This was a very popular introduction to the Welsh Revival for many years, though currently out of print.
It is the based on a lecture given by the author on three continents and claims to be a simple, unvarnished report form someone ‘fully conversant with all its facts.’
An excellent and insightful look at the most productive revival of Christian history.
We have include 5 of the 16 chapters
DIVINE MOVEMENTS have their birthplace in the heart of Deity. But whenever God predisposes the inauguration of a period of blessing intended for the uplift of humanity, His Church in particular, multitudes of His chosen ones throughout the earth, become mysteriously burdened with the birth-pangs of a new era. Intercessions are stained with the crimson of a splendid agony. Undoubtedly at such a time, God’s people pass through their Gethsemane. Throughout the world there are now many thousands of devout Christians yearning passionately for a great spiritual awakening, convinced that only a mighty effusion of the Holy Spirit among the tormented nations can produce the turning point in the history of this distracted planet.
These reminiscences are sent out in the prayerful anticipation that earnest Christians may experience a strengthening of the faith, knowing that, although the “vision may tarry,” it will surely come. Every unbiased person must turn away in despair from endless discussions and abortive conferences, arranged often with a full fanfare of trumpets, concluding in “smoke” and confusion. They only demonstrate that the ailments afflicting humanity from age to age are entirely beyond the capacity of human ingenuity to heal
World cataclysms frequently have resulted in great awakenings of a moral and spiritual character. History proves that national calamities, such as wars, epidemics, droughts, famines, and pestilences are themselves but precursors of better times. Heart-breaking distresses, permitted by God, have been known to lead multitudes into the valley of humiliation. Humanity is sorely afflicted with an enormity of piled-up sorrows. Wistful longings are created in the hearts of the most concerned Christians for a speedy repetition of past history. What of present-day omens?
During past European wars, when fears of invasion created sleepless anxiety in the hearts of the inhabitants of Britain, evangelists of the Whitefield-Wesley type traversed the country with their flaming evangel, asking “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” So great was the moral impact upon the character of the people that the course of British history was changed. George Frederick Handel composed his deathless oratorios at the time when the football of Napoleon on the continent of Europe made the nations tremble. Following immediately upon the tragic days of the South African War, Wales experienced one of the greatest revivals in the history of the Church since apostolic days. David Lloyd George, Earl of Dwyfor, then Prime Minister of Britain, frankly confessed, after World War I, that “nothing less than a great spiritual awakening among the nations could possibly enable the leaders to iron out the appalling difficulties harassing their minds day and night.” Nourished and reared in the atmosphere and tradition of revival, he knew what he was talking about.
The Welsh in past generations experienced spiritual quickenings almost in every decade. Wales earned the envious title, “The Land of Revivals,” in addition to “The Land of Song.” As in the Book of Judges, so in the history
of this little nation, God raised up men of inflexible conviction and great audacity. They went into “the highways and byways” with the divine message consuming their very souls. They called upon the people to repent “in dust and ashes.” Names such as Vavassor Powell of Radnor, Griffiths Jones of Llanddowror, William Williams of Pantycelyn, Howell Harris of Trevacca, Rowlands of Llangeitho, Christmas Evans of Anglesea, John Elias of Lalngefni, are forever enshrined in the heart of the Celt. Richard Owen of North Wales, whose spiritual torch was kindled in the Moody-Sankey meetings, roused his compatriots to a deeper consecration. He himself burned out completely at the early age of forty-one. He preached to crowds that would give him no peace.
Perhaps the name of Evan Roberts is the most fascinating of all our honoured revivalists because of both worldwide publicity and strange happenings reported to have occurred in his meetings. From the ends of the earth, men and women in all ranks of life, representing different religions, came to Wales to witness personally the strange phenomena. Some criticized, and carnally minded sceptics scoffed. People thronged the churches day and night, far beyond the registered capacity of such buildings, without any decrease for months on end. Mr. W T. Stead, the intrepid editor of Review of Reviews, followed the revivalist for a whole week, attending every service. Writing to one of London’s periodicals, he declared in all seriousness that he “could find no trace of the devil in Wales at the present time.”
In all Wales, songs of praise raised in ceaseless chorus from the burning hearts of countless thousands were heard in homes and churches and even in the coal mines. There are few, if any, parallels with this mighty outpouring of religious fervor, bringing a whole nation to its knees at the foot of the cross in adoration and praise. It was a fearfully glorious sight, an awe-inspiring spectacle which can never be erased from the memory. Thousands found in all circumstances of life testified in later years that at this crucial time they were “transplanted from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his dear Son.”
Let us think of the instrument used by God during this period of blessing in order that we may be wisely instructed in the mysterious, yet majestic, ways of the Divine Spirit, when another such visitation is granted to the Church of God.
God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty,” is the classic expression of the apostle Paul, writing to the brilliant but egotistical assembly of Christians in Corinth. They were busy allocating to themselves leaders under whose banners they proudly and loudly enlisted, to their own spiritual detriment. This timely rebuke has provided an example of the unfailing wisdom of the divine methods in the choice of leaders and servants for the work of the Church. Human folly projects unwearyingly about the brilliance of human intelligence. Divine methods, choosing “the base things of the world, and things which are despised,” to perform the greatest exploits in the kingdom of God, throw into confusion the calculations of mere man. Thus they secure undisputed glory forever to the glorified Head of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Mr. Evan Roberts came of humble origin. His parents were of the ordinary good, solid, religious type, steeped in Calvinistic theology; proud of the purity of their home life; glorying in their church life; scrupulously jealous of their moral life. One owes an incalculable debt to the atmosphere pervading such a home. “Island House,” stood on the banks on the river “Llwchwr,” where he and his friends used to bathe and boat continually. Visitors from all parts of the earth came to view the unpretentious cottage, during the years following the revivalIt was the constant rendezvous of the curious. All his acquaintances admitted the unquestioned sincerity of Mr. Roberts from his earliest days. Diligent in his attendance at “the means of grace,” he was unusually serious and solemn in his outlook on life’s problems, persistently studious in his reading of the Scriptures—indeed, the Bible, we are told, was his unfailing companion wherever he went. Following the calling of a coal miner, he was once in a minor colliery explosion when a page of his priceless Bible was scorched by the fiery elements. Stranger still to record, it was the words in II Chronicles 6 which lay open at the time of the disaster, where Solomon prayed for revival, and which experienced the scorching tongue of devouring flame. When Mr. Roberts became world-known, a picture of this Bible went around the world.
Was this young man always dreaming of revival? The incident cited seemed prophetic. Once, we are told, he heard a sermon on the words, “But Thomas was not with them when Jesus came.” It is reported that those words made an ineffaceable impression on the mind of the youth. Perhaps we find in this incident the secret for his unflagging zeal for the services of the sanctuary. Never did he turn back. Loughor, the birthplace of Mr. Roberts, is a small hamlet situated at the westerly end of the country of Glamorgan, separated from Caermarthenshire by the wide, graceful sweeps of the river Llwchwr (the Celtic word for Loughor). It boasts the existence of several Nonconformist chapels—is there a single Welsh village that does not? —a good day school, and a village hall, a recent acquisition where modern youth assemble for the free discussion of current events. It is a local parliament. There are in the vicinity coal mines where Evan Roberts worked as a lad. Beyond the estuary gleams the golden coast of the glorious Gower Peninsula, famed for beauty.
When the revival burst forth in all its glory within the walls of Moriah Calvinistic Methodist Chapel, the unsophisticated inhabitants of the smug hamlet were like them that dreamed—they seemed to have been aroused out of the sleep of ages. Staggered by the strange, unheard-of sights, they wondered what was happening. Before they had completely recovered from surprise, the name of the village, Loughor, had become famous overnight.
For some years, the mind of Mr. Roberts had been turning in the direction of the Christian ministry. His spare time was avidly devoted to reading such literature as would assist in the preparation of his lifework. Although his friends “with one consent” acknowledged his undoubted religious sincerity and unspotted moral character, there does not appear to have been manifested, to the observant eyes of vigilant church leaders, any outstanding oratorical gift or special expository brilliance, such as is universally expected in Wales in a candidate for such an exalted office. Evan Roberts quietly persisted in the pursuit of his dream. Everything religious secured pre-eminence in his mind and heart. Every one of his acquaintances concluded, “that Evan intended to be a preacher.”
Contrary to the usual nature of a young lad, he does not appear to have enjoyed overmuch the impish pranks of the casual village boy. That was a great pity. For if a lad is capable of much frolic and fun and harmless naughtiness, there are often possibilities lying dormant in his nature for accomplishing great good. In saying that we are thinking of the intrepid tinker of Bedford, whose proverbial genius, used in wickedness in his unconverted days, resulted, when consecrated to highest service, in perennial blessing to God’s children everywhere. Our revivalist seems to have been noted for his undemonstrative, studious habits when other boys romped and roamed, his reserved nature, and perhaps his religious inclinations, held him in a vise-like grip. Nature seems to have taken a queer turn in him. But who can judge in these matters? “There is a way the eye of the vulture hath not seen,” declares the Book of Job. This may be one of them. That being so, even the keenest intellect lies prostrate before the majestic mysteries of Divine Providence.
One thing is certain—this particular young man was different from contemporaries. Was God already preparing him for the thrilling events lying immediately ahead, beyond his ken, when his name would be honoured and talked of to the ends of the earth? In this case, assuredly, the end justified the means. Evan proceeded with his studies in an unpretentious manner, undisturbed by the opinion of others, favourable or unfavourable, and, in due time, the church at Moriah recommended him for the work of the ministry. This necessitated a preliminary period of study at the Newcastle Grammar School, where something took place which completely changed the current of his life, making him famous among the brilliant revivalists of Wales. Evan Roberts carved for himself a niche in the Hall of the Immortals. “Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth.” It would necessitate the eloquence of the golden-mouthed Savonarola, or the facile pen of the dramatist-poet of Stratford-on-Avon, to describe adequately the glorious triumphs which followed the unceremonious departure of this young man from home. His avowed object was to pursue his ministerial studies, which, as we shall endeavor to portray later, never materialized. “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out. . . . Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariots: who walketh upon the wings of the wind.” Reverently we bow before the majesty of God’s awful throne.
Significant occurrences are sometimes advance intimations of earth-shaking events. Sometimes we find that infinitude lies buried within the bosom of a trifle. When a “still small voices’ whispered to Augustine, “Take, and read”— such a trifling occurrence—did anyone dream that the Church of God was about to be honoured with one of the most brilliant preachers of all time? Did Wesley have a premonition, as he sauntered into that unadorned Moravian church in London’s Aldersgate Street to hear pious Peter Bohler read Luther’s commentary on Romans, that something would happen, ultimately sending a thrill of new life throughout Britain, and later, throughout the New World? Millions have since blessed God for that incident. Spurgeon found the snow so heavy upon the ground one Sunday morning that he decided to attend service in a little Methodist Church—an unorthodox thing for him to do, as he later confessed. But the unlettered local preacher had a good text that morning—”Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” Whatever may be thought of the sermon, that humble unknown man was unconsciously used of God to bring into the ecclesia another Paul. Many avow that when that Spurgeon lad in his teens was brought to Christ, the greatest preacher since apostolic days was converted. Evan Roberts crossed his Kedron to his Golgotha in a similar way. Here is the simple record of the happenings leading up to the mighty revival.
Seth Joshua, a name with a Hebrew tang to it, came to Newcastle Emlyn to conduct an evangelistic campaign under the auspices of the Calvinistic Methodist Forward Movement, a movement which had been recently inaugurated by the devout men of that denomination, who had long felt the need of doing something aggressive in order to reach and save the large non-church-going masses thronging Welsh mining towns and villages, Dr. John Pughe being the chief instigator. Mr. Joshua was their pioneer evangelist. He too, had been saved from a life of profligacy through, I believe, the instrumentality of the Salvation Army. Seth Joshua was every inch a “man of God.” Every heartbeat had been dedicated and consecrated to the service of the Highest. This tribute is borne to his fadeless memory by this author, who enjoyed intimate fellowship with him in his later and riper years of Christian service and owes much to him.
The principal of the grammar school, John Phillips, using his great influence over the boys, earnestly advised them to attend the services whenever their studies permitted. Evan Roberts, so Mr. Phillips informed me in later years, was evidently impressed by the definiteness and fervor of the preacher. There seemed to be a strange, strong, new note about the messages by which he was entranced. Night after night found him a most attentive listener, without demonstrative commendation. Fellow students, however, felt convinced that within his bosom “deep was calling unto deep,” soon to break forth in a Niagara of blessing, submerging a whole nation. But the Newcastle Emlyn campaign concluded without any spontaneous manifestation of blessing. Indeed, Mr. Joshua told me that he was somewhat disappointed with the results—everything seemed hard and the people entirely unresponsive. He was permitted to live long enough to enjoy to the full the blessings and glory of it.
From that town, the evangelist moved to another smaller neighbourhood on the coast of Cardigan Bay. Here “the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt-sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones,” leaving behind it a few handfuls of sacred ashes as a memorial. Several of the grammar school students arranged to be taken to the place where the services were held. Among them was Evan Roberts, unconsciously approaching his holy Moriah. Reports differ somewhat regarding the occurrences at this memorable service. It appears that Mr. Joshua had experienced special hardness and difficulty in preaching. He was extremely sensitive and temperamental by nature. Those who knew him intimately would say that he was peculiarly influenced by the atmosphere of a service.
Almost in desperation, the evangelist prayed fervently at what seemed to be the close of the difficult meeting, “Bend us—bend us—bend us, 0 Lord !“ Speaking humanly, many believe that this very sentence gave birth to the revival. It became famous. Evan Roberts repeated it times without number. A young woman sprang to her feet in terrible soul-agony—Maggie Evans, if my memory serves me right. At this moment, the silent form of a young man rolled off his seat into the aisle. He appeared to be only semi-conscious. God alone knows how the miracle happened. A lady sitting opposite the young man assured me that he lay prostrate for a considerable time on the floor of the church, sweating profusely. Nothing seemed more certain but that he would die on the spot. Well, he did die spiritually. But he “rose again in newness of life” in Christ, to lead thousands through a similar experience. Suddenly new life had been infused into the campaign. All through that night and the following day, indeed for several successive days, the services continued without any signs of weariness. Evan Roberts was to all appearances a new man after this experience.
Returning to school after this phenomenal baptism, studies for the future revivalist were more than difficult—they seemed utterly impossible. He discovered to his amazement that something had happened and now concentrated book-work was a mere drudgery. Day and night, without ceasing, he prayed, wept, and sighed for a great spiritual awakening for his beloved Wales. Hours were spent in unbroken, untiring intercession, to the chagrin of those who did not understand the symptoms and secret of soul-travail. One thing became clear to him—study was impossible for some unaccountable reason. He had to surrender unconditionally to this overwhelming, mysterious impulse, surging through his sensitive, awakened soul.
A vision was given him at this time, so we were informed, in response to these passionate, persistent petitions. It was that a great revival was about to break forth that would be felt to the ends of the earth. This encouraged him tremendously. Although a young man of fine physique, his strong body felt the strain of this crushing burden. Heavenly power swept over him as he pleaded for a lost world, lost beyond hope, and no one to weep for it. Could he continue his studies with this load burdening him night and day, granting him no respite? No! He must go and tell his friends. Others must hear about it even if he died in the effort of proclaiming the glad tidings. Whatever the cost, go he must. It was a tragic moment for him and multitudes of others. Few know the agony of such great decisions. Wycliffe, before his traducers—Luther defending the gospel in Worms, William Carey deciding for India, Hudson Taylor venturing out by faith to save the submerged millions of tormented China—moments such as these never die. Evan Roberts was compelled to turn away from what appeared to be his lifework—preparation for the ministry—to lead a nation to Calvary.
“Go home,” said the Holy Spirit to Evan Roberts, “and tell the young people of your church what great thing has happened to you.” Immediately, without consulting or pandering to flesh and blood, he went. When our Lord visited His home town of Nazareth, “He could do there no mighty work . . . And he marveled because of their unbelief.”
THIS REVIVALIST was tested in that way, but with different results. Such is God’s amazing grace. It must have been a trying ordeal to have to inform his principal of this decision. But Mr. Phillips was a man of keen understanding and sympathetic nature. Perhaps he felt convinced that the “whim” would soon pass—just a transient emotion—after the first flush of the magnetic experience had expended itself. Arriving home for the weekend, Evan Roberts had leisure and opportunity to examine the ground and, in the orthodox manner, consult the elders about the possibility of arranging a service. It appears that he was led to call a service exclusively for young people, so that he might be free to tell them something about the happenings of the last few days and what he had passed through. Accordingly his wish was made known and an announcement made to this effect. Many of the youth of his acquaintance, convinced that Evan had something unusual that he wished to disclose, came in large numbers, full of animated curiosity. Had such a thing been known before? Not to their knowledge. What momentous hours those were that preceded that service! Can we imagine the tense anxiety of the youthful leader? But no one ever surmised or anticipated what the far-reaching results would be.
There is very little evidence to guide us, except for disjointed efforts given by the young people who were present. They reviewed the occurrence in the light of a movement that shook the nation from centre to circumference. Very simply, and without any attempt at producing effect, Mr. Roberts rehearsed solemnly and deliberately his experiences, emphasizing the deep hunger of his own heart for a new Britain for God and for a deeper knowledge of the work of the Holy Spirit within. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts,” were the words impressed upon his mind, as he tried to unfold the mysterious dealings of the gracious Spirit with him. Slowly and quietly—for it must be emphasized that fluency of speech had never been a marked characteristic of his—he spoke of the deep things of God and Christ, the hours passing quite unobserved, while tears coursed uninterruptedly over the cheeks of the listeners. People passing by the church commented freely and wonderingly upon the unusual spectacle of the lights burning in full blaze at such an hour. What did it mean? Inside the building strange things were happening. Young men and women who had never been known to speak openly of any experience of saving grace stood and testified fearlessly. Others were bowed in prayer. Some sang the hymns of Zion. Tears, sobs, sighs, and songs of praise were intermingled, continuing until near midnight. The happy throng dispersed in all directions, sombre midnight gloriously disturbed by the psalms of the sanctuary. Next day the village was agog.
When Mr. Roberts arrived for the pre-arranged service next evening, the chapel was besieged with curious worshipers, hardly knowing what would transpire. This chapel was not closed afterward night or day for many months, we are told. When it became known that some of the outstanding characters of the neighborhood had been converted after withstanding Gospel appeals of eminent preachers for a lifetime, and that these were declaring new-found joy and faith without shame or fear, the excitement became tense. Rumors sped far and wide. Down in the bowels of the earth, miners not only discussed the services but actually sang boisterously the grand old hymns taught them in their childhood and almost forgotten through sin.
Everything sprang into new life. Former blasphemers were the most eloquent, both in prayer and praise. These men appeared to be making up for lost time—”the years that the locust hath eaten” (Joel 2:25). Drunkards forgot the way to the saloons, which in fact were empty in a few nights. All the former inebriates were busy worshiping. Scores of the most respectable young people of the churches, who had previously never entertained such a thought, joined together and preached in the common, where gypsies usually camped. There they showed the benighted ones the simple way of salvation. Nothing daunted or discouraged them. Was it not the “new wine” of the kingdom that made them bold and merry of heart? It was the young people who responded with greatest alacrity to the searching challenge of absolute surrender and consecration to the service of the Lord. Wherever they went, the very air became vibrant with songs of praise. Hundreds of them, thrilled with an experience to which they had hitherto been strangers, scattered the “divine flame” recklessly abroad—to be seen once in a lifetime! But it was a wonderful privilege to have witnessed, at least once, a land in the throes of revival. God has thus vindicated Himself, leaving His Church without an excuse. He is the same—”I am the Lord, I change not.”
Personally known to me was a man who had acquired such proficiency in swearing that even his old companions turned away from him as he blasphemed with frightful vehemence. As a youngster, he had attended Sunday school regularly and thus had accumulated a rich store of Scripture knowledge, which made him the envy of many. To every appearance, he was a most promising Bible student. Alas! as he developed into manhood, he became a ruthless blasphemer. His very knowledge of the Scriptures enabled him to swear with vitriolic fury. His co-workers in the mine moved to a distance when once he commenced to swear. This foul-mouthed man was one of the first to break the silence by bursting into agonizing prayer. Let it be added at once, he was as eloquent in prayer as he had once been in profanity. It was thrilling to hear him addressing Jehovah at the throne of grace. His conversion astounded the neighbourhood, as Saul’s change staggered the early Church. Everyone marvelled at the skill with which he strung long Scripture passages together at the mercy seat—another tribute to the efficiency of Sunday school tuition!
At every service the evangelist emphasized the sentence, “Obey the Holy Spirit.” It was his special word to the Church of God. Congregations were urged to sing, pray, or testify, just as they were moved. Human prudence suggested that the meetings would assuredly end in riotous confusion. But human reasoning went far astray in its predictions. They did nothing of the kind. No human agency controlled the services; it had been customary for one person to control the worship of the sanctuary. Here was something entirely new. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” This was bewilderingly strange to those who had been nurtured under orthodox methods. Nothing like it had ever happened before—at least, not in Wales. Past revivals, even the 1859 revival to which many made hallowed reference, was a very different movement from this one. David Morgan, of Ysbutty, its great leader, had swayed the people by his preaching. Thousands were brought to Christ through his instrumentality. It was not so with this movement. “Obey the Holy Spirit . . . Be filled with the Holy Spirit . . . Do not grieve the Holy Spirit by disobedience”— Evan Roberts reiterated those words tirelessly. Men, women, and even children, came under the spell of the message. Incredible things happened as a result. In the homes, on the highways, down in the coal mine, in business houses, and even in the schools, hymns were sung.
IN THE MIDST of the Loughor turmoil, something suddenly occurred causing Mr. Roberts to stretch his spiritual wings, and increase his sphere of influence and service for the Master. A church of his own denomination in Trecynon, a suburb of the mining town of Aberdare, had read accounts in The South Wales News and Western Mail of the work of grace taking place in Loughor. For some reason, which can only be described as one of God’s glorious accidents, their appointed minister for that particular weekend had cancelled his engagement. Someone ventured to suggest, perhaps timidly, that the young revivalist be invited to occupy the pulpit. That was the limit of their intention. Believing that he was led by the Holy Spirit to do so, Mr. Roberts accepted. No one doubted later the reality of this divine guidance. Early Sunday morning, after having spent the whole of Saturday night conducting—if that is a correct term to use in view of what followed—the revival, he arrived practically unannounced. He was accompanied by two young lady converts mightily inspired by the revival and brimming over with the joy of the Lord.
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 colourful 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 Mount 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, “We 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. The crush was terrible. What language could describe the scenes inside the chapel! To the carnal mind, unsubjected and unsanctified, it must have appeared to be bordering on pandemonium. The scenes are recorded here just as eyewitnesses reported them to me later.
Although they had been in the church all through the day without respite, the evangelists continued through the evening service as unwearied as they were in the morning. Evidently “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” was assuredly quickening their “mortal bodies,” delivering them from any traces of fatigue. News of the meetings sped on lightning wings. Consternation took hold of the inhabitants of Trecynon and Aberdare. In agitated whispers and subdued dismay, groups meeting in the streets was the query on every lip. Time alone would give the answer.
Wednesday night came before I contacted “the revival” for the first time. It happened this way: A young man possessing a fine voice was preparing for one of the great contests which have been extremely popular among the Welsh people for generations. For some time I had been coaching him and correcting his deficiencies in voice production. I did not dream that I would meet him that evening under very different circumstances. After his departure, a friend of mine, a professor of music, called at my room very unexpectedly. Usually the evenings were his busiest times; business people crowded his studio for music tuition. Strangely enough, some of his pupils failed to turn up on this particular date, and he came to see if I would accompany him to the theatre, or enjoy a quiet stroll.
After a little consideration, my thoughts turned to the revival meetings which were occupying so many serious minds in the neighbourhood. I quietly suggested that we go to the scene of the mysterious services. Immediately, to my surprise, he acquiesced, and we both began to walk, and to discuss the reports appearing in the Daily Press concerning Mr. Roberts. Usually when we met, which was often, we talked of the great composers of bygone days, debating their qualifications or disqualifications. Cantatas, operas, oratorios, sonatas came under survey and delightful hours passed. But tonight it was “the revival.” This was very unusual for, although we were both members of the same large church, neither of us was by any means spiritual.
However, we walked and talked of the revival, and our conversation was perhaps unwise, because neither of us had ever witnessed a revival. Our opinions were, therefore, worthless. Like many others who lived before us, we freely ventilated our vain thoughts. Then something happened. My friend decided that he would proceed no further. My persuasive powers availed nothing. After lengthy debate, he decided that he would return to his studio. Equally obstinate, I determined that nothing would hold me back. Although “the revival” brought blessing to thousands of his compatriots, the Spirit of God, as far as one could impartially discern, left my friend severely alone. There was no evidence that “the powers of the world to come” had affected him in the least. Had I turned back with him, would I be writing these reminiscences?
When I reached the precincts of Ebenezer Congregational Chapel where Evan Roberts was that evening, I discovered that every avenue of approach to every chapel in the neighbourhood was filled with eager people; hundreds were clamouring vainly for admittance to one of the places of worship. Here was an unprecedented sight! Into this swirling mass I found myself projected. Patience ultimately caused me to reach the vestibule of the chapel where Mr. Roberts was and where at the far end of the room sat a deacon who knew me well. Seeing my dilemma, he beckoned to me, proffering me his chair. Knowing that this was my only hope of gaining admittance, and especially of securing a seat, I pushed through the throng in the aisles, until I reached his chair. That generous deacon, so I learned afterwards, had been there for fourteen hours without a break!
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 newfound experience. Welsh and English were extravagantly intermingled in this service. Language clashes are non-existent where the Holy Ghost is we-eminent. With awe and fear I gazed upon this scene. Some of the things that reached my ears will never be forgotten.
On the gallery confronting me was the young man who that evening had been coached for the great singing competition for which he had been preparing for months. Could I believe my eyes? Were my ears also deceiving me? With extended arms, his beautiful voice ringing clear and reaching the utmost extremity of the enormous building, he was praying and crying aloud, “Mercy! Mercy! Mercy!“ Just that one word! How had he managed to get into the building? What power was constraining him to cry aloud?
There was no denying the reality of that yearning, passionate exclamation. Another soul in another part of the church exclaimed in stentorian tones that vibrated, “Lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth: the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land” (Song of Sol. 2:11, 12). Who could deny it? A young woman with beautiful countenance and an exquisite voice challenged, “‘What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard Him, and observed Him.” She clapped her hands for joy. An elderly deacon announced with rapture, “With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.” A Presbyterian minister, his countenance pale as death, stood on his feet and recited: “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? Who is this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save” (Isa. 63 :1). 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.
WHEN THIS GLORIOUS spiritual tumult was at its height, there came a sudden calm. Hearing a movement behind me in the pulpit, I looked up. Evan Roberts was on his feet. He looked straight down at me. Our eyes met for a few seconds. I solemnly avow that those eyes searched me through and through. They burned like coals of fire. In a split second, my innermost soul seemed to be laid bare. I feared and I shook. The lustre on his countenance eloquently proclaimed the abundance of grace overflowing his heart. Best of all, he seemed utterly oblivious of it. Had there been a cover nearby, I most assuredly would have sought it.
Then a wonderful thing happened—at least, so it seemed to me. Measuring the huge pulpit Bible with both thumbs, he opened it exactly at I Corinthians 13. Not another page was turned. Then, in. measured tones he read—not preached, please remember—Paul’s magnificent love poem, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity [love], I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity [love], I am nothing — nothing — nothing.” Emphasizing that word “nothing” and repeating it with deliberation and awful Solemnity made us all cringe It was a painful experience for the flesh. There was no attempt at rhetoric. It was just a plain, simple, unadorned reading. But will anyone forget it? I think not. That fadeless scene has only deepened with the passage of the years.
Before Mr. Roberts had finished reading, a clear voice in petulant mood, rang out like the booming of a heavy gun. “I want to ask a question.” Confusion would have ensued but for the unruffled calm of Mr. Roberts. Lie did not look in the direction of the speaker. “I want to ask a question,” again challenged the querulous voice. The rude interruption produced no visible effect upon the manner or mood of the evangelist. Evan Roberts appeared immovable. His eyes were closed and his lips were moving. Evidently, he was in touch with his Lord, probably committing the situation into the hands of his Master. To my inexperienced mind, the situation was perilous.
Just then, someone started one of the popular melodies that was much in vogue during the revival, “O! ‘tis lovely! O! ‘tis lovely! All my sins are washed away.” Somehow one expected the building to collapse with the pressure of glory within its walls. Again and again the sweet words were repeated. Spiritual ecstasy lifted the people heavenward. Above the sweet melody came another exasperating challenge: “If you do not answer me, I will come to the pulpit to ask my question.” The speaker, a local man, was well known to the majority present. For years he had been associated with a small but conceited coterie of men who arrogated to themselves resounding titles. Ordinary folk called them agnostics. They were, in many respects, very fine individuals who, by familiarizing themselves with questionable literature, had been led into unbelief. All of them were once members of the Sunday school. Later experience proved that the young man figuring in this interruption was one of the excellent among men.
Because no one heeded his interruption, he proceeded to carry out his threat. All evening he had been sitting remorsefully in the gallery. He moved toward the stairs, the crowd hindering rapid progress; his intention was to reach the deacon’s pew, if not to occupy the pulpit. It was a defiant action. God has His own way of dealing with defiance and arrogance. As the man came slowly down the crowded stairway, the unexpected happened. As in the case of Saul of Tarsus, on the Damascus road, the Holy Spirit overpowered this man—he would have collapsed on the stairs had not the people upheld him—constraining him to cry out for mercy and pardon. What a scene followed! When the people realized the full import of what had happened, the shout went up, “He has been saved! He has been saved!“
Riotous enthusiasm broke loose. People surrendered to what appeared to be a delirium of religious excitement. Restraint was gone. Tears and laughter were intermingled. Songs and sobs filled the air. Scenes from the Book of Acts were re-enacted. Saul’s prostration was viewed anew in the light of the things happening. “Haleliwia!
Praise the Lord! . . . Diolch Iddo! . . . A’r Ri hen bo’r goron! ... Crown Him Lord of All!“ excitedly cried the delighted people. In another part of the church they were singing, “Come to Jesus, come to Jesus, come to Jesus just now.” All over the church sinners were asking, “What must I do to be saved?“ Willing workers moved as fast as the crowded pews would allow them, ministering solace to distraught souls. Moments like those do not often recur during a brief lifetime. We were all in the grip of a spiritual maelstrom. Uppermost in my mind was Jacob’s expression, “The Lord is in this place, and It knew it not.”
“Throw out the lifeline, throw out the lifeline,” sang someone, and the crowd joined in. English choruses were taboo in our unilingual congregations. Freely, but shyly, I confess that I had never heard a single English chorus sung in our orthodox assemblies. To make such an attempt would have been rated almost a “sin against the Holy Ghost.” Such a statement may seem strange, but it is, nevertheless, strictly true. The only exception would be the rendering of choruses from the great oratorios of the masters, in our Eisteddfod, our famous competitive meetings. But the singing of gospel choruses in another language was unthinkable.
The CeIt found it easier to express his deepest religious emotions in his native Welsh language than in the less-familiar English idiom. But this revival burned all linguistic barriers. And, to our amazement, there was nothing incongruous in it. With what appreciation did they sing, “Throw out the lifeline to danger-fraught men, and “Let the dower lights be burning.” The Moody-Sankey hymns seemed to take on an entirely new meaning. Revival makes a radical change in our prejudices.
While this commotion went on, my eyes often rested on the evangelist’s face, which shone with an unearthly lustre, as Moses’ face must have done when he descended from Sinai. It was all so strange to me. Never in all my experience of religious gatherings, extending at that time to over a quarter of a century, had I seen anything comparable. As the Lord Jesus, on the turbulent waters of Gennesaret, gazed calmly at the lashing seas so the evangelist calmly viewed the scene around him. Somehow one expected to hear a voice saying, “Peace, be still.”
“Will someone go outside? To the left of the church you will find a woman in spiritual distress. Will you help her to find the Saviour?“ This extraordinary utterance came from the lips of Evan Roberts. Profound silence struck us all. It was found to be just as he had said. There was a “calm” of amazed wonder! What manner of man is this? was the unexpressed thought of those in that church. It made one feel uncomfortable.
My own thoughts were anything but calm. What power was it that enabled this young man to make such confident assertion? How could he describe the soul-agony of a single individual when he was surrounded by a multitude, and that soul not even within the building? Bunyan-like, my thoughts were “tumbled up and down.” Before an explanation reached me, another request came: “There is a young man in soul-distress at the far end of the gallery. He is anxious for salvation. Will someone please help him?“ Turning inquisitively around, the people in the immediate neighbourhood saw such a young man, ploughed deep with conviction of sin. He was helped. The crowd once more burst forth in the glad refrain, “Diolch Iddo,” invariably sung when a soul had been known to “receive the blessing’ and to have entered into the glorious freedom of Christ. But the question persisted
—how could the evangelist have known? Those persons sitting nearby evidently had been ignorant of anyone in urgent need of spiritual comfort and help. Closer acquaintance with the Scriptures in later years taught us that the prophet Ezekiel did similar things on several occasions when consciously led by the Holy Spirit. Did not our Lord declare on one occasion, although pressed by the throng, “Who touched me
It seems that the spiritual intuitions of the revivalist had been greatly quickened when he received the baptism of the Spirit that made him a world figure. Did it not also make him peculiar, in the estimation of many? This became more apparent as the meetings progressed. For instance, in Liverpool some months later, he astounded the people surrounding him by announcing that there was a person present trying to hypnotize him. Next day, glaring headlines appeared in the city newspapers. Leaders of all denominations fulminated at such unwarranted interference by an unsympathetic spectator. Critics of the revivalist endeavoured to prove by this incident that Ryan Roberts was losing his mental equilibrium.
Circumstances, however, soon proved that their vitriolic aspersions were made too hurriedly. Proof was advanced later that a professional mesmerist, engaged in one of the city’s entertainment halls, was actually present with the avowed intention of paralysing Evan Roberts’ power. This extraordinary incident created confusion in the minds of many adherents of the revival. Much that Mr. Roberts did, and even more that he did not do, was reported around the world. Special reporters dogged his footsteps. Night and day inquisitive newspapermen watched every movement, sending each uttered statement to the ends of the earth. This made an indelible impression upon his sensitive nature. God alone enabled him to endure the publicity. It would have ruined the simplicity of his faith, for the circumstances through which he was called to pass were extremely nerve-wracking.
1. Reminiscences of the Great Welsh Revival
2. The Revivalist
3. The Revival
4. Visiting the Aberdare Valley
5. An Agnostic Overpowered
6. A Glimpse of Gethsemane
7. Effects of the Revival in Aberdare
8. The Miners—Before and After
9. My Personal Experience of the Revival
10. Evan Roberts Visits Villages and Valleys
11. Events at Resolven and Hirwain
12. “That They All May Be One”
13. Merthyr Tydvil and Dowlais
14. Mr. Roberts Goes to North Wales
15. The Revivalist finds his Cherith.
16. Revival Repercussions