Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Book Review

The Calvinistic Methodist Father of Wales: John Morgan Jones & William Morgan (trans. John Aaron), Banner of Truth Trust, £40 (2 vols.):
Christians throughout the English-speaking world have a great deal to thank the Banner of Truth Trust for, and this two volume set adds to that debt of gratitude. Previously only available in Welsh, these two massive volumes (each almost 800 pages long), describle the history of the Calvinistic Methodists of Wales from the first stirrings of the eighteenth century awakening in Wales to the Methodists' decision to ordain their own ministers, thus separating formally from the Church of England in 1811.
While, as the title implies, these volumes are mostly tken up with short biographies, there is some necessary narrative, setting these people in the context of the start of the revival, the breach between Howell Harris and Daniel Rowland, and so on. The decision to tell this story cheifly through biography, however, is largely successful. Given the scale of the task, this allows readers to learn of otherwise obscure characters, such as Howell Davies, 'the apostle of Pembrokeshire', or Howell Howells of Tre-hill, an Anglican curate who evangelised parts of the Vale of Glamorgan.
The picture is diverse, Oxford-educated clergymen rubbing shoulders with weavers, all bound together by a common experience of grace. And all, sad to say, rejected by the religious authorities of the day. While the covers of the two volumes might suggest a rigid geographical division between North and South Wales, in fact, while the second volume does contain a chapter on'the beginnings of Methodism in Gwynedd', South Wales features heavily, the last chapter being on Ebenezer Richard, Tregaron, perhaps best known today as the father of politician Henry Richard, but, as the book reveals, an important character in his own right.

Those who feel that emotion has no place in religion, will not enjoy the book, which contains frequent references to people being 'lost in wonder, love and praise'. Particularly appealing was the story of Howell Howells, Tre-hill, at the pre-communion gathering at Salem Chapel, Pencoed (present chapel pictured), after sining praises to the Saviour 'he would leap as a hart.' These pages are soked in the Spirit's anointing, which, alone, shows why these men were such giants. They were, for the most part, prepared to lose all in order to glorify Christ.
Much of the first volume is taken up with Howell Harris' diaries, perhaps because so much material from them survives, while Daniel Rowland's papers are lost. There is no such single person's tale running through the second volume, Thomas Charles merits three chapters, John Jones, Denbigh and John Elias two each, the denomination's battles over hyper-Calvinism being covered through the lives of those two men, who found themselves ranged on opposite sides of the fight.
While this is well worth buying, and comes highly recommended, there are a few faults. The first is that the books lack an index, which means that use as reference volumes is hard, although devotional reading is recommended. There are a few typographical errors whoch have not been picked up in proof reading, and John Aaron could have made more use of corrective footnotes, in noting, for example, that the old chestnut about Griffith Jones' parents being nonconformist is a fiction from the pen of a libellous opponent.
Still, with summer approaching, this is certainly a book to take to the beach. Especially if you are going to the West wales coast.



Anonymous Colin Roworth said...

Dear Hiraeth,

Details of the typos would be much appreciated!

Colin at Banner of Truth

11:58 am  

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