Memoir of the Late Rev. Christmas Evans
The Baptist Magazine, February, 1847
Christmas Evans was born at a place called Escarwen in the parish of Llandysul, Cardiganshire, on Christmas Day, 1766. His father, Samuel Evans, was a shoemaker, and in the very humblest circumstances; his mother was Johanna Lewis by her maiden name, and descended from a respectable family of freeholders in the parish.
His father was far too needy to be able to send his children to school, and he died when this, his second son, was in the ninth year of his age, leaving his family in a state of utter destitution, dependent on the parish, or on such friends of the widow as might prove themselves disposed and able to assist her. Mr. James Lewis of Bwlchog, in the parish of Llanfihangel-Yeroth, his maternal uncle, took Christmas home, engaging to feed and clothe him for such labour on the farm as the boy might be able to perform. Here he stayed for six years; and that period he seems to have spent in a state of utter regret on the part of those who had the care of him. During these most valuable years of his life, no care was taken of his heart, his mind, or morals; and all the concern expended on the orphan was that which was called into exercise by the purpose to get as much work out of him as possible, and that at the least practicable expense. James Lewis was a cruel, selfish, and drunken man; and all his nephew's recollections of his boyhood were excruciatingly bitter and painful. The hapless youth, on leaving his uncle, went to a farm called Glanclettwr, in the neighbourhood; afterwards he lived at Penyralltfawr, at Gwenallt, and at Castell-hywel. Thus did he spend his youth in a servile condition, in the direst poverty, and without either friend or home. Of books he knew nothing; with men of general intelligence he had no acquaintance; and his very condition in life condemned him to association with whatever was rude, unreflecting, and brutal, in his neighbourhood.
Divine mercy, however, was
vouchsafed to him, and the boyish fear of death grew into habits of reflection, so that, when a somewhat extended excitement took place in the district of his residence, he found himself comprised within its influence and yielding to its sway. He does not give the date of his uniting with the presbyterians at Llwynrhydowain, but it must have been about 1782 or 1783, when he was in the sixteenth or seventeenth year of his age.
Of the whole of this period of his life, and of the predisposing causes of his seeking membership in the church under Mr. Davies's care, Christmas Evans says, “I was disturbed by certain operations of mind which, I believe, were not common, from my ninth year upwards. The fear of dying in an ungodly state especially affected me, and this apprehension clung to me till I was induced to rest upon Christ. All this was accompanied by some little knowledge of the Redeemer; and now, in my seventeenth year, I cannot deny that this concern was the dawn of the day of grace on my spirit, although mingled with much darkness and ignorance. During a revival which took place in the church under the care of Mr. David Davies, many young people united themselves with that people, and I amongst them. What became of the major part of these young converts I have never known, but I hope God's grace followed them as it did me, the meanest of the whole. One of the fruits of this awakening was the desire for religious knowledge that fell upon us. Scarcely one person out of ten could, at this time and in those neighbourhoods, read at all, even in the language of the country. We bought bibles and candles, and were accustomed to meet together in the evening, in the barn of Penyralltfawr; and thus, in about one month, I was able to read the bible in my mother tongue. I was vastly delighted with so much learning. This, however, did not satisfy me, but I borrowed books and learnt a little English. Mr. Davies, my pastor, understood that I thirsted for knowledge, and took me to his school, where I stayed for six months. Here I went through the Latin grammar; but so low were my circumstances that I could stay there no longer.” About this time it was that he lost his eye, which took place in this wise: Six young men fell upon him unawares in the darkness of night and beat him unmercifully; one of them, using a stick, struck him above the eye, which occasioned the loss of its sight, “though,” he piously observes, in recording the event, “I had my life spared.” It is a great mistake that has gone abroad which makes Christmas Evans “a noted boxer.” So far otherwise that he says, he never fought a battle in his life. Indeed, he was by no means a man of great physical courage; he was too much a man of imagination, while his habits were the simplest, the least offensive, and the most yielding that can be conceived. On the night after this accident he had a dream, in which the day of judgment was represented to him; he saw the world in a blaze, and conceived that he enjoyed great confidence in calling out, “Jesus, save me!” The Lord seemed to turn towards him and to say, “It was thy intention to preach the gospel, but now it is too late, the day of judgment is come.” This he felt as a reproof, that he had not yielded to the strong promptings of his heart to preach the gospel, and it powerfully affected his mind. It was always his firm belief that he had received some of the most important intimations of his life in dreams, and it was utterly vain to attempt to persuade him to the contrary.
To preach the gospel was now the object of his most ardent desire. There was a kind of law in force at Llwynrhy-dowain that no member of the church
should preach until he had received academical training. Of this law Mr. Davies was afterwards heard to complain; saying, it had deprived his church of the two greatest men it had ever produced, namely, Christmas Evans and the Rev. David Davies, afterwards a minister at Mynydd-bach, near Swansea, eminent for his eloquence and zeal, the publisher of a useful edition of the bible in Welsh, with brief notes appended to each chapter. These two young men commenced preaching within a week of each other, their first sermons being delivered in a cottage occupied by a tailor, in the parish of Llangeler, Caermarthenshire. Christmas preached frequently on both sides of the Teivy, and received considerable encouragement from the Rev. Mr. Perkins, then independent minister at Pencader, who frequently put him in his pulpit and evinced a kindly sympathy with the friendless and aspiring young man. His recollections of this period are perfectly characteristic of the man, and expressive of the tenderness of conscience, and the care and solicitude of his preparations for the pulpit, which distinguished him to the end of his life. He candidly confesses that his first sermon was taken from Beveridge's “Thesaurus Theologicus,” borrowed, probably, from his pastor. A Mr. Davies, an intelligent man, a farmer, heard it, and was much surprised to hear such a sermon from a poor boy. In a week's time, however, Mr. Davies had seen the book, and the sermon in it; and Christmas Evans's reputation was gone. “Still,” the good man charitably added, “I have some hope of the son of 'Samuel the shoemaker,' because the prayer was as good as the sermon.” This gave Christmas Evans no great assistance, for he had actually taken that also from a collection of prayers by the celebrated clergy man Griffith Jones of Llanddowror. Such and so humble was the commencement of that ministry, which afterwards became so mightily influential and proved of such extensive and enduring advantage to the churches of Wales. In after life no man disapproved plagiarism more than he; that is to say, the wholesale appropriation of other men's labours; but the use of all good and striking thoughts, wherever heard or read, was what he constantly and earnestly urged upon his younger brethren. During these earliest years of his preaching, he was in frequent agony of mind in reference to his own condition before God. This is, we apprehend, to be traced, in some degree, to the “uncertain sound” given forth by the ministry he had most attended. The tendency of that ministry to induce self-righteousness was constantly counteracted by his own consciousness of guilt and corruption. He frequently considered himself, he says, “a little hell,” while he had the highest opinion of other Christians, and especially of every minister. He was thus, he gratefully records the fact, preserved from the indurating influences of the low and legal Arminianism that prevailed amongst his first religious connexions. During this period he occasionally heard the celebrated David Morris, father of the still more celebrated Ebenezer Morris, both very eminent ministers of the Calvinistic methodist connexion, and he acknowledges his great obligations to Mr. Morris's preaching. One can conceive how the clear and unmistakeable manner in which these great men preached the doctrine of justification, must interest, instruct, and expand the mind and heart of the young presbyterian. The itinerating ministry of the Rev. Peter Williams, Jones of Llangan, and T. Davies of Neath, he also attended upon, and with the same happy result, as often as opportunity occurred. During the same period he became acquainted with certain members of the baptist
church in the village of Llandysul; and to his intercourse with them he always referred with marked gratification and thankfulness. They, by the simplicity of their spirit and the richness of their scriptural knowledge, strongly attracted his attention to the great doctrines of the gospel, and prepared him for the change in his connexions and position which soon ensued. A man named Amos, a member of the church at Llwynrhydowain, who had recently left that communion and joined the baptist church at Aberduar, visited Christmas Evans; the latter, with his usual simplicity, says, “I had always regarded the baptists as anabaptists, as re-baptizing, and from my infancy had always heard them called anabaptists, nor had I ever understood that any man of my condition had searched the bible for himself to ascertain what baptism it enjoined. In the controversy with my old ſriend I was pressed severely, so that I was beaten; but this I attributed to my ignorance; I therefore carefully examined the scriptures to mark down every passage that mentioned infant baptism, for I believed there were hundreds of such there. But after a careful perusal, I was terribly disappointed to find none of that character there. I met with the circumcision of children, the naming of children, the nurture and admonition of children in the fear of the Lord, and gracious promises to call children princes in the stead of their father; but not one verse about the baptizing of infants. While on the other hand, I met with about forty passages all giving their obvious suffrages in favour of baptism on a profession of repentance and faith. These passages spoke to my conscience, and convinced me of the necessity of obedience to the baptism ordained by Christ, who called upon me to give him personal obedience; when, after some contest between flesh and spirit, obedience and disobedience, I applied to the church at Aberduar, where I was in due time received. I was then about twenty years and six months old.
“There was a great revival in Aberduar at this time; scores were added to the church, and there was much excitement in the public services. This greatly astonished me, for I had known little of religious enjoyment. I had felt something of the kind once by preaching in company with a Methodist who was kind to me, and that freshness of spirit had remained some time upon me. But now with my new friends I looked at myself as ‘a speckled bird,' as I did not feel what they seemed to feel, and I was filled with most depreciatory thoughts of myself. I was brought soon to preach in company with other preachers, and I found them altogether better and godlier preachers than I was; I could feel no influence, no virtue in my own sermons. It occurred to me that this might be owing to my habit of committing my sermons carefully to memory, and that I thus superseded the divine aid; while I supposed other preachers had theirs direct from heaven. I accordingly changed my plan, and would take a text and preach from it without preparation, saying whatever would come uppermost at the time; but if it was bad before, it now was still worse, for I had neither sense, nor warmth, nor life; but some weakly intonation of voice that affected no one. It was painful to me to hear my own voice in prayer or in preaching, as it seemed to proceed from a hard heart. I travelled much in this condition, thinking every preacher a true preacher but myself; nor had I any confidence in the light I had upon scripture. I considered everybody to be before myself, and was frequently tortured with fears that I was still a graceless man. I have since seen God's goodness in all this, for thus was I kept from falling in love with my own gifts
which has happened to many young men, and has been their ruin.”
In his twenty-third year he attended an association meeting at Maesyberllan in Breconshire, where he met several ministers from North Wales, and especially Messrs. Thomas Morris and John R. Jones of Ramoth. These brethren represented to him the great necessity there was for additional preachers in the north, and earnestly besought him to accompany them thither. This, with much fear he consented to do; and behold him leaving his native district for the first time, and “going forth, not knowing whither he went.” “I went,” he says, “with them through Merionethshire, and then proceeded into Caernarvonshire, and preached wherever I might, till I got down into the extreme corner of the country called Lleyn. The baptists there were few and poor; they, however, besought me to spend some time amongst them, which I did. Immediately I experienced a remarkable change in my views and feelings: this referred to these particulars—confidence in prayer; a care for the cause of Christ; and new or additional light on the plan of salvation.” In a note on the margin of his MS. he adds, exegetically, “I then felt that I died to the law; abandoned all hope of preparing myself to apply to the Redeemer; and realized the life of faith and dependence on the righteousness of Christ for my justification.” The happy consequence was that he experienced a strange facility and power in his ministry, while his own doubts and fears were dispersed, giving way to repose and assurance, and finding “peace and joy in believing.” He found it difficult to believe the testimony of those who applied for membership when they attributed their conversion to his ministry, “because,” he observes, “I had been for three years preaching and had never received any intimation that one sinner had been converted, and also on account of the old feelings of despondence and fear which yet occasionally troubled me; still I was obliged to believe, and it was wondrous in my eyes.” He arrived in this neighbourhood about the middle of the year 1789, and early in 1790 he was ordained to the pastoral office; this took place at meeting-house called Salem, and the officiating ministers were Messrs. John Evans of Roe and Thomas Morris of Anglesea. During the same year he was united in marriage to Catherine Jones, a member of the church under his care. She was a young woman of strong mind, with much aptitude for theology, and proved herself a help meet to him for many years. His labours here, amongst a very poor people and extended over a large neighborhood, calling him out in all weathers and keeping him out from his home, night after night, and for a remuneration that barely sufficed to procure him and his wife the veriest necessaries of life, were abundantly blessed. A special benediction rested upon him; “a breeze from the New Jerusalem,” he writes, many years afterwards, “descended upon me and on the people, and many were awakened to eternal life.” During the first year he baptized fifty persons, and not less than eighty sought for church-membership, as the result of his ministry in the course of the second.
The success of the first year was not continued; that of the second year was, in good part, lost to his connexions by the addition, from under his ministry, made to the Methodists. This discouraged him considerably. He was not satisfied with the character and spirit of the leaders of his own congregation; and all these things combined, he felt himself prepared to leave. One John Jones of Nantglyn, in Anglesea, came to Lleyn to invite Mr. Evans to that island; and this the latter
regarded as a providential intimation. “I and my wife went to Anglesea,” he records, “on a day of heavy snow, about Christmas time:” this would be in the year 1792. It should, perhaps, be recorded that the pecuniary temptation to go to Anglesea was “a promise of seventeen pounds a-year!” This he mentions in his MS. without any remark; appearing to think it was all that, at the time, the people could give him; and this is, probably, the truth. The sentence has a significant close; he says that Mr. John Jones promised him seventeen pounds a-year “for serving Anglesea;” i.e., the whole island; meaning, of course, all the baptists of the island. They were not numerous, separated into several small societies, and maintaining an intimate connexion with each other. They thus invited him to take the pastoral charge of the whole; as also their ministerial charge, with such helps as the few preaching brethren amongst them might afford. To Christmas Evans, and in the history of the baptist denomination in Anglesea, this was an important epoch, and in respect to the latter, its consequences are still far from being exhausted. His crossing the Menai Straits on the Christmas day of 1792 appeared, at the time, a most trivial event; but it was one link in a chain that was to embrace multitudinous occurrences of vast interest and grave issues, involving the consolidation and extension of the cause of Christ, and the conversion of many souls to God. Thus it is that “the smallest thing rises into consequence when regarded as the commencement of what has advanced, or is advancing, into magnificence.”
He found the state of things in his new charge to be of the most discouraging nature. His first step was very characteristic: he exhorted all the members to keep a day of fasting and prayer, to humble themselves before God on account of the sin of their divisions, to cry for mercy and the restored light of his countenance. A meeting of this character was held at Llanerchymedd. “After that meeting," he observes, “it pleased the Lord to bless us, to increase our hearers, and to bring many to Christ.” Mr. Evans then divided the island into four districts, so that by preaching at three places every Lord's day, he might be able to visit every little band of disciples, and hold a sabbath service once a month. To this he added untiring labours during the week:—visiting the people at these great distances, keeping church-meetings, at tending to all the church affairs, and, soon afterwards, looking out for sites for places of worship; getting money—borrowing it, of course—to erect these “houses of prayer,” and burdening himself with much of the labour connected with the superintendence of such work, and with all the care. “The burden of the day” he resolutely bore, and “the heat thereof.” he as courageously endured, satisfied, yea, more than satisfied, when the Head of the church vouchsafed to smile upon his spirit, and make his labours a blessing.
His poverty was at this time great, so great that he distinctly specifies the necessity he was under to print a small pamphlet occasionally, that he might get a few pounds for his inevitable expenses, and then to go from home to sell his little book. “It pleased God,” he piously observes, “to bring two benefits out of my poverty; one was the extension of my ministry, so that I became almost as well known in one part of the principality as the other; and secondly, he gave me the favour and the honour to be the instrument of bringing many to Christ, through all the counties of Wales, from Presteign to St. David's and from Cardiff to Holyhead.”
In 1794, during Christmas Evans journey through the south, he attended the association at Velinfoel, in Caermarthenshire.
All bodies of dissenters in the principality hold annual meetings, which they call associations. Among the independents and baptists these are unions of a certain number of churches; and the annual meeting has the double purpose of transacting business in conference, members of churches and ministers alone being present; and of preaching to the inhabitants of that particular neighbourhood. The preaching is always in the open air, if the weather permits. A large scaffolding is erected in a field, or on the mountain side; on this the officiating preacher stands, surrounded by the other ministers who attend and other friends; and thence he addresses the congregation. The feeling formerly induced by the approach of such a meeting in the locality where it was to be held, was thoroughly jubilant; and assiduous preparations were made so as to be able to abstain from labour during the two days of the association, and “to entertain strangers.” These hospitalities were not confined to the members of the particular denomination whose forces were to assemble, but cheerfully exercised by persons of all communities and of none. It was a common thing for the clergyman of the parish to have open house, and readily to entertain those that were sent to him. A truce was now given to all religious differences; and I have been once and again told by a kindly officious brother, directing me to my lodgings, “Please to remember that your host is a pedobaptist,” lest I might inconsiderately introduce the disputed question! On such occasions very large congregations would frequently assemble, the preacher would have to address thousands of human beings; it is keeping quite within compass to say, that John Elias, Ebenezer Morris, William Williams, Christmas Evans, and other excellent men, their contemporaries and coadjutors, many times addressed congregations varying from two to fifteen thousand. This was always at the very beginning of the summer, with the green sward under foot, and the blue heavens above! In this instance, at Velinfoel, Mr. Evans was to preach at the morning meeting, which commenced at ten o'clock. The day was very sultry, and two good brethren were to preach before him; the second in English. The latter was long, or seemed to be long; and when Mr. Evans was to begin his discourse the people seemed wearied and jaded. His subject was the return of the prodigal son; as he proceeded, one man, who had sat down on the grass, got up here, another there; the people closed in together about the platform, looked hard at the preacher, nodded approvingly to each other, wondered, felt, wept, wept aloud, at once with joy and sorrow; powerful emotions were produced that continued through all the remaining services, and remained in many hearts for their everlasting salvation. This was his first introduction to South Wales of so prominent character; and it made the name of Christmas Evans, “the one-eyed man,” common “as household words.”
March, 1847 -- p. 133.
During Mr. Evans's residence in Anglesea, much of his cares referred to chapel debts. An entrance was effected for the Preaching of the gospel—hearers crowded together whenever a preacher visited the neighbourhood. A site was obtained for a meeting-house; Christmas Evans's name, and that of some other friend, readily procured the loan of money; and in two or three years, either the payment of the interest pressed, or the money was called in. In this case, what was to be done Christmas Evans must go to the richer churches and Congregations of South Wales, and ask for assistance.
For many years he went to South Wales twice a-year—once to the associations, and once in the winter with a chapel case. To him this winter-journey was a most laborious one, and involved the most painful sacrifices. It must be remembered that he always travelled on horseback; that his constitution was one of the most unhappily formed—exposing him to all the horrors of a most excitably nervous temperament, as well as to all the inconveniences of a most capricious appetite; add to this, that he was at all times incapable of taking any efficient care of himself in dress, in health, or in travelling arrangements; and it will be easily discerned that in every long journey—say of six weeks' or two months’ duration—he endured two or three martyrdoms. The accommodation in four-sixths of the places would, of necessity, be of the coarsest kind. Nor was that his greatest difficulty; but when the friends got him “genteel lodgings,” there he found for his supper delicious meats and rich confectioneries, instead of the “flummery and milk” in which he delighted.
The people every where welcomed his presence. At the close of the sermon he stated his case; then he went to the door, hat in hand, and received the contributions of the friends. This he did for many years, until, having been again and again seriously indisposed in consequence, he latterly asked some friend
connected with the place to stand at the door; but, then, with an apology to the people for the apparent inattention and disrespect involved in his not personally receiving their gifts of love and kindness.
The ministers in the south sometimes intimated that he came too often; that he built too many places of worship; that it might be better, probably, to wait till the people of Anglesea were able to do something more towards erecting their own houses of prayer, &c. To all this he would say, “What can I do? The people crowd to hear us; it is our duty to accommodate them as well as we possibly can. All we have we give. To you much is given, you can give much. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
The sums of money he collected for these purposes we have no means of ascertaining; but we have a record to the effect that he travelled from North to South Wales and back no less than forty times. During the whole journey, which on an average would be of six weeks' duration, it must be borne in mind that he preached, at least, once every day in the week, and twice on the Lord's day. He adds that he has never heard of another minister, even among the methodists, who has made the whole journey more than fifteen times. Thus was Christmas Evans “in labours more abundant,” and thus did he “make full proof of his ministry.”
A heavy affliction befell Mr. Evans in the year 1823, which soon concentrated itself in his eye. This came on during a journey towards the south, and kept him several months in Aberystwyth, under medical treatment. It was remarked that his spirit was sustained in great cheerfulness throughout a period of some nine months, during which he was unable to preach; and, for a considerable time, he had scarcely any hope to escape from utter blindness. He seemed to believe he had much work before him, and he waited with patience the return of sight and health. The friends at Aberystwyth paid him every possible attention; while, from Mr. Evans, the pastor of the baptist church, and from Mr. Simon James of Penrhyncoch, he received uninterruptedly such sympathetic kindness as ministers of Christ can and love to supply to each other. Before he had completely recovered, he returned home: and now a series of occurrences commenced which extended over the following two years, and issued in his leaving North Wales. The reader will bear in mind that Christmas Evans had become, by a kind of necessity, pastor of all the churches in his connexion in Anglesea; the other ordained brethren were, indeed, co-pastors, but co-pastors with him over all the churches. In proportion as some of the societies—those in towns, for instance—increased and strengthened, they became solicitous to have separate pastors of their own. To this there could be no objection, but that which arose from considerations of convenience and mutual edification. Many and anxious deliberations ensued, in which it is scarcely possible for the most ardent admirers of Mr. Evans to allege that he was always, and exclusively, in the right. The younger men among the preachers could scarcely sympathize with him at all in his attachment to the system, or rather no-system, which had obtained amongst the Anglesea baptists; the middle-aged men would be much divided between their approval of the congregational system and their deference to the sense of duty and propriety, which, under the then present circumstances of the interest there, Mr. Evans keenly felt and sturdily avowed. He maintained, that with numerous but feeble churches, it was better to proceed with the modified congregationalism he had been obliged to adopt, than to carry
out fully, and without qualification, the entire independent platform. This he would seek to prove by reference to the success of the Methodist economy in England and Wales; admitting, the while, that the New Testament economy unequivocally favoured the separate existence and separate government of each Christian church. The first result was a kind of compromise—not avowed on either hand to be one—which resulted in the settlement of a pastor over the church at Holyhead. So far, matters went on pretty smoothly; but, in two or three other settlements, the churches did not satisfy him. They refused the men he recommended. He thought this conduct neither grateful to him nor beneficial to themselves. To think, with him, was generally to speak; and he, with little hesitation, told the parties his opinion of them and their proceedings. They, being so much his juniors, and not a few of them belonging to the generation that “knew not Joseph,” treated his remonstrances and defeat with indifference, not to say some little contemptuous triumph; and he found himself, in certain parts of the island, superseded by his own children, or, what was more galling, by strangers. In the misunderstandings and heart-burnings that ensued, another agency was plied against him—the charge of Fullerism, alias (in the estimation of Anglesea orthodoxy) Arminianism. The truth, I believe, is, that the writings and conversation of such men as Harris of Swansea, Davies of Tredegar, Micah Thomas of Abergavenny, and others in their way of thinking, had somewhat modified his severe Calvinism just at this time. Whatever modification his thoughts underwent speedily transferred itself to his sermons; and there can be little doubt but that, in some instances, he would have uttered himself in a manner strangely dissonant to (what his unreading hearers, even among the preachers, considered) Welsh baptist “soundness in the faith.” That, at the time, he really came down from the stern and severe rigidity of hyper-calvinism, I firmly believe; for while at no period in his ministry had he at all hesitated to “preach the gospel to every creature,” there would be generally in the sermon a position or two which, in logical accuracy, contradicted such preaching. I am credibly informed by persons who well knew Christmas Evans at that period of his ministry, that the general texture and complexion of his preaching was much expanded and liberalized; and so much so, I apprehend, was this the case, as to give those who were already intent upon annoyance, some rather colourable pretext for their mischievous activity. Still, in the majority of instances, it was only a pretext; and gladly did those who were either tired of his control, or determined upon provocation, avail themselves of it. Without the slightest hesitation of conscience or prudence, the odium theologicum was resorted to; and he who was the father of the churches found his name given out “for evil,” as a teacher of heresy and a corrupter of the faith. That Christmas Evans never deserved these railing accusations was made evident to all but the parties immediately concerned, by the circumstance that some of the pastors chosen in the island were, in his opinion, “too much inclined to Arminianism.” This “unsoundness in the faith" was, however, a capital outcry, and not a few of his own converts joined in it. Unfriendliness was excited by this means towards him in many minds accustomed to regard him with reverence. He was deeply grieved and wounded; and, notwithstanding his age and long residence in Anglesea, he gradually came to think that it was his lot to leave it before he died. In addition to this cause of discouragement, an
old charge was brought up against him, referring to a period thirty-four years previously and which, had it been true, involved no criminality. But it was false; and the circumstance of its being made by a brother (?), at that disstance [sic] of time, and with the obvious purpose of inflicting injury upon him at the close of his life, penetrated him with agony; and, operating with the other causes specified, determined him to follow the leadings of providence, if, haply, the Lord, whose he was, and whom he served, might employ him in some other portion of his vineyard.
It was in the year 1826 that the baptist church at Tonyvelin, Caerphilly, being left destitute by the resignation from all obduracy. The struggle lasted some hours. I was enabled to entrust the care of my ministry to Jesus Christ with a confidence that delivered me from all my afflictions. I again made a covenant with God, which I never wrote.” Thus, casting all his care upon God, and strengthening himself in the might of Christ, did Christmas Evans leave his old home friends, and, in the sixtieth year of his age, undertake a new pastorate and enter upon new scenes. His arrival at Caerphilly was an event in the history of the village, and of nonconformity. Until he had actually come, it was generally believed that his heart would fail him in the hour of trial, and that he would never be able to leave Anglesea. I well remember the wonderment and gladness with which the report was propagated and received, “Christmas Evans is come!” Are you sure of it?” “Yes, quite sure of it; he preached at Caerphilly last Sunday. That I know from a friend who was there.” So general was the interest excited by his having actually become a resident in South Wales, that it extended to all denominations, and embraced all conditions of people. He was settled in the chapel house, and a housekeeper was provided for him. The modes of living were, however, so different from those to which he had always been accustomed, and he found so little sympathy in this respect, that he told a friend he must get a servant from the north. It was suggested to him that he had better marry again; and the name of an excellent woman was mentioned, with the addition that she had some wealth, and that he might considerably better himself by the alliance. He seemed to think earnestly for a moment; then broke out, “Oh, oh! I tell you, brother, it is my firm opinion that I am never to have any property in the soil of this world until I have a grave. I shall then have my full share
of it;” and he would talk no more on the subject. He soon induced a good minister of the neighbourhood, the late Mr. Davies of Argoed, to take his horse and go to Anglesea for his old and faithful servant Mary Evans, whom he in a short time married, and who paid him the most untiring and affectionate attentions to the last moment of his life.
He had scarcely commenced his ministry at Caerphilly before very unusal effects were produced. The neighbourhood was at once subjected to deep religious attention and concern. Eloquent and mighty as Mr. Evan’s preaching had always been, those who had heard him oftenest, and were best fitted to form a sound opinion, thought he now surpassed himself at any former period. By preaching every Lord's day to the same congregation—a hard task to begin with at his age—he was committed to extraordinary labour, which, however, he resolutely encountered and successfully achieved. It now became apparent, contrary to a pretty prevalent opinion, that his good preaching was not confined to a few sermons, slowly prepared and often repeated; but that he was quite capable, from week to week, to get up discourses quite equal to his greatest and most celebrated single efforts.
At this time persons might be seen, every Lord's day morning, wending their way across the surrounding hills, in all directions, towards the quiet village of Caerphilly, to hear Christmas Evans. On their return they detailed to their neighbours the wonderful things they had heard; and, throughout a large portion of the counties of Glamorgan and Monmouth, Christmas Evans's sermon in the morning would be the subject of conversation in hundreds of houses, at great distances, on the same evening. The power of his preaching was especially felt by the young people in and about the village; and not a few of the most determined votaries of pleasure submitted themselves to the authority of Christ, and became members of the church. About one hundred and forty persons were, in a short time, added to the number of the disciples; while confidence, buoyancy, and joy, were infused into the whole community.
When he had spent about two years at Caerphilly, he put into execution his purpose of leaving, and accepted an invitation to take the oversight of the Welsh baptist church at Cardiff, in the same county, whence in 1832 he removed to Caernarvon.
At the end of his first year at Caernarvon, Christmas Evans writes:—
“I have much cause to thank God for his grace to me in this place. Many things are better than they were twelve months ago. All was then a desolate wilderness—yea, the dwelling-place of dragons, [where they took their rest, day and night, Sunday and holyday]. I know not what the Lord may be pleased to do here again for the praise of the glory of his grace. The sin of drunkenness and the spirit of strife have been the greatest hindrances that I have met with in the town. Oh, it is most difficult to raise again a fallen cause! for Satan has a double advantage in this case—gathering disgrace from the immorality of professors, and thence manufacturing continuous objections to the discredit of religion.”
Again, with the low state of the church, came the interminable annoyance of the debt on the meeting-house. Though, by almost a miraculous effort, Mr. John Edwards, sent forth by the church, collected L400; finding a “specimen of Welsh eloquence” which he carried with him, a ready introduction to all descriptions of persons; still there was the remainder, a burden which the church could not bear, and for which Mr. Jones of Liverpool was now solely
and personally responsible. With characteristic ardour Mr. Evans determined on another visit to South Wales in this behalf.
Accordingly, on the 10th day of April, Mr. Evans, with his wife and young friend, a preacher, Mr. Hughes, left Caernarvon; and he safely reached South Wales. A few days afterwards he was taken ill at Tredegar, and was laid up for a week at the house of Mr. Thomas Griffiths.
Mr. Evans left Tredegar and proceeded through Caerphilly, Cardiff, Cowbridge, Bridgend, and Neath, arriving in Swansea on Saturday, July 14. He and Mrs. Evans became the very welcome guests of the Rev. D. Davies, pastor of the Welsh church in the town. He preached on the Lord's day at the Welsh chapel, twice, with great power, though he was evidently suffering much from indisposition. On Monday afternoon he went out and took tea with Mr. David Walters, a gentleman whom he had long known, and who was always proud to see and entertain him. On the same evening he preached in English at Mount Pleasant Chapel, in the pulpit then occupied by the writer. His text was Luke xxiv. 47. He was very feeble, and, with the difficulty he always felt in preaching English, he seemed much tried in this last attempt. Still a few gleams of his usual brilliance shot athwart the congregation, and vastly interested it. “‘Beginning at Jerusalem.’ Why at Jerusalem? The apostles were to begin there because its inhabitants had been witness to the life and death of Christ. There he had preached, wrought miracles, been crucified, and rose again. Here, on the very spot of his deepest degradation, he was also to be exalted. He had been crucified as a malefactor, he was now to be exalted in the same place as a king. Here were accorded to him the first-fruits of his resurrection. On the day of Pentecost all Jerusalem was against him. The fleet of the enemy was strong and well manned; he had but some twelve steamboats. ‘What wilt thou, O Jesus, attack the enemy with those few boats of thine?” “Yes, I will.” The action commences: the boats take their place alongside of the men-of-war; actually throw their grappling-irons on board—desperately attaching themselves to the mighty four deckers. Fearful cannonading ensues; all is smoke, darkness, and confusion. Hark! you only hear some agonizing groans; the firing has ceased. Behold, the clouds disperse, and the light of heaven breaks in fully on the amazing scene; and—infinite amazement! miracle of wonders!—the small boats have taken three thousand prisoners in this one engagement!” “‘At Jerusalem, Lord?’ ‘Yes.” “Why, Lord, there are the men who crucified thee: we are not to preach it to them!” “Yes, preach it to all.” “To the man that plaited the crown of thorns, and placed it on thy head? ‘Yes; tell him that from my degradation he may attain a crown of glory.’ “Suppose we meet the very man that nailed thy sacred hands and feet to the cross—the very man that pierced thy side—that spat in thy face?’ “Preach the gospel to them all; tell them all that I am the Saviour; that all are welcome to participate in the blessings of my salvation; that I am the same Lord over all, and rich unto all that call upon me.’”
In the act of coming down the pulpit stairs, he said, loud enough to be heard by many present, and in English, “This is my last sermon.” And so it proved. He was taken very ill in the course of the night, was worse throughout the following day. On Wednesday he seemed better, but all favourable symptoms had given way to the pressure of disease on Thursday, and he at last consented to send for medical assistance. When the
surgeon came, Mr. Evans asked him earnestly when he thought he might be able to commence his work again. About two o'clock the next morning, Mr. Davies and Mr. Hughes were called to him. He thanked the former for the kind attention paid by him and Mrs. Davies; and then said, “I am leaving you; I have been labouring in the sanctuary for fifty-three years, and my confidence and consolation, at this crisis, is, that I have not laboured without blood in the vessel. Preach Christ to the people, brethren. Look at me in myself, I am nothing but ruin; but look at me in Christ, I am heaven and salvation.” He added, in a joyous strain, four lines of a Welsh hymn; then, waving his hand, he said in English, “Good bye! – drive on!" and sunk into a calm sleep, awaking no more. This was on Thursday morning, July 19th, 1838. Thus died, full of years, labours, and honours, and on the high places of the field, Christmas Evans,—a prince in Israel, a captain of the hosts of the living God. He had fought a good fight, had finished his course, and had kept the faith: henceforth he rests from his labours, and his works do follow him.
[Abridged from a Publication by David Rhys Stephen, in The Baptist Magazine, February and March, 1847, pp. 69-75 & 133-139; via Internet document. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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