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THOMAS CHARLES HAD AN AMAZING EXPERIENCE IN CHURCH

[Thomas Charles, frontpiece from D. E. Jenkins, The Life of the Rev. Thomas Charles B.A. of Bala. Denbigh: Llewlyn Jenkins, 1908.]


When Thomas Charles was fourteen, his father sent him to the nearby academy at Carmarthen, Wales. Godly friends feared for him because the school was headed by a master who openly held low views of Christ’s divinity. Charles stayed orthodox, however, by reading sound books and by associating with local Methodists. Nonetheless, he lacked an inner Christian life.

He passed a couple years in this state until on this day, 20 January 1773, his world changed. Here is his own account with modifications in spelling and punctuation:

I went to hear Mr. [Daniel] Rowland preach at [the “New Chapel,” Llangeitho, Wales]. His text was Hebrews 4:15. A day much to be remembered by me as long as I live. Ever since that happy day I have lived in a new heaven and a new earth. The change a blind man who receives his sight experiences does not exceed the change I at that time experienced in my mind. 
    The Earth receded, it disappeared, 
     Heaven open’d to my Eyes,
     My Ears with sound seraphic rang.
Then I was first convinced of the sin of unbelief or entertaining narrow, contracted, and hard thoughts of the Almighty. I had such a view of Christ as our high Priest, of his love, compassion, power, and all-sufficiency, as filled my soul with astonishment, with joy unspeakable and full of glory. . . . The glorious scenes then opened to my eyes will abundantly satisfy my soul millions of years hence in the contemplation of them. 

Charles’s conversion was more than usually significant. He matured into one of those men who sees needs and tackles them, piling accomplishment upon accomplishment. But first he had to finish his education and training. At Oxford he identified with the evangelical wing of the Church of England. Later he held curacies with the Church of England in Somerset. When he married, his wife, Sarah “Sally” Jones, refused to leave Bala, Wales, where she had a shop. Because her income was essential to their survival, Charles sought curacies nearby, but, evangelicals were not welcome in the Church of England. As a consequence, he joined the Calvinist Methodists.

He greatly increased Calvinist Methodist membership by establishing new circulating schools when existing arrangements ended and by employing other teachers to train people to read and give them basic Bible instruction. Soon he was at the forefront of promoting the innovation of Sunday schools in Wales and oversaw the work with such diligence that it grew rapidly. He wrote books and magazines in Welsh to give the students worthwhile reading material and he prepared the operational rules for the schools. When he recognized the desperate need for Welsh language Bibles (partly through the famous case of young Mary Jones who walked all day to beg him for a copy of God’s word), he lobbied until Christian leaders created the British and Foreign Bible Society to meet such needs. Then he prepared two editions of the Welsh Bible for press, and compiled a high-quality Welsh Scripture dictionary.

Charles also went to bat for Welsh Methodists who desired to choose their own elders rather than have them appointed for them, and helped them win that concession. The list of his other Christian endeavors is long. One was to draw up a form of ordination for Methodist clergymen. He had hoped the Church of England leaders would accommodate the Methodist movement with ordinations, but when they refused, he realized the Methodists must act on their own. In short, Charles’s conversion on this day was significant not only to Wales but to all the lands that would be touched by Welsh Christians in the century following his death in 1814.

Dan Graves

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For more on Wales, see Welsh Revivals of 1859 and 1904

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