Vavasor Powell was born in Radnorshire, Wales, in 1617. Through his parents he was connected with the first families in North Wales. When young he was taught the learned languages, and he became a successful student in pursuit of general knowledge. He received his university education at Jesus College, Oxford. In his youth he was the most mischievous boy in the neighborhood in which he lived. When he first officiated as an Episcopal minister, he says that "he was a reader of common prayers, in the habit of a foolish shepherd, that he slighted the Scriptures, was a stranger to secret and spiritual prayer, and a great profaner of the Sabbath."
By reading Puritan books, hearing sermons which they preached, and by conversations with them, Mr. Powell was led to the Saviour, and his heart and character were complete1y changed. Soon after this he forsook the Episcopal Church. His preaching now became the most powerful agency in Wales. Wherever he went multitudes waited upon his ministry, and large numbers were renewed by the Holy Spirit and became followers of the Lamb. Opposition was stirred up by his burning eloquence and his unexampled success; and in 1642 he went to London, where his popularity was nearly as great, in a little time, as it was in Wales. He received a pressing invitation to settle in Dartford, in Kent, which he accepted, and there he founded a church, and brought many souls to the Redeemer.
In 1646, Mr. Powell was frequently importuned to return to Wales. He knew its language better than he understood any other. The people regarded him as an apostle. That country seemed more free from a persecuting spirit than it had been, and its people were in the most deplorable ignorance about the salvation of the Saviour, with but few ministers to point them to the light of Christ; and having received a testimonial to his godly life, and to his "able gifts for the work of the ministry," signed by Charles Herte and seventeen members of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, he returned to Wales and resumed his labors among his countrymen. Crosby says that "he frequently preached in two or three places in a day, and he was seldom two days in a week throughout the year out of the pulpit; nay, he would sometimes ride an hundred miles in a week and preach in every place where he might have admittance, either night or day; so that there was hardly a church, chapel, or town hall in all Wales where he had not preached." He proclaimed Jesus at fairs, markets, and wherever there was a gathering of people. He preached the glorious gospel upon mountains, in jails, and even in the houses of persecuting magistrates. He was once arrested in Brecknockshire, about 10 P.M., with fifty or sixty of his hearers, and confined during the night in a church. At midnight he preached a sermon to his companions and captors from the words, "Fear not them who kill the body." During the service the most malevolent of his persecutors wept bitterly. Next morning when brought to the house of the justice that functionary was temporarily absent, and while waiting for his return Mr. Powell preached again. The justice was indignant to find his house turned into a conventicle, but two of his daughters were deeply moved by the truth which fell from the lips of the fearless man of God. Before 1660 Mr. Powell had formed more than twenty churches, of which some had two, some three, and some four or five hundred members. Mr. Powell at one time had 20,000 followers in Wales, and has been properly designated the Whitefield of that principality.
Mr. Powell was a Calvinist, holding and preaching election, effectual calling, final perseverance, full justification by faith, and the absolute need of the Divine Spirit to give a man power to will and to do the things that please God. He was also a Baptist.
He had no fear of men, or jails, or death in his heart. He was a strong republican, and he openly denounced the protectorship of Cromwell when his power was dreaded by all Europe; and Cromwell was so apprehensive of his influence that he arrested him. He spent eight years in thirteen prisons. And he died in the Fleet jail, in London, in the eleventh year of his incarceration, Oct. 27, 1671. His death was unusually blessed; the power and love of God filled his soul with enthusiasm in the miseries of a cell and in the agonies of a distressing complaint.
He was the author of nine works, one of which was a Concordance. Mr. Powell was an ardent lover of the Bible.
The footprints of Powell are seen all over Wales to-day, and many of his religious descendants have crossed the Atlantic to build up the mighty denomination whose name is dear to us, and whose liberty of conscience has given freedom to the churches of America. ==============
[From William Cathcart, editor, The Baptist Encyclopedia, 1881; reprint, 1988, pp. 932-3. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall]
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