When Glory Filled The Land
Accounts from the Revival in Wales, 1904-05, written shortly afterward by an eyewitness, H. Elvet Lewis. Used by permission from the book, Glory Filled The Land, edited by Richard Owen Roberts.
While recognizing to the fullest extent of the use which the Holy Spirit made of Evan Roberts as instrument of revival, equally remarkable was the quick, spontaneous rise of the people to the sound of the silver trumpet in Zion. From several directions hidden forces had been hastening into light of day, and were we to use earthly speech we would say that it was almost an accident that the effectual manifestation should take place on the banks of the Loughor, rather than in some other vale.
But accident there is not in the Spirit’s exquisite procession. Therefore, out of many chosen, one was divinely selected, the others also being made priests unto God. Many were waiting and silently training themselves; to one came the first word, but as he repeated it, thousands of hearts recognized it as the word they were looking for.
It is as when a farmer, one autumn afternoon, turns out to set the hillside gorse on fire. He lights a small bush, and perhaps it fails. He lights it again, then another, and then there is a local blaze. He passes on to another part and does the same, and there are several red patches of fire. Then a servant quick and eager, takes a dry, uprooted bush, just fringing it with flame, and he runs along, leaving a line of fire budding at a score of points, flame meets flame, fire kindles fire, sparks are caught in the wind and sow new flames on every hand: the entire hillside is a blaze.
Evan Roberts became that herald of fire. He helped to join together the separate patches of fire; the whole was caught in a great wind of God, and before 1904 passed away, the greater part of Wales was in a fervor of prayer and song. And the first month of 1905 carried the fire to all the nooks and places not already ablaze. By the end of January I could discover no town or hamlet, or sequestered mountain spot, but the divine fire was there.
To separate Evan Roberts from the revival would be impossible but to those who have looked deeper, equally impossible would it be to separate the people from it. It is through and through, a democratic renaissance. Were it not for that, it might have degenerated into a mere festival of emotion.
While in England and other countries the church laments the estrangement of the working classes, in Wales, at the dawn of the twentieth century, these, in their thousands, helped to create a movement whose end is not yet. Miners and quarrymen, field laborers and tin-workers – the whole artisanry of the Welsh nation, which means, of course, the overwhelming majority of it – joined in one immense prayer meeting from north to south, form east to west. “It has burst out here, there and everywhere,” wrote Mr. W. T. Stead at the year’s close, “without leaders or organization or direction.”
While the reporters were diligently following Evan Roberts, and giving occasional news of his young comrades, the nation’s revival was without any report, or with almost none. In thousands of villages, every evening wore into midnight through a glow of instant prayer. Conversions were taking place among little groups of often less than twenty in number. Many a morning, when the daily paper brought news of crowded chapels and stirring scenes among Glamorgan’s miners, the roadside laborer had also a secret in his heart, borne from a prayer meeting at his little Bethel the previous night, which meant to him more than all the world. Heaven had whispered in his ear, and some day the whisper would return to become a part of heaven’s choral song.
The thing without a name – “This” – arrived in many guises, but in all of them it was unmistakable. Sometimes its first coming was through the syllables of a child, often through mothers and maidens, sometimes through a first convert, sometimes through some gray father out of the sanctuary of prayer. The only certain thing about it was that nobody could tell when or how it would come. What kept young people, night after night, for long weeks in many instances, praying, waiting, losing heart, and again restarting? What but the hope of the one supreme moment, outshining the rest of Time?...
Was there ever such a Christmastide in Wales as that of 1904? It was more completely possessed by the Babe of the manger than ever known before. Thousands of children learned the meaning of a “merry Christmas” for the first time in their lives. Fathers were not drunk, mothers did not weep, little ones did not go without food. Men who had not been sober at Christmas for years – any number up to twenty years and beyond – laughed with the laughter of their happy boys and girls, and then wondered why they had not laughed before, and turned from laughter to unbidden tears, and again to laughter.
“I want you to get me a linen shirt,” said one of these, a miner, to his wife, a few days before the morn that recalls the singing of angels. “A linen shirt?” she asked incredulously: for flannel was all they had been able to afford – scantily – hitherto. “Yes.” There was to be a tea meeting for the converts at the chapel on Christmas Day, and he had been asked to help in cutting bread and butter. “And I must have linen to do that – for Jesus Christ.” What dawn of reverence, in a soul hitherto clouded, was now struggling as through shadows of death into heaven’s fresh morning!
No one will ever know what healing that Christmastide brought to many a mother’s sore heart. “I am going for my holidays,” confessed a young man, son of a minister, to a friend whose prayers had helped to win him to Christ, “and I am ashamed to think that it is the first time in years that my home-going will make my parents happy.”
Then one recalls a kindred picture in a far-off district. While night after night converts were being enrolled, another, physically unable to attend the services, kept watch on the doorstep for some friendly passers-by to bring the news. And they would give her the list, many of them forgetting what secret longing lay behind her question. Occasionally one would remember her prodigal child and would finish the list saying: “But perhaps others came after I left.” And from her lonely vigil she would return to the house night after night, to take up her burden of intercession.
It was almost to the ringing of Christmas bells that a neighbor, touched with the feeling of her sorrowing watch, thoughtfully came, and beginning the list broke off suddenly: “And your boy’s name was among them tonight.” He would have walked many a longer mile to see the light that came into the worn face – at last. It was the shining of the star of Bethlehem.
But the joy of that Christmas flowed wider still. Thousands of young people coming home brought with them the kindling they had themselves felt, or came into affected areas and carried it back with them. School teachers in scores of instances became evangelists. All Wales met in Glamorganshire. The laborer, driven from the land in quest of daily bread, found his way to this rich coal-field; the quarrymen, exiled through labor disputes, came southward to re-start life, homesick for his mountains wherever he wandered. The return took place at the holidays.
For better, for worse, Glamorganshire affected every corner of Wales, north and south. It was for better that Christmas. Men who were before professing Christians were now evangelists, and men who had notorious fame hitherto as the curse of their homes, returned as missionaries.
Take, for instance, the story of the revival as it was in part related and in part seen by me, the first week of the New Year, at a picturesquely situated village eight miles from a railway station, nestling in the shadows of the hills, with more commanding peaks from the distance overlooking. A few anglers and tourists have discovered it and disturb its placid course in holiday time; otherwise its dreams are in the day of old traditions and mountain silences. Shepherds and farmers and rural craftsmen form the bulk of the inhabitants.
Here as elsewhere, the young men began to “see visions,” and about a month before Christmas prayer meetings were started. At first the young men held theirs separately from the young women’s, for in the latter case, and mostly in the former, it was a case of taking public part for the first time. Night after night they met and encouraged each other; then a united meeting was held, and over the quiet village, and up the many valleys that open out on many sides, a sense of wonder came.
The first week passed and the second; and, as in the case of Elijah’s lad looking towards the sea, each evening they were almost compelled to say: “There is nothing.” But the end of the third week brought the cloud. What mystic power and sign of the Spirit are hidden in this period of three weeks! As already mentioned, it was the measure of time in several other districts.
A young man had now come home for his holidays from one of the mining valleys of Glamorganshire. He had been home before, as some boon companions pleasantly remembered. They were expecting a good time – on the old lines. But what change had passed over him? His first evening was not spent in the village inn, but in the village chapel. Nor will that first evening be soon forgotten. He was but illiterate at the best, and his lips had grown unfamiliar with prayer. But he prayed as no one there had heard before.
At first there was much curiosity, and among those who had not been at the meeting, the news was received as the news of Saul by the disciples at Jerusalem. Such a ring-leader of drink and dissipation could not have been so suddenly changed! But his new life had made him patient and forgiving. He not only told his tale and prayed as evening succeeded evening – prayed for his companions one by one – but also went to search them out. On a small scale, Evan Roberts had come to this secluded northern village.
When I reached there the first Friday of the New Year, there was scarcely an unconverted hearer to be found all through those valleys. Between him, and the young people already equipped by their three weeks of prayer, and the ministers – young also – the gleanings were few. When two old men at the evening meeting which had been announced as lecture but was converted into a revival service remained to give themselves to Christ – with one or two more from a distance – the tale of the winning of souls in that district was all but completed. His old companions had had a good time but on new lines.
And the young man? He told God in his prayer how sorry he was that he did not know more in order to speak better; but he was doing his best, and would try to learn! I believe it was ungrammatical enough to shock critical ears; its colloquialism was at times almost disconcerting; but it was prayer, if ever a heart came into direct communication with God. Twelve months ago he had come home with something like eleven pounds in his pocket; he had wasted them all and had to borrow a pound to take him back to South Wales. Is it any wonder that he used hard words in speaking of his old master – the devil? Or that his voice grew very gentle when he spoke of his new Master?
The humbleness of the efficient instruments is among the miracles of this revival. Next morning, as I left in the dawning light, I felt God’s poetry in the hills and shadow peaks, but I had found a greater poetry by far in the soul of a young collier, who had come all the way home this Christmastide to help in saving his own kith and kin….
The Unveiling of the Cross
Among the autumn winds of 1904 a voice was heard on the banks of the Loughor, proclaiming the same unchanging love as it shone and shines forth from the throbbing mysteries of the Cross. And somehow people who had grown grey in sin began to feel ashamed and were stricken with remorse; young people lost their taste for vacant pleasures; there were confessions, sobbings, silent tears, struggles, open victories; and the refrain grew richer as rough voices softened in singing:
“Oh the Lamb, the gentle Lamb!”
The Cross stood unveiled and a light – not from the soldiers’ lanterns – fell on the head of One bowed to the ground beneath the olive trees. The Cross stood forth, high and clear, and tens of thousands looked…. Men and women looked and they felt they must pray. Prayer meetings sprung up everywhere and flowered as a valley, grown impatient with winter’s too long delay, grasps at the first day’s sunshine, and stands at noon in a tender mist of opening flowers.
Hundreds of old and young, late at night, solitary or in twos and threes, all over the country, were trudging home by many a rough mountain path, across many a wind-swept moor, two, three, even up to six or eight miles – never knowing that the way was long or the night stormy. Or more wonderful still, from these meetings men were going home past doors of brazen temptation, which they could not have passed a few weeks before without entering, even at life’s risk; now they passed with a song in their heart and probably on their lips, “Wondrous love! Vast as the oceans!”
They had seen the Cross unveiled. The light, the saving light, the song, the blood-purchased song, crossed a hundred hills, and filled a hundred glens, from Prescelly to Snowdon. Everywhere one met quite radiant faces – among miners and quarrymen, among sailors and shepherds, in farms and cottages, in places of business and studious offices....
The Cross has saved thousands, it has sanctified thousands more. There are today large churches giving to a mission both heart and hand; two years ago the mission was scarcely, if at all, thought of. There are today hosts of young people – standing then at the parting of the ways, almost drawn into mere aimlessness of living – today they think, today they seek to serve. There are today, especially though not exclusively among the younger ministers, those who have found a voice to speak for God with clearer accents, with warmer hearts. Among the boys and girls a work of grace has begun which, if the Christian churches do their part, will bear some of the best richest fruit of the centuries in service for Christ at home and far afield.
Nor ought any let their heart grow faint. The unveiled Cross has in it fresh sources of strength and of victory. Here a leader may fail us, there a comrade may fall. When was it ever otherwise in any season of the Church’s renewal? “Jesus still leads on.” What if some new glory of the Cross makes forms and methods we have loved grow obsolete? The Cross can create new delights and inspire new songs, for “The Lamb that was dead is living still!”
– Used by permission, from Glory Filled The Land, edited by Richard Owen Roberts, and published by International Awakening Ministries, P.O. Box 232, Wheaton IL 60189.