my mind that you should conduct the funeral service of one whom you may term a weary pilgrim, but one who, all through the wilderness journey, realised that there was a glorious ending to it; and in hope of the promises made of God unto the Fathers renewed her strength in God from day to day, resting on His Word.
"My love I desire to all the brethren and sisters, exhorting them not to faint on the way; but to go on renewing their faith and hope in God by the daily study of His Word, and meditation upon the great salvation which He has provided for us of His own loving kindness and tender mercy in Christ; and in the confident hope of joining them shortly on Mount Zion, in songs of rejoicing and praying the Father to guide and bless them while their pilgrimage lasts...
"We shall meet again. Thanks be to God. Amen.
"Your loving sister in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ,
Her requests were at the appropriate time fulfilled and two to three hundred brethren met at Witton where Sister Jane Roberts was laid to rest alongside the aged mother of her beloved husband, who had died 19 years before in her 93rd year. (Bro. Roberts was buried in Brooklyn, New York, near to the grave of Bro. Thomas).
Amongst many letters of respect and affection for the life and ways of Sis. Roberts, the following one written to her daughter from Bro. A.T. Jannaway is chosen as a final summary.
"What a pleasure and inspiration it is to recall and reflect upon her exemplary life. How faithful was she as a wife, mother, and Christadelphian. For close on 45 years I have been impressed with her extraordinary love for the things of God, and her devotion to His service. How many little incidents could one relate bearing upon this. How wise were her counsels, and how great her patience and affection.
"May we not say, without in any way detracting from your father's excellence, that we are greatly indebted to our departed sister for his invaluable work? What a true help-meet she was. How she supported, encouraged and assisted her partner through dark and toiling hours, and this help was not restricted to her husband, but extended to many others. It is not only you who have suffered a loss, but the brotherhood. Sister Roberts' influence was great, and it is now no more - except in our remembrance of her sayings and doings. I must give an extract from a letter written not so very long ago:
"'I am going quietly down hill as regard health and strength, and am much cheered by the signs of the times, all indicating that the coming of the Lord draweth nigh, and that any day we may receive the summons. 'His will is best, there let it rest'.' "
The Study Service Committee are thankful to have the opportunity of publishing these writings of our esteemed Sister of old on the one hundredth anniversary of her first address to the young sisters of the Birmingham Ecclesia. The two addresses were delivered in December 1881 and January 1883 and published in serial form in "The Christadelphian" for 1882 and 1883 respectively. We express our thanks to the present Editor of the Christadelphian, Bro. Alfred Nicholls, for his willingness to see the work go ahead and trust, as he expressed it, that many will be helped by this publication.
"Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman that feareth Yahweh, she shall be praised".
The Committee, December, 1981.
Christadelphian Scripture Study Service,
85 Suffolk Road, Hawthorndene, South Australia 5051