The land of Wales has been greatly blessed by its spiritual leaders throughout its history from the days of its patron saint, David, in the 6th century. Even to these days God has not left his people without a witness. It is a land with a great Christian heritage of which it can be proud. From its heritage many have been called by the Lord to serve his church in diverse ways in many parts of the world. The Welsh Methodist Church has contributed greatly and one of its preachers, Humphrey Jones of Tre’r ddol, in Ceredigion, was greatly used by the Lord during the 1859 revival which swept throughout Wales and brought some 36,000 into membership of the churches. Some historians testify that Wales experienced revivals almost every decade until 1859. Between 1762 and 1862 at least fifteen religious revivals occurred.
Many people will be familiar with the Welsh Revival of 1904, which is often referred to as the Evan Roberts Revival. Indeed Evan Roberts was very much the pioneer of the 1904 Revival and he became a household name throughout Wales. In many homes his picture hung on the parlour wall. He was a young and very sincere man who tended to rely on what he claimed to be the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit. He was very conscious that he was an instrument being used by the Lord, and often said: ‘This movement is not of me, it is of God. I would not dare direct it…it is the Spirit alone who is leading us’.
Paul Smith’s article in the Winter 2003/4 issue of Headline described the nature, progress and impact on society of the Revival, and those details do not need to be repeated here. Only seventeen people were present at the first meeting conducted by Evan Roberts in Moriah Chapel, and many of them had come out of curiosity. He told them why he had called the meeting and of his vision of the promised revival. They all made a commitment to the Lord that night. The Revival spread as he was invited to other places, and within six months it is estimated that over 100,000 were converted. Not only were individual lives changed by the power of the Holy Spirit, but entire communities were renewed. Drunkards, thieves, gamblers were transformed. Miners prayed together before commencing their shifts in the pits. Football and rugby teams were converted and fixtures abandoned. Pubs were empty and dance halls were deserted. Magistrates had very few cases before them.
The 1904 Revival was remarkable as it continued in some parts for up to two years. In many places Revival meetings were held long after Evan Roberts had made a visit. The press gave much coverage to these meetings and one leading journalist of the time W.T.Stead, Editor of the British Review of Reviews, reported: ‘The last person to control the meeting in any way is Mr Evan Roberts. People pray and sing, give testimony or exhort as the Spirit moves them…You can watch what they call the influence of the power of the Spirit playing over the crowded congregation as an eddying wind plays over the surface of a pond’. Such reports widely circulated in the press brought many visitors from many countries. Some were simply curious and others yearned for spiritual renewal.
Dr Campbell Morgan of Westminster Chapel, London visited Revival meetings and was deeply stirred by the movement’s intensity. ‘It is Pentecost continued, without a single moment’s doubt’, he reported. ‘The meetings are absolutely without order, characterized from the first to the last by the orderliness of the Spirit of God’. ‘There were organs’, he continued, ‘but silent; ministers, but among the rest of the people, rejoicing, and prophesying, only there was no preaching. Yet the Welsh Revival is the revival of preaching to Wales. Everybody is preaching. No order, and yet it moves from day to day with matchless precision, with the order of an attacking force’. Morgan challenged Christians to discover the movement’s principles: ‘Let us listen for the Spirit, confess Christ, be absolutely at his disposal. Get things out of the way for God… your habit that you know is unholy; your method of business that will not bear the light of day; your unforgiving heart towards a church member’.
The revival evoked much criticism from many sources not least the press. Some insisted it was nothing more than typical Celtic qualities: ‘instability of character, a tendency to exaggeration, a greater love for music and oratory than for veracity and purity’. Even the London Times took issue with this view, maintaining that those who knew ‘the squalid, brutal lives’ of Welsh miners were ‘profoundly thankful for any influence that can awaken them to the hope of better things’.
However more prominent visitors to the meetings stressed the positive aspects, which seemed to them to far outweigh any negative results. W. T. Stead wrote: ‘They say it is the Spirit of God. Those who have not witnessed it may call it what they will. I am inclined to agree with those on the spot’. Campbell Morgan’s view drew its imagery from the Acts 2 Pentecost account: ‘If you put a man in these meetings who knows nothing of the language of the Spirit, and nothing of the life of the Spirit, one of two things will happen to him. He will either pass out saying, ‘These men are drunk’ or he himself will be swept up by the fire into the Kingdom of God’.
Evangelicals around the world were stimulated by the Welsh revival to pray specifically for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. British Pentecostalism was very much nurtured by it and by Evan Roberts, and the Apostolic and Elim Churches were very much products of the revival. Visitors from Los Angeles had come to experience the revival meetings in Wales and by 1906 the Pentecostal Revival in Azusa Street had begun. This played a major role in the development of modem Pentecostalism, a Movement that changed the religious landscape and became the most vibrant force for world evangelisation in the 20th century.
It is reported that ‘The Revival of 1904 was the most wide-spread of all Awakenings, effecting India, Korea and China, renewing revivals in Japan and South Africa, and sending a wave of awakening over Africa, Latin America and the South Seas’.
However despite the great number of converts and the great contribution the Revival had made in transforming society, Wales was moving in a very different direction. One of the major criticisms of the Revival was that it had no lasting effect. It can be said that its influence remained for a generation, but sadly the First World War was fast approaching. The social gospel and liberalism were now becoming popular as people sought to secure a better standard of living and improved working conditions. As people became more involved in social activities, church attendances began to decline,
The story of Evan Roberts ends sadly as he gradually burnt himself out and had a nervous breakdown. He lived for many years very much in seclusion, yet he gave himself over to a ministry of prayer. He eventually died at Cardiff in 1951 praying for another revival.
Although much has been recorded and written about the 1904 Revival no one can estimate how far or how deep it really reached. There are, however, many throughout the world who became Christians because of the influence of those who had been converted during that time. Before the Revival, churches were dominated by male leaders but now women were given the opportunity to participate fully in the worship life of the church.. Many churches today would cease to be were it not for the contribution of its women.
Evangelical and Pentecostal churches in many countries that came into being through the Revival are still growing and being blessed by times of renewal. Many of the revival hymns are still being sung today and will be sung till the end of time. They are very much part of the deep spirituality of the people of Wales.
David Lloyd George in one of his speeches before 1904 said: ‘The material conditions of this country will not improve until there comes a spiritual awakening, and I charge you ministers with the responsibility of promoting and fostering such a revival’.
Society has indeed benefited from the 1904 revival both socially and economically. Dan Boucher, the Liaison Officer for the National Assembly for Wales, comments: ‘Viewing the Revival from our politically correct age it is fascinating to note one of the most poignant testimonies to the impact of the revival comes from the NSPCC. One inspector stated that the homes under his observation had undergone a complete transformation through the parents having been brought to a better life through the Revival’.
Perhaps one of the most important lessons we need to learn from the 1904 Revival is that, good as we are at arranging new strategies and structures for our churches, we cannot arrange a revival. We can and should be prepared for it, and when God sees the time is right we must respond by ensuring that it reaches out into society and is not confined to church buildings. If it is to have a long lasting impact it will need to embrace the secular as well as the sacred.
We must not be despondent in these days of ‘lesser things’. Let us keep praying and thanking God for his continuous blessings and ask him to do again in a new way what he did in 1904.
The Rev Patrick Slattery is the Chair of the Cymru District.
Headline, Summer 2004 pp 16-17.