1859 Welsh Revival
The Oxford dictionary describes revival as “a reawakening of religious fervour”. Brian Edwards, a student of revivals, describes a revival as “a remarkable increase in the spiritual life of a large number of God’s people”. (1)
Revival is often perceived as an occurrence where many people are saved. However, this is not revival. This is an awakening, which is the result of revival. Revival applies to the church. Unsaved people do not need reviving because they have never had spiritual life. Their need is to be regenerated. It is the church that needs reviving. Brian Edwards states, “Revival is not the conversion of thousands of unsaved, but the awakening of the church, making it holy and alive once again. The crowds and conversions are the result of this, but we must never lose sight of this essential order.” (2)
Christians who were once alive, zealous and active, and have drifted off to sleep, are in need of revival. Once revival occurs, souls are inevitably saved. Evan Roberts, a key figure in the 1904 Welsh revival, said “My mission is first to the churches. When the churches are aroused to their duty, men of the world will be swept into the kingdom.” (3)
Throughout history, there have been numerous revivals where Christians and churches that were lukewarm suddenly came alive, and made a phenomenal impact on society. The church in Wales has been the recipient of some remarkable revivals, including a stand-out revival in 1859. Prior to the revival, the church was in a poor condition. One author describes the situation as follows:
“The church was spiritually “asleep”, oblivious of it’s mission to the world, and satisfied with it’s lukewarmeness. The prayer meetings were not burdened for the souls of the unconverted, and preaching was theoretical, oratorical and “popular” in the worst sense.” (4)
But God worked in a mighty way in answer to the prayers of His people! Only eternity will reveal which Christians’ prayers ignited the revival, but two Methodist ministers were publicly used by God at it’s commencement. Through their preaching and subsequent prayer meetings revival fires began to burn. Within eight weeks, over twenty churches had more than a hundred converts each added to them. Over three thousand new Christians joined the Methodist churches alone. Within a twelve month period, over 50,000 souls were saved throughout Wales.
Prayer was instrumental in the commencement and spread of this remarkable movement. A Welsh minister reported that “The revival came after a year’s longing, praying and labouring for it.” (5) A local Reverend wrote, “Prayer meetings have been..the principal means with us of awakening the churches.” (6) In four counties, daily prayer meetings were held for months on end.
Children as young as ten to fourteen held their own prayer meetings. In one town six different prayer meetings were held for a variety of age groups. New converts began meeting to pray for unsaved friends and family members. Workmen at slate quarries began meeting together for prayer. Many Christians spent whole nights in prayer up in the mountains. In the midst of the revival, one believer wrote, “Every day is a Sabbath now. The people cannot think of anything but to feed their cattle and attend the prayer meetings.” (7)
Like many other revivals, the Welsh revival was marked by Holy Spirit conviction. Thomas Phillips, who compiled a thorough account of the revival a year after it occurred, said “The Welsh revival is characterised by solemnity of feeling and seriousness of manner.” (8) Christians were convicted of various sins. As a result, there was greater unity between the denominations. Unsaved people were convicted of sin as they walked along the streets, and would call on the Lord for mercy. Drunkards and blasphemers were among those who repented and trusted in Christ.
Another feature of the Welsh revival was the zeal of the believers to share the gospel with the lost. Thomas Phillips stated,
“Whatever may have been the number of conversions through the direct instrumentality of the pulpit, it is quite clear that a vast number have been led to renounce sin, and to lead a religious life, by the agency of those who had no other qualification to do good to others than their knowledge and experience of the value of religion in their own souls. Parents have been instrumental in the conversion of their children, and, in many instances, children have been the honoured instruments of leading their own parents to seek a Saviour. Husbands and wives have been made useful to each other. God has honoured with His blessing the well-meant though imperfect efforts of humble Christians, who have sought to benefit their fellow creatures.” (9)
It was not only local evangelism that received a boost during the revival. A Welsh newspaper recorded that “A missionary spirit has taken possession of the churches. There is no limit to their desire to save the whole world.” (10)
One Christian who saw the 1859 revival wrote, “I have never witnessed anything like that which I now see daily. ..I thank God I have lived to see the year 1859. God in His grace, has done more within the past two weeks in this part of the country than had been accomplished for an age previously.” (11)
God certainly hasn’t changed since 1859. Is there a valid reason why He cannot stretch out His hand and do another great work, this time in the churches of Australia? Due to the fact that repentance and prayer are the keys to revival, the ball is in our court.
(1) Edwards, B. Revival! (Evangelical Press, Durham, 1990) p28. (2) Ibid p175. (3) Ibid p27. (4) Ibid p39. (5) Duewel, W. Revival Fire, (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1995) p164. (6) Philips, T. The Welsh Revival, p122 (7) Ibid p165. (8) Ibid p128. (9) Ibid p124.
(10) Ibid p117. (11) Ibid p170.