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Tuesday
Apr262011

Thomas Charles of Bala

In Iain Murray's book,  Heroes, I was introduced to someone about whom I knew almost nothing.  I had read the name Thomas Charles of Bala somewhere, but I knew little of him.  This man was one of those relatively unknown men whose contributions to the building of the kingdom of God exceeds his reputation.

Charles was born in Wales in 1755.  As a young man, he heard the famous Welsh pastor, Daniel Rowland preach, and he was converted.  After his conversion, Charles attended Oxford, and then spent time with John Newton in Olney.  After his ordination to the Church of England, Charles set about to court a young woman in Bala, Sally Jones.  It was a long process which was met with obstacles such as her initial reluctance, and then by her parents' reluctance to see her move so far away from them.  Sally was an only child, and to see her go so far from home was rather unbearable to them.  Charles was sensitive to that, and endeavoured to find a charge in North Wales, a search that would prove unfruitful.  Charles would speak at various parishes for one or two weeks, but then would be dismissed, the hearing of spiritual truth being unwanted in those parishes.  

The first years of his marriage were ones of learning humility, as he sought to find a church in Wales.  He was frequently seen behind the counter of the shop which his in-laws owned, because he could not find places to preach.  John Newton encouraged him to consider churches outside of Wales, but Charles felt called to Bala and remained.  It was not until he was invited to speak at the Calvinistic Methodist church of his in-laws that things turned around.  Charles was in Bala at the beginning of a great revival that would last for forty years and would extend through all of Wales.  The revival was not begun with a huge amount of fanfare.  Charles comments on this:

The glorious work began on a Sunday afternoon, in the chapel, where I preached twice that day, and cannot say that there was anything particular in the ministry of that day, more than what I had often experienced among our dear people here.  But, towards the close of the evening service, the Spirit of God seemed to work in a very powerful manner on the minds of great numbers present who never appeared before to seek the Lord's face; but now, there was a general and loud crying. 'What must I do to be saved?', and, 'God be merciful to me a sinner.'

This is something I have read more than once:  often, the biggest revivals start in the most simple, unremarkable ways.  We tend to think of revival being proceeded by the big and splashy.  This revival began with simple gospel preaching, and no doubt, prayer.

The results of the revival were seen in the lives of the people.  Charles wrote in 1811:

The whole country is in a manner emerging from a state of great ignorance and barbarity, to civilization and piety ... Bibles without end are called for, are read diligently, learned by heart, and searched into with unwearied diligence and care.  Instead of vain amusements, dancing, card-playing, interludes, quarreling, and barbarous and most cruel fightings; we have now prayer meetings, our congregations are crowded, and public catechising is becoming pleasant, familiar and profitable.'

Wherever there is true conversion, there will be a change in how people live.  Any account of revivals will record such activities.

In addition to preaching, Charles saw the need for the education of children and young people.  Beginning in his own home, he sought to teach the children to read and memorize portions of the Bible.  Eventually, this extended into larger venues, and also initiated the drive to get Bibles written in the Welsh language.  The hunger for the Scriptures outdid the availability of them.  In his frustration of not being able to supply enough copies of the Bible, Charles initiated events that would lead to the foundation of the British and Foreign Bible Society.  I could not help but think as I read this of Lloyd-Jones, and the founding of the Banner of Trust, which was begun to re-print good Christian reading material.

Charles may not be well known to some, and he has not the fame and familiarity that men such as Edwards and Spurgeon have, but his contribution is indeed important.  Murray concludes this account:

The writings of Thomas Charles reveal nothing original but they can renew in us clearer convictions about the extent of man's fall and rebellion against God, and the amazing plan of redemption.  This alone is the message which has changed and can change the world.

We live in an age when we fell that we must be "new" and "fresh" at ever turn.  Bigger and better is the order of the day.  But the bottom line is that the ageless trugh of the gospel is preached, things are changed.  The message does not need to be fancified or made more "exciting."  It already is exciting if we will be look closely at it.

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