One night, when Rees Howells and his friends were returning from the village, they passed a group of women, who never came to the meetings. They could tell by their voices that they had been drinking; and one of the party exclaimed, “Where is the power to change these people?” It was a challenge, and Rees Howells took it. There and then the Spirit gave it to him that he was to pick out the ringleader of those women, who was a notorious character and confirmed drunkard, and pray her into the Kingdom by Christmas Day.
This was something new. He had seen many drunkards converted, but the Lord had worked through his personal contacts with them; in this case, however, he had no connection with the woman, and the Lord told him that he was to use no personal influence, but to reach her by way of the Throne. It would be a real test of strength. Could the Holy Spirit through him use the power of the atonement to break the devil’s dominion in her life and fulfill the Saviour’s word in Matt. 12:29, about binding the strong man and stealing his goods? He saw that if he could get this one visible proof of the devil’s defeat, the Holy Ghost could apply the victory through him on a large scale. To do this, the Spirit gave him John 15:7: “If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will and it shall be done unto you.” It would all depend on his abiding.
As this “abiding” was to take such a central place in his future life of intercession, it is important to see what the Holy Spirit taught Mr. Howells about it. This key text, John 15:7, makes it plain that the promise is unlimited, but its fulfillment depends on the abiding. That is why, in all cases of intercession, Mr. Howells constantly spoke of guarding his “place of abiding”. The Scriptural key to abiding is in 1 John 2:6, “He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also to walk, even as He walked.” In other words, it meant being willing for the Holy Spirit to live through him the life the Saviour would have lived, if He had been in his place.
The way Mr. Howells maintained this abiding was by spending a set time of waiting upon God every day during the period in which the intercession lasted. The Holy Spirit would then speak to him through the Word, revealing any standard that he was to come up to, particularly in “the laws of the Kingdom” — the Sermon on the Mount. Any command the Spirit gave him, he must fulfill, because the way of abiding is the keeping of His commandments (John 15:10). The Spirit would also search his heart and throw light on his daily life, revealing any motives or actions that needed confession and cleansing in the Blood. But the Spirit’s dealings were not so much with outward shortcomings as with the self-nature out of which they sprang. Any transgression was never to be repeated, but specific obedience on that point would be called for until a radical inward change was effected. He was “purified… in obeying the truth through the Spirit”. (1 Peter 1:22.) He could never come into God’s presence unless he had obeyed all that had been given him on the previous day.
The necessity for abiding is seen in that same chapter — John 15. The life is in the Vine. As the branch remains united to it by abiding in it, that life of the Vine. produces the fruit through the branch. In other words, the power is in Christ. As the intercessor remains united to Him by abiding in Him, His power operates through the intercessor and accomplishes what needs to be done.
As Mr. Howells would continue in this place of abiding day by day, he would be increasingly conscious that the Spirit was engaging the enemy in battle and overcoming him, until finally he would become fully assured of the victory. The Spirit would then tell him that the intercession was finished, the position gained, and he would await the visible deliverance in praise and faith.
There are degrees and stages in abiding. The deeper the oneness, the more the power of the risen life of Christ can operate through the channel, and now positions of spiritual authority be gained. Rees Howells’ abiding was always according to the light given up to that time. In that sense abiding in a particular period could be called “perfect”, and the victory claimed, although, there would still be further ways in which he was to become more like the Saviour.
During the first week of the abiding, the Lord spoke to him nightly on many things. “He began to deal with my nature,” he said, “and show me things I never dreamed were there, getting deep down to my motives. It was a daily dying. Over and over again I thought: Is it possible to retreat?” But with obedience came cleansing, until by the second week he said, “I had become more used to my position, and could see the Holy Ghost binding the devil. I soon realized I was not fighting against flesh and blood, but ‘against wicked spirits in heavenly places’.” The weeks that followed, as he “gave prompt obedience to the Holy Spirit in all things”, were times of wonderful fellowship, until by the end of the sixth week the Spirit told him the abiding was complete, and the victory assured. “I was abiding now without being called to abide, walking in the position, and the Lord told me that I could now expect to see this woman make a move.”
That very night, with a thrill in his soul, he saw her in the open air meeting for the first time, and he told the devil, “Now I know that the Holy Ghost is stronger than you; you have been brought to nought on Calvary.”
He took no steps to influence the woman in any way, but soon she began to come to the cottage meetings. A great number of people became onlookers, as they had heard of the prayer. It was now a case of praising before the victory, and in the remaining six weeks before Christmas the Holy Spirit did not allow him to pray for her. “It was a conflict with not praying,” he said, “as the adversary pressed on us the need of prayer; but it would have been a prayer of doubt.” During that time, there was no outward sign of repentance in the woman.
Christmas morning came, and the word he had was, Go up and possess it. “I had a chance of experiencing what men like Moses went through in telling a thing beforehand,” he said. “Not a single doubt came to my mind that day, and how strong I was! I was praising the Lord all day. I would not look at my Christmas cards or presents, for this was my Christmas gift!”
When the time for the meeting came, the woman was there, but a lot of the people had brought their children; there Was plenty of noise, and in no sense the kind of atmosphere which would influence a person to repent. But in the middle of the meeting “down she went on her knees and cried to God for mercy. It was a victory beyond value, and she is standing today.”
Within a short time, Rees Howells was able to prove again that a great secret had been learned. A manager of a works in the neighborhood, although he boasted that he had never been on his knees in prayer, had been touched by what had been done for the tramps, and gave them jobs in his factory. He used to say to any of them that came to him, “You are living on the backs of those young men, are you? You start here tomorrow!”
His wife had been blessed, so it came to the band of young workers to pray him through to salvation. As they waited on God, the question arose, How could they get at him? Finally they were definitely led to pray that he would invite them to his home. He did — the following Sunday — although, to avoid frightening him, they didn’t say anything about prayer, but just sang hymns and had a happy time together. They were invited again for tea, and this time he was more at ease. He then asked them to come the following Thursday to hold a meeting. “As soon as we left his house that night,” said Mr. Howells, “the Holy Ghost told me to apply the gained position of intercession. We joined together in a ring and prayed, ‘Now, Lord, the devil has been bound, don’t allow this man to escape, don’t give him a second chance’. The Lord then told us to abide until next Thursday and we would get the victory.”
When the Thursday evening came, four of them were walking up to the village, and as they passed a group of houses, the Spirit said to Mr. Howells, without any previous warning, “Go to that house and knock at the door.” How could he do such a thing? He didn’t even know anyone in that row of houses. How could he knock at a strange door without any known reason, or even a tract to give? The guidance seemed so strange that he could not bring himself to act on it. He passed the house, and went on a few hundred yards, when the Lord’s hand came on him, and He told him emphatically that he was not to go to the meeting, unless he went via that house. He knew there was no escaping now, so he turned back and took one of his friends with him.
When they knocked at the door, a little girl opened it, and without any questions, invited them in. There they found a woman lying in bed in the last stages of consumption. When Mr. Howells told her who they were, she raised both her hands and exclaimed, “God has answered my prayer! I have been asking Him all this day to send you here!” The night before, her friends had thought she was dying and had sent for the minister. He had brought the sacrament, but she refused to take it, because she hadn’t peace. Someone had told her of their work in the mission, and it came to her that the ones who had brought such blessing there, could surely help her to find peace. The woman had been a church member for years, but had no assurance of salvation, and as she was sinking, the fear of death had taken hold of her. They were able to point her to Calvary and she accepted Christ that night. As she had the assurance and came free, it was “joy fathomless as the sea.” Every Thursday evening after that, they had a meeting in her house, and she never ceased to thank them, until she passed peacefully away into the presence of the King.
They were late in getting to the meeting in the home of the works manager, but the Lord did more in a few minutes through their obedience than might have been done in hours without it. While they were telling what had happened to the dying woman, the manager went down on his knees, as if he had been shot, pulling his chair on top of him, and pleaded with God to have mercy on him. “It was an opened heaven,” said Rees Howells, “and we joined the angels in their joy over a sinner that had repented.”