It is the 30th of March 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1735.
We don't try to ignore Wales on this show actively. One of the nicest guys I know is from Wales. Catherine Zeta-Jones is Welsh, as was the band Gorky's Zygotic Mynci. Except "monkey" is spelled "MYNCI," and frankly, this is why I have shied away from them at times. I am against haughty "tut-tuts" of the pronunciation snobs, but I try to approximate sounds and use pronunciation keys when possible. Nevertheless, luckily the Welsh gentleman that I'll be telling you about today was called Howell Harris… so, that's easy to say.
Our event today takes place during the life of Harris, who was born in 1714 in Llwyn-Llwyd, a place name in which 4 L's manage to mix with two y's as the only vowels… oof. OK, so the first time we hear anything about him, he is teaching school in the south of Wales, north of Cardiff. He was a member of the local church but was less than zealous or pious by his own account. His pastor gave him a copy of "The Whole Duty of Man" by Richard Allestree. This was a controversial book back in the days of the English Civil Wars but came to be a classic devotional text found in many homes. Harris's own conversion narrative is engaging as it seems to take place over a series of days and events.
This is an essential point for Puritan theology as the "ordo salutis" maps out precisely that, the "order of salvation." For them, it begins with election, and then atonement, then the gospel call followed by the inward call. This leads to regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. Many will claim that these, especially from the time the Gospel is preached, happen instantaneously and concurrently. OK. Well, not for Harris.
On the 30th of March in 1735, he believed that the gospel call led to his inward call and regeneration. By May, he thought himself to be fully converted, and he set straight for St. Mary's, Oxford for his theological and pastoral training. He lasted less than a year. The Anglican establishment confirmed that they wouldn't ordain him as his theology resembled the Nonconformists. And so, he began preaching itinerantly, outdoors, and across the Welsh countryside. He set up several home churches connected by a loose spiritual association. Unbeknownst to him, another man Daniel Rowland was doing something very similar in the west of Wales. The two men met in 1737, and the Welsh Methodist Revival began. They were self-consciously trying to mimic what Jonathan Edwards was doing in the American colonies, and this brought them to the attention of George Whitefield.
Throughout the 1740s, Howell was between Whitefield's home in England and his own home in Wales. Howell became a favorite amongst Welsh immigrants in England and the Wesley Brothers and the Moravians that had fled eastern Europe for Saxony before coming to England and America. The Welsh revival would be torn between the theology of Whitefield, Wesley, and the Moravians. Whitefield taught Howell fundamental Calvinism and convinced him of the truth of those doctrines. This splits the Welsh Methodists into their Arminian and Calvinist branches. Howell's branch of Calvinist Welsh Methodists would come to be known as the Welsh Presbyterian Church.
Howell, like many larger-than-life prophetic preaching fellows, was not immune from controversy. And this of his own making. His theology was becoming more erratic and esoteric (you can see the Moravian influence here). When he became close with Sidney Griffith, the estranged wife of a squire, his relationship with the Methodists would be strained. He claimed that his wife would soon die, and thus he was spending time with this woman who he believed to be a prophetess. Ironically Sidney Griffith died before his wife did. Howell would reconcile with this wife and set up a self-contained community in Wales (much like the Moravians had back in Saxony).
In 1762 Daniel Rowlands led the Welsh revival movement with William Williams, the musician, and author of hymns. Howell had been out of the spotlight for almost a decade. Rowlands invited Harris to join him and Williams on the revival circuit. But by now, the years were beginning to catch up with him. His role in the Welsh Methodist revival movement was reduced and centered around teaching future preachers. He set up a school for preachers near his home in Trefeca in the 1760s. Howell Harris would die in 1773 at the age of 60. We remember his conversion on the 30th of March in 1735 that marks the early years of the Welsh Methodist Revival.
The reading for today comes from that Welsh hymn writer William Williams. His most famous hymn is "Arglwydd arwain trwy'r anialwch." We know it as "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah". This is the first stanza of that hymn.
Guide me, O thou Great Jehovah,
pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but you are mighty;
hold me with your powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
feed me now and evermore.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 30th of March 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie, whose name has seven vowels. Thank you. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis who is still looking for Welsh Laverbread. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be OK.