I have just been ministering in Wales where I can testify that the first drops of a heavy rain have begun again. As I preached and saw God not only saving and delivering people but also healing them in a glorious way being baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit, I felt the same atmosphere that I have been reading for years about the Welsh revival. What an immense privilege to be part of this coming revival and to be able to run with the baton that was carried by these generals of faith part of the cloud of witnesses that marked history like Evan Robert.
A century ago, Wales experienced an awakening whose influence was felt in the four corners of the world and (according to the estimates of the time) brought in 100,000 new converts.
This great movement of the Spirit had small beginnings – that did not always involve the great preachers of the day, erudite and educated as they were, but included, for instance, a young teenager from New Quay named Florrie Evans.
At a youth meeting in February 1904, she declared publicly that she loved the Lord Jesus with all her heart. With these words the Spirit seemed to fall on the meeting and the fire quickly spread to other young people in the Cardiganshire area.
On Thursday 29 September of the same year, evangelist Seth Joshua was addressing a convention at Blaenannerch, five miles north of Cardigan, attended by these same young people. Seth himself had been praying for years that God would raise up a young man from the pits to revive the churches.
Little did he know that his prayer was to be answered that day in a life-changing experience for a 26-year-old student, Evan Roberts.
Evan Roberts was born in 1878 in the small town of Loughor in Glamorgan, 7 miles from Swansea. Having left school at 11, he worked with his father at the colliery until he was in his early 20s. Then, for a short time, he became a blacksmith’s apprentice with his uncle in Pontarddulais.
For years Evan had been a faithful member of Moriah Calvinistic Methodist Church at Loughor. He was a Sunday school superintendent, a conscientious reader of the main theological works of his day and had been praying for revival for over 11 years.
Having been converted as a boy, he continued to pray regularly that God would visit the nation again in revival power. Determined to do his part, he felt compelled to go into the Calvinistic Methodist ministry and, on 13 September 1904, he became a pupil of the Newcastle Emlyn Grammar School to prepare himself for entry to Trefecca Theological College.
It was only two weeks after arriving that he found himself at Blaenannerch – and at a crossroads in his spiritual life. His spiritual experience that day would lead him back to the young people of his own church, Moriah, Loughor, to share what God had done for him and encourage them also to be open to God’s Spirit.
Within two weeks the Welsh Revival was on national news. Before long, Evan Roberts, his brother Dan, and his best friend Sidney were travelling the country conducting revival meetings – meetings that broke the conventional mould and bypassed all tradition.
Frequently, the ministers just sat down, feeling unable to preach – or even understand the spiritual storm that swept their usually sedate churches.
This was a revival with youth on fire – young men, yes, and women too. After the first stirrings amongst the young women of New Quay, such women continued to play a part in the revival work.
Florrie Evans went on a team to North Wales with her friend Maud. Others used their voices as instruments of God’s message and among the best known was Annie Davies Maesteg who accompanied Evan Roberts on his missions.
Yes, a storm had hit the churches – a storm of love and power which completely transformed their lives. People were changed in many ways. The crime rate dropped, drunkards were reformed, pubs reported losses in trade.
Bad language disappeared and never returned to the lips of many. It was reported that the pit ponies failed to understand the commands of the born-again colliers as they spoke the new language of Zion without the curses and blasphemies to which the animals were accustomed.
Even football and rugby lost their attractions in the light of new joy and lifestyle of the converts.
Affecting the world
Colliers, tin-miners, and working-class people of all kinds expressed their joy in many ways. There were many original prayers, for example. But perhaps what most captured the feelings of those affected was a song sung by Sam Jenkins, a tin plate worker from Llanelli – a song translated at the time from English to Welsh -Can y Rebel ‘Am Achub hen rebel fel fi’, ‘For saving an old rebel like me’.
The revival storm that hit the hills and valleys of Wales in the dying months of 1904 soon became a hurricane that affected the world. Visitors from France, Turkey, Switzerland, and the USA, to name but a few, came to visit.
As they ‘caught the flame’ they passed it on to new countries.
WALES BEFORE 1904
Evan Roberts – God’s Chosen Instrument
God delights to use the ‘weak’ things of the world to fulfill his purposes. Perhaps it was for this reason that He chose Evan Roberts, a former miner and blacksmith with little theological background, but with a heart to see souls saved. Roberts had a thirst for spiritual things from an early age. The story is often told of how he would take his Bible down the mine to read it during rest periods. One day there was an explosion that took the lives of five of his fellow workers. Roberts narrowly escaped death, but the flames scorched the pages of the Bible he was reading. Later, when the revival came, pictures of Evan Robert’s scorched Bible were sent around the world – epitomizing the fire that had fallen on Wales.
I will pass over the exact details of how Evan Robert’s was first touched by the Spirit at a meeting in 1904. It was upon his return to his home church that he asked permission to hold a meeting for the young people in the fellowship. The following account is given of one ofthese early meetings:
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 his listeners. People passing by the church commented freely and wonderingly upon the unusual spectacle of lights burning in full blaze at such an hour…. 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, and songs of praise were intermingled, continuing until near midnight. The happy throng dispersed in all directions… Next day the village was agog.
When Mr. Roberts arrived for the pre-arranged service next evening, the chapel was besieged with curious worshippers, hardly knowing what would transpire…. 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.
News of dramatic conversions, confession of sin, and songs of joy spread rapidly. Wherever Roberts went the Holy Spirit brought deep conviction of sin and a new spiritual dimension into the lives of formerly cold churchgoers. Roberts was not an expository preacher, and his method was prayer and exhortation, leading to a moving of the Holy Spirit bringing deep conviction. The meetings went on for many hours – often for more than 10 without a break. People lost all sense of time and churches were so full that crowds gathered outside until they could somehow squeeze their way in. The remarkable thing was that once the Revival had started it was not limited to where Roberts was speaking. Others “caught the fire” and the Spirit moved throughout Wales in great power.
The Effects of the Revival
It is difficult for us to comprehend the degree to which the Revival changed every aspect of the lives of those it touched. There was a dramatic decline in drunkenness, bars were deserted as each night the churches were packed with worshippers.
In one the of the populous valleys… young men and women walked in procession through the streets, singing hymns and visiting public houses to invite[those inside] to come to the revival. Many of the places were completely deserted and others had their trade depleted… In one such drinking place there was one solitary customer sitting gloomily alone…. Suddenly the evening air was rent with the jubilant voices of happy songsters, just outside the door. So infuriated were the man and woman in charge at the audacity of these zealous youths that they picked up some of the empty ale-pots… and flung them recklessly among the happy throng. Disgusted with the conduct of his host and hostess, the solitary figure… rose from his seat, joined the enthusiastic processionists, then went with them to the church, there to surrender to Christ!
The bars were not the only places to be emptied. Dance halls, theaters, and football matches all saw a dramatic decline in attendance. The courts and jails were deserted, and the police found themselves without any work to do. The story is told of policemen who closed their station and formed a choir to sing at the Revival meetings. Long-standing debts were repaid, church and family feuds were healed, and a new unity of purpose was felt across the denominational divides.
Perhaps the most dramatic change that took place was that worked in the hearts of the miners. Coal mining is far from the romantic occupation it is often portrayed as. These men did back-breaking toil in cramped conditions with the constant threat of roof-collapse and explosive gases. Yet when the Holy Spirit touched them, He transformed their lives to such a degree that the pit-ponies could no longer understand instructions given to them, so accustomed had they become to receiving blows and being sworn at! The men worked with a renewed vigor that set production figures souring. When work was done, they would hurry home for a quick meal and a bath and then be off to the chapel until the early hours of the morning, singing hymns as they went!
There was a new excitement about eternal things. Family devotions and public prayer meetings were started and continued regularly for years. The sales of Bibles increased to such a degree that the shops sold their entire stocks. Everywhere there was a new spirit of prayer and an urgency to preach the Gospel. The effects of the Revival were not confined to the Principality. Reports of the events in Wales were distributed internationally in newspaper and magazine reports and the Holy Spirit repeated what He had done in Wales from America to Australia.