Besides hymns and theological writings, Williams wrote books on a variety of subjects, such as Aurora Borealis, a description of the northern lights (which shows his continued interest in science), Pantheologia, a history of world religions with geographical and historical descriptions of various countries, and Ductor nuptiarum, neu, Gyfarwyddwr priodas, which is considered the first marriage guide in Wales.
In most of the world, William Williams is only known to those who read the names of authors in their hymnbooks. Most people don’t, and go on singing his most famous hymn, “Guide Us O Thou Great Jehovah” (also known as “Bread of Heaven”) without giving a thought to the man who wrote those comforting lines. In Wales, however, he is considered one of the greatest national poets and one of the key leaders of the 18th-century Welsh Revival. To some, he is one of the most influential figures in the whole history of Wales.
The Welsh Revival (often known as Welsh Methodist movement) had little in common with the Methodist denomination that sprung from John Wesley in England. For one thing, the Welsh Methodists remained firmly within the Anglican Church until 1811, when the impediments the Anglican Church had created in the ordination of members practically forced them to leave. Perhaps most importantly, they kept faithful to Reformed doctrines, as opposed to John Wesley, who embraced Arminianism.
Williams’ Early Life
William Williams was born early in 1717 at Cefncoed, Wales – the third and only surviving son of the six children. He was brought up in an Independent Church, but the teachings he received didn’t hit home until about twenty years later, when he heard the unlicensed exhorter Howell Harris preach in a church yard. Until then, he had aspired to be a doctor. But that day, he said later, “I was caught by a summons from on high.”[1
Williams answered the summons. As Harris was seeking to become a minister in the established church, Williams followed in his footsteps. In the end, Harris was refused ordination, while Williams was ordained deacon and licensed to preach as curate at Llanwrtyd and Llanddewi Abergwesyn.
But Williams was not ready for the curacy. Accused of omitting some duties and of absenting himself in order to preach outside his own parish, he was refused ordination as priest. Later in life, Williams regretted his behavior.
What occupied his mind was the association to Harris and another famous preacher, Daniel Rowland, curate of Llangeitho in Cardiganshire.