During the four years previous to the outbreak of World War II, as we have already seen, the Lord was changing the burden on Mr. Howells from local concerns, centering on the development of the College, to national and international affairs. As he said, “The world became our parish and we were led to be responsible to intercede for countries and nations.” We have also seen how the Lord was preparing in the company at the College a special instrument of intercession for the coming world crisis.
It was in March, 1936, that Mr. Howells began to see dearly that Hitler was Satan’s agent for preventing the gospel going to every creature. As he said later, “In fighting Hitler we have always said that we were not up against man, but the devil. Mussolini is a man, but Hitler is different. He can tell the day this ‘spirit’ came into him.” For several years Mr. Howells stressed the fact that God must destroy him, if the vision of the Gospel to every creature was to be fulfilled.
At first, he believed that God would prevent war altogether. We have seen how the College fought through on their knees during the Munich crisis and how they believed for peace.
As the clouds over Europe grew darker, Mr. Howells still believed that God would intervene and prevent war. He stood to his prediction right up to the day of the declaration of war between Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939. Even then he was not moved. Although people said that the prediction was wrong, he thanked God he had made it. “If I had a choice again about making this prediction,” he said, “I would make it to-night, although it ‘has gone much farther than we thought it would. Hitler must be put out of the way’, because if he isn’t, he will come up again in another two years. I want to know that the Holy Spirit is stronger than the devil in the Nazi system. This is the battle of the ages, and victory here means victory for millions of people.”
On the day of the declaration of war, he published the following statement: “The Lord has made known to us that He is going to destroy Hitler and the Nazi regime, that the world may know that it was God and God alone who has scattered the dictators. Three and a half years ago, the College prayed this prayer for weeks and months, and we firmly believe He will now answer it. He has isolated Germany so that He may get at this evil system, which is the Antichrist, and release Germany, the land of the Reformation. He will deal with the Nazis as He dealt with the Egyptian army in the time of Moses. God will cause Hitler to fall on the battlefield or by a mutiny or a great rising in Germany against the Nazis.”
So far from the declaration of war shaking him and those with him, it only sent them more determined than ever to their knees. They were now called in a new way to pay the vow they had made three years before — to give their lives over “to fight the battles of the Kingdom, as really as if called to fight on the Western Front.” This stand of faith against war in order that the Gospel might not be hindered, was proved to be God’s way of placing upon that company a responsibility from which they could never come free, until the enemy that God was dealing with should be destroyed.
When, after a month of hostilities, an offer of peace was made by Hitler, the College stood with the Prime Minister in stating that war must be continued, “until Hitlerism is overthrown,” even though, like so many more, the College had much to lose by its continuance. The conviction of the College was expressed in the title of a book which Mr. Howells wrote in the opening weeks of the war, and which was published in December, 1939, called: God Challenges the Dictators — Doom of Nazis Predicted. In it he said, “The God of Daniel will deliver Pastor Niemuller, and the hundreds of other German Evangelicals, who have followed him to the concentration camps… their places will one day be occupied by the fanatical Nazi leaders, if any of them escape a speedy death.”
After an indictment of Mussolini, he stated, “When victory over Germany comes… Ethiopia should also be given back to the Ethiopians, and this may also be in God’s divine plan to evangelize Ethiopia.” He also declared that “Bolshevism and Soviet Russia are being used in the plan of God to break the evil Nazi regime”; “but of Stalin he said, “The devil has used and may yet use this man to be the greatest foe to the Church that the world has ever known.”
Although his confidence was that God would intervene to deal with the enemy, he wrote, “We may have many a set-back before He does so… it may be that we, like the Israelites (referring to Judges 20), will have to cry out to God in our extremity for the help which will certainly come.”
It is truly remarkable to look back now and realize that these things were in print before the end of 1939.
Shortly after this, Mr. Howells made a further prediction, which was published by The Western Mail on January 8, 1940, under a headline of “Welsh Bible College Director Urges Prayer to Stop War”. It quoted him as saying: “If all the righteous in the country will send up effectual prayer, we feel sure that we shall prevail and open Penllergaer on Whit-Monday without war or blackout… what a relief to millions of people if God will intervene and bring the war to an end by Whitsuntide.” Little did he imagine when that prediction was made, that the days around that Whit-Sunday, May 12, were to be the blackest in the history of our nation, and the nearest we had come in nearly 400 years to the invasion of our shores; for on May 10 Hitler’s armored columns broke in on Holland and Belgium, and May 29 was that never-to-be-forgotten date in our history, the Dunkirk evacuation, to be followed shortly after by Mr. Churchill’s memorable call to “blood and sweat and toil and tears.”
In spite of this apparent set-back, as we read the diaries of the daily College meetings, three meetings on most days, we find ourselves among certainly not a fearful, not even chiefly a praying company, but rather among those who are already on victory ground, when all around men’s hearts are failing them for fear; and what gave them such clarity and assurance that theirs was the victory, was the outward “death” of the prediction! If we say God was not with them, we may well ask ourselves this question: “Was there anywhere else in the whole of Britain or America or elsewhere among God’s people another such company, maybe a hundred strong, who were on their knees day by day, holding fast the victory by faith, while our soldiers across the water were retreating mile by mile, whole countries surrendering, and the enemy within sight of their goal?” From this time on, through all the years of the war, the whole College was in prayer every evening from seven o’clock to midnight, with only a brief interval for supper. They never missed a day. This was in addition to an hour’s prayer meeting every morning, and very often at midday. There were many special periods when every day was given up wholly to prayer and fasting.
In the meetings just before Whit-Sunday, Mr. Howells said: “Through God we made the prediction, through God we stand to it, and through God we are going against the enemy. He tells me tonight, ‘Don’t you fear because of that prediction you have sent out, don’t you fear the Nazis.’ I think what a glory it is that we don’t need to change our prayers one bit, in spite of the present developments. I am so glad that it has been the Kingdom we have had before us all the time in the last nine months, and I haven’t a single regret. The Lord has said, ‘I am going to deal with the Nazis.’ It has been a battle between the Holy Spirit and the devil which we have been fighting for four years.”
On Whit-Sunday, when, instead of peace being declared, only two days before, Hitler had invaded Holland and Belgium, Mr. Howells said in the College meeting: “We shall never defend the prediction. The point is, can God put a doubt in us who have really believed? If the Lord tells you that this delay is for His glory, then you must take victory in it. There is no glory in delay, unless there was faith to put it through. I would be a different man today if there was failure, but the Holy Spirit is not a failure. I can really thank Him for the delay. I wouldn’t be without this experience for the world. Very strange that what is death in the eyes of the world, is victory to the Holy Spirit.”
The next day he said, “We could never have had a greater death than in this prediction being delayed. But we are not going to have resurrection on one point more than has gone to the cross. I preached victory yesterday without a visible victory. There is a death in every grade, but as really as you die, there will be fruit to a hundred-fold.
“We are going up to the battle, and I am as sure of victory as of the” dawn. If you know you have faith for something, would you not go on until you got it? I would like this to ring out to the world: ‘The Lord, He is the God!'”
As the Nazis poured through Europe, the College stood daily before God: We quote from notes taken of Mr. Howells’ messages in the meetings:
May 16, 9.80 a.m. The clay after Holland had surrendered: “To-day is probably the greatest battle in history. Can God do something today? Now when the Germans say, ‘We have got the Allies on the run’, can God do it? Keep your eyes on God today and get this victory. 2 p.m. The Lord has made very plain that the victory is from Him and no one else, and He is to have all the glory. God gets at the enemy visibly and invisibly, through the army and through us. 5.30 p.m. The position is most serious in France, but even if the French and British are fighting against such great odds, the Lord is well able to help them.”
May 17, 9.30 a.m. “God will not do a bit more through you than you have faith for. The victory last night was in seeing that no matter how near the enemy came, the Holy Ghost is stronger than he. You are more responsible for this victory today than those men on the battlefield. You must be dead to everything else but this fight. 1 p.m. Because you have committed yourselves, you are responsible. You will never have peace again, until the world has peace, but you have a place in the cleft of the Rock. 8.30 p.m. We are here until these Nazis are put out. 7 p.m. If the Lord finds us quite willing in this death-life, and that we have got victory in the test, will He allow us to prevail upon Him now to finish it? If we believed last Saturday, we are believing tonight. I am not willing that thousands of our boys should be lost, because there has to be the ‘doom of the Nazis’, and it will come now if we can prevail. If this had been a failure, God would have been against us, but He shows he is pleased with us.”
May 18, 9.30 a. m. “Unless God intervenes today in a miraculous way, I believe we have lost. I would be willing to die, but I cannot afford to die, neither can we afford that Hitler should live. 2.30 p.m. I want to fight with this enemy again this week-end, as if it were the end of civilization. You don’t leave anything to chance in this. Don’t allow those young men at the Front to do more than you do here. I do ask Him to bring a real disaster on the Nazis this week-end. 6.30 p.m. As the Lord gave us the prediction, and we have had victory in it, and the delay has not changed our faith a bit, then we must come back and ask Him when He is going to do it. I feel to-night that whatever these Nazis do, they cannot escape the Holy Spirit. Christianity is quite safe. If you have faith, you can leave it in His hands, and He will intervene in the right time. We can’t inquire when He is going to do it, if we haven’t got faith for Him to do it. 9.30 p.m. It is not you struggling, but God doing, and you coming to know what God is doing. Is it God Who has drawn Hitler across that line with his 2,500 armored cars? I want the Lord to discomfit this man and those armored cars.”
May 19, 9.30 a.m. “These Nazis will not destroy civilization. When they get near enough, God will deal with them. When the Holy Spirit has gone to the victory side, you could never convince the man or woman who has gone to the victory side with Him, that He is a failure. 9.15 p.m. Now is the best time to test the Bible in wars, because we are in one ourselves.”
May 20, 9 a.m. “The next 24 hours will be the crisis in this great battle. They are ready to take our country at any moment. Even before lunch-time the history of the world may be changed. Such a thing as this has not happened to us before, and you do not know how much faith is needed. We’ are coming to the Lord this morning, and telling Him our eyes are on Him today. Unless He intervenes, we are lost. I don’t doubt the Lord for one second, but I must be very careful. 2.30 p.m. I think tonight of sending the book, God Challenges the Dictators, to Mr. Churchill to encourage him at this moment. The army is losing ground every day, but in the book it has been said that man would not be able to end this; but that God has said, ‘Don’t expect Me to do it, until you get to your extremity.’ The only thing we want the Lord to make plain to us is, are we up to the place He wants us to be at this moment? The only thing I want is not to doubt in the time of crisis, and it is going to be a real crisis. 7 p.m. To-day I have sent the book to Mr. Chamberlain, Lord Halifax and Mr. Churchill — in the darkest hour.”
May 21, 9 a.m. Fear of Invasion. “Yesterday was the darkest day in the history of this country, especially after the Prime Minister’s speech. Everyone in town is expecting the enemy to invade this country. We have told the Lord, ‘Our lives for victory’. We ought to pray now for the Lord to stop them coming over to this country. 2.80 p.m. We must pray for the Lord to keep the enemy in check. He is like a roaring lion. 7 p.m. The French Premier says tonight, ‘It is only a miracle that will save us.’ The test is, whether the Bible is true. I am willing to risk my life to prove it, and I want to tell you tonight that it is quite true. See that your believing is right, and if it is, you don’t need to have any fear.”
May 22, 9 a.m. “The world is in a panic today, and certainly we would be too, unless we were quite sure the Lord had spoken to us. The destiny of England will be at stake today and to-morrow. 2.80 p.m. In a battle such as we are in today, you cannot trust in a meeting or in feelings. We must go back to what God has told us. There is an enemy that we must keep in check, until God does the big thing.”
From the night of May 22 to 25 Mr. Howells no longer came to the meetings; other members of the staff took them. He went away alone with God to battle through, and, as others have testified, the crushing burden of those days broke his body. He literally laid down his life.
May 26 was the day of public prayer in Britain. As Mr. Churchill said of the May 26 Service of Intercession in “Westminster Abbey: “The English are loath to expose their feelings, but in my stall in the choir I could feel the pent-up passionate emotion, and also the fear of the congregation, not of death or wounds or national loss, but of defeat and the final ruin of Britain.” Mr. Howells returned to the College meetings and said:
9.30 a.m. “All you can do today when a cry will go up from the country is to be in a position to take the answer from God. The question this morning is, Can we take the answer? If you ever cried, you ought to cry today.
11.15 a.m. How can you be sure that the Nazis will not take our country? All the leading people know today that unless God intervenes, we will be slaves. We prayed for Ethiopia and other countries, so our cry is not a selfish one. 2.30 p.m. We are going against this Beast, as David went against Goliath.”
May 27, 9 a.m. “There is intercession and faith, so the Lord can do a mighty deed. Our people will see God answering their prayers, and they will have all the joy of it. 2.45 p.m. It is as much as I can do to believe today. The news between the two meetings was awful — hell upon earth.”
On May 28 Mr. Howells again was alone with God. In the meetings the prayer was for God to intervene at Dunkirk and save our men; and as the Spirit came upon them in prayer and supplication, what one prayed at the end expressed the assurance given to all: “I feel sure something has happened.”
May 29 was the day of the evacuation of Dunkirk. Mr. Howells said, “Let us be dear in our prayer that the intercession is gained. The battle is the Holy Spirit’s. See Him outside of yourselves tonight. He is there on the battlefield with His drawn sword.”
May 30, 7.80 p.m. “From a worldly standpoint there is no hope of victory; but God has said it. I could not come tonight and ask Him to intervene, because we have already said that He is going to intervene. Instead of bad news about our soldiers, if He is on the field of battle, He can change that and make it very good news. Oh, for God to lift us up tonight! We are not to run into any panic thinking the Nazis are going to win: Germany must be delivered as well as England and France. We may have to go through far greater sufferings yet, but I am not going to doubt the final issue. We state in plainest terms: The enemy will not invade Christian England.”
When we look back now after these years, many of us in Britain recall the terror of those days. Remembering the miracle of Dunkirk, acknowledged by our leaders to be an intervention from God, the calm sea allowing the smallest boats to cross, the almost complete evacuation of our troops, and then the lead Mr. Churchill gave to the nation, how thankful we are that God had this company of hidden intercessors, whose lives were on the altar day after day as they stood in the gap for the deliverance of Britain.