Evan Roberts and the Revival in Wales

EVAN ROBERTS

Dear Friend, God loves you. Therefore, seek Him diligently, pray to Him earnestly, read His word constantly. Yours in the gospel. 1           Evan Roberts (1878 – 1951)

Revival is more than a word; it is an heavenly invasion of the kingdom of God upon the earth.2 Wales experienced just such a heavenly invasion in the blessed years of 1904 and 1905. In the years leading up to this, God was preparing a man whom He could work through during these momentous years of Wales’ spiritual history. The humble Evan Roberts was raised up as a minister after God’s own heart, to move and minister in the flow of revival.

During his childhood, Roberts was known for being a well-mannered, religious child. His experience of becoming a Christian can be pinned approximately to his thirteenth year. As he grew in his experience and faith in God, Roberts was viewed as being peculiar. For one reason, he was obsessed with prayer. It seemed that Roberts was continuously drawn to communing with God. His family became concerned when, on some occasions, he would decline his meals so that he could go to his room and spend more time with God. Other times, when the family had gone to bed, Roberts would stay up for hours, engaged in prayer. This reached the point where Roberts was spending hours on his knees every evening. Much of the time when Roberts was praying, he would be completely silent. One of his goals was to reach a stage in his spiritual walk where his entire life would be one continual prayer. 3

As a result of his life of prayer, Roberts gained great sensitivity towards spiritual things. For example, he sometimes seemed to know when people were praying for him. He was known to be in conversation with someone at one moment and, then, detach himself from the conversation with the remark that people were praying for him at that very moment. All of his attention would then be focused on this, and it seemed as if he could even sense and understand the prayers that were made on his behalf. Then, after a time, he would come back to the conversation. It would later be found out that people were indeed praying for him at the very moment when he sensed that they were. 4

Roberts’ sensitivity to spiritual things grew out of his special closeness and communication with the Lord. In the spring of 1904, he began to have some incredible spiritual experiences. One evening, Roberts was contemplating the spiritual state of the Christian world and he lamented that Christianity seemed to be such a failure. That very morning he was awakened at 1 A.M. by the Lord and he had an amazing spiritual experience. His senses were filled with joy and awe and, for the next four hours, he had intense communion and vivid communication with God. Amazingly, this experience repeated itself every morning for more than three months. After this four hours of communion, Roberts would sleep. It was not uncommon for him to then awake at 9:00 A.M. and, again, be ushered into intense spiritual communion, which sometimes continued until noon or later. His family became concerned about why this much of his time was being occupied and would ask Roberts for an explanation. He would reply that the experiences that he was having were too divine to be described in an understandable way. Roberts claims that, as a result of these experiences, his nature changed and he began to see everything in a new light. On that first morning, God spoke to him, telling him that God was going to move in Wales and also the world. 5

It was not long before Roberts saw the fulfillment to this great prophecy. Throughout Wales, there began to be a profound awareness of God. God was manifesting Himself in church services with overwhelming reality. Into this environment, Roberts came with a strong sense of God’s leading and direction. Before long, Roberts was holding meetings himself. These meetings were anything but ordinary or common, compared to the regular religious formality of his day. The meetings were, instead, characterized by prayer, intense conviction of sin, overwhelming  joy and release of spiritual and heartfelt worship. At times, Roberts, while in the pulpit, would be engaged in silent prayer for over an hour.

His prayers were often cries to God for the bending of the Church, for purity of heart and for the filling of God’s people with the Holy Spirit. 7

To be filled with God’s Spirit was of great importance to Roberts. He knew conversion. However, the special filling of the Spirit is an experience subsequent to conversion. Evans set his heart and mind upon this experience and, from the time of his conversion, sought and prayed for it for thirteen years. On one occasion, while listening to the preaching of a Mr. William Davies, he was impacted as Davies questioned his audience, saying; “ … what if the Holy Spirit descended when you are not here?” 8 Roberts said to himself; “I am resolved to get the Holy Spirit.” 9 This resolve, combined with his concern that the Holy Spirit might come to a meeting while he was absent, led Roberts to attend church meetings five nights a week. 10

The Lord honoured Roberts’ resolve and desire to be filled with the Holy Spirit. On September 29, 1904, Roberts attended a meeting in Blaenanerch. He records the life-changing experience that he had that  night in these words:

Shortly some wonderful influence came over me. After many had prayed I felt some living energy or force entering my bosom, it held my breath, my legs trembled terribly; this living energy increased and increased as one after the other prayed until it nearly burst me, and as each finished I asked, ‘Shall I pray now?’ When someone finished, I prayed. My bosom boiled all through, and had it not been that I prayed, I would have burst. What boiled my bosom? The verse, ‘for God commendeth His love.’ [The Correct quote of this verse in King James Bible: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”Romans 5:8]I fell on my knees, with my arms outstretched on the seat before me, the perspiration poured down my face and my tears streamed quickly until I thought that the blood came out. Soon Mrs. Davies, Mona, New Quay, came to wipe my perspiration. Magdalen Phillips stood on my right and Maud Davies on my left. It was awful on me for about two minutes. I cried – ‘Bend me, bend me, bend me; Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! When wiping my perspiration Mrs. Davies said, ‘Oh wonderful grace!’ ‘Yes,’ said I, ‘Oh wonderful grace!’ It was God commending His love that bent me, and I not seeing anything in Him to commend. After I was bent, a wave of peace filled my bosom. 11

As a result of Roberts being filled with the Spirit, there were many notable changes to his life and ministry. For one, he now seemed to have an almost inexhaustible source of strength. Along with this, he seemed very free and happy. He lost his sense of nervousness and was filled with courage. Lastly, he had an intense desire for the salvation of sinners. 12

God began using Roberts in amazing ways. Roberts saw a vision in which he was instructed to go to Loughor. In obedience, he did go and began holding meetings. He thought that he would be there for one week but, instead, spent five months in Loughor. In the meetings, there was a great outpouring of revival. As attendees were overwhelmed with an awareness of God’s presence, many fell to the ground in agony, bewailing the condition of their souls. Roberts instructed those gathered to pray that God would “Send the Holy Spirit now, for Jesus Christ sake.” 13 Roberts instructed that each person in the meeting was to pray this, in turn. They did so, and there was an amazing outpouring of God’s Spirit:

When it was about half way the second time, the whole audience gave way before some irresistible influence, and now the state of things is beyond any description. Many groaned in agony, others sighed deeply, some shouted loudly: ‘Pray for me,” and a number wept sorrowfully for their sins. The deacon mentioned above was filled this night with the divine influence; and many broke out to pray, sing and speak without being asked, … 14

It was not until 3:00 A.M. that anyone attempted to close that meeting.

The Western Mail of Cardiff printed this report on the revival in Loughor:

A remarkable religious revival is now taking place at Loughor. For some days a young man named Evan Roberts, a native of Loughor, but at present a student at Newcastle-Emlyn has been causing great surprise by his extraordinary exhortations at Moriah Chapel, that place of worship having being besieged with dense crowds of people unable to obtain admission. Such excitement has prevailed that the road in which the chapel is situated has been lined with people from end to end. Roberts, who speaks in Welsh, opens his discourse by saying he does not know what he is going to say, but when he is in communion with the Holy Spirit the Holy Spirit will speak and he will be simply the medium of His wisdom. The  preacher soon after launches out into fervent and at times impassionate oration. His statements have most stirring effects upon his listeners, many who have dis-believed Christianity for years again returning to the fold of their younger days. One night so great was the enthusiasm invoked by the young revivalist that after a sermon lasting two hours, the vast congregation remained praying and singing until half-past two o’clock next morning. Shopkeepers are closing earlier in order to get a place in the chapel and tin and steel workers throng the place in their work clothes. … 15

As in this newspaper article, many attributed the revival to Evan Roberts, personally. Roberts reacted strongly against this, pointing out that the glory should go to God for the things that God was doing. He said:

The revival in South Wales is not of men, but of God. He has come very close to us. … We are teaching no sectarian doctrine, only the wonder and beauty of Christ’s love. I have been asked concerning my  methods. I have none. I never prepare what I shall speak, but leave that to Him. I am not the source of this revival, but only one agent among what is growing to be a multitude. I wish no personal following, but only the world for Christ. 16

This desire to take no credit for the moving of God was the reason that Roberts dreaded newspaper reporters. Repeatedly, he turned down interviews with newspaper men. He also refused to have pictures taken of him except by members of his own family. 17

God was moving and the Welsh Revival had a profound effect upon Welsh society. The liquor industry suffered large losses during these years, due to lack of business. There were repeated instances of men entering bars, ordering drinks and then, convicted of their actions, leaving the bar without touching the liquor. Also, the people of Wales were known for their strong interest in football. Ministers stopped talking about football from their pulpits, having now been swept up in the spiritual emphasis of the revival. 18 During the revival, football players were converted and soon were testifying of this in open-air meetings. Some football teams were even disbanded and stadiums left vacant. 19 Even political meetings were postponed because members of the Houses of Parliament were attending revival meetings. 20 Professionals and common people alike, were finding tremendous spiritual relief and one young teenage girl remarked; “Oh, what will heaven be like if it is so wonderful down here!” 21

For many during this time, life was wonderful and one expression of this was the enthusiasm and fervor that people expressed in participating in revival meetings. Sometimes, people would gather an hour or two before the designated meeting time, hungry for the meetings to begin. These would begin as soon as a congregation had assembled. There was no need to wait for any human leader or to abide by any set schedule. Sometimes people would gather at seven o’clock and not leave until three o’clock the next morning. As one crowd was leaving, another crowd would enter the chapel for early-morning prayer meetings. In some cases, factories and shops closed down for up to three days so that people could attend revival meetings. 22

While enthusiasm and fervor were expressions of the wonderful life in Christ, another expression of this came in the form of singing. Converts wholeheartedly engaged in worship, shouting out songs to the  Lord, not only in church services, but sometimes in the streets. One writer comments on the joy of some Welsh converts in these words:

In the awakening in Wales it was the presence of thousands of young converts exulting in the thrill of their new-found Redeemer that carried all before it. These were drunk with the new wine of the Spirit and were oblivious to everything other than their blessed Lord Jesus. 23

As people found new life in Christ, it was natural to express that in songs. Some songs were composed during the revival itself.

Evan Roberts did not found a new church; he did not start a new movement; he did not teach a new theology, nor did he appoint successors. 26 What he did do was live a holy life. He went after God in prayer and experienced a dynamic relationship with Him. That relationship caused him to see everything in a new light, from a heavenly perspective. He sought to be filled with God’s Spirit, and God’s Spirit came to him and filled him. That experience of Roberts became the experience of others as God poured out His Spirit on Wales. The wonderful influence of God’s Spirit brought men and women to conviction, repentance and joyful relief. Heaven invaded earth. The hearts and souls of men and women were opened. With opened hearts, they received God’s love and loved God in return. This is revival. Oh, wonderful grace!

ENDNOTES

 

1. Evan Roberts, in A Diary of Revival : The Story of The 1904 Welsh Awakening, Kevin Adams and Selwyn Hughes (Worcester: Vision Video), DVD.

2. Stephen F. Olford, in John H. Armstrong, When God Moves (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 1998), 25.

3. D. M. Phillips, Evan Roberts, The Great Welsh Revivalist and His Work (London: Marshall Brothers, 1923), 84-87.

4. Ibid., 88.

5. Evan Roberts, in A Diary of Revival : The Story of The 1904 Welsh Awakening, Kevin Adams and Selwyn Hughes (Worcester: Vision Video), CD. and D. M. Phillips, Evan Roberts, The Great Welsh Revivalist and His Work, 120.

6. D. M. Phillips, Evan Roberts, The Great Welsh Revivalist and His Work, 86.

7. Ibid., 89.

8. William Davies, in D. M. Phillips, Evan Roberts, The Great Welsh Revivalist and His Work, 117.

9. Evan Roberts, in D. M. Phillips, Evan Roberts, The Great Welsh Revivalist and His Work, 117.

10. D. M. Phillips, Evan Roberts, The Great Welsh Revivalist and His Work, 118.

11. Evan Roberts, in D. M. Phillips, Evan Roberts, The Great Welsh Revivalist and His Work, 124-125.

12. D. M. Phillips, Evan Roberts, The Great Welsh Revivalist and His Work, 126-127.

13. Evan Roberts, in D. M. Phillips, Evan Roberts, The Great Welsh Revivalist and His Work, 205.

14. D. M. Phillips, Evan Roberts, The Great Welsh Revivalist and His Work, 205.

15. The Western Mail, found in D. M. Phillips, Evan Roberts, The Great Welsh Revivalist and His Work, 210.

16. Evan Roberts, in Frank Bartleman, Azusa Street (New Kensington: Whitaker House, 1982), 32.

17. James A. Stewart, Invasion of Wales by The Spirit Through Evan Roberts (Fort Washington: CLC), 12-13.

18. Ibid., 64.

19. Ibid., 40.

20. Ibid., 52.

21. Anonymous, in James A. Stewart, Invasion of Wales by The Spirit Through Evan Roberts, 37.

22. James A. Stewart, Invasion of Wales by The Spirit Through Evan Roberts, 55.

23. James A. Stewart, Invasion of Wales by The Spirit Through Evan Roberts, 45.

24. Evan Roberts, in D. M. Phillips, Evan Roberts, The Great Welsh Revivalist and His Work, 497-498.

25. Ibid., 536-537.

26. Brynmor Pierce Jones, An Instrument of Revival : The Complete Life of Evan Roberts (1978-1951) (South Plainsfield: Bridge Publishing, 1995), xiii.

REFERENCES

Adams, Kevin. A Diary of Revival : The Story of The 1904 Welsh Awakening.

Worcester: Vision Video, CD.

Armstrong, H. John. When God Moves. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers., 1998.

Bartleman, Frank. Azusa Street. New Kensington: Whitaker House, 1982.

Jones, Brynmor Pierce. An Instrument of Revival : The Complete Life of Evan Roberts (1878-1951).

South Plainsfield: Bridge Publishing, 1995.

Phillips, D. M. Evan Roberts, The Great Welsh Revivalist and His Work.

London: Marshall Brothers, 1923.

Stewart, James A. Invasion of Wales by The Spirit Through Evan Roberts. Fort Washington: CLC.

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