About half a mile from Jim Stakes’ home, there was a village without a single Christian, or a single place of worship. At the time of the Revival people had started prayer meetings in it, but they soon fell through. After Jim Stakes and his wife had been blessed, the Lord one day said to Mr. Howells, “As you had such joy in helping these two, wouldn’t you like to help a whole village? But in going there, I have another lesson to teach you — you must be the first sufferer.” This meant that he must be like a father who is the first to suffer in his family, or a good shepherd who will lay down his life for the sheep.
The Spirit showed him that the Saviour took the sinner’s place as Sin-bearer, Sickness-bearer and Burden-bearer, and that in going to the village he was to allow the Spirit to reveal the love of the Saviour through him in a practical way. These people had had the best preaching in the Revival, and it had not touched them; but the Holy Spirit was taking His servant there to be the first sufferer, and everyone who was in need would have a claim on him to supply that need.
So one Sunday morning, Mr. Howells, with his friend Johnny Lewis, Miss Elizabeth Hannah Jones — later to become Mrs. Howells — and other young Christian workers who had joined him, visited the village. Never before had they seen such a sight. Barrels of beer were placed out in the open, and people were drinking and gambling and playing all kinds of games. The place had been well named Hell-fire Row; but as Mr. Howells said afterwards, “I had only one thought: that the Holy Ghost was going there, and He had authority to cast out devils and forgive sins.”
And so it proved in the first home he visited. The woman of the house was unwilling to disclose to her visitors that she was baking on Sunday, so she allowed her bread to get burnt in the oven. When Mr. Howells heard of this, he went back and told her he had come to pay for the damage he had done, and placed a sovereign on her table!
A good deed has wings, and very soon the villagers learned that this band of young people, all workers themselves in pit or shop, were coming with something more than words. The woman opened her cottage for meetings, and she and her husband, who had both been drunkards, were the first converts, the woman particularly continuing as one of the best in the village.
The Spirit made it plain to Mr. Howells that he was to “live out the Bible” to the people. As their clothes were different from his, he was to dress more plainly, so as to attract no attention to himself. He had brought a gold watch back from America, as well as giving one to each of his brothers and sisters, but he was not to wear his again. “If you are the first sufferer, don’t have a thing these people can’t have,” the Lord said to him. Nearly everyone in the village was in need, and the Spirit reminded him of the Sermon on the Mount: “Give to him that asketh thee.” “Whoever is in need-has a claim on you,” He said. “You have given Me all you have, and I tell you that it is all for the people, and they have as much right to it as you have.”
The greatest break came when the Lord laid hold of the ringleader among the drunkards. For a long time Mr. Howells prayed for him and asked for a chance to get at him. This man could see the love of God expressed towards others, but he had not yet experienced it himself. The opportunity came. There was some trouble outside the village; this man was involved, and it was to be a court case. The Lord then said to Rees Howells, “Now is your chance. Offer to settle the case for him.” So he called at the man’s home and asked him, “Would you be relieved if this case could be settled but of court? If the other people are willing to accept compensation, would you like me to pay it for you?” He was speechless. “he was every inch a man,” said Mr. Howells. “Mere words could never reach him, but when he saw the love’ of God like that, he was touched on a vital spot and broke down. He confessed that he had been to blame, and started to come to the meetings, and his love for one could be felt.”
It wasn’t long before over a dozen were converted, and regular meetings were started, including a Sunday School and a Band of Hope. So many left the public houses and turned to the Lord, that the band of workers felt they must give all their time to be with them. They” had five meetings a week, and spent the other evenings visiting in the homes. The work of the Spirit spread far beyond this village, and soon there were converts scattered through all the neighborhood. There was such power in the ministry that it used to be said, If Rees Howells visits a home, you watch, someone will be converted there!
Mr. Howells was earning his weekly wage at the colliery, and also had some other savings, but at this rate he saw that his money would soon be finished. It was then that the Spirit showed him both a commandment and a promise. To the rich young man the Saviour had given the command, “Sell all that thou hast and distribute unto the poor… and come, follow Me.” And to those who did so follow He had promised, “There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or lands, for My sake and the Gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time.” Rees saw that if he gave ú1, the Saviour said he was to get ú100. Could this be true? If it was, he would surely look forward to the day when he would come to his extremity. But was it true? That was what captured his imagination — not the fact of being without money, but the possibility of it being replaced through the promises. Could that exchange really take place, and he get the hundredfold?
The day came when he reached his last pound. The Holy Spirit then told him, “Cut the ropes and take the promises.” It was a direct call to step out on God. But ” it is always easier to talk of such things than actually to do them. It had been much easier to give ú100 out of plenty, than to part with this last ú1 and come to the end of his savings — for the first time in fifteen years. “Oh, how the devil pitied me, and brought such arguments!” he said. “He told me it would be a step in the dark, and that if there was a convention or anything of that kind, I wouldn’t be able to go, unless I had ú1 laid by. But the Holy Ghost showed me that if God wanted me to go anywhere, He would surely provide the means. The danger was on the other side; for while a person has money, he can go Without consulting God, like Jonah, who could afford to pay his passage to run away from Him! The fact is, we can never really be bondservants until God does control our means.”
So he took the plunge and learned the blessed truth that his extremity was God’s opportunity. His eyes were opened to the fact that he had a claim on God for what he could not supply himself. Just as surely as the Spirit had told him that the people of the village had a claim on his money to meet their needs, so now he saw that he had a claim on God’s resources to meet his. The first week his need was for ú2, and he was able to tell the Lord in his prayer that he would not have come to Him, if he had had it himself. “I was only asking the Lord to do what I would have done if I had had the money; and it was for His work. It came and what joy I had in finding that I had finished with the limited resources of man, and begun on the unlimited resources of God! The promises of God had replaced money in the bank, and become equal to current coin to me. I no longer had to carry my treasure with me wherever I went, because I knew where the Treasury was, and how to reach it!”
The greatest test in the village came, when a strike was imminent. The last had continued for eight months, with great, hardships to the work-people, and Mr. Howells realized that the next one might go on as long. With this burden weighing on him, the Lord asked him one question. Would he allow the Holy Ghost to do through him for the people of the village what he would do for his own family? The Bible had promised that bread and water would be sure. Would he make that promise to the village and give them bread and cheese, and tea and sugar? He knew the two grocers would give him credit, though they would not allow any to the villagers. Would he run up to ú1007 It was a tremendous challenge. How could he do such a thing? It was not till the Sunday night before the strike was due to begin that he came up to it. Then he told them in the meeting, “This strike may last nine months, but not one of you will be in need of what God has promised. There is no need for one of you to be troubled or fearful.” The blessing that came down that night was so great, he said, that they had to close the meeting and go out to the open air. “It seemed that the singing ascended to heaven and the angels came down to meet us.”
The next morning he happened to meet a well-known agnostic, who at once started grumbling at the uselessness of the church, and railing against the mining” authorities as the cause of the strike. “Well, what are you yourself going to do for the people in their sufferings?” Mr. Howells asked him; and then he told him what the Lord had made him promise the people the night before. The man was dumb. This was a Christianity against which there was no argument. Before he could recover, the newspaper boy came by with the news that the strike had been settled.
Every night for three years, Rees Howells went over to that village, walking two miles each way after his day’s work was over. The weather never stopped him. One night, when he arrived home soaked, after crossing” the bleak common in a downpour, his father remarked, “I wouldn’t have walked across there tonight for £20.” “Nor would I for £20!” answered Rees.