Page 12: 1904, the ‘Welsh Revival’.
A change of tempo.
Since 1906 the church throughout Mizoram, both Presbyterian and Baptist, has been noted for its revival spirit, and, from time to time, its history has been punctuated by great outbursts of enthusiasm. This zealous spirit has on more than one occasion proved difficult to control or contain. Positive benefits have come through it but, among the missionaries and Mizo Christians, opinion has often been divided, especially after the excesses that occurred in the mid-1930’s. It has, however, continued to be an important element in the church’s life and has led to differing theological emphases being made at various times.
In its early period such questions had not occurred and in 1906 the small and weak Mizo church welcomed wholeheartedly the coming of ‘The Awakening’. It enhanced their life and worship and helped to support the church when persecuted and mocked.
The early days in Wales.
First it needs to be remembered that the Welsh Presbyterian Mission in North Mizoram came from a church that had been born in a revival.
In 1735, two or three years before the famous Methodist revival exploded on the English scene, a revival had begun in south-east Wales. Howell Harris (1) (1714-1773), an Anglican layman from a hamlet called Trefeac (Trevecka) (2) experienced profound conversion. Daniel Rowlands, William Williams, and several other young men close to Harris in age, were converted in a similar way. Spearheaded by their devoted and passionate evangelism a movement began in Wales that would soon link up with John Wesley and George Whitefield (3) in England. The two movements were intimately linked in friendship and enthusiasm for the Gospel and would often help each other and share the work.
The Methodist movement everywhere put great emphasis on preaching, on personal conversion, on holiness of life, on the confession of sins to one another and was characterised by the special Methodist ‘enthusiasm’. Both in England and Wales it was a movement which hoped to revive the Anglican Church. In both countries strong links were maintained with the Anglican parish churches as far as possible. Separation was discouraged. It would be nearly eighty years (in 1811) before the Welsh Methodists felt unavoidably compelled to break with the Anglican church and form their own body.
The cumbrous name of the Calvinistic Methodist Church was the one they chose for themselves, but in Wales they were popularly known simply as Methodists. In the 20th century the nomenclature Presbyterian was adopted as an alternative, partly because the denomination’s form of government was through Presbyteries and Elders (Presbyters) and partly to differentiate themselves from the Weslyan Methodist Church.
The early 20th century ‘Welsh Revival’.
After the original revival in 1735 other revivals pulsed periodically through the Presbyterian churches in Wales with varying degrees of intensity. Revivals continued through the 18th and 19th centuries and came to a climax, and, in some ways a halt, at the beginning of the 20th century in what is widely known as the ‘Welsh Revival’. It deeply affected the whole of Wales and sent its influences into far distant places.
The key figure in the ‘Welsh Revival’ was Evan Roberts, who, in 1904 was 26. The ninth of fourteen children, his father was a collier in Loughor, south-west Wales, who was injured at the coal face. This meant the young Evan left school at the age of twelve to work in a coal mine. After some years he was apprenticed to a blacksmith. During this time he proved himself to be intensely religious, with great faith in the power of prayer, and is said to have had occasional visions. He was accepted as a candidate for the Presbyterian ministry and went to college in mid-Wales and then returned to Loughor. He held prayer meetings to which people came in increasing numbers. Soon a tempestuous revival had broken out which spread rapidly throughout Wales. The speed with which it took hold supports the belief that many had been longing for a revival.
Theologically the movement was notable for its emphasis on the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the mass meetings Evan Roberts, though present, was often silent, under the guidance of the Spirit. Sometimes he would simply offer a brief prayer. One of his favourite prayers, repeated time and again, was ‘Bend us, Lord’, which was printed and hung on the wall of many a home long after ‘The Revival’. All the meetings were characterised by congregational participation and great freedom of expression. Men and women would pray, confess, weep, and testify in meetings which went on for many hours.
Across the Welsh border in Liverpool there were thousands of Welsh immigrants. Some of the ‘Welsh Revival’s’ most remarkable meetings were held there which resulted in existing chapels being enlarged and new ones built.
(1). Also known as Hywell Harris. See: Howell Harris in Wikipedia.
(2). Also known as Trevecca or Trefeca. See: Trevecca College in Wikipedia.
Howell Harris established a Christian community at Trevecca in 1752. A theological seminary was founded there in 1768 by Selina Countess of Huntingdon (see Wikipedia), which was handed over to the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists in 1842.
(3). Also known as George Whitfield.