Christmas Evans, the prince of Welsh preachers, was born on the 25th of December, 1766, and named after that day. His father was very poor, and died when Christmas was about the age of nine, leaving him in such neglect that he could not read when he was fifteen. Mourning this ignorance he resolved to learn, and soon plodded through 'Pilgrim's Progress.'
At eighteen he was converted and united with the Arminian Presbyterians. Soon he held religious services in cottages, having memorized one of Bishop Beveridge's sermons and one of Mr. Roland's. These were delivered in such a wonderful manner, that when a hearer knew them to be mere recitations, he remarked that 'there must be something in that unlettered boy, for the prayer was as good as the sermon.' Alas! master, that also was taken from a book.
Evans went to school for a time to Rev. Mr. Davis, but, having no means to prosecute his studies, started for England to labor as a farmer in the harvest-field. Discouraged, he nearly abandoned the idea of entering the ministry, and, in fact, became almost indifferent to religion. Just then he fell into the hands of a mob, and received a blow which left him insensible, and his right eye blind for life. His narrow escape aroused him to new diligence, and shortly after he was immersed on his faith in Christ in the river Duar, by Rev. Timothy Thomas, and united with the Baptist Church at Aberduar.
At the age of twenty-two he was ordained at Lleyn as the pastor of five small Baptist Churches there. Frequently he walked twenty miles and preached four or five times on the Sabbath with marked results, he was captivated by the preaching of Robert Roberts, a hunch-backed Calvinistic Methodist, of marked eccentricities, and said that from him he had 'obtained the keys of the level,' whatever that may be. In a short time Evans evinced remarkable preaching powers. He traveled on foot through town and village, crowds gathering into chapels and burying-grounds, on week-days and in the midst of harvest, while many were converted and immersed. His fame spread on the wings of the winds, and multitudes followed him from place to place.
In 1791 he removed to the isle of Anglesea, taking charge of the two Baptist Churches there, on a salary of £17 per annum. Besides the two chapels, he had eight preaching stations and no other Baptist minister near him. The Churches were in a cold and distracted state, but his labors were soon followed by powerful religious revivals.
In 1794 he went far to attend the meetings of the Association, which met at Velin Voel, in the open air and in the hottest of weather. Two ministers had preached in a tedious way and the heat had almost stupefied the people, when Evans commenced the third sermon. In a few minutes the people began to weep and praise God, to leap and clap their hands for joy, and the greatest excitement continued through the entire day and night, the crowd saying to each other: 'The one-eyed man of Anglesea is a prophet sent from God!'
For years he attended the meetings of this body, and here he preached his famous sermon on the demoniac of Gadara. That sermon held the vast throng spell-bound for three hours; for Christmas drew such a picture before them as even Jean Paul Richter never drew. The vast throng was beside itself, numbers threw themselves on the ground, as if an earthquake rocked beneath them. They had a clear vision of the naked maniac, full of burning anger and wild gesture, with fiend's eyes, fierce and full of flame. They saw his paroxysms which broke the chains that held him, as threads of tow, when he bounded away like a wild beast, to leap upon harmless men. He lived in rocks, slept in tombs with the dead, haunted these dismal abodes like a midnight ghost and made them echo with loud blasphemies. All feared him as a demon and none dared approach him. His wife was broken-hearted, and his children desolate. In lucid moments he was gentle, then he roared like a lion, howled like a wolf, raved like a tiger, the terror of Gadara; until Jesus came, quelled the storm, restored the tortured mind and filled the land with joy. Then came his picture of the swine wallowing in destruction, the punishment of their selfish owners and great doctrinal truths, which produced an effect scarcely credible, but for full and clear testimony.
In 1826, when the preaching stations in Anglesea had increased to scores and the preachers to twenty-eight, he left that island and settled as pastor at Caerphilly, where he soon added one hundred and forty members to his Church by baptism. He remained here but two years when he removed to Cardiff, and in two years more to Caernarvon, where he contended with great difficulties from church debts and dissension.
When on a collecting tour for that Church he died suddenly at Swansea, July 19th, 1838, in the seventy-second year of his age and the fifty-fourth of his wonderful ministry. As he passed from earth he said: 'I am leaving you; I have labored in the sanctuary fifty-three years, and this is my comfort, that I have never labored without blood in the basin!' With his last breath he referred to a verse in an old Welsh hymn, then waved his hand as if with Elijah in the chariot of fire, and cried: 'Wheel about, coachman; drive on!'
He had preached one hundred and sixty-three times before Baptist Associations and paid forty visits to South Wales, so that he held front rank in the Welsh ministry for more than half a century without a stain on his moral character. In person he stood about six feet high, with an athletic frame—a very Anakim—and his head covered with thick, coarse, black hair. His bearing was dignified, notwithstanding an unwieldy gait, arising from an inequality of limbs, inducing an able writer to say that 'he appeared like one composed on the day after a great battle out of the scattered members of the slain;' or as a Yorkshire man expressed it to the writer, 'like a book taken in numbers, with some wanting.' His face betokened great intelligence and amiability, his eyebrows were dark and heavily arched. and his one, large, dreamy eye was very brilliant. Robert Hall said of him that he was 'the tallest, stoutest, greatest man he ever saw; that he had but one eye, if it could be called an eye; it was more properly a brilliant star; it shined like Venus! and would light an army through a forest on a dark night.'
This evangelical seraph of one eye, like all seraphs, had a warm and quick temperament, held under perfect control; and though his sustained power of imagination was astonishing, he was very dignified in debate. His piety was simple, modest and ardent. The writer thinks that one of the best tests of true power in a preacher is the character of his public prayers, and once asked an old and intelligent Welshman who had often heard Evans, to describe these. He replied: 'They were commonly short, but he seldom stopped until the tears rolled down his cheeks from his one eye and the empty socket of the other, while pleading for the special influences of the Holy Spirit that day.' Here was a secret of his eloquence which cannot be described more than the warm breathings of seraphim can be depicted. His voice had great compass and melody, his gestures were easy and forceful, and his composition crowded with metaphor and allegory. His style was more than original, it was unique, bearing the stamp of high genius, as every sentence carried his own spirit and its expression to others in the nicest shadings of fervent thought. The press has given us two hundred of his sermons, which were methodical and strong in their unity. The Bible was as real to him as his own life, and hence, he drew the history and doctrine of the cross in true lines. He was more luminous in exposition, and fuller of imagery than Whitefield. His descriptions were pure inspirations of the imagination, and his sentences were the joint language of feeling and logic. After the ideal of Horace, men wept when he shed real tears. He breathed that vehement thought and passion into his speech which Longinus called 'a divine frenzy.' But his preaching was governed by a sense of obligation to God and the grandeur of love to man. These took his own soul by storm and stormed the souls of others. His one theme was Christ, his one aim to save guilty men, pulling them out of the fire, and so his pulpit power increased to the last. God put honor upon him, as he always has upon such men, 'and much people was added unto the Lord.'
From A History of the Baptists...to the year 1886 by Thomas Armitage. New York: Bryan, Taylor & Co., 1887.
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