Friday, February 23, 2007

John Pugh II: Rebirth at Tenby

Tenby in Pembrokeshire is today a lovely, sleepy resort town, but in the 1850s there was a buzz of activity, with rough navvies, working on the railway, filling the taverns of the town. As he grew up, John Pugh fitted into this society. The young Pugh was a striking figure. A clerk with the railway, Pugh wore a white waistcoat, with gold watch-chain and a white hat, worn at a jaunty angle. Although not a reprobate character, he was easily turned aside to the pub or drinking club, in short, where there was a cheerful crowd, there John Pugh might be found. One biographer describes the young Pugh buying drinks for old women so he could laugh at their drunkenness.

Despite the society he was keeping, Pugh also maintained his attendance at chapel and a loyal member of the Sunday School. His religious activities acted as a brake on his youthful exhuberance. Among these religious habits was that of reading a portion of the Bible every day - due to a promise made to an aunt. Like many an unbeliever who decides to read the Bible, he started with Genesis. The Book had no effect on John's behaviour until he reached chapter 39, and Joseph's reply to the lustful wife of Potiphar: "How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" This impressed upon him the eternal consequences of his carelessness, keeping him from sexual sin.

The second way in which God drew him was a copy of the October 1866 edition of Y Drysorfa, the monthly magazine of the Calvinistic Methodists. One Sunday afternoon, when it was stormy to go out, Pugh read this magazine in full, and was particularly struck by a sermon printed in it. The sermon, by William Charles of Gwalchmai - a young man of 23 - on Revelation 1:17:"And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. He laid his hand upon me and said, Fear not, I am the first and the last. I am he that liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive for ever more." This sermon had such a strong effect on Pugh that his mates saw a great change in him from Monday. He signed the Pledge to abstain from alcohol, and never drank again. As for the women he had got drunk, he sought them out, asked their forgiveness and prayed with them.

Lastly, the young clerk was deeply influenced by the ministry of a young Oxford scholar, who spent his summer ministering to the navvies. This was Thomas Charles Edwards, later Principal of University College, Aberystwyth; and of David Lloyd Jones, the son of the famous John Jones, Tal-y-sarn, later a renowned preacher in his own right.

The astonishing thing about these three influences on Pugh is that which they have in common: youth. Joseph was a young man when he resisted the attentions of his master's wife; William Charles, whose printed sermon drove Pugh to his knees, was only twenty-three, and the two young men who ministered to the navvies were but students. Let no-one despise the vigour and eagerness of youth, and let no young man put off God's call until a more convenient season.

Pugh himself was only twenty when he became a member of Begelly Calvinistic Methodist Church, Tenby. And Pugh's Christianity did not end there. He witnessed to all his old crowd, and those who were converted began to hold open-air meetings, under Pugh's leadership. Pugh strugged with the call to the ministry. At the age of twenty-three, John Pugh entered Trefecca College to train for the ministry.



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