Wales is a country in the west of the United Kingdom with its own culture and language. Although small, it is well-known throughout the Christian world as the “Land of Revivals” due to a period in history when there were frequent outpourings of the Holy Spirit. It is also known as the “Land of Song”. The two epitaphs are connected as revivals in Wales were often accompanied by fervent singing.
There were at least sixteen revivals in Wales between 1735 and 1905, with the last in 1904/5 being the most well known. Although it only lasted a year, and was not the largest revival if measured by conversions per head of population, nevertheless the wealth of material written about this outpouring has certainly made it the most famous. Many writers claim that this one revival alone influenced the rise of Pentecostalism and the spread of Christianity in Korea, China, South America and Africa. If true, the 1904/5 Welsh revival is one of the most significant events in the history of Christianity.
Despite its significance, the start of the revival was very small and localised. Although there had a longing for a new revival in Wales, the last national one had been in 1859, a clear sign of things to come occurred on the 14th February 1904 in a meeting in New Quay, Cardiganshire. The evening service at Tabernacle Calvinist Methodist Church had just ended, and the minister, Joseph Jenkins, was holding an “after meeting” to encourage the young people to share spiritual experiences. Such “experience meetings” had been the foundation of the Welsh Methodist church since the early 1700s, but by the twentieth century, they had fallen into disuse.
Jenkins put out the question, “What does Jesus Christ mean to you?” Someone answered, “He is the hope of the world.” Jenkins asked the question again, emphasising “to you”. A young girl, and recent convert, Florrie Evans, slowly replied, “ I love Jesus Christ with all my heart.” The whole meeting was reduced to tears, and many came under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
In the weeks following this meeting, the young people take their testimonies to other churches in the area, and their church in New Quay becomes a centre for blessing and prayer for revival. Such is the spiritual impact that news of the events makes the Western Mail, the national newspaper of Wales. At this stage the revival is still local, confined to the west of Wales.
In September of 1904, the ministers of the area invited Seth Johsua, a well-known evangelist from South Wales, to their meetings. These meetings attract the attention of students who are preparing to enter ministry training. One of those students is a young man called Evan Roberts from Loughor, just west of Swansea. Roberts had a burden for revival in Wales but felt he had not submitted himself fully to God to receive the blessing needed to pursue revival further. It was at a meeting in Blaenannerch where Joshua prays “bend us” that Roberts takes the prayer to heart, praying “bend me”. Later that morning, the fire falls on Roberts, and he becomes certain he must go to other churches and plead for souls to be saved and receive the blessing.
For some days, Roberts visits churches with other young people, but all the time his vision is expanding until he is convinced he must bring revival to all of Wales, starting with his home church. On the 31st October, he returns to Loughor to commence two weeks of meetings, armed with a fresh vision of 100,000 converts to come. In the first couple of days, the congregations are small, and few confess Christ. By the end of the fortnight, the church churches are full, crowds are left outside the doors, there are too many converts to count, and the Western Mail is full of news of the revival.
Of course, Evan Roberts is not alone in this revival work. Seth Joshua and his brother Frank are seeing an increasing number of converts. The revival explodes in New Quay and the surrounding areas. Elsewhere, many other ministers find they preaching yielding results. One such was RB Jones, a Baptist minister from Porth in the Rhondda Valley. On the 8th November, Jones starts an evangelistic campaign in Rhosllanerchrugog, over a hundred miles north of Loughor. Not surprisingly, Jones knew nothing of the events at Loughor, yet within a day of starting his mission, he was seeing many coming under conviction and turning to Christ. God was moving independently across Wales, and many ministers who had longed to see revival and a deeper life were now experiencing the very events they had prayed for.
For the next year, Roberts, and the other ministers involved, travelled around Wales, holding meetings for revival. Meetings were held down mines, in halls as well as churches and chapels. The Western Mail kept a monthly tally of converts, and many people from around the world travelled to Wales By the end of 1905, a hundred thousand converts were claimed. This figure is eventually confirmed when the church membership figures for 1905 are published.
Sadly, Evan Roberts is burnt out by the pressure and the criticism. He never ministers again, but remains a faithful and deeply spiritual Christian. Also, the Welsh churches never grow again. Their membership numbers peaked in 1905, and they have declined ever since with most of the congregations now closed. This revival was the last of the “age of revivals”. However, the revival is not remembered for its long-term effect in Wales, but three more important features. Firstly, it was an amazing sign of God’s grace with so many converts in a short period. Secondly, it was a huge blessing to believers at that time. God loves to reveal himself to people, and in this revival, he did so in abundance. Thirdly, this revival was the spark that lit the worldwide growth of the Christian church through many missions and movements. Although the last of the cycle of evangelical revivals that had started nearly two hundred years earlier, it was the first in the cycle of Pentecostal revivals, which still continue.