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The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales – Review by A W MacColl

Category Book Reviews
Date September 1, 2009

These handsome volumes1 are full of edifying matter relating to the great revival in Wales in the mid-eighteenth century and the subsequent development of Methodism in the Principality. First published in Welsh in 1897, they have recently been translated into English and will hopefully reach those who were previously unable to benefit from them and especially those who, like the present reviewer, had little previous knowledge of Welsh Evangelical history.

Tracing the beginnings of Calvinistic Methodism, the account stresses the low state of religion and morals in Wales in the period before the awakening, in particular the deadness of the established Anglican Church, the persecution by the clergy and gentry, together with the superstition and ignorance of the common people. The writers are at pains to emphasise the separate origins of Welsh Methodism as distinct from its English counterpart led by Whitefield and Wesley. The pioneering labours of Howell Harris and Daniel Rowland in setting the country aflame are comprehensively documented, and one is impressed with the self-denial and spirituality of mind they manifested. The unflinching determination of the first Methodist preachers in the face of severe and often-violent opposition makes for inspiring reading.

One striking fact emerges from the examples of their early preaching: the emphasis they placed on the law and judgement of God. This was blessed in bringing many to a thorough conviction of sin and thus to a thirsting after the righteousness which is through the faith of Christ alone. Much joy was experienced by these early converts, although it is fair to say that there was generally more visible demonstration of emotion in Wales than was common amongst Scottish congregations during similar times of awakening.

The narrative treats at length the other famous names of Welsh Calvinistic Methodism, especially Thomas Charles and John Elias. Charles’ gifts as an organiser and leader and Elias’ majestic preaching are described in detail. One particularly beneficial aspect of this work is the light it sheds on the less prominent figures in the movement – from the local exhorters and private Christians to some of the preachers whose names have been somewhat overshadowed by their more illustrious colleagues. It is a work which abounds in homely anecdotes about the godly. The authors were, of course, sympathetic to the revival and handled their subjects with spiritual sensitivity although they did not ignore the personal frailties of the men they wrote about. The tension between lay preachers and those ordained Methodist clergymen who also held livings in the Anglican Church is a theme which is never far from the surface, and out of it we can trace the emergence of a separate Methodist denomination. The personal clash between Harris and Rowland is also chronicled, although in that case it is gratifying to read of their reconciliation and co-operation in their latter years.

Whilst there are matters of Church order and practice with which we would be in disagreement, most notably the use of uninspired hymns in public worship, one is impressed in reading this account of the great similarities which existed between Calvinistic Methodism in Wales and the Evangelical Presbyterianism which was revived in the Scottish Lowlands and then conquered the Highlands in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century. In both cases we see the rise of education and literacy, the pivotal role of the distribution of the Bible, the creative use of the indigenous language in preaching and a love of spiritual poetry. Taken together with the searching and stripping application of the law, the joyful Christocentric declaration of the gospel, the faithful administration of Church discipline and the spiritually-minded lives of believers, these features all testify to the reality of the wonderful works of God in a previous era and make us long for a similar work in our own day. The addition of an index and more detailed maps would have enhanced the enjoyment of these volumes.

Notes


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      Description

      These handsome volumes1 are full of edifying matter relating to the great revival in Wales in the mid-eighteenth century and the subsequent development of Methodism in the Principality. First published in Welsh in 1897, they have recently been translated into English and will hopefully reach those who were previously unable to benefit from them and […]

From The Free Presbyterian Magazine, August 2009, with kind permission.

www.fpchurch.org.uk

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