By Eifion Evans
'That You [God] would come down' (Is. 64:1) describes an event that could only be traced to God's initiative, grace, and power. What was sluggish and deadening among God's people becomes vigorous and productive. The blessing spills over into the community, and spiritual realities become urgent concerns of an indifferent public. Revival is God breathing new life into a church at a time of decay and danger, where no escape from certain destruction seems possible except by direct intervention of God. One such revival took place in Wales in 1859.
- Humphrey Jones
Humphrey Jones on return to Tre'r-ddol in Cardiganshire, in June 1858, brought new convictions and experiences. In America he had been ordained as an Episcopal Methodist minister, and witnessed a revival that swept the eastern States. This work began with a prayer meeting. Numbers grew, powerful influences were evident, and spread geographically over a wide area.
Jones was putting into practice convictions learned from Charles Finney; revival was not so much a miracle on the part of God as an activity on the part of man. A revivalist must use every means to influence man's unprejudiced reason and unbiased will, and awaken the church to its responsibility towards the world, removing perceived hindrances to blessing. Although this cannot be achieved without God's help, the preacher is still responsible for diligent prayer and effective preaching. New methods must be continually devised, overcoming the tendency to despise what is familiar. In Finney's view, if the means are used with thoroughness and sincerity, revival will inevitably follow. Consequently, in Tre'r-ddol, Jones held prayer meetings and preached in a direct, appealing manner. Crowds flocked to attend his meetings, many came to Christ, and calls for his ministry multiplied.
In September 1858 Jones came into contact with David Morgan, an ordained Calvinistic Methodist preacher. Morgan was initially hostile to Jones's methods, and spoke at length to him after he preached at Pont-rhyd-y-groes, reproving believers for lukewarmness in their dealings with God. After this, they agreed to hold weekly prayer meetings at nearby Ysbyty Ystwyth.
One night Morgan experienced an extraordinary encounter with God, 'I awoke at four in the morning, remembering everything of a religious nature that I had ever learnt or heard'. This was no small legacy! He had been reading a popular Bible commentary by James Hughes, and books by Thomas Watson and John Owen, and his Calvinistic Methodist upbringing would have laid a solid foundation of Scripture knowledge, while the 'seiat' (society meeting) would have familiarised him with careful discipline regarding church membership, and maturity in spiritual experience.
He had prayed for revival for several years, seeing it as the prerogative of God's grace rather than the product of man's effort which was why he had misgivings about Jones's 'methods'. But he could not deny the reality of the 'commission' he had received from God. He regarded it as an anointing of the Holy Spirit which evidenced itself in his preaching.
The power of the Spirit
In the prayer meetings, the sense of the divine presence was overwhelming. The intensity of fervour and conviction escalated as time went on. People wept over guilt for their sins; all sense of time was lost as eternal issues became their consuming concern. The joint labours of Jones and Morgan took them to other parts of Cardiganshire until December 1858; they witnessed fresh zeal among God's people and conversions from the world.
Morgan's custom was to preach for thirty minutes, followed by a hymn, then address the unconverted in a direct, searching manner, giving opportunity for any to register a desire to join the church. A contemporary minister noted that his ministry was not so much characterisied by the newness of his method but by 'the power of the Spirit with which he was anointed'. A meeting at Tregaron in November proved a turning point, with Morgan praising God for evidence of 'a rising cloud', and earnestly beseeching God, 'let the whole sky grow black'. The sermon by Jones that followed was attended with power, and the closing hymn was repeated several times amid a blessed disorder of weeping and rejoicing. From that time the two men agreed to work separately.
Sadly, Jones became disturbed by the hardness in some congregations, especially during early 1859 at the Wesleyan church in Aberystwyth. He seemed disillusioned by the failure of his usual methods, and soon laid claim to immediate, divine revelations. In two months he had only preached one sermon, confining the meetings to Scripture reading and prayer. Gradually, people stopped praying. With the revival spreading elsewhere, Jones was convinced that a millennial reign of Christ was imminent. He proclaimed that the Holy Spirit would descend on a particular day in July but when this did not happen, he was a broken man, and took no further part in the revival.
Meanwhile, Morgan was going from strength to strength in the work of the Lord. At the year's end he experienced another blessed encounter when God's presence filled him with awe, 'I have been wrestling for the blessing and I have received it'. To some, during the following day's ministry, Morgan's words 'were so like fire as to create terrible convictions. It was a fearful place, some sighing, others praying, still others praising'. He was profoundly conscious of standing on holy ground: 'The Lord would give us great things if He could trust us not to be thieves; if He could trust us not to steal the glory for ourselves'.
Reaping a harvest
News of the remarkable work in Cardiganshire spread throughout Wales, creating interest and desire, producing widespread prayer meetings and calls for Morgan's ministry. By the summer of 1859 there were 300 converts at Llangeitho, 400 at Tregaron, 500 at Aberystwyth. As well as the Calvinistic Methodists, other denominations reaped a plentiful spiritual harvest in the period 1858-60, with a total estimated to be about 110,000. Many affirmed it to be the fruit of several years' faithful sowing of God's word, acknowledging God had brought them conviction through a sermon preached years prior to the revival.
Early misgivings about the revival were overcome in February 1859, when Morgan attended the Cardiganshire Presbytery, 'The group acknowledged as leaders ... were antagonistic, and even menacing... Many, therefore, had anxious forebodings as to the revivalist's fate. By the evening service, it was clear that he needed no earthly champion. God's presence filled the place... The intense glow pervading the place vindicated itself as God's fire'.
A prayer meeting at the Calvinistic Methodist South Wales Association in Llangeitho in the summer numbered 18,000, and a contemporary newspaper commented on the 'pervading and overwhelming solemnity' that marked the occasion.
Through prayer and preaching
Many consider prayer to be one of the chief characteristics of this revival. God had poured out 'the spirit of grace and of supplications' on His people in a remarkable way during 1858-60. Only rarely, however, were the prayer meetings allowed to replace or diminish preaching opportunities. Itinerant preaching disseminated a consciousness of God's unchanging sovereign power as well as His gospel truth. David Morgan passionately believed in preaching as God's means to bring sinners to Christ. Before his anointing with the Spirit in 1858, and after its withdrawal in 1860, he pursued this high calling. But he also acknowledged that there are seasons of refreshing from God's presence when the word preached is brought with power to convict and convert. He confessed that 'one of the most agonising experiences of his life was to find crowds still flocking after him, when the convicting and saving influences of his ministry had declined'. One observer said to him when the revival had subsided, 'You have lost your warrant, haven't you... The Almighty gave you a commission, and really you had authority while it was in force - you could lay your hand on whom you would. Perhaps you could renew your commission. Go to the King... and get it renewed'.
Young and old were affected in the revival, family life was transformed by the prevalence of family worship among the converted, churches enjoyed greater harmony in their relationship with each other, and an invigorated church influenced society. The revival consolidated the Nonconformist dominance in Wales as previous revivals had done, especially in the previous century. Inevitably, it also contributed to the preservation of a Welsh culture and identity. The revival was a divinely authored instrument of gospel propagation. In revival, the message is still the same, God's grace is the same, and God's purpose is the same. It is merely that God's purpose of salvation is being realised with heightened activity, elevated spiritual experiences, and multiplied additions to Christ's kingdom. A nation 'is born in a day'; where before progress was gradual and muted, now it is dramatic and profuse. What God has done before, why not again? It is still the day of grace and today is the day of salvation.
Eifion Evans is a retired minister, living in Cross Hands. He is the author of a number of books on the subject of revival.