When the Fire Fell by R. Maurice Smith

The last great revival in the Western world recognized by non-charismatics was the Welsh Revival of 1904. Many longingly look back to that “outpouring of the Spirit of God” and cry out to God for something similar today. With this in mind I have recently begun a study of the Welsh Revival, this being one of the volumes that I have read.

Smith defines a “revival” as, “An out-pouring of the Spirit of God at a time and upon a people of God’s own sovereign choosing, resulting in the spiritual renewal of believers and the evangelization of unbelievers” (p.22). The Welsh Revival has been called the “Singing Revival.” Three-fourths of the meeting consists of singing” (p.88). “Evan Roberts himself felt singing to be of massive importance for the release of God’s power (p.78).” The Revival, “followed the line of singing, not preaching” (p.78).

For the most part the author tells the story of Evan Roberts, the principle evangelist involved in the Revival. Roberts, only in his mid-twenties at the time, would minister for approximately 18 months before suffering a nervous breakdown and spending the rest of his life in seclusion (this fact is almost completely glossed over by Smith). Many of Robert’s experiences are almost identical to the claims of the hyper-charismatics of today. For example Evans said, “I felt some living energy or force entering my bosom. It took my breath away, and my legs trembled exceedingly,” sounds identical to that of Benny Hinn’s in Good Morning Holy Spirit. Evans claimed many visions (pp. 45,48,49,99); heard voices that he thought were God’s (pp. 48,58) (Jesse Penn-Lewis, one of Evans’ strongest supporters would later write a book, War on the Saints to help him understand that it was demons, not God he was hearing from); avowed miracles (p.49,82); proclaimed “words of knowledge” (pp.51,89); taught his congregation to pray for the Holy Spirit to be sent upon them as at the day of Pentecost (pp. 52-54,83); promoted “slaying in the Spirit” (pp.54,55,91); had experiences of going to heaven (v.81). Evans was not alone, such occurrences were common during the Revival, according to Smith.

As is true of almost everything that I have read on revival, including Martin Lloyd-Jones’ commentary on Romans 8, the “theology” of revival is completely experiential not biblical. Unless I missed it, there was not one reference from Scripture in the whole book supporting “revival” as the author understands it.

What effect has the Welsh Revival had on the evangelical church? Note:

1) Smith proudly admits that the Revival would be the springboard from which the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements would come. “Unknown to most Christians today, this outpouring of the Holy Spirit, of which the Welsh Revival was only one expression, was the head-waters from which flowed the modern day Pentecostal, Charismatic and church renewal movements. Other than speaking in tongues (which broke out roughly two years after the revival) and manifestations of healings, nearly all of the current spiritual manifestations of the Charismatic movement were present in their early forms in the Welsh Revival. The Azusa Street meetings of 1906, to which most historians trace the modern origins of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movements, were simply another of many powerful manifestations and expressions of this unprecedented outpouring of the Spirit of God, the after-effects of which continue on to our own day” (p.17).

2) Chapter 5 is devoted to the effects that the Welsh Revival had on other parts of the world. It is instructive that Smith claims that in the United States church membership in the seven major Protestant denominations increased by over 2 million in five years, including 870,389 new members in 1906 alone” (p.120). Yet, this supposed revival apparently did nothing to arrest the doctrinal decline of these major denominations. By the 1920s fundamentalist groups all over the country were beginning to separate from these same liberal denominations.

Nothing in this book makes me want a revival of this type. Actually, such “revivals” are happening all around us today, and rightly rejected by Bible-believing people. Maybe we had better be careful for what we long and pray.