Primitive Methodist magazine entries from 1830–1850 reveal a powerful revival movement in the Welsh borders at that time.
For example, writing about the events of December 1849, the 1850 magazine cites John Waplington’s report on Talwrn Green: ‘On 30 December 1849, I conducted a lovefeast here; and while the assembly — before commencing a prayer meeting, to relieve the dullness generally felt — sung a hymn on the efficacy of the Saviour’s blood, the descent of the Holy Spirit was encouraging.
‘Nearly as soon as we had started to pray, a man cried, “Lord, save me!” I exhorted him to believe instantly for salvation. He complied, and shortly exclaimed, “I’m glad; I’m glad! I never thought there was so much happiness in religion as I now feel”.
‘Near him kneeled a young man who beseeched God for mercy, and was soon comforted. Not far from the latter, a young woman believed and was justified.
‘On 1 January 1850, I was again appointed for Talwrn Green; and beheld six fresh penitents obtain redemption … My soul thirsts for the salvation of precious souls; and the Lord will, if I be faithful, give me the desire of my heart’ (p.115).
In the 1834 magazine, Richard Cordingley, minister of the Oswestry Circuit wrote: ‘On 3 August a camp meeting was held at Llangollen. The morning was exceedingly fine. A company of us went from Rhosymedre. We sung through the Cefn, assisted by some of the elder scholars of the Sunday school. On our way we were overtaken by Brothers Doughty, D. Davies, Bynnor, Fitzgerald and T. Morris.
‘We were now very strong; and when we reached the town we sung through the whole, to a beautiful green. We were furnished with a new waggon, and were shaded with trees from the heat; and the people had timber to sit on. This green is situate in a beautiful vale; behind us and before were large mountains, and the praises of God sounded sweetly. Gogoniant moniert, bar a bre.
‘We had English and Welsh singing, praying, and preaching through the day; and such attention as I never saw before. I have attended many English, some Irish and two Welsh camp meetings; but I think the Welsh are the most attentive hearers.
‘In the praying companies there seemed sometimes to be a general move; Deolk! Deolk! cried the Welshmen. I give the sound, not perhaps the proper word. I understand it to mean “Thank God”.
‘We then went into the house, when the people got into full glory. One was seeking the Lord in one part of the house, and another in another. One cried aloud, struggled a little while, and then rejoiced fully. Another sought till he could call the Saviour his.’
(The verse Richard Cordingley quotes from a hymnbook is based on Psalm 100. It runs, Gogoniant, moliant, parch a bri, I’r Un a Thri, tragwyddol fyth, Y Tad, y Mab, a’r Ysbrid Glân, Fal gynt, tra bo na chân na chwyth.)
Richard Ward was stationed in Oswestry in July 1839. Born in Yorkshire on 31 October 1805, he attended occasional Methodist meetings in his youth, more for amusement than spiritual benefit.
As he grew more interested in spiritual matters, he bought a Bible and a Prayer Book, but the latter led him to hope in baptismal regeneration for his salvation, and to think that the guilt of his youth was the responsibility of his baptismal sponsors, and that a church burial would guarantee him the resurrection to glory.
In 1821 preachers came to the neighbourhood and preached with great effect. Ward wrote: ‘I was alarmed, and saw that I had been led by the devil, allured by sin, corrupted by the world, and deceived by my own evil nature … My sins were set in battle array against me, and appeared like arrows that would pierce, or lions, tigers, and demons ready to devour’.
He withdrew alone for prayer, ‘and by faith I saw the all-sufficiency of the atonement. Salvation was mine, even pardon, peace, happiness, rest and life’. He joined the Primitive Methodists and sometimes spent a whole night in prayer. He had to endure much persecution, with the sternest opposition from his own family.
Often on a cold winter’s night he was compelled to seek shelter in outsheds, or, to keep up the heat of his body, exercise for hours in the midst of frost and snow. Ultimately he was driven from home. He entered the ministry in 1824.
The 1840 magazine quotes Ward’s Journal: ‘Friday 16 August, I visited a few families, and preached at Pontfaen to a large congregation, after which there was a powerful move in the prayer meeting.
‘Friday 27 September, I visited and preached at Pontfaen. It was a moving time. The cause is rising. The society, in general, are in good earnest about religion and the salvation of others.
‘Sunday 29 September, I assisted in preaching the anniversary sermons at Cloy. The congregations were large and attentive. Thursday 7 November, I visited several families on my way to Halton, and preached to a large congregation. The Word has free course. Several appeared to feel its power and wept.
‘Friday 8 November, Pontfaen. At the time of preaching the chapel was crowded to excess. A powerful time in preaching, and a wonderful and surprising work in the prayer meeting. How many were converted I cannot tell.
‘Many were weeping, others singing, others praying, others filled with joy, praising God for what he had done for them; others, overwhelmed with the power of God, lay on the floor for a considerable time, and these then rose up, praising the Lord, and exhorting others to seek the Lord. Men, women and children are engaged in this great work.’
Pontfaen is just across the River Ceiriog inside England. Ward tells the story of the conversion of a young man from Chirk, in Wales, at the Pontfaen chapel, on 15 December 1839.
The young man was said to be an excellent scholar, taught by the vicar, who had occasionally officiated as clerk at church. He was also said to have been very ungodly, and he hated and persecuted the Primitive Methodists.
However, he became convinced by their arguments, attended chapel, and was awakened under the first sermon he heard among them. That night at chapel he cried mightily to God for salvation, and the Lord set his soul at liberty.
He sprang from the ground, leaping, clapping and praising God, and exhorting others to seek the Lord.
‘What God wrought’
The 1840 magazine records ‘what is said to have happened at Chirk’: ‘A young woman, in order to mock two of our female preachers, convened eight or ten young women or girls in a house at Chirk, having a design to preach to them.
‘She began to clap her hands, shake her head, stamp her feet, jump, dance and make a noise. This greatly amused her “congregation”. But in a short time, their mirth was turned into terror, sorrow and trouble. They say the devil came amongst them, and they saw him; and he frightened them tremendously.
‘The “congregation” cried aloud, and was powerfully affected. The “preacher” (so called) was irresistibly kept at her work for a considerable time. She wanted to stop, but could not.
‘She then began to cry, “O Lord, let me stop! O Lord, do let me stop! O Lord, do let me stop!” But she kept on jumping, etc. She then cried to the Lord to have mercy upon her; at which she ceased from jumping, but not from praying.
‘Since that time, she and her “congregation” profess to have found the Lord; and she and most of them joined the society at Pontfaen … “What hath God wrought!”’
The words ‘What hath God wrought’ stand to this day on the wall of the Pontfaen chapel, now a house.
There were, of course, also difficulties, setbacks and members falling into sin during the two decades outlined here, but many of those whom God touched are now undoubtedly at rest with Christ, until the last trumpet sounds and the dead in Christ arise.
As we view these glorious years on the Welsh borders, we can echo their frequent cry, ‘What hath God wrought!’
Gogoniant, moliant, parch a bri;
I’r Un a Thri, tragwyddol fyth
David M. Young
The author was for many years director of the Albanian Evangelical Mission. He lives in North Wales.