Evangelical Magazine https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com A bimonthly print magazine, published by the Evangelical Movement of Wales Tue, 22 Oct 2019 11:21:04 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3.1 The hymn that made the welkin ring https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/the-hymn-that-made-the-welkin-ring/ Thu, 12 Dec 2019 18:00:44 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=2658 If he had been asked to guess which of his approximately 6,500 hymns would become the most famous and popular around the world, it is highly unlikely that Charles Wesley would have got the answer right. As we shall see, it required a stroke of genius over a century later for ‘Hark! the herald angels sing’ to become universally regarded as an essential part of Christmas worship.

It was written, as were so many of Wesley’s most enduring hymns, within a few months of his conversion in 1738. Charles’ brother John had trusted Christ just three days after him, and their journals record that their first Christmas spent together in full assurance of saving faith was a truly joyful time.

Tinkering with the words

The subsequent history of this slow burner of a hymn is rather complex, and also a reminder that few of the great hymns of the past have remained unchanged over the years. As a result, complaints about tinkering, for whatever reason, with much-loved words are nothing new. Just forty years after the writing of our hymn, John Wesley had to protest in the preface of his new Methodist hymnbook about the way in which others had turned his brother’s hymns into ‘nonsense’ and ‘doggerel’. They must be printed ‘just as they are’, he insisted, ‘because they are beyond the possibility of improvement!’

But the most famous, and successful, tinkering had already taken place – by the hand of no less a figure than George Whitefield. When compiling ‘A Collection of Hymns for Social Worship’ in 1753, not only did he omit two of Wesley’s original ten four-line stanzas, but he dared to completely alter the hymn’s first two lines.

Wesley had opened with the words,

Hark, how all the welkin rings

Glory to the King of Kings.

Now this was a strong beginning. In the 18th century, most people would have understood the idiom. They might not have been able to tell you what the ‘welkin’ was, but they knew that ‘to make the welkin ring’ meant to make a great noise, usually in celebration.

Quite why Whitefield felt he needed to change the lines is therefore rather a mystery. Perhaps he objected to the ancient and discredited cosmology in which the welkin was the solid surface of the vault of heaven which might ring like a bowl if the noise on earth were only loud enough. Anyway, for whatever reason, Whitefield changed the opening words to the ones we all know and love:

Hark! The herald angels sing

Glory to the new-born King.

This quite possibly saved the hymn from premature obscurity.

But the arch-tinkerer of hymns in the 18th century was a man called Martin Madan. He was converted under the preaching of John Wesley and became a very popular preacher until he unfortunately published a book advocating the practice of polygamy. Anyway, his extensive alterations very often proved successful and many of the hymns of the time that we still sing today bear his mark. When Madan published our hymn in his ‘Psalms and Hymns’ in 1760, Wesley’s rather weak original lines

Universal nature say

‘Christ the Lord is born today.’

happily became

With the angelic host proclaim

Christ is born in Bethlehem.

The hymn takes shape

The next notable year in the history of ‘Hark! The herald angels sing’ is 1782. When, in that year, Cambridge University reprinted what is generally known as ‘Tate and Brady’, the Church of England’s officially approved metrical version of the Psalms, there were some blank end pages which an enterprising printer thought he could usefully fill. He selected five hymns for the purpose, of which our hymn was one. What is most remarkable, however, is that it was printed for the first time in what thereafter became its standard form. In other words, this anonymous publisher turned the first six stanzas into three eight-line verses and added Whitefield’s opening two lines as a refrain to each verse – exactly as it appears in many hymnbooks to this day.

One other readily adopted amendment is worthy of note. Sometime in the early 19th century, someone changed

Pleased as man with men to appear

Jesus! Our Immanuel here!

to

Pleased as man with man to dwell

Jesus, our Emmanuel.

This raises the sensitive, modern question of gender inclusivity, as do a couple of other lines in the hymn. One simple and unobtrusive solution has been proposed by ‘Hymns for Today’s Church’ – and later taken up by ‘Praise!’:

Pleased as man with us to dwell

Jesus, our Emmanuel.

A stroke of genius

But at this point we need to consider the stroke of genius that transformed the fortunes of Wesley’s hymn. The great composer, Felix Mendelssohn, had been brought to a living faith in Christ initially through his study of the scriptural text of J. S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion. He was also captivated by the hymns of Martin Luther, always carrying an edition of them with him.

In 1847, very shortly before Mendelssohn’s untimely death at the age of 38, he was in London directing the UK premiere of his oratorio Elijah. Singing in the chorus of that performance was a teenager named William Hayman Cummings. Now Cummings was destined to have a long and very distinguished musical career of his own, but his early appreciation of the oratorios of Mendelssohn soon led to a remarkable and unlikely outcome.

As the young organist at Waltham Abbey, Cummings decided in 1855 that ‘Hark! The herald angels sing’ demanded a far better and livelier tune than any of those to which it had so far been set. He soon chose and arranged the tune from the second chorus of Mendelssohn’s Festgesang, written in 1840 to mark the 400th anniversary of Gutenberg’s invention of movable type printing.

Cummings subsequently printed his arrangement, which became instantly popular when adopted in the 1861 edition of the highly influential ‘Hymns Ancient and Modern’. Wesley’s hymn now received the widespread recognition and appreciation it had long deserved but never achieved. William Cummings’ stroke of genius brought text and tune together in a perfect marriage that would never be broken.

The irony is not simply that Wesley obviously never heard Mendelssohn’s tune and Mendelssohn probably never read Wesley’s words, but that both had left instructions that should have prevented the marriage of the two. Wesley had requested and received slow and solemn music for his hymn, and Mendelssohn had suggested to his English publishers that his tune could do with some new words, as long as they were not sacred!

Our greatest Christmas hymn

No modern hymnbook, to my knowledge, includes all original ten stanzas, but it is well worth checking them out online. ‘Christian Hymns’ manages the first eight in four eight-line verses, while ‘Praise!’ also offers eight, but adopts Whitefield’s selection of stanzas 1-7 completed with the very strong stanza 9.

Above all, however, ‘Hark! The herald angels sing’ displays all the glorious, Christ-exalting strengths of the very best of Wesley’s hymn-writing – crammed as it is with a heady mix of biblical references and uncompromising doctrine, all mingled together with vivid spiritual experience and exhortation.

Long may the welkin ring to the sound of this our greatest Christmas hymn!

]]>
Christmas Jumpers https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/christmas-jumpers/ Thu, 05 Dec 2019 18:00:00 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=2632 What would Christmas be without Christmas trees, Christmas dinner, Christmas carols, Christmas cards or, more recently, the Christmas jumper?

Christmas gives us the opportunity to wear clothes we would never normally be seen dead in. What other time of the year would we wear to work an elf’s outfit or a jumper which lights up or plays jingle bells? Clothing is a great way to tell your story. If you want to know who you are, look at your clothing. I’ve seen Christmas jumpers which make me think, others which make me smile and others which are just crude. They each tell us something about the person who is wearing them.

Some are just fun

I love the children’s jumper with the words ‘Santa, I can explain …’ or ‘I’m only a morning person on Dec 25th

Christmas is a time of joy. It’s great to be with the family, even if at times it can be fraught. But surely there is more to the Christmas story than just good fun. At the first Christmas the angels announced to shepherds that they were bringing good tidings of great joy and peace for all.

Others are about food

A friend of mine wore a jumper that said ‘Brussel Sprout Fan’ at a Christmas party. But for many Christmas is just a time of indulgence, or drunkenness and debauchery. On a cold winter Saturday I saw a man wearing a T shirt saying ‘’Tis the season to be smashed.’ Really?

Is this what Christmas is about? Is life just one extended party? Doesn’t the Christmas message offer an answer to the times when life is tough, when we have done wrong, when we face suffering or bereavement?  The angel told Joseph that Mary was to have a child conceived in her by God, the Holy Spirit, and that the baby’s name was to be ‘Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.’

Some declare a faith

Christians will always want to wear their faith on their sleeve, though not necessarily on a jumper! But this Christmas time, let us remember that we are celebrating the birth of a baby who is the only way for people to come to know God as their Father. The jumpers of Christmas carry many messages but the most important one, the reason for the season, is that God has come into our world to rescue us from ourselves and our sin. Every person, of every religion and background, will meet God. Either he will be their judge who will find them guilty of all the wrong of their lives, or he will welcome them as their Saviour who has forgiven them.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, God came into our world, clothing himself in flesh and blood. He was fully divine and fully human – the Word had become flesh. Throughout his life he did what only God could do: he fed the hungry, healed the sick, raised the dead back to life, calmed the storm at sea. He lived as only God could live: he never sinned in anything he thought or spoke or did. But he went to the terrible death of being crucified, where as the God-man he took on himself the sin of the guilty world. The baby laid in a crib was to lie on a cross bearing in his own body the sin of the world, so that all who trust him could be forgiven. Three days later he did what only God can do, and rose from the dead, and offering to all who will turn from their own way to God’s way new, eternal life.

The Bible pictures this new life as a garment. ‘I will greatly rejoice in the Lord. My soul shall be joyful in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation. He has covered me with the robe of righteousness’ (Isaiah 61:10). Jesus likened the offer of forgiveness and a relationship with himself to giving them ‘white garments that you may be clothed’ (Rev. 3:16).  And that ‘clothing’ is not just for Christmas, but for life … and eternity. Our own efforts will never be sufficient to earn a place in heaven. But no one who has turned from their own ways and trusted Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour will go to hell. Heaven is not a reward for doing good, but a gift which Jesus came to purchase and offer to us.

Or as one Christmas jumper says, ‘You can’t have Christmas without Christ.’

 

This article is reprinted from the booklet Christmas Jumpers published by 10Publishing and reproduced with permission

]]>
What’s in a name? https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/whats-in-a-name/ Mon, 02 Dec 2019 18:00:54 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=2637 Trying to decide what name to choose for a child can be tricky. To help them come up with ideas, expectant parents might turn to the list of most popular baby names. Since 1904, some names have held their popularity in the UK. James, for example, has always been in the top twenty. But other names have dropped out of popularity altogether, such as Hilda, which hasn’t appeared in the top 100 since the 1930s. Other names, like Lily, have made a comeback after dropping out of usage.

When we come to think about the reliability of the Bible, the popularity of baby names might not seem at all relevant. It would never have occurred to me how useful they could be until I read Peter Williams’ book, ‘Can we trust the Gospels?’ The evidence laid out in this book really adds an extra layer of confidence in seeing the Bible as reliable.

I never really questioned the Bible’s reliability until, as a teenager, I was asked to do a talk for our Christian Union on the topic. In my research, I was amazed by how much evidence there was based on the vast number of manuscripts and the archaeological finds. It helped me have confidence in the Bible before I faced any doubts.

In the twenty years since then, plenty of other books (and chapters within apologetic books) have been published to increase our confidence in the Bible. Among them now is Williams’ book, even though he only focusses on the four Gospel accounts. While his chapters take on the topic from different angles, the chapter I was most struck by was the one where he asks, ‘Did the Gospel authors know their stuff?’ In this chapter he reveals how important names are in affirming the reliability of these four Bible books.

The importance of a name

Imagine you were writing a fictional novel set at the end of the 19th century in France. One of the first things you might do is come up with names for your characters. If you wanted to make the story seem as realistic as possible, you’d want to choose authentic names that are in keeping with that period of history and that locality. Being far removed in place and time we might find that difficult.

If the writers of the Gospel accounts were making up the story of Jesus and wanted to make it appear to be authentic, they would need character names that were of the time and place. They wouldn’t be able to ask Google and find out, nor could they even go to their local library for statistical records of names. Yet, as Williams explains, ‘One of the clearest indications of the familiarity of the Gospel writers with the context they are writing about comes in the form of their knowledge of personal names’ (page 64).

Williams utilises some research by scholar Richard Bauckham, who has also produced some brilliant work emphasising the eyewitness nature of the Gospel accounts. Bauckham’s research compiles a list of the most popular Jewish names in historical records. He does this for Jews living in Palestine as well as for Jews living in other parts of the world and while some names cross over, for the most part the Jewish names in Palestine are distinct from the Jewish names in Egypt, Rome or Libya.

The authenticity of a name

Williams highlights the fact that the most popular names in Palestine at the time also accord with the most popular names in the Bible. Simon was by far the most popular male name, followed by Joseph, Lazarus, Judah and John. With the exception of Lazarus, all those names occur for multiple individuals in the New Testament. In fact, the percentage of the nine most popular names within the general population accords very closely with the percentage of New Testament characters that have the nine most popular names. If the Gospel accounts are recording real history, then this is just what you would expect to find.

In our church some of our members share the same name: John, Sian, Brian (or Bryan) and David, to name a few. We sometimes come up with ways of distinguishing one from another! Our surnames are a very easy way to do that, or we sometimes refer to Brian with an ‘I’ or Bryan with a ‘Y’. Likewise, in New Testament times, they had ways of distinguishing one Mary from another, and one Simon from another. So we end up with Simon Peter, Simon the Zealot, Simon the Leper, Simon of Cyrene. For Mary we have Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary the mother of James and John. What the Gospel writers have done is to distinguish the most popular names. However, for the less common names, such as Philip and Bartholomew, they simply record their names, since they do not need distinguishing. What Williams is showing in this is that the Gospel writers were aware, perhaps even without realising it, which names are so popular that they need distinguishing and which names are less common among the general populace.

If the Gospel writers were living at a later time period and if they were from a different geographical location, all this would be impossible to pull off plausibly, especially as the Jewish nature of Palestine was significantly changed by the war resulting in Jerusalem’s destruction in 70AD. What’s more, with four separate Gospel accounts with enough differences to make each one at least partially unique in its source, all four share the same balance of name frequency. In short, they couldn’t have just made it up from a different time period and different place from that in which the Gospels are set.

Williams sums up the chapter thus,

By far the simplest explanation is that the Gospel authors were able to give an authentic pattern of names because they were reliably reporting what people were actually called. Given that names are also hard to remember, the authentic pattern of names in the Gospels suggests that their testimony is of high quality. After all, if they had correctly remembered the less memorable details – the names of individuals – then they should have no difficulty in remembering the more memorable outline of events (page 77).

Many people today take it as given that the Gospel accounts are simply fabrications with perhaps some echoes of truth. But when even the most insignificant details recorded bear all the hallmarks of authenticity, then we should have all the more confidence in the significance of their message.

]]>
Door-to-door with a difference https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/door-to-door-with-a-difference/ Thu, 28 Nov 2019 18:00:01 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=2656 Given that so few people in our communities engage with the Church or formal religion, it is surprising when we expend so much of our evangelistic efforts at ‘bringing them to us’. Do we put on gospel services regularly and just expect people to find their way into an alien building to partake in the strange ritual of a church service? Events in neutral buildings such as cafes or restaurants are easier for visitors to come to, but this still depends upon someone being invited. The issue is – how do we reach out to the unchurched, how do we undertake the equivalent of ‘cold calling’ in our day?

When I first joined our church, it was in its early stage of being a church-plant, with a focus on the newest housing estate in West Bridgend, where building development was still taking place. The church had no regular place to meet. It had met in homes to start with, and then moved around to the local school, the local Bible College, which at that time had no large community room, and then to the local Day Nursery. Some door-to-door work had gone on, and some families had ventured in as a result. Several moves later (back to the school, back to the Bible College, to the dilapidated building of the local Labour Club and then a community centre) and we settled on renting the new premises of the Sarang Thomas Centre at Union School of Theology just after it was built. Through all the moves, the challenge was still the same – who do local people think we are and would they know where to find us?

Mission visits by two American churches over the years led to more door-to-door visitation, good conversations and good contacts but no new visitors. A Christianity Explored course was held in the local pub-restaurant and some people saw the group and came along out of curiosity. We had never met them before. Some still come along to the church. But still the challenge has been – how to meet the majority in our area who don’t have any contact with a church?

Some creative thinking led to what is now a tradition. We deliver Christmas cards to about 8,000 homes in the area every year. The card is well-produced so that people will want to display it. It advertises our Christmas carol services and contains some challenging questions, a relevant Bible text, details of our website and a contact phone number. Last year, a competition for the children in the church produced a stunning, attractive and colourful card design. Each year people have contacted us in response to the cards, come to our carol services and even joined the church.

But what of the rest of the year? How can we keep contact? Door-to-door visiting has been difficult and so many house doors in the area carry ‘no cold callers’ stickers. Open doors have become closed doors and many are suspicious because the local Jehovah’s Witnesses have proved to be unwelcome callers.

So last summer we embarked on a system of delivering prayer cards to homes in the locality during the longer summer evenings. We designed a simple card, with the logo of the church and contact details clearly displayed. The card contained the message that the church was gathering that night to pray for their street. We invited anyone interested to get in touch with us if they had any particular prayer request or wanted further information. We just dropped the card through the letterbox – we didn’t knock on the doors. While a small team of church members were out delivering the cards, a group of members stayed back in the building we rent and prayed for everyone living in the streets that were being visited.

If we met anyone while we were out delivering – a few people were putting out the recycling-or some came out to meet us, then we would take the opportunity of a gospel conversation. It was exciting to go on our delivering and wonder how the Lord would bless our endeavour?

Was there much fruit? A few people contacted us but no-one came as far as I know. Would we do it again? Yes probably, as part of our wider strategy to get the name of the Lord and the name of the church known in our community.

Any tips? Make sure that the prayer card is about postcard size or slightly larger. Think about the weight of the card. At first, we produced it on paper and the cards got scrunched up going through the letterbox. Make sure the church logo is prominently displayed. Keep the text simple – make the point that the church is praying for that street and make the offer of prayer and support clear, with a one-point contact number for phone calls or texts.

What are we doing next? Right now we are preparing to launch our evangelistic newspaper, The Bridgend Herald at a fun day held in the grounds of the local school and organised by a community association. We have been blessed with the help of the EMW in preparing this newspaper and personalising it to our local area. And of course, the church has a Facebook presence!

Pray with us that our door-to-door with a difference will make a gospel difference.

]]>
The sixth awakening https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/the-sixth-awakening/ Thu, 21 Nov 2019 18:00:14 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=2650 Rejoice, there is a growing church out there!

The background

On my desk is a remarkable little book entitled Amazing Mizo Missions by S. Nenzakhup. It tells the story of the mission work of Presbyterian and Baptist Churches in Mizoram, a remote, poor mini-state of India. They have sent out over 2,000 indigenously supported missionaries over the past 60 years – mainly to other parts of India, but also increasingly to other countries. This was essentially the fruit of Welsh Presbyterian missionaries. The first Welsh missionaries arrived in the land of the Mizo in 1894, with the first baptism in 1899. The 1904 Welsh Revival also impacted the Mizo, and, in contrast to Wales, there have been almost continual seasons of revival ever since. This represents the tail end of what historians call the ‘Fifth Awakening’.

What is an awakening? While revival is a revitalisation of Christians to new spiritual vigour, an awakening is when the wider unchurched population is impacted with a great ingathering of new believers. Historians recognise five such evangelical awakenings in the past 300 years.

  • The first was the Moravian-Wesleyan awakening (1729-1790) whose key figures were Zinzendorf, Whitefield and the Wesleys.
  • The second was the Modern Missions Movement (1790-1812) whose key figures were Edwards and Carey.
  • The third took place mainly in the USA from 1813 with the key figure, Charles Finney.
  • The fourth was in the Americas and Northern Europe (1859-1899) whose key figures were Moody, Spurgeon and Hudson Taylor.
  • The fifth was the first global awakening (1900-1914), in Wales and the Pentecostal awakening in California.

We have barely noticed the astonishing global awakening that we have experienced over the past 60 years, the like of which is unprecedented in the history of the church. I am calling this the ‘Sixth Awakening’. Why have we not been aware of this? There are many reasons: our own retreat from ‘empire’, the massive secularisation in our society with the resulting marginalisation of Christians, the decline in even the basic awareness of what the gospel is and church growth being far away in Africa, Asia and Latin America through indigenous movements inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The beginnings

There are many contributing factors to the Sixth Awakening. Here are some significant ones.

  1. The rise of evangelicalism in the late 1950s after years of the deadening influence of liberal theology. Billy Graham made evangelicals respectable again and also popularised evangelism through his crusades and missions through the global conferences he sponsored.
  2. The rush to independence (1957-1964) when most Western empires were dismantled. Western control of churches also largely ended, with a huge indigenisation and growth of churches in Africa and Asia.
  3. The Charismatic Movement from the 1960s onwards radically impacted nearly all denominations in the West with huge increases in the numbers of active Christians and growth in recruitment for missions.
  4. The Jesus Movement from 1967 which started in California before going global.
  5. The bankruptcy of Communism. The failure of the Communist coup in Indonesia and resulting Muslim pogroms which killed 2 million and led to over 6 million Indonesians turning from Islam to Christianity. The later ideological failure of Communism in China in 1976 and political failure of the USSR in 1980 gave a generation of greater openness to the gospel, an openness which is now ending.

The harvest

How can one summarise the extraordinary growth of biblical Christianity? A few vignettes may help.

  1. The numerical growth of evangelicals. In 1900 there were 72 million evangelicals in the world with 95% of them found in the West. By 1960 this had scarcely grown – only 85 million, with great declines in the West. Then came the awakening with growth to 184 million by 1980, 426 million by 2000 and possibly 680 million by 2020.
  2. The percentage of the world population that was evangelical: 4.5% in 1900 and a decline to 2.8% in 1960. But by 2000 it had risen to 7% of the world’s population, and this may be 9% by 2020. When I left for Africa in 1962, Western evangelicals were twice as many as those in Africa, Asia and Latin America, but by 2020 there will be four times as many African, Asian and Latin American evangelicals as there are in the West.
  3. Korea was impacted in 1904 by the Welsh Revival, and massive church growth has resulted in the churches sending out 20,000 missionaries. This is far higher than the 4,000 or so UK missionaries today.
  4. Massive church growth in Africa in the 1960s – mainly through indigenous movements which are increasingly evangelical in theology in recent years. Breakthroughs in Latin America from the 1970s with millions of syncretistic catholics becoming fervent evangelicals together with the Asian breakthroughs in Indonesia since 1966, China and Philippines since 1980, Iran since 1982 and India since 2000.
  5. The Anglican Communion is a case in point. We are accustomed to the very public arguments about differing theologies and gender issues among US and UK Anglicans, but few realise that by 2050 it is likely that 85% of all Anglicans will be Africans, and most of these are evangelical in theology and not sympathetic to the cultural battles in the smaller Western component of the wider Communion.
  6. The 1990s was the most extraordinary decade ever for growth with over 120 million added to evangelicals – the majority through conversion. Evangelical Christianity has moved centre stage and become the mainstream of Protestant Christianity and the only significantly growing stream of Christianity in the 21st Century.

The ending

Sadly the rate of growth of evangelicals is rapidly tailing off. Why? Many factors contribute to this

  1. The dropping birth rate – most conversions are among young people and children.
  2. The successes of evangelicals have led to complacency, pride, scandals, and compromises with political powers.
  3. The impact of ‘9/11’. Security issues have raised visa barriers and increased dangers for proclaimers.
  4. A strong reaction to globalisation. Issues such as job security, migration, greedy capitalism, diminishing credibility of democracy and a rising level of authoritarianism and persecution of Christians.
  5. The distractions of social media and the internet impacting prayer, spirituality, involvement in church activities and long-term commitment.

Our longing must be to pray fervently: ‘Lord revive us again!’

]]>
A closer walk with God https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/a-closer-walk-with-god-2/ Thu, 14 Nov 2019 18:00:13 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=2654 God must be known and felt.

Nobody comes to the Father but through Jesus Christ.

These two truths hold up the life and work of Ann Griffiths (1776-1805) – a young farmer’s wife from rural Montgomeryshire who has been called one of Europe’s leading religious poets. Her hymns articulate personal spiritual experience with theological clarity and a poetic melody. But most of all, they present Christ wonderfully from different perspectives.

This short article is not biographical. Instead, Ann will speak through one of her hymns. Poetry is not always easy. That doesn’t mean that its contents should be watered down. I hope that you’ll be able to see how close a young Christian can be to her Saviour. Ann was only 29 when she died, but her vision was clear and saturated with living hope.

Ann wrote in Welsh, and here we have the original Welsh together with the English translation. Listen to this hymn, and may we all seek after that closer walk with God:

Stormy waters

Bererin llesg gan rym y stormydd,                                            Faint pilgrim battered by the storms,

Cwyd dy olwg, gwêl yn awr                                                         Lift your gaze and see the Lamb

Yr Oen yn gweini’r swydd gyfryngol                                         Jesus Christ is mediating

Mewn gwisgoedd llaesion hyd y llawr;                                    Robed in garments trailing low;

Gwregys euraidd o ffyddlondeb,                                               Faithfulness his golden girdle;

Wrth ei odrau clychau’n llawn                                                   Ringing bells around the hem.

O sŵn maddeuant i bechadur                                                    Notes of mercy for the sinner

Ar gyfri’ yr anfeidrol Iawn.                                                         In Atonement’s endless song.

This storm-battered pilgrim (Heb. 11:13) is the sinner. It’s you and me. As we read, we are commanded to look up and see God’s Lamb mediating on our behalf (Rom. 8:34). We look carefully and realise that the Lamb flickers into that high priest (Heb. 4:14). What is he wearing? A loose garment (Ex. 28; Dan. 10:5) and a golden girdle labelled ‘faithfulness’. We can also hear the little bells ringing on the hem of his tunic.

What does it all mean?

The picture is based on the tabernacle in the Old Testament (Ex. 28). Ann visualises Jesus walking into the sanctuary as both priest and Lamb (Heb. 10:12; John 1:29). He re-emerges from the Holy of Holies – bells ringing because the sacrifice pleases God. This great high priest is alive and makes intercession for us (Heb. 7:25). Ultimately, the storm of God’s wrath doesn’t fall on us anymore because of Jesus’s ‘propitiation’ (1 John 2:2). He is storm-calmer, wrath-appeaser and empathiser (Heb. 4:14).

Cleansing waters of purification

But it doesn’t end there. The hymn goes deeper:

Cofiwch hyn mewn stad o wendid,                                         Remember this when in your weakness,

Yn y dyfroedd at eich fferau sy,                                               The healing waters feel ankle-high –

Mai dirifedi yw’r cufyddau                                                       Numberless shall be the cubits

A fesurir i chwi fry;                                                                    Measured to you in the sky.

Er bod yn blant yr atgyfodiad                                                  Children of the Resurrection

I nofio yn y dyfroedd hyn,                                                        They alone can swim its depths

Ni welir gwaelod byth nac ymyl                                              There no shore, no bottom either

I sylwedd mawr Bethesda lyn.                                                 To Bethesda’s vast expanse.

Can the healing waters cover me? The angry sea transforms into a soothing lake. Ann takes us to Bethesda, that pool in John 5 which supposedly cured the sick. In the great story of redemption, we have all been somewhere better. Ann mentions a vast lake. As you entered those healing waters, perhaps you thought it was too late and the cleansing waters all used-up. How can there be enough for my sin?

It’s enough! Why? It’s very deep. As William Cowper wrote:

There is a fountain filled with blood

Drawn from Immanuel’s veins

Where sinners plunged beneath the flood

Lose all their guilty stains.

The greek word translated as Bethesda, Βηθεσδά, literally means ‘house of mercy’ where the sinner can come freely to the water. Ann may have known Toplady’s hymn, ‘Rock of Ages’, which talks about the ‘double cure’:

Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save me from its guilt and power.

The water purifies the soul from the guilt of sin while the blood atones, taking away the power of death. A sinner need not wait for some angel to stir these waters. Like that poor crippled man in John’s gospel, go to Jesus as you are and be washed in the blood of the Lamb.

The depths of salvation

Ann then approaches the person of Christ from a different angle:

O! ddyfnderoedd iechydwriaeth,                                            O! the depth of this salvation!

Dirgelwch mawr duwioldeb yw,                                             Mystery of godliness!

Duw y duwiau wedi ymddangos                                             God of gods has now appeared

Yng nghnawd a natur dynol-ryw;                                           In the form of sinful flesh;

Dyma’r person a ddioddefodd                                                 He, it is, who bore God’s anger,

Yn ein lle ddigofaint llawn,                                                      In our place, he suffered so.

Nes i gyfiawnder weiddi, ‘Gollwng                                        Until Justice cried, ‘Release him,

Ef yn rhydd: mi gefais Iawn!’                                                  For Atonement has been made!’

Ann explores this salvation and remembers Bethlehem. God became a man, taking upon himself the likeness of sinful flesh. She then says, ‘Dyma’r person,’ or, ‘This is the person,’ who bore God’s anger, making atonement for you and me. She focuses on the Saviour; he is priest and God, but he is also man. Her mind then returns to Calvary where she sees him suffering on the cross. But then, God’s justice shouts: ‘Enough!’ The debt is fully paid!

The sea of wonders

O! ddedwydd awr tragwyddol orffwys                                  O! Blessed hour of eternal rest

Oddi wrth fy llafur yn fy rhan,                                                From my labours, home at last.

Ynghanol môr o ryfeddodau                                                   A sea of wonders

Heb weled terfyn byth, na glan;                                             Without ceasing, without shore;

Mynediad helaeth byth i bara                                                 Access free to dwell for ever

I fewn trigfannau Tri yn Un;                                                   In the mighty Three in One;

Dŵr i’w nofio heb fynd trwyddo,                                          Water to swim in without passing through,

Dyn yn Dduw, a Duw yn ddyn.                                              Man in God, and God in man.

Ann’s mind then looks forward to a time when she can be with God forever. Having experienced the stormy waters of life, the cleansing waters of purification, and the blood of atonement, she comes to the ‘Sea of wonders’. This is no physical expanse. In Ezekiel 47, the prophet is given a vision of a deep river issuing from the altar:

It was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through.

If the waters signify the gospel of Christ (Zech. 14:8), gushing forth from that final altar of Calvary, then Ann has known it in her life. There are times when she has even been overwhelmed by that gospel – it felt as if she was waist-high, but it only lasted a while. These experiences were God-filled; God seemed to inhabit her whole being: ‘Man in God and God in man.’ These moments, she says, are glimpses of that future consummation between the bride and the bridegroom.

The wonder of redemption

These are weighty things to write about! Do you find them overwhelming? Too mystical? Ann Griffiths was relatively uneducated, yet God impressed upon her heart the depth and wonder of his redemption. This was a girl in love with her Saviour. Can you say the same? I challenge you, reader, to return to that soul-refreshing view of Jesus. Go further and seek a closer walk with him. For he said himself, ‘Ask and it shall be given unto you.’ Maybe then, we will be able to say with those early Christians: ‘Maranatha!’ ‘Come Lord Jesus, come.’

If you want to find out more about Ann Griffiths, E. Wyn James has edited an excellent book with all the translations: Flame in the Mountains: Williams Pantycelyn, Ann Griffiths and the Welsh Hymn (Lolfa: 2017).

]]>
Sharing Jesus with your Sikh neighbour https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/sharing-jesus-with-your-sikh-neighbour/ Mon, 11 Nov 2019 18:00:34 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=2666 Have you met any Sikhs recently? They are often easy to spot, at least the men, with their turbans and long beards. Perhaps you have a Sikh family living in your neighbourhood. Although originally from India, many Sikhs have migrated around the world. The 2011 Census reported there to be 2,962 Sikhs in Wales.

The beginning of the religion of the Sikhs (Punjabi for ‘disciples’) can be traced to a line of ten teachers (gurus) beginning with Guru Nanak (1469-1539). These gurus preached that to be saved from the endless cycle of rebirth one must live a life of devotion to God – the ‘Formless One.’

As more and more people embraced the teaching of the gurus, several traditions arose, including the wearing of the five emblems – the panj kakke (five ‘k’s) –

  • kes (uncut hair)
  • kangha (small wooden comb)
  • kirpan (sword, now merely symbolic)
  • kacha (breeches)
  • kara (bracelet)

What Sikhs believe

Sikhs believe in the oneness of God. All people, no matter their ethnicity, social level or gender emanated from this one source and are therefore considered equal. They use terms that are drawn from both Hindu and Muslim traditions. They call God Allah (from the Arabic) as well as Parbrahm (from the Sanskrit Para Brahman, meaning the highest formless one).

Sikhs believe that human groups have developed their religious customs and institutions in different ways due to the different settings in which they live. They profess to regard all religious traditions as equally valid while condemning idolatry and injustice. The idea that God can be incarnated (take on human flesh) is rejected as that is thought to contradict belief in the oneness of God.

God is understood to be in control of all things according to his hukam, the divine order. Human beings, therefore, must submit to God’s will without any doubt or questioning.

At the same time, Sikhs believe that people should do righteous deeds in order to attain truth. Although they believe in karma – the idea that one’s deeds are preordained – they also believe that one can attain mukti (liberation of the soul from human existence) by doing good.

Sikhs believe that the gurparsad, the grace of the guru, can override the law that you get what you deserve. Acts of devotion to God may strike out the consequences of any bad actions that may have been committed and so many Sikhs will spend time meditating on God’s name.

How Sikhs worship

Sikhs worship God both individually and communally. Seriously minded Sikhs will rise early, take a bath, and recite the prescribed hymns and prayers.

Sikh communal gatherings at the gurdwara usually take place on a Sunday. Central to the service is the reading of the Sikh scriptures – compositions of the gurus collected centuries ago in a book called Sri Guru Granth Sahib. The book is central to the service because it is seen as the living Guru. At the end of the service all the participants share sacred food (karah parsad).

Afterwards, the congregation eat a meal called the langar together. This is a very important aspect of their communal life, one which they are keen to share with visitors.

Sikhs also meet together on festival days and days for honouring particular gurus.

How Sikh life is changing in the modern world

As with all communities, the Sikh community is attempting to work out how to adapt to life in the 21st century. Some have become more devoted to their tradition while others are seeking to interpret the tradition more loosely, allowing them, for example, to drink alcohol.

Still others, especially Western intellectuals, are giving more attention to how the scriptures and myths came about. This must surely result in a greater openness to both atheism and the gospel.

Social ties, however, remain strong. Values of honour and shame dominate decisions about marriage and career as well as considerations of beliefs and ultimate commitment.

Ten tips for sharing Christ with Sikhs

  1. Feel free to tell your neighbour that devotion to your Guru Jesus is the most important thing in your life. Tell them that Guru Jesus was the Formless One who took on human form for our sakes. Show them how this is taught in the Bible, e.g. in John 1:1-18 and Philippians 2:5-11.
  2. Treat your Scriptures with the utmost respect. Feel free to give a Bible or a portion of the Bible, such as the Gospel of John, to your friend and offer to read it with them.
  3. Don’t attack Sikh beliefs. Anyone whose most deeply held beliefs are under attack would defend those beliefs vigorously even if they have doubts themselves. A frank exchange of views will emerge as trust is built up.
  4. Invite your neighbour to tell you about what they consider the most important issues in life, their family and their community. Feel free to visit the gurdwara with them. You can watch the service and, though you might not want to eat the sacred food, do join them for the langar meal, for not to do so would likely cause unnecessary offence.
  5. Go out of your way to show elderly folk respect. The Bible teaches us to honour our father and mother (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1-3). It will speak volumes if you show you are different from others in the neighbourhood.
  6. Be sensitive to Sikh rules about eating and drinking. Find out if they eat meat if you invite them to your home for a meal, and don’t serve alcohol.
  7. Don’t tell your friend you want them to ‘convert to Christianity’. They will consider that as an invitation to abandon their family and community, rather than an act of devotion to Guru Jesus.
  8. Ask them if they have any questions about your beliefs and practices. The more you understand about what the Bible teaches, the easier you will find it to help others understand the truth, so make the most of every opportunity to study the Bible yourself.
  9. Share the story of your own spiritual journey with them. It will be very appealing.
  10. Pray for your friends, that they would come to devote their life to the greatest Guru of all, who is the Word become flesh, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
]]>
Down to the depths https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/down-to-the-depths/ Thu, 07 Nov 2019 18:00:52 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=2643 From bomb-disposal to preaching Christ

The military clearance diver is used to working in dark, cold and hazardous conditions. He invariably works alone in dealing with unpredictable explosive ordnances (usually underwater mines) while operating his complex breathing apparatus. A combination of extensive training, experience and meticulous attention to tried and tested procedures, have developed a hard-won capability with an impressive record of operational success.

Every incident, however, brings its own unique challenges. One miserable Friday evening in late November, the call came to a suspected ‘bomb’ in the deep-water sump of a working gasometer in the East London gasworks at Beckton. The stage for this drama had been set many years before I was born. The German 500kg SC (Sprengbombe Cylindrisch) bomb had failed to detonate as it passed through Gasometer 4 at Beckton in 1941. It had remained unnoticed until the broken nose section wrought a small hole in the skin of the holder, forty feet down in the deep sump of the gasworks.

As the bomb-disposal commander and leader of the clearance diving team, I had a very short space of time to develop a safe and rational plan to resolve numerous complex issues in which the consequences of a bad decision were very serious indeed. Roads were closed, houses and shops were evacuated and cordons established. Using an improvised air-lock entry, my small team entered the massive, cavernous and filthy, odorous gasometer.

The initial dive took me deliberately quickly through a layer of old oil and scum at the surface and into slightly less contaminated water beneath. Unfortunately, some of this surface gunge caused a malfunction in my breathing apparatus: my first breath ingested a lung-full of the foul mixture through which I was diving.

Close to panic, 10 metres below and conscious that my colleagues at the surface were blissfully unaware of my crisis, I found myself praying, handing the whole situation to a God I had never previously acknowledged. What a great sense of peace and composure as I knew that my creator God was not going to let this end in my drowning. Almost involuntarily, I regurgitated everything I could, and then some more, while holding firm to the mouthpiece in my teeth. The effect was to clear the contamination from around the offending diaphragm in the demand valve, allowing it to seal correctly and deliver the most welcome blast of clean air from the cylinders.

The beginnings of faith

‘Good drills, Boss,’ was the verdict of my fellow divers sometime later. But I know in my heart that God had answered my prayers and saved me that day. I know that because it wasn’t simply a physical rescue, I was a changed man spiritually. I knew that my God had purposed his call to me in that desperate moment. God had prepared me for all of this and his name should be given the glory for it. That sense of God’s call was with me from that moment: it is still with me today.

After the event (which was highly successful) I was full of my new-found faith. Having ‘found God’ as a moderately senior officer in the British Army, I am certain I was a ‘pain’ to some, and the object of some ridicule to others. Good Christian friends were very pleased to see the change in my lifestyle and character. Through them, I was soon to realise that I was still missing something of fundamental importance. I had not really ‘found’ God, merely learned that he was real, relevant and that he cared, even for me.

Complete salvation

Not long afterwards, I was deployed on a second tour to the Falkland Islands for six months. Looking after those old minefields and a few other staff duties did not keep me very busy. It was a great opportunity to attach myself to a Bible study group meeting next to the chapel in the new military complex. Two young RAF lads were running the studies, and I sat at the back. I wanted to get a proper understanding of the claims and convictions of this Christian faith before making any commitment.

It did not take long. Within two months, I was the one sitting at the front running the study. The RAF lads had returned to the UK, and I was asked to take it on. There is truth in the adage that there is no better way to learn than to teach. Not that it was without some difficult questioning on my part. Most importantly, I learned that I was a sinner with no way of reconciliation to God except through Christ Jesus, who went to the cross and died, bearing the full penalty for all human sin, including my own. Only through him could I be forgiven and be brought to an everlasting relationship with God.

I have relished learning and growing in Christ through God’s amazing Word. The book of Romans was the first book of the Bible I read, and remains something of a favourite, for my own development and in teaching the gospel to others. Crucially I came to Romans 10:9 as my personal prayer of commitment that December evening in 1988.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Having become a true Christian, I’m sure I was still a real pain to some, but I sensed I was less ridiculed than before and taken more seriously by most. The expectation was for me ‘to leave the Army and become a vicar.’ But, back to the call in the gasometer, I knew I was where God wanted me to be, and I remained in the great privileged mission field of the Bomb Disposal community in the British Army. God had a plan to bring many to faith as we coped with the most demanding operations, culminating in the Taliban IED (improvised explosive device) threat in Afghanistan. We came through for the Lord.

I retired from the Army in 2012 and have now re-trained for ordained ministry with the Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB). I am currently the pastor to Hope Baptist Church in Bridgend.

]]>
Unadorned clay pots https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/unadorned-clay-pots/ Mon, 04 Nov 2019 18:00:53 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=2661 The best gift for the lonely at Christmas

Are you one of those people who make a list and stock Christmas gifts the whole year through? If not, you will probably spend the last few weeks before Christmas worrying about what present will please your relatives, particularly those you don’t know well because you don’t see them very often. Yet the best gift of all, the one that literally changes lives, is the simplest. And, like an expensive fragrance, its effects last for a long time. I’ll come back to this later.

The best of times and the worst of times

Christmas can be the best of times and the worst of times (with apologies to Charles Dickens). For those who relish the season – the candlelit services, the Christmas dinner, the gifts, the air of bonhomie and so on, it’s the best of times. One of the deep blessings of Christmas is that it magnifies our sense of belonging, both in our earthly ‘bundle of the living’ and in the family of God. It affirms our sense of identity and assures us that we are valued and accepted. But for those who feel no-one wants to know them and that their lives are not worth living, Christmas is the worst of times.

Existential loneliness

These people are experiencing what is known as ‘existential loneliness’. Age UK says that over one and a half million older people are affected by it. They have grown older, absorbing ageist attitudes that constantly project old age in a negative light, such as being ‘past it’ and of no use to society. The best gift for them is hearing from another human being that God values them so much that he gave the best he had, his beloved only Son, to bring them into his family.

Loneliness from bereavement

Christmas can also be a very hard time for those who are lonely after a painful bereavement. For close-knit couples who have lived most of their lives together, the passing of one of them is like the tearing away of part of the soul. Sadly, this deep grieving can be compounded by isolation as people stay away because they don’t know what to say. A pastor in Wales once explained to me that many congregations believe it is only the role of the pastor to visit the bereaved. Seriously? Where is the instinctive reaching out from one human to another to offer comfort? A church in Southbourne runs a weekly group called ‘The Afters’, for people who are putting their lives together again after a bereavement.

When my neighbours heard that my 19-year-old grandson had been killed in a freak motorbike accident they came around and sat in my kitchen, drinking cups of tea, talking every-day trivia between themselves and scooping me up in conversation now and then. The best gift to give to the bereaved at Christmas is someone who will be there with them, not expecting anything back, but simply keeping them company.

Loneliness from isolating circumstances

Then, there’s the kind of loneliness caused when people become isolated in their own homes, because of immobility or frailty or lack of transport. Many bus routes have been axed to save money with devastating effects for older people who relied on them. Over half of all people aged 75 and over live alone, and two-fifths (about 3.9 million), say the television is their main company. Many can relate to this true, sad story. 84-year-old Edith, whose husband and daughter had died, spent Christmas day playing her telephone answering message over and over so she could hear a human voice. Often at Christmas, our national conscience is stirred by stories like this with businesses and churches putting a huge amount of effort into activities to reach people like Edith in their communities, usually run by volunteers who are pensioners themselves. For them, Christmas can be the best of times: the challenge is being able to keep helping for the rest of the year.

Clay pots and community

Whatever the cause, the answer to loneliness is not medication, it’s not entertainment or the internet – it’s people. God planned us to nurture one another’s souls, something that once came naturally in the communities we grew up in. But, even in Wales, communities have been weakened as globalisation has moved people away for work and businesses have become centralised. Even shopping isn’t entirely the local activity it used to be.

Street Associations

However, there’s a project that has been working quietly for some years now that is restoring communities in England, street by street. It’s called ‘Street Associations’ and is based in the Midlands. Although it is a secular facing work, the directors, Martin and Gina Graham, are Christians. Their aim is to change the culture of the UK by restoring communities and encouraging people to form a community in their own street. The results have been that lonely people are drawn out, neighbours get to know each other, and relationships are built.  In a survey, 98% of people said it had brought generations together and 99% said it had made their street feel friendlier. Older people thrive and loneliness is eradicated. For more information see http://streetassociations.org/the-benefits/

Southgate Family Church, the Graham’s home church, decided to adopt this scheme in their own neighbourhood. Church volunteers put invitations through doors on their streets, inviting people to an initial meeting in the local community hall. Over 90 people responded. Pastor Nick Hoult says that not only is it building community in the street, but people are coming in to the church and the street leaders are developing a pastoral, praying side that strengthens their own faith.

For Christians, it’s an opportunity to obey what Jesus said was the second most important commandment – to love your neighbour as yourself. It also follows Jesus’ pattern of going out to where the people are. It isn’t a church plant as such, which looks first and foremost to preaching the gospel to those drawn in: it’s about individuals building relationships and through those relationships, the gospel can be shared. In fact, older people are best reached with the gospel through relationship.

‘If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness,’ says 2 Corinthians 4. ‘We carry this precious message around in the unadorned clay pots of our lives.’ Never mind the expensive presents and the fancy wrappings – it’s these unadorned clay pots that make the best gifts at Christmas.

]]>
Morgan Llwyd – Hero or Heretic? https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/article/morgan-llwyd-hero-or-heretic/ Mon, 28 Oct 2019 18:00:12 +0000 https://www.evangelicalmagazine.com/?post_type=em_article&p=2608 Born exactly 400 years ago, Morgan Llwyd was one of the most remarkable Welshmen of the seventeenth century. Originally from Cynfal-fawr, near Maentwrog in Meirionnydd – the house is still there – he spent the most fruitful part of his short life in Wrexham. A memorial to him was erected at the Dissenters’ Burial Ground, now known as the Morgan Llwyd Memorial Park, in Rhos-ddu Road, Wrexham, in 1912. The Welsh-medium secondary school in Wrexham is named in his honour.

His life

To begin with, let’s look at the main events of his life. His father may well have been the celebrated poet and soldier, Huw Llwyd, who died c.1629. His mother then took him to Wrexham. There, aged sixteen, he was converted through the preaching of the Puritan Walter Cradoc, curate at St Giles’ Church. He subsequently followed Cradoc to Llanfaches in Monmouthshire, where they were associated with the beginning of Welsh Nonconformity through the founding of the Independent church in 1639. While there, he married Ann Herbert; they were to have at least eleven children.

During the Civil War, he served initially as a chaplain in the Parliamentary army. In 1644 Parliament sent him to north Wales as a travelling preacher. He chose Wrexham as a base for his activities and became the leader of the Independent church there. Under the ecclesiastical settlement introduced by the Commonwealth, in 1659 he was appointed the minister of St Giles’ Church but died that year aged only 40.

Hero?

Llwyd was perhaps the most powerful of the Welsh Puritan preachers. His labours at Wrexham were certainly impressive. Under his leadership, the Independent church there (whose roots went as far back as 1582) became the most important such congregation in north Wales.

But his continuing reputation is founded mainly on his literary accomplishments. He published a total of eight books in Welsh and three in English. The Welsh works, in particular, reveal his genius as a writer of both prose and poetry. The influence of the Bible on his writings is clear, but he was also well versed in the riches of the Welsh language and Welsh poetic tradition. His Llythyr i’r Cymry Cariadus (A Letter to the Beloved Welsh, 1653) was a milestone in the history of Welsh prose on account of its dazzling use of imagery and rhythm, while Llyfr y Tri Aderyn (The Book of the Three Birds, also 1653) is one of the classics of Welsh literature for the same reason.

Heretic?

But was Llwyd also a heretic? In seeking an answer, three areas are relevant:

  1. A Fifth Monarchist?

In the 1640s Llwyd identified himself with the Fifth Monarchists, who regarded the establishing of Christ’s kingdom on earth as imminent. With hindsight, it is easy to dismiss their ideas, but at the time the triumph of Parliament over the monarch in the Civil War persuaded them that they should make political preparations for Christ’s return as King.

However, by the mid-1650s, Llwyd realised his error. In An Honest Discourse between Three Neighbours, he rejected Fifth Monarchist thinking, arguing that Christ’s kingdom should be promoted by spiritual means rather than direct political action.

  1. A heterodox thinker?

Was Llwyd also guilty of more general doctrinal heresy? Some of his writings are clear and orthodox, but others use dramatic imagery that is open to interpretation. Based on some expressions he has been accused of rejecting Calvinism and embracing antinomianism, but he has also been ably defended on both counts.

The difficulty is that he never set out his beliefs in systematic form; he was a man of imagination rather than an academic theologian. Sometimes that imagination led him to what he and others admitted were ‘dark’ means of expression – some of his statements, taken in isolation, certainly cause raised eyebrows. We should also acknowledge that he was open to ideas from outside mainstream Puritanism. While his proclamation of basic gospel truth is undeniable, in purely theological terms, he was not as consistent or helpful as, say, Walter Cradoc. But the jury is still out on whether he was a ‘heretic’ as such.

  1. A mystic Quaker?

As part of the 20th-century theological downgrade, it became fashionable to regard Llwyd as a mystic and quasi-Quaker.

He was certainly attracted by the work of Jacob Boehme (c.1575-1624), a German philosopher of marked mystical tendencies. Much of Boehme’s thinking is incomprehensible, but he seems to have believed that divine light is to be found not only in the Bible but also in creation and in man. Llwyd accepted this teaching but differed from Boehme in viewing the divine light in man as the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in the believer.

Llwyd’s position is not entirely without biblical support. It must be added that he emphasised the work of the Spirit because he feared that some Puritans were neglecting genuine Christian experience through a dry scholastic orthodoxy. But people could easily interpret his references to the ‘divine light in man’ as a form of Quakerism. Some of Llwyd’s congregation at Wrexham, in fact, became Quakers. Llwyd himself, however, clearly rejected Quakerism, as indicated in his Lazarus and his Sisters Discoursing of Paradise and Where is Christ? (both 1655).

In recognising the dangers of a mere intellectual faith, he perhaps overemphasised Christian experience. But as Where is Christ? demonstrates, his firm grasp of the essential truths of the Christian faith was rooted in Scripture. If ‘mysticism’ is religious experience independent of objective revelation, Llwyd was no mystic.

Hero or heretic?

Morgan Llwyd was one of the most important literary figures in seventeenth-century Wales, and one of the most prominent members of the Welsh Puritan movement. His gifts as a writer and preacher were quite remarkable. But he was also the most enigmatic figure among the Welsh Puritans. And too often he has been used as a vehicle for the opinions of later writers, especially those who have no sympathy for Puritanism.

It would have been good if he had expressed his beliefs more clearly. If he had lived longer, the uncertainty surrounding some of those beliefs might have been resolved. But we can respect him as one of the most eloquent Welsh gospel preachers of the seventeenth century. And we can give thanks for his God-given gifts as one of the most accomplished prose writers in the Welsh language.

]]>