Jane Austen and the Gospel

I was in Winchester briefly last week and was reminded of my last trip there when I visited the cathedral. There are some really ‘big names’ buried in Winchester; Kings Ethelwulff, Canute, Egbert, William II: Bishops Richard Fox, Steven Gardiner and others, along with various queens and other luminaries. There are some interesting non-royal, non-religious too; people such as Isaac Walton (author of ‘The Compleat Angler) and Jane Austen, the famous late 18th, early 19th century writer.

I was struck by the inscription on Jane’s tomb, which lies in the North aisle of the nave of the cathedral. This tells us that those closest to her, those who loved her, are ‘consoled by a firm though humble hope that her charity, devotion, faith and purity have rendered her soul acceptable in the sight of her Redeemer.’

Jane was the daughter of a clergyman, Rev George Austen. Perhaps he truly understood the gospel of grace; perhaps Jane understood too – perhaps neither of them did. But it seems pretty clear from this inscription that the true Gospel was not understood by those who loved her.

Most people around us are in a similar situation. Some of them are sitting in pews every Sunday, taking part in services and listening to preachers. Many more of course are out in the world, maybe spending their Sunday mornings on the golf course, or at car boot sales, or simply lying in bed, reading the Sunday papers. This ignorance of the true gospel can be found in all places and from the quickest brains around to the simplest; from Dawkins to dunce, the ignorance is rife. Maybe this was always the case. For so often, even those who see and hear the gospel fail to understand (see Luke 8:10 for example).

It’s my prayer that anyone stumbling across this post may be given the understanding that we do not become acceptable to God by anything that we do, but by responding to the grace and love he has shown us in the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Only by understanding this truth can we ever find peace and assurance.

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