Saturday, June 30, 2007

On Keys

The Rev. John Brown of Broughton Place, Edinburgh (author of commentaries on Romans, Galatians, Hebrews and One Peter) was also Professor of Exegetical Theology at the United Secession College. In his lectures he gave hints concerning commentaries - both good and bad. When lecturing on Romans he recounted an anecdote at the expense of the Unitarian minister Dr. John Taylor of Norwich. Taylor, a contemporary of John Wesley, had published a book entitled 'A Key to the Epistle to the Romans' which professed to open that book in the lowest Arminian fashion. Brown used to recite, with much enjoyment, the verdict passed on the work by an evangelical theologian of the eighteenth century: "The poor man gave the key a violent wrench, and behold it moved; but it was not the door that was opened, it was only the lock that was broken."

(From John Cairns, 'Memoir of John Brown, D.D.', (Edinburgh, Edmonston and Douglas, 1860) P. 161)


Friday, June 29, 2007

A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. VIII.

We left Donald Fraser about to enter into his work in Inverness. Of course, much of the labour was the normal routine of ministry in a large population centre, and extra preaching in nearby towns and country parishes. But there was one unusual aspect. Brownlow North, the great evangelist, had often visited Inverness, and Fraser found that a good number of young people in particular had been awakened and professed conversion. There were some in the Church ready to accept any profession, while others were suspicious of all these professed converts. Fraser took a middle way. He engaged in converse with them on Spiritual topics, discussed doctrine and experience, and tried to weed out false converts from the true. He recieved those who gave credible evidence into the church and gave them work to do.
Fraser also preached in the open air, in Inverness at the Castle Hill, on the Links at Nairn, and sometimes at great open-air meetings further afield at Ardnilly and Huntly. He often welcomed Brownlow North and other itinerant preachers to Inverness, and had close fellowship with his fellow-ministers. For two or three years he was a happy, busy Free Church pastor.
That was Fraser's particular gift. He disliked the Church courts, finding them generally dull. As for General Assemblies, he soon found they were really managed by a few experts (such as Robert Rainy), rather than the Assembly itself. Fraser's dislike of ecclesiastical politics was to have its effect in due time.
But Inverness was far from Edinburgh, and the Free High Church was to him his family. The congregation prospered and increased. They built a manse for Fraser, and the church had to be enlarged. Prosperous as the congregation was, they did not forget their responsibility to the poor, and a mission-church was proposed
. The Presbytery resisted it a first, but Rev. Archibald Cook of Daviot pressed the point, and in 1863 the Free West Church of Inverness was erected. Fraser himself did much of the mission work in the Free West until it gained its own pastor.

Donald Fraser was a happy minister in Inverness, and the work went quietly. He did however have two periods of absence from the Free High Church. Of which more, God willing, next time.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Griffith Jones, Llanddowror: Retrospective

Griffith Jones was a great man, blessed with an 'awakening ministry.' It was his task to preach the Gospel in the days before it shone forth in the great awakening, as well as to teach a nation to read of the great works of God for itself. If, in his reaction to the Methodist awakening, he showed himself to be concerned for the unity of the Church more than for the Gospel, it must be noted in his defence that this was not out of a desire for place or promotion, but out of a zeal for his schools, which depended on the good will of the clergy, as well as a recognition that the impetuosity of youth is not always a good thing.

Space has not permitted me to present the theology of the man, but it ought to be noted that he was a churchman, holding to a Baxterian, rather than a strictly Calvinistic theology.

His educational plans, celebrated by nonconformists and churchmen, had as their object strictly religious aims. This was why the medium of instruction was Welsh. While English was the language to make money, that took time to teach, time that people might not have before they were called into eternity.

The method of instruction was the catechism of the Church of England, for Griffith Jones was a churchman. While the nonconformists might have praised his efforts as events of the past, men like Lloyd George would not have appreciated (the young Lloyd George refused to answer the catechism questions at his school). Indeed, politicised Nonconformity would demand that Christian doctrine not be taught in schools as it was 'sectarian.' Griffith Jones would, no doubt, have had some choice words to say about such "education!"

The primary business of education for a Christian should be to show children the way of salvation. To fit a child for the next world, and only secondarily for this world. That was Griffith Jones' vision of education.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Griffith Jones, Llanddowror: A Legacy?

The death of Griffith Jones was not the end for the Welsh Circulating Schools. Before he was called home, Griffith Jones had been careful to arrange for their continuation. In his will, Griffith Jones made over all the funds for the schools to his friend, Madam Bevan, along with property to the value of £7,000.

Madam Bevan superintended the schools until her own death in 1777, and made provision for the schools in her will, providing up to £10,000. However, it was not to be, one of the Trustees of Madam Bevan's Will, Lady Stepney, contested the bequest, hoping to lay her own claim to the money. The bequest went into chancery for thirty years, and although the sum, much enlarged to the sum of £30,500 7s. 6d. was finally assigned to the use of the circulating schools in 1804, by this time the circulating schools were dead through inaction.

The schools had not contracted under Madam Bevan's benefit, and there is no reason to doubt that they would have continued, had they been so managed. But the lack of funds meant that the education of almost ten thousand scholars had to come to an abrupt end

The schools having been destroyed through the greed of a trustee, the torch of education had passed to Thomas Charles of Bala, a man who would be eventually forced out of the church. The movement towards separation had become irreversible. And when education again became a major topic in Wales, it would be a divisive and sectarian issue.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Griffith Jones, Llanddowror: Called Home

The work of the Circulating Schools thrived into the 1750s, with visitors coming from as far afield as Rusia to examine the schools. As the 1760s drew on, the reports of the schools, Welsh Piety, indicated that Griffith Jones could see the end drawing near. In in report for 1759-60, Griffith Jones gave a clear indication that he was aware of his mortality:

"You ared servant in this employment is setting up his Ebenezer, praising God that hitherto the Lord hath helped us. He that perfecteth strength in weakness hath enabled him, under frequent sickness and many infirmities, as it were, dying daily, to proceed therein, with the utmost fidelity in his power, and with all possible frugality, in the distribution of your charties.... I do intend, through God's assistance, and with the concurrence of our charitable friends, to go on again in this service of love. And when the time of my dissolution cometh (which cannot but come very soon), I have now a comfortable prospect that it will be prosecuted by a truly religious person, of competent fortune, and unexceptionable character, acquainted with the method of carrying it on, having been already very assisting to me in this charitable undertaking."

The person Griffith Jones mentioned was Madam Bevan, and it was her house, on 8 April, 1761, that Griffith Jones died. To the end, the praises of God were on the lips of this great and saintly man. Speaking to a fellow minister from his death-bed, Jones gave witness to the greatness of God:

"I must bear witness to the goodness of God. Oh, how wonderful is the love of God to me, that I am now, even now, free from that troublesome distemper, the athsma, which I was subject to in my younger days, that I could not walk the length of this room but with the greatest difficulty. Howwonderful is the love of God to me, that I am not blind, as I was for three weeks in my childhood, when I had the small-pox, and that I am not a blind beggar going from door to door! How wonderful is the love of God, that I have such a good friend to take care of me, when I cannot help myself. How wonderful is the love of God, that I now feel so little pain, but that I am likely to go to my grave with ease. How wonderful is the mercy of God, that I can clearly see what Christ has done and suffered for me, and that I have not the least doubt of my interest in my all-sufficent Saviour...."
As the aged saint passed into eternity, God granted him a sweet sight of the Promised Land, and as Griffith Jones passed over to his eternal reward, he felt few pangs. He was laid to rest in his own church, and a magnificent monument erected to him. But a greater monument by far remained. The Charity Schools, would they survive?


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Griffith Jones, Llanddowror: The Awakening

The intinerant life of the schoolmaster suited many of the methodists. Soon after his conversion, Howell Harris met with Griffith Jones. Although Jones would not support Harris' application for ordination, he was prepared to offer him a post as a teacher in the circulating schools. Other Methodist exhorters found similar posts. Earnest young men, formally attached to the Church of England, they seemed ideal for the task. However, as the Revival progressed, it became clear that they were not as ideal as might have been thought. These men could act foolishly, attacking settled Anglican ministers as 'dumb dogs.' Given that the schools were dependent on the goodwill of local parish clergy, this was not healthy.

And Griffith Jones was a good churchman. His schools were designed to inculcate Anglican Christian piety. By the early 1740s, Griffith Jones had become openly critical of the revival, objecting to the activities, not only of the lay exhorters, but clerical preachers, including Daniel Rowland. A visit to Llanddowror by Harris in 1741 saw an argument between the exhorter and the educator, Griffith Jones accusing Harris of claiming 'infalibility' and 'self-confidence.' Griffith Jones, who had once recommended Harris for ordination told the exhorter bluntly of 'the unlawfulness of a layman preaching.'

Geraint Tudur, in his recent biography of Howell Harris, has suggested that the main reason for Jones' opposition to the Revival was that he could see the Methodist Societies had reached the point where would be able to survive independently of the Church of England. Although laymen were not to be ordained by the Welsh Methodists until 1811, Griffith Jones was able to see this in the future.

Some of Griffith Jones' letters on Methodism suggest that he had some trouble distinguishing between the doctrines of Arminian and Calvinistic Methodism. Harris, for example, had to assure Griffith Jones that Daniel Rowlad was innocent of the charge of holding to sinless perfection. Even Howel Davies, a Pembrokeshire Clergymen trained by Griffith Jones, fell under the great man's ire for undertaking itinerant preaching.

Griffith Jones was an evangelical, but he was also an Anglican, and possessed a great respect for the canons of the church. To see laymen preaching, and ordained clergymen trespassing on the boundaries of others distressed him. He saw the impetuosity of youth, and perhaps hoped to keep the young men from making the same mistakes that he had made. But young men with always be impetuous, and the schools suffered a little form this. Even so, they were not killed off. That would only happen after the death of Griffith Jones.


Friday, June 22, 2007

Preaching this coming Lord's Day.

This coming Lord's Day, God willing, I shall be preaching at the historic Particular Baptist Church at Salhouse, in Norfolk. The chapel is located up Chapel Loke (which figures), off Lower Street. Services are at 11.00 am and 2.30 pm.

Salhouse, like Brooke, is a small rural church, suffering as many have from the dedcline in village life in the last few decades. Once there were three chapels in Salhouse (one Methodist, two Baptist), now there is only the one Baptist chapel.

Salhouse Baptist Church website may be found here


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Book Review: 'The Life of John Murray'

This well-presented paperback of 240 pages is the first appearance of this book in an independent form for a while, but in its form as part of volume three of John Murray's 'Collected Writings', it has been around for quite a while. We applaud the Banner of Truth Trust for publishing this valuable little work as a book in itself - for such it is.
Those who already possess the four volumes of Murray's writings (we do, and they are exceedingly precious) will no doubt be satisfied with possessing this work inside the 'Collected Writings', but those who have not the time or the money for the four bulky volumes (and we recognise that includes students and pastors) will particularly welcome this separate printing. It is a book to put next to 'Redemption Accomplished and Applied'.
We have long counted Iain Murray as one of the greatest living popular writers of Church History and biography, and this book is one of his finest.
This book tells the life-story of a man who was without a doubt one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century. We count him as perhaps the most gifted 20th century expositior of the doctrines known as Calvinism, though we are forced to disagree with him on a few points.
John Murray was a son of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, a hardy Highlander. Yet he spent most of his life somewhat alienated from that denomination, and associated with Westmister Theological Seminary. This book gives a vivid picture of the early years of that institution, and the founding of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. It shows a teacher of great heart and mind who still influences many today. Reading of his experience in the First World War (in which he lost an eye), and his love of manual labour on the family farm, helps the reader to recognise that Murray was no ivory tower theologian, but a man who had seen the real world, and a man who enjoyed getting his hands dirty - the sort of man whoalways remained true to his Free Presbyterian heritage in this - that he despised the secular academy and looked only to the Bible as his guide.
May God grant us more such men to stand for the faith.

'The Life of John Murray' by Iain Murray is priced at £ 7.25 and is published by theBanner of Truth Trust.


Griffith Jones, Llanddowror: The Method of Teaching

Is it possible to learn to read in a few months? Two things helped the scholars at the circulating schools. The first was the enthusiasm of the scholars, and the second that Welsh is a phonetic language, with none of the subtlety of English when it comes to spelling. Equally, teaching was from the Bible and cathechism, texts with which the scholars were familiar.

The scholars were taught to recite the catechism by heart, along with verses from the Bible. The method was rote learning and memorization, a simple method. Given the goodwill of the clergy, it was possible to run the schools cheaply, local chapels or churches serving as school-rooms, lent gratis, or houses hired on reasonable terms.

The schools were not welcome everywhere, however. With the start of the Methodist Revival in 1735, some came to see the Circulating Schools as Methodist missionary agencies. Given that Howell Harris and Howel Davies, early leaders of the Revival, were both teachers in the schools. The common people, robbed of some of their companions in sin, would sometimes attack the schoolmasters, as in one case in Denbigh. Evan Williams, a methodist and teacher with the circulating school , Llyn, was told by local ruffians that he was not wanted. On Sunday, he heard the clergyman preach a sermon against the schools and methodism. On leaving the church, Williams was attacked, stripped and beaten.

Griffith Jones was told by certain clergymen in the Diocese of Bangor that his circulating schools were not wanted, as they caused people to worry about their salvation, and the masters were accused of being Methodists and Dissenters, or attacking the Church of England.
As a member of the Church of England, indeed, an ordained clergyman, Griffith Jones could not have supported such talk, if it was used. Indeed, the continuing Methodist Revival was proving difficult to the Circulating School movement.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Griffith Jones, Llanddowror: Origins of the Schools

The circulating school idea did not originate with Griffith Jones, in 1719, Sir Humphrey Mackworth, a subscriber to the SPCK had suggested that, in view of the shortage of schoolmasters in some parts of South Wales, it might be an idea to employ an itinerant schoolmaster. At Laugharne and Llanddowror, Charity schools existed. It was in 1731 that Griffith Jones began to consider the setting up of a Welsh School:

"That it is a very sickly time near his neighbourhood where many die and many more are sick of a nervous kind of feavour. He thinks it a proper time to propose a Welch school at Llanddowror for all comers to learn to read & be supplied with books and taught gratis, desiring of the Society 40 or 50 of the small Welch Bibles upon the usual kind terms that they favour their Members with & other Books, this would be great charity to our poor."

If someone was to be called before the throne of God at short notice, they needed to know the way of salvation, and be taught as fast as possible. God would not care whether they knew English or Welsh. Experiences catechising adults, who desired to know more perfectly the way of salvation, convinced Jones that such lessons were not for children only.

Between 1731 and 1737, Welsh schools were set up in the Llanddowror area. In 1737, however, these moved out of the school-house, in order to reach the albourer and the servant, people who could not take time off to attend a school.

Typically, the schools would carry on in a particular area for three to four months, returning later. These schools were held in the evenings and in the winter months, when labourers were least busy, and servants could get others to fill in for them.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Griffith-Jones, Llanddowror: A Teacher and Father in Israel

As a parish clergyman, Griffith Jones took very seriously his duty to teach his people, not only through preaching the Word, but through instructing them in the truths of the Christian religion, regularly catechising the children of the parish. In the course of this, he discovered just how seriously ignorant the people were. Writing in March of 1738, Jones declared that:

"In this way, sir, it came to be discovered here, how deplorably ignorant the poor people are who cannot read, even where constant preaching is not wanting, while catechising in omitted. This melancholy discovery of the brutish, gross, and general ignorance in things pertaining to salvation, gave great thoughts of heart, and painful concern; the case being the same, if not worse, in most other places as here, and difficulties being found in teaching knowledge to those who cannot read, after many years' practice of the above method, it occurred at length to wish for rather [than] any hopeful prospect to set up, Welsh Charity Schools."

Griffith Jones was by no means the first person to try to set up schools in Wales. Illiteracy in a Protestant country is never a good thing. The Minister will become a priest by default, if he is one of the few people in the congregation who can read. Under the Commonwealth, the Act for the Propagation of the Gospel (1649) provided for schools to be set up in Wales, but these had ended with the Restoration, as had the schools organised after the restoration by Thomas Gouge under the auspices of the Welsh Trust. The SPCK, with which Griffith Jones had long been associated, had set up schools throughout Wales. These schools, however, were not popular with the people of Wales. They tended to take children away from any useful work around the home.

In addition, the schools taught in English. To teach a child to read in a language that was not spoken in the home or workplace proved a great deal harder than would have been the case if they had been taught in Welsh. Even Thomas Gouge's Welsh Trust, which had printed the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer in Welsh. Schools were there, but they were flawed insttutions, containing fatal weaknesses. It was to this that Griffith Jones came.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Book Review: 'Letters of Thomas Chalmers'

This is without a doubt one of the most interesting Banner of Truth books published in recent years - and that says as much about the book as it does about the Banner of Truth. We think it one of the Banner's great strengths that, less pressured by financial concerns, they can publish books that otherwise would not see the light of day.
This is not a small book. Weighing in at 576 pages, it contains over 400 letters by Thomas Chalmers, some to public figures such as William Wilberforce, others to family members and close friends.
The presentation is excellent, an imaginitive, attractive dustjacket covers a well-bound hardcover in sober Presbyterian black. An introduction by Iain Murray, abridged from Murray's 'A Scottish Christian Heritage' (see previous review on this blog) precedes a reprint of the volume of Chalmers' letters edited by his son-in-law William Hanna.
The letters are arranged in blocks, with letters to the same person placed together chronologically, allowing the reader to follow the flow of correspondence. We have here Cahlmers the man and the pastor, writing to inquirers, to bereaved parents, to students of theology and to other ministers, not just in his own denomination, but Baptists, Congregationalists and Anglicans (including some bishops). Readers may recognise the names of J. H. Merle D'Aubigne, Charles Bridges and Dr. Ryland. Other letters were written to Dr. Rainy, father of Principal Rainy. We have here Chalmers' reflections on certain books, such as Romaine's 'Life, Walk and Triumph of Faith', of which he wrote: "Nothing can be more precious than Romaine. His three treatises on faith are all overrun with the flavour of the very essence of the Gospel." Of Jonathan Edwards he wrote: "Him I have long esteemed as the greatest of theologians, combining in a degree that is quite unexampled, the profoundly intellectual with the devotedly spiritual and sacred." (P. 443)
We also have Chalmers' remarks on those scenes in history in which he played a part. Here is his description of the Disruption, written to his sister: "You would have been struck with the contrast presented by our out-going clergy between their anxious and wo-begone aspect before they had taken their decision, and their perfect happiness and light-heartedness after it. Never was there a happier Assembly, with a happier collection of faces, than in our Free Church, with consciences disburdened, and casting themselves without care, and all the confidence of children, on the Providence of that God who never forsakes the families of the faithful." (P. 242)
We have here deep theological questions, such as whether or not man is responsible for his belief (P. 299) with passages of deep devotion, such as this from page 236: "How delightful the attitude in which the pitying Saviour is represented to the eye of faith, as touched with a fellow-feeling - as having been Himself tried even as we are - and as able (and willing as He is able) to succour them who are so tried. I know not a more precious expression of His character, did we but realise it, than that used by the Apostle when he tells us of the meekness and gentleness of Christ. Let us cast on Him, then, both the burden of our sufferings and our cares, and He, not permitting us to be tempted above what we are able, will provide a way of escape, that we may be able to bear it."

By its nature, this is not so much a book to be read through as one to be dipped into. And it is a book that will be dipped into again and again by discerning readers.
Yet this book is no substitute for a biography. It was intended to be a supplement to Hanna's 'Memoir of Dr. Chalmers', and we feel that the Banner of Truth would do the Christian Church a great service by bringing back into print that absolutely classical volume, if not in its full form, at least in an edited form. Alexander Whyte wrote in 1909, of "my regret and indeed distress, that this present generation of the readers of good books in Scotland is denied the purchase and the possession of one of the very best books Scotland has ever produced. And if the whole Memoir is too large and is too rich for this book-crowded day, might not 'The Journals' and 'The Letters' at least be kept in print and offered for sale?"
The Banner of Truth Trust has done an excellent job (just ninety-eight years later) of fulfilling a part of Whyte's desire. May we not pray they will fulfill the other?

Buy this book, it is a classic, with something in it for everyone who desires to be instructed, not merely amused.

'The Letters of Thomas Chalmers' is priced at £17.50 in the United Kingdom and is published by the Banner of Truth Trust.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Preaching this coming Lord's Day.

God willing, this coming Lord's Day I shall be ministering at the morning service at Brooke Baptist Chapel. High Green, Brooke, Norfolk. Brooke is a historic Strict Baptist Church, and one of the few nonconformist chapels mentioned in Pevsner's 'Buildings of England'. The entry is as follows: "BAPTIST CHAPEL, High Green, 1831. Already Tudor, and with a stepped gable. Nonconformists in the 1830s usually still built classically." ('North-West and South Norfolk', P. 101).

As is all too common with rural churches today, Brooke has a small congregation. Pray for them and for all the village churches that are weakened by the modern trend for large city congregations with members travelling many miles.

Why does this matter? some may ask. Simple. The city church cannot reach out to the people of the village (large or small) fifteen miles away, even though members of its congregation are travelling that distance to attend church meetings. The village church CAN reach out to the unbelievers in the village. Village chapels cannot compete with the large city centre church in providing entertainment, but then, is that really what the church is for?


Friday, June 15, 2007

Griffith Jones, Llanddowror: A Worldly Cleric

The attacks on Griffith Jones for preaching in other churches in no way served to keep him from preaching where he could. Some twenty years later, Griffith Jones was preaching in the ancient collegiate church at Llanddewi Brefi. Present on that occasion was the curate of the church, a man who had been appointed on account of his being brother to the Rector, rather than because of any spiritual fitness for the post. This man took his place by the pulpit, although he had not an ounce of respect for the word going forth, as the deacons who sat in the 'Sedd Fawr' when Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached up and down Wales in a later age. This curate despised the message going forth from the pulpit, and made no attempt to conceal this. Touched to the heart, and probably not a little annoyed, Griffith Jones departed from his text, pointed to the curate and raised his voice, declaring:

"Oh for a word to reach your heart, young man!"
The rebuke had some effect, and instead of storming out of the church, affronted at being so addressed, the young curate became subdued. He listened intently to the remainder of the sermon. Indeed, the words struck home, like a fiery dart, and the heart of the curate was pierced. He sought the Lord, and found him.
Th at curate was Daniel Rowland, one of the great leaders of the Methodist Revival in Wales, and one of the most powerful preachers the world has ever known.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Griffith Jones, Llanddowror: A Wider Ministry

Although his actions in visiting the parishes of others had caused him some embarrassment at the court of the Bishop of St. David's, Griffith Jones continued to preach beyond the boundaries of his parish, provided he was invited. It must not be imagined that Jones preached in the open air, except when small country churches could not contain the numbers who came to hear him. Nor would he preach in another man's Parish unless he was invited by the incumbent or churchwardens - he was too good an Anglican for that. Yet he was a popular preacher, as his earliest biographer notes:

"As he had in his time frequent Invitations to reach in other Churches besides his own, he would willingly comply, and he often went to several Parts, that abounded with much Ignorance, where he would address himself to the Ignorant in a very plain style, and yet adapt his Language to the very lowest Capacity; yet it was the Simplex munditiis, such elegant plainness, as very well consisted with the Character of a Gospel-Minister. - He earnestly inculcated the Whole of the Truth in the Course of his Ministrations.- Be the truth never so disagreeable to some, or ever so contrary to the worldly Interest of Pleasures of others, they were sure to hear of it. -He endeavoured indeed to shew it in as lovely a Light, and make it aimiable as he could, but nothing could prevail upon him to conceal or disguise it."

He was not only a passionate preacher, setting forth the whole counsel of God, but a doctor of souls, skilled to bind up as well as to wound:

"He was diligent to inquire into the State of Peoples Souls, like a wife and tender Physician, whether they were furnished with a competent knowledge in the way of salvation.-He was likewise a good Casuist, to resolve the Doubts of tempted Souls, and to encourage the Hopes of the Desponding."

Griffith Jones was not simply a preacher - vital as that work is - he was a Pastor, a doctor of souls. His preaching was much blessed to the conversion of sinners. And one sinner was to prove greater than the preacher, as our next post will show.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Griffith Jones, Llanddowror: Rector of Llanddowror

Sir Thomas Philipps, like many of the Welsh gentry, had the gift of numerous parishes, a legacy from the Middle Ages. On 27 July 1716, Griffith Jones was appointed Rector of Llanddowror, this, his earliest biography states, "... was given him by Sir John intirely [sic.] upon the account of his Learning and Piety, without Solicitations from Mr. Jones or any of his friends." This place was to be the seat of his labours until the end of Griffith Jones' life.

Now settled in a parish, Griffith Jones' thoughts began to drift towards matrimony. In 1720, Griffith Jones married Margaret Philipps, Sir John's sister. Given the sympathies of her brother and husband, it is likely that Margaret was also possessed of evangelical views, although she was to be afflicted with poor health.
Some have suggested that Griffith Jones felt a closer fellowship to Madam Bevan than to his wife, and certainly Jones seems to have found less sympathy in his wife than he had expected, as Harris, Whitefield and Wesley would also discover. However, the financial resources of his wife were useful in supporting a mistry which was to take hims beyond the boundaries of a Parish which paid £38 a year, enough to support a pastor, but not an apostle, for Griffith Jones was possessed of an industry which would carry him beyond the boundaries of Parish and county, into all of Wales.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Griffith Jones, Llanddowror: A Notable Convert

During his time as curate of Laugharne, Griffith Jones not only made the acquaintance of Sir Thomas Philipps, but a woman who would prove his staunchest supporter throughout his life and minstry. This was Madam Bridget Bevan, wife of the MP for Carmarthen, a beautiful and accomplished lady, who lived at Laugharne. She moved in Society, both in Bath and London, and it has been asserted that she received her first religious impressions under Griffith Jones' ministry. Certainly, she was to become a mainstay of his work.

While Sir Thomas Philipps was able to use his patronage powers to advance Griffith Jones' career. Madam Bevan opened her house and her purse to him and to the leaders of the Evangelical Revival. Whitefield was to preach at her house in Bath, addressing elegant society, including such luminaries as Mrs Stanhope, Lord Chesterfield and Lord Huntingdon. Possessed of all the elegance and grace of a gracious age, Madam Bevan would debate with the cynical society atheists and agnostics of her day, even the notorious libertine, Lord Chesterfield. Her account of her conversations with him, written to Lady Huntingdon, gives a view of her evangelistic efforts:

"Lord Chesterfield's inclination to subvert Christianity, has involved me in many inconsistencies. A greater proof of his being reduced to the last distress in point of argumentis his general clamours and invectives against all historical evidence, as absolutely uncertain; and it is not so much the corruptions of Christianity that his Lordship finds fault with as with the Christian revelation itself, which he does not scruple to represent as the product of enthusiasm or imposture. Yet, at other times, he will agree with me, that never were there any facts that had clearer and more convincing evidence attending them, than the extraordinary and miraculous facts whereby the divine original and authority of the Christian revelation was attested and confirmed. This strange fluctuation of opinion I can account for only on this ground - that the uncontrovertible and undeniable evidence of these facts has overcome the notions and prejudices with which his mind has been so strongly prepossessed; and it is this shaking of the Babel of unbelief that fills me with hope that the great Dispenser of spiritual benefits, will, of his free grace and mercy, reveal to his Lordship's mind the grand and harmonious system of revealed truth [....]"

The image of this lovely, well-mannered woman evangelising the libertine Earl indicates the seriousness which Madam Bevan brought to her new life. And she was not only involved in the evangelism of the upper classes, but was prepared to give of her substance for the evangelism of the people around her in Wales.


Monday, June 11, 2007

A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. VII.

Returning to Canada after his fund-raising visit to Europe, Donald Fraser entered once more into the business of the pastorate in Montreal. He also co-edited a magazine 'the Canadian Presbyter' with a friend in the ministry. It was at this time that Fraser attempted to venture into authorship with a little book called 'leaves from a Minister's Portfolio'. It was not a success and Fraser lost fifty pounds by it.
Towards the end of 1858 a call came to Donald Fraser from the Free High Church at Inverness, the town of his birth. While he was happy in his work at Montreal, Fraser was beginning to feel the strain after seven years. And he did love his own country, Scotland. It also seemed to him that he would be of more use to the Church at large in Scotland than he would be in Montreal, where it was only a matter of time before he burned out under the pressure of the work.
So he weighed up the pros and cons of accepting the call, he prayed over it, and at last he accepted. The Presbytery of Montreal sanctioned his translation on 9th December, but owing to the bad travelling conditions on the Atlantic in winter, it was not until the February of 1859 that he left Canada for Scotland.
Montreal bade him a fond fare-well, with a pulic breakfast marking his last morning in the city where he had ministered for over seven years.
Fraser never lost his love for Canada, and throughout his life afterwards he keps an interest in the Dominion. Yet, looking back on events, he firmly believed that it was God who had called him to go from Montreal to Inverness.
The Frasers, now with two children, a son and a daughter, found the crossing from Portland, Canada, to Liverpool cold and boisterous. It was near the end of March wwhen they finally arrived in Inverness, and Fraser could enter into his ministry at the Free High Church.
The Free High Church of Inverness was at that time the only Free Church in Inverness that held all its services in English (though there were several other congregations). Archibald Cook of Daviot, a noted Highland minister of the period, preached and presided at the induction service of Donald Fraser on 24th March 1859. He preached from Acts 20.28, 'Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock.' The next Lord's Day Fraser was, according to custom, 'introduced' to the people by Rev. James Munro of Rutherglen. After that he entered fully into the work of the ministry at Inverness.

Of which more, God willing, next time


Saturday, June 09, 2007

Preaching this coming Lord's Day.

God willing, this coming Lord's Day I shall be preaching at the Oulton Broad Free Presbyterian Church, Victoria Road, Oulton Broad, Suffolk. Services are at 11.00 AM and 4.00 PM.
Although a Baptist by conviction, I have many Presbyterian friends, and a high regard for what Presbyterians have accomplished (you may have noticed that). Moreover, like Mr. Spurgeon, I would rather have fellowship with a man with whom I agreed on everything EXCEPT baptism than with a man with whom I agreed on NOTHING except baptism. And I find I agree with the Free Presbyterians more than I disagree with them.

The Church website can be found here

This is the interior of the church building, constructed in 1993, and demonstrating how a modern building can look impressively traditional.


Friday, June 08, 2007

Griffth Jones, Llanddowror: A Passionate Preacher

The most notable feature of Griffith Jones' work in these early years was his preaching, which was possessed of power both to convict and to convert. An early biographical fragment, parts of which appear on his monument at Llanddowror declares that: 'In his preaching he inculcated the plainest and most obvious Duties of Christianity, which he inforced on the Minds of His Hearers in a manner so powerful and interesting, that few or none could depart unaffected or unedified."

Eifion Evans, in his biography of Daniel Rowland, notes that Griffith Jones often preached with tears running down his cheeks, as he pleaded with sinners to flee to Christ. William Williams, Pantycelyn, described Griffth Jones' sermons as a 'clear trumpet call.' His sermons were Anglican, his doctrine that of the prayer-book and cathechism, but he preached a felt Christ, and the need to have a personal interest in His blood:
"You may be poor, and stay poor, and yet go to heaven at last," he declared on one occaison; "you may be in sickness or in prison and stay that way, and yet get to heaven after you die; you may be without much education or learning, and yet go to heaven when you leave this world; but without this change, without becoming a new creature, it is impossible for you ever to get to heaven."

No-one was getting to heaven because of their family ties, or simply because they went to church, they had to know Christ. Baptism, he held, was important, and he believed in covenant baptism to the extent that he did not trust the Baptists, believing their doctrine to be false, but it was not enough, just as simply taking Communion was not enough. In common with the thirty-nine articles, Griffith Jones believed that it was necessary to receive those sacraments worthily in order to derive any benefits from them. And in order for people to receive them worthily, they had to know how to be right with God. They had to be taught.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Griffith Jones, Llanddowror: On Trial

Griffith Jones was Vicar of Llandeilo when, in 1714, he found himself called before the court of the Bishop of St. David's at Carmarthen (Palace pictured). Bishop Bull, the man who had ordained Griffth Jones, was gone, and his place taken by a less active man. Exactly why Jones was brought before the Bishop's court is unclear, it would seem that his earnestness and evangelistic zeal had upset a number of clergy in the diocese. They accused him of preaching in the churches of other ministers without their permission and neglecting his own parish.

In spite of the accusations of John Evans, who used the trial to blacken the reputation of Griffith Jones, alleging contempt of court and generally convicting Jones, something the court singularly refused to do, as Sir John Philipps noted:

"...Mr. Jones of Laugharne has lately undergone a sort of Tryal [sic.] before the Bishop of St. David's at Carmarthen, where several of the clergy appear'd against him, whose principal accusation was his neglecting of his own Cure, and intruding himself into the Churches of other Ministers without their leave, the contrary whereof was manifestly prov'd, viz., that he never preach'd in any other place without being invited either by ye Incumbent, Curate, of some of ye best inhabitants of the Parish. That he had indeed preach'd twice or thrice without ye walls of ye church, the reason of wch was because the church was not large enough to contain ye hearers, which sometimes amounted to 3 or 4,000 people. That his defence was so clear and satisfying that the Bp declar'd he was willing Mr. Jones should preach anywhere, having an invitation from the Minr of ye place."

The clergy who had brought the case were thus rebuffed. Worldly clerics, more interested in riding to the hunt than preaching to their flock disliked Griffith Jones for his zeal. It was this attitude, David Jones notes, that led to the Methodists being excluded from the Church in Wales. When spirit-filled men are denied ordination in favour of the younger sons of the wealthy, it can be no wonder that men seek to feed men's souls where they can. When 'doing all things properly and in order' comes to be valued above spiritual life, spiritual death cannot be far off.

For his part, Griffith Jones observed that when one begins to cultivate the wilderness, one may expect to have one's cothing torn by the briars.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Griffith Jones, Llanddowror: To Go or to Stay?

As Griffith Jones entered into his ministry, and the HolySpirit began to move, it was perhaps inevitable that this young man should attract the attention of prominent people in the area. The first such patron he was to meet would be Sir John Phillipps, Baronet, of Picton Castle, an evangelical Member of Parliament with connections to the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.

This introduction occured around the time that Griffith Jones received his first appointment as a beneficed clergyman, to Llandilo Abercywyn. It seems that the move was not entirely to Griffth Jones' satisfaction, as the young clergyman began to entertain thoughts of the mission field.
Sir John Phillipps' letters to the SPCK reveal that Grifith Jones seriously considered becoming a missionay to the East Indies, going so far as to learn Spanish (or possibly Portugese). Indeed, he went up to London under the direction of Sir John.

But Griffith Jones came to see that, in looking to evangelise the colonies, he was ignoring another call. Wales was sunk deep in ignorance and night. Jones, as a Welsh speaker, could bring the Gospel to his own people in a way that few evangelicals could. And, with the patronage of Sir John Picton, he could withstand the efforts of certain of the clergy, who feared that they were being undermined.

This Griffith Jones was soon to need, as he found himself on trial for preaching the Gospel.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Griffith Jones, Llanddowror: Corrections and Clarifications

My thanks to Geraint Jones, of Heath Christian Bookshop, Cardiff, for informing me that the date of April 1683 for Griffith Jones' birth, given by F. A. Cavenagh and David Jones, is incorrect. In fact, the date is a year later, meaning that Griffith Jones was baptised less than a month afterwards - a far more believable timing, given the uncertainty of life in the late seventeenth century. His father is reported as having died in March of that year, which is perhaps why the error of one year is given. However, it must be noted that the year began on 25 March, not 1 January, thus his father died ten months after his son's birth, and nine after the baptism.

Great care needs to be taken with the older sources, and it must be noted that much error is avoided by being careful with the account of Griffith Jones given by F. A. Cavenagh, who relied too much on a rather scurrilous pamphlet written by the Rev. John Evans, Eglwys Cymmin. The same is true of Thomas Rees, author of the History of Protestant Nonconformity in Wales, who identifies Jones' parents as nonconformists on the strength of Evans' pamphlet.

As for Evans' character, David Jones, a later Anglican biographer, notes that the man, a non-resident minister, who visted his parish only to collect the tithe (so much for Evans' being a 'neighbour' of Jones), dismissed an earnest-minded curate for 'showing too much zeal' and not reading the latter part of a sermon due to a distraction. The idea that this man was even able to show 'human traits' in Griffith Jones is no more than the modern tendency to believe the worst report of everybody.


Saturday, June 02, 2007

Griffith Jones, Llanddowror: 'Morning Star of the Revival'

As we saw with the career of John Pugh, before the coming of Revival, the Holy Spirit begins to work in the life and work of chosen individuals. In South Wales before 1904, this was through the evangelistic labours of John Pugh and the Joshua brothers. Before the coming of the Great Awakening in Wales, the Holy Spirit worked through Griffith Jones, Rector of Llanddowror. He not only preached the word, but was instrumental in giving the knowledge of reading to the people of Wales.

Griffith Jones was born in 1683, the fourth son of John ap Griffith of Cilrhedyn. He was baptised a year later, on 1 May 1684, two months after his father had been laid in the ground. His parents were Christians and were seen as serious. Beyond that, nothing is seriously known of them.

As a child, Griffith Jones was distinguished by a serious turn of mind. One of his eary biographers has stated that:

"A thirst for learning, joined with good natural Parts discovered itself in him very early by his frequent Application to Study when he was very young."

The Rev. John Evans, in a scurrilous publication, writes that Griffith Jones; 'was very wild, if not very wicked, and his particular Aversion to his Books and his School, gave his Father great Heartburning but no Hope[....]' According to Evans, Jones' father set him to watch swine, and it was while watching these pigs that young Griffith had a vision of Heaven and Hell. This story, while romantic, is seriously flawed, given the frequent mentions of Jones' father, who had been long in the grave. The story is an embellished and localised version of the parable of the Prodigal son.

What we do know about Griffith Jones is that he was a good and serious scholar, moving from the local school to the Grammar school at Carmarthen. Before this, he learned the skill of wood turning, a hobby that he continued to practice throughout his life. At this time, it was observed that the young man was not at ease in worldly company, preferring religious execises and contemplation. At some point, Griffith Jones felt the call to the ministry, and sought ordination. He was refused at forst, but at last accepted, and on 19 September 1708, Griffith Jones was ordained Deacon by the Bishop of St. David's. Just over a year later, he received Priest's orders at Abermarlais Chapel.

His first recorded post is that of curate of Llaugh arne, a town in Carm arthen shire now best known for its Dylan Thomas associations. As curate, Griffith Jones acquired a reputation as an evangelical preacher. David Jones (no relation) notes:

"To the scene of his labours, he brought no academical distinctions, not even a college degree; neither does it appear that he enjoyed the patronage of influential people. He had to rely for success upon his native talents, his devotion to duty, his trust in God, his lofty conception of the ministry, and the consecration of his gifts to its work."

Even in these early days in the ministry, Grifith Jones' sermons were mightily used to convict people in the parish of sin, and there was a general awakening under his ministry. This could not but attract the attention of prominent people in the area.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Preaching this coming Lord's Day.

This coming Lord's Day, God willing, I shall be preaching at Hope Baptist Chapel, Lower Street, Haslemere. Services are at 10.30 AM and 6.30 PM.