In 1904, just one hundred years ago, the principality of Wales was rocked and deeply altered by a great outpouring of the Spirit of God. It was a phenomenon that became known as ‘The Welsh Revival’. Remarkable and astounding events took place, with hundreds and thousands of people being influenced and changed so much that eventually the whole world was spiritually touched as a result of what took place in the Principality. Last year, being the one-hundredth year since it took place, saw a number of publications both in written and visual forms that have commemorated those events and enabled them to become real to a new generation.
Unfortunately the contrast with the present spiritual conditions in Wales could hardly be greater. Today we witness many churches and chapels in serious decline with closure and dwindling numbers of those who attend. The church of the twenty-first century is materially rich but spiritually impoverished. Too often energy is consumed on selfish ambitions, bitter infighting, petty jealousies and selfcentered pride. It also appears to be making little impact upon a society that is sliding into greater immorality and is less and less Christian in emphasis. There is in the modern churches a deep lack of awareness of the reality of the presence of God, the power of prayer seems muted, its practice diminished and thus the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit is lacking and forward progress is stunted.
As we look back upon the Welsh Revival it must not be with a shallow sentimentality and a wish that such times would return. We must face the challenge of revival and ask if we really do want to pay the price? Do we really want to purge our lives of everything that grieves God and limits the work of the Holy Spirit? There is always a price to be paid for revival and it is not abundantly clear that the modern churches have any desire or willingness to pay that price. Yet, revival is important and is obviously a vital need today as in any day. As we consider them the events of the Welsh Revival leave us awestruck and wondering at the greatness of God and the great things that He achieved during the times of this revival.
First we must ask, ‘What is Revival?’
There are many definitions of revival and it seems important to mention a few in order to gain an insight into what we mean by revival. JONATHON EDWARDS the great American preacher of the eighteenth century, said that revival is, ‘God’s major means of extending His kingdom’. EDWIN ORR who has researched and written extensively on revivals says that revival is, ‘A movement of the Holy Spirit bringing about a revival in New Testament Christianity in the church of Christ and its related community’. DUNCAN CAMPBELL who witnessed the wonder of ‘the Hebrides Revival’ in the Scottish Western Isles in 1949 described revival as, ‘a community saturated with God’. CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON who saw continuous revival in his ministry at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London said, ‘A true revival is looked for in the local church’. RHYS BEVAN JONES, during the 1904 revival in Wales, said that revival is, ‘The church on its knees’. Indeed, this conviction became a sort of slogan for the Welsh Revival and was formulated as ‘Bend the church and save the people’. BRIAN EDWARDS, whose book Revival is a classic writes, ‘Revival is the awakening of the church, making it holy and alive once again’. Again he wrote, ‘Revival highlights the big issues that unite Christians, rather than the secondary issues that divide them’. Finally, and perhaps touching the heart of the matter, POWELL PARRY saw revival as, ‘the presence of God – everywhere’.
In short, revival is a work of God’s Spirit to breathe new life and vitality into the church and it was gloriously seen in Wales in 1904. Yet that was not the first time that revival had been experienced in the Principality. Revival had come in the 1500s and again in the 1730s with the leaders being Howell Harris and Daniel Rowlands. There was a revival in the North Wales town of Bala in 1791 with Thomas Charles. There were also revivals in the west coast town of Aberystwyth in 1805, in Beddgelert in 1817 and a nationwide revival in 1859 with David Morgan. The Welsh nation seems to have regularly experienced the wonder of revival and sadly we now appear to be living in one of the longest periods of time without a revival since Christianity came to Wales. It is a deep challenge to us and we need to be burdened for another deep visitation of God’s Spirit.
Evan Roberts, a man in the Hand of God
In 1904 the man used by God to usher in revival was a former coal miner known as Evan Roberts. It is said that at the beginning of the twentieth century there was a small explosion in a South Wales coal mine. One of the results of that explosion was that the pages of a Bible were scorched. The owner of the Bible was Evan Roberts and he was destined by God to light the flames of revival in the country of Wales. The pages that were scorched were 2 Chronicles 6, the very chapter in which the prayer of Solomon is found regarding recovery from departure and the answer of God in promising revival. It is said that pictures of that scorched Bible went around the world following the amazing events of 1904. Evan Roberts was one of fourteen children and was born on the 8th June 1878 in a town to the west of Swansea known as Loughor. He was twenty-six years old when he was used by God to bring revival to Wales. Initially he worked as a coal miner and then as a blacksmith. At the age of thirteen or fourteen he had been warned by a deacon of Moriah Chapel named William Davies, never to miss a prayer meeting. He was also told that the reason he should never be absent was in case the Holy Spirit came and he would be like the apostle Thomas who was missing when the newly-risen Christ first appeared to His disciples! Evan heeded the advice and never missed a prayer meeting or any other meeting for that matter.
The turning point in his dealings with God
Evan started to attend school in the Cardiganshire town of Newcastle Emlyn and on Thursday, 29th September 1904 he travelled over to Blaenannerch to listen to preaching. At the close of the service a preacher, Seth Joshua, offered a prayer and in the course of it said, ‘Bend us, O Lord! ‘ The idea behind such a sentiment is that we should be bent or moulded to the will of God. This simple request had a powerful impact upon Evan Roberts and it gripped his heart and mind. He is said to have fallen to his knees in prayer and leaning forward over the back of the pew in front began praying, ‘Bend me! Bend me! Bend me!’ The perspiration stood out on his face and joined the tears that flowed from his eyes. It was a mighty experience and a turning point in his life.
It would seem that he stayed in that condition for a long time, with people coming to comfort him and to wipe his face. Three things essentially overwhelmed him. Firstly, the love of God seemed forcibly impinged upon his mind. Secondly, his own unworthiness humbled him, powerfully affecting him. Thirdly, he was overwhelmed with a great burden for the salvation of lost souls. Deeply moved and radically changed by the experience he referred to that time as, ‘Blaenannerch’s great meeting’.
That meeting was the essential turning point but for many years Evan had been reading, talking and thinking about revival. It was constantly on his mind and in his prayers and he talked incessantly on the subject, especially with his great friend Sydney Evans. One night in particular, he had spent time in prayer with God in the garden and his face shone to the point of glowing. Evan rushed up to Evans and said, ‘I have got wonderful news for you. I have had a vision of all Wales being lifted up to heaven. We are going to see the mightiest revival that Wales has ever known – the Holy Spirit is coming just now. We must be ready. We must have a little band and go all over the country preaching’. The words sounded almost breathlessly hysterical but they proved to be prophetic and true. There was a deep passion in the heart of Evan Roberts for revival. He had very deep times of communion and fellowship with God and was sometimes overwhelmed with the presence of the Almighty.
The Diary of a Revival
31st October 1904: Evan Roberts felt a strong leading from the Lord to return to his home town of Loughor. When he arrived he told his mother, ‘There will be a great change in Loughor in less than a fortnight. We are going to have the greatest revival that Wales has ever seen’.
lst November 1904: Evan Roberts spoke to the young people in the Chapel about the importance of being filled with the Spirit.
2nd November 1904: Evan Roberts spoke on the four great principles which all must follow who desire the outpouring of the Spirit:
1. Confess all known sin – those past sins must be put away and cleansed. This is the deep pursuit of holiness.
2. Remove everything that is doubtful from your life and forgive everybody – no one must be excluded.
3. Obey the prompting of the Holy Spirit – obedience must be instant, total and unquestioning.
4. Make public confession of Christ as your Saviour – be open in your allegiance to Christ.
Meetings continued throughout the week and the following Sunday, 6th November 1904 sixty young people responded in faith and repentance to the call of the gospel.
7th November 1904: the Chapel was packed and people were moved to tears, while others cried out in agony of soul over their sins. For the first time the ‘Revival Love Song’ was sung. The first line in Welsh says, ‘Dyma gariad fel y moroedd’ and as we sing in English, ‘Here is love, vast as the ocean’. The meeting did not finish until 3.00 a.m.
9th November 1904: the people of Loughor woke up to hear the footsteps of crowds flocking in to the 6 a.m. early morning prayer meeting.
10th November 1904: the Western Mail carried reports of crowds flocking to the Chapel in Loughor.
11th November 1904: the service at Moriah Chapel was overflowing with over eight hundred people attending.
12th November 1904: from all the surrounding countryside people flocked into Loughor and filled Moriah Chapel where Evan Roberts was preaching and also Pisgah Chapel where Sydney Evans was the preacher.
14th November 1904: Evan Roberts is found in Aberdare and one thousand people attend Ebenezer Congregational Chapel to hear him preach.
15th November 1904: the whole of Aberdare was stirred and the early morning prayer meeting lasted for four hours. There were immense crowds in the evening and during the service Evan Roberts gave out the hymn, ‘Heavenly Jesus ride victorious, Gird Thy sword upon Thy thigh’. It is reported that instantly prayer and praise broke out and that Evan Roberts walked amongst the congregation in what was described as ‘holy ecstasy’.
The movement throughout Wales
This was the beginning of what JAMES ALEXANDER STEWART called, ‘the Invasion of Wales by the Spirit through Evan Roberts’. Evan then travelled up and down the South Wales’ industrialized valleys preaching everywhere and a great spiritual anointing was experienced. There were many manifestations of the presence of the Holy Spirit in God, glorifying power.
WHITAKER in his book Great Revivals says, ‘The presence of God was felt everywhere. The atmosphere was divinely charged. People seemed to be convicted of sin and become aware of the need of salvation, even without the presence of a preacher or evangelist’. In my own home town of Maesteg it is reported that two coal miners had just come off the afternoon shift and were walking down Victoria Street at about 10.30 p.m. They carried flagons of drink and were on their way home but they were suddenly aware of the presence of God, right there in the street. They knelt down on the road and cried to God for mercy. When they got up they ran down the steps to the nearest Chapel, where people inside were praying. Those men openly confessed with deep contrition and not a little anxiety that they wanted to be saved. Apparently such awareness of the awesomeness of God’s presence was not unusual in these times of revival in Wales. Sadly, the Chapel to which they ran that night has now closed, the building was demolished and a residential unit stands in its place!
Revive us again O Lord
We may not be living in times of revival today, but nonetheless we can live in personal and daily fellowship with God no matter what goes on around us. We can spend time reading God’s word and quality time in prayer with the Saviour. Thus our souls can be daily enriched through genuine communion with God awaiting a day when He will be pleased once more to revive us again.