William Williams’s Description of a “Dispirited” Prayer Meeting
The Welshman William Williams, Pantycelyn (1717-1791), author of “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” and other hymns, was converted to Christ under the preaching of Howell Harris in the Talgarth churchyard in 1738. Though he had been brought up as a Nonconformist, he was ordained deacon in the Church of England in 1740 by Nicholas Claggett, Bishop of St. David’s, to the curacies of Llanwrtyd and Llanddewi-Abergwesyn. Along with Daniel Rowland, with whom he later served as an assistant at Llangeitho, he was to become one of the great leaders of the Evangelical Revival in Wales. The Welsh Evangelicals, or “Methodists,” as they were called, were largely Calvinistic. Thus they were called the Calvinistic Methodists.
The general tenor of the Calvinistic Methodists was one of warmth and zeal, but this did not mean that they were beyond facing darkness, doubt, and discouragement in their work. The year 1762 was one of particular blessing, but it was preceded by a low ebb. Williams’s description of a prayer that was offered in a disheartened prayer meeting at that time is quite remarkable:
At last, forced by cowardice, unbelief, and the onslaughts of Satan, we resolved to give up our special meeting, and now we were about to offer a final prayer, fully intending never again to meet thus in fellowship. But it is when man reaches the lowest depths of unbelief that God imparts faith, and when man has failed, that God reveals Himself. So here with us, in such straits, on the brink of despair, with the door shut on every hope of success, God Himself entered into our midst, and the light of day from on high dawned upon us. One of the brethren, yes, the most timid of us all, the one who was strongest in he belief that God would never visit us, while in prayer, was stirred in his spirit and laid hold powerfully on heaven as one who would never let go. His tongue spoke unusual words, his voice was raised, his spirit was aflame. He pleaded, he cried to God, he struggled, he wrestled in earnest like Jacob, in agony of his soul. The fire took hold of others, all were awakened, the coldest to the most heedless took hold and were warmed; the spirit of struggling and wrestling fell on all, we went with him into the battle; with him we laid hold upon God, His attributes, His Word and His promises, resolving that we would never let go our hold until all our desire should be satisfied.
Williams described the revival that followed in these words:
The sermons were a delight, the listeners plentiful, thoughtful, and eager to listen. There were some convicted in every service….Now the tone of the whole district was changed.
[William Williams, The Experience Meeting, pp. 8-10, cited by Eifion Evans in Daniel Rowland and the Great Evangelical Awakening in Wales, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1985), 313-314.]
“O God, we have heard with our ears, our fathers have told us the work that You did in their days, in the days of old” (Psalm 44:1). “Let Your work appear to Your servants and Your majesty to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us; and confirm for us the work of our hands; yes confirm the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:16-17). Amen.