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