Dolgellau (1859)

Bala, so long honoured and blest by the labours of the apostolic Charles, is the scene of a power­ful revival. At Dolgelly, and throughout the whole coun­try lying between the rivers Davey and Mowddy; from Barmouth, along the sea-coast till we come to Harlech and Talsarnau;—from thence to Maentwrog, Festiniog, and the quarry regions beyond, the mighty movement is felt.

The accounts from Merionethshire alone would fill a volume ; but without specifying any particulars respecting Dolgelly, Barmouth, Dyffryn, Llandrillo, Corwen, Towyn, and many other places, the whole may be summed up in the words of the Rev. Robert Williams of Aberdovey, in the annual address to the Calvinistic Methodist Churches in this county :

"Now let me mention a word respecting the revival, its value, and peculiar advantages. It has pleased the Lord during' the past year to grant us great things. We are glad that the visitation has been so general in our county. There is scarcely a locality, from Towyn to Gwyddelwern, that has not received, to some extent, the heavenly dew. We find that the addition to the churches of our own denomination is more than FOUR THOUSAND. We venture to say that the last year was an acceptable year of the Lord.' In almost every part of our country the hand of God has been stretched out to save those who appeared very far off. To some, like the daughter of Jairus, and the son of the widow of Nain, and Lazarus, it has been a resurrection: resurrection power has made their graves empty forever." Later...

Dolgelley.---" Three months have passed since the awak­ening commenced in this town. It is natural to ask, Are there any good fruits? has it produced an effect on the morals of the place? are there fewer drunkards seen in the streets? and is there less Sabbath desecration? These are the things to be expected as the fruits of a religious revival, and we believe that such has been its effect in this town. The idlers, who formerly met at the corners of the streets to gossip, now spend their evenings at the prayer-meetings. Those wanderers who delighted in walking about on the Lord's-day, now hear the gospel every Sabbath-day with devout attention, and seem as if they were determined to devote the remainder of their lives to the service and glory of Him whom they formerly blasphemed. The public-houses close earlier, and are less frequented than formerly. The small beer-houses, formerly filled on Saturday nights by the very worst and vilest of the population, and where it was necessary to procure the aid of the police to keep order, are now nearly empty and are closed by ten o'clock. The number of drunken persons brought before the magistrates has greatly diminished. In the three months commencing October 26 1858, twelve were fined "five shillings and costs" for drunkenness and unruly conduct in the town of Dolgelley, and all living in the town except one. Two were fined for an assault on the police in a state of drunkenness. But in the three months commencing on the same day in October last, only two persons were brought before the magistrates for any offence occasioned by drunkenness, and one of these was a stranger to the place. This fact proves that intem­perance has decreased in the town. Indeed, the inhabitants are greatly altered in their morals and habits within the last nine months; and to what are we to attribute this change for the better, if not to the revival? We had at one time a flourishing total abstinence society, but the drinking continued nevertheless, and drunkards were seen everywhere. We had an excellent literary institution, but the young people preferred wasting their precious time in the streets rather than engage in the pursuit of knowledge. But at length the revival came, — it cleared the public - houses, swept the streets, and brought the wanderers to the means of grace. The revival has given ample evidence that it is of God, by its beneficial effects upon men on whom nothing could produce an impression before. It has been the means of uniting the various religious bodies in closer bonds than ever. They no longer look shy at those who do not belong to their own party. To win sinners to Christ is the aim of all, They behold each other with cheerful counte­nances, and pray for the prosperity of all alike. They belong to one family—they are brethren—and have one common Saviour."—February 1860.

From ‘The Welsh Revival’ by Thomas Phillips.

1859 Dolgellau, Merionethshire. Began in children’s prayer meeting November 4 1859.

‘By this time it was drawing to the close of 1859, and the churches had almost succumbed to despair, after doing, as they imagined, what they could to bring down the divine influence, yet everything around them was as normal – sinners as hard and bold as ever, and all the means [of grace] like Mount Gilboa, without dew or rain – not so much as a cloud the size of a man’s hand to be seen anywhere – it was as black as could be. But one Friday night, about the middle of October, after the seiat, on the way home it suddenly entered into the heads of some of the children, or rather boys, all under twelve years of age, to hold a prayer meeting on the Saturday night to ask the Great King to visit Dolgellau; and they swore not to say a word to anyone. And it should be observed that no one had given them permission to use the vestry, and the chapel house where the key was, was, of course, kept by the most spiteful and hateful of men, particularly to children, that I have ever met; even so, when at about five o’clock on Saturday afternoon he was asked for the key to the vestry, he held it out to us with a cheerful face, without so much as asking a single thing. This in itself was something inexplicable, and he could hardly have been faulted, because the vestry contained scores of pounds worth of books and other things belonging to the chapel, like the valuable lamps that were used in the chapel before it had gas. Whatever, the key was obtained without the least sign of resistance – indeed, the old hand asked whether they had matches to light the gas, and the matter was turned around. Having locked the door and put a bung in the keyhole and filled the gap between the bottom of the door and the floor, so that no one who happened to pass could see a ray of light, they felt they were safe from the interference of any man, since the only window faced the graveyard, which was surrounded by rather high walls. Having read a chapter, no one was ready to pray, as it was something wholly foreign to each of the boys; and despite much urging of each other, not one of them possessed of enough courage to overcome his timidity and begin praying. Chapter after chapter was read, but no one obeyed, and the only thing that could be done to make the meeting something like a prayer-meeting was to all go on their knees while one of them read a Psalm, and so the meeting was concluded, but it be remembered, in full determination of meeting the next day, Sunday. It was a little easier in the second meeting, and by the third and fourth, almost all of them took part in them; but nothing out of the ordinary took place until the seventh day, namely Friday. As the walls of Jericho fell the seventh time the children of Israel encircled them, the seventh time that that handful of children met together, the wall fell, the clouds and darkness fled away, and a corner of the veil of the temple was lifted, and the Divine came in view. Suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye, some overwhelming distress came over the children; some started crying out about the place; others shouted out as if something was killing them; and the rest escaped out through the window as if for their lives – the key was kept in the pocket of one of them every night – and over the graveyard walls like squirrels and home at a wild gallop shouting all the way, - ‘He’s come.’ And he had come, and that amongst and through a handful of little children; yes, he had come in all his power and glory – as much as a man can hold, however. One of the first to go in to them having opened the graveyard gate – through the window, be it remembered – was the Rev. Richard Roberts who lived nearby – a man who had little sympathy with children, and especially these, since he knew them only too well as ‘ysgol y capel’ children – namely the British School – which was held above the house he lived in, and his woollen mill was also near the school, – a man who only valued good works and right behaviour; and one who set little store by emotion. But, here’s the old godly minister starting to grow pale, standing amazed, dumbstruck, quaking, and breaking down and weeping like a child. As many of the boys appeared to be about to faint, Mr Roberts began to raise them to their feet, and comfort them, and having found the key in the pocket of one of them, they were persuaded to go home. This was about six o’clock, and the news of what had happened spread like wildfire through the town. A seiat was held that evening - and an amazing seiat it was; no one had anything to say, everyone was silent; ‘everyone’s heart was,’ as it is said, ‘in his throat,’ or rather, the heart was too full of emotion for the tongue to speak. Seriousness was written on everyone’s faces; and the minister, dear John Griffiths, said, ‘Give us a word Mr. Roberts, surely you’ve got something to say to us.’ ‘Mr Griffiths,’ said the old preacher, ‘if you’d been in a furnace as I have been tonight with those children, I’m sure you wouldn’t be able to say a single word.’ That heavy seiat ended, but everyone was very stubborn to leave, and having left, they loitered around the chapel talking about what had happened among the children, and eventually, a number went to the vestry to hold a prayer-meeting. One or two tried to pray, but with great difficulty, it appeared as if there was something in their throats; afterwards, someone gave out an old verse to sing: Hwn yw’r Oen ar ben Calfaria

Aeth i’r lladdfa yn ein lle,

[This is the Lamb upon the top of Calvary who went to the slaughter in our place] and the Spirit descended; everyone’s tongue was loosed at once; some praying, some singing, and the rest praising until the town was roused. The room was filled and there were hundreds outside, many of whom partook of the feast that was going on inside. Thus it was for hours, until all were overcome by the warmth, and many were carried out who had fainted.’ ‘[Edward Thomas] (Idriswyn), ‘Diwygiad Mawr 1859-60’ in Cymru, xii. (1897), pp.15-17 (see pp.13-20 for full article; J. Evans Jones, ‘Pobl Dolgellau a Diwygiad ’59’in Cymru, xxii. (1902), pp.133-7; Edward Griffith, ‘Ychydig Adgofion am Diwygiad Crefyddol 1859’ in Y Geninen,xxiii. (1905), pp.39-43; Udgorn y Bobl, Nov 18, 1859; Herald Cymreig, Jan 21, 1860; Cofiant y Parch. John Griffiths pp.??]

‘I recall reading about the same 1859 revival in Wales when I was a boy of about fourteen. I can well remember being totally captivated in my own imagination at that time. Although unconverted, I was later to venture into the ministry still thinking only of revival, greatly concerned that revival might not break out before my college course had ended! Yet since that time, the years have gone by and still no revival. Yes, there is rejoicing for what God has given to our various little congregations, and for the converts, but O Lord, we really had expected more than this! In the same way as the prospect gripped my soul as a young boy, oh! that the prospect would grip us again!

Let me take a further incident from the 1859 revival in Wales. At one particular time during that revival, everywhere in the immediate district surrounding the town of Dolgellau, there were people rejoicing and praising, singing and, during the meetings, filling all the chapels. Dolgellau town itself, however, still remained as dead as could be, even though its chapels also were full of people pleading, praying, and agoniz­ing. What eventually happened? The deadlock in the end was broken by children! The account given was that one night they decided to sneak out of bed, somehow managing to get the key to the minister's vestry, the inner sanctum, a place forbidden to children in a time when elders were elders! They proceeded to put papers over the windows and in the keyholes so that no one would catch them. They then lit a candle and began to pray. What should they do? They felt terrible that revival had not come to their town and began to plead with God. The eldest, who was only twelve, led with the words, Ein Tad yr Hwn wyt yn y nefoedd, sancteiddien [sic] Dy Enw, de/en [sic] dy deyrnas. (Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come.) It was the only prayer he knew, in response to which, nevertheless, God did indeed come! The children had crept gingerly through the cemetery, terrified of every grave, but now they flung open the doors and windows, jumping and leaping over the gravestones as they went out. As they did so, the people of Dolgellau came to meet them, proclaiming, ‘He has come!’ Such is what happens in revival! Can you try a little to comprehend the totally different dimension that is thereby involved? Such a thing as this cannot be organized in any way whatsoever. You cannot suddenly decide to rush out of the house at twelve-thirty a.m. and say, ‘He has come!’ It just does not happen like that. It is rather, indeed, it has to be, therefore, a spontaneous, glorious, supernatural event, being no less than an actual visitation from God Himself.’ [W. Vernon Higham, The Turn of the Tide, Cardiff & Wheaton, Illinois, 1995, pp. 51-2]

‘The leaven worked silently in the meal at Dolgelly, ­from April to November, but it leavened the whole lump. “A message came,” wrote the pastor, “that the young people were in great distress in the vestry. I saw there the most terrible spectacle of my experience; some on their knees, some on their faces completely overpowered. The succeeding week was a strange one, and the follow­ing Sabbath was unparalleled to me and terrible to the Dolgelly congregation. There were loud outcries from souls in agony, and thirty-five sought a place in God’s house.”

One evening the door of the vestry opened, and the sneering countenance of a young scoffer appeared. He was an irreverent scion of a God-fearing household. He was invited forward, and, strange to say, went. “Give a hymn out, my boy,” said the leader. He grasped the hymn-book in a mechanical and dazed manner, but his hand trembled so that the volume dropped on the floor. At the same time he fell on his knees, and a brother shouted above his head: – “O Christ, what burdens bowed Thy head!

Our load was laid on Thee;

Thou stoodest in the sinner’s stead,

Bearing all ill for me –”

“Yes, William bach,” interrupted the now prostrate penitent, “but did He bear it for me is the point?” The excitement became more intense; the youth continued to kneel in agony, streaming with perspiration. At a late hour his father came seeking him but perceiving the state he was in, he would not disturb him. “Shall we carry him home, Mr Jones?” asked the young men. “No; let him alone,” answered the old man. It I never saw him in such good hands before.”

The hand of God had touched him, and he was turned into another man. A Bala student said one Sunday morning, “I realise that you are breathing a different atmosphere to what I am, but I urge you to listen to what I have to say.” John Jones responded cordially from the audience, “Take a shortcut to Calvary, and all will be well.” Another Sunday morning the preacher remarked, “It is not by means of military weapons that Christ intends to conquer, but by means of His sufferings and His Cross. Jesus Christ thinks highly of His Cross, my friends.” A servant-maid on the gallery rose and said, “I also think the world of the Cross.” This was to pour oil on a glowing fire; the congregation suddenly blazed into rapture, and the preacher had to sit down.

There were some who thought that these outbursts of public “rejoicing” transcended the limits of propriety, and the chapel-keeper’s wife quaintly rebuked her daughter with a verse – “It is good that a man should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

At the Association held at Dolgelly, June 13 and 14. 1860, it was reported that the Revival had added four thousand members to the C.M. churches of the county. “Praise” broke out at night in a hotel, where a hundred delegates were assembled, and continued for hours. On Thursday afternoon, Dr John Hughes, Liverpool, had the most remarkable service of his great career, preach­ing from Matthew x. 37. He described the Church in Solomon’s song, laying the splendour of Nature under tribute for metaphors to adumbrate the glory of her Beloved, and, dissatisfied with all, breaking forth, “He is altogether lovely!” The scene was indescribable as the preacher cried, “All glories and beauties are concentrated in Christ to satisfy the love of the beautiful in the human soul; the lily and the rose, the whiteness of heaven and the blush of earth have met in Him. There is no one to compare with Him. ‘Glory as of the Only-begotten.’ He is like – like Himself.”’ [J.J. Morgan, The ’59 Revival in Wales, pp.113-5] This information was kindly provided by Geraint Jones

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