Remembering Daniel Rowland
By Christopher J Tokeley
The Magazine, In Writing, of the Evangelical Library in London has been a great inspiration to me as has the Annual Lecture, both of which continue to fuel my desire to read more. I was very impressed by the travels of the first Librarian and founder of the library Geoffrey Williams. Providentially God, through Rev D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, brought the Library from Beddington to London so that we could all enjoy his books. Geoffrey Williams would travel to the continent visiting evangelical churches and other libraries, reporting back in the magazine of these events for our edification. His travels were brought to mind this summer when I and my wife Brenda took our annual holiday in Wales.
This year we explored the Pembrokeshire Coast, and then went on to Aberaeron, a small Georgian fishing village in Ceredigion. The official tourist guide for Ceredigion mentioned that, ‘beyond Felin-Fach and Talsarn, Llangeitho is where legend says Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus was inspired by the cries at the 18th century revivalist meetings.’
We made an interesting visit to Llangeitho, a small village in the Aeron Valley that was under the cure of three generations of the Rowland family. Daniel Rowland senior, was Rector from June 1697 until his death in March 1731. His eldest son John was ordained as deacon, serving as curate under his father at Llangeitho. Daniel, was instituted as curate under the charge of his brother John who became Rector at Llangeitho on his father’s death. The ordination took place at Duke Street Chapel, London. Daniel walked there from Llangeitho and back, which shows his determination and physical fitness. He possibly took the route used by drovers to sell their sheep at markets in London.
Like so many of the clergy of his time, Daniel was unaware of the need for the new birth. In the winter of 1734/1735 he was one of many who gathered in the churchyard of Llanddewibrefi to hear the itinerant preacher Griffith Jones, Rector of Llanddowror, Carmarthenshire. At this time the Parish of Llanddewibrefi, five miles east of Llangeitho was in the care of Daniel’s brother John. It is not certain why Jones was to preach in the churchyard but it is more than likely that the Rowland brothers were opposed to his preaching in their church. That sermon of Griffith Jones was the instrument of Daniel Rowland’s spiritual awakening. Jones saw the restlessness of Rowland and, according to John Owen (Rowland’s biographer) he was publicly challenged as to his spiritual condition. There is a similarity between this arresting challenge and that experienced by the young Charles Spurgeon a hundred years later.
THE PARISH CHURCH
We were able to visit the small parish church at Llangeitho where Daniel Rowland began his ministry and walk the hills where he so often prayed for his people. Re-ordering of the church places Rowland’s grave under the chancel. It is covered by a carpet. For fifty years this village was the centre for the preaching of the gospel by Daniel Rowland. At about the time of Rowland’s conversion layman Howell Harris was already preaching in the open air. He and William Williams of Pantycelyn were to become great friends of Rowland and they and others were God’s instruments in the revival that brought the benefits of education through the establishment of Methodist societies and schools. At the beginning of the 18th century only ten per cent of the people were literate in Wales, but revival brought change. Between 1737 and 1762 there were 3,225 schools in 1600 different locations, made up of 200,000 scholars; nearly half the population of Wales.
For the next fifty years Rowland was to preach from this village to thousands. He preached from the Scriptures. It was said by a family member that he knew the Bible by heart and could give chapter and verse for any scripture quoted to him. In his sermon on Revelation 3:20 Rowland quotes over forty five other Bible passages in his passionate call to his congregation on behalf of his Lord to ‘Open! What must be opened? The heart. Not only the door of our lips, but the door of our hearts must be opened. Indeed both must be opened – for our Saviour saith, ‘when you pray say;’ (Luke 10:2) not only meditate, but speak with your tongues. Yet the confession of the mouth and the belief of the heart must go together. (Romans 10:10).
Before the close of his ministry over a hundred ministers where to ascribe their conversions to Rowland’s preaching including Thomas Charles of Bala whose ministry was blessed by God with a mighty work of the Holy Spirit. Towards the end of the 18th century about eighty per cent of the Welsh clergy were evangelicals. Some called Rowland the greatest preacher in Europe and others ‘in the pulpit, another Apostle Paul’. Only occasionally did he venture outside Wales.
THE NEW CHURCH
In Llangeitho is another very large church, and as we arrived the caretaker was opening up for the 5 pm Sunday service and we were welcomed by Mr Thomas, an elder. Today the chapel is kept in good condition. If this building could speak it would have much to say about how it came into being by an event that was to give Rowland a far greater ministry.
Rowland, like his contemporaries George Whitefield, and the Wesley were loyal ministers of the Church of England; but like the Sadducees and Pharisees of our Lord’s ministry the hierarchy were displeased with their preaching; especially of free grace, the blood of Christ shed on the cross for atonement, and personal repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Daniel Rowland’s brother John, Rector of Llangeitho, was drowned off Aberystwyth on 5 July 1760. Daniel had been his curate for 25 years. The Bishop of St. David’s instituted Daniel Rowland’s son, also a John, as the new Rector of Llangeitho, a sure sign of the bishop’s displeasure at his father’s ministry. It is no wonder that three years later a notice was served on Rowland in Llanddewibrefi Church from the Bishop of St. David’s revoking his license. Those who are faithful in preaching the gospel to so many thousands can expect persecution from within the church. Despite this Rowland had the greatest respect for the Established Church, saying that ‘there is a spark in the Prayer-book which will never be put out. Though it is hidden now, yet you may live to see it bursting out into a bright flame.’
Rowland’s exit (which included his congregation) from the Church of England enabled him to extend his ministry further afield but this was not without hardship to him and his family. ‘Oh! sanctified adversity carries the richest pearl in its mouth; it makes sin odious to us, but the return of the Saviour’s presence doubly sweet!’ was Rowland’s comment on the suffering of the believer. During these difficult times Rowland was faithfully supported and encouraged by his wife Elinor, who was descended from good Puritan stock.
The ‘New Church’ was built about a quarter of a mile from the parish church in Llangeitho. Here he preached until his death, assisted by his son Nathaniel who was converted in 1762. This became the centre of his preaching and the weekly holy communion to which two thousand and more attended each Saturday at noon. Regularly it was estimated that fifteen thousand would come to hear the preacher and a pulpit was erected in the open air and a field set aside for the tethering of horses. Eight of his sermons are all that were translated into English and are well worth reading. Each sermon shows Rowland’s evangelistic zeal, his knowledge of God’s Word, his preaching for the need for repentance for the enormity of sin and faith in Christ’s blood shed for sinners on the cross. It is no wonder that strong men broke down and wept when they heard the gospel and their cries of praise when they came into the full assurance of faith. No doubt a chorus of ‘Hallelujahs’ was raised in heaven.
Daniel Rowland was a self-effacing man, who only once consented to sit for his portrait. He probably would be affronted by the marble likeness of himself beside the chapel kept clean today by the vigorous efforts of the caretaker.
It is amazing how during the years 1735 to 1738 God raised up a body of ministers in the church that honoured his word, preached it’s truth and held their ground under such fierce opposition. Rowland and his companions were injured, one blinded and one killed by the stones, but worse was the animosity towards their preaching and rejection of the gospel by those in high places in the Church of England. It is time that those thinking of entering college to train for the ministry of any denomination first read the life of Daniel Rowland, who was not prepared to reject or disown one word or chapter of the sacred scriptures for the sake of the praise of men. Our prayer is that God will again raise up preachers who he will honour with his blessing, as he did in Wales in the 18th century.
A FEW BOOKS
A visitor to the Evangelical Library will find the few books available on Rev Daniel Rowland of Llangeitho. The only eight sermons ‘translated from the original British’ can be found in the Puritan Room. This book was published during the life time of Rowland. What library allows you to borrow a book this old? John Owen’s memoir of the preacher in C6.1, together with Eifion Evans great work, ‘Daniel Rowland and the Great Evangelical Awakening in Wales’ (publisher note, it is surely time for its re-publication by the Banner of Truth); and Morgan’s ‘Ministerial Records or Brief Accounts of the Progress of Religion’ recording the work of Daniel Rowland. There are also biographies of William Williams and Howell Harris.
"In writing. The Magazine for the Evangelical Library" No 110, Winter 2003/4, by permission of the Editor, Gary Brady.
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