Every young servant of God has to learn to keep under the body, and in the early days of his training, he goes through necessary disciplines. “If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off…”
God began to deal with a simple appetite in Rees Howells — the love of food. It was at a time when he had a great burden for a certain convention, which was being disrupted by assaults of the enemy. The Lord called him to a day of prayer and fasting, which was something new to him. Used, as he was, to a comfortable home and four good meals a day, it came as a shock to realize that it meant no dinner, and he was agitating about it. And would it only happen once? Supposing God asked him to do it every day!
When midday came he was on his knees in his bedroom, but there was no prayer that next hour. “I didn’t know such a lust was in me,” he said afterwards. “My’ agitation was the proof of the grip it had on me. If the thing had no power over me, why did I argue about, it?”
At one o’clock his mother called him, and he told her he wasn’t taking lunch. But she called again, as “a mother would, and urged, “It won’t take you long to have it.” The goodly aroma from downstairs was too much for him, and down he came. But after the meal, when he returned to his room, he couldn’t get back into the presence of God. He came face to face with disobedience to the Holy Ghost. “I felt I was like the mart in the garden of Eden,” he said. “I went up the mountain and walked miles, cursing that ‘old man’ within me. I felt that if God were to fake lunch from me to the end of my days, He would be justified in doing it. To some people there might seem nothing in it, but once you are God s channel, on no account can you disobey Him, or bring in your own ideas. I wept many tears, and it almost seemed as if He would never allow me to come back into His presence, till He said, ‘I will forgive you, but you are not to go unpunished. You hold up your hands while you pray from 6 to 9 o’clock.'” (Ex. 17:11, 12; 1 Tim. 2:8″) The closer a person is to God, the more terrible is the least sin seen to be.
He didn’t take dinner for many days after that, but spent the hour with God. As he said later, “The moment I got victory in it, it wasn’t a very big thing to do; it was merely a stepping-stone to His next call to me. It is while you still want a thing that you can’t get your mind off it. When you have risen above it, He may give it back to you; but then you are out of it.”
Hot long after this, and only a few months after he had Started the ministry in the” village, the Lord gave him a further commission, for which these lessons were an obvious preparation. He laid on him the burden of the tramps, the many men who were to be found in that district, wandering homeless and jobless from place to place. They were to give a chance to every tramp that came to” the mission. It was to be a practical lesson of what divine love is towards an undeserving sinner. The Spirit made plain what they were to do: to give each man a new suit of clothes, find him lodgings and work, and pay his board until he drew his first pay. “We were called to put Isaiah 58 into practice,” said Mr. Howells. “‘Deal thy bread to the hungry.., bring the poor that are cast out to thy house; and when thou seest the naked, cover him.’ In our first love; we had blamed everyone who did not believe that the Bible was literally true, and the Spirit now compelled us to put our own belief into practice! The Sermon on the Mount stated the laws of the Kingdom, and we were to act on them to the hilt: ‘If any man take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also… Give to him that asketh thee., to Love your enemies…’
“I soon found out also that the aim of the Spirit in this was to bring me to that grade ,in life where I would love the unlovely ones. My self-nature and natural love. had, to be changed for the divine nature and love, before I could love a tramp as my own brother. Helping the people of the village was easy compared with helping the tramps, for they were people who usually would not help themselves, and often did not appreciate the help of others. But I was to act towards each exactly as I would if he were my own brother.”
The very day of this new commission they saw a tramp in their meeting for the first time. He had been on the road for months, without work or lodgings, and had heard the singing in the mission. He was overcome with the reception he was given. One of the believers provided him with lodgings and found him work. In two days another came. “News of charity is like wireless,” Mr. Howells said, “carried far and wide in no time, and a greater number came than we had bargained for. We were not allowed to stop them; if they came of their own accord, we did not dare to turn them away. I didn’t call them tramps, I preferred the name the Saviour used, and called them prodigals; and I learned, according to 1 John 4:20, that you don’t love the Saviour one bit more than you love the least one He died for.”
In all this the Spirit was leading His servant more and more into the secret of intercession — the identification of the intercessor with the ones for whom he prays. He had called him to associate with Will Battery, which had touched his pride. He had made him responsible for the debts of Jim Stakes, which had touched his pocket. Now He called him to share in the physical sufferings of the destitute, which would touch his body. He was to learn a little how to feel as they felt and sit where they sat. Tramps did not have the plentiful food that other people have, and God called him to come down to their level. The Government lodging houses provided two meals a day for tramps, and the Lord told Rees Howells to live in the same way, on two meals of bread and cheese and soup. The midday fasts had been a preparation for this.
The difficulty was naturally in his own home, where his mother was most unwilling to let him live like that, while doing the heavy work of a miner. However, he insisted, backing his arguments by reference to the four young men in Babylon, who, after their days of abstinence, looked “fairer and fatter” than the rest. His mother had to consent, although the story goes that with motherly ingenuity she put all the nourishment she could into the evening soup!
“He had one meal at 6.30 in the morning, and the other at 5.30 in the evening, after his day’s work in the pit, and before he started for the village. It was a battle at first, both physically and mentally, eating at the same table with the others, and having different food. “There was great suspicion about where this new thing would end,” he said, “and what my object was in doing it. Neither they nor myself had ever seen a man called to fasting, and they thought ‘the experiment’ would soon come to an end. But in less than a fortnight, the Lord had so changed my appetites that I preferred those two meals a day. to the four I used to have. That craving for food was taken out of me, and through the whole period my health was better than. anyone else’s. I never had a shade of headache, and my body was fit as could be.” He lived like that for two and a half years.
Supplying the needs of the tramps soon absorbed all the earnings of the little group at the mission, and they were forced on still farther into a life of faith. The parable of the friend at midnight was very real to them in those days, the only difference being that he only went once to disturb his friend, but they were forced. to go almost every night! They proved, said Mr. Howells, what the Rev. Evan Hopkins used to teach of the three positions: struggling, clinging, and resting’. The illustration Mr. Hopkins used was of a shipwreck, when people are thrown into the sea. In the struggling position they are in the water, fighting with the waves, and are in need of help themselves. In the clinging position they are holding on to the boat; they are quite safe themselves, but cannot help anyone else, because both their hands are occupied. In the resting position they are sitting in the boat with both hands free to help’ others. The place of deliverance was always when they got to the resting faith.
“When we first started to help them,” Rees said, “we were afraid too many would come in the same fortnight, and that we could not provide for them; and while there was fear, there was inward struggle. We soon found out that we could not provide, and that was just the place to which the Lord wanted us to come. Then we had to find out that God could, if we would trust Him. The Holy Ghost allowed us to be failures once or twice, so we left off struggling and trying to do it ourselves. We dung to God’s promises, pleading with Him to come to our rescue, and He never failed us.
“After many hard experiences we found the resting place. We became like waiters serving in a restaurant; it wasn’t our business whether ten, fifteen or twenty would come, we knew the Manager would not fail to provide what was needed. We told the Lord to send as many as He liked! We paid the grocer’s bill every two weeks, when we got together and emptied our pockets. On one occasion, when we knew the bill was heavy, one sick brother, who was not earning, said, ‘I am ashamed that I have only got 41/2d. Shall I put that in?’ The answer was, ‘Yes. It will be like the widow’s mite.’ We entered the store, were given the hill, and found that the 41/2d. made up the money needed to the penny. We learned that night not to despise the little gifts. Over and over again we found the money coming to the needed penny, and that gave us more joy than if we had had ú10 over.”
In three months many of these men were helped; each. received a new suit of clothes, was found work, and put in good lodgings. Some received eternal life. One evening sixteen of them were in the meeting, well dressed, and singing from their hearts, “It is well with my soul”; and a brother sitting next to Mr. Howells whispered, “Yes, and with their bodies too!”
But only those who have done such work can know its real cost. There were occasions when the same tramp came back after he had been given a new suit of clothes. He had sold it, and come for another! There was an elderly woman who had fallen very low through drink and would wander in the streets “seeing things.” They found her a lodging, but when she fell ill with pneumonia, neither her son nor her daughter would nurse her. Mr. Howells himself was up with her one whole night, and on his return home in the morning, even his mother rebuked him for “being up all night looking after that old sinner.” Rees had to remind her that the Father received us all back “with nothing but our filthy rags.” In another instance he found a house for h family of tramps, and got the husband work. When another family came for help, he asked the first ones to share their house with them, as it was large enough. “What! take tramps into our home!” was the answer he received; without a word he turned away and sought another place for them.
“After many months in this school of faith,” said Rees, “the Holy Ghost put such love in our hearts towards these people that we would rather be without ourselves, than allow them to be in want. We became fathers to them. There were many disappointments; but some were allowed to disappoint us, because it was part of our training. Some did not appreciate the kindness, but have often grieved the Holy Ghost, and trampled under foot the Blood of the Covenant. We had plenty of facts with which to silence the critics, who were many.”
Rees’ final test with the tramps was in his own home. Anything in the way of cast-off clothing he had already been accustomed to take over to the village. Indeed, his mother made a joke of the fact that whereas they used to have a box-room full of worn garments, after a while she couldn’t find a bit of cloth with which to patch anything! But the test became more severe when the tramps began to come to the house. The Lord had told Rees that he was not to take a different place for himself at home from that which was given to the tramps. “I knew that to turn them out would be to turn the Saviour out,” he said; “and I could see a test coming. It might mean I would have to make a stand and walkout.” Then one night it came to a head. Some members of the family said they would leave the home if things went on like that. Every time they came home from work, these tramps were there, and they always sat in their father’s chair and did not get up when he entered; also they said that they would not be responsible if anything happened to their mother When they were all out. “It was one of the worst tests in my life,” said Rees, “seeing the possibility of my father’s home being broken up. But my father was given great wisdom in the answer he made. He said to the others, ‘If I stop the tramps, are you willing for me to stop your friends coming? We all bring our friends home, and if Rees has sunk so low as to have only tramps for his friends, they must be free to come too.’ The victory was won, and the strange part was that after that not another tramp came to the house.”