Thursday, January 11, 2007

Christmas Evans - A biographical stetch (Part 3)

Christmas Evans "The One Eyed Bunyan of Wales"
His struggles in the Christian life

As we noted earlier, Christmas Evans struggled to find assurance of salvation. The other great struggle in his Christian pilgrimage was caused by his adoption of Sandemanian doctrine while ministering on Anglesey. This teaching, takes its name from Robert Sandeman of the Church of Scotland. He and his followers taught that faith is mere intellectual assent. To Sandemanians, feelings and emotions do not matter – assent to orthodox doctrinal propositions is the thing. William Williams the hymn writer accurately described this tendency, “it sets naked faith as the chief thing, believing without power, making little of conviction and of a broken heart.”

Sandemanianism is the enemy of vital godliness, “True religion is more than a notion/ something must be known and felt”. Evans’ ministry was adversely affected by his new-found Sandemanian teaching,

The Sandemanian heresy affected me so far as to quench the spirit of prayer for the conversion of sinners, and it induced in my mind a greater regard for the smaller things of the kingdom of heaven than for the greater. I lost the strength which clothed my mind with zeal, confidence and earnestness in the pulpit for the conversion of souls to Christ. My heart retrograded in a manner and I could not realise the testimony of a good conscience. On Sabbath nights after having been in the day exposing and vilifying with all bitterness the errors that prevailed, my conscience felt displeased and reproached me that I had lost nearness to, and walking with God. It had disastrous results among the churches. I lost in Anglesey nearly all my old hearers and we thus almost entirely took down what had taken fifteen years to raise.

This is what happens when we downplay the importance of religious affections and feelings. The Spirit is quenched and the Christian life becomes cold and mechanical.

Evans read Andrew Fuller, the Baptist pastor-theologian’s critique of Sandemanianism. This made him think. Then he heard a sermon by Thomas Jones, who preached against the heresy. On his way home from this service, Evans had a remarkable experience of God that got Sandemanianism out of his system for ever. He relates the story himself,

I was weary of a cold heart towards Christ and his sacrifice and the work of his Spirit; of a cold heart in the pulpit, in secret and in the study. For fifteen years previously I had felt my heart burning within as if going to Emmaus with Jesus. On a day ever to be remembered by me, as I was going from Dolgellau to Machynlleth, climbing up towards Cader Idris, l considered it to be incumbent upon me to pray, however hard I felt in my heart and however worldly the frame of my spirit was. Having begun in the name of Jesus, I soon felt as it were, the fetters loosening and the old hardness of heart softening, and, as I thought, mountains of frost and snow dissolving and melting within me. This engendered confidence in my soul in the promise of the Holy Ghost. I felt my whole mind relieved from some great bondage. Tears flowed copiously and I was constrained to cry out for the gracious visits of God, by restoring to my soul the joys of his salvation and to visit the churches in Anglesey that were under my care. I embraced in my supplications all the churches of the saints and nearly all the ministries in the principality by their names. This struggle lasted for three hours. It rose again and again, like one wave after another, or a high, flowing tide driven by a strong wind, till my nature became faint by weeping and crying. I resigned myself to Christ, body and soul, gifts and labours, every hour of every day that remained for me and all my cares I committed to Christ. The road was mountainous and lonely and I was wholly alone and suffered no interruption in my wrestling with God.

Evans old pulpit power returned to him again. A new spirit of prayer came upon the believers in Anglesey and within two years, six hundred people were added to the Churches.

Are we sometimes so afraid of the emotional excesses and disorder in some Churches that we fail to feel anything at all? When was the last time that you were really moved by the great truths of the gospel?

Reflecting on Christmas Evans’ barren Sandemanian period, Lloyd-Jones challenges us,

This is our only hope, ‘All coldness from my heart remove’. What do we know of warmth of spirit, warmth of heart, warmth in prayer, warmth in preaching, to be moved to the depth of our being and feel the love of God flowing into us and flowing back out of us to him? Is Sandemanianism merely a matter of antiquarian or historical interest or is it our major problem today?

His final sermon and departure to be with Christ

Christmas Evans preached his last sermon at Mount Pleasant chapel, Swansea on Monday 16th July, 1838, He spoke on “Beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). He felt weak, but the message is typical of Evans’ dramatic gospel preaching,

‘At Jerusalem, Lord?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Why, Lord these are the men who crucified Thee; we are not to preach it to them?’ ‘Yes, preach it to all’… ‘Suppose we meet the very man that nailed Thy 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; I am the same Lord over all who is rich unto all that call upon Me.’

As he descended the pulpit steps, the old preacher was heard to murmur, “This is my last sermon!” And so it was. On the Friday of that week, Christmas Evans said to those who surrounded his death bed,

I am leaving you. I have laboured in the sanctuary for fifty-three years, and this is my comfort, that I have never laboured without blood in the basin [a reference to Christ as the Passover Lamb]. Preach Christ to the people, brethren. Look at me. In myself I am nothing but ruin, but in Christ I am heaven and salvation.

“Then” writes his biographer, “as if done with earth, he waved his hand, and exclaimed, “GOODBYE! DRIVE ON!” Was he again, in his thoughts, travelling alone with his faithful pony over the lonely mountains?”

“Goodbye! Drive on!” But now Christmas Evans embarked on his final another journey - from earth to heaven. Aged seventy three, the one-eyed preacher passed into the presence of his Lord and Saviour.

The life of Christmas Evans reminds us that God can take seemingly unpromising people and use them mightily in his kingdom. We should make full use of all our gifts and energy in the service of the Master. Evans was not perfect. He knew periods of spiritual bareness. But the Lord broke into his life, melted him and shed his love abroad in his heart. The revival blessing that Evans experienced makes us long that the Lord will rend the heavens and come down in our day too.
Based on a talk on the life of "The One Eyed Bunyan of Wales"

Christmas Evans by B.A. Ramsbottom, Bunyan Press, 1984
Sermons and Memoirs of Christmas Evans, Kregel Publications, 1986
Christmas Evans by Robert Oliver here
On Sandemanianism see The Puritans, Their Origins and Successors by D. M. Lloyd-Jones, 'Sandemanisnism', Banner of Truth Trust, 1987

Click on the label below for the rest of the series.

No comments: