William Williams, Welsh Hymn writer, died on January 11, 1791, having “trod the verge of Jordan and landed safe on Canaan’s side”.
William Williams stands foremost among Welsh hymn writers. But he was more than that.
Williams was born in 1717 and his father was a ruling elder in the Cefnarthen Independent church. His education at Llwyn-llwyd Academy was to prepare him to be a doctor. However, while he was there he heard Howel Harris preach in Talgarth churchyard and Williams was thus soundly converted.
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He joined the Established Church and was ordained deacon in 1740, then later became a friend of George Whitefield and the Calvinistic Methodists. The result was that the Bishop refused to ordain him to full ‘holy orders’.
So he became an itinerant preacher. All of Wales became his parish as he travelled “95,000 miles in the next 43 years” (Gospel in Hymns by A. Bailey, page 108).
In 1748 he married Mary Francis and went to live at his mother’s old home, Pantycelyn. Thus he came to be known as ‘Williams of Pantycelyn’.
Time and time again he was attacked by mobs. At Cardinganshire they beat him “within an inch of his life” … but Williams continued preaching and singing the Gospel.
Church historians refer to him as “the sweet singer of Wales” and of the 800 hymns he wrote many are still on the lips of worshippers to this day. Most well-known is:
Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land …
Williams was the chief hymn-writer of the Methodist awakening in Wales and the popularity of his hymns accounts for much of the success of Welsh Methodism. His hymns not only impacted the nation’s religious life but they also made a valuable contribution to the literary culture of his day.
He was also a prolific writer and translator. From 1744-1791 Williams’ name appears on nearly 90 books and booklets. He wrote extensive poetry and prose and translated many English works into this native Welsh tongue. He was Wales’ first romantic poet and, as such, therefore exercised considerable influence on his contemporaries and successors.
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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