The angel of Llan-gan: David Jones 1736-1810
The name ‘angel’ is sometimes applied to a new-born child with its unblemished skin. ‘The angel of Llan-gan’ has a different meaning. It refers to one of God’s human messengers whose life and work were heavenly in character. This year marks the bi-centenary of David Jones of Llan-gan, one of the forgotten heroes of the Welsh pulpit. This year should not pass without reference to this remarkable clergyman who was once described by a cleric as ‘one of the brightest and most useful ministers that the Church of England has ever produced in the Principality’.
David Jones witnessed no less than five revivals under his ministry in Llan-gan. Not long after his appointment, he began to attract vast crowds to hear him preach at this small parish church in the Vale of Glamorgan. What Daniel Rowland was to Llangeitho, David Jones was to Llan-gan.
Who was David Jones, and how did this all happen? He often told his listeners, ‘I bear the marks of my calling on my back.’ He was brought up on a modest farmstead in the parish of Llanllwni, destined by his parents to work on the farm, while his older brother would go in for the church. However, he had a dreadful accident when he was a small child. While playing in the dairy, young David fell into a vat of boiling milk, and his life hung in the balance for many months. He made a very slow recovery and his parents realised that his brother should be the farmer instead of a curate, and David should enter the ministry. After completing his education at the academy in Carmarthen, he was ordained and was given the living of Llan-gan near Cowbridge in 1767. Crowds soon gravitated to the little church to hear this young preacher. His fervent preaching caused many people to become concerned about their souls and hundreds were converted. He was soon compelled to preach in the open air outside the church.
Very soon David Jones identified himself with the rapidly growing number of Methodist reformers of the revival, visiting their societies and attending their association meetings. His enemies in the Vale of Glamorgan twice brought complaints about him to the bishops of Llandaf but it was jealousy by the other clerics that was the cause.
David Jones’ popularity steadily increased throughout Wales and later London, Bristol, Bath and other cities. When absent from Wales due to other preaching commitments, he was greatly missed by the Welsh people and one of them wrote this appeal:
Return, return dear Jones, return,
Thy absence here we sadly mourn.
Return as soon as ere you can
To fill the pulpit at Llan-gan.
He was often referred to as ‘the angel of Llan-gan’. Richard Fenton, a contemporary, met him first on a stage coach to Pembrokeshire. He wrote, ‘The other traveller in the coach turned out to be one of the most eminent Methodist preachers in the principality. At Tavernspite, we changed horses and alighted for a few minutes. They crowded round the preacher as if he was an angel dropped from heaven, everybody knew him, and children plucked his coat to share the good man’s smile. I shall always remember him with a degree of affection.’ Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, a leading evangelical lady in England, regarded David Jones as one of her favourite preachers. Because of his friendship with her he was invited to preach at her funeral, as one of the leading evangelical preachers of the day.
David Jones married twice. His first wife died in 1792 at the age of sixty, and his second wife was Mary Parry, a wealthy widow, and owner of a pleasant home near the church of Manorowen on the Goodwick-Fishguard road. Jones now divided his time between Manorowen and Llan-gan, travelling to preside and preach at the monthly communion service. It was known as ‘Sul Pen Mis’ which several hundred always attended. He continued this until his death in 1810.
David Jones was primarily a preacher, and crowds would walk miles to hear him. Every year he would go on a preaching tour to mid and north Wales. These tours lasted about six weeks and he would preach three or four times every day. On one occasion he preached forty-two times in twenty-five days. Atonement was the central theme of all Calvinistic Methodist preachers and so it was with David Jones. He gloried in the cross of Christ. In one of his letters he wrote, ‘Christ is all and in all my salvation.’ William Williams of Pantycelyn says of David Jones’ preaching that in it ‘Christ the Bread of Life was so eminently set forth, Christ the text, and Christ the sermon, Christ the end of the law and Christ the object of faith.’
In his diary for February 23rd, 1797 there is an interesting reference to the French landing near Fishguard. He wrote: ‘Heard at Llanddarog on my way to Manorowen that the French had landed at Pen-car near Fishguard… there were twelve to fourteen hundred of them in a camp at Trehowel Farm… with arms of ammunition.’
After their surrender Jones held a service of thanksgiving at Manorowen church and suggested an annual memorial be held at Goodwick Sands, naming the spot Beracah, meaning ‘the valley of blessing’. Interestingly, the Calvinistic Methodists built a chapel at Goodwick thirty-two years later, called Beracah!
Meanwhile many among the denomination were pressing for ordination of their own men, to enable the sacraments to be administered. David Jones and others were not happy with such a move. Death took him in 1810 before it came into being. He had been suffering from poor health and preached his final sermon on Sunday 5 August at New Chapel, Pembrokeshire. He died peacefully on Sunday 12 August and was buried in the churchyard opposite the house. Inscribed on his tomb are the words:
Here lies entombed beneath the clod
A sinner washed in Jesus’ precious blood
He fought the fight and gained the glorious prize
And now he reigns triumphant in the skies.
The name of David Jones will forever be associated with Llan-gan and Salem, Pencoed. His influence, however, was felt all over Wales and further afield.
There was a great tenderness in this man’s preaching, but also strength and conviction. In the face of hostile, unruly crowds during his open air preaching, his angelic face disarmed the vilest opponents. Edward Matthews of Ewenny described David Jones as ‘one only God can make’; a worthy tribute to one of Wales’ greatest preachers of the great eighteenth-century ‘awakening in Wales’.
What can we learn from the life of David Jones, the angel of Llan-gan? We see faith in action – an inward motivating force which enabled him to take difficult decisions, to face the censure of critics and sustain the loss of his first wife. He lived in an atmosphere of religious revival, but like other preachers of the age, he did not seek revival for its own sake. His great longing was to know the God of revival. During such times of religious awakening, the gospel message and regeneration are the same, but these reformers realised that orthodox belief without the Spirit is powerless. David Jones of Llan-gan was given this power by God to preach, pray and persevere.
- Brian Higham is the author of ‘The Rev. David Jones Llan-gan, 1736-1810, and his contribution to Welsh Calvinistic Methodism’.