John Elias at Rhuddlan (1802)

It was an old custom in Rhuddlan, for a great many years, to hold a fair every Sabbath during harvest time for hiring reapers. Men came in great numbers from all parts of the country, some to seek work, and others to indulge in drunkenness and rioting. Many respectable farmers also attended from the surrounding districts, some came from as far as 8 to 12 miles away, to hire labourers for the following week. The wages promised there were taken as the standard wage for the different localities in the counties of Denbigh and Flint. It was also customary to buy and sell scythes, sickles, and other agricultural implements so that the Sabbath became a market day. In addition to this, the worst type of immorality and disorders were carried on in the public-houses. Hearing of this disgraceful state of things aroused the zeal of the fiery spirit of John Elias, and he resolved to make a bold attack upon this stronghold of the enemy. The day was arranged for Mr Elias to visit Rhuddlan to preach to that ungodly crowd of Sabbath-breakers. This was made known in all the surrounding localities, so that many hundreds came together to hear and to support him in his venture. Many friends came with him from St. Asaph, Denbigh, and other districts.

Mr Elias, having arrived there between two and three o’clock, took his stand on the highest of the two or three stone steps in front of the door of the house of one Mrs Hughes, the New Inn; so that he was in a good position to address his hearers. He gazed with a grave and dignified mien upon the great crowd before him, made up of thousands of labourers and farmers. Hundreds of them carried their sickles and scythes upon their arms and shoulders, which made the sight one of the most awful that could be thought of on the Lord’s Day. In addition to the confused noise and turmoil of a hiring-fair, there could be heard also the sound of fiddles, harps, their players full of drink and the noise of wanton and ungodly dancers. Mr Elias gave out the following verse, from Psalm 24, to be sung at the beginning of the meeting: –

Yr Arglwydd bïau’r ddaear lawr, The earth belongeth to the Lord,

A’i llawnder mawr sydd eiddo And all that it containeth;

Yr Arglwydd bïau yr holl fyd, The world that is inhabited,

A’r bobl i gyd sydd ynddo. And all that there remaineth.

(Scottish Psalter 1650, altd)

I think that I never heard such effective singing, and the whole tumultuous congregation was possessed with unusual solemnity. There was also such a remarkable authority in the voice and attitude of the preacher that it had a powerful effect on all, and within a few minutes there was not a sickle or scythe to be seen. The friends feared, before coming there, that the preacher and themselves would have been ill-treated in such an ungodly place; but it happened quite different to this, for the tools were disregarded, the scythes and sickles were lowered and put out of sight before the singing was at an end. After this, Mr Elias read a portion of Scripture in his inimitable manner, and then he prayed. His serious endeavour, his tenacious importunity, and his tears flowing down his cheeks filled the whole multitude with solemnity, fear, and astonishment. He thanked the Lord more than once for keeping the earth from swallowing that ungodly multitude alive into hell in their sins. He earnestly besought again and again that the Lord would put it in the hearts of the great and respected men of the locality, those who had the authority of the civil law in their hand, to be supporters of the sanctity of His holy day. He respectfully named the Bishop and the Dean, Justices of the Peace, Ministers of the Established Church, Farmers, Publicans, &c. But I am not absolutely sure whether it was in his sermon or in his prayer that he named these respected men, or that he did so in both. I never heard such tenacious importunity, or such gravity and seriousness, in the prayer of any man: and the accompanying effect and power convinced everyone present that the Lord heard him, and was working mightily through him.

After finishing his earnest prayer, and singing another verse, Mr Elias took his text from Exodus 34:21: ‘Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh-day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.’ His serious, measured, fearless, and authoritative reading of these words, at once took hold of every mind, and held the most diligent attention of all the crowd. He made careful observations on the four divisions of the text; namely 1. Six days thou shalt work. 2. On the seventh-day thou shalt rest. 3. In earing time thou shalt rest. 4. In harvest thou shalt rest. During the sermon he recalled many of the terrible denunciations in the Word of God against Sabbath breakers and the precious promises to those who respect it. He commented particularly on Jeremiah 17:27: ‘But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the Sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.’ He named various notable examples of the fierce judgments of God upon those who transgress the Sabbath; amongst them he recalled the Great Fire of London that commenced on the Lord’s Day, which was, without doubt, a chastisement upon the inhabitants for their indifference and disrespect to God’s Holy Day. In answer to the excuses and objections which might arise in the minds of his hearers, he said, ‘What if it is a very wet harvest; ought we to rest when the Sabbath is a fine day and the corn rotting on the field?’ ‘Yes, thou oughtest to obey the commandment of God: “in harvest time,” saith the Word of God, “thou shalt rest.” The Lord would rather send a host of angels to garner thy corn than for thee to disregard His holy day.’ After this, with outstretched hand and tears flowing copiously down his cheeks, he shouted repeatedly to the people with all his might, ‘O thieves! O, thieves! O, thieves! to steal the day of the Lord – to rob the day of my God!’ The saying went through the congregation like a thunderbolt, so that the minds of all were seized with fear and trembling. Here again he said, ‘What if I have a loss, and shall be unable to pay my way, because I would not have done my best, in a wet harvest, on the Sabbath day?’ ‘I say this to thee, there are thousands of those who have kept the Sabbath, who have the means to live much better than thee, and to die a hundred thousand times better.’ He interspersed his sermon, here and there, with earnest entreaties to the Lord, to give the great and honourable, heart to come out on the side of the Sabbath, and for the cause of his dear Son.

The greatest seriousness and simplicity had filled the minds of the whole crowd, and it was clear that they felt the sharp edge of the important truth delivered to them with such clarity and power. I heard many say at the time, that they would on no account go there, or any other place, to hire on the Sabbath any more; and such a thing never took place afterwards anywhere in Flintshire.

When the Rev. Robert Roberts, Tanyclawdd, was returning from the sermon, on the road between Rhuddlan and St. Asaph, he overtook a man coming from the sermon, like him; and when he turned towards his home, the man imagined that his arm, with which he carried his sickle, had withered, and so the tool fell from his hand onto the road; and he was afraid to pick it up with his other hand, lest that arm also should be paralysed. Consequently, he lost his sickle, but had his two arms; and much more than that, he was born again in that meeting; for he lived the rest of his life a clear Christian, and finished his course in peace. There are not many alive today who heard that sermon, but its effects will never be forgotten. J. Roberts & J. Jones, Cofiant y Parchedig John Elias, o Fon, (Liverpool, 1850), 41-44