Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The 1859 Revival in Wales (Part 3)

A three-part series based on a talk given at one of our Wednesday evening Prayer Meetings. You might like to catch up with Part 1 and Part 2.
4. The Revival Spreads

In February of 1859 a Calvinistic Methodist presbytery meeting was held in Aberaeron, south of Aberystwyth (pictured above). The churches had been urged to pray for God’s blessing upon the meetings. David Morgan was booked to preach during the presbytery gathering. Some were hostile to his presence and attended his first meeting with an antagonistic spirit. But such was God’s evident presence in the service that the all opposition was subdued. Morgan was given to preach most powerfully in the second meeting. Evan Philips witnessed the occasion,
"The revivalist stood in the pulpit and glanced around the audience, gazing more especially at the crowd of young people in the audience. That gaze was terrible. Hardly any one in the gallery could endure it. With one impulse they bent their heads like a sensitive plant touched. 'The world's sin is great', he says. The words fall like lead on the hearts of the multitude. 'Christ's atonement is greater,' he adds; and a shower of tears falls through a bright sky of joy." (Revival Comes to Wales, Eifion Evans, Evangelical Press of Wales, p. 73. All quotes where only a page number is given are from this title).
By the end of the week following the presbytery, forty people applied to join the Aberaeron church. The work begun under David Morgan’s ministry went from strength to strength. By the end of 1860 about 200 were added to the fellowship. After the Aberaeron presbytery, Morgan’s influence began to grow and the southern Cardiganshire churches embraced the revival. Soon many parts of Wales would experience a powerful outpouring of the Spirit.
As the year progressed the revival spread throughout Wales. David Morgan preached extensively throughout the Principality and was a powerful instrument of revival blessing. In the autumn of 1859 the preacher was invited to hold meetings in Ebbw Vale, Monmouthshire.
"A deputation waited upon him at the Llangeitho Association in 1859 to invite him to Ebbw Vale and district. They were headed by David Hugues, who had arranged his previous tour in the days of his comparitive obscurity. The revivalist expressed a fear that he could not arrange a tour in Monmouthshire. 'Look you, David, my boy'' expostulated a the quaint old deacon, 'we at Ebbw Vale were dealing with you when you were carrying a basket on your arm and trading on a small scale, and now that you have opened an emporium, don't you think that you can turn the cold shoulder to your old customers.' This arrow found a joint in the revivalist's armour, and he yielded at once." (p. 91-92).

But Wales also experienced a moving of the Spirit independently of Morgan's ministry. Almost every county was touched. Thomas Phillips, an eyewitness and participant in the revival charted its course in The Welsh Revival; Its Origin & Development, reprinted in 1989 by the Banner of Truth Trust. I commend his account to those who wish to fill in the details.
Suffice to say for now that the refreshing gales of the Spirit breathed new life into moribund churches The Word was preached with fresh power and many were soundly converted. And still the churches prayed in earnest for yet more of the Spirit’s presence in their midst. It is reckoned that 110,000 people were added to the churches as a result of the 1859 revival in Wales. The Welsh communities in Liverpool and the Midlands were also affected by the awakening. During the same period there were also remarkable outpourings of the Spirit in Ulster, Scotland and England. Spurgeon experienced revival in his New Park Street Ministry. It might be said that 1859 was the last UK-wide revival.

5. Some Characteristics of the Revival

1) Fervent Prayer

Reports of the New York revival led to earnest prayer in the Welsh churches. The coming of revival also led to the churches laying a renewed emphasis on prayer. Psalm 85:6, Psalm 80:18. That is a lesson that we need to take to heart. We must pray fervently and persistently for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit. What else will revive and renew the churches? What else will awaken lost and indifferent sinners to their need of a Saviour? Yes, we must carry on preaching and witnessing. We must engage with the modern world and its concerns. But we need the demonstration of the Spirit and power to give our witness saving effectiveness.

2) Powerful Preaching

There was much preaching in Wales prior to the 1859 revival. But preaching during the revival was of a different kind. As early as the February of that year Thomas Edwards commented,
"The revival has made a great change in the style of preaching and in the spirit of the preacher. It would appear that the object is, more than ever, to preach the substantial truths of the gospel, so earnestly, closely and personally, that the hearers may feel that the preacher's aim is to save their should, and that God, by His means, desires to bring them to Himself." (p. 113).
Some were critical of David Morgan’s preaching during the revival. He passionately would urge sinners to turn to Christ without delay. One John Jones of Bleannannarch was none too happy with this, and he tackled the younger minister on the subject,
"What is this that I hear about you, David, my boy?' said John Jones. 'What have you heard?', asked David Morgan guardedly. 'What have I heard? What means this lugging of the people into church fellowship without giving them time to sit down and consider and count the cost before they begin to build?' 'What time ought a sinner to get to consider, Mr. Jones?' 'Moe than you give them, by all accounts.' 'You are criticising my method; what is your idea of a reasonable period for considering this great question?' Accepting the challenge, John Jones retorted, 'A month is not too much at least.' David Morgan saw that his enemy was delivered into his hand, and replied, 'Well! Well! God's Spirit says, Today; the devil says Tomorrow; but the old evangelist of Blaenannerch says, A month hence will do'." (p. 71).
That is the kind of preaching we need, urgent, plain, passionate and gospel-centred. But sitting under such searching ministry would not be comfortable. The lost would be convicted of their sin and need of a Saviour. In Part 1 we saw how Humphrey Jones and David Morgan would preach with searching power to believers. How many of us could bear to be soundly rebuked for being “at ease in Zion” or "lukewarm"? We are interested in the story of revivals. Are they not thrilling accounts of what the Lord can do? But how would we fare if revival truly came to the Church? The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth. Could we bear to sit beneath his penetrating gaze and be rebuked for our prayerlessness, lack of love, bickering and unbelief?

3) Conversions

Conversions are few and far between these days. Larger and smaller churches report but few sinners coming to faith in Christ. But as I have pointed out, around 110,000 were converted in Wales during 1859. Now, revival is first and foremost the re-vival – the re-awakening of the church. But true revivals also have a powerful effect upon the world. The ungodly begin to realise that there is a God in Zion. The church is given proclaim the gospel with fresh power and authority. 1 Thess 1:5.

4) New measures

C. G. Finney was an extreme Armininan who believed that all possible means should be used to induce the sinner to decide for Christ. Rather than believing that revival was a sovereign work of the Spirit, he suggested that revivals could be obtained if believers fulfilled certain conditions. This led to evangelistic campaigns being labelled “revivals”, an understanding of the word that would have been unrecognised by an earlier generation of men who experienced true revival.

Humphrey Jones, an Arminian was more deeply influenced by Finney than the Calvinist, David Morgan. Morgan, who was schooled the theology of the Puritans understood that revival is a sovereign work of the Spirit that is outside of man’s control. We saw in Part 2 that in October 1858 the preacher went to sleep one night and woke at 4 a.m. a changed man. He was endued with an extraordinary memory for spiritual things. His preaching from that date was marked with a new power. It has been said that Morgan went to bed like a lamb and awoke as a lion. But as the revival drew to an end the experience was reversed. His son testified,
"This astonishing endowment of memory was revoked as suddenly and unexpectedly as it was conferred. One night, in less than two years; time he went to sleep in possession of it, and when he awoke - it was gone!" (p. 54).
The pulpit lion was a lamb one more. David Morgan settled down to an ordinary, yet faithful pastoral ministry in the Calvinistic Methodist Church.
Humphrey Jones however had difficulty coping with that fact that revival did not invariably attend his ministry. Following Finney, he believed that revivals could be stimulated and perpetuated by man. Some sensed that he was sometimes trying to engineer a revival. If he felt that people were not responding to his ministry as he expected, he would stop preaching and ask for those who opened in prayer to start again. As Eifion Evans comments, for Jones, lack of success mean that, “There was something wrong with the machinery, and that had to be corrected before proceeding any further”. (Fire in the Thatch: The True Nature of Religious Revival, Eifion Evans, Evangelical Press of Wales, 1996, p. 199). Jones’ “revival meetings” in Aberystwyth ended in confusion and decline. He believed that the revival was going to usher in the Millennium, which he prophesied would come in July 1859. It obviously didn’t happen. The preacher withdrew from his work in the revival citing physical weakness. He ended up having to spend time in Carmarthen Mental Hospital, an exhausted and broken man. His experience shows us the danger of trying to stir up a revival using certain techniques, even techniques that the Lord has been pleased to use before. Revival is a sovereign work of the Spirit – an intensification of his ordinary work in renewing the church and regenerating sinners. We cannot manufacture a revival. Preachers who try to “engineer” revivals are doomed to failure and disillusionment. We sometimes forget the Holy Spirit is not a force that we can “tap into” at will. He is the third Person of the Trinity, sent by the Father to glorify the Son. His work in the church is subject to fluctuation and change as he wills. Sometimes preaching may come with evident Holy Spirit power, at others this is less so. The preacher and congregation may long and pray for more of the Holy Spirit’s empowering, but we cannot force his hand.

It was during the 1859 revival that certain Finneyite practices or “New Measures” began to be introduced to the Welsh Churches. Humphrey Jones and David Morgan would call upon people to make a visible response to their preaching, whether by raising their hands or coming to the front of the chapel. The "altar calls" associated with Billy Graham’s ministry are Finneyite in origin. It has to be said that Humphrey Jones and David Morgan were a lot more circumspect concerning the publication of numbers of converts than we might find in modern crusade evangelism. Converts were only added to the membership of the churches on evidence of a changed life. Most of the converts stood the test of time. But the introduction of “New Measures” during the 1850’s have had a detrimental effect on the evangelistic efforts of the church right up to the present day. (Mass crusade evangelism complete with "altar calls", publication of numbers of "decisions for Christ" etc). But in all revivals we see a mixture of good and bad. As Jonathan Edwards has taught us, we should not reject what was evidently a work of God for the sake of some suspect practices.

5) Concern for Glory of God

We saw this in Part 2, when after the meeting at Devil’s Bridge, David Morgan shouted Ps. 115:1 at the top of his voice. I wonder if we are far too “me and my needs” centred than God centred? During the 1859, people did not attend meetings as consumers to have their needs met, but as worshippers to glorify God and sinners to seek his grace. In August 1859 an open air prayer meeting was held at 8am, with 18,000 in attendance. A young farmhand prayed, “May the Heavenly Dove descend now upon this meadow!” A deep and awesome silence fell upon the meeting and David Morgan prayed powerfully for those who were to preach the Word that day. After the meeting two men entered into conversation,
"A new minutes later, Thomas John, Cilgerran, walked in a field nearby lost in reverie. A friend stopped him, and said, 'What a glorious sight that was, when the thousands were engaged in silent prayer at Mr. Morgan's request! Did you ever see anything like it, Mr. John?' He answered solemnly, 'I didn't see one of them: I saw no one but God. I am going home,' he said suddenly. 'How terrible is this place! It is too terrible for me. My flesh is too weak to bear this weight of glory...'." (p. 90).

That is revival – when a man leaves a meeting and says, “I saw no one but God” and is overwhelmed by his glory. That is what revival is ultimately all about – the glory of God blazing forth in the church. Let us pray, Exodus 33:18. May the Lord hear us and send forth his Spirit that we might see more of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ, 2 Corinthians 4:6, John 16:14. "Will you not revive us again?", Psalm 85:6.


Elwood said...

Thank you so very much for this series! It is a wonderful reminder of where our priorities should be.

Thanks, too, for the photo of Aberaeron - we visited last year and fell in love with the Welsh coast.

A Welsh heart in an American body.

Exiled Preacher said...

Thanks for your encouraging comments, Elwood.

Jonathan Hunt said...

I have really enjoyed this, too. I fear there is no room for severe revivalistic preaching when I am urged by all and sundry that I must consider the days we are in and major on preaching 'encouragement'.

Exiled Preacher said...

I suppose that's the beauty of systematic expository preaching. In the course of preaching through Bible books you are going to get passages that encourage and texts that awaken and challenge. We need to give expression to every aspect of biblical revelation - 2 Tim 3:16 & 17.

Jonathan Hunt said...

Ah, well said.

Jay Miklovic said...

sorry for commenting on such an old post. I was researching on David Morgan and came across the quote:

'The world's sin is great', he says. The words fall like lead on the hearts of the multitude. 'Christ's sin is greater,' he adds; and a shower of tears falls through a bright sky of joy."

could you help me unpack that a touch. I understand Christ was imputed with the sins of those whom He died for, but the statement seems off. Wondering if there is a typo, or if I missing a truth that I shouldn't be missing.

Exiled Preacher said...


The quote is a typo as you suggested. It should read,

"The world's sin is great...Christ's atonement is greater".

Sorry for any confusion. I've corrected the post.