'A Glorious Work in the World': Welsh Methodism and the International Evangelical Revival, 1735-1750

By David CERI Jones | Go to book overview

PROMOTING THE ‘COMMUNION OF SAINTS UPON
EARTH’

By adopting a comparative approach to the early history of the Welsh Methodist Revival it is very easy to lose sight of what being a Methodist actually meant for the majority of its early converts. As has already been argued, Welsh Methodist identity operated on a number of levels. Each individual Welsh Methodist was at one and the same time a member of a local society, a national revival and an international Protestant renewal movement. It was a complex identity that such individuals were able to maintain by the successful operation of a sophisticated and multi-layered communications network which became the means by which evangelicals and Methodists from England, Wales, Scotland, the American colonies and further afield communicated with one another and shared their views about every aspect of propagating the revival. The friendships, letters, magazines and books that enabled the early Methodists to communicate with one another also acted as links in a complex chain, drawing the widely scattered awakenings into something approaching a coherent and unified evangelical movement.

In Wales the successful operation of the communications network was firmly rooted in the religious societies that were established during the late 1730s and early 1740s. Before 1743, the Welsh revival consisted of little more than a relatively ad hoc patchwork of tightly knit societies, which had sprung up under the inspiration of Howel Harris and Daniel Rowland, to meet the immediate spiritual needs of their small groups of converts. John Wesley, George Whitefield and Howel Harris were equally firm believers in the absolute indispensability of religious societies1 but

1 For details on the foundation of Methodist societies in England see John Walsh, ‘Religious societies: Methodist and evangelical, 1738–1800’, in W. J. Shiels and Diana Wood (eds), Voluntary Religion, Studies in Church History, 23 (Oxford, 1986), pp. 279–302 and Rack, ‘Religious societies and the origins of Methodism’, 582–95. Whitefield’s views on their necessity may be traced in his sermon, ‘The nature and benefits of religious Society’, in John Gillies (ed.), The Works of the Reverend George Whitefield, V (London, 1772), pp. 107–22 and his A Letter from the Rev. Mr George Whitefield, to the Religious Societies Lately Set on Foot in Several Parts of England and Wales (Edinburgh, 1739).

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