Its beginnings may be traced to the labours of the Rev. Griffith Jones (1684–1761), of Llanddowror, Carmarthenshire, whose sympathy for the poor led him to set on foot a system of circulating charity schools for the education of children. In striking contrast to the general apathy of the clergy of the period, Griffith Jones' zeal appealed to the public imagination, and his powerful preaching exercised a widespread influence, many travelling long distances in order to attend his ministry. There was thus a considerable number of earnest people dispersed throughout the country waiting for the rousing of the parish clergy.
An announcement of the Easter Communion Service, made by the Rev. Pryce Davies, vicar of Talgarth, on 30 March 1735, was the means of awakening Howell Harris (1714–1773) of Trevecca, and he immediately began to hold services in his own house. He was soon invited to do the same at the houses of others, and ended by becoming a fiery itinerant preacher, stirring to the depths every neighbourhood he visited.
Griffith Jones, preaching at Llanddewi Brefi, Cardiganshire — the place at which the Welsh Patron Saint, David, first became famous — found Daniel Rowland (1713–1790), curate of Llangeitho, in his audience, and his patronising attitude in listening drew from the preacher a personal supplication on his behalf in the middle of the discourse. Rowland was deeply moved, and became an ardent apostle of the new movement. Naturally a fine orator, his new-born zeal gave an edge to his eloquence, and his fame spread abroad. Rowlands and Harris had been at work fully eighteen months before they met at a service in Devynock church, in the upper part of Breconshire. The acquaintance then formed lasted to the end of Harris' life an interval of ten years excepted. Harris had been sent to Oxford in the autumn of 1735 to cure him of his fanaticism, but he left in the following February. Rowland had never been to a university, but, like Harris, he had been, well grounded in general knowledge. About 1739 another figure appeared. This was Howell Davies of Pembrokeshire, whose ministry was modelled on that of his master, Griffith Jones, but with rather more clatter in his thunder.
In 1736, on returning home, Harris opened a school, Griffith Jones supplying him with books from his charity. He also set up societies, in accordance with the recommendations in Josiah Wedgwood's little book on the subject; and these exercised a great influence on the religious life of the people. By far the most notable of Harris' converts was William Williams of Pantycelyn (1717–1791), the great hymn-writer of Wales, who while listening to the revivalist preaching on a tombstone in the graveyard of Talgarth, heard the voice of heaven, and was apprehended as by a warrant from on high. He was ordained deacon in the Church of England, 1740, but George Whitefield recommended him to leave his curacies and go into the highways and hedges. On Wednesday and Thursday, January 5 and 6, 1743, the friends of aggressive Christianity in Wales met at Watford, near Caerphilly, Glamorgan, in order to organise their societies. Whitefield was in the chair. Rowland, Williams and John Powell — afterwards of Llanmartin (clergymen), Harris, John Humphreys and John Cennick (laymen) were present. Seven lay exhorters were also at the meetings; they were questioned as to their spiritual experience and allotted their several spheres; other matters pertaining to the new conditions created by the revival were arranged. This is known as the first Methodist Association, held eighteen months before John Wesley's first conference (June 25, 1744). Monthly meetings covering smaller districts, were organised to consider local matters, the transactions of which were to be reported to the Quarterly Association, to be confirmed, modified, or rejected. Exhorters were divided into two classes — public, who were allowed to itinerate as preachers and superintend a number of societies; and private, who were confined to the charge of one or two societies. The societies were distinctly understood to be part of the established church, as Wedgwoods were, and every attempt at estranging them therefrom was sharply reproved; but persecution made their position anomalous. They did not accept the discipline of the Church of England, so the plea of conformity was a feeble defence; nor had they taken out licenses, so as to claim the protection of the Toleration Act. Harris' ardent loyalty to the Church of England, after three refusals to ordain him, and his personal contempt for ill-treatment from persecutors, were the only things that prevented separation.
Controversy between Daniel Rowlands and Howel Harris
A controversy on a doctrinal point "Did God die on Calvary?" raged for some time, the principal disputants being Rowlands and Harris; and in 1751 it ended in an open rupture, which threw the Connexion first into confusion and then into a state of coma. The societies split up into Harrisites and Rowlandites, and it was only with the revival of 1762 that the breach was fairly repaired. This revival is a landmark in the history of the Connection.
William Williams Pantycelyn had just published (1744) a little volume of hymns entitled Aleluia, the singing of which inflamed the people. This led the Bishop of St. David's to suspend Rowlands' license, and Rowlands had to confine himself to a meeting-house at Llangeitho. Having been turned out of other churches, he had leased a plot of land in 1759, anticipating the final withdrawal of his license, in 1763, and a spacious building was erected to which the people crowded from all parts on Sacrament Sunday.
Peter Williams and Thomas Charles
Llangeitho became the Jerusalem of Wales; and Rowland's popularity never waned until his physical powers gave way. A notable event in the history of Welsh Methodism was the publication in 1770, of a 4th annotated Welsh Bible by the Rev. Peter Williams, a forceful preacher, and an indefatigable worker, who had joined the Methodists in 1746, after being driven from several curacies. It gave birth to a new interest in the Scriptures, being the first definite commentary in the language. A powerful revival broke out at Llangeitho in the spring of 1780, and spread to the south, but not to the north of Wales. The ignorance of the people of the north made it very difficult for Methodism to benefit from these manifestations, until the advent of the Rev. Thomas Charles (1755–1814), who, having spent five years in Somerset as curate of several parishes, returned to his native land to marry Sarah Jones of Bala. Failing to find employment in the established church, he joined the Methodists in 1784. His circulating charity schools and then his Sunday schools gradually made the North a new country. In 1791 a revival began at Bala; and this, strange to say, a few months after the Bala Association had been ruffled by the proceedings which led to the expulsion of Peter Williams from the Connection, in order to prevent him from selling John Canne's Bible among the Methodists, because of some Sabellian marginal notes.
In 1790, the Bala Association passed Rules regarding the proper mode of conducting the Quarterly Association, drawn up by Charles; in 1801, Charles and Thomas Jones of Mold, published (for the association) the Rules and Objects of the Private Societies among the People called Methodists. About 1795, persecution led the Methodists to take the first step towards separation from the Church of England. Heavy fines made it impossible for preachers in poor circumstances to continue without claiming the protection of the Toleration Act, and the meeting-houses had to be registered as dissenting chapels. In a large number of cases this had only been delayed by so constructing the houses that they were used both as dwellings and as chapels at one and the same time. Until 1811 the Calvinistic Methodists had no ministers ordained by themselves; their enormous growth in numbers and the scarcity of ministers to administer the Sacrament — only three in North Wales, two of whom had joined only at the dawn of the century made the question of ordination a matter of urgency. The South Wales clergy who regularly itinerated were dying out; the majority of those remaining itinerated but irregularly, and were most of them against the change. The lay element, with the help of Charles and a few other stalwarts, carried the matter through ordaining nine at Bala in June, and thirteen at Llandilo in August. In 1823, the Confession of Faith was published; it is based on the Westminster Confession as Calvinistically construed, and contains 44 articles. The Connection's Constitutional Deed was formally completed in 1826.
Thomas Charles had tried to arrange for taking over Trevecca College when the trustees of the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion removed their seminary to Cheshunt in 1791; but the Bala revival broke out just at the time, and, when things grew quieter, other matters pressed for attention. A college had been mooted in 1816, but the intended tutor died suddenly, and the matter was for the time dropped. Candidates for the Connexional ministry were compelled to shift for themselves until 1837, when Lewis Edwards (1809–1887) and David Charles (1812–1878) opened a school for young men at Bala. North and South alike adopted it as their college, the associations contributing a hundred guineas each towards the education of their students. In 1842, the South Wales Association opened a college at Trevecca, leaving Bala to the North; the Rev. David Charles became principal of the former, and the Rev. Lewis Edwards of the latter. After the death of Dr Lewis Edwards, Dr. T. C. Edwards resigned the principalship of the University College at Aberystwyth to become head of Bala (1891), now a purely theological college, the students of which were sent to the university colleges for their classical training. In 1905 Mr. David Davies of Llandinam, one of the laymen in the Connection, offered a large building at Aberystwyth as a gift to the denomination for the purpose of uniting North and South in one theological college; but in the event of either association declining the proposal, the other was permitted to take possession, giving the association that should decline the option of joining at a later time. The Association of the South accepted, and that of the North declined, the offer; Trevecca College was turned into a preparatory school on the lines of a similar institution set up at Bala in 1891.
The missionary collections of the denomination were given to the London Missionary Society from 1798 to 1840, when a Connectional Society was formed; and no better instances of missionary enterprise are known than those of the Khasia and Jaintia Hills, Lushai Hills (Mizoram) and the Plains of Sylhet in northern India. The Presbyterian Church of India is the result of this missionary activity . There has also been a mission in Brittany since 1842.
The constitution of the denomination (called in Welsh, Hen Gorff, i.e. the "Old Body") is a mixture of Presbyterianism and Congregationalism; each church manages its own affairs and reports (I) to the district meeting, (2) to the monthly meeting, the nature of each report determining its destination. The monthly meetings are made up of all the officers of the churches comprised in each, and are split up into districts for the purpose of a more local co-operation of the churches. The monthly meetings appoint delegates to the quarterly Associations, of which all officers are members. The Associations of North and South are distinct institutions, deliberating and determining matters pertaining to them in their separate quarterly gatherings. For the purpose of a fuller co-operation in matters common to both, a general assembly (meeting once a year) was established in 1864. This is a purely deliberative conclave, worked by committees, and all its legislation has to be confirmed by the two Associations before it can have any force or be legal. The annual conference of the English churches of the denomination has no legislative standing, and is meant for social and spiritual intercourse and discussions.
In the early 20th century
The Calvinistic Methodists form in some respects the strongest church in Wales, and its forward movement, headed by Dr. John Pugh of Cardiff, has brought thousands into its fold since its establishment in 1891. Its Connexional Book Room, opened in 1891, yields an annual profit of from £1600 to £2000, the profits being devoted to help the colleges and to establish Sunday school libraries, etc. Its chapels in 1907 numbered 1,641 (with accommodation for 488,080), manses 229; its churches numbered 1,428, ministers 921, unordained preachers 318, deacons 6,179; its Sunday Schools 1,731, teachers 27,895, scholars 193,460, communicants 189,164, total collections for religious purposes 300,912. The statistics of the Indian Mission are equally good: communicants 8,027, adherents 26,787, missionaries 23, native ministers (ordained) 15, preachers (not ordained) 60.
The Calvinistic Methodists are intensely national in sentiment and aspirations, beyond all suspicion loyalists. They take a great interest in social, political and educational matters, and are on public bodies. They support the Eisteddfod as the promoter and inspirer of arts, letters and music, and are conspicuous among the annual prize winners. They thus form a living, democratic body, flexible and progressive in its movements, yet with a sufficient proportion of conservatism both in religion and theology to keep it sane and safe.
- Cross, F. L. (ed.) (1957) The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. London: Oxford U. P.; p. 221-22
- Jones, David Ceri, Boyd Stanley Schlenther, and Eryn Mant White. The Elect Methodists: Calvinistic Methodism in England and Wales, 1735-1811 (University of Wales Press, 2012) 307 pages; Focuses on Griffith Jones, Thomas Haweis, Howel Harris, and George Whitefield.
- Williams, W. Welsh Calvinistic Methodism: a historical sketch. London, 1872
- Williams, M. W. Creative Fellowship. Caervarvon, 1935
- Davies, Gwyn ( ? ) A Light In The Land: a history of Christianity in Wales from 200 to 2000 AD ISBN 1-85049-181-X Bryntirin Press
- Bennett, Richard (1909) Howell Harris and the Dawn of Revival (English Translation 1962: Banner of Truth and Evangelical Press of Wales ISBN 1-85049-035-X)
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: D. E. Jenkins (1911). "Calvinistic Methodists". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Rules of Discipline. Caerleon, 1821 (in Welsh)
- Confession of Faith. Aberystwyth, 1824 (in Welsh)
- The History, Rules of Discipline and Confession of the Calvinistic Methodists in Wales. London, 1825 (revised Welsh ed. 1876; English trans. 1877)
- The Legal Handbook for the Calvinistic Methodist Connexion; 2nd ed. Wrexham, 1911
- Two Calvinistic Methodist Chapels 1743-1811: the records of two key London chapels (the London tabernacle and Spa Fields chapel). Originally published by the London Record Society, included here on British History Online.
- Calvinistic Methodists – the page by Sean Richardson
- "Calvinistic Methodists". Encyclopedia Americana. 1920.