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Thoughts on the Welsh Revival of 1904-1905

When one thinks of the word, “revival,” their mind is immediately flooded with pictures of “old-fashioned” camp meetings, fiery preaching, salvation testimonies, upbeat hymnbook singing, and a series of evangelistic church gatherings. While many well-intentioned saints have coined these characteristics as virtually inseparable from what they consider to be essentials of “a revival,” the sincere student of God’s Word must examine the Scriptures to discover that revival in its purest sense, candidly, has nothing to do with many of these characteristics. Rather, it is prompted by the fervent prayers of many and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to reinvigorate the regenerated saints to greater holiness and sanctification.


Biblical Context


            Throughout Scripture, the theme of revival, however not considered by this modern terminology, is unmistakably present. As early as the days of Jacob and Moses, revival is witnessed in 1700 B.C. and 1462 B.C. respectively. Notably, a revival occurred at Nineveh under the reluctant prophet Jonah’s proclamation in 767 B.C. Additionally, a revival occurred under Elijah as he debated with the prophets of Baal in 879 B.C. Ultimately the fire of God fell and consumed the offering presented. Many fell to their faces exclaiming, “The Lord, He is God!” (1 Kings 18:39). In the New Testament, revival occurs under John The Baptist in 26 A.D., among Jesus and His Disciples in 27 A.D.., on the Day of Pentecost in 30 A.D., and during Paul’s three missionary journeys in 48-57 A.D. Upon careful examination, many, if not all, occurred during a period of national depression and moral darkness, and behind it was a consecrated servant whom God used to bring it about. Its result, and at the very heart of revival, was a return to the pure, unwavering worship of God.

           

Such was true of the Welsh Revival of 1904-1905. Propelled not by the preaching of men but by the Holy Spirit of God which presented an abundant outpouring on all who experienced it. With no formal advertisements or attractions, multitudes still sojourned and assembled from around the world to simply “taste and see” the Lord to encounter the mighty outpouring of the presence of God.[1]


Historical Context


            1904, however, was not the beginning of Wales’ history of revivalism. The notable Welsh Calvinistic Methodist leader Thomas Charles, who lived between the years 1755-1814, described Wales as “a land favored with frequent revivals.”[2] It was not until following his death in 1814 that his words became an undeniable reality, whereby frequent revivals occurred, almost every ten years beginning in 1819 and continuing into the twentieth century. While ultimately reviving the church, revivals during the nineteenth century transformed a godless nation into one of the most Christianised countries in history. It was by the middle of the nineteenth century that a new chapel opened in Wales approximately every six days, heralding over five thousand chapels by the year 1900.[3]


            In 1859, a revival of prayer, simply noted as “the great prayer revival of 1859,” was instrumental in seeing over one hundred thousand individuals saved. While this land succulent with revivals and the outpouring of God’s Spirit was both unavoidable and seemingly unquenchable, it waned, becoming more of a rarity. A significant spiritual decline had begun to leave its mark on the congregations produced by the 1859 revival. Becoming, as one writer described, “victims of their own success,”[4] complacency and conceitedness soon replaced the once spiritually impassioned multitudes seeking the Lord. A staunch emphasis on gospel proclamation morphed into a type of religious formalism, and German theological liberalism paired with a stylized form of preaching proved fatal for many pulpits.


            Yet a passion remained, a hunger to experience another mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit as they once had witnessed. Once again, the Welsh longed for another indescribable encounter with God. Perhaps the desperation of the Welsh is expressed best by the reverend George Jones, a Calvinistic Methodist minister in North Wales who, in 1902, said:


If we want to have another revival in Wales we must awaken the Church to wish for it until the desire becomes so strong and fervent we come to feel that it is not possible to live without it.”[5]


Such was true of those who had experienced former revivals, including those continually basking in the overflow of what the Holy Spirit had done decades prior.


Prayer Movement


            The Welsh Revival, however, was not merely a sudden, unanticipated event, although some could consider it as such. It was, rather, an event sparked by preparatory prayer, brought about by the unified spirit of the people believing that, if God would do something profound, it must begin with desperate, fervent prayer. It was Seth Joshua in 1901, a mighty evangelist and church planter of his period, who frequented the banks of the River Taff in Cardiff. Noted as praying for God to raise up an ordinary individual, a coal miner as such, to steer a nation back unto Himself, Joshua would continually pray, “God, give me Wales!”[6] This simple, repetitive prayer would later prove to be foundational in the Welsh Revival.


            In Carmarthen, Wales, three leaders, WS Jones, WW Lewis, and Keri Evans assembled in the town on frequent occasion to pray specifically for revival. Rooted within their respective denominations, one was a Baptist, another a Calvinistic Methodist, and another a Congregationalist. Yet, their hunger to witness God perform a miraculous spiritual work drew them to a place of unity, crossing denominational boundaries and cooperatively joining prayers for a revival to ensue.


            Jessie Penn-Lewis, a prominent author and speaker was another notable figure in the formation of the revival who would later provide neccesary insights on spiritual warfare during the Welsh revival, was responsible for organizing a Keswick conference in Wales in 1903. Similar to that which had been held in 1902 in Cumberland, it attracted Christians who longed for greater depths in communion with God. In this Welsh Keswick meeting, multitudes of Welsh leaders, forty Presbyterian Forward Movement evangelists, including the prayerful Seth Joshua, assembled for a week to be challenged to experience the Holy Spirit in a new way and, conclusively, a new action of surrender and dependency upon the Holy Spirit ensued.


Evan Roberts


            While the Welsh Revival of 1904 embodies many scriptural characteristics, it proves an additional, timeless truth, namely that God uses ordinary, consecrated individuals in order to fulfill His purposes. In considering the Apostle Paul and his words to the Corinthian church, “God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty,”[7] such was true of Evan Roberts, a man whom God utilized profoundly to spearhead such a supernatural event. Considerably, Roberts and the Welsh Revival of 1904 are synonymous.


            Reared in humble means, specifically that of a mining family, he was born in 1878 in Loughor, a small coal mining hamlet situated at the westerly end of the country of Glamorgan. From a typical Christian family steeped in Calvinistic theology, something which played an instrumental role in Roberts’ development, his early years proved inspirational and formational as his thoughts later transitioned to pursuing Christian ministry. Roberts, himself, was employed as a worker in the local coal mines since age eleven, where many account him as being found “absorbed in the Word of God,”[8] and immersing himself in various facets of literature he believed would assist him in this future work. David Matthews, an eyewitness of the revival and of Roberts noted, “His spare time was avidly devoted to reading such literature as would assist in the preparation of his lifework.”[9]


            Roberts’ converted to Christianity at a young age, and united in membership at Moriah, the chapel his parents worshipped and faithfully attended. His dedication to attending prayer meetings at Moriah was matched to that of his immersion in the Word of God, only recorded to have missed one prayer meeting. During the formative years of Roberts’ Christian ministry, he was drawn to the greatest depths of prayer, often heard by others murmuring prayers under his breath and frequently spending full nights on his knees in prayer.


In describing Roberts in his book I Saw The Welsh Revival, David Matthews said of Roberts:


“Although his friends “with one consent” acknowledge 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.[10]


Yet, Roberts’ passionate sermons which emphasized personal repentance and prayer spread like wildfire throughout Wales, captivating the hearts and minds of the Welsh people.[11]


            The Church at Moriah, of which Roberts attended, later recommended him for the ministry, suggesting he attend Newcastle Grammar School, a pivotal place that would elevate the future revivalist. There, Seth Joshua came to conduct an evangelistic meeting at the invitation of the Calvinistic Methodist Forward Movement—a movement which sought to aggressively reach the throngs of unchurched dwelling in Welsh mining hamlets. Impressed by Joshua’s fervency in preaching, Evan Roberts followed Joshua, along with other students from the grammar school, to a nearby town on the coast of Cardigan Bay where Evan Roberts came to Christ and experienced his first flavor of revival, something which would soon break out all over Wales. Roberts, in his own words, “I felt ablaze with the desire to go through the length and breadth of Wales to tell of the Saviour, and I was willing to pay God for the privilege of doing it.”[12]


Revival Begins


            Evan Roberts prayed for thirteen years but, virtually immediately following his experience in Blaennerch Chapel, made preparations in response to promptings from the Spirit. Returning to his home church to preach to the assembled young people at Moriah, it began with seventeen people at the first meeting, where Roberts desired all in attendance to maintain complete personal consecration and total individual commitment. One by one, all present responded to the gospel, and, by the end of the week, over sixty individuals responded to the gospel. Word spread, and Roberts received multiple invitations to journey elsewhere to preach.


In her book The Awakening in Wales, Jessie Penn-Lewis, a monumental figure in the Welsh Revival of 1904, recorded what she referred to as “glimpses we had into the preparatory work of the Spirit,”[13] namely, places whereby the outpouring of God’s Spirit began in South Wales.


            In Morriston, one minister attempted to resign and fulfill a secular occupation, only until he recognized his need for the gospel after reading John MacNeil’s book The Spirit-Filled Life. Immediately, he surrendered to God and informed his congregation the following Sunday of what had taken place within his own spiritual life. At once, revival broke out, and, according to  Lewis, “on the final Sunday of 1904, one hundred eighty-five converts registered in five weeks.”[14]


            In Swansea, church after church, both Church of England and Nonconformists, revival broke out in response to the faithful preaching of the gospel. In Neath, a large mission hall holding two thousand people was filled and, as a result of the reports from Loughor, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred at a Sunday evening service, where, over the next two nights, over a thousand converts, from drunkards to gamblers, had come.


            In Bridgend, revival occurred following the conversion of a worldly deacon, influencing the remaining deacons to consecrate themselves to the Lord, whereby the Spirit of the Lord pervaded the congregation the following Sunday and days thereafter, witnessing two hundred sixty converts added to the church.


            Similar stories of revival occurred in Dowlais, where one hundred seventy conversions occurred following normal meetings within three ministers' respective congregations. In Monmouthshire, seventy-four conversions occurred after two ministers who had experienced the “Spirit-filled life” came to conduct special services. In Cardiff, a large chapel filled for several consecutive nights with people from all walks of life, from the affluent to the agnostics. Here, over six hundred conversions occurred, with agnostics giving testimony of their faith.


            In Northern Wales, in November 1904, churches at Rhos invited a minister from South Wales, where services began the same day revival broke out in Loughor. Large churches were filled to the brim with Christians surrendering all hindrances in their lives to Christ and, in a spirit of yieldedness, the floodgates opened and the Spirit of God consumed the chapel. Thousands flooded with eagerness to participate in the revival. The meetings continued with no signs of ceasing after four weeks, carried on by the people who had assembled in attendance.


            In Bangor, the Spirit of God broke out among the poorest part of the city, where ministry students had been serving, led by a Baptist student named Morgan Jones, who had experienced the revival in South Wales. Both Baptist and Congregational students met for prayer and, upon moving to Kyffin Square, an outpouring of the Spirit occurred and all poor inhabitants came to Christ. Such news stirred the local churches, bringing many to full surrender to the Lord, and revival consumed the community.


            Carnarvonshire and Nantlle Vale experienced revival, so much so that those who were at odds amid the heights of the Penrhyn strike began to reconcile and pray together. In Holyhead and Llanchymedd, God worked marvelously, bringing about complete consecration of the members and seeing hundreds of converts come to faith in Christ. In Amlwch, three days of meetings for the united churches occurred, filled churches were seemingly overwhelmed with a spirit of thanksgiving to the Lord. In Cefn Mawr, a township in proximity to Rhos, a minister from South Wales visited in February 1905 and, in the second evening service, revival broke out. Jessie Penn-Lewis records:

“The power of the Spirit became so intense that the missioner was scarecely able to speak at times. At one point, the whole congregation burst out into singing, and then foir a whole hour, many gave testimony for the first time in their lives. The climax was reached on Friday of that same week, when sixty to eighty of them gave themselves wholly to Christ, completely surrendering and accepting the Holy Spirit.”[15]

The colleges of Wales were greatly moved, as professors witnessed an incredible spiritual change among students.


Additionally, three-week prayer meetings in Merionethshire occured in the middle of December, of which people assembled in prayer all over the county until a young man came home from Glamorganshire a changed man from South Wales. Praying for his friends and proclaiming the Lord’s mighty working, almost everyone within the valley had experienced conversion.


Effects of the Revival


            It was undeniable. The Welsh Revival had reached not only every corner of Wales but began to reach around the corners of the world. Indeed, a divine visitation of God had come at the beckoning of many sincere prayers. However, one cannot ruminate on the events of the Welsh revival without considering the countless individuals who converted and then commissioned to proclaim the gospel. Among them was Stephen Jeffries, whose evangelistic exploits among the British Isles made a significant, lasting impact. John Thomas, a scholar in his own right and a renowned preacher was a pit boy in Wales, who later pursued the ministry following a serious accident which caused lifelong deformity. He travelled exhorting thousands of converts everywhere. Pastor Jenkins, coverted during a revival in Carmarthen, Wales held pastorates in The Rand, Transvaal, and South Africa.[16] John Daniel Jones, another renowned preacher whose name reached around the world was unquestionably converted during a revival meeting. And, in a small meeting of two dozen individuals, John Evans surrendered to the work of the Lord in India, whose sacrificial service reached many within the confines of India.


            Thus the effects of the Welsh Revival were not confined to Wales alone. Rather, the exciting, unusual news of the revival spread rapidly, influencing similar movements in other countries, such as the Azusa Street Revival in the United States. The Welsh Revival also greatly influenced the development of Pentecostalism and the broader scope of charismatic Christianity.[17] The Welsh Revival continued to echo throughout the decades following the twentieth century and beyond, standing as a testament to the power of spiritual awakening and the transformational effect it has on individuals and masses alike, leaving an indelible mark on history. As many have prayed with great fervency through the years, crying, “Do it again, Lord,” the Welsh Revival serves as an inspiration and a reminder of the possibility for revival to happen once again.

 

Bibliography


Diaz, Hannah. “The Effects of Modern History on Welsh Theology Post-1904,” Honors Theses 2015.


“Evan Roberts - Pisgah Chapel.” Pisgah Chapel. Accessed April 19, 2024. http://www.pisgahchapel.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Flier- EvanRobertsv3.pdf.


“History & Heritage: The 1904 Welsh Revival.” BCW. Accessed April 19, 2024. https://www.bcwales.org/1904-welsh-revival.


Matthews, David. I Saw the Welsh Revival: An Account of the 1904 Revival in Wales. Goshen, IN: Pioneer Books, 1992. Logos Bible Software.


Penn-Lewis, Jessie. The Awakening in Wales. Fort Washington, PA: Christian literature crusade, 1993. Logos Bible Software.


“The Welsh Revival of 1904-5 - an Overview.” Welldigger. Last modified August 18, 2015. Accessed April 19, 2024. http://daibach-welldigger.blogspot.com/2015/08/the- welsh-revival-of-1904-5-overview.html.


“The Welsh Revival: A Comprehensive History of Its Development, Characters, Experiences, Transformations, and Results.” Welshrevivalorg. Accessed April 19, 2024. https://welshrevival.org/?p=12.


Woodbridge, John D., and Frank A. James. Church History, Volume Two: From Pre- Reformation to the Present Day: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2013.


Footnotes


[1] 1 Pet. 2:3, New American Standard Bible 1995

[2] “The Welsh Revival of 1904-5 - an Overview.” Welldigger, August 18, 2015, http://daibach-welldigger.blogspot.com/2015/08/the-welsh-revival-of-1904-5-overview.html.

[3] “The Welsh Revival of 1904-5 - an Overview.” Welldigger.

[4] “The Welsh Revival of 1904-5 - an Overview.” Welldigger.

[5] “The Welsh Revival of 1904-5 - an Overview.” Welldigger.

[6] “History & Heritage: The 1904 Welsh Revival.” BCW, accessed April 19, 2024, https://www.bcwales.org/1904-welsh-revival.

[7] 1 Cor. 1:27 (NASB 1995)

[8] “History & Heritage: The 1904 Welsh Revival.” BCW.

[9] David Mathews, I Saw the Welsh Revival: An Account of the 1904 Revival in Wales. (Goshen, IN: Pioneer Books, 1992), chap. 2 “The Revivalist,” sec. 1, para. 5.

[10] David Mathews, I Saw the Welsh Revival: An Account of the 1904 Revival in Wales. (Goshen, IN: Pioneer Books, 1992).

[11] “The Welsh Revival: A Comprehensive History of Its Development, Characters, Experiences, Transformations, and Results,” Welshrevivalorg, accessed April 19, 2024, https://welshrevival.org/?p=12.

[12] “The Welsh Revival of 1904-5 - an Overview.” Welldigger.

[13] Jessie Penn-Lewis, The Awakening in Wales (Fort Washington, PA: Christian literature crusade, 1993), chap. 5, “The Life Streams In Southern Wales,” sec. 1, para 1.

[14] Jessie Penn-Lewis, The Awakening in Wales (Fort Washington, PA: Christian literature crusade, 1993), chap. 5, “The Life Streams In Southern Wales,” sec. 3, para 2.

[15] Jessie Penn-Lewis, The Awakening in Wales (Fort Washington, PA: Christian literature crusade, 1993), chap. 6, “The Life-Streams In Northern Wales,” sec. 9, para 1.

[16] David Mathews, I Saw the Welsh Revival: An Account of the 1904 Revival in Wales. (Goshen, IN: Pioneer Books, 1992), chap. 16 “Revival Repercussions,” sec. 1 para. 12.

[17] “The Welsh Revival: A Comprehensive History of Its Development, Characters, Experiences, Transformations, and Results, Welshrevivalorg.”



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