IT is a trite remark that, according to the need and at the time when the need pressed the sorest, the Church has ever been supplied with fit agents for perpetuating its vital and effective force and accomplishing its Divine purpose. The truth of this is seen in every period of its existence. When the oppression in Egypt was growing beyond endurance, and yet the house of bondage seemed closed on the chosen race by gates of brass and bars of iron, Moses was raised up to be a ruler and deliverer. When the priesthood was become vile, and men abhorred the offering of the Lord, Samuel arose as a teacher of the good and right way, and as a pattern of the blameless and obedient priest. When kings and queens abused their high position, and became abettors of the grossest idolatry, Elijah the Tishbite appeared on the scene, and with his undaunted presence and fiery zeal stemmed the torrent of national impiety. When the disciples were [113/114] but a small and obscure company, whose leaders could be publicly termed as 'unlearned and ignorant,' and Christianity was to meet the civilization of Greece and Rome, St. Paul was converted to the faith, and, bringing with him his wide culture, as well as the magnetic force of his eager and impassioned but yet strangely tender nature, became the great Apostle of the Gentiles. The inspired Record is substantially an exemplification of this constant Providential interposition on behalf of the Church, and since the Record has been closed, and the more visible manifestation of supernatural aid withheld, its uniform experience has still testified to the same truth. Its task has been indeed augmented beyond the power of calculation, and all its available resources have been strained to the utmost to overtake and supply the still increasing demands made on it. Instead of being confined to one narrow spot such as Palestine, its scene of operations is become the whole world. It has had to encounter and deal with all the varieties of races and tongues, of dispositions and characters, of classes and interests among men, and with intellect the most keen and cultivated, as well as the most rude and barbarous. It seemed more than once doomed to sink beneath the weight of its burden, or succumb to the power of its assailants. But the long line of capable and accredited champions has not been broken, a fresh accession of strength has been always imparted, and the necessary [114/115] relief obtained. This, as we observed, is so generally admitted as regards the Church in its corporate capacity and in its organic whole as to be now a truism; but it may be also accepted in regard to particular branches, and to none perhaps more justly than to our own hereditary branch of the Church in Wales.
We have been here favoured with a succession of timely witnesses to the truth whenever strange and erroneous doctrines were introduced and propagated, and of vigilant watchmen who were singularly qualified for the work of revival whenever the Church itself was sinking into deep and ignominious slumber. Their fame, it may be, has not extended very far, for their labours were necessarily confined to their own insulated and obscure province, and chiefly prosecuted in a dialect unknown to the great majority of their fellow-subjects. Neither were they found as a rule in places of ecclesiastical dignity or social eminence. On the contrary, they occupied humble positions in life, and owed no recognition of service to the civil or ecclesiastical rulers of the country, but they were nevertheless men of exceptional worth and ability, and exercised an extraordinarily beneficial influence whilst they lived, and after death generations of their grateful countrymen have arisen and called them 'blessed.' And of these worthies none could excel the Rev. Griffith Jones, Vicar of Llanddowror, to [115/116] whose life and labours we here propose to direct the attention of the reader.
But before we can form anything like an adequate conception of his worth, and of our indebtedness to him, we must first survey the ground of his evangelistic and educational mission, and the circumstances and conditions under which he carried it on. It is commonly acknowledged that at the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century religion was at a deplorably low ebb throughout the United Kingdom. A large portion of our historical annals is usually devoted to the elucidation of this characteristic of that period, and no difficulty is found in substantiating the charge of the wide prevalence of open vice among all classes of society, and of the flagrant neglect on the part of the Church of any serious and systematic effort at improvement. This grave charge is not confined to any particular district, but applies equally to England, Scotland, and Ireland, as well as to Wales. It may be, indeed, that it justly assumes a darker form, or is drawn with a less discriminating hand, in reference to the Principality. Special circumstances undoubtedly had been at work here to harass and depress the Church, which were perhaps wanting elsewhere, and thus to augment the mass of ignorance and impiety in our own division which it is confessed was overspreading the other portions of the kingdom. One prominent cause of this was the treatment of the [116/117] native language. It was neglected and disparaged by all who were engaged in the civil administration of the country, and unhappily by most of our Church dignitaries. It thus proved a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence to many who should have known better and manfully accepted the fact of its prevalence with all its real or supposed inconveniences. This, beyond a doubt, was the plain duty of all persons in authority, who desired the advancement of the Welsh people, dictated as it was at once by every principle of sound policy, and by the injunctions of our holy religion, which teaches us an impartial indifference to tongues and tribes, and to use the most feasible and rational means for promoting the good of the Church and the salvation of souls. Although the language lay at the root of national capabilities, and was well adapted to deal with the strongest motive powers of man, and with every phase and position of religious truth, it yet remained, so far as those in authority were concerned, totally neglected--nay, it was sedulously sought to destroy it and supplant it with English. Another fact must be here taken into account, resulting, indeed, from the one just mentioned. The necessary implements of education had to be provided, and provided, too, in the long-neglected Welsh tongue. This was the only tongue understood by the great majority of the Welsh people, who were thus not only debarred from the ample stores of English literature and science [117/118] which everywhere else were the sources of so much instruction and delight, but were also left destitute of all similar literary means of which they could avail themselves. The most elementary steps for teaching in the way of printed matter were wanting; the very rudiments of knowledge had yet to be supplied.
The physical nature and sterility of the country, as well as its social condition, contributed to the same result. These added no doubt to the difficulties that beset the path of the reformer in Wales. One third at least of its surface is composed of bare and rocky elevations, which are hopelessly barren, lying, as they do in South Wales, in long and broad ridges, intersected by deep ravines, and, in North Wales, rising to stupendous mountains. The climate is in most parts exceptionally bleak and severe in the winter months, and in the aggregate the rainfall is much larger and the mists more dense and frequent than in England, thus rendering out-door work in Wales an arduous and anxious one. At the foot of the hills and on the banks of rivers, fertile and beautiful vales and sweet meadowland are to be found, it is true, in numerous places; but they are narrow and of small extent, circumscribed as they are by the precipitous nature of the surrounding ground. But the soil in general is poor, and but reluctantly answers to the toil and care of the hardy husbandman. It is indeed a marvel how many spots, such as those, for instance, which are under [118/119] tillage on the uplands of Cardiganshire or Carnarvonshire, can be possibly made to supply food even now. But at the time to which we refer matters must have been much worse, when the state of agriculture, we are told, was at least a hundred years behind that of England. Commerce, in the modern acceptation of the term, could be hardly said to exist, confined as it was to a few obscure seaports on the coast and some small towns bordering on the English frontier. It must be added that at least a century elapsed before science and enterprise discovered those beds of coal and mineral which in our day have effected so great a change in the material condition of our country. We venture to say that at the time under review no part of the kingdom, except perhaps the highlands of Scotland or the western counties of Ireland, presented a more abject state of poverty than the greatest portion of Wales. The toiling population were subjected from earliest morning to the latest working hour at night to a hard and unremitting struggle for a precarious subsistence. They had too often to dwell in miserable hovels, and to consider as luxuries the barley bread, or bread largely made of field-beans, and the oaten cakes of their ruder forefathers, and were evidently depressed by their surroundings to that point of low vitality when desire for improvement is hardly felt, and hope of relief is dead. At the same time, too, many of the gentry who lived on the fruit [119/120] of their toil formed a class apart, speaking an alien language, and owning no rightful tie of common sympathy, and, as a rule, were immersed in ignoble pleasures, and regarded their game, the fox, the hare, and the otter, the partridge and the pheasant, of greater interest, if not of greater value, than the neglected helpless human beings around them.
The clergy largely partook of the indigence which was so common among the peasantry and tenant farmers. Their straitened circumstances, indeed, and the various ways, some of them we fear of a menial character, unworthy of their sacred calling, by which they attempted to improve their scanty incomes, were so notorious as to afford occasion for merriment and derision to the novelist and satirist. But their case was aggravated by the diversion in many instances of ecclesiastical emolument from the Church in Wales to enrich the Church and support educational institutions in England, and by the perferment of strangers to the most valuable benefices, to the great discouragement of native talent and energy.
But probably the greatest evil of the times, and the one which weighed most heavily on the life and growth of the Church, was the consequence, direct or indirect, of the disastrous civil war which our forefathers knew as the 'Great Rebellion.' It is not ours in any way to condone the acts of petulant folly, and possibly of gross violation of constitutional rule, which [120/121] preceded the outbreak, but we cannot sufficiently condemn and regret the great and widespread sufferings which wantonly accompanied it, and the plentiful harvest of disastrous results it yielded for generations after the conflict had been waged and settled in accordance with the will of the nation.
That the clergy were accused of 'delinquency, malignancy, scandal, etc.,' or of some other crimes, to which the most opprobrious names could be affixed, that they were pitilessly ejected from their cures, and subjected to the most cruel persecutions, that the churches were closed, despoiled, and desecrated, and even the reading of the Prayer-Book was strictly prohibited and made a misdemeanour, is a tale too well known to be repeated here. But it is worthy of remark that when the old accustomed machinery which had been constructed by the labour and piety of ages was broken up, the wrangling of the sects and the wild theories and practices of many of their adherents, and the spirit of disorder and lawlessness which was abroad, were so alarming as to attract the serious attention of the leaders of the revolutionary movement, and cause them to cast about how best to meet the danger. For this purpose they passed an act called the 'Act for the Better Propagating of the Gospel in Wales,' and empowered certain commissioners to carry it out. These commissioners, abandoning the custom of a settled ministry, appointed a [121/122] number of itinerant religious teachers. Being presumably only half a dozen for each county, these were manifestly incapable from their small number of coping with the task imposed on them; they were certainly, from their previous avocations and gross ignorance, utterly disqualified for the discharge of their momentous duty. Some of these itinerant preachers are said to have been weavers, cobblers, tailors, and masons. In assigning to these the high commission of evangelizing the country, and superseding the old ancestral Church, we are forcibly reminded of the sin and reproach of Israel, the consecration to the service of Bethel and Dan of 'the lowest of the people, who were not of the sons of Levi.' And unhappily the same calamitous results occurred here as there. The beginning of a never-ending system of schism was founded, and an example set which has never wanted imitators. Instead of presenting any longer the grateful sight of a united community, a band of brothers, an undivided household of faith, Wales fell into sects and sectarian partisanship. It is a significant fact that it was during the ministrations of these preachers, when the Church was silenced and all her holy offices violently suppressed, Dissent took root among us. The men were doubtless in dead earnest in propagating their peculiar opinions, but it is undeniable that morality as well as religious truth suffered at their hands and at the hands of the dominant faction of the times of the Commonwealth.
 The popular feeling had been so long suppressed by the prevailing military despotism, and the hypocrisy and self-seeking of the leaders and supporters of the Rebellion so flagrant, that a reaction became inevitable. The pity is that it went well-nigh as far in the direction of libertinism as the previous course had been in that of a professed and enforced asceticism. But we know that the violently-bent bough rebounds beyond its due equilibrium, and the rush of water is accelerated in proportion to the pressure put on it. The persecution had been so bitter, and the prospect of relief so hopeless, that when the Restoration took place the joy of the liberated nation was unbounded, and became uncontrollable. It is affecting even now, when more than two centuries have passed away, to notice in contemporaneous publications, and in private letters since printed, the universal manifestation of gladness that occurred at the unexpected magnitude and peaceful accomplishment of the deliverance. The full and unfettered heart overflowed with exultation, and found its only fitting expression of gratitude in the jubilant Psalm which speaks of the exiles of Judæa coming back from Babylon, 'their mouth filled with laughter and their tongue with singing, for the Lord had turned again the captivity of Zion.' But unhappily this breaking of the bonds of oppression, and this loosening of the tension which held in abeyance their dearest and most generous impulses, was followed by a [123/124] dissoluteness of manners which tainted all classes among us. This moral depravation was again, as might be expected, the precursor of an incredible indifference to religious teaching and religious ordinances.
This brief review may help us to form for ourselves a picture of the social and religious condition of Wales at the time when Mr. Griffith Jones commenced his pious labours, and may indicate some of the difficulties with which he had to contend before he could hope to bring about any effectual reformation.
Griffith Jones was born in the year 1683 in the parish of Cilrhedyn. This parish lies partly in Carmarthenshire and partly in Pembrokeshire. His parents were in respectable circumstances. Losing his father when young, he was left to the sole charge of his mother, who appears to have been well calculated to bring up her son in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. That she succeeded in this, which must have been the main object of her prayers and care, we well know, for it is expressly stated that from childhood he was deeply impressed with that strong sense of religious obligations which he carried with him through life. All his biographers speak of him as 'a religious child,' fearing God and eschewing evil. Other saintly men, pre-eminent in the service of religion and humanity, such as Pascal, Jeremy Taylor, Bishop Butler, Bishop Wilson, Bishop Heber, and the late Dean Stanley, were also blameless in every period of their lives, and [124/125] at every stage of their career, thus exemplifying the blessedness of early training in the ways of wisdom and piety. It is also related of Griffith Jones that he was of a studious and retiring disposition, fonder of his books than of play. This, perhaps, might be partly ascribed to his weakly constitution. In his youth he was subject to some debilitating complaint, the nature of which is not more particularly described, and, indeed, throughout his life his health at best was but fragile. He cherished from his earliest years the desire to devote himself to the ministry, and with this object he entered the Grammar School at Carmarthen. This school was founded a 1576 by letters patent from Queen Elizabeth. Several noteworthy men were educated in it besides the subject of our memoir, but we may remark in connection with him that such eminent preachers and dispensers of the Word of Life as Howel Davies, Peter Williams, Howel Harris, and David Jones of Llangan, entered the school in the succeeding generation, when Griffith Jones's name was a household word throughout Wales for his piety and active zeal, and were evidently inspired by his example to follow in the same course of evangelical labours. When twenty-five years of age he received, September 14, 1718, the order of deacon, and September 2, in the next year, of priest, at the hands of Bishop Bull. Bishop Bull was one of the most distinguished divines of that age, and one of its most [125/126] learned and famous controversialists. But what concerns us here is to mention that he showed himself particularly kind to Mr. Jones, who himself informs us that he was 'greatly indebted to the Bishop's counsels and friendly regard.'
He officiated for some time at Langharne, Carmarthenshire. From its salubrious situation, embosomed as it is in the midst of a richly-wooded dip of ground, and fenced from the keen air of the north and the more open air of the sea, this place must have been peculiarly suited to one of his weak health. He became acquainted here with Mrs. Bridget Bevan, widow of Mr. Arnold Bevan, or, as she is commonly known in Wales, Madam Bevan, a pious lady of position and of great intelligence. The earnest and faithful way in which he discharged his ministerial duties must have commended him to her warm appreciation, for she became henceforward one of his most constant and zealous patrons, and a most valued helper in his efforts at the reformation of his countrymen. He spent his last years at her residence at Langharne, and died there. Her name will be for ever associated with his in the grateful annals of Wales.
In the year 1711 the living of Llandilo Abercywyn was conferred on him, and in 1716 that of Llanddowror. To the latter he was presented by Sir John Phillips, with whose family Mr. Jones was intimate, and whose half sister he married. Mrs. Jones was evidently a [126/127] true help-meet to him, and in full sympathy with his own ardent zeal in the cause of religion and the educational advancement of the poor. She died in 1755 at the advanced age of eighty. She seems to have been of infirm health, like himself. His letters to her are spoken of as exhibiting the tenderest solicitude for her welfare, and evidencing in the strongest manner his gentle and affectionate disposition.
His friend and patron Sir John Phillips deserves a brief allusion here. He resided at his ancestral seat, Picton Castle, Pembrokeshire. This is one of the oldest structures of the kind in Wales, probably dating from the reign of William Rufus, and is surpassed by none in beauty of site or variety of views, commanding as it does an unrivalled prospect of estuary, woodland, hill, and fertile plain. Having adhered to the Crown, it stood a siege in the Parliamentary war; but capitulating on honourable terms, it escaped the fate of so many Welsh castles, which, by their dismantled and ruinous condition, still testify to the vindictive temper of the conqueror. Sir John is often mentioned by contemporaries as 'the champion of virtue' and the pattern of enlightened patriotism. And all we know of him confirms this high character. In that age of religious indifference and open profligacy, his life of consistent piety and active benevolence sheds a lustre on the surrounding moral waste, and we hail it as a good omen that in the darkest day the Church [127/128] of which he was an attached member may yet supply sons of her own, prepared and adequate for dealing with any emergency. He was one of the earliest members of the venerable Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge,* [* The society passed on December 21, 1699, a vote of thanks to Sir John for 'his noble and Christian example in refusing a challenge.' This occurred before Steele in the Tatler began to hold up the duel to public opprobrium.] and took special pains to direct its attention to the wants of Wales. He was also one of the founders of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. To enjoy the friendship of such a man as Sir John Phillips must have been a signal blessing to Griffith Jones. Which of the two friends acted most beneficially on the other we cannot say. The wide and mature experience and sound judgment of Sir John must have been of rare advantage to the eager young Welsh clergyman, whose greater learning, fresh vigour, and sanguine temperament, as well as the unexampled success which followed his ministrations, must have confirmed the faith of the old disciple, and opened out for him a splendour of vision with regard to the extension of the kingdom of Christ which otherwise might have been missing.
It was most probably through Sir John that Mr. Jones was brought under the notice of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. The society solicited him to become a missionary among [128/129] the 'Indians.' He gave his consent and prepared for his departure. But for reasons not now fully known the project fell through, and he remained in Wales. 'Among the Indians' undoubtedly denotes the West Indies and the American colonies. When we speak of India at present we mean that immense extent of territory which is subject to British rule in Asia, and lies to the east of the Indus. But at the period to which we are referred our possessions in those parts consisted only of a few factories. The society's operations we know did not extend beyond our own possessions, and it is not likely that one of Mr. Jones's zeal would be content to act simply as chaplain to one of the small factories in Madras, Bombay, or Bengal. When Columbus discovered the shores of America he believed, as is well known, that he had lighted on the eastern coast of Asia, and called them therefore the 'West Indies.' The British possessions in that direction comprised at the beginning of the eighteenth century Jamaica, Barbadoes, the Bermudas, and all the principal islands, as well as a vast but undefined territory on the mainland. The natives of these parts were then known as Indians, and they are still so called, as we have lately been reminded by reading in the periodical press of the war of the United States against the 'Indians.' The desire to convert them to the faith as well as revive the cause of religion in our own plantations, led some of the best sons of the [129/130] Church to offer themselves for mission work amongst them. One of these was Bishop Berkeley, the metaphysician, the philosopher, and philanthropist, to whom Pope ascribed 'every virtue under heaven,' and who in truth was one of the ablest and most lovable characters of the day, and who still remains the 'bright particular star' of the Irish Church. The Bishop actually crossed the ocean on his beneficent errand, but after waiting for three years in Rhode Island for the royal aid promised him, on finding the difficulties attending the enterprise insurmountable, he returned to Europe. The faithlessness of politicians was fatal to the success of his apostolic mission. The reasons which induced Mr. Jones to decline the society's invitation are, as we have seen, uncertain. It has been suggested that on consideration he concluded that his primary duty was to try and rescue his own countrymen, whose ignorance and irreligious habits practically put them on a level with the heathen abroad.
Having thus decided that the sphere nearest at hand was his special sphere of labour, he settled down to his pastoral charge with exemplary devotion, without out losing sight of the spiritual destitution which made itself so painfully felt throughout the whole of his native Wales. He set himself to the task of reformation with a deliberateness of purpose that could not easily be checked or thwarted, and with a wise and assiduous preparation that augured well of ultimate [130/131] success. He discerned the latent capabilities, and made himself conversant with the racial peculiarities of his countrymen, and sought the most appropriate methods of beneficially using the one and developing the other. He cultivated their language, and came to be one of its most vigorous and idiomatic writers. He continued to study Latin and Greek, and there are indications that he was no stranger to Hebrew. He studied foreign as well as English theological works. The Bible and the Prayer-Book were his constant companions. His intimacy with the sacred Scriptures was extraordinary, as his published sermons and tracts prove. In these he advances no position but what is illustrated or enforced by some apt Scriptural quotation. He evidently concurred in the saint's dictum, 'Bonus textuarius bonus Theologus.' He tried his best by precept and example to commend the liturgy to his flock, teaching them how to take their respective parts in the responses as provided for them. Nothing distressed him so much, his biographer tells us, as to 'hear the prayers of the Church read in a light, hurried, trifling, or unfeeling manner,' or in a manner that was pompous and affected. When conducting public worship himself, he ever showed a deep sense of the Divine presence, and all who attended on his ministrations could not fail to be struck and edified by his grave and reverent demeanour.
By his diligence as a pastor and the influence of [131/132] his great personal piety he soon increased his congregation, and the church of Llanddowror became a centre of attraction to the surrounding district. What largely contributed to his fame and usefulness was his recognised effectiveness as a preacher. For the attainment of his object, the salvation of souls and the revival of religion, he rightly judged that no better instrument lay ready to his hands or more binding on his conscience than the great ordinance of public preaching. Its efficacy has been proved in every stage of the Church's progress. But among no people, perhaps, has its worth been more appreciated than among the Welsh. From their emotional temperament, and probably from possessing an intellectual relish, if not a great natural aptitude for public speaking, they have always been peculiarly susceptible of its influence. The art has been diligently cultivated among them, and the traditional methods of treating subjects under discussion, and engaging the attention of an audience, have been a part of their hereditary training, as well as a matter of national interest. Their capabilities for forensic eloquence has been often exhibited in the highest judicial courts of England. No portion, perhaps, of the empire has supplied so many able and eloquent advocates and lawyers as Wales in proportion to its geographical extent and the very limited number of the inhabitants who could at all compete with Englishmen. For it [132/133] should be remembered that until lately the great majority of the natives were debarred from a fair competition by their inadequate knowledge of English. But however that may be, it is undeniable that for many generations, extending back at least to the time of Vicar Pritchard of Llandovery, the pulpit has exercised a wide and powerful fascination for Welshmen. We have had a long succession of earnest dispensers of the Word, who were unsurpassed in sacred oratory, calculated to win the suffrages of the cultivated classes as well as of the rude peasantry. For it is a mistake to suppose that the popularity of Welsh preaching is due to its superficial character, extravagant action, or a peculiar intonation of the voice, without any display of the superior graces or any appeal made to the understanding. It is true that some ministers have a wonderful way of delivering portions of their sermons, generally the peroration, in melodious cadences, practically a kind of chant, which from the lips of the real and trained magician never fails to captivate a Welsh congregation. But our most efficient and approved preachers have ever been the most natural in their mode of speaking, the most intelligent, and the greatest masters in the art of rhetoric. Such was the case with John Elias o Fôn, Williams o'r Wern, Jones o'r Vaynor, Griffiths of Llandilo, Griffiths of Nevern, Howell Harris of Trevecca, and Daniel Rowlands of Llangeithio. But with none [133/134] more conspicuously so than with their illustrious precursor and exemplar, Griffith Jones, the subject of our memoir. All our notices of him dwell, indeed, on his earnest, impressive, and persuasive mode of delivery, but no less dwell on the lucid and orderly arrangement of his matter, his graphic and original presentment of the truth, and on his constant efforts at informing and enlisting the judgment of his hearers. They set him before us in his own appropriate light as a good minister of Jesus Christ, and a faithful steward of the mysteries of God, who rightly divided the Word of truth, and always endeavoured to adapt himself to the varying conditions of men, and impart to each several faculty and need of the soul its portion of meat in due season, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that he might present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.
His reputation, as was intimated, spread far and wide. Invitations poured in on him from the clergy to preach in their parishes. In anticipation of the practice of our own days, he became what would be now called a missioner or a mission priest. At stated periods it was his custom to go on a mission tour, and his ministrations never failed to gather everywhere immense congregations. We are told that sometimes no less than four or five thousand would attend. When the church could not accommodate the throng, he would address them in the churchyard, [134/135] standing on a tombstone or the greensward. Finding that at certain seasons, generally the great festivals, the country people assembled in great numbers for recreation, but that unhappily the recreation degenerated into riotous and profligate courses, which were incredibly pernicious to the young, he would attend on such occasions with the object of reproving the immoral and restraining the unruly, and of seizing the opportunity offered by such gatherings of sowing the good seed which beareth fruit unto eternal life. These tours became known as the 'Vicar of Llanddowror's Easter and Whitsun Circuits.' Their salutary effects were surprising. 'I have heard it said by one who usually accompanied Mr. Jones on these occasions,' writes Mr. Charles, of Bala, 'that the appearance of the assembled multitudes would be at first wild, fierce, and rude, but by degrees, under his preaching, it became grave and serious, and the people at last would shed tears and weep.' He had the honour to be summoned to preach before Queen Anne, and at some time in his life he was invited to preach in Scotland. A more striking proof of his power as a preacher, and the wide, profound, and lasting influence of his pious labours, could not be found than in the well-known fact that the Rev. Hovel Davies, the evangelist of Pembrokeshire, claimed him as his spiritual father; that the Rev. Daniel Rowlands, the most renowned of all Welsh preachers, ascribed his [135/136] conversion to one of his sermons; that the Rev. Peter Williams, the Welsh divine and commentator, traced his first serious thoughts to his visits to Llanddowror, when his mother used to carry him as a little child to hear its celebrated Vicar; and that from his tracts and forms of prayer John Elias, the chief ornament of the Calvinistic Methodist denomination, received his earliest religious impressions as he heard them read in his grandfather's home in the remote county of Carnarvon. His life and labours have been indeed the Divine leaven which has leavened the Principality, and transformed it from its former rude and profane condition to be such as we see it at present--a country of peaceful and thriving industry and exemplary religious observances.
But into such a state of gross ignorance had the country sunk, that Mr. Jones found that preaching alone would not meet all the requirements of the case. This did not apply solely to the enthusiastic and immethodical exhortations of the sectaries who might consider all religion to be a sermon, and were perilously liable to add two other principles of evil to St. John's three, the lust of the ear and the lust of the tongue. And, to use again Bishop Jeremy Taylor's phrase, these were in the habit of bidding men 'Get Christ,' just as it is reiterated in our days, 'Get salvation,' without any intelligent effort to lay the requisite foundation, much less to build up in our most holy [136/137] faith. The sermon may be sound in doctrine, as well as earnest in delivery, and yet the results fall far short of what they should be, because the hearers are not sufficiently grounded in the verities of the Gospel. If the inculcation of religion be wholly or principally confined to public preaching, it is most improbable that all the counsel of God should be declared, or the due proportion of the Faith be observed, or 'the man of God made perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.' Mr. Jones's language on this point is remarkable. 'It is painful in the extreme,' he says, 'to discover the comparative inutility of popular preaching. Many aged persons, who have been all their lives under pulpit instruction, are found on close personal inspection to be lamentably ignorant in the things pertaining to their eternal welfare. When for the time they have followed preachers, they ought to be themselves qualified as teachers, they have need to be again taught the first principles of the oracles of God; they have, indeed, been ever learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.' A certain captivating strain of preaching, with an air of confidence in the preacher, he adds, may issue in certain results. It may give religious views and opinions, and create feelings of fear or assurance, sorrow or joy, love or hatred. And these may appear as the hopeful symptoms of true piety, but too often, alas! they are as transient as the morning dew, and as [137/138] barren as a plant without a root. The necessity of some supplementary means being thus pressed on his attention, he had recourse to the primitive custom of public catechising. This custom had been in abeyance in Wales for a long time, and to its neglect Mr. Jones largely attributed the low state of religion in the country, and the prevalence of erroneous doctrines. He set himself with his usual energy and address to revive it. He entered first on this course of instruction among his own parishioners, but he gladly admitted to his classes all who might wish to join. He recommended this pious custom* [* The custom has ever since, more or less, prevailed in Wales as much indeed among Nonconformists as among Churchmen. 'Holi'r Pwngc' refers to it. 'Pwngc' means the point of doctrine, or the doctrinal subject appointed for rehearsal and discussion.] to others, and addressed his countrymen on the subject in a long and powerful letter. In this letter he remonstrates with great severity with the careless and slothful section of the clergy, and then turns to ask parents, employers of labour, and all in authority, to do their part in the work of promoting Christian knowledge. He reasons with them, showing the hopelessness of expecting any great reformation of manners unless proper pains be taken with the young. He draws his arguments from sacred and secular history, from ancient and modern examples. He instances the Mahometans [138/139] and Roman Catholics, who both know the value of catechetical instruction for getting hold of the young. He alludes to the boast of the Jesuits, that if allowed to instil in this way their tenets into the tender and susceptible mind, were it only in private, and were they prohibited from teaching at all in public, they would infallibly undermine the Protestant religion, and plant their own form of religion in all countries and among all classes. But he chiefly relies for the assent of his readers on the authority of the Scriptures, the practice of the primitive Church, and the express injunctions of our own particular Church. This appeal to the original source, the depository and expounder of the Truth, he feels to be like the proverbial threefold cord of irrefragable force. He reminds his readers that the religious teaching of the young was imperative in the Jewish Church. That this instruction was given catechetically, he has no doubt. He refers to the well-known incident in the life of our Lord, when He condescended to teach and to be taught in this way (St. Luke ii.). He proves that the same method was pursued by the Apostles, as in the case of their first converts, such as Theophilus and Apollos, who are explicitly stated to have been catechetically instructed in the way of the Lord (St. Luke i. 4; Acts xviii. 25). He confirms his position by the opinion of learned commentators and Church historians, that a catechism or a brief [139/140] summary of Christian truths was drawn up in the time of the inspired writers of the New Testament, and was in use among the early believers. Thus St. Paul commanded Timothy, whom he had ordained and set over the Church at Ephesus, 'to hold fast the form of sound words,' 2 Tim. i. 13; 'the words of faith and of good doctrine,' 1 Tim. iv. 6; 'the wholesome words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the doctrine which is according to godliness,' 1 Tim. vi. 3; and in his Epistle to the Romans he thankfully acknowledges their hearty obedience to that 'form of doctrine which was delivered them.' By these and similar pointed expressions we can only understand consistently with the testimony of ancient writers, and with the obvious repetition of the same familiar words pertaining to doctrine in Churches far apart from each other, the existence of a common authoritative religious form such as we designate a catechism. It was by the acceptance and common use of such a document that the primitive Christians were joined together in the unity of that 'faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints,' and continued grounded and settled in that faith, even as they had been taught. He then traces the continuity of this kind of instruction through the first centuries. He mentions with a glow of sympathy and admiration some of the most famous catechetical schools, such as those of Antioch and Alexandria, which were presided over by such [140/141] teachers as Pantaeus, Clement, Origen, and Cyril, men illustrious for their scholarly attainments, great intellectual powers, deep and unquestioned piety, and the high positions they occupied in the Church. But in the spirit of humility and self-sacrifice, which the Gospel, indeed, enjoins on every man, these celebrated divines took on themselves the lowliest duties, and were willing to forego their beloved Greek and Roman classics, and even the study of the profounder mysteries of natural and revealed religion, that so they might instil the rudiments of the doctrines of Christ into the minds of the young and ignorant. Justly esteeming that no growth and no perfection is possible unless the foundation be early and firmly laid, they applied all the resources of their learning and persuasion to this primary duty. Differences of opinion may exist with regard to some of their sentiments, and possibly of some of their actions; but their fame as painstaking and successful teachers of catechumens, as faithful labourers in the vestibule of the Temple of Truth, remains pure and unalloyed, and will last as a guiding and inspiring light until the Church's earthly task is done, and her warfare accomplished, and she herself is enabled to collect her jewels, and present them to her Lord and Saviour, 'Behold I and the children which God hath given me.'
But eminent as Mr. Griffith Jones was as a preacher, writer of. theological treatises, and the restorer of [141/142] catechetical teaching, it is, perhaps, for his great solicitude for the advancement of the elementary education of the poor, the institution of free schools for them, and the practical wisdom he evinced in their management, that he is best known to us. Essential as the education of the common people might be for the accomplishment of the design of the Gospel that the poor should be admitted as fellow-citizens into the kingdom of grace, and fellow-heirs to all its immunities and blessings, the desire for its promotion does not seem to have been very widely entertained: it is certain that no systematic effort for its furtherance had been tried before. The education of the richer classes was provided for at the Universities, that of the middle classes, to some extent, at the public grammar schools, established at the time of the Reformation; but the peasantry and the masses collected in towns and hamlets, who were dependent on manual labour for their subsistence, had been hitherto neglected. Their state of hopeless ignorance, which was at once a disgrace and an abiding menace to the community, as well as the extreme destitution into which they had fallen, rendering them incapable of self-help, excited in Mr. Jones feelings of the .deepest commiseration, and though the project seemed even to himself a dream which could never be realized, he cast about for some scheme for their relief and elevation. The subject presented itself [142/143] and engaged his attention, as he tells us himself, by the intimate acquaintance he formed with them in his customary course of catechising. On the Saturday before Sacrament Sunday his habit was to assemble the common people for the purpose of preparing them for the holy rite, following in this, no doubt, the example set a few years before by Dr. Woodward's societies, and subsequently taken up and continued by the evangelical clergy and the Wesleyan ministers in England. The Church Service for the day was read on these occasions at Llanddowror, and the catechising took place immediately after the Second Lesson. He was so struck with the incredible ignorance displayed by the attendants at these meetings, even in the simplest truths of religion, and in the commonest concerns of every-day life, beyond their own narrow and restricted spheres, that he could not rest until some remedy might be discovered. Too often the effects of preaching, as was acknowledged, went no further than the surface; and even catechising, occasional as it must necessarily be, left much to be desired: after every endeavour, very much land remained still untilled and unsown. The function of teaching, indeed, was necessary, and by the Divine Master made obligatory on the minister, but the duty of learning was no less needed on the part of the disciple. The peremptory command to communicate knowledge implied the obligation of having a [143/144] readiness of mind to receive it, and this essential condition was no doubt abundantly manifested by the eager crowds who came to church and the catechetical classes. But the number of those who stood in need of constant instruction was so great, and their situations so diversified and far apart, scattered as they were on mountain slopes, on moorland, in secluded dingles, and along an extensive stretch of coast, as to outstrip and overtask the few labourers in the vineyard who at all sympathized with his own ardour, and felt a real concern for the souls of men. Besides, would it not be well to associate, if possible, the learners of every grade in the work of the official teacher? New emergencies may require new measures. The Spirit of conviction and sanctification is not bound to His own recognised prescript. He works not only at sundry times, but also in divers manners. He has promised to confer the privileges of a true primogeniture on all real Christians. And He is as ready and as efficacious as ever to inspire and teach the hearts of His faithful pastors and teachers to perceive and know what things they ought to do in order more fully to accomplish His own gracious purposes. In the absence of the regular and official agency, a plan might be discovered by which the people might help themselves, and that at all seasons and in their own homes. In this way might not the fervent wish of Moses, and the ultimate aim of the new dispensation, be realized [144/145] here, and our own beloved Wales become 'a kingdom of priests,' when they 'shall not teach any more every man his brother and every man his neighbour, saying, Know the Lord, for all shall know Him from the least to the greatest'? In order to help to effect this, some new means must be devised in addition to those already in use. The wonderful art of printing opened out a prospect of compassing results which would be otherwise unattainable. It had enlarged our conception of the capabilities of the future, and revolutionized the old methods of reaching the masses. But had it not also imposed an additional obligation of the greatest urgency and importance on the evangelical ministry? Why could not printed manuals and books of a suitable character be widely circulated through Wales at a cheap rate? The provision of such publications was lamentably meagre in the Welsh language, but to supply the deficiency, Mr. Jones composed himself and issued from the press several admirable works in the shape of tracts, forms of prayer, sermons, and letters, as well as his celebrated exposition of the Catechism, which for masterly analysis, clear and full presentation of the doctrines of grace, and the earnest and affectionate spirit that pervades and animates the whole, cannot be excelled. He prevailed also on the Christian Knowledge Society to print two or three editions of the Welsh Bible, which were quickly disposed of. But the best human [145/146] compositions, and even the Book of books--Sancto-sacra Biblia--Y Beibl cyssegr-lân--God's own Holy Word--would be of no avail if the people could not read. He felt this, and saw that the only remedy lay in the spread of popular education. Some desultory and intermittent efforts had been already made in England to provide free schools for the poor, and even in Wales the Rev. Thomas Gouge, who is represented as remaining 'a faithful member of the Church,' although he had ceased to officiate at her altars, had been enabled by the aid and with the advice of Dr. Tillotson and other English friends to open half a dozen schools of the kind. But these were confined to towns, and the instruction in them being conveyed in English, they were comparatively ineffectual, and soon abandoned. Mr. Jones was the first pioneer to venture on a deliberate and systematic effort in this direction. It was he who first popularized education, and planted it on a firm and permanent basis. He began in a humble way in his own parish, supporting the school there principally by means of the church offertories. Finding it to answer beyond his expectations, he opened other schools in neighbouring parishes. He then formed an association of voluntary subscribers towards providing the necessary funds.
The Christian Knowledge Society voted him a liberal grant. His growing reputation as an ardent promoter of the education of the poor, and the confidence [146/147] reposed in his judgment, won the sympathy of many who would otherwise have been inclined to discountenance the novel enterprise, and contributions were thus sent him from many parts of England as well as Wales. Thus encouraged, the schools rapidly multiplied. In the annual report, issued by himself, and called 'Welsh Piety,' we have statistics and details given us as to their progress. In the year 1741, that is eleven years after their commencement, the schools amounted to 128, and the scholars to 7,595; whilst in the year 1760 the schools amounted to 215, and the scholars to 8,687. The total number of those who during those years passed through the schools were computed at 158,237. This number, large as it is in proportion to the population of Wales, which must at that time have been short of half a million, if it applies only to day scholars, by no means represents the entire number who were brought under instruction. For the masters were engaged to open night-schools as well, and admit all such as might be desirous to learn, but in consequence of the necessity under which they lay to follow their vocations in the day, could only afford their evenings for the purpose. In the winter time these schools were crowded, and the eagerness to learn was shared by adults, and even by many in advanced years, thus evincing that the field was indeed white for harvest, and the barrenness of ages, the result of deep and depressing ignorance, [147/148] was to be attributed to no want of disposition to learn, any more than of mental capacity on the part of our countrymen, but to the criminal neglect with which they had been treated by Church and State. This reproach of neglecting the poor it is the glory of the Vicar of Llanddowror to have removed, and to have shown the more excellent way, which eventually led to the establishment of National schools and to the present School Board system. He initiated a movement which is every day spreading, and is likely to become world-wide in extent: for it carries with it the approval of every thoughtful and observant person as the only effectual means for securing the peaceful and permanent progress of nations.
The plan on which he proceeded was simple, such as best suited the poverty and scattered state of the population. He engaged a body of schoolmasters, some of whom he trained himself, of whose piety and competency he was well assured, and on whom he could rely to carry out his instructions, which were to teach the people to read, first in Welsh and afterwards in English, to ground them well in Scriptural knowledge and the Catechism, to familiarize them with the use of the Common Prayer-Book, teach psalmody, and try to promote in every possible way their moral and religious advancement. Gradually the curriculum widened, and embraced, but in the simplest form, the subjects which are comprised in what is known as [148/149] elementary education, such as writing, ciphering, history, and geography. As the supply of funds and fit teachers was found inadequate to the demand, these masters were first sent to the most populous centres, and then in the course of a year or two removed to the most destitute agricultural parishes; but in no case were they sent to any parish except with the express sanction of the parochial clergy, who were invited to exercise a general supervision over the schools and masters, and report to Mr. Jones. After an interval the masters were again to revisit the places from whence they started, and resume their suspended courses of instruction, thus carrying out so far as practicable the founder's design that every parish in Wales, and every succeeding generation of Welshmen, should be supplied with the means of elementary knowledge, and with religious incentives to a well-regulated and godly life. On account of their periodical removal from place to place, and the gratuitous instruction offered in them, these schools became known as 'Mr. Griffith Jones's Welsh Circulating Charity Schools.'
So long as Mr. Jones lived, he continued to guide the movement which he had originated, and never relaxed his efforts to extend and improve it. At his death, he left in the hands of his friend, Madam Bevan, upwards of £7,000 to be applied for the benefit of the schools; and that lady likewise, who [149/150] died in 1779, gave by will Mr. Jones's books and estate, as well as the residue of her own estate, for their 'use and support so long as the same should continue.' Unfortunately Lady Stepney, the heiress-at-law, was advised to contest the validity of the will, and the matter was thrown into Chancery, where it remained for nearly twenty years, during which time the schools were closed. It was at last decided in favour of the schools. The money whilst in Chancery had increased through interest on the principal to over £30,000. After a long suspension the charity became again available in 1809, and ever since has been in active operation, proving to be an incalculable blessing to Wales, and a lasting memorial to the benevolent and enlightened patriotism of the good Vicar of Llanddowror.
When the decision thus went in favour of the schools, a scheme for the management of the charity was drawn up, and embodied in an order of the Lord Chancellor, dated July 11, 1807, under which, with some alterations necessitated by the changing circumstances of the times, it is still administered. The new scheme was, in the main, in accordance with Mr. Jones's express wishes. Men of position and influence were appointed trustees, and two paid inspectors* [* The first clerical inspector I remember was the Rev. Eleazar Evans, Vicar of Llanegwad. He was the last person I knew who wore powdered hair. The powder was silver gray, which, [150n/151n] together with his ruddy and youthful complexion, and his scrupulously clean and clerical attire, gave him a most pleasing and venerable look. As a rule, the Welsh clergy have been always remarkably attentive to their personal appearance.] [150/151] were allowed for the purpose of examining the schools every six months, and reporting on their condition to the trustees and the Bishop of the diocese. It was also stipulated that a central school should be fixed at Newport, Pembrokeshire, to act as a model school, and a place of short training for the masters. As it was here I had the privilege, when a child, to receive the first and soundest part of my own education, let me be permitted, loqui Johnsoniani more, to indulge myself in the remembrance of the school and its late head-master.
The foundation-stone of the new schoolroom was laid by Bishop Burgess. The new master was chosen by the trustees on the recommendation of the Rev. W. Grey Hughes, curate of Newport, and the Rev. David Griffiths, Vicar of Nevern, men of a kindred spirit and of equal ministerial talents with the Rev. Griffith Jones. He was sent for training to the National Society's Model School at Westminster. Among other advantages which he derived from his stay there, he was specially taught the system known as Dr. Bell's, which in those early days of popular education was supposed to be a discovery [151/152] of the greatest importance,* [* Even the sedate and philosophic Wordsworth was strongly moved when contemplating the 'marvellous effects' that would accrue from Dr. Bell's system. See 'Excursion' and note.] likely to supersede the old slow, laborious, and irksome method of teaching, and relieve the professional teacher of half his work. But what it actually did was to facilitate the work of instructing a large number of children by means of pupil teachers; but then, again, these required not only constant supervision on the part of the responsible master, but also separate lessons, most frequently out of school-hours, in order to qualify them for the work of teaching others. So it was but the old saw once more verified, 'Nil sine labore, nil magnum sine magno labore.' The new master entered on his appointment with a deep sense of the importance of the post conferred on him, and with rare qualifications for the discharge of its duties. In person he belonged to what we cannot but think is the best type of his Celtic race--well-knit, short in stature, but a model of physical symmetry, agile and quick in his movements, with jet-black hair, round, solid head, full and seemly brow, and eyes keen as the falcon's, and yet beaming with the tenderest feeling. From the first he made a favourable impression, which increased as the years passed, and grew into sincere and inalienable regard and affection. Under his control the school proved of the greatest benefit [152/153] to the whole district. Though in its essential scope and practical working it was simply a common national school, it was repeatedly remarked that the children of the poor were so carefully trained in it that many of them rose to high and responsible positions in after-life. In conformity with the objects of the trust, he ever sought the moral and spiritual well-being of the place. He was an admirable Sunday-school conductor, conveying in the most striking and forcible manner catechetical instruction to the young. He was unequalled in his management of Bible classes and communicants' meetings, imparting to them the rich stores of his various experience and studies, and his own spirit of glowing piety, so as to make them the delight and blessing of all who came to them. When friends or relatives pressed on him the need of occasional rest, he would reply with Arnauld, 'Rest! have we not all eternity to rest in?' Thus stanch to duty, loyal to his Divine Master, helpful to his fellow-men, and nobly indifferent to all inferior considerations, he spent nearly half a century at the head of the school, and enjoyed what he considered as the supreme felicity of dying in harness, having been laid aside by illness from his loved employ only a few days before his death.
We have been led to dwell so much on the master of the central school of the charity, not that we believe he was an exception to the others, but to [153/154] show the spirit of devotedness to their duties which was inculcated on all the masters, and was, we are sure, exemplified by most. And distributed as these masters were throughout the country, and acting under the advice and with the sympathy of the pious clergy and laymen, we can well believe that they not only carried the primary means of education to the remotest corner, but also materially helped to form and deepen that religious character by which the Welsh people have been so long and honourably known.
What we have to add in relation to Mr. Jones may be summed up in a few words. His life was one consistent whole, characterized as it was in every stage and at every turn by the same unblemished personal piety, untiring industry, and unfaltering constancy to the great purpose which lay so near to his heart. In the discharge of the ministry to which he had aspired from his earliest years, and in the prosecution of his great task, the religious, social and intellectual amelioration of his countrymen, he occupied himself with a zeal which knew no remission and no weariness. He continued faithful unto the end. In the morning he went out to sow the seed, and in the evening he withheld not his hand. In the closing scene, when his release was at hand, he showed his characteristic humility and faith. To an old friend who one day called to see him, he made a [154/155] most humiliating confession of his own deficiencies and unfruitfulness. His friend said that he ought not to have spoken in this manner, as he had been very laborious through life, and God had made him an instrument of great good. He was much agitated by this, and quickly and very emphatically answered 'R--s, do you take the part of the enemy?'* [* A singularly similar scene occurred at the departure of Mr. Jones's earliest friend and patron. 'When Bishop Bull was in his last moments, his son-in-law, with a view of administering to his comfort, reminded him of the good he had done by his life and writings, and of his various exertions in the cause of religion. "My only hope," replied the Bishop, "is in the mercies of God through the merits of Christ."' 'Life of Bishop Burgess,' by John S. Harford.] To another friend he expressed his gratitude to God, and enumerating some signal instances of the Divine goodness to himself, he summed them up in the one surpassing act of mercy that he could 'clearly see what Christ had done and suffered for him, and that he had not the least doubt of his interest in his Almighty Saviour.' At another time he was heard to say, 'Blessed be God! His comforts fill my soul.' And thus in the enjoyment of much comfort and peace, and with an undoubting hope of entering into rest, he died on April 8, 1761, in the seventy-eighth year of his age and the fifty-third of his ministry. He was buried at Llanddowror. His friend and fellow-labourer in the Lord, Madam Bevan, the good and [155/156] gifted lady to whom we have so often referred, erected in the chancel of the church of that parish a monument to his memory. The inscription on the monument testifies unmistakably to her own intense admiration of him, and though perhaps too long and circumstantial for modern taste, yet as the language of a sincere and grateful heart, and as we know that its record is true, it cannot fail to find a response in ourselves, and call forth our feelings of deep veneration and love for the great evangelist of Wales, and one of the brightest and most beneficent luminaries of the Church of England in the eighteenth century.
1. Platform of Christianity: an Examination of the Thirty-nine Articles.
2. A Letter to a Clergyman, evincing the necessity of teaching the poor in Wales.
3. The Christian Covenant or the Baptismal Vow.
4. Welsh Piety.
1. Family Prayers.
2. Free Advice.
3. A Call to the Throne of Grace.
4. A Guide to the Throne of Grace.
5. An Exposition of the Church Catechism by Questions and Answers.
6. Two Abridgments of this Exposition for the use of the Circulating Schools.
7. A Letter on the subject of Catechising the Ignorant.
8. The Duty of Praising God.