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Daniel Rowland – man of truth and power (2)

November 2013 | by Hywel Jones

John Rowland, Daniel’s brother, seemed quite content to give Daniel every liberty (see October ET). So Llangeitho became the base for Daniel’s ministry and, for some 50 years (he died on 16 October 1790 — his 77th year), his congregation never went below 3000.

This is an amazing fact, when it is remembered that Llangeitho was nothing more than a village in the mountains in a farming community. The average was between 3000 and 5000, more being present on the monthly sacrament Sundays than on the others; and Howell Harris records that by 1763 it had become 10,000.
Fifty years of ministering and a congregation composed of such numbers! Where did they come from? Perhaps the more important question is, why did they come?

Spiritual feast

Well, they came from all over Wales, on foot, on horse¬back, and some from the Lleyn Peninsula came over Cardigan Bay by boat. Horses were tethered at the hedgerows or let loose in a field near Llangeitho, as if an army had been quartered there.
    They came in groups or singly and usually met at a little mountain spring two miles from Llangeitho — Mynydd Bach, it was called — where they refreshed themselves and worshipped.
Then they came over the hills to Llangeitho singing, and frequently Daniel Rowland, awake through the night seeking a message of God, would say to himself, ‘Here they come, bringing heaven with them’.
I shall take two instances, which will give us an idea of what was really happening at this particular time. An old preacher called John Williams from Dolwyddelan walked to Llangeitho and, on arriving there, he felt so tired after the journey that he considered going to bed rather than chapel.
However, he went to hear Rowland, and he was preaching on Isaiah 25:6. Here is the text: ‘And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined’.
John Williams says of this preaching: ‘You never heard such a thing in your life. He began to tap the barrels of the covenant of grace and to let out the wine, well refined, and to give to the people to drink and it flowed over the chapel.
‘I also drank and I became, as I may say, quite drunk. And there I was, and scores of others, in an ecstasy of delight, praising God having forgotten all fatigue and bodily wants’.
There are many other such statements as these. I have yet to hear of one who went to sleep under Rowland’s preaching. Such was the presence of God that even natural restrictions, bodily fatigue, hunger and thirst, were quite forgotten.

Joy unspeakable

The other instance is recorded by Thomas Charles: ‘I went to hear Mr. Rowland preach at New Chapel . . . A day much to be remembered by me as long as I live. Ever since the happy day I have lived in a new heaven and a new earth.
‘The change a blind man who receives his sight experiences doth not exceed the change I at that time experienced in my mind.

The earth receded, it disappeared,
Heaven opened to my eyes,
My ears with sound seraphic rang.
‘Then I was first convinced of the sin of unbelief or entertaining narrow, contracted and hard thoughts of the Almighty. I had such a view of Christ as our High Priest, of his love, compassion, power and all sufficiency, as filled my soul with astonishment — with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
‘My mind was overwhelmed and overpowered with amazement. The truths exhibited to my view appeared too wonderfully gracious to be believed. I could not believe for very joy. The glorious scenes then opened to my eyes will abundantly satisfy my soul millions of years hence in the contemplation of them.
‘I had some idea of gospel truths before floating in my head, but they never powerfully and with divine energy penetrated my heart till now. The effect of this sermon remained upon my mind above half a year, during which time I was generally in a comfortable and heavenly frame.
‘Often in walking in the fields, I looked up to heaven with joy and called that my home, at the same time ardently longing for the appearance of the glorious Saviour to take me forever to himself’. That was why they came!

Licence revoked

Rowland’s itinerating brought him into conflict with the ecclesiastical authorities, and this perhaps goes as far back as 1741, when a curacy was licensed at Ystrad Ffin and he was deprived of that preaching station in north Carmarthenshire.
In the following year, his licence to preach at Llanddewi Brefi was revoked. All this time he was allowing Methodist societies to meet in chapels of ease and, in 1746, his name appears on the deeds of Soar Chapel, Cil-y-cwm, a dissenting chapel in Carmar¬thenshire.
When his brother was drowned at Aberystwyth, in 1760, Daniel’s own son was preferred before him and so father became curate to son. Three years later, in 1763, the Bishop of St David’s revoked his licence for Llan¬geitho, ‘because he would not refrain to go about preaching for three years’.
The bishop’s messengers came into the church at Llangeitho during the conducting of a service and handed the notice to Daniel Rowland. The record is that he read it before the congregation quite solemnly and said that he would never enter that place again, but would leave it as an habitation for owls.
He went out, and with his back to the church, he preached to the crowds outside the church. The bishop was not acting incorrectly, and for Bishop J. C. Ryle, as he does, to accuse the Bishop of St David’s of a blundering exercise of episcopal power is an attempt to save face. The charge has to be laid against the existence of the ecclesiastical laws rather than against their exercise.
But, by this time, the Methodists were meeting in an unused barn at one of Daniel Rowland’s two farms. They had begun to gather there in 1757. Whenever Rowland was preaching in Llangeitho, they would always go to the church to hear him and he frequently went to this barn to speak to them.

New chapel

In 1763, when he was cast out of the church, they built a new chapel for him and this is the one which Thomas Charles refers to. A chapel had been built for the Methodists themselves in 1760, but once Rowland came to them, it was obvious that a larger one was going to be necessary, and it is here that he ministered until his death, living in the rectory still by the permission of his son.
John Thornton, a philanthropic member of the evangelical Clapham Sect, heard of Daniel Rowland and sought to have him restored to the ministry of the Established Church.
He offered him a living in Pem¬brokeshire, at Newport, but the price which Rowland had to pay for this was far too high. He would not have been able even to preach once in Llangeitho.
He would have had to reside in Newport, in Pembrokeshire, and he soon found that canon law could not force him to be married to Newport, Pembrokeshire, when his heart was in Llangeitho, so there he stayed until 1790, when he died.
Hywel R. Jones

This article series (to be continued) is taken from the 1971 annual lecture of the Evangelical Library of Wales, used with kind permission of the Evangelical Movement of Wales.