Trefeca College (1768)

1768 Trefeca College.

‘For the remainder of 1768, there was a procession of evangelical clergy to the new College. Charles Wesley spent a week there in September preaching and administering the sacrament to the students. He was followed in October by Cradock Glascott. John Fletcher stayed at the college until November, after which he returned to his parish, but before leaving he was able to report that an evangelical atmosphere reigned in the College. On 2 November he and Howell Harris spent the evening ‘seeing students.’ Harris ‘had much freedom to speak on an Important Subject, viz. how we need to know the Will of God’. On the following evening they heard a sermon from Fletcher ‘most home indeed’ on Philippians 3.3. [‘For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Jesus Christ, and have no confidence in the flesh.’] Two nights later the students had an exhortation from Howell Harris when he found his ‘mouth vastly open’d indeed’. On the following day, which was Sunday, 6 November’ Fletcher despaired of success in their efforts, and complained in a letter to die Countess of the ‘spirit of levity, irony and trifling’ in the College. [Cheshunt archives, FI/ 1449, Fletcher to Lady H., 10 and 15 November 1768. There is some discrepancy between the days of the week in this letter and those given by Howell Harris in his diary] That evening Fletcher reproved the students one by one and suggested that Lady Huntingdon would send all but six away if they continued at ‘this poor trifling formal rate’. Under this pressure two of the students proposed a day of humili­ation and fasting, which Fletcher fixed for the following Wednesday. However, on Monday noon the revival began. Fletcher assembled them all in his room to sing hymns and pray for five hours. After leaving they went to pray with Betty the maid, who had joined them unseen in the darkness of the study. On the next evening Howell Harris visited the college, and the students invited ‘His oeconomy’ (the ‘Family’ at his settlement) to join them in the revival. Joseph Shipman, the student from Oxford, was particularly affected by the revival which surprised Fletcher because he thought him dry and bigoted. The revival continued until at least 15 November, but Harris went on a preaching tour of south Wales, and there is no further information about its progress. The Countess spread the news of this development. In December John Berridge wrote to congratulate the Countess on ‘the plentiful effusion from above on Talgarth’. [see below for letter] [Edwin Welch, Spiritual Pilgrim pp.117-8;] ‘After the opening ceremonies a succession of the Countess’s friends visited the college during the following weeks. First to come was Charles Wesley who spent some days with the students. After him came an earnest and able young preacher who had been itinerating for the Countess, Cradock Glascott. Fletcher himself came next and stayed until November. But Fletcher was far from happy with what he found when he arrived. The novelty and elation among the students, due in all likelihood to their new circumstances, had in Fletcher’s view quenched the Spirit of God. Only ‘a round of duties and a form of godliness’ seemed to distinguish Trevecca from any other academy, or so he told the Countess. In his words ‘a spirit of levity, irony and trifling sat in the temple of God and the humble wrestling spirit of prayer had disappeared.’ [Possibly the Countess had been ill-advised over some of the young men she had admitted to the College. On the other hand, natural exuberance among a group of young men working and studying together is well known.]

Fletcher immediately did all in his power to rectify the situation. After preaching a sermon on Psalm 24 to arouse the consciences of the young men, he spent an evening rebuking them one by one:

I told them that if things went on at this poor trifling formal rate I would advise your Ladyship to pick out half a dozen of the most earnest and send the rest about their business that room might be made for a better set.

Fletcher then set aside the following Wednesday as a day of prayer and fasting. But on the Monday night one student knocked timidly at his door. He wanted to confess that ‘he had trifled with God and deserved the hottest hell’. That was a beginning of an unusual work of the Spirit among the students of Trevecca. With confessions and praises, tears and rejoicing the young men renewed their dedication to the service of God. None was untouched. Even Betty Hughes, the housemaid, crept in unnoticed and, when all the students had gone to their rooms, confessed that she too felt ‘tempted and dry’ and feared lest she should be past by when others were being blessed. The following day Howell Harris and a number from his community arrived at the college; they too were moved to join in the prayers and gladness experienced by the students. A child employed as a shoeblack pleaded: ‘Come Lord Jesus, come to a little boy, come to a wicked boy, give me a new heart, Lord, a new heart before I go to hell.’

One young man in particular was influenced. Joseph Shipman, whom the Countess had inveigled into preaching by thrusting him out of her front door at Tunbridge Wells, had been a difficult student from the first. Nothing suited him: not the food, the Welsh air, nor the standard of the instruction. Full of complaints, he wrote often to the Countess urging his special needs. But all this was now changed. Fletcher noted how he prayed that God might forgive him for the way he had grieved the Countess. In Shipman’s preaching too the effect was noticeable as he began to preach ‘much deeper than the surface of the doctrine’.

These were memorable days and the longer term effect, as Fletcher was to tell the Countess, was to give the students a ‘love for prayer, an end of divisions and a degree of zeal for God and brotherly kindness, watchfulness and an apparent concern for souls.’ [John Fletcher to the Countess, 10 November 1768, Cheshunt Foundation Archives] ‘I am glad to hear of the plentiful effusion from above on Talgarth,’ wrote John Berridge to Selina as reports filtered through to Everton of the blessings of those days in November 1768.‘Jesus has now baptised your College, and thereby shown his approbation of the work’, he continued, reversing his former gloomy prognosis of the future of the new enterprise. But he had a warning: ‘You may therefore rejoice, but rejoice with trembling. Faithful labourers may be expected from thence, but if it is Christ’s college, a Judas will certainly be found amongst them.’ [Berridge, Works, p.504.] [Faith Cook, Selina Countess of Huntingdon, Edinburgh, 2001, pp.255-256]

‘An unction from the Holy One did unquestionably rest in a remarkable manner on the inmates of Trevecca, and accounts of the scenes there witnessed cannot be perused but with deep interest. The venerable and respected John Clayton, who was himself one of the early students at Trevecca, a few years since, when affectionately advocating the cause of the same institution, now removed to Cheshunt, mentioned several pleasing particulars relating to Trevecca College. Lady Huntingdon, it seems, commonly resided in the College, and the influence of her fervent piety was highly beneficial. The greatest defference was paid by the students to their tutors, and habits of neatness and decorum were cultivated. Above all the spirit of devotion was at Trevecca eminently apparent. The delighted visitant, when walking in the neighbouring vale, might often hear distinctly from several parts of the surrounding woodlands the voice of social prayer proceeding from several little bands of students who were pouring out their hearts before the God of mercy.

Active exertion was combined with devotional exercises: several horses were kept for the purpose of conveying the students to more distant places on Saturday afternoons, while the nearer villages were visited on foot, and thus the benefits of the College were felt throughout the surrounding towns and villages, to the distance of twenty or thirty miles. There were pressing calls heard from every side, “Come over and help us.” Being possessed of an experimental acquaintance with the things of God, and fired with holy zeal and ardent love to the souls of their perishing fellowmen—the ministry of the students was much blessed. There was a fire and freshness about their ministrations, together, with a laudable preference for that style of preaching which gave prominence to those truths which are most likely to awaken the careless and to increase the Church from the world. They were indeed irregular troops, but they brought in more captives than the disciplined squadrons, and were eminently serviceable to the cause of real religion.

Frequently a student was sent out to greater distances to preach in certain districts or rounds, as they were termed. On these tours, chapels, private houses, market places or fields, as occasion required, became the scenes of a students labours; and thus the Gospel was introduced, or the cause of Christ revived in very many places, where now there are stated preachers and numerous hearers. Shall these movements be complained of as irregular? Who censures the unmeasured steps of the man who, at the risk of his own safety, plunges into the flood, and snatches a fellow mortal from the deep? and are not souls, immortal souls, to be valued at least as highly as the bodies of men? Men were perishing in multitudes for lack of knowledge, and we cannot but venerate those disinterested servants of God who willingly exposed themselves to the insults of the unthinking crowd, and who endured much hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, that they might win souls for Him. They were indeed despised by men, but they were approved by God, and the Spirit of glory and of grace rested on them.

“Thanks be to God (exclaims one of them), [Rev. Anthony Crole, afterwards minister of Pinner’s Hall, London.] He is mindful of us at College, and we have had some delightful times amongst the people since the anniversary. On the bare mention of our royal entertainment at that season, the hearts of many are rekindled into a flame of love and gratitude; their song—’O moliant i Dduw byth,’—O praise be to God forever! is not, and I pray the Lord may never be forgotten; such seasons, such privileges, and such continued manifestations of divine love and power call for much humility and self-abasement.”

May He who has the residue of the Spirit pour that heavenly influence anew on all our Churches and give us to renew the days of old.

Some months after the dedication of the College, Lady Huntingdon received the following letter from her old correspondent Mr. Berridge, whose ideas of that institution seem to have undergone a change “My Lady,—When the frost broke up, I became a scald miserable indeed; just able at times to peep into my Bible, but not able to endure the touch of a quill. I am now reviving, but not revived, and can venture to take up a pen. You shall have its firstfruits, such as they are.

“I am glad to hear of the plentiful effusion from above on Talgarth. Jesus has now baptised your College and thereby shown his approbation of the work. You may therefore rejoice, but rejoice with trembling. Faithful labourers may be expected from thence; but if it is Christ’s College, a Judas will certainly be found amongst them. I believe the baptism will prove a lasting one, but I believe the sensible comfort will not last always nor long. Neither is it convenient. In the present state of things, a winter is as much wanted to continue the earth fruitful as a summer. If the grass was always growing it would soon grow to nothing just as flowers, that blow much and long, generally blow themselves to death. And as it is thus with the ground, so is it with the labourers too. Afflictions, desertions, and temptations are as needful as consolations. Jonah’s whale will teach a good lesson, as well as Pisgah’s top; and a man may sometimes learn as much from being a night and a day in the deep, as from being forty days in the mount. I see Jonah come out of a whale and cured of rebellion; I see Moses go up to the mount with meekness, but come down in a huff and break the tables. Further, I see three picked disciples attending their master to the mount and fall asleep there. I believe you must be clad only in sackcloth whilst you tarry in the wilderness and be a right mourning widow till the Bridegroom fetches you home. Jesus has given you a hand and a heart to execute great things for his glory, and therefore he will deal you out a suitable measure of afflictions, to keep your balance steady. Did Paul labour more abundantly than all his brethren? He had more abundant stripes than them all. The Master will always new shave your crown before he puts a fresh coronet upon your head; and I expect to hear of a six months illness, when I hear of a building of a new chapel. I cannot comfort you with saying that I think your day is almost spent, but it is some encouragement to know that your noon is past and that your afternoon shadows lengthen. Go on my dear Lady; build and fight manfully, and believe lustily. Look upwards and press forwards. Heaven’s eternal hills are before you, and Jesus stands with arms wide open to receive you. One hour’s sight and enjoyment of the Bridegroom in his place above will make you forget all your troubles on the way. Yet a little while, and He that shall come will come and receive you with a heavenly welcome. Here we must purge and bleed, for physic is needful, and a tender Physician administers all. But inhabitants of heaven cry out and sing ‘we are no more sick.’

“‘Ah! Lord, with tardy steps I creep.

And sometimes sing, and sometimes weep;

Yet strip me of this house of clay,

And I will sing as sweet as they.’

“A very heavy time have I had for the last three weeks; cloudy days and moonless nights. Only a little consolation fetched down now and then by a little dull prayer. At times I am ready to wish that sin and the devil were both dead; they make such a horrible racket within me and about me. Rather let me pray, Lord give me faith and patience, teach me to expect the cross daily, and help me to take it up cheerfully. Wofully weary I am of myself, but know not how to live and feast daily upon Jesus. A treasure he is indeed, but lies hid in a field, and I know not how to dig in the dark. “Your franks are all spent, I find, and so poor Jack must now be like Marget in a cage, have all the chatter to himself. This looks mighty civil, but is not wondrous honest. For good folks should pay their debts, as well as give gifts. May daily showers from above fall upon you and refresh you; and the dew of heaven light upon your chapels and college. I remain your affectionate servant in a loving Jesus,


“Kind respects to Miss Orton. Everton, Dec. 30, 1768.”’

[A.C.H. Seymour], The Life and Times of Selina Countess of Huntingdon, vol. ii. 1840, reprinted [Tentmaker] 2000, pp.83-87].

Sermons at anniversary at the college: ‘Having spent the principal part of the summer at Tunbridge Wells, Lady Huntingdon left in August, 1769, in order to attend the anniversary of the opening of the College, a service of peculiar solemnity, and attended with remarkable manifestations of the Divine favour and love in those days. For several weeks previous to this event, her Ladyship was actively engaged in making preparations for the approaching solemnity, and invited many eminent ministers to assist at the services to be held on that occasion. On Friday, the 18th of August, Mr Daniel Rowland, Mr Fletcher, and Mr William Williams arrived at the College; and on the following morning Mr Rowland preached in the chapel to a crowded congregation, on “Lord, are there few that be saved?” In the afternoon the Lord’s Supper was administered, when Mr Fletcher addressed the communicants and spectators in a very close and pointed manner. Power from on high accompanied the word and rendered it effectual to the conversion of many. Mr Williams then gave out the hymn

“Come, let us join our cheerful songs,

With angels round the throne,” &c.

which was sung with the most lively feelings of devotion. Abundance of people being gathered together, Mr Howel Harris stood in the court and gave a solemn warning to a large congregation, from these awful words: “The time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God.” On the 19th Mr Shirley and several exhorters and lay preachers arrived at Trevecca. The next day, being Sunday, a very numerous congregation assembled in the court, the chapel being much too small to contain the half of the people. Public service commenced at ten o’clock. Mr Fletcher read prayers, and Mr Shirley preached on “Acquaint thyself now with him and be at peace.” At one the Sacrament was administered in the chapel, Mr Rowland and Mr Fletcher alternately addressed the communicants during the distribution of the elements, and Mr Williams closed the solemnity with a suitable address to the awakened and unawakened. In the afternoon Mr Fletcher stood in the court and applied the words of the Apostle, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ,” to an immense congregation, many of whom appeared to receive the word with gladness. When the sermon was concluded a hymn was sung, and Mr Rowland explained and enforced in the Welsh language those solemn words—“It is appointed unto men once to die.” From this time to the day of the anniversary, people flocked from all parts to Trevecca. Mr Howel Harris and several of the Welsh exhorters assisted the clergymen assembled at the College so that there was preaching twice every day. On Wednesday, the 23rd, Mr Wesley, accompanied by Mr Howel Davies and Mr Peter Williams of Caermarthen, arrived at Trevecca: “I preached in the morning (says Mr Wesley) to as many as her Ladyship’s chapel could well contain, which is extremely neat, or rather, elegant, as is the dining room, the college, and all the house. About nine Howel Harris desired me to give a short exhortation to his family. I did so, and then went back to my Lady’s, and laid me down in peace.” At an early hour on the morning of Thursday the 24th, the Lord’s Supper was administered by Mr Wesley and Mr Shirley, first to the clergymen assembled at the College, then to students, after which the Countess of Huntingdon, the Countess of Buchan, Lady Anne Erskine, Miss Orton, and the other members of her family received. An amazing concourse of people being collected from all parts, the public service commenced at ten o’clock. Mr. Howel Davies and Mr. Daniel Rowland read the prayers, with appropriate lessons selected for the occasion, after which, Mr Fletcher preached an exceeding lively sermon in the court, the chapel being far too small to contain the congregation; when he had finished, the Rev. William Williams preached in Welsh till about two o’clock. At two they all dined with Lady Huntingdon; and baskets of bread and meat were distributed amongst the people in the court, many of whom had come from a great distance. Public service commenced again at three o’clock, when Mr Wesley preached in the court, then Mr Fletcher; about five the congregation was dismissed. Between seven and eight the love-feast began, during which Mr Shirley, Mr Davies, and Mr Rowland gave short exhortations, and Mr Peter Williams and Mr Howel Harris engaged in prayer. There were eight clergymen present on this occasion. Thus terminated an anniversary in which much of the divine presence was experienced both by ministers and hearers. Such divine power accompanied the discourses delivered on this occasion, and such fervent and lively devotion breathed in all the addresses to the throne of grace, that very many were savingly impressed with the importance of attending to the great concerns of eternity: “Truly (observes her Ladyship) our God was in the midst of us; and many felt him eminently nigh. The gracious influences of his Spirit seemed to rest on every soul. Many with whom I have conversed experience a springtide of sensible comfort and strong joy, and vehement longings after more communion with Him, especially in the means of grace. Though necessarily much hurried with outward things, my mind was preserved in peace: I enjoyed a divine composure, a heavenly serenity of soul, while my communion was with the Father and the Son. Words fail to describe the holy triumph with which the great congregation sung

‘Captain of thine enlisted host,

Display thy glorious banner high,’ &c.

It was a season of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, a time never to be forgotten.”

The day after the anniversary Mr Wesley set off for Bristol, and on the following day Mr Davies and Mr Rowland left Trevecca. Mr Shirley, in the afternoon, took his stand on the scaffold in the court and addressed a multitude on Hebrews vii. 25:

“From this time (adds her Ladyship) we had public preaching every day at four o’clock, whilst Mr Shirley and Mr Fletcher remained. Copious showers of divine blessings have been felt on every side. Truly God is good to Israel. I am weak, ungrateful, and humble. Continue thy goodness, and in much greater abundance. O that I may be more and more useful to the souls of my fellow creatures. I want to be every moment, all life, all zeal, all activity for God, and ever on the stretch for closer communion with Him. My soul pants to live more to him, and to be more holy in heart and life, that all my nature may shew forth the glories of the Lamb.”’ [ibid. vol. ii. pp.98-101]

This information was kindly provided by Geraint Jones

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