When God Woke Up Wales

Three Lessons from Revival

Article by

Pastor, Maidenbower Baptist Church, Crawley

It is those who are asleep who need to be awakened. Those who have become listless and lethargic need to be stirred to liveliness and labor.

The Lord was pleased to do this in wonderful ways during the eighteenth century in various parts of the world and by various human instruments. In England, he raised up George Whitefield (1714–1770) and the Wesley brothers, among others. In America, the name of Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) is well-known, as both a preacher and a theologian, and in connection with Whitefield’s transatlantic labors.

And then in Wales, God employed a number of men to glorify his name. Again, Whitefield was involved, but among the other prominent names for us to learn from today is that of Daniel Rowland (c. 1711–1790).

Land of Spiritual Dullness

The work in Wales was manifestly a work of mercy and grace. Little in the country at the time commended it. Wales was poor and deprived, both naturally and spiritually. Some had recognized gospel needs during an earlier time and, in 1649, a particular Baptist church at the Glaziers’ Hall in London held a day of prayer “to seek the Lord that he would send laborers into the dark corners and parts of this land.”1 Two men offered their services and were sent to Wales.

God blessed their labors mightily. Conversions and baptisms followed, and a church was constituted at Ilston that had 43 members by October 1650. Yet by the early to mid-1700s, even this gospel progress of about a century before seems to have stuttered and stalled. One well-known statement suggested that Christianity in Wales was less a subject of inquiry and more a subject of mirth and ridicule.2 Faithful ministers were few and far between, though some knew a measure of spiritual effectiveness. Churches of all stripes were typically sleepy and dull, if not altogether dead. Does that sound familiar to us today?

Daniel Rowland was born into this environment. He grew up manifestly gifted, typically passionate, and evidently godless, in a family that had known something of true religion but that seems to have declined. His education directed him toward the clergy, and he was ordained deacon on March 10, 1734. He walked from the little Welsh village of Llangeitho to London and back for the occasion. Up to this point, Rowland’s ministry had been sadly empty of any gospel fervor and force. However, about this time, Rowland heard the truth through a godly preacher, Griffith Jones (c. 1684–1761), and became a new man in Christ. Rowland was ordained as a priest in the national church on August 31, 1735. His preaching began revealing his genuine change of heart.

‘The Angry Clergyman’

The same earnest soul that had once run in ungodliness now showed itself zealous to declare divine truth. A heart once given over to wickedness had been stirred by a sense of God’s holy majesty and stricken by the cutting edge of his righteous law. Like John Bunyan before him, Rowland preached what he felt, what he smartingly (deeply, acutely) did feel.3

“The same earnest soul that had once run in ungodliness now showed itself zealous to declare divine truth.”

Constrained by a heavy sense of his own sinfulness before God, Rowland inclined toward Scriptures that emphasized God’s holy hatred of sin and the fearful punishments that hung over the heads of the unrepentant. It was a far cry from what seems to have been the tame, tepid, and toothless homilies of his earlier ministry. He preached as a son of thunder, a true Boanerges (Mark 3:17), bound by the majesty of God’s person and the value of men’s souls. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, such preaching, with its emphasis on God’s holy law, drew and slew many hearers, earning Rowland the nickname of “the angry clergyman.”

This kind of ministry was powerful and effective, but its unrelenting force over the space of a couple of years was in danger of driving sinners to an unscriptural despair. Rowland’s ministry of judgment was not tempered with much mercy; his hearers were marked more by profound distress of soul than anything else.

Jerusalem of Wales

At this point, a godly Dissenting pastor by the name of Philip Pugh (1679–1760) stepped in to help the younger man. He advised Rowland to apply the blood of Christ to the spiritual wounds he was causing. His hearers needed to know not just that they needed a Savior; they also needed to know the Savior!

Rowland, still young in spiritual years, felt that he lacked sufficient sense of that reality himself — his faith in the Lord lacked something of what he felt was its necessary vigor. Pugh pressed him with the need to let some beams of light through the storm clouds before he killed his hearers. He told Rowland to preach till he felt more of that for which he yearned. Now the gentle tones of a Barnabas began to mingle with the piercing cries of a Boanerges, and the sweet gospel balm was readily poured into the wounds that God’s holy law had righteously inflicted.

Alongside his enlivened ministry of the word of God, Rowland had become a man of earnest prayer. He would often climb the hills around his home. The panoramic view of the region stirred his heart to plead for God’s blessing upon the people. Gripped by the gospel of Christ and sustained by his communion with God, Rowland’s preaching now began to have an even wider range and deeper effect. Crowds flocked to hear the gospel minister of Llangeitho, and they were transformed by the transformed man and his transformed preaching.

Previously, groans of distress had risen from hearers gripped by conviction of sin; now, cries of “Glory!” began to mingle with those groans, as convinced sinners looked to Christ and saw in him the beauty and majesty of the Savior. Soon Rowland was preaching to hundreds, if not thousands. He preached as “a seraph in tears.”4 God drew near to preacher and hearer alike, and some of the descriptions of his preaching leave us aching for the sense of heaven that often seemed to accompany his efforts.

Eventually ejected from the Church of England, Rowland continued to preach with spiritual force, enjoying the favor of many who relished the word of God. Howell Harris (1714–1773) reckoned that by 1763 as many as ten thousand were coming to hear him at Llangeitho. The little village was becoming known as the Jerusalem of Wales.

Lessons from Revival

This is a mere snapshot of the beginnings of the labors of one man in one place. In conclusion, let me offer three observations for pastors today.

Coordinated Efforts

First, consider that Rowland was one man among several, each one blessed of God in similar ways. He did not stand alone. In Wales, a few godly men had faithfully labored for years and had known a measure of real fruitfulness, as evidenced both in Rowland’s conversion and in the salvation of other men in his generation in Wales — such as Howell Harris and William Williams, Pantycelyn (1717–1791).

Recall also that Whitefield was converted at about the same time as Rowland and became a firm friend of and co-laborer with the Calvinistic Methodists in Wales. It is too easy to isolate, romanticize, and even idolize individuals. Nevertheless, we need not become spiritual or historical cynics. It is proper to recognize the distinct gifts and contributions of men raised up by God, seen and appreciated in their broader context.

Lively Men, Lively Ministries

Furthermore, learn that spiritually lively ministries come from spiritually lively men. Do not imagine that potent sermons will spring from dull hearts. Our desire for striking sermons or a powerful ministry must not be for its own sake, but for the glory of God and as the consequence of heart communion with him. Grace gripped godless Rowland, drew him out of darkness into God’s light, and made him both a faithful Christian and a useful preacher. What then seemed to mark him out was his deep meditation on divine truth and his seeking the face of God in prayer. Like him, we can learn to long for God’s blessing for his own glory’s sake and for the good of mankind, never for our own exaltation.

Preaching Under God’s Eye

Finally, Rowland’s power as a preacher derived from his profound and primary consciousness of the eye of God upon him. Like the apostle Paul, he spoke “not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4). He was clearly a gifted man, capable of high flights of spiritual oratory, his own fervor impacting his hearers. Nevertheless, his usefulness was at least as much a matter of heavenly substance as heavenly style.

“Spiritually lively ministries come from spiritually lively men.”

Rowland preached a full-orbed gospel, increasingly marked by the supremacy and centrality of Christ. He preached felt truth, both the law and the gospel. He set out to bring sinners to see their need of a Savior, and to show them the Savior they needed. Another well-known Welsh minister, Thomas Charles of Bala (1755–1814), converted through Rowland’s ministry, described it thus: “Rowland preached repentance, until the people repented; he preached faith until men believed. He portrayed sin as so abhorrent that all hated it; and Christ so glorious as to cause all to choose Him.”5

Brothers, are we preaching for repentance and faith, preaching the law and the gospel, preaching an abhorrent sin and a glorious Christ, for the glory of God and for the blessing of sinners? This is the ministry God blesses, and a ministry worth pursuing.

  1. The language is from the Ilston Church Book, the church record of the first congregation planted by the missionaries. 

  2. Cited in Eifion Evans, Daniel Rowland and the Great Evangelical Awakening in Wales (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1985), 13. 

  3. John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (London: Penguin, 1987), 9 (§276). 

  4. Owen Jones, Great Preachers of Wales (Stoke-on-Trent: Tentmaker Publications, 1995), 68. 

  5. John Morgan Jones and William Morgan, The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales, trans. John Aaron (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2008), 1:94. 

serves as a pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church, Crawley, and is married to Alissa, with whom he enjoys the blessing of three children. He has authored several books, and is grateful to preach, to teach, and to write as opportunity provides.