What happened in Wales in 1904 was genuine revival because it was triggered by repentance and resulted in mass conversions. Why do we seek anything less?
Moriah Chapel in Loughor, Wales, is not a fancy building. Constructed in 1898 and surrounded by crumbling tombstones, the church is plain and uninviting except for a monument near the front door that might be mistaken for a war memorial. It is, in fact, one of the few tributes to Evan Roberts, the young Welshman who preached in this chapel in the fall of 1904 and triggered one of the greatest Christian revivals in modern history.
This week I stood inside the chapel and studied its plain walls and the rickety stairs leading up to its narrow balcony. I got behind the wooden pulpit and looked over the empty pews, some carved with initials. I stood beside Roberts’ modest grave. I was reminded that God uses the weak things of the world to confound the wise.
There was nothing outwardly remarkable about Roberts or the place his ministry began. He was the simple son of a coal miner. He worked as a blacksmith and aspired to be a minister. After he uttered his famous prayer, “Lord, bend me,” at a conference in nearby Blaenanerch, he felt overwhelmed by a burden for Welsh souls. His first revival service at Moriah Chapel touched only a handful of people. But crowds began to pour into the church from nearby villages after the Holy Spirit fell on the place in November 1904.
“Afterwards the salvation of souls weighed heavily on me. I felt on fire for going through the whole of Wales to tell the people about the Saviour.”—Evan Roberts
Within a year it was estimated that 100,000 people had come to Christ. Hardened men who normally spent their families’ incomes on liquor ran into the churches and repented. Coal miners stopped cursing. Teenagers gathered at train stations and sang hymns or testified publicly of their conversions. Crime stopped.
Wales was transformed.
To be fair, it’s important to note that the Welsh revival did not revolve around Roberts, at least not in its early days. It was not a man-centered movement—even though the secular newspapers tried to place all the attention on the young preacher. Years before the revival erupted at Moriah Chapel, spiritual birth pangs were felt in other towns in Wales in meetings led by Presbyterians and Salvation Army evangelists.
The fervor was building. An altar had been prepared, and dry wood was waiting for a spark.
That obviously happened when Roberts visited Blaenarerch. God took a hot coal from His altar and touched Roberts at age 26. He was gloriously baptized in the Holy Spirit there while others watched him kneeling in a pew. By his own account, he wept so much that three women came over to console him and to wipe the perspiration from his face. The love of God, he said, was boiling inside him.
Roberts described the experience like this: “After many had prayed I felt some living energy or force entering my bosom; it held my breath; my legs trembled terribly; this living energy increased and increased as one after the other prayed until it nearly burst me. … I cried—‘Bend me, bend me, bend me; Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!’ … What came to mind after this was, the bending in the day of judgment. Then I was filled with sympathy for the people who will have to bend in judgment day, and I wept. Afterwards the salvation of souls weighed heavily on me. I felt on fire for going through the whole of Wales to tell the people about the Saviour.”
Two profound characteristics marked the Welsh revival: First, invisible waves of conviction drew people to repentance. (Often sinners wandered into the meetings and immediately knelt at the altars.) Second, Christians felt an urgency to share Christ with everyone around them because of the reality of hell and God’s judgment. They seemed almost possessed by the love of God for the lost.
In his meetings Roberts often shared a four-point plan for living the Christian life: (1) confess all known sin; (2) deal with and get rid of anything “doubtful” in your life; (3) be ready to obey the Holy Spirit instantly; and (4) confess Christ publicly.
After visiting Moriah Chapel and rereading the accounts of the Welsh revival, I find myself longing for an authentic move of God. I am so weary of the fake and the fabricated. In this day of media manipulation, it seems we can use smoke and mirrors to create “revivals” that have neither conviction of sin nor conversions.
Oh, we think we have the power. We boast about the size of the crowds. We brag about miracles. We are ready to declare a revival if Christians fall on the floor or give big offerings. But when the music stops, the TV cameras are turned off and the money is counted, what do we have? Nothing but a cheap imitation.
Where is the God of Elijah? Where is the God of Evan Roberts? Where is the true power of God that can sweep over a city and bring backslidden Christians to repentance and hardened sinners to experience the greatest miracle of all—the miracle of new birth?
I invite you to stoke the fire of the Spirit in your life. Let the hot coals of heaven purge any known sin from your heart. Repent of all compromise. Be ruthless with any idols. Let the love of God boil inside you until your heart is overflowing with love for sinners. Let’s believe that it is possible for the Holy Spirit to draw our wayward nation back to God.
J. Lee Grady is the editor of Charisma. He spent this last week preaching in Wales
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