Howell Harris did not only preach in Wales, of course, but ventured into England as well.
On one occasion he was preaching with fellow Methodist John Cennick in Swindon in Wiltshire, South West England.
Before long there was a strong reaction and considerable gang of trouble makers were out to stop these Evangelists from preaching.
Threatened with Guns
Cennick wrote, ‘The mob fired guns over our heads, holding the muzzles so near to our faces that Howell Harris and myself were both made as black as tinkers with the powder. We were not affrighted, but opened our breasts, telling them we were ready to lay down our lives.…
Splattered with Sewerage
‘Then they got dust out of the highway and covered us all over; and then they played an engine upon us, which they filled out of the stinking ditches.
‘While they played on brother Harris, I preached; and when they turned the engine upon me, he preached. This they continued till they spoiled the engine; and they threw whole buckets of water and mud over us.
‘After we left the town, they dressed up two images, called one Cennick and the other Harris, and then burnt them.
The home and family of the hospitable attacked
The next day they gathered about the home of Mr. Lawrence, who had received us, and broke all of his windows with stones, cut and wounded four of his family, and knocked down one of his daughters.’ (John Cennick, Memorable Passages relating to the Awakening in Wiltshire (unpublished, but referred to in Dallimore, George Whitefield, Wakeman Press, p.142, and Christian History)
Pressing on until grace wins
Yet these heroes continued to proclaim the gospel message, overcoming the resistance and transforming the culture. If ever we needed an encouragement to persevere then here it is, in the heroism of the 18th Century Evangelists.
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