Elias, John (DNB00)

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ELIAS, JOHN (1774–1841), Welsh methodist preacher, was born on 6 May 1774 at a 'small tenement' called Brynllwynbach, in the parish of Abererch, four miles east of Pwllheli in Carnarvonshire. His parents 'were in humble circumstances, but they lived comfortably and respectably.' As a boy he was chiefly influenced by his paternal grandfather, a small farmer and weaver, who taught him to read, and gave him his earliest religious impressions. The grandfather would take the boy after church to hear some of the famous South Wales methodists. Elias thus became very religious, and was constantly convulsed with inward struggles and temptations. His chief difficulty was about Sunday amusements. He at last conquered this supreme temptation, and occupied himself on that day in teaching children to read. 'Perhaps this was the first Sunday school in Carnarvonshire.' He read every Welsh book he could obtain, and walked ten miles or more for a sermon on Sunday. He gradually became a decided methodist, though he long hesitated from fear of backsliding, even when his faith was so strong that he was only turned from an eighty mile pilgrimage to Llangeitho by the death of Daniel Rowlands. When about eighteen his religious impressions were deepened during a journey to the Bala association. He took service under a methodist weaver named G.Jones, who lived near Pen y Morva, through whose influence he at last, in September 1793, joined the methodist society at Hendre Howel. On Christmas day 1794 he was 'received a member of the monthly meeting, and allowed the privilege of attempting to preach the gospel.' His fame as an itinerant preacher was spread through Carnarvonshire. He besought the brethren to allow him to accept an invitation to half a year's schooling in Manchester, but was 'sharply rebuked' for the pride which prompted the request. He was permitted, however, to have some months' schooling at the Rev. E. Richardson's school at Canarvon, where he 'made such progress in English as enabled him to understand the subject matter of what he was reading in that language,' and 'became tolerably conversant with the Greek and Hebrew scriptures, especially through lexicons.' This was in 1796. On 22 Feb. of that year he married Elizabeth Broadhead, who kept a shop at Llanvechell in Anglesey, where Elias subsequently resided, he had by her four children, two only of whom survived their birth. For the first years of their marriage they had a hard struggle, but latterly the business improved, and Elias was able to leave the entire management to his wife and devote himself exclusively to preaching. Anglesey, the immediate sphere of his operations, was in an exceptionally low moral and religious condition. But his incessant denunciations of 'fornication, wrecking, drunkenness. Sabbath breaking,' and the other characteristic sins of the island, worked a great reformation. 'His preaching at length became the most attractive of the island, so that he was attended by the whole population of the neighbourhood wherever he went, and places of worship hitherto shunned as contemptible were frequented when he occupied them by even respectable people.' The conversion of Anglesey to methodism dates from his work there. But, like all the old Welsh preachers, he wandered far and wide on his mission. He was known all over Wales; he frequently preached at Liverpool; and was equally welcomed in Manchester, Bristol, and London by his fellow-countrymen residing in those cities. The effects of his preaching were extraordinary. His unique power over his audience suggests the comparison with Whitefield, whom he also resembled in his rigid Calvinistic theology. But though rough and untrained he showed more logical capacity than Whitefield. His few printed sermons show little of the power exerted by his 'unearthly tone and supernatural force, his gleaming eyes, his ideas flashing forth like the lightning.' Striking stories are told of his scattering by his eloquence the unhallowed Sunday fair at Rhuddlan; his great speech at a Bible Society's meeting at Beaumaris; and his glowing description of how Lord Anglesey was saved at Waterloo to preside over that assembly. He soon won a foremost place in his connexion, and was one of the first preachers to be ordained at Bala in 1811, when the methodists practically seceded from the established church. He took a prominent part in drawing up the methodists' articles of faith (1823), and in insisting on their necessity. He accumulated a great deal of information on theological and historical subjects, and at the end of his life warmly welcomed the establishment of theological colleges in his denomination. He was hot and violent in his creed, and bitterly opposed to the 'Arminian methodists' for breaking up the unity of doctrine in North Welsh religious bodies. He was a strong tory and loyalist, a great admirer of George III, and an irreconcilable opponent of catholic emancipation. He was especially careful in checking the disorders that in some cases tend to flow from great religious excitement. He made great exertions for the Bible Society, the London Missionary Society, and for Sunday schools. He was an early advocate of total abstinence.

In 1829 Elias's wife died, and on 10 Feb. 1830 he married Lady Bulkeley, the widow of Sir John Bulkeley, a lady whose wealth set him free from all worldly cares, and whose social position did not prevent the union from being one of complete happiness. After this marriage he resided at a house called Vron, near Llangevni, also in Anglesey. In 1832 he had a serious carriage accident, from which he never completely recovered. In 1840 he contracted a fresh sickness when preaching. He died on 8 June 1841. Ten thousand persons, it was believed, attended his funeral in Llanvaes churchyard. 'As a preacher,' cried his enthusiastic medical attendant, 'there has not been his equal since the apostle to the Gentiles.' He was certainly the greatest orator among the remarkable series of the preachers of early Welsh methodism.

His published writings include: 1. 'Traethawd ar y Sabboth,' 1809, which has gone through several editions. 2. 'Buddioldeb yr iau i bobl ieuaingc, neu bregeth ar Galar. iii. 27,' 1818. 3. 'Teyrnged i goffadwriaeth brenin rhinweddol: Sylwedd pregeth a bregethwyd ar yr achlysur o farwolaeth George y Trydydd,' 1820. 4. 'Marwolaeth gweision ffyddlawn i Dduw yn achlysur i annog y rhai byw i ymwroli y ngwasanaeth eu Harglwydd; sef, Sylwedd pregeth [on Josh. i. 2] a draddodwyd y' Nghymdeithasfa,' Pwllheli, 1826. 6. 'The Death of a faithful Minister, with a view to the decease of Rev. E.Morris,' the above translated into English, 1826. 6. 'Mawr ddrwg y pechod o ymgaledu o dan freintiau crefyddol; sef, Sylwedd pregeth a draddodwyd y' Nghymdeithasfa,' Llanrwst, 1828. 7. Cofiant o fywyd a marwolaeth R. Jones, Dinas; At yr hyn ychwanegwyd pigion o'i lythyrau ac o'i waith prydyddol, Ynghyd a llythyr ats oddiwrth T. Charles,' 1834. 8. 'Annogaeth i'r Cymry i bleidio cadwraeth y Sabbath trwy anfon eirchion i'r Senedd,' Bangor, 1836. 9. 'Pregethau y diweddar Barch. J. Elias wedi eu hysgrifenu mewn llaw fer—gan R. Hughes,' 1849. 10. 'Pregeth i bobl ieuainc,' 1850. 11. 'Traethawd ar Gyfiawnhad Pechadur, yn dangos y ffordd y mae Duw . . . yn cyfiawnhau pechaduriaid,' 1870. 12. 'The Two Families, a Sermon,' twice printed in English.

[Elias's autobiographical memoirs form the basis of the Life of John Eliiis, by the Rev. E. Morgan of Syston, who also edited Valuable Letters, Essays, and other Papers of John Elias, which contain additional biographical material; Owen Jones's Great Preachers of Wales; Richard Parry's Adgofion am J. Elias; the estimate of his contemporaries may be seen, for example, in Foulkes's Ccffadwriaeth y Cyfiawn, pregeth ar yr achlysur o farwolaeth J. Elias (1842); and in Eliasia, neu rai sylwadau ar gymeriad areithyddol a phregethwraethol J. Elias (1844); Cat. of Printed Books in Brit. Mus.]

T. F. T.