Evan Roberts and the Welsh Revival

This is the day that …Evan Roberts was born in Wales in 1878.

Twenty-six years later God used this young Calvinistic-Methodist to ignite a revival fire across that land. With his “scorched Bible” (it had been damaged in a mine explosion), Evan Roberts prayed and preached. Sometimes he wept in the pulpit. Other times he simply talked in between songs and testimonies.

Converted in his teenage years, Roberts was faithful to Christian principles, church attendance, prayer and Bible study. He was known as an exemplary Christian young man. Leaving school at age 11, to work with his father in coal mines, he spent 12 years underground. Then for more than a year he was apprenticed to a blacksmith.

In the Spring of 1904 Evan experienced an increased sense of God’s presence. One night he woke from his sleep and was led into a deep communion with his Lord for hours. Every evening for the following months this experience was repeated.

Here is how Roberts described his experience to W.T. Stead in 1905: “For a long, long time I was much troubled in my soul and my heart by thinking over the failure of Christianity. Oh! it seemed such a failure—such a failure—and I prayed and prayed, but nothing seemed to give me any relief. But one night, after I had been in great distress praying about this, I went to sleep, and at one o’clock in the morning suddenly I was waked up out of my sleep, and I found myself with unspeakable joy and awe in the very presence of the Almighty God. And for the space of four hours I was privileged to speak face to face with Him as a man speaks face to face with a friend. At five o’clock it seemed to me as if I again returned to earth.”

Feeling a calling to win people for Christ, his only available option for training was for the Presbyterian ministry. He attended a Grammar school to prepare for theological studies. A few weeks after arriving at the school he attended a Convention at nearby Blaenanerch and there he experienced what he called his “Baptism in the Spirit”, as he responded to the prayer “Bend me oh Lord”.

This experienced radicalised his life and turned him into the Welsh Revivalist. His initial message was simply: Confess all known sin; Deal with and get rid of anything ‘doubtful’ in your life; Be ready to obey the Holy Spirit instantly; and Confess Christ publicly.

As he took that message to the valleys of South Wales, the 1904 Welsh Revival saw “100,000 outsiders converted and added to the Churches” within a year, writes Colin Whittaker (Great Revivals, page 95).

And then, some two years later, Evan Roberts faced health challenges and went to stay with Mrs Jessie Penn-Lewis, a wealthy English lady, and her husband. Together they published a magazine, The Overcomer (God’s Generals, by R. Liardon, page 99) and he co-authored with her the book, War on the Saints. This book drew from his revival experiences and taught saints how to do spiritual warfare. Watchman Nee credited Roberts with recovering the truth of Spiritual Warfare to the church.

Evan Roberts eventually left the Penn-Lewis home, lived alone in Sussex, and wrote booklets. He devoted himself to prayer for the kingdom of God to be established. He saw that his health challenges led him to a private ministry of reclusive prayer.

Later he moved back to Wales, and died there, in January, 1951, at the age of 72. The impact of his private years of prayer ministry may not be known until we reach heaven.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.