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What really happened in Wales in 1904 ... and what relevance does it have for Georgia in 2004?

Praying for a rising tide of evangelism and spiritual renewal

 

LOUGHOR, Wales - One hundred years ago in the country of Wales, nearly 150,000 people came to Christ in a matter of months in one of Christianity's most remarkable spiritual awakenings. It was an historic event that shook the nation of 500,000 to its foundations and returned the country to its spiritual roots.

Nearly one-fourth of the nation was claimed for Christ's kingdom and society was changed so drastically that even newspapers recorded the events and regularly published lists of individuals who became new believers.

If that occurred today in Georgia, it would mean that nearly 2 million of the state's 8.6 million residents would come to Christ in under 18 months.

But today Wales is a vastly different place.

  • On Sept. 30 The Western Mail, the national Welsh newspaper which originally reported the event and was the first to call it a revival, reported on a study that revealed many Welsh people who believe in God say they are too busy to attend church. Of the people who do attend services, nearly half say they go out of a sense of tradition and only a quarter go for purely spiritual reasons. The study was commissioned to mark the centennial anniversary of the Welsh Revival.
  • On Oct. 4 the same newspaper reported " ... these days, the Welsh are at the bottom of the UK chapel and church attendance league."
  • On June 3, 2003, an article referred to the fact that "More than 100 chapels (churches) where services were conducted in the Welsh language have closed over the past two decades. If that continues over the next two there won't be any left. The Rev. Patrick Slattery, the district chairman for all the Welsh-language Methodist chapels (churches) in Wales, said his church has lost more than 50 percent of its members in the past two decades."

The newspapers sums up the nation's spiritual condition by saying "Over the past few decades, as Western societies have become increasingly secular, the chapel (church) seems to have been in terminal decline."

Two prominent Welshmen who have studied and written on the Revival of 1904 were interviewed by The Index to explain what happened and to draw conclusions for believers a century later.

Brian Green, pastor of Calvary Free Grace Baptist Church in Middlesex, England, has spoken extensively on the event and his mother participated in the revival as a young girl.

Retired Presbyterian minister Eifion Evans of Llanelli, Wales, wrote The Welsh Revival of 1904, a book that has been in continuous publication since 1972.

 

INDEX: Were there any events that led up to the 1904 Revival?

GREEN: There were a variety of contributing factors, but God had the final say on the time and place. During those years Baptists began allowing more young people to participate in the worship services and Presbyterians launched their Forward Movement. In 1902-03 the Keswick fellowship began a series of worldwide prayer circles that focused on world revival. In 1902 a popular Welsh pamphlet was distributed that called for revival in the churches. In west Wales, three women began a prayer meeting that lasted for three years as they prayed for revival, and in 1903 in the District of Glamorganshire three men began a series of prayer meetings which focused on spiritual renewal. The miners met daily on a mountaintop and prayed for revival in their church, which was cold and dead.

Denominations had some influence in the event, but the real effort came from the laypersons who underwent a tremendous conviction for the need for revival. It was best personified in the person of Evan Roberts' prayer of "Lord, bend me." Note that he did not pray "Bend the church," or "Bend my neighbor," or "Bend my denomination," but for the Lord to bend himself.

What is interesting is that Roberts had no formal education other than what he received at home, no theological training other than what he learned from his devout parents, and he had no inclination to enter the ministry. He even apprenticed himself to a blacksmith to learn the trade so he could go to America to make money and retire in Wales. But ever since he was age 12 he had a burden for God's will in his life and for the salvation of his countrymen. He writes in his diary that he prayed for the revival for 11 years before it actually appeared.

 

INDEX: What was the condition of Welsh society at the turn of the last century leading up to 1904?

EVANS: Queen Victoria died in 1901 after a very long reign. It was a very sentimental era with a degree of hypocrisy; there were many elements of secular society that carried over into the life of the church. England, of which Wales was a part, was very secure in its power and its role on the world's stage. It was affluent. It didn't need the help of other nations. There was a general attitude that "We don't need God, we are successful on our own. After all, we rule the world."

The church mirrored many of these same values. People attended church on Sunday but there was no power in the pulpit or in the pew. There was popular preaching with little theological content. People attended to be seen. Things haven't really changed that much, have they?

 

INDEX: What were some of the characteristics of the revival?

GREEN: I learned firsthand from my mother about the revival and the spontaneity that was so common. Many of the services were not scheduled events; people would feel an overwhelming conviction to go to the local church and others would soon appear. Sometimes there was never a preacher at the gatherings, which would continue well into the morning hours.

The Western Mail, our national newspaper, reported that some services did not end until almost 3 a.m. People would just gather and share what God was doing in their lives and others in attendance would come under conviction of the Holy Spirit and accept Christ. The revival quickly spread from the small town of Loughor to all of Wales and to churches of all denominations.

 

INDEX: Who were the primary agents used by God in the early days?

GREEN: Surprisingly, it began as a young people's movement. The primary leaders in the early days were young adults from age 18 through their 20s. Evan Roberts was 26. In fact, many ministers were sidelined by the youth speakers who lead the impromptu services. There were reports in the newspapers that some pastors could not even get inside their own church because of the crunch of the crowds and they had to observe the meetings through open windows.

It was a revival among the common people rather than one led by the organized church. At that time worship services had become very formal - not just among the Anglican churches but among all of the denominations - and many ministers did not approve of the informality that characterized so many of the revival meetings. This was not necessarily charismatic but was a new spirit that was foreign to the status quo; it was different and that was unsettling to many. It was a new spirit that was blowing across the land and it could not be controlled or channeled.

But we must not underestimate the power of youth. Some of Christianity's greatest leaders were people in their 20s and 30s rather than senior statesmen.

 

INDEX: In what ways did society change?

GREEN: My mother told me stories of coal miners, who were a rather hard-living, hard-drinking group, who were converted and began holding revival services in the mines. The Western Mail reported on one such service 450 feet (45 stories) underground that was regularly conducted by the light of the miner's head lanterns. Those same miners, rather than stopping in the pubs at the end of the days to drink away their wages, were seen walking down the street singing hymns on their way home to be with their families. Every other Monday was a day off from work, and they would hold prayer meetings on the mountain tops. And this is not hearsay or stories that were embellished through the years - all of this is recorded through the newspaper stories.

Pub owners stood in the streets and offered free ale to the miners to entice them into their establishments. A very prominent theatre group that toured the nation cancelled its tour that year because no there was no interest in the program; everyone was in prayer meetings or attending the worship services.

 

INDEX: What were the people like after they had experienced revival?

EVANS: In my interviews with those who experienced the revival, I noticed something very special - it was as if they had a special anointing. It was like heaven had come down in 1904 but did not leave in 1905.

In the 1960s when I conducted many of my interviews with people who were then in their 80s - that meant they were in their 20s when the revival began - they still possessed a full awareness of God. It was like the atmosphere of heaven still clung to them throughout the years. Their faith was very personal, very real, and it permeated their entire life. Theirs was a very special generation.

 

INDEX: We have heard a lot of fascinating things about the revival, but was everything as perfect as it is sometimes portrayed?

EVANS: The revival was not perfect and there was some criticism that the preaching lacked biblical depth. There was some criticism, especially from the established Church and many ministers, that there was too much emotionalism. But you have to temper that with the understanding that worship during the Victorian era was very formal and impersonal.

While there undoubtedly was some emotional excess, the sheer number of statistics bears out the validity of the vast majority of salvation experiences. When God touches your heart all of your emotions are affected.

 

INDEX: Did about 150,000 professions of faith actually occur?

EVANS: I'm sure that some conversions were false because Satan will mimic the work of God. But you don't enter the harvest because there are some tares in the field. It would not be fair to accept the occasional failures as the norm in this or any revival experience.

Yes, there were failures on some occasions because you are dealing with flawed human nature and deceitful hearts. But we believe the numbers are accurate in the vast amount of Welsh lives that were changed forever.

 

INDEX: Was this a genuine revival or the work of a skilled orator?

EVANS: Revival is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a sovereign, extraordinary manner. Pentecost was a unique work of God, but it can be closely approximated when the Holy Spirit works through genuine revival. Examples are the revivals recorded in the Book of Acts, the Protestant Reformation, the Great Awakening in the United States in the 1730s-40s, the ministry of Jeremiah Lamphier in the Prayer Revival in New York in 1858-59, the Jesus Movement, and so on.

I think you can define revival in this manner - it is an occasion when God does in 10 days what He usually does in 10 years. Yes, God did work through the availability of Evan Roberts, but it quickly spread to include others throughout the country.

 

INDEX: It appears that the revival lasted about 18 months but many say the spirit, or the momentum, continued for about 40 years. Would that be accurate? Why do revivals seemingly burn brightly and then cease? Why did the revival end?

GREEN: It ended because of God's mercy for us. We cannot live in that environment or we would be burned out, totally consumed. True revival is not meant to be a constant state of existence because of the intensity of being in the presence of the power of God.

Concerning the 1904 awakening, R. B. Jones said "God was everywhere." I think that is an adequate description of what happens when God makes His presence known to sinful man. His presence changes everything, and that's what happened to much of Welsh society.

Today Wales is largely a barren land that does not know revival and does not know God. We are living in the midst of the Valley of Dry Bones. We are praying for the tide of revival to once again wash over our land.

We lost many new believers in the horrors that came early in the new century. Within a decade, World War I began and thousands of new believers marched off to war, never to return. Modernism and higher criticism crept in from German theologians and began to undermine interpretation of Scripture. Then World War II came and thousands of others died on the battlefields of Europe. It was a massive loss of lives.

EVANS: Many things can undermine the spirit of revival. Wales began to experience a series of attacks by Satan through worldly influences. The bottom line is that we do not have a storehouse of grace; we must depend daily on God for a fresh supply through communion with Him.

There will always be a natural decline from the initial heat of the revival, but woe to them who become at ease in their faith and become sluggish in their walk.

 

INDEX: What relevance does something that happened 100 years ago have for us today? Can such an event occur again?

EVANS: God has not changed, His message has not changed, and the power of scripture has not changed. To paraphrase Romans 1:16, the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation. We are still living in a day of grace when people can come to Christ. God continues to use the foolishness of preaching and the availability of laypersons to proclaim His story. Yes, we can still expect revival.

 

INDEX: Then, what is our role as believers in 2004?

EVANS: I would say four general things would be important. First, prayer is vital. Second, keep the concept of revival alive in our spiritual awareness. Third, make sure the preaching and proclamation is dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit. And fourth, nurture a personal relationship with God. That's how we will catch His spirit for evangelism and for telling others about Him.

 

INDEX: What lesson can we learn from 1904?

EVANS: Perhaps the most important lesson is that the next revival will not be like the last revival. The next revival will be the conversion of a society that is vastly unlike that of the last century - it will include the conversion of vast numbers of atheists, agnostics, secularists, and humanists who have absolutely no memory, no point of reference, of church.

In 1903 Wales was 85 percent nominally Christian; today it is 5 percent Christian. In 2004 Wales is just as post-modern as the United States. That means the church in Wales, like the church in America, will need to be open to welcoming new believers who do not immediately share the same culture.

Bringing those new believers into the church - making them feel welcomed and helping them to grow by sharing the gospel in a cultural context in which they feel comfortable - will be the most important step in follow-up and discipleship.

Joe Westbury

Wales, tucked onto the western side of England, is home to some of the world's highest tides. The village of Rhossili on the Gower Peninsula, above, witnesses those tides twice a day. For Welsh Christians the spiritual tide has been out for decades and no relief is in sight. They are praying for a new tide of revival to roll across their land and restore it as a Christian nation.

Joe Westbury

Welsh author Eifion Evans says the revival "was like heaven had come down in 1904 but did not go back in 1905." Those he interviewed still retained an awareness of God "like the atmosphere of heaven still clung to them throughout the years."

Joe Westbury

British pastor Brian Green has spoken extensively on the Welsh Revival of 1904. He learned about the revival first-hand from his mother, who experienced the event.

Joe Westbury

Though Anglican and non-conformist churches in England and Wales are plentiful and the roots of Christianity are deep, members are scarce. For example, Christians have worshipped on the site now occupied by St. Illtyd's Church in Wales for 1,500 years, but only five percent of the Welsh population now attends any church.

Joe Westbury

Christianity was first brought to Wales by Irish missionaries. Today many of those old churches are sought out for their historical value rather than as places of spiritual renewal. This church at Rhossili was built around 1200.

Joe Westbury

Brothers Alun and Huw Ebenezer, left and right, stand outside the sanctuary where revival services at Moriah were held in 1904-05. The revival began in the small building in the center, a former sanctuary, when Evan Roberts met with a group of young people to share his concern for the salvation of Wales. Alun & Huw Ebenezer's aunts and uncles came to Christ during the meetings.