Rees Howells Testemony
Excerpted from Rees Howells: Intercessor by Norman Grubb
Not until Rees was twenty-two did anything happen to alter the quiet course of his life at home. By then he was a fine-looking, broad-shouldered young man of nearly six feet, with sensitive hands, the striking square-cut forehead which one sometimes sees among the Welsh, and above all, remarkable eyes, crystal clear and penetrating, the eyes of a seer. Beneath the quiet surface, however, one strong tide was running — ambition. He wanted to see the world, he wanted to make money, and America became the loadstone. Several young men from the village had gone to the U.S.A. and were sending back glowing reports of the money they were making, earning in one day what it would take a week to get in South Wales.
When Rees heard this, nothing could hold him back, not even the pull of home. He “weighed the losses and gains, and America won every time.” His brothers were studying for careers, but he decided “to make money and retire early in life”! He had a cousin, Evan Lewis, who had emigrated and taken work at New Castle, in the steel area round Pittsburgh, and Rees took ship and joined him, getting employment in a tin mill.
Before he left Brynamman, however, a word from God came to him, which he called the greatest blessing he received before his conversion. One Sunday night, a month before he sailed, he came late to church, and as it was crowded out, he stood in the vestibule. The minister was reading Hebrews 12:1. “Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses…” “These witnesses,” he said, “are the men of faith mentioned in the previous chapter and we ought to realize they are around us; we know they are real, because Moses and Elijah spoke to the Saviour on the Mount of Transfiguration, and the disciples saw them.” The minister then said straight out, just as if he knew Rees was listening, “Young man, you may be leaving home, you may be going to a place where your parents will not see you; but remember, the cloud of witnesses and God will see you.”
The words struck home to Rees. They were new to him and the effect was “an impression from the other world” coming over him. “I saw the Mount of Hebrews 12:22,” he said, “the city of the living God, the general assembly and church of the firstborn,” and he saw them, not as spies, but there to encourage and strengthen him. It was God’s overshadowing Hand again, putting an external restraint on His chosen vessel, until He revealed His Son to him; for till that day came, this cloud of witnesses remained “the greatest reality” of his life.
When he left his homeland Rees continued to live the same religious life in America, where he became a member of a church and never missed a prayer meeting. Only once did he nearly, yield to the temptation of worldly amusements, when a friend invited him to go to a big boxing match. Doubtless his former interest in boxing was the attraction.” But the Restraining Hand was upon him. The day before the match, the thought came to him, “If your father or uncle were here, would you go? And what about the cloud of witnesses?” He told his friend he wouldn’t accompany him that night for a fortune!
Living an upright life like that, how could God bring him to the realization that he was born in sin and needed to be saved? Even the minister of his church thought he was “the best young man in the congregation” — an indication that the minister himself must have needed what Rees needed! His case was not unlike Paul’s, “As touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless”; and until there is a conviction of need, there can never be a desire for a change. But God has His ways.
The first mark that God made on him was through his cousin, Evan Lewis. He gave Rees a sudden shock one night by asking him if he was “born again”. Rees had never heard the expression. He was “as ignorant of it as Nicodemus”. But he knew he was wounded and raised his defenses” “What do you mean? My life is as good as yours.” “That’s not the point. Put it this way: Do you know you are saved?” “I am a Christian, and that’s good enough for me.” But though he professed to be unconvinced, his complacency was shaken. His cousin was faithful and did not let the matter drop, although it always seemed to end in fruitless argument.
But one day the arrow really found its mark. His cousin told him that when his sister was dying she had spoken to him about his own need of the Saviour, and as she spoke, he had “seen Calvary”. Again Rees did not know what he meant, but instinctively felt he was on holy ground, and a voice seemed to warn him not to argue any more. The impression was so strong that he decided to leave the place and seek work elsewhere, lest he should “touch the forbidden thing”.
He moved about a hundred miles to Martin’s Ferry, but as his cousin saw him off at the station, even his last words drove the shaft farther home: “If only you were born again I wouldn’t mind your leaving, but it troubles me to see you going when you are not right with God.” Rees could not forget these words. The gracious Hound of Heaven was on his trail “with unhurrying chase, And unperturbed pace”, with “those” strong feet that followed, followed after”.
The light really began to dawn as he was reading one day an outstanding book of that time, Professor Henry Drummond’s Natural Law in the Spiritual World. Drummond was telling how he had never thought it possible to give a definition of life, till he found one in “the works of Herbert Spencer, who said that life is correspondence with environment. A child is born with five senses and various bodily organs, and each corresponds with something in his environment; the eye sees sights, the ear hears sounds, the lungs breathe air, and so on. “While I can correspond with my environment, I have life,” said Spencer; “but if something happened to me which prevented me from corresponding with my environment then I should be dead; death is failure of correspondence.”
Drummond took the definition back to Adam. The Lord had told him that the day he disobeyed, he would surely die. Did he die? On Spencer’s definition he died spiritually, for though he continued to have a natural life, he lost his correspondence with God and could only come back to Him by the way of sacrifice, the way of a victim killed in his stead.
On reading this, the first thought that came to Rees was, Had he correspondence with God? Could he say the Saviour was as real to him as his mother? Did he know God as a daily Presence in his life, or did he only think of Him in the prayer meetings? If he died, had he another environment with which to correspond? He was a part of his parents, distance didn’t interfere with their fellowship, but he hadn’t a relationship with God like that, and back came those words to him which his cousin had constantly been quoting: “Except a man be born again…he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.”
“I saw it!” said Rees. “I believed in the Saviour, but one thing I knew, I wasn’t born of Him. So far as having correspondence with the spiritual realm where the Saviour lived, I was a dead man, I was outside the Kingdom, which all my good life and religion had never enabled me to enter; I was outside, though I was not a drunkard or a thief, — because I had no correspondence with God.”
His religious complacency was shattered. There was no great conviction of sin, but he knew there was a gulf between him and God, and a deeper concern for his eternal destiny than for any of the affairs of this life possessed his mind.
MEETING THE RISEN LORD
“Nigh and nigh draws the chase.” What Rees had begun to meditate upon in theory, he soon had to face in fact. He was suddenly struck down with typhoid fever, always dangerous, but in those days often fatal, and soon he was face to face with death. In this bitter experience he was alone in lodgings and far from home, and this again was the finger of God, for, he said later, “I found fear in me for the first time, and when I faced leaving this world and entering an unknown realm, pangs, took hold of me, such as I had never felt before. Thank God my parents were not there to take that fear from me. Thank God that human sympathy did not blind me to eternity, for you may live in a crowd, but you meet God and face eternity alone.”
He cried to the Lord not to allow him to die. The enjoyment he had had in money-making, traveling and sight-seeing was forgotten as he besought the Lord to give him eternal life. “Give me one more chance,” he cried, “and I will give my life to You.”
There was a vow in that cry. The Lord saw to that before He answered, and even as the cry went up, Rees knew in his heart that he was not to die. From that moment he began to recover, but he was a changed man. “As I faced losing all and entering an eternal darkness, I touched real life for the first time,” he said. “I had seen the world at its very best taking me down to a lost eternity, and I knew I owed my all to the God who had delivered me.” From that time on, he never regarded eternity lightly, for he had faced the reality of hell — a separation from God for ever.
As he recovered, the gravity of his recent experience made him examine his position with renewed earnestness. He had been delivered from death, but not from the fear of death. He had always believed in the incarnation, the atonement, the resurrection; they were the most precious truths in his life. Why then were they not real to him? If Christ had conquered death, why was he afraid of it? Those who have heard him tell of this period in his life will never forget how he rang out the answer to these questions: “I found that I had only an historical Christ and not a personal Saviour who could take me to the other side.”
For five months he searched daily for the way to God. He said he would gladly have spent every penny, and gone from one end of that vast country to the other, if he could only find a man to show him the way to eternal life. He did go to the only one he could think of. He took the 100-mile journey back to New Castle to ask his cousin about it, but though his cousin knew the way himself, he seemed unable to make it clear to Rees.
During these months he made another move, to Connellsville, Pennsylvania. Here at last “the chase” was to end. “Halts by me that footfall: Is my gloom, after all, Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?” How wonderfully each restless move had only been one further stage forward in the pursuit and capture of the prey. Rees had not been long in his new home, when he heard that a converted Jew, Maurice Reuben from Pittsburgh, had come to the city for a mission.
The first night that he went to hear him, Reuben told the story of his conversion and how the
Holy Spirit had revealed Calvary to him. “I had heard preaching on Calvary scores of times before and believed it,” said Rees, “but I had never seen Calvary before that night.” He was being brought back to the very same point which had so struck him in his cousin’s testimony.
Maurice Reuben told how he belonged to a wealthy family” and had the best the world could give him, and “how he had lived to make money. He was a director of Solomon and Reuben, one of the largest stores of Pittsburgh. But the life of one of his buyers used to put him under deep conviction, until one day he said to him, “You must have been born happy.” “Yes,” replied the buyer, “in my second birth. I accepted the Lord Jesus Christ and was born of God. In my first birth I was no happier than you!”
Reuben was so moved by this testimony that he bought a New Testament, and there he was impressed with the fact that all those who followed Jesus were Jews: John the Baptist pointing to Him as the Lamb of God; Peter, James and John, the chief disciples; and to a Jew the Saviour had said, “On this rock will I build My Church.” Then he came to the story of the rich young ruler. It was a dramatic moment — a rich Jew of the twentieth century and under conviction, reading of the Saviour’s dealings with a rich Jew of the first century! The way that Reuben saw it was that if Jesus had told that young man to sell all to inherit eternal life, how could he, Reuben, inherit the same gift, unless on the same condition? It was his supreme test. If he became a disciple, he knew that he too stood to lose all. But it was too late to go back; he had seen it, and he must follow; and as Reuben said those words, Rees echoed them in his own heart; it was too late also for him to go back.
Reuben faced it fairly and squarely and counted the cost. His wife might leave him, his brother put him out of the business, and not a single Jew follow him, but he had made up his mind; if he lost everything, he meant to do it.
Then one day, on the way to the store, Reuben heard a voice repeating to him the words of John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.” The truth flashed upon him — he accepted Christ and entered into life that moment, he then told his brother and others. According to his father’s will he was to forfeit every penny if he changed his religion, but his brother offered to give him $70,000 — his share of the business — if he would cross U.S.A. and retire in Montana. But Reuben replied, “I have had the light in Pittsburgh, and I am going to witness in Pittsburgh.”
Late that Saturday night detectives came and took him to the police station. On Monday two doctors visited his cell and asked him about the voice he had heard. “Do they question my sanity?” he thought.
Two hours later warders came from the asylum and took him to a room where there were twenty-nine mentally deranged people. The bitterness of his position overcame him. He had victory in the lock-up, but this seemed more than he could bear. He fell on his knees by his bed and poured out his heart to the Lord. He did not know how long he was there, but he seemed to lose himself, and a vision of Calvary appeared to him. He said he witnessed every stage of the crucifixion. He forgot his own sufferings in the sufferings of the Saviour, and as he gazed on the Cross, the Master Himself said to him, “And must I bear the Cross alone, and all the world go free?” From a broken heart Reuben answered, “No. There’s a cross for everyone, and there’s a cross for me.”
From that hour he was a new man. Instead of complaining at being in the asylum, he began to pray for the other twenty-nine, and to the Saviour he said, “Let me suffer for You. Whatever You allow me to go through, I will never complain again.”
Two weeks later, Reuben’s brother came to see him, and reproached him for his folly in getting himself into such a place. “Why won’t you be wise?” he said. “Get out of here and go to Montana.” “Does that offer still stand? Then it is not a medical condition but something else that is keeping me here!” said Reuben with all the keenness of his logical mind.
Some Christian friends he was in touch with caused inquiries to be set on foot. In six weeks his release was procured. It became a court case, and the test was on the voice.
The judge called the doctor and asked why this man had been certified as insane. “Because he heard a voice,” said the doctor. “Didn’t the Apostle Paul hear a voice?” countered the judge, who was a Christian man. “This is a disgrace to the American flag,” and he told Reuben to prosecute everyone who had anything to do with it.
“I shall never prosecute one,” answered Reuben, “but I will do one thing — I will pray for them.” He crossed the court and offered his hand to his brother, but he turned his back on him. He went to his wife, but she did the same. But what a victory he had in his own soul!
He rented a small room in Chicago, where he lived alone with the Lord and won many converts, though for two years he hardly ever had a square meal. A year later his wife came to hear him in a camp meeting and was converted, and for the first time he saw his little boy who had been born after his wife had left him. She was willing to make her home with him again, if only he would earn a living as other Christians did. His heart went out to his little boy, and this test was even greater than the first. Her request seemed so reasonable, but he knew that the Lord had called him from the world into this life of faith. He pleaded with the Lord, but the only reply he received was, “Back to Egypt!”
It was enough, and once more Reuben embraced the Cross. He went to see his wife and child off; it was a costly experience; but as the train steamed out of the station it seemed that God poured the joy of heaven into his soul. He literally danced on the platform. He did not see his wife for another three years. Then, in another camp meeting, she too had a revelation of the Cross, as a result of which she testified, that whereas before as a believer she had not been willing to share the sacrificial life of her husband, if it would be for God’s glory, she would now be willing to beg her bread from door to door. They were reunited and she became a wonderful co-worker with him in his ministry.
One thing that had hindered Rees Howells from coming through before was that while people said they were born again, he could not see that their lives were better than his. How then could he be convinced that they had something he had not? But he had sometimes said to the Lord, “If I ever see a person who is living the Sermon on the Mount, I will give in.” Before Reuben came to the end of his story, the Lord said to Rees, “Is this your man?”
What followed in that little Methodist Chapel Rees Howells tells in his own words: “As Maurice Reuben brought those sacred scenes before us, I too saw the Cross. It seemed as if I spent ages at the Saviour’s feet, and I wept and wept. I felt as if He had died just for me. I lost myself. I had been living in the fear of death, and I saw Him taking that death for me. My parents loved me very much, and up to that time, to me there were no people like them, but they never suffered death for me. He did it. His love for me, as compared with theirs, was as high as the heavens above the earth, and He won my love — every bit of it. He broke me, and everything in me went right out to Him.
“Then He spoke to me, and said, ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock. May I come in to you, as I came in to Reuben and took the place of wife and son and home and store and world? Will you accept me?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied, and He came in, and that moment I changed. I was born into another world. I found myself in the Kingdom of God, and the Creator became my Father. That night I received the gift of eternal life, that gift which money cannot buy.
“When I went home, my friend who had accompanied me to the meeting, but had seen nothing in it, seemed so rough to me. Everyone who was not born again seemed rough. The Saviour became everything to me. He was not only the fairest among ten thousand, but fairest among millions! That love of His had always been there, but before I saw it, there was no-response from me; but He had plenty of response after this. Everything of this world was rough, but everything about. Him, so holy, pure and beautiful.
I changed altogether. None of my old friends could understand what had happened. I had no fellowship with natural things. It wasn’t a point of doctrine I saw; no, it was Calvary. It wasn’t giving a mental assent; no, the veil was taken back, my eyes were opened, and I saw Him. That night I saw this world as a cursed place, and the thought came to me that I would never touch it again.
“The love of the Saviour was revealed to me, You can’t explain what a revelation is. I saw that the Saviour and Father, before I should suffer, would rather suffer for me. No natural love is in the same world as His love. It was not merely that the Saviour helped me outside Himself; no, He took my place. I saw every other love so rough in comparison. Self was the motive of it. But I could see that love enduring through the countless ages of eternity. When you receive the Saviour, you receive the love of God. That love flooded my being, and it has flooded my being ever since.
I saw that by His coming in to me, He would love sinners through me, as He loved me. It would not be forcing myself to love others, any more than the Saviour forced Himself to love me. No person could be an enemy to me, because I had been an enemy to Him before I was reconciled. If I live in the realm where He is, I live to have mercy, and to be kind, to love others. Could the love of God in me do harm to anyone? I had left the world and its folly, and been born into that Kingdom where there is only the love of God — the most attractive life on the face of the earth.”
Rees always spoke of this, his spiritual birthday, as the most outstanding day of his life. It was the day which brought his stay in America to a close. He never forgot that it was in the U.S.A. and through a Jew that he found the Saviour, and that he owed a debt to God’s chosen people which he was to repay in later years, but he felt that his first witness should be to his own folk, who had nurtured him in the things of God.
The thought of returning home was crystallized for him within a few days by a sharp temptation on the point of his previous weakness — the love of money. The manager of the works where he was employed had a high opinion of him, and offered him a job at $12 a day, quite a good wage even for America in those days, but it would have meant more claim on his time. He told his friend that he was leaving as soon as he could, “because the manager is putting a temptation before me, and I told the Lord I would never live for money.” The new life was quickly pushing out the old. As he said, he had gone out to do sight-seeing, but had seen the greatest sight in the world — Calvary!