The Holy Spirit and Authority in Preaching (MLJ on Harris part 4)

Howell Harris
Howell Harris

We’ve been spending some time looking at the conversion experience of the Welsh Evangelist Howell Harris.

Harris, through his tireless evangelistic work is credited with being the founder of Welsh Calvinistic Methodism. He also, through his example, helped launch George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers’ ministry of preaching in the fields.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (also a Welshman) spoke about him at the Puritan Conference in London in 1973 and emphasised not only Harris’ conversion but also the fact that he received ‘a baptism of power’ in the Holy Spirit. Lloyd-Jones believed this was the key to his evangelistic success.

Indeed, thousands came to Christ. The power of the Spirit in Harris’ life affected not only his willingness to speak but also his effectiveness in speaking. He talked about ‘the authority’ of God coming upon him and moving the hearers.  He would wait for the ‘authority’ to come and then speak with greater freedom and power.

Lloyd-Jones last sermon

Lloyd-Jones also was deeply concerned for this subjective but vital aspect in his own preaching. The preached word was to come with authority.

I have friends who were at Barcombe Baptist Chapel, in East Sussex and heard Lloyd-Jones deliver his very last sermon. One told me how the Doctor started slowly and seemed to get going with some difficulty. But then, wondrously, it was as though a sudden power came upon him, that energised him and electrified the congregation. Suddenly all were awake and alert: God was speaking with authority through a man. Lloyd-Jones felt that in Harris’ case (where he would sense ‘the authority’ and then speak spontaneously without any notes or preparation and with powerful effect) it was close to the gift of prophecy in 1 Corinthians 12.

A first-hand gospel

For Harris, as well as Lloyd-Jones, this was a deeply prized token of God’s presence and favour both for him and his hearers. It had the effect of making the gospel ‘first-hand’, fresh, and immediately powerful.

Harris, describes this immediacy. He was more concerned with preaching an experienced Christ and the Spirit enabled him to do so: ‘That which I experienced, proved, and felt and saw and heard of the Word of Life, that also I proclaim.’ (quoted by MLJ in Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans and their Successors, Banner of Truth Edition p.296)

A bold man dies much loved by the people he served

Wales mourned when Harris died. A truly great and much loved hero had gone to glory. 20,000 people were present! The Countess of Huntingdon attended and wrote of the emotion that was too strong to suppress:

‘But amidst the sorrow and tears of the audience that thronged the building an interruption took place. The officiating clergyman, being unable to proceed on account of his emotion, handed the Prayer Book to another – that does not often happen – but the second clergyman also lost self-control and passed the book to a third, when he again by reason of the same cause was unable to go on; and thus in silence were the remains of the great man laid to rest in the chancel in the Parish Church at Talgarth, and in the same grave in which his wife had been buried a few years before’. (quoted by MLJ, ibid, p.301)

What about us?

Oh my dear friend, are you a Christian? Then go to God and be filled with the Holy Spirit. If you need to find a church near you try here as one option.

Have you been baptised in the Spirit? Why did you think it was just for you? There are multitudes all around you who do not know Christ. Are you going to leave them as you travel on your way to heaven? Are you not going to be stirred by God to get up and do something for Him that will help people find their way to Christ?

How long O Lord, before you pour out your Spirit once more upon your people and turn our nations to you?

To read part one of Lloyd-Jones on Howell Harris click here

To read the next post in this series click here

You can purchase ‘The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors’ here

© 2009 Lex Loizides

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‘A Fire was Kindled in my Soul’ – Howell Harris and Revival

Howell Harris
Howell Harris

We’ve seen that Howell Harris, the man who pioneered outdoor preaching in the 1700’s, was spurred on to a preaching ministry by a direct infilling of the Holy Spirit.

He saw the Spirit’s anointing as the source of his authority to preach and bring multitudes to Christ – even though he was angrily opposed by clergymen and violent mobs.

But he writes, ‘A fire was kindled in my soul and I was clothed with power…I could have spoken to the King were he within my reach – such power and authority did I feel in my soul…I lifted up my voice with authority…’ (Quoted in Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, Banner of Truth, Vol 1. P.240)

Waiting for the Spirit’s Power

He began by simply going from house to house and reading from a book. When he felt the power of the Spirit filling him he would preach, but still as though he were reading.

Eventually, as the Spirit fell upon him with such power he began to preach freely, often without any particular preparation and often with a sweeping power that affected all who listened. He referred to this as ‘the gale descending’. Houses became too small to contain the hearers. And so he began preaching in fields, and at town fairs.

Dallimore writes, ‘Because he was unordained, Harris refused to practice any kind of formal sermonisation, and stood before his congregations without a prepared message.

He looked to God for wisdom and power and as he began to speak his soul took fire and his speech became like a mighty torrent and rushed forth with tremendous conviction.’

Scorching hot from the Preacher’s heart

‘It was said, ‘The words flowed scorching hot from the preacher’s heart’, and ‘He would go on thus, pouring out old things and new for two, three or even four hours. Indeed, we have instances of his services continuing without a break for six hours.’

This work was mightily used of God. Harris ranged over a wide area of South Wales, and held meetings anywhere and at any time till the whole countryside became conscious of his condemnation of sin.

Under the power of the Holy Spirit hearts were broken, and it was not uncommon for people to come under such conviction that they would cry aloud to God for mercy while he preached.

Hundreds were converted – among them some of the most notorious sinners – and Harris made plans for their upbuilding by organizing them into societies.’ (ibid, p.241-242)

2500 miles on foot!

Harris himself kept detailed accounts of his meetings and his experiences of the Spirit in his diaries and was able to record that he had walked more than 2500 miles between meetings in Wales in just two years!

His passion for evangelism and his breathtaking success in bringing thousands to Christ became a stimulus to Whitefield and others. He was so popular in Wales that at his funeral the Countess of Huntingdon recorded that no fewer than 20,000 people gathered at his funeral.

A Voice in the Wilderness

But, back in the late 1730’s, as multitudes in Wales were gathering to hear him, as the ‘ordained’ clergy opposed him, Howell Harris, almost a voice in the wilderness, wondered ‘There must be some worthy men in the world of the same mind as myself!’  (ibid p.234)

Indeed, God had not only saved this pioneer preacher in Wales. In the year of Harris’s conversion Daniel Rowland had also come to Christ, so had George Whitefield and John Cennick. Thus God had sovereignly saved four of the men who were to be used mightily in the Great Awakening. 1735 was a vintage year!

The Wesleys’ conversions soon followed and a prayer meeting took place on January 1st 1739 that was to be the launch of a revival movement that would shake Britain and America.

These men had experienced individual outpourings of the Spirit, now the Spirit was to come upon them as they gathered together!

More next time…

To read Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Howell Harris click here

© 2009 Lex Loizides