The Welsh Saints, 1714–1814: Howell Harris and Daniel Rowland


The Welsh Saints, 1714–1814

Sixty or so years ago, Prof Geoffrey Nuttall, one of the finest twentieth-century historians of British Dissent, penned a book entitled The Welsh Saints, 1640–1660: Walter Cradock, Vavasor Powell, Morgan Llwyd. It is in the spirit of that literary gem, that this series has been entitled “The Welsh Saints, 1714–1814.” Nuttall’s trio were controversial men in their day—Richard Baxter dismissed them once as a trio of dangerous Antinomians—and so were the five in this series, who were dismissed by more staid types as misguided “enthusiasts.” Yet, as will be seen, these five saints—Howel Harris (1714–1773), William Williams Pantycleyn (1717–1791), Benjamin Francis (1734–1799), Ann Griffiths (1776–1805), and Thomas Charles of Bala (1755–1814)—have much to teach us about the nature of the Christian life, its thoughts, and its affections.


Church attendance in Wales during the early eighteenth century was infrequent and, when it did occur, it was often accompanied by irreverence.[1] When the Anglican minister Ellis Wynne o Lasynys (1671–1734), published his Welsh prose classic Gweledigaetheu y bardd cwsc (Visions of the Sleeping Bard) in 1703, he described his experience of Anglican worship thus:

There I saw some whispering, some laughing; other eyeing young maidens; yet others surveying the dress of their neighbours from head to toe; some fighting and quarreling about privileged positions, some asleep, others diligent in their devotion, and some of these even were hypocrites.[2]

Diocesan records for Wales are replete with clergymen being censured for immorality, drunkenness, vile speech, and a crass neglect of their duties.[3]

Part of the reason for this spiritual situation of the Church of England in England and Wales is the fact that in the year 1662 around two thousand ministers of the Church of England, the most spiritually-minded group of the established Church at the time, had been expelled from her ranks for refusing to conform completely to the rites and practices of the Church of England. These men and women, known to history as the Puritans, had sought unsuccessfully for close to a hundred years to bring reform and renewal to the Church of England. Eventually these ministers and their congregations were forced out to join three fledgling denominations: the English Presbyterians, the Independents of Congregationalists, and the Particular Baptists, also known as the Calvinistic Baptists. These three groups, along with an Arminian body, the General Baptists, and the Quakers, became known as the “Dissenters” or “Nonconformists.” Little wonder then that the Church of England in Wales found herself at a distinct spiritual disadvantage when it came to moral and spiritual advance in the early eighteenth century. Many of the most spiritual men and women in England and Wales were now marginalized as Dissenters.

Of the three Dissenting denominations, it was especially the Congregationalists and the Particular Baptists who stayed true to Christian orthodoxy during the eighteenth century. But far too many of these Dissenters—especially the Particular Baptists—were stagnant and not reaching out to the unsaved with the gospel. The spiritual situation in which early eighteenth-century Dissenters thus found themselves is well described by two Congregationalist ministers in 1737, Isaac Watts (1674–1748), the father of the English hymn, and John Guyse (1680–1761). “There has been a great and just complaint for many years,” they wrote, “that the work of conversion goes on very slowly, that the Spirit of God in his saving influences is much withdrawn from the ministrations of his word, and there are few that receive the report of the gospel, with any eminent success upon their hearts.” They were thus constrained to pray, “Return, O Lord, and visit thy churches, and revive thine own work in the midst of us.”[4]

Revival in Wales: its preparation

Now, it is an amazing fact that the revival for which Isaac Watts and John Guyse prayed did not originate in England among the Dissenters—the heirs of Puritanism, the leading evangelical movement of the seventeenth century—but within that body which had actually persecuted the Puritans, namely, the Church of England. From our perspective, this fact can only be seen as a display of God’s sovereignty!

The first flames of revival in the British Isles were visible in Wales. During the days of the English Republic in the 1640s and the 1650s, special attention had been paid to Wales by Puritan leaders such as the Congregationalists Walter Cradock (c.1610–1659) and Morgan Llwyd (1619–1659), the open-membership Baptist preacher Vavasor Powell (1617–1670) and John Miles (1621–1683), the father of the Baptist movement in Wales.[5] But after the Restoration of Charles II (1630–1685), many areas of Wales lapsed into moral and doctrinal decline. Heightening this state of affairs was the fact that Welsh was the dominant language of the country and there was little by way of Christian literature in Welsh.

One key Welshman, though, who was deeply moved by the spiritual ignorance rampant in Wales before the revivals and who was greatly used of God to prepare the way for these revivals was the  Anglican clergyman, Griffith Jones (1683/1684–1761) who has been well described as “the Morning Star” of the eighteenth-century awakenings,[6] and whom one author has gone so far to call “the greatest Welshman of the eighteenth century.”[7] Born in Carmarthenshire, Griffith Jones was christened on May 1, 1684, two months after the death of his father, John ap Griffith. His early years were spent keeping sheep, though a longing for education was eventually realized when he went to study at Carmarthen Grammar School. Converted at a young age, he was encouraged by a local minister to seek his vocation within the Church of England. He was ordained in September, 1708, and, because of the spiritual power attending his preaching he was soon speaking to large crowds in southern Wales. By the time that he came to the final parish that he was to serve, in Llandowror, Carmarthenshire, in 1717, he was widely known as a remarkable preacher of the gospel. It is noteworthy that not only in message and method [field-preaching], but also in the opposition he aroused, Jones anticipated the George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers, John (1703–1791) and Charles (1707–1788).

Even more remarkable than his career as an evangelist was his work for religious education. He saw that no kind of renewal of Christianity could take place amid an ignorant and untutored population. In order to raise the literacy level, he developed a catechetical class, which met on Sunday evenings. This developed into the Circulating Welsh Charity Schools. In the beginning, he found that of the 60 to 80 children, who came into his schools, not more than 3 or 4 could say Lord’s Prayer. The schools began in the winter of 1731–1732; they expanded to the point that, by his death in 1761, there were almost 3,325 schools which, by a conservative estimate, taught 200,000 to read, at a time when the population of Wales was between 400,000 and 500,000.[8] One other significant aspect of Griffith Jones’ ministry was his reliance on the Holy Spirit. This is clear from the following text that he wrote in 1733:

I wish I had more of the unction of this Holy Spirit to carry me through the work of my day and assist me to live in a closer communion with God. It has sometimes refreshed my soul to consider that among all the precious promises in the Holy Scriptures, there is not one more full, and worded in stronger terms of assurance, than that of the heavenly Father giving the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him, Luke 11:13. And this should put us upon asking in faith, which can never fail to succeed.[9]

Another key preparatory figure of the Welsh revival was a Particular Baptist by the name of Enoch Francis (1688–1740) who ministered within 20 miles of Griffith Jones’ parish. Wherever he went, vast crowds would assemble to hear him preach free salvation through the amazing love of Christ. It was said that he rarely preached without tears streaming down his face, which was something of an exception among Welsh Baptists of that time.[10] But the two key figures in the Welsh revival belonged to Church of England: Howell Harris (1714–1773) and Daniel Rowland (1711–1790).

Howell Harris

Griffith Jones was the morning-star of the revival in Wales and Daniel Rowland was possibly the most prominent preacher in it, but it was the conversion of Howell Harris in 1735 which directly initiated the Welsh Revival.[11] On Palm Sunday of that year, Howell Harris, a schoolmaster who was taken up with “dice playing, drinking, gossiping and love-making,”[12] attended morning worship at Talgarth Parish Church. The vicar, Pryce Davies (d.1761), gave an exhortation before the Lord’s Supper: “if you are not fit to come to the Lord’s Supper …, you are not fit to live; you are not fit to die.”[13] For eight weeks Harris was in spiritual turmoil till at last, on Pentecost Sunday at the Lord’s Table, he received assurance that his sins were forgiven.

In 1736, Harris was introduced to Griffith Jones, and over the next 15 years he spent a good amount of time at Llandowror, where Jones was rector.[14] Harris flayed his body to preach the Gospel. At first, he tried to combine school-teaching in the day with preaching in the evening, making do with two hours’ sleep at night or none at all. But at the end of 1737 the school managers issued an ultimatum: “either stop preaching or leave school.” He left and till 1749 devoted his life to itinerant evangelism. For example, over one period of thirty-three days in 1747 he wrote in his journal: “I traveled about 600, miles, … and came home at two in the morning last Sunday after traveling last week about 250 miles.” [15]

During this time, Harris had no definite income. And he often went without adequate meals and more than once had to sell his books to buy food. Concerning his journeys, he said: “I travel the least expensive, … often eating a cake or an apple in order to be sparing [i.e. to avoid dining at an inn].”[16] But the experience of God’s power through Harris’ preaching impelled him to continue and under his ministry, hundreds were soundly converted and organized into religious societies.[17] Like Griffith Jones, Harris was convinced of the vital importance of having the Holy Spirit’s power and anointing. As he once asked, “What is the Bible but a dead letter to us till we do experience the work of the Holy Spirit in us?”[18]

By 1747, though, Harris was physically exhausted and he really needed a complete rest. But in his zeal, he labored on. On top of his physical exertion, while preaching in Bala, North Wales, in 1748, he was suddenly attacked and received, he later said, “a blow on the head with violence enough to slit my head in two.”[19] Although he said that he had not been affected by the blow, there was possibly some temporary damage, for his actions over the next few years became quite odd and he began to put forward some strange ideas.

He asserted that it was God the Father who died on the cross and that “there is no God but Jesus Christ.” He threatened to part company with any who disagreed with him on this score.[20] He bought tickets in a lottery in the hope of winning money that he said he would use to support an orphanage that Whitefield had established in Georgia.[21] He also created confusion in the revival by claiming that his ministry was superior to that of Rowland.

Possibly the most foolish of his actions in this period of time was Harris’ admittance to his home of a Mrs. Sidney Griffith (d.1752), or “Madam Griffith,” as she was wont to be called, the wife of a boorish, drunken squire. She had fled her husband and taken refuge with Harris and his wife. She was, it seems, “a woman of some strength of personality, mental ability and personal attractiveness.”[22] In time, Harris came to believe that she had been possessed the apostolic gift of prophecy and discernment of spirits.[23] And since Harris’ wife refused to accompany him on his evangelistic tours, Madam Griffith went in her stead.[24] There was no evidence that the association was immoral, but it was highly indiscreet and harmful.[25] When Whitefield learned of Harris’ association with Mrs. Griffith he travelled especially to Wales to order her out of the Harris home.[26] She refused to leave and actually accompanied Harris to London in 1751, where Harris tried to preach for Whitefield. The latter lovingly refused to allow him to preach, whereupon Harris became severely critical of Whitefield, and made a number of irresponsible remarks about him. Thankfully, for the sake of the revival and Harris’ ministry, Mrs. Griffith died in 1752,

Harris returned home from London to Wales a very sick man. In fact, for the next two years, from 1751 to 1753, he was frequently confined to his bed with what he described as an “unbearable headache” and “excruciating pains in my head.”[27] This man, who had been a spiritual father to thousands, found himself all but deserted. But after about two years, his health began to return. He built additions to his home at Trevecca to create a religious community for a Christian commune of sorts. And in the 1760s, after Harris had confessed his former indiscretions and apologized for them, he was restored once again to a place of prominence in the revival. Harris’ experience reveals that times of revival can also be times of great spiritual danger, even for leaders like Harris.

Daniel Rowland

The other key figure in the revival was Daniel Rowland, an Anglican curate who came from a family of clergymen. He was converted in the same year as Harris. The instrument of conversion was none other than Griffith Jones, who had come to preach in Rowland’s parish church. According to one account, when Jones came into the pulpit, he noticed the skeptical look on the young curate’s face. Jones thus paused to pray, not only for Rowland’s salvation but also that Rowland might become the instrument of turning many to Christ. Jones’ prayer of faith was more than abundantly answered. In that very service, Rowland was brought under a profound conviction of sin and subsequently soundly converted.[28]

Christmas Evans (1766–1838), himself a gifted preacher, once stated of his fellow Welshman: “Rowland was a star of the greatest magnitude … and perhaps there has not been his like in Wales since the days of the apostles.”[29] Yet, he was less well known than Harris because his papers and writings were totally in Welsh and many of these were lost shortly after his death in 1790. Rowland was a careful preacher. His library contained a number of works by the early Fathers as well as much solid theology from his own day. Though Rowland would only take into the pulpit a small piece of paper with the outline of his sermon, behind it there was much preparation. In his early days, Rowland preached for three to four hours. As he grew more skilled as a preacher, though, three-quarters of an hour was sufficient.[30]

What is very significant is that Rowland, like Griffith Jones was aware that the source of his power in ministry was the Holy Spirit. As Rowland once noted, “If God does not pluck us, as brands out of the burning fire, by his free grace, and remove by his Spirit the veil of darkness and ignorance from our minds, none can be saved.”[31] One Sunday morning, a friend found Rowland still lying in bed and urged him to make haste to get dressed and ready for the pulpit. “I am not quite ready,” he replied. “I have nothing from the Lord to say to the people! I was looking up all last night and had no sleep!” Rowland was not merely referring to the matter of sermon preparation. He also had in mind the Holy Spirit’s preparation of the preacher’s heart.[32] Typical of those converted under Rowland was Thomas Charles (1755–1814), who would himself become a great preacher. Charles was converted in 1773 at Llangeitho. He later described his experience thus:

The change a blind man who received his sight experiences doth not exceed the change I at that time experienced in my mind … I had such a view of Christ as our high priest, of his love, compassion, power, and all-sufficient as filled my mind with astonishment—with joy unspeakable and full of glory.[33]



[1] Eifion Evans, Daniel Rowland and the Great Evangelical Awakening in Wales (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1985), 12.

[2] Cited Evans, Daniel Rowland, 12.

[3] Cited Evans, Daniel Rowland, 13.

[4] Isaac Watts and John Guyse, “Preface” to Jonathan Edwards, A Narrative of a Surprising Work of God in Jonathan Edwards on Revival (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965), 2–3.

[5] D. Densil Morgan, “Continuity, Novelty and Evangelicalism in Wales c.1640–1850” in Michael A.G. Haykin and Kenneth J. Stewart, ed., The Emergence of Evangelicalism: Exploring Historical Continuities (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008), 90–92.

[6] Christopher J. Tokeley, “Griffith Jones, ‘Morning Star’ of the Evangelical Revival in Wales,” In writing: The magazine of the Evangelical Library 114 (Spring 2008): 26–31.

[7] Geraint Jenkins, “ ‘An old and much honoured soldier’: Griffith Jones, Llanddowror,” The Welsh History Review 11 (1983): 449. See also Eifion Evans, Fire in the Thatch: The True Nature of Religious Revival (Bryntirion, Bridgend: Evangelical Press of Wales, 1996), 57–74.

[8] It is noteworthy that “the areas in which the Methodist societies had established themselves by about 1740 were exactly those regions of the south where the schools were” (Philip Jenkins, A History of Modern Wales 1536–1990 [London: Longman, 1992], 156).

[9] Cited Evans, Daniel Rowland, 34–35.

[10] Evans, Daniel Rowland, 15.

[11] Michael R. Watts, The Dissenters. From the Reformation to the French Revolution (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), 396.

[12] Cited A. Skevington Wood, The Inextinguishable Blaze: Spiritual Renewal and Advance in the Eighteenth Century (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1960), 48.

[13] Cited Wood, Inextinguishable Blaze, 49.

[14] Geoffrey F. Nuttall, Howell Harris, 1714–1773. The Last Enthusiast (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1965).

[15] Watts, Dissenters, 397.

[16] Arnold A. Dallimore, George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth-Century Revival (1979, Westchester, IL: Cornerstone Books, 1980), 2:295.

[17] Nuttall, Howell Harris, 16–17.

[18] Cited R. Tudur Jones, “The Evangelical Revival in Wales: A Study in Spirituality” in An Introduction to Celtic Christianity, ed. James P. Mackey (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1989), 249.

[19] Cited Dallimore, George Whitefield, 2:298.

[20] Dallimore, George Whitefield, 2:299.

[21] Dallimore, George Whitefield, 2:297.

[22] Dallimore, George Whitefield, 2:298.

[23] Dallimore, George Whitefield, 2:299.

[24] Watts, Dissenters, 419.

[25] Nuttall, Howell Harris, 51–52.

[26] Dallimore, George Whitefield, 2:300.

[27] Dallimore, George Whitefield, 2:300.

[28] Wood, Inextinguishable Blaze, 46–46; Evans, Daniel Rowland, 33–34.

[29] Cited Evans, Daniel Rowland, 1–2.

[30] Alan Luff, “250 Years of the Welsh Revival,” The Expository Times 97, no.12 (1986): 366.

[31] Evans, Daniel Rowland, 374.

[32] Evans, Daniel Rowland, 373–374.

[33] Jenkins, History of Modern Wales, 160.

Picture of Michael A.G. Haykin

Michael A.G. Haykin

Michael A.G. Haykin serves as professor of church history and biblical spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is also the Director of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies also on the campus of Southern Seminary. He is the author of several books including Iron Sharpens Iron: Friendship and the Grace of God. He is married to Alison and they have two children.
Picture of Michael A.G. Haykin

Michael A.G. Haykin

Michael A.G. Haykin serves as professor of church history and biblical spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is also the Director of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies also on the campus of Southern Seminary. He is the author of several books including Iron Sharpens Iron: Friendship and the Grace of God. He is married to Alison and they have two children.