J. C. (John Charles) Ryle.

The Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago online

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wounds, and show the necessity of faith in the crucified Saviour."
Happy indeed are young ministers who have an Aquila or


Priscilla near them, and when they get good advice are willing
to listen to it ! The friendship of the eminent layman, Howell
Harris, with whom Rowlands became acquainted about this
time, was no doubt a great additional help to his soul. In one
way or another, the great apostle of Wales was gradually led
into the full noontide light of Christ's truth; and about the year
1742, in the thirtieth year of his age, became established as the
preacher of a singularly full, free, clear, and well-balanced

The effect of Rowlands' ministry from this time forward to
his life's end was something so vast and prodigious, that it
almost takes away one's breath to hear of it. We see un-
happily so very little of spiritual influences in the present day,
the operations of the Holy Ghost appear confined within such
narrow limits and to reach so few persons, that the harvests
reaped at Llangeitho a hundred years ago sound almost in-
credible. But the evidence of the results of his preaching is so
abundant and incontestable, that there is no room left for
doubt. One universal testimony is borne to the fact that Row-
lands was made a blessing to hundreds of souls. People used
to flock to hear him preach from every part of the Principality,
and to think nothing of travelling fifty or sixty miles for the
purpose. On sacrament Sundays it was no uncommon thing
for him to have 1500, or 2000, or even 2500 communicants!
The people on these occasions would go together in companies,
like the Jews going up to the temple feast in Jerusalem, and
would return home afterwards singing hymns and psalms on
their journey, caring nothing for fatigue.

It is useless to attempt accounting for these effects of the
great Welsh preacher's ministry, as many do, by calling them
religious excitement. Such people would do well to remember
that the influence which Rowlands had over his hearers was an
influence which never waned for at least forty-eight years. It
had its ebbs and flows, no doubt, and rose on several occasions


to the spring-tide of revivals; but at no time did his ministry
appear to be without immense and unparalleled results. Ac-
cording to Charles of Bala, and many other unexceptionable
witnesses, it seemed just as attractive and effective when he
was seventy years old as it was when he was fifty. When we
recollect, moreover, the singular fact that on Sundays, at least,
Rowlands was very seldom absent from Llangeitho, and that
for forty-eight years he was constantly preaching on the same
spot, and not, like Whitefield and Wesley, incessantly address-
ing fresh congregations, we must surely allow that few preachers
have had such extraordinary spiritual success since the days of
the apostles.

Of course it would be absurd to say that there was no excite-
ment, unsound profession, hypocrisy, and false fire among the
thousands who crowded to hear Rowlands. There w^as much,
no doubt, as there always will be, when large masses of people
are gathered together. Nothing, perhaps, is so infectious as a
kind of sham, sensational Christianity, and particularly among
unlearned and ignorant men. The Welsh, too, are notoriously
an excitable people. No one, however, was more fully alive
to these dangers than the great preacher himself, and no one
could warn his hearers more incessantly that the Christianity
which was not practical was unprofitable and vain. But, after
all, the effects of Rowlands' ministry were too plain and pal-
pable to be mistaken. There is clear and overwhelming
evidence that the lives of many of his hearers were vastly
improved after hearing him preach, and that sin was checked
and distinct knowledge of Christianity increased to an immense
extent throughout the Principality.

It will surprise no Christian to hear that, from an early
period, Rowlands found it impossible to confine his labours to
his own parish. The state of the country was so deplorable as
to religion and morality, and the applications he received for
help were so many, that he felt he had no choice in the matter.


The circumstances under wliich he first began preaching out of
his own neighbourhood are so interesting, as described by
Owen, that I shall give his words without abbreviation : —

" There was a farmer's wife in Ystradffin, in the county of
Carmarthen, who had a sister living near Llangeitho. This
woman came at times to see her sister, and on one of these
occasions she heard some strange things about the clergyman
of the parish — that is, Rowlands. The common saying was,
that he was not right in his mind. However, she went to hear
him, and not in vain ; but she said nothing then to her sister
or to anybody else about the sermon, and she returned home to
her family. The following Sunday she came again to her
sister's home at Llangeitho. 'What is the matter?' said her
sister, in great surprise. ' Are your husband and your children
well % ' She feared, from seeing her again so soon and so un-
expectedly, that something unpleasant had happened. ' Oh,
yes,' was the reply, ' nothing of that kind is amiss.' Again she
asked her, 'What, then, is the matter"?' To this she replied,
' I don't well know what is the matter. Something that your
cracked clergyman said last Sunday has brought me here to-day.
It stuck in my mind all the week, and never left me night nor
day.' She went again to hear, and continued to come every
Sunday, though her road was rough and mountainous, and her
home more than twenty miles from Llangeitho.

" After continuing to hear Rowlands about half a year, she
felt a strong desire to ask him to come and preach at Ystradffin.
She made up her mind to try; and, after service one Sunday,
she Avent to Rowlands, and accosted him in the following man-
ner: — ' Sir, if what you say to us is true, there are many in my
neighbourhood in a most dangerous condition, going fast to
eternal misery. For the sake of their souls, come over, sir, to
preach to them." Tlic woman's request took Rowlands by
surprise; but without a moment's hesitation he said, in his usual
quick way, ' Yes, I will come, if you can get the clergyman's


permission.' This satisfied the woman, and she returned home
as much pleased as if she had found some rich treasure. She
took the first opportunity of asking her clergyman's permission,
and easily succeeded. Next Sunday she went joyfully to
Llangeitho, and informed Rowlands of her success. According
to his promise he went over and preached at Ystradfhn, and
his very first sermon there was wonderfully blessed. Not less
than thirty persons, it is said, were converted that day ! Many
of them afterwards came regularly to hear him at Llangeitho."

From this time forth, Rowlands never hesitated to preach
outside his own parish, wherever a door of usefulness was
opened. When he could, he preached in churches. When
churches were closed to him, he would preach in a room, a
barn, or the open air. At no period, however, of his ministerial
life does he appear to have been so much of an itinerant as
some of his contemporaries. He rightly judged that hearers of
the gospel required to be built up as well as awakened, and for
this work he was peculiarly well qualified. Whatever, there-
fore, he did on week days, the Sunday generally found him at

The circumstances under which he first- began the practice of
field-preaching were no less remarkable than those under which
he was called to preach at Ystradfifin. It appears that after
his own conversion he felt great anxiety about the spiritual con-
dition of his old companions in sin and folly. IMost of them
were thoughtless headstrong young men, who thoroughly dis-
liked his searching sermons, and refused at last to come to
church at all " Their custom," says Owen, " was to go on
Sunday to a suitable place on one of the hills above Llangeitho,
and there amuse themselves with sports and games." Rowlands
tried all means to stop this sinful profanation of the Lord's day,
but for some time utterly failed. At last he determined to go
there himself on a Sunday. As these rebels against God would
not come to him in church, he resolved to go to them on their


own ground. He went therefore, and suddenly breaking into
' the ring as a cock-fight was going on, addressed them power-
fully and boldly about the sinfulness of their conduct. The
effect was so great that not a tongue was raised to answer or
oppose him, and from that day the Sabbath assembly in that
place was completely given up. For the rest of his life Row-
lands never hesitated, when occasion required, to preach in the
open air.

The extra-parochial work that Rowlands did by his itinerant
preaching was carefully followed up and not allowed to fall to
the ground. No one understood better than he did, that souls
require almost as much attention after they are awakened as
they do before, and that in spiritual husbandry there is need of
watering as well as planting. Aided, therefore, by a few zealous
fellow-labourers, both lay and clerical, he established a regular
' system of Societies, on John Wesley's plan, over the greater
part of Wales, through which he managed to keep up a con-
stant communication with all who valued the gospel that he
preached, and to keep them well together. These societies
were all connected with one great Association, which met four
times a-year, and of which he was generally the moderator.
The amount of his influence at these Association-meetings may
be measured by the fact that above one hundred ministers in
the Principality regarded him as their spiritual father ! From
the very first this Association seems to have been a most wisely
organized and useful institution, and to it may be traced the
existence of the Calvinistic Methodist body in Wales at this
very day.

The mighty instrument whom God employed in doing all the
good works I have been describing, was not permitted to do
them without many trials. For wise and good ends, no doubt
— to keep him humble in the midst of his immense success
and to prevent his being exalted overmuch — he was called upon
to drink many bitter cups. Like his divine Master, he was "a


man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." The greatest of
these trials, no doubt, was his ejection from the Church of
England in 1763, after serving her faithfully for next to nothing •
as an ordained clergyman for thirty years. The manner in
which this disgraceful transaction was accomplished was so re-
markable, that it deserves to be fully described.
' Rowlands, it must be remembered, was never an incumbent.
From the time of his ordination in 1733, he was simply curate
of Llangeitho, under his elder brother John, until the time of.
his death in 1760. What kind of a clergyman his elder brother
was is not very clear. He was drowned at Aber^'stwith, and
we only know that for twenty-seven years he seems to have
left everything at Llangeitho in Daniel's hands, and to have let
him do just w^hat he liked. Upon the death of John Rowlands,
the Bishop of St. David's, who was patron of Llangeitho, was
asked to give the living to his brother Daniel, upon the very
reasonable ground that he had been serving the parish as
curate no less than twenty-seven years ! The bishop unhappily
refused to comply with this request, alleging as his excuse that
he had received many complaints about his irregularities. He
took the very singular step of giving the living to John, the son
of Daniel Rowlands, a young man twenty-seven years old.
The result of this very odd proceeding was, that Daniel Row-
lands became curate to his own son, as he had been curate to
his own brother, and continued his labours at Llangeitho for
three years more uninterruptedly."^

The reasons why the Bishop of St. David's refused to give
Rowlands the living of Llangeitho may be easily divined. So
long as he was only a curate, he knew that he could easily
silence him. Once instituted and inducted as incumbent, he
would have occupied a position from which he could not have

** For a clue to all this intricacy, I am entirely indebted to the Rev. W. Rowlands of
Fishguard. Unless the facts I have detailed are carefully remembered, it is impossible to
understand how Daniel Rowlands was so easily turned. out of his position. The truth is,
that he was only a curate.


been removed without much difficulty. Influenced, probably,
by some such considerations, the bishop permitted Rowlands
to continue preaching at Llangeitho as curate to his son, warn-
ing him at the same time that the Welsh clergy were constantly
complaining of his irregularities, and that he could not long
look over them. These " irregularities," be it remembered,
were neither drunkenness, breach of the seventh commandment,
hunting, shooting, nor gambling ! The whole substance of his
offence was preaching out of his own parish wherever he could
get hearers ! To the bishop's threats Rowlands replied, " that
he had nothing in view but the glory of God in the salvation
of sinners, and that as his labours had been so much blessed
he could not desist."

At length, in the year 1763, the fatal step was taken. The
bishop sent Rowlands a mandate, revoking his license, and was
actually foolish enough to have it served on a Sunday ! The
niece of an eye-witness describes what happened in the follow-
ing words : " My uncle was at Llangeitho church that very
morning. A stranger came forward and served Mr. Rowlands
with a notice from the bishop, at the very time when he was
stepping into the pulpit. Mr. Rowlands read it, and told the
jDeople that the letter which he had just received was from the
bishop, revoking his license. Mr. Rowlands then said, ' We
must obey the higher powers. Let me beg you will go out
quietly, and then we shall conclude the service of the morning
by the church gate.' And so they walked out, weeping and
crying. My uncle thought there was not a dry eye in the church
at the moment. Mr. Rowlands accordingly preached outside
the church with extraordinary effect."

A more unhappy, ill-timed, blundering exercise of episcopal
l)ower than this, it is literally impossible to conceive ! Here
was a man of singular gifts and graces, who had no objection
to anything in the Articles or Prayer-book, cast out of the
Church of England for no other fault than excess of zeal.


And this ejection took place at a time when scores of Welsh
clergymen were shamefully neglecting their duties, and too often
were drunkards, gamblers, and sportsmen, if not worse ! That
the bishop afterwards bitterly repented of what he did> is very
poor consolation indeed. It was too late. The deed was
done. Rowlands was shut out of the Church of England, and
an immense number of his people all over Wales followed him.
A breach was made in the walls of the Estabhshed Church
which will probably never be healed. As long as the world
stands, the Church of England in Wales will never get over the
injury done to it by the preposterous and stupid revocation of
Daniel Rowlands' license.

There is every reason to believe that Rowlands felt his expul-
sion most keenly. However, it made no difference whatever
in his line of action. His friends and followers soon built him
a large and commodious chapel in the parish of Llangeitho, and
migrated there in a body. He did not even leave Llangeitho
rectory; for his son, being rector, allowed him to reside there
as long as he lived. In fact, the Church of England lost every-
thing by ejecting him, and gained nothing at all. The great
Welsh preacher was never silenced practically for a single day,
and the Church of England only reaped a harvest of odium
and dislike in Wales, which is bearing fruit to this very hour.

From the time of his ejection to his death, the course of
Rowlands' life seems to have been comparatively undisturbed.
No longer persecuted and snubbed by ecclesiastical superiors,
he held on his way for twenty-seven years in great quietness,
undiminished popularity, and immense usefulness, and died at
length in Llangeitho rectory on October the i6th, 1790, at the
ripe old age of seventy-seven.

" He was unwell during the last year of his life," says Mor-
gan, " but able to go on with his ministry at Llangeitho, though
he scarcely went anywhere else. It was his particular wish that

he might go direct from his work to his everlasting rest, and
(195) 1 3


not be kept long on a death-bed. His heavenly Father was
pleased to grant his desire, and when his departure was draw-
ing nigh, he had some pleasing idea of his approaching

One of his children has supplied the following interesting
account of his last days : — " My father made the following ob-
servations in his sermons two Sundays before his departure.
He said, ' I am almost leaving, and am on the point of being
taken from you. I am not tired of work, but in it. I have
some presentiment that my heavenly Father will soon release
me from my labours, and bring me to my everlasting rest.
But I hope that he will continue his gracious presence with
you after I am gone.' He told us, conversing on his departure
after worship the last Sunday, that he should like to die in a
quiet, serene manner, and hoped that he should not be disturbed
by our sighs and crying. He added, ' I have no more to state,
by way of acceptance with God, than I have always stated : I
die as a poor sinner, depending fully and entirely on the merits
of a crucified Saviour for my acceptance with God.' In his
last hours he often used the expression, in Latin, which Wesley
used on his death-bed, ' God is with us ;' and finally departed
in great peace."

Rowlands was buried at Llangeitho, at the east end of the
church. His enemies could shut him out of the pulpit, but
not out of the churchyard. An old inhabitant of the parish,
now eighty-five years of age, says : " I well remember his
tomb, and many times have I read the inscription, his name,
and age, with that of his wife's, Eleanor, who died a year
and two months after her husband. The stone was laid on
a three feet wall, but it is now worn out by the hand of time."

Rowlands was once married. It is believed that his wife was
the daughter of Mr. Davies of Glynwchaf, near Llangeitho. He
had seven children who survived him, and two who died in
infancy. What became of all his family, and whether there are


any lineal descendants of his, I have been unable to ascertain
with accuracy.

The engraving of him which faces the title-page of the lives
drawn up by Morgan and Owen, gives one the idea of Row-
lands being a grave and solemn-looking man. It is probably
taken from the picture of him which Lady Huntingdon sent an
artist to take at the very end of his life. The worthy old saint
did not at all like having his portrait taken. " Why do you
object, sir?" said the artist at last. " Why?" replied the old
man, with great emphasis ; " I am only a bit of clay like thy-
self." And then he exclaimed, " Alas ! alas ! alas ! taking the
picture of a poor old sinner ! alas ! alas !" — " His coimtenance,"
says Morgan, " altered and fell at once, and this is the reason
why the picture appears so heavy and cast down."

I have other things yet to tell about Rowlands. His preach-
ing and the many characteristic anecdotes about him deserve
special notice. But I must reserve these points for another


Analysis of his Preaching — IVIuch of Christ — Richness of Thought — Felicity of Language
— Large Measure of Practical and Experimental Teaching — Manner, Delivery, and
Voice — Christmas Evans' Description of his Preaching — Testimony of Mr. Jones of
Creaton — Specimens of Rowlands' Sermons — Liner Life and Private Character-
Humility, Prayerfulness, Diligence, Self-Denial, Courage, Fervour — Rowland Hill s

In taking a general survey of the ministry of Daniel Rowlands
of Llangeitho, the principal thing that strikes one is the extra-
ordinary powder of his preaching. There was evidently some-
thing very uncommon about his sermons. On this point we
have the clear and distinct testimony of a great cloud of wit-
nesses. In a day when God raised up several preachers of very
great power, Rowlands was considered by competent judges to
be equalled by only one man, and to be excelled by none.


Whitefield was thought to equal him ; but even Whitefield was
not thought to surpass him. This is undoubtedly high praise.
Some account of the good man's sermons will probably prove
interesting to most of my readers. What were their pecuhar
characteristics % What were they like %

I must begin by frankly confessing that the subject is sur-
rounded by difficulties. The materials out of which we have
to form our judgment are exceedingly small. Eight sermons,
translated out of Welsh into English in the year 1774, are the
only literary record which exists of the great Welsh apostle's
fifty years' ministry. Besides these sermons, and a few frag-
ments of occasional addresses, we have hardly any means of
testing the singularly high estimate which his contemporaries
formed of his preaching powers. When I add to this, that the
eight sermons extant appear to be poorly translated, the reader
will have some idea of the difficulties I have to contend with.

Let me remark, however, once for all, that when the genera-
tion which heard a great preacher has passed away, it is often
hard to find out the secret of his popularity. No well-read
person can be ignorant that Luther and Knox in the sixteenth
century, Stephen Marshall in the Commonwealth times, and
George Whitefield in the eighteenth century, were the most
popular and famous preachers of their respective eras. Yet no
one, perhaps, can read their sermons, as we now possess them,
without a secret feehng that they do not answer to their reputa-
tion. In short, it is useless to deny that there is some hidden
secret about pulpit power which baffles all attempts at defini-
tion. The man who attempts to depreciate the preaching of
Rowlands on the ground that the only remains of him now
extant seem poor, will find that he occupies an untenable posi-
tion. He might as well attempt to depreciate the great cham-
pions of the German and Scottish Reformations.

After all, we must remember that no man has a right to pass
unfavourable criticisms on the remains of great popular preachers,


unless he has first thoroughly considered what kind of thing a
popular sermon must of necessity be. The vast majority of
sermon-hearers do not want fine words, close reasoning, deep
philosophy, metaphysical abstractions, nice distinctions, elabo-
rate composition, profound learning. They delight in plain
language, simple ideas, forcible illustrations, direct appeals to
heart and conscience, short sentences, fervent, loving earnest-
ness of manner. He who possesses such qualifications will
seldom preach to empty benches. He who possesses them in
a high degree will always be a popular preacher. Tried by
this standard, the popularity of Luther and Knox is easily
explained. Rowlands appears to have been a man of this
stamp. An intelligent judge of popular preaching can hardly
fail to see in his remains, through all the many disadvantages
under which we read them, some of the secrets of his marvel-
lous success.

Having cleared my way by these preliminary remarks, I will
proceed at once to show my readers some of the leading charac-
teristics of the great Welsh evangelist's preaching. I give them
as the result of a close analysis of his literary remains. Weak
and poor as they undoubtedly look in the garb of a translation,
I venture to think that the following points stand out clearly in
Rowlands' sermons, and give us a tolerable idea of what his
preaching generally Avas,

The first thing that I notice in the remains of Rowlands is
the constant presence of Christ m all his addresses. The Lord
Jesus stands out prominently in almost every page. That his
doctrine was always eminently "evangelical" is a point on
which I need not waste words. The men about whom I am
writing were all men of that stamp. But of all the spiritual cham-
pions of last century, none appear to me to have brought Christ

Online LibraryJ. C. (John Charles) RyleThe Christian leaders of the last century; or, England a hundred years ago → online text (page 16 of 36)