Jeremiah writes – “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” (8:20). The first statement may not be strictly true for us, but if we count ‘summer’ as the school holidays, then by the time this is published it is likely that the end will be close at hand if not a completed event. September is the month that churches traditionally pause to acknowledge and give thanks to the God of creation. Our harvest event this year will overlap with the start of the Rugby World Cup. For that reason I have asked that our harvest leaflet include a set of rugby posts with the words “Bread of Heaven” emblazoned above them. For the majority of people today these words are part of the folk-lore of Welsh rugby, but in actual fact they have a far more important history.
This well-loved hymn was written by one of the great men of Welsh Evangelical history. A contemporary of Howell Harris and Daniel Rowland, William Williams was born (1717) and brought up near the town of Llandovery, the major part of his life living at the farm indivisibly linked with his name, Pantycelyn. It is said that he wrote over 900 hymns and poems as well as other material. His original intention had been to study to become a doctor, but coming to faith under the preaching of Howell Harris he spent his life, often with his wife Mari travelling the length and breadth of Wales to preach the Gospel and then to form the new converts into ‘seiatau’ or societies; groups of new believers meeting together for prayer and mutual encouragement. These meetings eventually became the roots of what was originally called Welsh Calvinistic Methodism, but what today is known as the Presbyterian Church of Wales.
These facts all took on new meaning for Linda and me this summer as we took a week’s break in a village near Llandovery and discovered the “William Williams Pantycelyn Memorial Church.” This was not the church at which he worshipped, but was opened in his memory almost 100 years after his death. Details gleaned from this visit sent us in search of Pantycelyn farm.
The hymns of ‘Pantycelyn’, as he is often known, continue to have an important place in the worship of both Welsh and English speaking churches throughout the world. Our own hymn book contains no less than eleven of them. They are not only well-loved, because of their ‘popular’ Welsh tunes, but because of the Truth and Vision contained within them.
Consider hymn 259:
The enormous load of human guilt
was on my Saviour laid;
with woes as with a garment He
for sinners was arrayed.
This is glorious truth, the total guilt of every believing Christian was placed on Jesus, ‘there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ’ (Rom. 8:1)
That same sense of security is in the verse:
Secured from harm beneath Your shade,
here death and hell shall ne’er invade;
nor Sinai, with its thundering noise,
shall e’er disturb my happier joys (Hymn No. 432)
Although ‘Pantycelyn’ served mainly in Wales he had a vision that responded to the demands of the Great Commission:
Fly abroad, O mighty gospel,
win and conquer, never cease;
May your lasting wide dominion
Multiply and still increase!
Sway Your sceptre,
Saviour, all the world around. (Hymn No 471)
We could continue the quotations, but in this year when many will sing songs without understanding may we each respond to the truths of these hymns, but also the example of William Williams in that he was not content to keep this peace to himself, but travel tirelessly living on daily fellowship with Him who is the true Bread of Heaven, our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ.
Your grateful pastor,
Bernard Lewis September 2015