I've recently finished the book Rees Howells: Intercessor, and it's been rocking my world. The sensation I felt reading the book was very similar to what I felt when I watched this interview with Leonard Ravenhill while I was at IHOP. Ravenhill out-IHOPs IHOP, if I can put it that way. You think you're radical? You think you're on-fire for God? When was the last time you prayed with someone for 5 hours in order to get them born again?
But my point isn't to quench the spirits of people who want to be radical for Jesus. My point is to ask – and to wonder myself – is this for real? These guys who came out of the Welsh revival and the Keswick convention in England… if you read their books today, and compare them to what we call church, it's like they're coming from another planet. Does the Holy Spirit still do this kind of thing? Does this kind of repentance and holiness of life exist in the church now? Do people still have the kind of faith that Rees Howells (and George Mueller and Hudson Taylor) had – to count the promises of God of equal value as money in the bank?
Rees Howells bought an estate for £5800 in 1924 (probably several hundred thousand dollars in current money) without a penny in the bank. And he never told a single other human being about the financial need. He just prayed, and the Lord provided! This was not an isolated incident – he lived his whole life this way.
As examples of the sort of things this book talks about, here is Rees Howells' definition of an "intercessor" (page 97):
A prayer warrior can pray for a thing to be done without necessarily being willing for the answer to come through himself; and he is not even bound to continue in the prayer until it is answered. But an intercessor is responsible to gain his objective, and he can never be free till he has gained it. He will go to any lengths for the prayer to be answered through himself. But once a position of intercession has been gained, tested, and proved, the intercessor can claim all the blessings on that grade, whenever it is God's will for him to do so.
So am I an intercessor? Not according to this definition! Rees Howells also prayed through his assignments until he felt an assurance in his spirit that the Lord had answered him. And once that "victory" was gained, he stopped praying and started praising – regardless of whether or not the answer was visible. Any further prayer for the issue would then be a "prayer of doubt." I have no experience of this kind of hearing from God, or this kind of assurance of answered prayer.
Lest anyone write this off as simply a man's own enthusiasm and delusions, look at the list of "gained intercessions" that Rees Howells experienced in his life:
- Salvation of numerous acquaintances in a neighboring village
- Salvation of an unrepentant woman drunk who Rees never even talked to
- Salvation of the nephew of a friend living in a foreign country who he never met
- Healing of tuberculosis on at least two occasions
- Healing of his invalid uncle who had been unable to walk for 26 years
- Continuous – and often spectacular - financial miracles
- 10,000 souls saved in Africa in an outpouring of the Holy Spirit
- Specific intercession for divine interventions in World War II. Several of these, such as the Battle of Britain, were specifically acknowledged as divine intervention by the military commanders involved.
The secret to Rees Howells' intercession was nothing particularly obscure – it was "merely" that he actually lived out the teaching of the indwelling Holy Spirit that stares us in the face when we open the New Testament.
At a conference earlier this year, I heard James Goll describe an interview he had with Rees Howells' son, Samuel. Goll repeatedly pressed the question of how Rees Howells received the insights and information for his intercession. Samuel Howells finally responded, "You must understand, the servant of the Lord was a man possessed by God."
Goll's conclusion was an altar call in which we all prayed for God to possess us in a kind of emotional flurry. But while the description "possessed by God" is a very accurate rendition of Rees Howells' account of his experience with the Holy Spirit, the conditions of the event were anything but an emotional flurry. Here are some excerpts from chapter 5, "the Holy Spirit takes possession" (page 33):
"As he [Rev. Evan Hopkins] spoke," Rees said, "the Holy Ghost appeared to me and I knew him to be the One who had spoken to me the day before and shown me that place of splendor and glory into which natural eyes can never look. It never dawned on me before that the Holy Ghost was a Person exactly like the Savior, and that He must come and dwell in flesh and blood. In fact, the Church knows more about the Savior, who was only on the earth thirty-three years, than about the Holy ghost who has been here two thousand years. I had only thought of Him as an Influence coming on meetings, and that was what most of us in the Revival thought. I had never seen that He must live in bodies, as the Savior lived in His on earth."
The meeting with the Holy Ghost was just as real to Rees Howells as his meeting with the Savior those years before. "I saw Him as a Person apart from flesh and blood, and He said to me, 'As the Savior had a body, so I dwell in the cleansed temple of the believer. I am a Person. I am God, and I am come to ask you to give your body to me that I may work through it. I need a body for My temple (1 Cor 6:19), but it must belong to Me without reserve, for two persons with different wills can never live in the same body. Will you give Me yours? (Rom 12:1). But if I come in, I come as god, and you must go out (Col 3:2,3). I shall not mix Myself with your self.'
"He made it very plain that He would never share my life. I saw the honor He gave me in offering to indwell me, but there were many things very dear to me, and I knew He wouldn't keep one of them. The change He would make was very clear. It meant every bit of my fallen nature was to go to the cross, and he would bring in His own life and His own nature."
It was unconditional surrender. From the meeting Rees went out into a field where he cried his heart out because, as he said, "I had received a sentence of death, as really as a prisoner in the dock. I had lived in my body for twenty-six years, and could I easily give it up? Who could give his life up to another in an hour? Why does a man struggle when death comes, if it is easy to die? I knew that the only place fit for the old nature was on the cross. Paul makes that very plain in Romans 6. But once this is done in reality, it is done for ever. I could not run into this.
"I intended to do it, but oh, the cost! I wept for days. I lost seven pounds in weight, just because I saw what He was offering me. How I wished I had never seen it! One thing He reminded of was that He had only come to take what I had already promised the Savior, not in part, but the whole."
It took five days to make the decision, days which were spent alone with God. "Like Isaiah, I saw the holiness of God," he said, "and seeing Him, I saw my own corrupt nature. It wasn't sins that I saw, but nature touched by the Fall. I was corrupt to the core. I knew I had to be cleansed; I saw there was as much difference between the Holy Ghost and myself as between light and darkness.
"Nothing is more real to me than the process I went through for that whole week," he continued. "the Holy Spirit went on dealing with me, exposing the root of my nature which was self, and you can only get out of a thing what is in its root. Sin was canceled, and it wasn't sin He was dealing with; it was self – that thing which came from the Fall.
"He was not going to take any superficial surrender. He put His finger on each part of my self-life, and I had to decide in cold blood. He could never take a thing away until I gave my consent. Then the moment I gave it, some purging took place (Isaiah 6:5-7), and I could never touch that thing again. It was not saying I was purged and the thing still having a hold on me; no it was a breaking, and the Holy Ghost taking control. Day by day the dealing went on. He was coming in as God, and I had lived as a man, and 'what is permissible to an ordinary man,' He told me, 'will not be permissible to you.'"
The specific issues that the book mentions the Holy Spirit removing from him in this purging process included:
- Love of money
- Choosing his own wife
- Ambition: He would be required to always take second place whenever there was any competition for position.
- Reputation: The Lord could make him look as crazy as John the Baptist, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, the Nazirites, or any other Biblical character.
It should be noted that the "purging" described above was not once-for-all instant sanctification, but a commitment which the Lord called him to live out over time.
So here's my question. Where are the modern Rees Howells's? Can I be one of them? Do I even want to?