Daniel Rowland and the Preaching for Divine Impression, Part One

 The following article was written by Al Baker, a fellow minister in Vanguard Presbytery, and is included with this week’s email for those who may not be receiving his weekly email devotion, Forget None of His Benefits. This article ties in very well with my two most recent articles on the office of the evangelist. I am sure everyone will enjoy reading this article!

Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL
Please send any contributions to: Vanguard Presbytery, PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540

Daniel Rowland And Preaching for Divine Impression, Part One 

volume 22, number 34, August 24, 2023

Worship the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling, Psalm 2:11.

Christians in the West have never had more access to sound Biblical and theological training than now. Seminaries, Bible colleges, excellent on line theological training, classic works in theology now in the public domain, and churches on every corner should all translate into a godly, humble, Christian populace which is impacting our culture for good. Is that happening? You know it is not. Why not? I honestly believe the problem is modern day preaching. Perhaps due to the Greek and Roman milieu of when the New Covenant church began, the emphasis has been on the mind and not the heart. Consequently preachers and pastors in the West have been taught to address only the mind in preaching and teaching. How is this working out? Not so good. What do we need? We need men who preach seeking what I call “the divine impression.”  

Daniel Rowland, the Spirit anointed Anglican preacher from Llangeitho, Wales, was converted in 1735 while listening to the evangelistic preaching of Griffith Jones. Through the preaching of Daniel Rowland, Howell Harris, Howell Davies, William Williams, Peter Williams, David Jones and countless other evangelistic, open air preachers, 18th century Wales was delivered from ignorance, superstition, and debauchery. Wales in the 18th century, prior to the Revival which began in 1735, was largely a rural, agrarian society but little real farming was done. The people would plow only the land closest to their homes, throwing down a little seed, putting up no fences to keep out animals, and generally did nothing but drink and gamble. In their ignorance and superstition they would wait outside local churches on New Year’s Eve, waiting to hear ghosts tell them which of their friends would die that coming year. They went to church on Easter morning in their stocking feet, believing the ground on which the church stood to be consecrated ground. On Christmas morning they insisted that before daybreak they would see the Rosemary bush bloom, but always by sunrise the buds seemed to have disappeared. They were largely illiterate and completely ignorant of Biblical Christianity. The Church of England generally kept the people in ignorance. The curates preached ten minute sermons and then afterwards joined their parishioners at the local pub. When God raised up Daniel Rowland, Howell Harris, et al, the curates almost without exception, along with the gentry of the countryside, stirred up hatred toward these Calvinistic Methodist preachers. Howell Harris was beaten repeatedly by angry mobs. On one occasion the local curate placed a keg of beer on the wall next to where Harris was to preach, urging his parishioners to drink as much as they wanted. By the time Harris came to preach the angry mob was incited to rush him, beat him, and destroy the house in which he went to seek refuge. On another occasion one of Harris’ followers, William Seward, was hit in the head by a stone while standing with him as he preached. Seward died a few days later.  By the late 18th century, however, the whole nation of Wales had been delivered from ignorance, superstition, and debauchery. 

What was it that transformed Wales? There can be no doubt that the preaching of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist preachers was the catalyst which God used to effect the remarkable change. And what kind of preaching was it? Well, it was quite different from what we largely hear today. Perhaps due to the influence of Dallas Theological Seminary’s emphasis in the 1960’s and 1970’s on teaching as opposed to preaching God’s word, and perhaps due to evangelicalism’s uneasiness with neo-Pentecostal excesses, and perhaps due to a residual of Sandemanianism in Reformed churches (an 18th century heresy in England and Scotland which stressed a calm, rational acceptance of Christ, devoid of conviction or emotion), we have gradually lost the true essence of Biblical preaching. One cannot help but see in the preaching of George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Howell Harris, and Daniel Rowland that these men did not preach like so many of us do today. John Stott, in his book The Preacher’s Portrait, has observed that four Greek words oikonomos (steward), didasko (teaching), kerusso (proclaiming),  euangelizo (evangelizing) are all present in Biblical preaching. It is not accurate, therefore, to think of preaching to believers as only didasko, or to unbelievers as only kerusso. All four of these words are to be present in every sermon.

However it seems to me that our preaching today is largely without persuasion, force, or emotion. We in Reformed circles especially seem to be nervous about releasing our emotions when we preach. Robert Rayburn, in an essay at a Banner of Truth Conference entitled “Preaching As A Mystical Event,” said that true preaching causes the present world to disappear and the invisible world to be seen, that a true encounter with God happens in true preaching, that one hears His voice and nothing else, that there is the impression of truth upon the heart. He said that when the central affirmations of the faith are brought to bear on the heart, then their application and the consequent repercussions on every part of life will follow. It is the “divine impression” made at the time that is crucial, not a remembrance afterwards. If this is true, and I believe it is, then taking notes in a sermon, for example, to review them later is not the main thing about which a congregation ought to be concerned. Preaching is not mere acquisition of new knowledge. It is a deep, abiding awareness that God is speaking to us by the preacher through the Holy Spirit. 

I remember being mystified years ago when I first read Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Preaching and Preachers as he expressed his dissatisfaction with people recording his sermons so that they could listen to them later. I thought, “What’s the problem with that? People can continue to learn after hearing the sermon. After all, we only remember 5% of what we hear anyway.” Lloyd-Jones (ML-J), however, was after something far more important than dissemination of information. He was after what Rayburn calls a true encounter with God, a divine impression, and he said this only comes by being present when the sermon is preached, when the Holy Spirit can work directly on one’s heart and soul. Obviously I am glad people risked ML-J’s wrath and recorded his sermons, and if you have ever listened to him preach, then you know he had remarkable unction, even in his recordings. I am glad we have those sermons, not so much for their content (we have that in his books) but for the unction they convey. His point, however, is still well taken. The event of preaching, receiving the divine impression at that very moment, is what we should seek. 

This is the same reason Whitefield could say to Benjamin Franklin, “You may certainly print my sermons but the printed page can never catch their thunder.” In Hughes Oliphant Old’s five volume work The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church he repeatedly draws attention to a myriad of preachers who claimed that preaching was the highest form of worship, not only for the preacher but also for those who are present in preaching. While reading recently in volume one of The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales, written by John Morgan Jones and William Morgan, published by Banner of Truth, I was deeply impacted in this regard by an observation of David Griffiths who said this about Rowland’s preaching:

The overwhelming power of the mighty influences of the Spirit in his ministry came on gradually, in manner like a wave of the sea, increasing more and more. He commenced his address calmly, but as he advanced, both his matter and his manner increased in interest. His congregation, which was always of immense numbers, would look. . .with pleasure upon him as he proceeded so excellently. Their thoughts and feelings would be carried along with him in the most sweet and powerful way, being quickened to a high degree of spiritual excitement. Then, at length, his eloquence attained its climax, and then his preaching under divine influence would most nobly break forth like the rising of the swell of the sea, and would overwhelm the great concourse of people in an astonishing manner. The intensity of their feelings found relief in the same moment in a simultaneous burst of hallelujahs and ascriptions of praise to the most high God. The preacher would then pause for a short interval, until the people had enjoyed the feast; indeed, he would not have been heard had he continued. It was necessary also for their enthusiasm to pass, in order that they apply themselves with profit to the remainder of the sermon. They therefore sought to restrain their feelings, and to quieten down, being anxious to enjoy the repast prepared for them by the wonderful ambassador of heaven, who had been so signally gifted.    

What do you think would happen if our street preachers and pastors preached with such an anointing of the Spirit? Unbelievers would be arrested, stopped in their tracks, and converted and believers would be assured, revived, sanctified, and emboldened to give all to Jesus. How do we get there? Obviously this kind only comes through prayer, asking for the Spirit’s power. Of course preachers must proclaim solid, expository sermons with orthodox theology. That is a given, but we need more. Preachers should labor for the “divine impression” by the congregation. When this happens whole communities and even nations can be changed. Preacher, preach to the heart and not merely the mind. 

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: