Christmas Evans: “The One-Eyed Preacher Of Anglesea”
By James Gilchrist Lawson
Christmas Evans, often called “The John Bunyan of Wales,” was born on Christmas day, 1766, hence his name Christmas. His parents were very poor. His father died when he was nine years of age, and little Christmas did chores for six years for a cruel, ungodly uncle. His education was neglected, and at the age of seventeen he could not read a word.
Many accidents and misfortunes befell him. Once he was stabbed in a quarrel, once nearly drowned, once he fell from a high tree with an open knife in his hand, and once a horse ran away with him and dashed at full speed through a low and narrow passage. After his conversion to Christ some of his former ungodly companions waylaid him at night and unmercifully beat him so that he lost one eye in consequence. But God mercifully preserved him through all these trials.
He left his cruel uncle at the age of seventeen, and soon afterwards, during a revival, he identified himself with the church. From an early age he had many religious impressions, but he did not decide for Christ until his seventeenth year. New desires then awoke in his soul and he began to study to learn to read and improve his mind.
He soon felt a call to the ministry, and this feeling was deepened by a remarkable dream he had concerning the second coming of Christ. He felt that he was only a mass of sin and ignorance, and was much discouraged by his early efforts to preach. He memorized the prayers and sermons of others and tried to pray and preach them.
In 1790 he was ordained and commenced work as a missionary among some of the humbler churches. He was surprised at first to see people brought to God through his ministry, but the Lord greatly blessed him, and his meetings began to attract widespread attention. He made a tour of South Wales on foot and sometimes preached as many as five times during one Sunday. Although he was shabbily dressed and awkward, large crowds came to hear him preach, and often there were tears, weeping and uncontrollable excitement. His sermons took great hold upon the people.
At twenty-six years of age, Evans began to preach among the churches on the island of Anglesea, on the Welsh coast, preaching the Gospel with much success. Here many of the churches had been carried away by false teachings. The leader of the sect was a brilliant and cultured orator, and for years Christmas Evans labored and preached to counteract his teachings.
Seeking Closer Fellowship with God
Evans’ controversies with the false teaching brought him into a place where he had lost much of the spirit of prayer and sweetness so necessary for the enjoyment of a Christian life. He felt an intense need and longing for a closer fellowship with God. He describes as follows the manner in which he sought and obtained the richer and fuller Christian experience that he so much desired, and which set his soul on fire with divine unction and power as he had never experienced before.
“I was weary,” says he, “of a cold heart towards Christ and His atonement, and the work of His Spirit – of a cold heart in the pulpit, in secret prayer and in study, especially when I remembered that for fifteen years before, that heart had been burning within me as if I were on the way toward Emmaus with Jesus. A day came at last, a day ever to be remembered by me, when I was on my way from Dolgelly to Machynlleth, and climbing up towards Cadair Idris.
“I felt it my duty to pray, though my heart was hard enough and my spirit worldly. After I had commenced in the name of Jesus, I soon felt as if the shackles were falling off, and as if the mountains of snow and ice were melting within me. This gendered confidence in my mind for the promise of the Holy Ghost. I felt my whole spirit relieved of some great bondage, and as if it were rising up from the grave of a severe winter. My tears flowed copiously, and I was constrained to cry aloud and pray for the gracious visits of God, for the joy of His salvation, and that He would visit again the churches in Anglesea that were under my care.
“I embraced in my supplications all of the churches, and prayed by name for most of the preachers of Wales. This struggle lasted for three hours. It would come over me again and again, like one wave after another, like a tide driven by a strong wind, until my physical power was greatly weakened by weeping and crying. Thus I gave myself up wholly to Christ, body and soul, talents and labors – all my life – every day, and every hour that remained to me, and all my cares I entrusted into the hands of Christ.
“The road was mountainous and lonely, so that I was alone, and suffered no interruption in my wrestlings with God. This event caused me to expect a new revelation of God’s goodness to myself and the churches. Thus the Lord delivered me and the people of Anglesea from being swept away by the evils of the false teaching. The former striving with God in prayer, and the longing anxiety for the conversion of sinners, which I had experienced [earlier], were now restored. I had a hold of the promise of God.
“The result was, when I returned home, the first thing that attracted my notice was that the Spirit was working also in the brethren in Anglesea, inducing in them a spirit of prayer. Two of the deacons were particularly importunate that God should visit us in mercy, and render the Word of His grace effectual amongst us in the conversion of sinners.”
It was doubtless about the time of this remarkable experience of the anointing of the Holy Spirit that Christmas Evans wrote “a solemn covenant with God,” to every article of which he signed his initials. In one he wrote, “Give me a heart ‘sick of love’ to Thee and to the souls of men. Grant that I may feel the power of Thy Word before preaching it, as Moses felt the power of his rod before he felt the effect of it on the land and waters of Egypt. For the sake of Thy precious blood, Jesus, my all in all, grant me this.”
After his entire consecration to God, and after receiving the anointing of the Holy Spirit while he wrestled in prayer on his way from Dolgelly to Machynlleth, Christmas Evans began to preach with new unction and power. A great revival spread from preacher to people all over the island of Anglesea, and then over the whole of Wales. “Dear old Christmas,” as he was familiarly called in his old age, finished his course with joy, and fell asleep in Christ July 23, 1838, with a song of victory on his lips.
– From The Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians by James Gilchrist Lawson.