Take a minute and read about this Christian woman who inspires me so.
Sarah Martin was the daughter of poor parents and was left an orphan at an early age. She was brought up by her grandmother, and earned her living by going out to families as assistant dress-maker, at a shilling a day.
In 1819 a woman was tried and sentenced to imprisonment in Yarmouth Jail, for cruelly beating and ill-using her child, and her crime became the talk of the town. The young dress-maker was much impressed by the report of the trial, and the desire entered her mind of visiting the woman in jail and trying to reclaim her. She had often before, on passing the walls of the borough jail, felt impelled to seek admission, with the object of visiting the inmates, reading the Scriptures to them, and endeavoring to lead them back to the society whose laws they had violated.
At length she could not resist the impulse to visit the imprisoned mother. She entered the jail-porch, lifted the knocker, and asked the jailer for admission. For some reason or other she was refused, but she returned, repeated her request, and this time she was admitted. The culprit mother shortly stood before her. When Sara Martin told the motive of her visit, the criminal burst into tears, and thanked her. Those tears and thanks shaped the whole course of Sarah Martin’s after-life, and the poor seamstress, while maintaining herself by her needle, continued to spend her leisure hours in visiting the prisoners and endeavoring to alleviate their condition.
She constituted herself their chaplain and school-mistress, for at that time they had neither; she read to them and taught them to read and write. She gave up an entire day in the week for this purpose, besides Sundays, as well as other intervals of spare time. She taught the women to knit, to sew, and to cut out ---She then sold the articles enabling her to buy other materials, and to continue the industrial education thus begun. She also taught the men to make straw hats, men’s and boy’s caps, gray cotton shirts, and even patchwork, anything to keep them out of idleness, and from preying on their own thoughts. Out of the earnings of the prisoners in this way she formed a fund, which she applied to furnishing them with work on their discharge; thus enabling them again to begin the world honestly, and a the same time affording her, as she herself says, “the advantage of observing their conduct.”
By attending too exclusively to this prison work, however, Sarah Martin’s dress-making business fell off; and the question arose with her whether, in order to recover her business, she was to suspend her prison work. But her decision had already been made.
“I had counted the cost,” she said, “and my mind was made up. If, while imparting truth to others, I became exposed to temporal want, the privations so momentary to an individual would not admit of comparison with following the Lord, in thus administering to others.
” She now devoted six or seven hours every day to the prisoners, converting what would otherwise have been a scene of dissolute idleness into a hive of orderly industry.
Newly admitted prisoners were sometimes resistant, but her persistent gentleness eventually won their respect and co-operation. Men old in years and crime, pert London pickpockets, depraved boys and dissolute sailors, profligate women, smugglers and the promiscuous horde of criminals which usually fill the jail of a sea-port and county town, all submitted to the benign influence of this good woman; and under her eyes they might be seen, for the first time in their lives, striving to hold a pen, or to master the characters in a penny primer. She entered into their confidence, watched, wept, prayed, and felt for all by turn. And for the next twenty years she strengthened their good resolutions, cheered the hopeless and despairing, and endeavored to put all, and hold all, in the right road of amendment.
She was now becoming old and infirm, and the unhealthy atmosphere of the jail did much toward finally disabling her. While she lay on her death-bed, she resumed the exercise of a talent she had occasionally practiced before in her moments of leisure --- the composition of sacred poetry. As works of art, they may not excite admiration; yet never were verses written truer in spirit, or fuller of Christian love. But her own life was a nobler poem than any she ever wrote – full of true courage, perseverance, charity, and wisdom. It was indeed a commentary upon her own words:
“The high desire that others may be blest
Savors of Heaven.”