Chapter XVII - The Welsh and Religion

FROM its earliest history the Welsh nation has been known as a religious people. Julius Caesar describes it as being a strong adherent of the primitive Druidic superstition. Early in the apostolic age Christianity was introduced to the Southern parts of Britain, and many of its people became ardent Christians. After the Saxon Conquest the division of the British people, hemmed in the mountain land between Gloucester and Chester, accepted the sway of the Bishop of Rome and became Roman Catholics which they continued to be for a thousand years, that is until the expulsion of Popery and the establishment of Protestantism by the second Sovereign of Welsh blood, Henry VIII. During that Popish millenium religious teaching and services were carried on by Latin speaking priests and monks who introduced Latin words into the Welsh language expressive of the differentiating tenets and offices of their creeds. These still remain in the Welsh tongue and are still used and are so familiar that many have no suspicion that they are interlopers ; aberth, offrwm, degwm, pregethwr, offeiriad, gweddi &c. are Latin words.

At the bidding of the autocrat Tudor Convert all the Welsh Catholic Priests deserted the Pope and followed the pay. But it does not appear that the flocks followed the hireling shepherds. The Welsh people never favoured the Established Church after its Protestantisation. When Henry deprived them of the Mass and the Popish Clergy they left the Parochial Churches vacant. Ecclesiastical records incontestably prove that religious attendance was at a very low ebb for a hundred years after the royal reformation in Wales. The cause of that remarkable result was that the priests became protestant for their worldly advantage, but the people were not educated in the Word of God. Hence the opinion prevailed, from the mercenary conduct of the clergy, that religion was simply a matter of worldly consideration to the advantage of its officials. The people of Wales therefore became nonfrequenters of the House of God. The Sabbath was devoted to sports and debauchery, and the land was filled with immorality. The honest and serious writings of the godly Vicar of Llandovery in the beginning of the seventeenth century testify to the deplorable moral and religious condition of our forefathers. His evidence is abundantly confirmed by other Church authors. Every opposition was made by the leading clergy and the throne to the efforts of awakened evangelists to bring the Gospel to the people, and the Archbishop of Canterbury eagerly signed the death-warrant of John Penry, a Brecknock clergyman, for presuming to blame the neglect of the Church dignitaries of his benighted fellow-countrymen.

That condition and disastrous state would have continued unto this day, indeed we should have become an infatuated Catholic nation like the Italians and Spaniards, but for the magnificent efforts of single believers in the Word of God. They awoke themselves, and the Holy Spirit aroused them to awake their fellow-men, thereby finally the land has been lighted and warmed by the Sun of Righteousness. Gospel centres were formed in Breconshire, on the banks of the Wye, at Llanfaches, Swansea, through Carmarthenshire, on the banks of the Teify, and flames burst forth soon in two or three places in North Wales. Itinerant preachers wandered, often by night, through the land, like guerilla warriors, to drive the enemy away. Then the great Welsh Methodist movement burst forth and irresistibly swept away the Established barriers against the spread of the gospel. A host of mighty preachers were summoned by the Spirit of God to rouse His people to flee from the wrath to come, and they were joined by a small band of clergy in Holy Orders, for which they were apotheosized by expulsion from their beneficies by the Anglican Bishops. Every effort was put forth by the Church, the Court, and the Palace, as in Jerusalem of old, to prevent the spread of the Message of Peace in our land ; but all in vain. The Lord gave the Word ; great was the company of the preachers ; great were the companies of the hearers ; and surprisingly successful is the result. Wales is illuminated by the Light of the Gospel beyond all lands. Its people are renowned for their love of the Word of the Lord. A house of divine worship is within the reach of all its inhabitants, erected by the voluntary contributions of the worshippers.

All its religious literature is Christian, mostly orthodox. Its talented and eloquent sons proclaim the gospel of peace in our land. The queen of religious societies, The British and Foreign Bible Society, was originated within its boundaries and to satisfy its craving for the Bread of Life. The greatest crowds of the population flock to listen to the servants of Christ preaching the everlasting gospel. The effect of this devotion surprises the Judges on account of the freedom of the truly Welsh counties from indictable offences. Other nations envy this blessed condition, and would be delighted to secure the Lord's Day, where no intoxicating liquour can be legally sold and purchased. Our wilderness has been cleared, our soil has been morally and religiously fallowed, the good Seed has been sown, and the harvest is ripening. Let us pray the Lord of the Harvest to send forth labourers to accomplish and finish the Glorious Work.