It is generally agreed that the two most prominent leaders of the 18th century revival in Wales were Howell Harris and Daniel Rowland. They had much in common. They were about the same age; the Lord called them both from darkness to light in the same year (1735); they had a common friend in the minister Griffith Jones, Daniel having been called by grace under his ministry and Howell having worked for him in connection with his Charity Schools; both Harris and Rowland were called to the work of the ministry early in life and were both preaching not long after they were twenty-one.
In other ways they differed. Howell, as a great evangelist, travelled far and wide in Wales and England, while Daniel’s ministry was confined to Wales, and that largely in the area around Llangeitho in Cardiganshire, between Tregaron and Lampeter. They had also another feature in common; neither of them ever had a university education, yet Daniel was ordained as a curate in the Church of England and Howell was a staunch supporter of that Church all his life. It was to Daniel that Howell looked as the minister who, under the hand of God, was the means of bringing him into fuller revelation of the Lord Jesus to his soul. Yet in later life, they had a grievous separation of over ten years when Howell became involved in error and Daniel had to write against his friend, though the friendship was healed before Howell’s death in 1773, and Daniel lived on to a good old age, dying in 1790 at the age of seventy-seven.
But if they were thus connected, history will ever link their names and the church of God will ever associate them as the two Welsh leaders of the Great Revival of the 18th century, and in this work their talents were dovetailed: Harris the zealous evangelist and organiser of the Societies, and Daniel the stable minister and theologian of the Revival who, while he itinerated little, led the flock of God committed to his charge and was used of the Lord to the salvation of many thousands, and the sending forth of many ministers over the fifty-five years of his ministry. Daniel had been born at Llancwnlle in 1713, and was the second son of the Rev. Daniel Rowland, Rector of Llangeitho. Nothing is known of the first twenty years of his life, except that his father was fifty-four when he was born, and died in 1731 when Daniel was eighteen years old. The boy’s education was at Hereford Grammar School, and the fact that he did not go to university could possibly be connected with the death of his father. The next fact that is known about him is that he was ordained in London in 1733 at the early age of twenty, and returned to Wales to become curate to his elder brother, John, who had succeeded his father, and held the three adjacent parishes at Llangeitho, Llancwnlle, and Llandewibrefi.
For two years after his return, Daniel gave no evidence of any fitness to be a minister. He was first brought into concern when hearing the godly minister Griffith Jones preach at Llandewibrefi in 1735. This brought a complete change into Daniel’s life and ministry. He was now twenty-two and married. He began to preach as a man who knew the reality of sin and death, heaven and hell. It was said in his early ministry he preached the law, and that crowds who flocked to hear him were brought under deep conviction of sin. It was in this period, in February 1738, that Howell Harris heard him preach from Proverbs 8, which was made such a blessing to him. William Williams refers to another change which took place in his ministry, when he writes:
”After preaching for some years the stormy law and wounding very many, his tone changed; he proclaimed full, complete, perfect salvation through the Messiah’s death on Calvary. Henceforth the power of his sweet doctrines nurtured faith by revealing the Mediator, God and Man, as the foundation of free salvation; the One who freely redeemed by His precious blood; and all the treasures of heaven for a poor believer.’
Now people came to hear him from all parts, and many were brought under deep conviction. As many as two thousand at a time were in his congregation. Writing of these occasions, he said,
‘There is such power as I have never felt before, given me in preaching and administering the Lord’s Supper. The Lord comes down among us in such a manner as words can give no idea of. Though I have, to prevent nature mixing with the work, openly discountenanced all crying out, yet such is the light, view, and power God gives very many in the Ordinance, that they cannot possibly help crying out, praising and adoring Jesus, being quite swallowed up in God; and thus I was obliged to leave my whole congregation, being many hundreds, in a flame . . . this is our condition generally every Sabbath.’
People came from as many as eight counties to hear him, and he found it impossible to confine his labours to his own parish. The circumstances which first led him to preach out of his own neighbourhood are of considerable interest. A farmer’s wife from a little hamlet called Ystradffin in Carmarthenshire, a place about twenty miles to the east of Llangeitho across very open and rough country, came to see her sister who lived near Llangeitho. Having heard strange rumours about the oddities of Daniel Rowland’s ministry, she went out of curiosity to hear him, and not in vain. Returning home she visited her sister, who was surprised to see her again on the following Sunday. When asked the reason for this second visit, she said that it was something that had stuck in her mind all the week, of the previous Sunday’s sermon, and never left her night or day. She came again and again every Sunday, over the rough and mountainous road. After six months, she felt a strong desire to ask Daniel Rowland to come and preach at Ystradffin, and going up to him said, ‘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.’ Her request took Rowland by surprise, but without a moment’s hesitation, he said, ‘Yes, I will come, if you can get the clergyman’s permission.’ This she obtained, and according to his promise, he went over and preached at Ystradffin. His first sermon was wonderfully blessed, and not less than thirty persons were converted that day, many of whom afterwards came regularly to hear him at Llangeitho. From this time onward he never hesitated to preach outside his own parish, wherever a door was opened to him, though such action often annoyed other clergymen, and offended the Bishop of St. David’s. In 1741, the Bishop established a curacy at Ystradffin, which effectively stopped Rowland from preaching there, as he always had to obtain permission of local clergy, or else preach in the open air.
At no period, however, of his ministry or life, does he appear to have travelled to the same extent as many of his contemporaries, especially such a contemporary as George Whitefield. He rightly judged that hearers of the gospel needed to be built up as well as awakened, and for this work, he was peculiarly well qualified. Whatever, therefore, he did on weekdays, the Sunday generally found him at Llangeitho. Equally remarkable were the events which led to his first preaching in the open air. After his conversion, he had felt great anxiety about the spiritual condition of his former companions in sin. They disliked searching sermons, and refused to come to church at all, and their custom was to go on Sunday to a suitable place on one of the hills above Llangeitho, and there amuse themselves with sports and games. Rowland tried all means to stop this desecration of the Lord’s Day, and failed, until at last he determined to meet them on their own ground. He therefore went, and suddenly breaking into a ring as a cock-fight was going on, addressed them powerfully and boldly about the sinfulness of their conduct. The effect was so great that not a tongue opposed him: Sabbath desecration stopped, and for the rest of his life, Rowland never hesitated when occasion required him to preach in the open air.
The work which he did as he travelled round preaching beyond the confines of his parish was carefully followed up, and not allowed to fall to the ground. No one understood better than he did that souls required feeding after they had been awakened. Aided, therefore, by such men as Howell Harris, he established a regular system of societies throughout Wales, through which he managed to keep up a constant communication with all who had been blessed under the ministry, and also to provide an assembly of true believers locally within the framework of the Church of England, many of whose ministers were ungodly men. These societies were all connected with one great Association which met four times a year, and of which he was generally the moderator. This Association was the founder organisation of Welsh Calvinistic Methodism, which finally separated from the Church of England to form a separate denomination in 1811. But long before this, Rowland had been driven to leave the Church of England. His elder brother John had died in 1760, by which time Daniel had been Curate at Llangeitho for twenty-seven years. Instead of appointing him to the living, the Bishop of St. David’s took the extraordinary step of giving it to his twenty-seven year old son John, and thus the father became curate to his own son. Finally, in 1763, after many warnings, the Bishop revoked Daniel Rowland’s licence to preach, because he would not promise to stop preaching outside of his own parish. The Methodists had already built a chapel at Llangeitho in 1760, and this was replaced by a new building in 1764. Here he continued to preach, and Howell Harris reckoned that in 1763 as many as ten thousand were coming to hear him at Llangeitho. It was under Rowland’s ministry in 1773 that Thomas Charles of Bala was converted, the minister associated with Mary Jones and the founding of the British and Foreign Bible Society.
No longer persecuted by bishops and clergymen, he continued preaching in Llangeitho for twenty-seven years, ‘in great quietness, undiminished popularity and immense usefulness until he died at length in Llangeitho Rectory on the 16th October, 1790 at the ripe old age of seventy-seven’ (J. C. Ryle). He had been a pillar of orthodoxy in his life, resisting his closest friend, Howell Harris, between 1752 and 1763 (when the latter became involved with Moravian errors), and carrying on the work when Harris died in 1773. All agreed that his ministry was most exceedingly blessed, though little can be fully realised of its power, since only a few of his sermons survive, not more than eight, and these have been translated from Welsh. Yet the results of his fifty years’ ministry were to turn Wales from being a godless principality to a country renowned for the truth.
– J. R. Broome