Vavasor Powell has not been inappropriately termed "the Whitefield of Wales." This excellent man was born at Knocklas, in Radnorshire, in the year 1617. He received a good education, and was well skilled in the learned languages; but he was such a wild youth that even his young associates called him dux omnium malorum -- leader in all mischief. Nevertheless, he was considered in those times good enough for a clergyman, and was accordingly ordained, and admitted to a curacy, although, as he afterwards confessed, he "slighted the Scriptures, and was a stranger to secret and spiritual prayer, and a great profaner of the Sabbath." But he did not long continue in this state. God "called him by His grace." The books and sermons of Puritan ministers were blessed to his conversion. Having left the Established Church, and joined the Nonconformists, he engaged in ministerial labour with great zeal. He was an eloquent and popular preacher, and had the honour to be persecuted with. no small malice. On one occasion, when he had been preaching at a house in Brecknockshire, he was seized, together with sixty or seventy of his hearers, by a rude mob, who placed their prisoners in the church, as it was too late at night to take them to a magistrate. Mr. Powell improved the opportunity, and preached in the church at midnight from Matt. x. 28. Next morning they went to the magistrate, who was not at home when they arrived. Mr. Powell thought that time ought not to be wasted, and therefore preached again, greatly to the chagrin of his worship, who found his house so unceremoniously turned into a conventicle. His daughter was impressed by the sermon, and interceded for the release of the prisoner, which was reluctantly granted.
The opposition was so violent that, in 1642, Mr. Powell went to London, where he preached to many congregations with much acceptance. Next year he settled at Dartford, in Kent, and was "blessed with great success in his labours, being instrumental in bringing many souls to Christ, and gathering a congregation in that town." After remaining there nearly three years, he was strongly urged to return to Wales, the number of faithful ministers in that country being then very small. He went accordingly, in 1646, and spent fourteen years in his native land, travelling from place to place, preaching incessantly, and planting churches. "He frequently preached in two or three places in a day, and was seldom two days in a week throughout the year out of the pulpit, -- nay, he would sometimes ride a 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, besides his frequent preaching in fairs and markets, upon mountains and in small villages; for, if he passed at any time through any place where there was a concourse of people, he would take the opportunity of preaching Christ and recommending to them the care of their souls, and another world."1
In 1649 he was appointed one of the Commissioners, under authority of an Act passed "for the better propagation and preaching of the Gospel in Wales, for the ejecting of scandalous ministers and schoolmasters, and redress of some grievances." He discharged his duty in that office honestly and conscientiously, though it occasioned him much ill-will. The good effects were apparent in every part of the principality.
After the Restoration, Vavasor Powell became a marked man. Such representations were made against him, that in August, 1660, orders were issued by government to suppress his congregations. In the following January, immediately after Venner's insurrection, he was thrown into prison, with many more, and continued there nine weeks, when, at the coronation, a general pardon was granted, and he was released.
But the term of freedom was short. Preach he would, notwithstanding all prohibition. It was impossible to stop him unless he was shut up in jail, and there was no difficulty about that in the days of Charles II. Upon a vague charge of "sedition, rebellion, and treason," preferred by the High Sheriff of Montgomeryshire, he was arrested. The Sheriff had no evidence to produce, and the prisoner ought to have been released at the Sessions, but a pretext was found for detaining him, because he refused to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy. Soon after he was taken to London, and appeared before the King and Council, by whom he was committed to the Fleet Prison, where he remained nearly two years. For twelve months he was not allowed to leave his chamber, under the window of which was a dunghill. His health was so impaired by the noisome effluvia, that he never thoroughly recovered. From the Fleet he was conveyed to Southsea Castle, near Portsmouth, and was confined there five years more. At the end of that time he obtained his liberty by a writ of habeas corpus. Crosby remarks that this took place "upon the removal of Chancellor Hyde" [Lord Clarendon], implying that the imprisonment was altogether illega1, and that the Chancellor had illegally prevented the victim, as well as many others, from regaining their liberty.
Mr. Powell repaired immediately to Wales, and recomomenced preaching. He was not permitted to labour long. One George Jones, an [E]piscopal clergyman, and a man of infamous character, lodged a false information against him, to the effect that several of his congregation went armed to their meetings, as if for the purpose of resisting the authorities. This was levying war! Again the minister of Christ was shut up in jail. The charge could not be substantiated. Then they tendered the oaths. He refused to take them, and offered to give bail for his appearance at the next Sessions. His request was denied, and he was remanded to prison. A writ of habeas corpus was again obtained, and he was taken before the Court of Common Pleas, in London: yet, although the court unanimously decided that "the return was false and illegal," they committed Mr. Powell, in defiance of all law and justice, to the Fleet Prison, where he lay till his death, October I7th, 1670.
The Lord was with him there, and gave him "songs in the night." Nor was be even there wholly useless. He had opportunities for intercourse with his brethren, and he could use his pen for the advancement of the cause. One of the last acts of his life was a correspondence with the Broadmead Church, respecting Mr. Hardcastle, who afterwards became their pastor. It was singularly illustrative of the hardness of the times. Vavasor Powell, a prisoner, recommends to the church a ministering brother, himself a prisoner!
"We are appointed and commanded," he observed, "to be partakers of the afflictions of the Gospel (I Thess. iii. 3). To be some of the forwardest therein is an honour, which I perceive God is calling you to; therefore rejoice, and so much the more as tribulations abound (2 Cor. vii. 4). Our trials are like to be sharp, but it is to be hoped so much the shorter. However, what are the worst and greatest we can endure here, in comparison of the weight of glory, and crown of righteousness, prepared and reserved for those who continue faithful to the end? An interest in God through Christ, His presence with, power under, Spirit in, and promises to us, are sufficient to carry us comfortably through fire and water; herein let us remember one another, and all the Israel of God, who are in several countries now intended by men to be sheep for the slaughter, though the thought of the Lord may be otherwise."2
"During the time of "his last illness," says Crosby, "though his physician ordered he should be kept from speaking much, yet so zealously was he affected for the glory of God, and with the love of Christ, that neither his pains, bodily weakness, nor the tender advice of friends, could possibly restrain him; but he would, notwithstanding all, break forth into high and heavenly praises, sometimes by prayer, and sometimes by singing.
"His patience under all his pains was very great. He would under the greatest pain bless God, and say, he would not entertain one bad thought of God for all the world. The sight of the pardon of sin, and reconciliation with God, was sp clear, and without interruption, even to the last, that it was as a fire in his bosom till he spake of it: and when he had spent his strength in speaking, then would he compose himself to get a little more strength, that he might go on to speak further of the grace of God towards him, and to give reasonable advice to all about him; and so continued till God took away his strength and speech from him"3
Among the publications issued by him were two, which were probably written in jail. One was entitled, "The Bird in the Cage, Chirping;" the other, "The Sufferer's Catechism." __________________
1. Thomas Crosby, History of the English Baptists, 1738; reprint, 1978, volume i, 376.
2. Broadmead Records, p. 108.
3. Crosby, History, p. 380.
[From J. M. Cramp, Baptist History, 1871 ed.; reprint, 1987, pp. 362-367. Footnotes changed to endnotes; symbols changed to numbers. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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