Welsh castle

Do It Again: The Welsh Revival

19 May 2021

5.5 MINS

What happened during this great revival should stir us all:

Any true Christian aches for heaven-sent revival to break up the hard, dry and parched ground that we find all around us. All Christians know that in Australia and the West, the church of Jesus Christ is in a very sad state. With notable exceptions, so much of Christianity is moribund, lethargic, listless, and basically dead.

And when something is dead, it takes a miracle of God to bring it back to life. Just now on my prayer walk, I came upon a dead possum lying on the ground. It seems to have fallen from the overhead wires, and it was clearly dead. There was nothing I could do to bring it back to life.

The same is true in the spiritual realm. We are all sinners who are dead in our sin and selfishness, and only a divine work from above can bring new life to us. And when God’s people move into places of spiritual barrenness, it also requires the work of God to bring about renewed life.

Thankfully, that is the God who we serve. He brings life out of death. Christianity is all about resurrection power. Recall what God asked Ezekiel during his vision of the dry bones (Ez. 37): “Can these bones live?” The answer is yes, and God prophesied through Ezekiel that a spiritually dead Israel would have new life. As we read in verses 11-14:

Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

Amazing stuff indeed. I have been thinking, reading and writing a lot lately about revival. This is my third piece in a row on the topic. For those who yearn for revival and love to read about it, I recently started a new subcategory on this site about it. So far 20 articles are found therein.

Here I want to speak about one of the greatest revivals that the church has ever experienced — and there have been many. I refer to the 1904-1905 Welsh Revival. It certainly was one of the most amazing moves of God in recent history. Some 100,000 souls were added to the Welsh churches during that amazing outbreak of the Spirit of God.

And it was not just some spiritual movement in churches that had no impact on the surrounding culture: it had very real ramifications for all of life and for all of the nation — and beyond. Countless books and articles have been written on this. Many can be quoted from here. But let me appeal to just one authority: the noted historian of revival, J. Edwin Orr. Consider this amazing quote from his 1973 volume, The Flaming Tongue: The Impact of 20th Century Revivals (Moody Press):

By the New Year of 1905, the Welsh Revival had reached its greatest power and extent. All classes, all ages and every denomination shared in the general awakening. Totals of converts added to the churches were published in local newspapers, 70,000 in two months, 85,000 in five, and more than a hundred thousand in half a year. Eighty thousand were still in the membership of the Welsh churches in 1914, in spite of leakage to mission halls and emigration overseas.

Miners’ Associations refused to hold meetings on licensed premises, hitherto the local custom. After the 1905 New Year, the Swansea County Police Court announced to the public that there had not been a single charge of drunkenness over the holiday weekend, an all-time record.

In the Welsh metropolis, the Cardiff police reported a 60% decrease in drunkenness and 40% fewer people in jail at the New Year. Figures released by Cardiff Chief Constable four years after the outbreak of the Revival showed totals of convictions for drunkenness in Glamorgan:

1902 ~ 9,298

1903 ~ 10,528

1904 ~ 11,282

1905 ~ 8,164

1906 ~ 5,490

1907 ~ 5,615

David Lloyd-George, a master of rhetoric, compared the revival to an earthquake and a tornado, predicting far-reaching social changes. At a public gathering in Scotland, he spoke of a town in his constituency where the total takings on a Saturday night in the local tavern amounted to fourpence-ha’penny — nine cents, on the drinking night of the week.

The great wave of sobriety which swept over the country caused severe financial losses to men in the liquor trade, and closed many of the taverns. A great improvement in public morals resulted in turn from the closures.

Stocks of Welsh and English Bibles were sold out. Prayer meetings were held in coal mines, in trains and trams and places of business. The works managers bore testimony of the change of conduct of their employees. The magistrates were presented with white gloves in several places, signifying that there were utterly no cases to try.

The life of the coal pits was transformed. Not only did workers and management engage in prayer meetings on the company’s time, which was being put to such good use in the ordinary hours of activity, but the pits themselves showed silent indicators of the new spirit — with texts chalked upon ventilating doors for all to see who passed that way.

Cursing and profanity were so diminished that it was reported that a strike was provoked in the coal mines — so many men gave up using foul language that the pit ponies dragging the coal trucks in the mine tunnels did not understand what was being said to them and stood still, confused.

It was noted in London that the Poor Law Guardians (who administered relief) in Swansea were commenting upon an unusual happening in Wales, working people taking their aged parents home from the workhouse to which they had been inconsiderately assigned.

And there were striking cases of restitution made. At Maesteg, a tradesman received a live pig in payment of a debt which had been outstanding since 1898, and other striking instances of open restitution were reported.

The police rejoiced in the Revival. One day in Holyhead, in the island county of Anglesey, the solemnity of court proceedings was broken by songs of praise in Welsh. The police guard outside hurried in, but stayed to add his bass.

Many were the evidences of the Spirit of God working in Wales. Longstanding debts were paid, stolen goods returned, while pugilists and gamblers were converted.

Revival in Wales affected the university colleges. For example, in a student lounge at University College in Bangor, an undergraduate started to sing an old Welsh hymn; another student prayed and an unbroken succession of hymns, prayers and testimonies followed. Lectures were cut, as three hundred or more gathered for afternoon prayer, while in the evening the students marched en masse to the Tabernacle, which was crowded. There were similar scenes in other academic communities.

During the Revival, children held meetings of their own in homes, barns, and (in some cases) even in empty pigsties. The records are full of instances of young children taking part in public meetings, in prayer or song or exhortation…

The vision of Evan Roberts, that a hundred thousand people would be won to the Churches in Wales was fully realised in a matter of months. At the time, the revival united the denominations as one body, filled the chapels nightly, renewed family ties, changed life in mines and factories, often crowded streets with huge processions, abated the social vices and diminished crime. Gomer Roberts asked:

“Who can give an account of the lasting blessings of the 1904-5 revival? Is it possible to calculate a sum total of family bliss, peace of conscience, brotherly love, and holy conversation? What of the debts that were paid and the enemies reconciled to one another? What of the drunkards who became sober and the prodigals who were restored? Is there a balance that can weigh the burdens of sins which was thrown at the foot of the Cross?”

Wow, if that does not stir you to the very core, nothing will! All one can say is, “Do it again Lord.” And that is a fully biblical plea. As the psalmist asked (Psalm 85:6):

“Will You not revive us again,
that Your people may rejoice in You?”

[Photo by Neil Mark Thomas on Unsplash]

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