The Welsh Revival
Scientists try to change the world through breakthroughs in science and technology. Historians try to change the world by studying the streams of history and arguing from these trends. Poets try to change the world by reflecting inwardly and articulating profoundly their many thoughts. The revivalist, however, lifts his eyes upward to the only true source of lasting change, the God of hope. With faith and deep desire, he cries out to God to enlighten, forgive, heal, restore, empower and lead His people again. It has been said that “The Revivalist stands as the symbol of the soul-shattering experience, when the skeptical and the indifferent are suddenly transformed into believing and spiritually-minded men.” 1Those who know the soul-shattering experience, and the spiritual transformation which follows it, long for it to be the experience of all men and women. They recognize that a revival of Christian faith is the foremost need of any nation. In December of 1902, a Mr. Dean Howell of Wales wrote, “If I knew that this was my last message to my countrymen all over Wales before I am summoned to Judgement, and with the light of eternity already dawning over me, this is my message, viz. that the principle needs of my country and dear nation at this time is a spiritual revival through a special downpouring of the Holy Spirit.” 2Little did he know that within two years Wales would be swept with a revival greater than anything he could have imagined.
Why was a spiritual revival the principle need of Wales in the opening years of the twentieth century? It has been noted that prior to the Welsh Revival, Wales had experienced much spiritual and theological decline. The last half of the nineteenth century had seen the rise of biblical criticism and theological liberalism. The authority of the Bible was undermined by preachers who came to disbelieve in miracles and the hard sayings of Christ. The publishing of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, in 1859, also had an undermining effect on the faith of many in Wales. Psychology also became more accepted and, in many cases, detracted people from Christian spirituality. It is these, and other, steps backwards that caused Dean Howell to yearn for a heaven-sent revival.
It has been said that “When true religion is at a premium, when the Word of God is scarce and the lamp of God burns low in the land, then it is that the irresistible energies of the eternal Spirit burst forth with a vigor seldom witnessed more than once in any one generation.” 3A stirring of this kind began to break forth in the ministry of a Mr. Seth Joshua. Joshua, ordained in 1893, was a traveling evangelist who began ministering in churches throughout Wales. Conversions were reported as those attending the meetings began committing their lives to Christ. As Joshua preached on conviction, pardon, consecration, crucifixion, Pentecost and abiding joy, he would begin to sense the congregation experiencing these very things. 4 There was a strong sense of the Lord moving in the meetings. After the meetings, Joshua would reflect on these experiences and pray to God. He was aware that something special and unusual was happening. After a prolonged time of prayer, he expressed his experience in these words; “I am in a current. It is new, and goes in a direction hitherto unknown to me.” 5
This new direction and current would carry Joshua across the path of Joseph Jenkins. Jenkins, born in 1859, was a minister in the town of New Quay. In the evenings, Jenkins committed hours of time to prayer. One evening, as he got up from his knees, he became aware of a blue flame which practically enshrouded him. 6 Experiences such as this made a deep impression on him as he began to realize that unusual things were happening.
Another evening, which would leave an impression not only on him but on others, came months later when he was preaching in a service on 1 John 5.4; “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” A certain young woman, Florrie Evans, was convicted by the message and followed Jenkins home. She nervously knocked on his door and, when he answered, she expressed to him her spiritual need. Jenkins advised her to acknowledge Christ as Lord over her life and to return to her home. On the next Sunday morning, in a gathering of about sixty young people, Jenkins invited anyone present to give testimony of God’s working in their life. A changed Florrie Evans proclaimed, “I love the Lord Jesus with all my heart.” 7Suddenly, something unusual happened. An intense awareness of God’s presence was felt by those gathered. In successive meetings, a similar thing occurred.
Around this time, Seth Joshua came to the church to begin ministering. He, too, was conscious of the spiritual appetite of the people and the special presence of the Lord in the meetings. Many persons were experiencing salvation and were offering prayer, praise and testimony. One evening, Joshua found that when he tried to close the meeting people stayed anyway and God continued moving. They continued on until 1 A.M. and during this time Joshua said, “They are entering into full assurance of faith coupled with a baptism of the Holy Spirit.” 8 Joshua then took some of the young people from New Quay to a meeting in Newcastle Emlyn and the revival began to spread.
While Joshua and Jenkins were experiencing the beginnings of revival, a third minister, Evan Roberts, became very involved in what God was doing in Wales. Roberts, born in Loughor, was formerly a blacksmith and a miner and, at age twenty-six, began training for the ministry. He would take his Bible down into the mines and studied it when he could. He longed for the Lord to open a door for him to serve in ministry. For eleven years, he had been praying for revival. In 1904, he began sensing a special closeness to the Lord and he began having profound spiritual experiences. He testifies that:
One Friday night last spring, when praying by my bedside before retiring, I was taken up to a great expanse – without time and space. It was communion with God. Before this I had a far-off God. I was frightened that night, but never since. So great was my shivering that I rocked the bed, and my brother, being awakened, took hold of me thinking I was ill. After that experience I was awakened every night a little after one o’clock. This was most strange, for through the years I slept like a rock, and no disturbance in my room would awaken me. From that hour I was taken up into the divine fellowship for about four hours. What it was I cannot tell you, except that it was divine. About five o’clock I was again allowed to sleep on till about nine. At this time I was again taken up into the same experience as in the earlier hours of the morning until about twelve or one o’clock… This went on for about three months. 9
Roberts learned of Joshua’s meetings, began attending, and was soon working together with Joshua and Jenkins.
Roberts continued to have intense spiritual experiences. He was torn between his insatiable yearnings to minister and his burdensome educational training. He began having awe-inspiring visions which foretold the advance of Christ’s kingdom on a massive scale.10 There were more and more meetings and the presence of the Lord was so great that Roberts found himself calling on the Lord to stay the Lord’s hand.11
One awe-inspiring vision that Roberts experienced showed a fiery, bottomless pit with people entering into it. The pit was a place of torment and its walls were impenetrable. All who entered the pit passed through a door. Roberts found himself outside of the pit with his back to the door. From this position he saw multitudes of people descending an incline, all moving towards the door. With anguish of soul, Roberts began crying to God, pleading with God to rescue them. Roberts would remember this vision many times and often referred to it in his preaching. 12
The revival was now spreading and countless lives were being touched by God’s hand. Participant Rees Howells comments:
In a short while the whole country was aflame. Every church was stirred to its depths. Strong men were in tears … and women moved with a new fervor. People were overpowered by the Spirit as on the day of Pentecost, and were counted as drunken men. In the services they were praying, singing and testifying. It was a church revival, turning Christians everywhere into witnesses. 13
They had never been so great a witness as when God was so noticeably moving in and through them.
Scenes such as this startled many. It is a hard thing to dismiss. One observer present in the Welsh Revival comments:
With my back to the pulpit, I witnessed a sight that made me feel faint. Confronting and surrounding me was a mass of people, with faces aglow with a divine radiance, certainly not of this earth. For one brief moment my faith staggered, and criticism arose in my mind. But it soon vanished. Critical analysis could not survive such a dynamic atmosphere. One section of the congregation was singing, “O! the Lamb, the Bleeding Lamb.” In another part of the building scores were engaged simultaneously in prayer, some were wringing their hands as if in mortal agony, while others who had received “the blessing” were joyous in their new-found experience. Welsh and English were extravagantly intermingled in this service. Language classes are non-existent where the Holy Ghost is pre-eminent. With awe and fear I gazed upon this scene. Some of the things that reached my ears will never be forgotten. … Underneath the gallery a young man, stammering, drew tears from all eyes as he cried, “W-w-w-hat m-must I d-do t-to be s-s-s-aved?” repeating the solemn question until he must have nearly fainted with fatigue. A most pathetic sight! One realizes the limitations of his human vocabulary when attempting to describe these scenes. 14
Vocabulary also falls short in describing God’s moving in a church called Bryn Seion in Trecynon. Roberts was invited to speak there and he took with him two young women who had been transformed in the revival. One witness describes the meeting in these words:
They arrived at Bryn Seion Church quite a while before the scheduled time for the ordinary morning service. From the moment they entered the building, these young enthusiasts rehearsed and described some of the marvellous scenes witnessed in their village. They exhorted all present to “be obedient to the Holy Spirit” when they came together for worship. It is safe to assume that not a single member of the audience had any inkling of what was about to happen in this never-to-be-forgotten service. There had been only a brief announcement in the national dailies on the Saturday morning, giving a colorful description of the Loughor meetings and suggesting that Mr. Roberts might be leaving for Trecynon, Aberdare, very soon. “Just an ordinary weekend appointment” was the mental attitude of the church leaders as they entered the building. Imagine their astonishment when they found two young, inexperienced women facing them, and in the most moving tones beseeching them to surrender to “the leading of the Holy Spirit.” They proved to be two young revival fire-brands. The sober, sedate Calvinistic congregation that gathered in Mt. Seion that morning received a shock. They looked askance when they saw their minister’s place occupied by a young man, accompanied by such youthful maidens. Instead of announcing the customary hymn for the commencement of the service, one of the young women burst forth in a spiritual song expressing her new experience, tears streaming down her cheeks. The whole congregation gasped! Before the solo concluded, her partner joined her. What did this mean? was the question on every lip. Like the people in the Gospel of Mark, they felt like exclaiming, “[… W]e never saw it [on] this fashion. ” before. That prim congregation breathed heavily and deeply. But the young minister in the pulpit – for such they all considered him, remained absolutely silent. They observed, however, that his body shook perceptibly as tears coursed down his pale cheeks. Then, we were told, a strange stillness fell upon the people, like the quiet presaging an electric storm. It soon broke when one of the proudest members of that assembly fell on her knees in agonizing prayer and unrestrainedly confessed her sins, creating consternation among other proud, self -satisfied, respectable members. Others followed rapidly and with such spontaneity as to cause bewilderment. How the elders gasped! All over the chapel, men and women, young and old, kneeling in the pews and aisles, claimed “the blessing.” Mount Seion, for once, became a veritable Valley of Baca. The great church organ remained silent. Immediately upon the cessation of those burning confessions, extempore hymns were sung. How the people sang! That service, commenced so inauspiciously, continued without a break all day! There was no dinner hour nor Sunday school. All the worshipers apparently were oblivious to every physical discomfort as Mr. Roberts reiterated the cry, “ Obey! Obey! Obey the Holy Spirit!” with overpowering effect. When evening came, the other churches had received the news. The neighbourhood seemed to have assembled in this one place, striving to enter the one comparatively small building where“the revival” was. 15
They came in droves, searching and yearning for the spiritual changes they were seeing in others.
Even the press reported these spiritual changes within peoples’ lives. The South Wales Daily News, reporting on the revival said:
Infidels were converted; drunkards, thieves, and gamblers saved, and many thousands reclaimed to respectability and honoured citizenship. Confessions of awful sins were heard on every side, and everywhere. Old debts were remembered, and paid. Theatres and public houses in distress for lack of patronage. Several police courts had clean sheets, and were idle. In five weeks, 20,000 conversions were recorded. 16
Powerful conversions could not be easily dismissed or trivialized. While critics thought that the revival was a big fizzle of human emotions, men and women kept coming, discovering Christ, and undergoing dramatic personal and spiritual changes.Powerful conversion resulted in changed lives. Reports came in of pubs becoming practically empty and, in one place, a pub was converted into a house of prayer. 18 Converts were not only leaving behind their drinking habits, but they were changing in countless other ways. They had become spiritual creatures. One picture of this change is the conversion of numerous coal miners in the revival. Coal miners in Wales had a reputation for being rough and vulgar. In the mines, horses did much of the heavy work. All day long the miners would curse these animals, giving them commands that were accompanied with profanity. After the miners were converted, their tongues were cleaned up and their whole demeanour and speech was so different that for a time the horses no longer understood them. A period of time had to pass before the horses relearned the, now polite, instructions that were being given to them. 19
Many other lives were changed the same way. One student expressed the shock that he felt when listening to the testimony of a new convert:
At the square that night I joined a crowd listening to someone speak from a platform. When I saw who it was I could hardly believe my eyes, for I knew him well, and everyone else knew him to be one of the profanest characters in the area. There he was… with sentences and verses of Scripture pouring forth from his lips. I did not know the story of his conversion but I knew of the fluency and blasphemy of his oaths previously. That sudden view of him, so fervently commending the salvation which is in Christ to the surrounding crowd, shook me. 20
While wonderful conversions were occurring, some sad news was around the corner. Roberts began experiencing problems with his health and became bed-ridden. Medical science was not as precise in his day as it is in ours. Some believed that he experienced a slight paralysis of the brain. Others said that he had a mental breakdown. Some dedicated friends, Mr. And Mrs. Penn-Lewis, took him into their home and cared for him. 21 The revival continued for a time, into 1905. However, the window for the Welsh Revival was closing. In its brief time, thousands of lives were saved and changed. One writer has said concerning the revival; “The work of a century is crowded into a year.” 22 By the end of 1904, thirty-two thousand converts were counted, most of them coming from South Wales. 23
Dean Howell knew it; the principle need of Wales was a spiritual revival through a special downpouring of the Holy Spirit. Longing prayers rose from earth to heaven. Those prayers were answered by the God of revival and Wales received a blessed downpouring, outpouring and awakening which left thousands changed, the Welsh Revival. It reversed spiritual decline, confronted theological liberalism and showed to all that “…whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: …” It came with unusual experiences, conviction of sin and changed lives. Those who passed through its soul-shattering experience partook also in its joyous deliverance from spiritual deadness to living faith and communion with God. They became revival firebrands, used by God to spread revival to others, as the name of Jesus Christ was lifted high and the lamp of God burned brightly in Wales once again.
1. J. Vyrnwy Morgan, D.D., The Welsh Religious Revival 1904-5: A Retrospect And A Criticism (London: Chapman and Hall, 1909), 183.
3. Ibid., 35.
10. Eifion Evans, The Welsh Revival of 1904, 71.
Evans, Eifion. The Welsh Revival of 1904. Port Talbot: Evangelical Movement of Wales, 1969, 65-66.
Grubb, Norman P. Rees Howell: Intercessor. Fort Washington: Christian Literature Crusade, 1983.
Jones, R. B. Rent Heaven : The Authentic Story of The Revival of 1904, Some of Its Hidden Springs and Prominent Results. Buffalo: European Evangelistic Crusade, 1950.
Matthews, David. I Saw the Welsh Revival. Chicago: Moody Press, 1951.
Morgan, J. Vyrnwy, D.D., The Welsh Religious Revival 1904-5: A Retrospect And A Criticism. London: Chapman and Hall, 1909.
Phillips, Thomas. The Welsh Revival : Its Origin and Development. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1995.
The South Wales Daily News.
Scripture taken from The King James Version.