Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Christmas Evans - A biographical stetch (Part 1)

Christmas Evans – "The One Eyed Bunyan of Wales"

If you are sitting comfortably, dear reader, I would like to tell you the story of Christmas Evans. He was a man of lowly birth, and little education. But in the hands of God he became one of the most eloquent and powerful preachers in Wales from the late 18th to the early 19th century. Great crowds would gather to hear his vivid, imaginative sermons.

His early life

On the evening of 25th December 1766, Samuel and Johanna Evans welcomed their second child into the world. Because of the day on which he has born, they decided to call their son Christmas Evans. Christmas’ mother, it seems was a godly woman, who often urged her little boy to think of his eternal welfare. However, tragedy was soon to strike in the Evans household, as Christmas’ father died, plunging the family into terrible poverty. Johanna’s brother, a farmer from, Bwlchog, offered to take little Christmas under his wing. He promised the child food and board in exchange for help on the farm.

But Uncle James was a cruel man, given to drink and a harsh task-master. In the six years that Christmas spent with his uncle, he was starved of affection and deprived of even the most basic education. At the age of seventeen, the poor lad was illiterate.

His conversion

Evans left the tender care of his uncle and sought work as a farm labourer. This was a lonely and difficult time in Christmas’ life. But God had plans for this young man. He began attending the Presbyterian chapel in Llwynrhydowan. The minister was David Davies. He was, a learned man and something of a poet, but his views on the Person of Christ were decidedly unorthodox. Around 1783, revival broke out in the area and many of the young people, including Christmas Evans were awakened. He later testified,

The fear of dying in an ungodly state especially affected me (even from childhood), and this apprehension clung to me till I was induced to rest on Christ. All this was accompanied by some little knowledge of the Redeemer, and now, in my seventieth 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.

Evans separated himself from his old worldly companions and began learn to read, having just bought a copy of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Evans and few other young people from the church would meet together in a barn with candles and Bibles, for impromptu reading classes. They all had a real thirst for knowledge and understanding. Within a month, Evans was no longer illiterate. He could read his Welsh Bible and began to borrow books in English too. From and educational point of view, Evans was a late developer. But his conversion gave him a life-long love of study and learning. Intellectual gifts that had lain dormant were awakened. He later became proficient in Hebrew and Greek and was deeply familiar with the theological works of the Baptist John Gill and the great puritan divine, John Owen.

For Evans, there was no doubt that the Bible itself is the best book of all,

The Bible is the Book of books, a Book breathed out of heaven…I am very grateful for books written by man, but it is God’s Book that sheds the light of life everlasting on all other books.

Although his minister’s views were unorthodox, he was a kindly man, who encouraged Evan’s quest for learning. He arranged for him to study at his school for six months, free of charge. This was the only period of formal education in Christmas Evans’ life.

Evans’ former friends resented his sudden conversion experience. Six of them attacked him as he was walking home one evening. They beat him unmercifully and one of their number hit him in the eye with a stick. This resulted in the loss of the eye. Hence Christmas Evans would be known as “the one-eyed preacher from Wales”. One contemporary account of his appearance as a grown man puts it somewhat quaintly, “He had lost one of his eyes in his youth, but the other was large and bright enough for two.”

His baptism

As Christmas grew in understanding and discernment, he became increasingly dissatisfied with the preaching of his minister. He began to listen to preachers who taught sound doctrine with power and authority. One of his friends, named Amos had left the Presbyterian Church and joined the Calvinistic Baptists. At first, Evans criticised Amos' Baptist convictions. But his friend was not to be moved. This forced Evans to search the Scriptures to bolster his own infant Baptist views. But the result of his quest was not quite as he expected,

I went home and I therefore fully examined the Scriptures to mark down every passage that mentioned infant baptism, for I believed there were hundreds of such there. But after careful perusal I was terribly disappointed to find none of that character there. I met with about forty passages, all giving their suffrages in favour of baptism on a profession of repentance and faith.

It says something for his humility and honesty, that Evans renounced his former views and joined the Baptist Church. At the age of twenty he was baptised the river Duar by Timothy Thomas, the Calvinistic Baptist minister. This was a time of revival in the fellowship with scores of people being added to the Church. Evans benefited greatly from the warm, orthodox preaching of his new pastor. He became more and more established in the doctrines of sovereign grace.
Click on the label below for the rest of the series.

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