Daniel Rowland’s theology came from the 39 Articles and Westminster Larger Catechism, and, chiefly, the Bible. He championed the reforming principles of Hus, Jerome, Cranmer, Ridley and Calvin.
He was in his preaching an able and a balanced theologian, who contended earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. But he was not satisfied only with truth enunciated and defended, and in one of his sermons he referred to people who think ‘the Word of God is enough to give life without the Spirit of God’.
Christmas Evans once related Rowland’s concern as to the absence of power from on high at an association meeting. The preaching of the previous night had been without unction from above.
Daniel Rowland was to preach at ten o’clock after a fellow minister. The first sermon fell on the congregation without visible effect. Before Rowland preached, he called upon a man in this way:
‘David, you must go shortly to prayer before I preach and disperse the thick cloud that is over us. You must not be more than three or four minutes; for the long prayer we have had here at the beginning failed to disperse it’.
His associate prayed in this manner: ‘Lord Jesus for the sake of thy blood and agony hear me. Thy servants have been here trying to winnow the preceding evening and also this morning but they could do nothing. Lord not a single breath of heavenly wind has yet blown on this meeting. Wind, Lord; wind, gracious Lord! The wind is now, as ever, in thine hand. Amen’.
Rowland preached and in preaching, as always, he looked for influence and blessing from God. The wind came with great impression and happy effect.
One other instance perhaps more clearly shows his awareness of the need of the unction of the Holy Ghost, and his great longing and desire for such a sensible presence of God upon both preacher and hearer.
David Griffiths of Nevern used to attend the sacrament services at Llangeitho and on one such Sunday, much to his surprise, he found Rowland still in bed. His anxious enquiry as to Rowland’s state met this reply: ‘Very, very painful. I am not ready. I have nothing from the Lord to say to the people! I was looking up for divine help in preparing my discourse all last night and had no sleep’.
Griffiths, bearing in mind the anticipations of the congregation, pressed him to arise but Rowland was still far from ease of spirit. He continued lifting up his heart in prayer to God for aid. Griffiths urged him again to rise. At length Rowland spoke, ‘Go my son and begin the service and I will be after you just now’.
Griffiths tells of the effect of that sermon: ‘He soon came after me to the chapel and he went like lightning into the pulpit full of the Holy Ghost and the heavenly treasure. He was not ten minutes into his sermon before the gracious influence came from above upon him and the vast assembly. The people were overcome with feelings the most keen and powerful; some were filled with intense joy and others with the deepest sorrow’.
Truth and power were well combined in this man, because he continued throughout his ministry to seek God earnestly.
In the letter to Howel Harris dated 20 October 1742, Rowland speaks of himself in this manner: ‘What am I? A painted hypocrite, a miserable sinner! I know all the to’s and fro’s and ups and downs that are in religion; but the blessed liberty remaining for the children of God is still hidden from me…
‘I wish I could skip and leap over all mountains of pleasure, laziness, hardheartedness, unbelief — and rest upon the breast of the beloved and never, never enough-praised Jesus’.
As to his manner and mode of preaching, we may learn a little from Christmas Evans again. Evans gives this description in a letter dated October 1835, just 100 years after Rowland’s conversion: ‘Having thus roused the congregation with some uncommon thought, [Rowland] would divide his text and then proceed with the first division, bending his head down a little as if to glance at his notes on a piece of paper in front of him.
‘Now we are coming to the most difficult part of the description, because we cannot make a dumb image speak or a dead man alive. I will, however, borrow another similitude, in order to give some idea of the manner of his most energetic eloquence. It shall be taken from the trade of the blacksmith’.
‘The smith first puts the iron into the fire, then blows the bellows softly, making some enquiries respecting the work to be done, the horse shoes to be made, the plough shares to be steeled and the coulters to be repaired.
‘But his eye during all this time is fixed steadily upon the process of heating the iron in the fire. As soon as he perceives it to be in a proper and pliable state, he carries it to the anvil and brings the weighty hammer or sledge down on the metal and, in the midst of the stunning noise and the fiery sparks emitted from the glowing metal, he fashions and moulds it at his will. ‘Thus Rowland, having glanced at his notes as a matter of form, would go on with his discourse in a calm and deliberate manner, speaking with a free and audible voice; but he would gradually become warmed with his subject and his voice became at length so elevated and authoritative that it resounded through the whole chapel!
‘The effect on the people was wonderful; you could see nothing but smiles and tears running down the faces of all the people. Joyful exclamations were at that time uttered by the vast assembly.
‘And all this arose from the flame of his voice and the grandeur of his matter; and his animation arose from the flame that was in the sublime thoughts which he delivered.
‘This first flame of heavenly devotion, under the first division, having subsided, he would again look at his scrap of notes and commence the second time to melt and to make the minds of the people supple, until he formed them again into the same heavenly temper. And thus he acted six or seven times, as some say, in the same sermon’.
In March 1743 Howel Harris wrote to George Whitefield and, in that letter, he gives this description of the things that God was doing in the ministry of Daniel Rowland: ‘I can’t tell where to begin to tell you what great things [the Lord] is doing daily among us…
‘I was last Sunday at the ordinance with brother Rowland, where I saw, felt and heard such things as I can’t send on paper any idea of. The power that continues with him is uncommon. Such crying out and heart-breaking groans, silent weeping and holy joy and shouts of rejoicing I never saw. Their “Amens”, and crying “Glory in the highest”, etc., would enflame your soul, [were] you there.
‘’Tis very common when he preaches for scores to fall down by the power of the Word, pierced and wounded or overcome by the love of God and sights of the beauty and excellency of Jesus; and lie on the ground, nature being overcome by the sights and enjoyments given to their heaven-born souls that it can’t bear, the Spirit almost bursting the house of clay to go to its native home…
‘[Rowland’s] congregation, I believe, consists of above 2000, whereof a great part are brought to glorious liberty and walk solidly in clear light, in the continual enjoyment of God, without a moment’s darkness. Many others walk in solid faith, rejoicing in the hope and expectation of the clearer manifestation of God’s glory and the glorious liberty of his children’.
Rowland’s attitude to these phenomena is worth noting. Of those days in Llangeitho, he himself has this to say: ‘There is such a power as I never felt before given me in preaching and administering the Lord’s Supper. The Lord comes down among us in such a manner as words can give no idea of.
‘Though I have, to prevent nature mixing with the work, openly discountenanced all crying out, yet such is the light, view and power God gives very many in the ordinance, that they cannot possibly help crying out, praising and adoring Jesus, being swallowed up in God; and thus I was obliged to leave my whole congregation, being many hundreds, in a flame … this is our condition generally every Sabbath’.
This article series was edited from the 1971 annual lecture of the Evangelical Library of Wales, used with kind permission of the Evangelical Movement of Wales.
Hywel R. Jones