There was to be a special meeting one night in the village, and a friend of Rees Howells was to give the address. The two had arranged to walk over to the village together, but when it was time to start, the special speaker sent word that he could not come. On hearing this, Rees was greatly upset, and he realized why. He had not been carrying a burden for the meeting that day as he usually did; he had been depending more on his friend than on the Holy Spirit. He soon found also that the Presence which always accompanied him on the nightly journey to the village was withdrawn, and the Spirit was grieved. He walked about half-way with a heavy heart until he could bear it no longer. “Please forgive me,” he said to the Lord. “I promise that it will never happen again. If You will only come and give victory in this meeting, then I vow like Jephthah that on my return tonight, I will give You whatever You ask.”
There was great blessing in the meeting, and walking home, as he came to the place of his vow, he asked the Lord what He would have of him. The answer was unexpected. “After tonight,” the Lord said, “I want you to be a steward, and not an owner. Will you give up all claim on your money to Me?” Rees did not understand this. Was not his money already the Lord’s? The Lord then showed him his position. He had previously faced the fact that he could not ask God to meet a need if he could supply it himself. So all his money had actually been spent in the Lord’s work. But it was still his money, and he had the joy of giving it, and the right to give or withhold. “In future, as a steward,” the Lord said, “you will not have the right even to give without My permission. And not a penny of My money will be spent except on essentials.” Explaining what He meant by this, the Lord asked him, “If you had a family of children who were without food or clothing, would you spend a penny on a daily paper, or on any non-essential?” “No.” “Well, the world is My parish, and while there is one person needing the necessities of life, you will not spend a penny on anything else.”
He faced what it would mean to lose that joy of giving, and the bondage he would be in for the rest of his days. But he had come before God to pay his vow. So, turning from the path, he knelt on the grass at the side of the road, and as there was no else present, he called the stars and the cloud of witnesses to record that from that night on he was only a channel.
As he walked on the enemy whispered, “Do you know what you have done? You are worse off than a man in Swansea jail. He gets a little which he can spend when he comes out, but you will never have a penny.” “Yes,” answered Rees, “but, remember this — I did it by choice.” The moment he said that, “it seemed as if the whole heavens were illuminated,” and the Holy Spirit said to him, “Let Me tell you what you have done. Tonight I have grafted you into the Vine, and all the sap can flow through you. You are a branch in the Saviour. The branch gets nothing — it is the needy that get the fruit. But after tonight, from this place of abiding, whatever the Father wants to pour out to the world through you, He can do so. ‘Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit.’ Because you have done this for Me, you are no longer a servant, but I have called you a friend.” A friend of the Trinity! It was a personal revelation of the Saviour’s words in John 15, and for days, Rees said, the joy and realization of it overcame him.
For the next eighteen months he never spent a penny except on necessities; and it was through that period that he had all sense of the ownership of money taken out of him, The real test, as it often is, was on a very fine point, and did not come for four months. It was a matter of one penny and, as he remarked, “it shows how keenly the Husbandman watches the branch.”
At the last Llandrindod Convention he had met a gentleman from London, Mr. John Gosset, of whom we are to hear more. This friend had asked for his address, and then at Christmas sent him two books and a card. The conflict came over the desire to send a New Year’s card back to him with a letter of thanks. He said, “I naturally wanted to return the compliment. I thought, It will only cost me a penny; but the Holy Ghost made plain that what mattered was not the amount, but the principle, and the obedience in maintaining the position. A New Year’s card was not a necessity of life!” So he wrote to Mr. Gosset thanking him for the books, at the same time giving him the reason for not sending a card. After the letter had been posted, an attack came from the accuser of the brethren, “Now you have insulted your friend! You are suggesting that he is misusing his money.” However, the young steward was able to trust his Master that He would not let the enemy convey a false impression, which was not intended.
Two weeks later, they were praying for ú2 and had to get it on a certain day. That very morning a letter came from London. It was from Mr. Gosset, and when Mr. Howells opened it, the first thing he found was ú2 enclosed. The letter ran: “Received your letter, and the blessing I got through it was of more value to me than all the Christmas and New Year cards put together. Every Sunday I visit the Westminster hospital, so last Sunday your letter was my sermon to the patients: A position gained through grace. Whenever you need money for your work, if you will only let me know, it will be my joy to share in it.” That, of course, Mr. Howells would never do; his needs were to be made known only by way of the Throne. “But,” he added, “I found it quite easy to reach this gentleman in that way! He became a great friend, and was often used by the Lord to answer our prayers.”
In commenting later on this radical dealing of the Spirit with him, Mr. Howells said: “I finished with ownership once for all. I became as dead to money as to the stones on the road. It was a great joy in those days to think that the Saviour had made me a branch, just a channel through which His own resurrection life could flow to the needy world. There is no closer relationship than between a branch and the Vine. But one thing the Husbandman cannot do is to graft the old life into the Vine. Self can never abide in the Saviour, not one atom of it. Before you can be grafted into the Vine, you must be cut off from the old life. That had been going on and there were many stages in my life before this came. Without His new life, all our activity and work is, in the sight of God, as nothing. Yet the Vine can’t do anything without the branch. All the sap of the Tree is running through the branch. And when this new life flows through us, every bit of us tingles with it, even our very body itself. If the Vine has joy, the branch has the same joy, and the needy get the fruit.”
In future years Rees Howells was to handle the Lord’s money by the thousands, and, as he later said, “He has never questioned me on anything I spent.” For such a stewardship, with never again a claim to ownership, the experience of that night and the eighteen months’ obedience which followed formed the essential preparation.