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

By David CERI Jones | Go to book overview

DIVIDING TIMES: CONCENTRATING ON THE
‘SHADOWS OF RELIGION’

The creation of the transnational revival network had been made possible because, as John Walsh has written, in its first formative decade the revival was ‘more an attitude of mind than a considered plan of campaign’.1 The revivalists’ stress on the New Birth, brought about by the immediate intervention of the Holy Spirit, and their shared commitment to the evangelization of their communities enabled them to subdue many of their theological and denominational differences. Reflecting on the first years of the revival, Whitefield, in a letter to John Powell from Philadelphia in 1739, rejoiced in the:

Divine Attraction […] between all ye members of ye Misticalle Body of
[which] J X is ye Head […] love is so far shedd abroad in our Hearts as to
cause us to love one another tho we a little differ in Externals for my part I
hate to mention them.2

Yet, he must have realized that his hyperbolic evaluation was over-optimistic, as problems had already begun to surface, especially in London. As early as the end of 1738, even before he had visited London for the first time, Harris had observed that in Wales:

Satan by a Spirit of Bigotry in all parties, as well as with us, has affected to
do great mischief in many places among CHRIST’S little flock, to embitter
their spirit, against others, of a different persuasion, and each directing
their thoughts, from the substance to the shadows of religion.3

The seeds of dissension were present from the earliest days of the revival. It was not long before a concentration on the ‘shadows of religion’ became a spirit of bigotry and suspicion that was then closely followed by bitter recrimination.

1 Walsh, ‘Origins of the evangelical revival’, p. 161.

2 Trevecka 200, George Whitefield to John Powell (9 November 1739).

3 Trevecka 129, Howel Harris to Mr M.P. (21 November 1738).

-144-

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