For two years the Lord had been burdening Mr. Howells with the need of taking another property, to provide accommodation for double the number of students. The word he had received was: “Enlarge the place of thy tent, stretch forth the curtains of thine habitation, lengthen thy cords.”
A month before the printing of that first report, he heard of the death of Sir Charles Ruthen, the owner of Derwen Fawr, a beautiful estate just up the road from Glynderwen. (Derwen Fawr is Welsh for Great Oak. The ancient tree still stands in the grounds.) Sir Charles had been Director of Housing for the Ministry of Health, and had spent thousands of pounds on the property, buying up all the land between it and the Mumbles Road, to prevent anything blocking the view of Swansea Bay. It consisted of a large house, three cottages, and seventeen acres of grounds. Sir Charles had displayed his skill as an architect in altering the house, in laying out acres of lands in lawns and flower beds, and in making the beautiful Italian gardens, for which he had costly stonework brought from Italy, involving a total outlay of over ú20,000. Among guests who had stayed there had been Mr. Lloyd George and his family when he was Prime Minister, Lord Melchett, and other Cabinet Ministers. The land was greatly increasing in value, for the town of Swansea had been steadily moving in the Mumbles direction, and Derwen Fawr is the nearest large estate to the University College.
The Lord then revealed to Mr. Howells that Derwen Fawr was the next property he was to buy; so he began to put prayer around it, and sometimes to walk with his friends around the wall of the estate, as round the walls of Jericho. Not long after, he heard that Lady Ruthen had put it up for sale, and once again that the Church of Rome Was bidding for it. In face of such a test, he felt: the need of a sign from God. He felt the seriousness of the position, for, if they acquired this property, they could establish a center close to the University. He was sure that God was again calling him to “go against that enemy in the Church of Rome,” so he asked Him to confirm it by sending him a big check the very next day from a source from which he had never had money before. On the morrow the first post came with no money, the second with none, but in the third was a letter with ú100 from someone who had never given before!
Just at that time, the great financial depression was at its worst, and Britain had to go off the gold standard. It was the worst possible time to undertake another great liability. The burden on him was heavy. “The Lord always shows you all the difficulties,” he said, “when He is going to do anything through you.” So he felt led to ask yet one other sign. His fiftieth birthday was in a few days, and he asked the Lord to send him a check of ú50, a pound for each year, and that again it might come from a new source. “I can remember now the meeting we had the night before,” he said: “praising before the victory! We were in the run of believing great things.” The morning came and all the staff and students were watching for the deliverance. Strangely, the postman only brought one letter, from Scotland. “With excitement we opened it, to find therein a check of ú50 from an entirely new donor.”
He took the gift to his cousin, Dr. John Howells, who had a practice in Swansea, and showed it to him as the sign that he was to be the owner of Derwen Fawr. The doctor got in touch with Lady Ruthen, and a few days later the two of them went to see the estate, and she gave Mr. Howells a promise of the first refusal. The remarkable thing was that on the very same day that they made this first visit to Lady Ruthen, they met the agent for the Roman Catholics, who had been sent down from London to look over the property!
“But the Lord arranged the weather,” said Mr. Howells. “It was a dismal day, wet and misty, so that I am sure he did not see over half the place; the grounds had become overgrown, and he must have gone away with a very poor impression.” But Mr. Howells was “face to face with the enemy.” His test had come. Would he make the first offer? They had offered ú4,000 more for Glynderwen than he gave for it; what would they offer for Derwen Fawr? He went up to the agent and gave his figure. The agent was favorable, and asked him to call again after the week-end.
“I remember the thought of what I had done coming over me,” said Mr. Howells. “I still had a liability for Glynderwen, and here I was taking on about ú10,000 again. I was away preaching that Sunday. When I went to bed on Saturday night, I could not sleep, so I got out of bed and went downstairs to fight it out. It meant a sudden plunge into thousands of pounds without a penny in hand. Only those who have put their hand to the plow and cannot look. back can know what it meant. All the fasting in the world is nothing to be compared with carrying liability. I would never have done it for my own family, but only for the Kingdom. The devil told me plainly that if I bought Derwen Fawr on top of Glynderwen, I should be in the bankruptcy court, I saw myself there. But when he named the word ‘bankrupt’, I also told him, ‘When I was in Scotland, I said if I were to pay ú10,000 for Glynderwen and the Catholics were to burn it to ashes the next day, it would still be the best investment I had ever made. So I am not only willing to be a bankrupt for Derwen Fawr, but I am willing to give the last drop of my blood to save it from the Church of Rome.’ The moment I said it, I came through. I felt as free as a bird in my preaching on Sunday.
“On Monday morning I came back to Swansea and went to the agent to learn whether the negotiations had been successful. He had not come in, and while walking in the town waiting for him, I met a friend who asked me where I had been over the week-end. He said he had not been able to get me out of his mind. ‘No wonder!’ I said, ‘I have been in the bankruptcy court!’ and I described the victory of Saturday night. He stood for a while in thought, and then said, ‘Why are you left to fight this battle alone? Are you the only Protestant in the world?’ ‘It looks like it,’ I said. ‘Well, you are not to stand alone in this,’ he went on. ‘If the Covenanters gave their blood to win this liberty for us, I too will give something to maintain it. Go to your agent, and if your offer is accepted come back to me for the deposit.’ Victory beyond value! We both stood still with tears of joy in our eyes. It had been a stiff climb, but I was able to say with Abraham, ‘Jehovah-Jireh — in the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.’ And I, too, seemed to hear those words God spoke to His servant: ‘Because thou hast done this thing… in blessing I will bless thee… because thou hast obeyed My voice.’ Deliverance is always found on the ‘mount’; living faith must first prove to God that it has taken His word and promise for victory.”
When the agent arrived, he said there would be some delay in the negotiations. The Lord then told Mr. Howells to make the challenge known. So he sent out 4,000 booklets telling of the Lord’s guidance, and saying, “The negotiations are going on, and now that the Lord has given the victory in faith, we believe ‘Jehovah-Jireh’ will very soon be written over that wonderful property.”
A few weeks later the Catholics dropped out of the running, possibly owing to the unfavorable report of their agent. But there was also another Syndicate after the property, for local contractors knew it was one of the most desirable building estates in Swansea, and through weeks of tension it was touch and go between them and the College. The only claim Mr. Howells had was the promise of the first refusal Lady Ruthen had given him. He went to the solicitor’s office one Saturday to make a final settlement, but he said he was busy, and told him to return on Monday; Mr. Howells could see he was putting him off, so on the Monday he asked his cousin, the doctor, to accompany him. “It was a day of climax we shall long remember,” said Mr. Howells. “Only the clerk was in the office when we arrived. She said the solicitor was at his home ill, but he had sent a message for me saying that Derwen Fawr was sold[ This was too much for my cousin, and he did not mince matters in what he said. Now indeed was the prediction sorely tested. Was it really from God or from man? If it was from God, Derwen Fawr could never be sold to another” person. As we left the office, the Lord gave me strength to say to my cousin, ‘Derwen Fawr is not sold.’ His reply was with plenty of emphasis: ‘Didn’t you hear the girl say Derwen Fawr is sold? How can you say it isn’t?’ ‘Because the Lord told me to buy it,’ I answered. ‘Months ago I put it in print.’ Then I said to him, ‘Will you go down to the solicitor (an old patient of my cousin’s) and see him?’ He agreed to do this and set off immediately. The daughter answered the door. No one, she said, could visit her father; he was too ill to see any visitors. ‘It’s the first time I ever heard that a patient was too ill to see a doctor,’ my cousin answered, and walked right in. There he learned that the Syndicate had actually sent a check for the deposit to the solicitor’s office, which would have been accepted that morning, if he had not been ill; but at that eleventh hour he agreed to turn them down.
“The Lord then said to me, ‘You must buy Derwen Fawr to-night or never.’ So that night my wife and I went up to see Lady Ruthen. As we walked up the drive, we saw all the lights being turned out! ‘Look,’ the enemy said, ‘they know you are coming, and don’t; want to see you!’ She was wavering, and said she was seriously considering retaining the house for herself. But I reminded her of her promise, and her son-in-law confirmed it. I then offered ú500 more than the Syndicate, and it was settled. Her son-in-law asked me to give the solicitor some token payment until the proper contract could be signed. All I had in the world was ú25, from two gifts I had received that day, so that was my first deposit!”
The decision to buy had been made on Christmas Eve, at the price of ú8,000. Within three days Mr. Howells received five gifts of ú250, ú300, ú50, ú25 and ú50, which with some other smaller sums enabled him to pay the legal deposit and secure the property. He was not led to accept the kind offer made a few months before by that friend, who did, however, help substantially afterwards.
On Whit-Monday, 1930, about a thousand people from all parts of Wales gathered to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the College and the dedication of Derwen Fawr. In the grounds in front of the house is a large stone pedestal about four feet in height upon which a statue had been mounted. The statue was removed and on either side of the pedestal are those two Scriptures as a permanent witness to God’s faithfulness — “Jehovah-Jireh” and “Faith is Substance.”