Daniel Rowland was born in 17131 at Pantybeudy in the parish of Llancwnlle, near Llangeitho, Cardiganshire. He had an elder brother, John, and both sons were intended for the ministry by their father, who was the vicar.
On the death of his father in 1731, his elder brother John succeeded him, while Daniel completed his education at Hereford Grammar School, where his attainments were of a high standard.
At the tender age of 20, he was ordained in London and for the purpose he walked there. He then became curate to his brother, who was now the incumbent not only of Llancwnlle but also of Llanddewi Brefi and Llangeitho.
Daniel Rowland began to preach in north Carmarthenshire, in a place called Ystradffin. His parishioners were thrown into ecstasies by the brilliancy of his wit and the sweetness of his disposition, but by no more at this time.
The influence of the Book of sports that was published during the dark reign of Archbishop Laud, and which the incumbent had to read in the church on the sabbaths, was everywhere evident throughout Wales, and it appears that at this time Daniel Rowland himself was in the forefront of sabbath-breaking, revelry and perhaps even drunkenness in the very parish of which he was a minister.
Then one day he went to Llangeitho to preach and found a very small congregation. The reason was soon made known to him, and it was that the majority of the people were going to a nearby place, called Blaen¬penal, to listen to the ministry of a godly dissenter by the name of Philip Pugh.
Daniel Rowland, no doubt disappointed by the smallness of his congregation, determined to choose the themes on which Philip Pugh was preaching and he did so to gain a congregation.
He selected such texts as ‘The wicked shall be cast into hell’ and ‘The great day of his wrath is come’. He exposed the danger and the evil of sin, and the certainty and unending awfulness of the wrath to come.
He called upon those who heard him to redeem the time and devote themselves to God. Crowds flocked to hear him. Many were brought under a godly sorrow for sin before he himself was converted.
Daniel Rowland’s own conversion happened in the following way. Griffith Jones of Llanddowror, the pioneer gospel reformer in Wales and founder of the circulating schools, came to preach at Llanddewi Brefi in 1735.
Daniel Rowland went to hear him with some of his parishioners. Griffith Jones could not help but notice a young man who stood out most blatantly in the congregation and manifested an arrogance and defiant spirit as he preached.
This young man was Daniel Rowland. Griffith Jones was so moved by what he saw that he stopped in the midst of his sermon and was induced there and then to pray for this young man, that God would remember him, bless him and use him in the salvation of many souls.
Prayer was heard and the preaching blessed and Daniel Rowland was awakened, smitten and healed in Christ. He now preached more vigorously than before. Many hundreds — and this is the first revival that took place under his ministry — were brought to cry to God for mercy.
They were unable to stand erect as he preached and were actually prostrated before the presence of God in the churchyard at Llancwnlle, the church being full.
Now Rowland soon became personally acquainted with Philip Pugh, who urged him not to preach the law without the gospel. Morgan reports this conversation in this way: Philip Pugh said, ‘Preach the gospel to the people, dear sir, and apply the balm of Gilead, the blood of Christ to their spiritual wounds, and show the necessity of faith in the crucified Saviour’.
‘I am afraid’, said Rowland, ‘that I have not that faith myself in its vigour and full exercise’. ‘Preach on it’, said Pugh, ‘till you feel it in that way. No doubt it will come. If you go on preaching the law in this manner, you will kill half the people in the country. For you thunder out the curses of the law and preach in such a terrific manner that no one can stand before you’.
This is the testimony and advice of an aged saint of God, who discerned the need of young Rowland, but also of the nothing-short-of-amazing events in those days.
By 1740 Rowland had preached throughout South Wales and penetrated into the north with much blessing, though amid much persecution. He wrote to Howell Harris in October 1742 — and this gives us an insight into the spirit of Daniel Rowland — ‘Oh, what am I that my ears and eyes should hear and see such things!
‘Oh, help me to bless the God of heaven. I hope his kingdom begins to come. Oh, Satan, be packing, fly, fly with trembling, lest the God of Israel come at thee! Oh Lord, chastise him, Amen, Amen! Lord, down with him! Let his kingdom be shattered and himself trampled under the feet of thy church!’
Here is a glimpse of this great soul in the joy and humility, the sound convictions and those high soaring concerns and confidences in prayer that made him a man of God.
By this time, he had been following the advice of Philip Pugh and sounding out the freeness and greatness of divine grace in Jesus Christ. One Sunday morning in Llangeitho a great revival broke out. Rowland was reading the litany and he reached those expressive words in Welsh:
‘By thine agony and bloody sweat, by thy cross and passion, by thy precious death and burial, by thy glorious resurrection and ascension and by the coming of the Holy Ghost, good Lord deliver us’.
He became aware himself of the powerful, inwardly melting love of God in Christ that came over all his frame and was passed on to the whole congregation.
Many were prostrated, suffused by the love of God shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Ghost given unto them. It was during this period of blessing that he only noticed the length of time he had been preaching when the sun began to stream in at the westward facing windows of the church.
He had begun to preach with the sun in the east and he himself was totally unconscious of the passage of time. What perhaps tells us more about the authority and unction of the preaching: no one in the congregation was conscious of the passage of time either. This is what happens when God visits his people.
By this time the Societies had been instituted and were flourishing. But here we must mention the tragic division which took place between Howell Harris and Daniel Rowland in about 1751.
It caused real bitterness to arise as the Methodists divided themselves into parties owning the name of their particular champion. Harris withdrew to Trefecca until 1763, when on the invitation of his old associate he rejoined them at the time of another revival which had broken out in Llangeitho, on the occasion of the first use in public of a volume of hymns of William Williams Pantycelyn in 1762.
This particular division between Rowland and Harris was brought to an end, as far as its tragic consequences were concerned, by another visitation of God which bound the Methodists together yet again by his manifest presence.
Hywel R. Jones
1 Editor’s note: Many now believe the date was 1711.
This article series (to be continued) is taken from the 1971 annual lecture of the Evangelical Library of Wales, used with kind permission of Evangelical Movement of Wales.