Lessons From The Welsh Revivals (Part 1)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 85
We returned from a visit to the United Kingdom in August (2011). It was especially good for my wife and me to have time with our family in Wales. It was a blessed visit! In the early mornings I took walks along the mountainside, close to our family home. I recalled the many times I did that as a youth when living at home, and having a longing to see REVIVAL again in Wales. My pastor and the elders of the church I was raised up in had come through the great 1904 Revival. What a divine visitation that was, and how we longed that God would "do it again." So, on my recent visit I retraced those steps, looked over the valley again, and found myself crying out to God that He in His mercy might grant another hallowed spiritual awakening.
While we do not equate Wales with the Holy Land of Israel, if we as Welsh people can say anything at all about our beloved homeland it must be that down through many years God has been most favorable to it. It has been justifiably called: The Land of Revivals. It may be true to say that the history of its great spiritual revivals seems to be without equal anywhere. When speaking of the past revivals many think only of the "1904" and the godly young revivalist whom God raised up – Evan Roberts, referred to by one as "the standard bearer of the revival movement," then a student at Newcastle Emlyn (West Wales), and a Methodist, although that especial season of spiritual renewal was participated in by ministers of all the Nonconformist denominations in the area of Loughor (West Glamorgan), and later everywhere. The unity among those churches was not organizational but grounded in two vital matters:
(1) an agreement in respect of the basic truths of the Gospel, so that truth was not compromised for outward uniformity; and
(2) the common, fervent desire for a visitation of the Holy Spirit to glorify Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and for the manifestation of His power to produce the moral and spiritual changes deemed to be most urgent at that time.
Oh, that there was awakened in all our hearts a like longing to see God at work in our day, since we also see conditions prevailing in both society and the church that are most disturbing and grievous.
The Welsh Revival of 1904 was but one among many visitations of God that shook the Principality, and in all cases God’s power was always exerted in answer to prayer. Between 1762 and 1862 there were no fewer than fifteen outstanding revivals in Wales, which is quite remarkable. They were divine visitations, each with their own characteristic, in which the most significant, powerful, and widespread spiritual influences of the Holy Spirit were felt. What an impact was made, not only within the churches in Wales but also on their communities. It was the late F. B. Meyer who said that "the supreme test of a revival is the ethical result."
In the 1859 Revival, within two years the Welsh chapels had received more than 100,000 new Christian believers into their membership, formerly ungodly people who came to know a life-transforming encounter with Jesus. And most remarkably, in the 1904 Revival, in the space of just four months an estimated 200,000 were brought into a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and added to His church. Well might we inquire then first of all:
What Is Revival?
It is a divine intervention of God’s Holy Spirit coming without constraint and often without expectation but with great power, into the regular means of grace wherein there is an evident spiritual bankruptcy. This would be followed by a profuse measure of renewed spiritual liveliness amongst church members, widespread conversions among the ungodly, a disturbing sense of God’s presence throughout entire communities, resulting in a moral reformation spilling over into their society. A true biblical revival is nothing less than God sovereignly acting upon the church, intervening to lift the situation completely out of human hands and manifesting His holy presence by works of extraordinary power.
There is nothing quite like genuine REVIVAL, for it revolutionizes a church in decline by an evident act of God Himself. It cannot be worked up, for it comes down from heaven. All the while you can organize it, or that it depends on man’s activity, it is not revival. It is God coming down in answer to the fervent prayers of concerned believers, whereupon there is an all-pervading, overwhelming sense of His presence. Believers are filled with awe at the manifest glory of God, and unbelievers, made so aware of their utter sinfulness, cannot but cry out to God in repentance that He might have mercy on them. Revival is the exact answer of God to the prayer of Isaiah:
"Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, that mountains might flow down at Your presence...to make Your name known to Your adversaries, that the nations might tremble at Your presence" (Isa. 64:1-2).
Honesty will admit the great need we have today for a revival in our churches. The moral and spiritual conditions that prevailed and called for those revivals in the Principality in days gone by were no different to what is being presently witnessed about us in Australia, Britain, America and other nations. Writing about the 1859 Revival in particular, though making reference to other revivals in the 19th century in Wales (such as in 1805, 1811, 1817, 1821, 1828), Eifion Evans comments on the conditions at the time that greatly concerned the leaders of the churches:
"They were constrained to survey their own spiritual condition, and became gravely concerned at finding a serious deficiency of true godliness amongst the members, and an alarming ineffectiveness in the witness of the churches...True religion had been at a low ebb...a barrenness was felt in the means of grace; the older Christians were indifferent, and the young people were worldly and superficial in spiritual things...."
Are things any different to that today? NO! Indeed, even Paul describes our times in his letter to Timothy as being "the last days" and addressing believers he prophesies of perilous times to come as confusion grips the professing church. It would be a church marked by apostasy, moral decay, arrogance, the worship of mammon, the love of mere pleasure, and a tolerance for things that are patently against what pleases Almighty God as set forth in His Word. Prayerfully read again Second Timothy 3 and 4. Paul says there would be a disregard, even disdain, for sound and wholesome teaching of the Scriptures, such as is saving and sanctifying in its effect. In its place would be a desire for agreeable, pleasing homilies that tickle the ears, as well as false systems of belief issuing in warped views of God and corrupt standards of living. It is predicted that in the church one would observe, not a people faithfully and fervently loving God but holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power (2 Tim. 3:5) – a mere outline of Christianity without substance. How accurate is God’s Word! We ought to be sitting up and listening to its profound message, its infinite wisdom, and timely warnings for these troublesome times.
The Cry for Revival
There is much inspiration and encouragement to be received from reflecting on those past revivals in Wales, especially to see that prior to such heaven-sent visitations, God had moved on the hearts of many of His people to seek Him with renewed fervor. In my hometown of Aberdare, in February 1858, the Reverend William Edwards, writing in an article on Religious Awakening in the publication Annibynwyr (Independent), said, "There is need for a revival, a revival very soon before things worsen, and go beyond recovery." And he put forward suggestions as to how a revival will be promoted:
"...a pure ministry ...apostolic preaching ...the awakening must start in the pulpit ...the church must be in full sympathy ...with the ministry ...the particular use of the means of grace ...earnest prayer."
Not only in Aberdare but also simultaneously throughout Wales the churches were challenged with a view of their own spiritual poverty, and a call to prayer. In 1859, within just a year of such deep and genuine longing for revival, with people reaching out to God in fervent prayer the revival broke out. And who can describe those days of heavenly visitation and such powerful impressions in the churches and in the communities! It is difficult for us to take in what true revival is like. But if we have come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; if we have any deep spiritual desires after God, if there is any true spiritual life within us; if we have any understanding at all of God’s purposes in sending His Son into our dark and sinful world, and if we have any concerns deep within us for the general spiritual and moral state of things in our communities and nation – THEN there ought to be a cry in our hearts to God, as with David in Psalm 85:3-4, that He will "turn Himself from the fierceness of His anger, and turn us to Him, the God of our salvation." When did you and I last hear God’s people fervently crying from their hearts in earnest petition to the God of all grace (v. 6): "Will You not revive us again: that Your people may rejoice in You? Show us Your mercy, O Lord, and grant us Your salvation."
What an appeal for restoring grace the psalmist makes in the 85th Psalm. It is fourfold: observe them with me, for here are the marks of genuine REVIVAL.
Verse 4: TURN US – the longing to be recovered to live in true holiness.
Verse 6: REVIVE US – the desire to be restored to new spiritual life.
Verse 7: SHOW US – the humility to acknowledge the need for mercy.
Verse 7: GRANT US – the request for a display of God’s saving power.
And such a cry that not only springs from a heart of concern but from one of confidence in the merciful nature of God to do it, for He had done it before (vv. 1-3): "Lord, You have been favorable to Your land; You have brought back the captivity of Jacob. You have forgiven the iniquity of Your people; You have covered all their sin. You have taken away all Your wrath...."
Do it again, Lord!
What were the marks of that earlier visitation in Wales? Ah, the revival was the gracious work of the Holy Spirit primarily awakening the slumbering church, where apathy and formality had replaced its former spiritual life and vitality. It had become an outward show as "Christianity" appeared to be devoid of inward reality.
What Happened in Wales in Those Revivals?
There was the evidence of God’s grace in the changed lives of those Christians who had become backslidden and lukewarm. They manifested –
• A new fervent prayerfulness and powerful preaching;
• A new love for holiness, and such a loathing for sin;
• A new consecration to God and to His Son Jesus Christ;
• A new zeal for His House, and what it truly represents;
• A new appetite for the Word of God, and obedience to it;
• A new stimulus was received to establish family worship;• A new passion to bring the ungodly to faith in Christ.
There was renewed spiritual life, a thorough change of heart so that sin was renounced and holiness of life was ardently pursued. A gaudy and godless world no longer appealed to them as an attraction. It was seen for what it was as superficial, vain, and empty, for Christ had become "all and in all." Contentions that had lingered for years were ended through a newfound brotherly love and reconciliation. There was a moral and spiritual cleanup. AND with quickened churches there always comes forth a new generation of preachers, leaders and missionaries – and such that are marked by godly integrity.
The question that must surely be raised in our minds and hearts is this: HOW can we see such a revival in our times? Is there anything we can do in order to secure a spiritual awakening? Verses 8-9 of this Psalm tell us:
1. We must hear what God is saying. "I will hear what God the Lord will speak."
Our God is a living God; He is a "speaking" God. There are times when He speaks in His wrath, in His sore displeasure. That is fearful, and who can abide the day of His wrath? Yet other times, as in this psalmist’s understanding, God "will speak peace to His people." He is a faithful and merciful God whose disposition it is to save, to draw men and women back into His way, to slay the enmity, remove the barrier to fellowship, and abolish the alienation caused by sin.
Observe verse 2 – "You have forgiven the iniquity of Your people; You have covered all their sin." In another psalm David says, "If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared" (Psa. 130:3-4). What good news this is, that God has made provision for the forgiveness of all our sins, through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us on the Cross. "We have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" (Eph. 1:7). Salvation is not earned by our good works, or church attendance, or religious piety but by acknowledging we have sinned; and we come to trust solely in the atoning work of Christ on the Cross. God has "made peace through the blood of His Cross...to reconcile us to Himself" (Col. 1:20).
2. We must humbly repent and forsake all known sin. "But let them not turn again to folly..." (Psa. 85:8).
Repentance is more than saying ‘sorry.’ It is a change of mind with regard to God, and His whole antagonism toward sin. It presupposes a right about turn, a loathing and a leaving of the sin that offends Infinite Holiness.
3. We must walk in the true fear of the Lord. "His salvation is nigh them that fear Him..." (v. 9).
In true revival there is always a new expression of "the fear of the Lord," for the fear of the Lord is an integral part of our relationship with God. It is a disposition of reverential awe that is mingled with adoring love, and which inspires trust, promotes humility, and engenders a passion for heart-holiness so as to be worthy of Him who is all-holy. Psalm 111:9-10 says, "He sent redemption to His people: He has commanded His covenant for ever: holy and reverend [awesome; to be feared] is His name. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do His commandments...."
And then Psalm 147:11 – "The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those that hope in His mercy."
This is the "godly fear" spoken of in Hebrews 12:28-29, "...let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear; for our God is a consuming fire."
You can see that we have no options here. God requires that we fear Him in view of who He is. Psalm 89:7 says, "God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about Him."
4. We must seek to honor God above all else. "His salvation is nigh them that fear Him, in order that glory may dwell in our land..." (Psa. 85:9).
This evident demonstration of God’s extraordinary power brings about a spiritual well-being in His people, a dynamic change of character. Observe then what happens as God comes in renewing grace and saving power (vv. 11-13): "Truth shall spring out of the earth...righteousness shall go before Him; and shall set us in the way of His steps" – that is, we come to know what path the Lord walks in, and we are then found following in that way of righteousness.
Is not that the "glory" we would see in our land – even in the church? The departure of "the glory of God" from Israel, His holy presence, was because of the apostasy of the nation immediately preceding the Babylonian Exile (cf. Ezek. 8-11). God cannot abide in darkness. He necessarily removes from all that is evil. We know that the return of the glory of the Lord in the future is foretold. (See Ezek. 43:1-4. Cf. Psa. 26:8; 63:2; Isa. 40:3-5; 60:1-3; 62:1-5.) But it will only be a reality when Israel shall turn to the Lord.
The message is very clear, from Scripture and from the glorious history of revivals, wherever they have occurred in church history, that the glory of God will be known again in its fullness in our churches and in our land – when we turn to the Lord in repentance and fervent prayer. (To be continued)
Used by permission. Aeron Morgan is originally from Wales and has pastored churches in the United Kingdom and in Australia, where he now resides. He serves as an itinerant minister in many countries.