Jessie Penn-Lewis Preaches Holiness

Jessie Penn-Lewis was born in 1861, in Wales to a Calvinist Methodist minister. Her family had moved into an old museum – and in the attic of the old tower Jessie “taught herself to read the Bible freely” by the age of four. “There were books, books, and more books everywhere” in the home.

She received little schooling due to ill health, and was married at the age of 19 to a young British civil servant, William Penn-Lewis (despite her brother warning the fiancé that he would be looking after an invalid for life). She was converted on New Year’s Day, 1882, and ministered in the Young Women’s Christian Association, which – in 1886 – took a vital Christian stand.

She is spoken of as having received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, testifying that the Cross must come first, in dying to self, to enable the believer to move on to Pentecost.

Her preaching ministry then took her around England and on to Scandinavia, Russia, Switzerland, Canada, the USA, and India. She spoke at conferences such as Mildmay and Keswick. She records the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the Australian Keswick Convention of 1891, speaking of people who were “drunk with the joy of the Lord”.

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She was also involved in the Welsh Revival of 1904-5, developing a close relationship with Evan Roberts, the principal evangelist of that revival. When Roberts suffered a mental breakdown in 1905 she and her husband welcomed him into their home where he lived for many years. He also co-authored several works with her.

She credits South African writer Andrew Murray as having had a profound impact on her, through his writings.

In her preaching and writing there developed a strong holiness theme … which placed emphasis upon the complete crucifixion of the ‘flesh’. Nevertheless, she was also invited to speak at the Keswick Convention in 1927 … where the doctrine of holiness is based more on the new nature ‘counteracting’ the old nature, rather than the ‘crucifixion’ view that she held in common with those of the Wesleyan tradition.

She established the Llandrindod Wells Convention in Wales and later the Matlock Conferences. She contributed regularly to “The Overcomer”, a quarterly with worldwide circulation, which she founded in 1908.

Her book, War on the Saints, became a best seller in Christian circles. She also wrote Spiritual Warfare and over a dozen other books, and at one time at least, she believed that the Great Tribulation began in 1906.

Jessie Penn-Lewis died in London on 15 August, 1927.

Not everyone thinks highly of Jessie Penn-Lewis. Some say that she developed an obsessive distrust of spiritual manifestations, such as were evident in the Welsh Revival and in the Sunderland Pentecostalism.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Evan Roberts and the Welsh Revival

This is the day that …Evan Roberts was born in Wales in 1878.

Twenty-six years later God used this young Calvinistic-Methodist to ignite a revival fire across that land. With his “scorched Bible” (it had been damaged in a mine explosion), Evan Roberts prayed and preached. Sometimes he wept in the pulpit. Other times he simply talked in between songs and testimonies.

Converted in his teenage years, Roberts was faithful to Christian principles, church attendance, prayer and Bible study. He was known as an exemplary Christian young man. Leaving school at age 11, to work with his father in coal mines, he spent 12 years underground. Then for more than a year he was apprenticed to a blacksmith.

In the Spring of 1904 Evan experienced an increased sense of God’s presence. One night he woke from his sleep and was led into a deep communion with his Lord for hours. Every evening for the following months this experience was repeated.

Here is how Roberts described his experience to W.T. Stead in 1905: “For a long, long time I was much troubled in my soul and my heart by thinking over the failure of Christianity. Oh! it seemed such a failure—such a failure—and I prayed and prayed, but nothing seemed to give me any relief. But one night, after I had been in great distress praying about this, I went to sleep, and at one o’clock in the morning suddenly I was waked up out of my sleep, and I found myself with unspeakable joy and awe in the very presence of the Almighty God. And for the space of four hours I was privileged to speak face to face with Him as a man speaks face to face with a friend. At five o’clock it seemed to me as if I again returned to earth.”

Feeling a calling to win people for Christ, his only available option for training was for the Presbyterian ministry. He attended a Grammar school to prepare for theological studies. A few weeks after arriving at the school he attended a Convention at nearby Blaenanerch and there he experienced what he called his “Baptism in the Spirit”, as he responded to the prayer “Bend me oh Lord”.

This experienced radicalised his life and turned him into the Welsh Revivalist. His initial message was simply: Confess all known sin; Deal with and get rid of anything ‘doubtful’ in your life; Be ready to obey the Holy Spirit instantly; and Confess Christ publicly.

As he took that message to the valleys of South Wales, the 1904 Welsh Revival saw “100,000 outsiders converted and added to the Churches” within a year, writes Colin Whittaker (Great Revivals, page 95).

And then, some two years later, Evan Roberts faced health challenges and went to stay with Mrs Jessie Penn-Lewis, a wealthy English lady, and her husband. Together they published a magazine, The Overcomer (God’s Generals, by R. Liardon, page 99) and he co-authored with her the book, War on the Saints. This book drew from his revival experiences and taught saints how to do spiritual warfare. Watchman Nee credited Roberts with recovering the truth of Spiritual Warfare to the church.

Evan Roberts eventually left the Penn-Lewis home, lived alone in Sussex, and wrote booklets. He devoted himself to prayer for the kingdom of God to be established. He saw that his health challenges led him to a private ministry of reclusive prayer.

Later he moved back to Wales, and died there, in January, 1951, at the age of 72. The impact of his private years of prayer ministry may not be known until we reach heaven.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.