Fire on the Altar, A History and Evaluation of the 1904-1905 Welsh Revival by Noel Gibbard (Wales, UK: Bryntirion Press, 2005) pp. 244, paper $7.99

Fire on the Altar is a account of the Welsh Revival of 1904-1905. Gibbard recognizes a number of influences upon the revival including the Keswick Movement in England (pp. 24, 168-169, 190), Holiness theology (p. 108), and the writings of Henry Drummond (pp. 168-169) and Andrew Murray (pp. 26, 34, 168, 172). The precedent set in the 1859 revival, in which preaching shifted from doctrinal to experience, was followed in 1904-1905 as well. The result was what Peter Price, a spiritual leader of that day, saw as two revivals—one of God, the other a sham (pp. 46, 153-154, 192-193). That the Spirit of the Lord was at work in a remarkable way during the revival is challenged by few. But the excesses, strange behavior, and doctrinal errors demonstrate that much of the revival was not of God. For example:

  • Visions, prophecies, trances, claims of seeing the Shekinah Glory (p. 65) were numerous (pp. 31, 46-47, 54, 56, 61, 93, 158, 161, 196, 198).

  • Women preachers were common (pp. 23, 89-90, 95-97).

  • Evan Roberts, the key leader of the revival, often behaved in inexcusable ways and had a nervous breakdown in 1906 (pp. 76-80, 191-196).

  • Holy laughter was experienced (p. 90) as well as tongues (p. 115).

  • Baptism of the Holy Spirit as a secondary experience that led to revival and the deeper spiritual life was taught (pp. 38, 55, 170-176).

  • British Israelism was accepted by some (p. 184).

  • Doctrinally the revival was a triumph for Arminianism over Calvinism.

In many respects the Welsh Revival was a Pentecostal revival not unlike Azusa Street in America (pp. 181-184) and led to a number of Pentecostal traditions including the Apostolic denomination. There have, unsurprisingly, been many critics of the revival, both ancient and modern (pp. 159-165). Even Roberts and Jessie Penn-Lewis came to recognize the over-emotionalism of the revival and the influence of evil spirits (in their opinion) (pp. 156, 198-199). Nevertheless the author’s assessment is given in the last pages:

A long list of failures and weaknesses could be drawn up. But, notwithstanding them all, it is impossible to deny that the Spirit of God swept through Wales from 1904 to 1906 and left his mark on the land (p. 200).

While I would have reservations about the validity of the Welsh Revival, Fire on the Altar offers good insight into the events and personalities of one of modern church history’s most interesting times.

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher, Southern View Chapel