Evan Roberts in the land of Revivals
by Rev. Dr. Ed & Janice Hird
How might Canada be different if ten per cent of Canadians entered into the Kingdom of God in the next two years? That’s what happened in Wales, the land of revivals and song.
Evan Roberts, the spiritual father of the 1904 Welsh Revival, worked from age 12 to 23 with his father Henry in the coal mines. He had visitations from the Holy Spirit, showing all of Wales being lifted up to Heaven.
For several months before revival broke out, Roberts would be taken up into the heavens every night, where he would commune with God. He began to ask God to give him 100,000 souls, something that happened during this revival. In this awakening, ten per cent of the Welsh people were ushered into the Kingdom. Revival historian J. Edwin Orr says 150,000 became members of local churches in Wales, with 250,000 being born again.
Prayer was the very breath of Roberts’ soul. He seemed to be constantly praying. The prayer that he received from his mentor, Rev. Seth Joshua, was “Bend me, bend me, bend us.” Roberts urged total abandonment to the will of God. As one participant commented, “Did we not hear him time and again praying the words ‘Empty me! Fill me! Use me,’ until they became part of our thinking?” Whenever the Holy Spirit came upon Roberts in a revival meeting, his face was transformed, bringing a radiant smile and shining eyes.
The four points of his revival message were:
1. Confess all known sin, receiving forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
2. Remove anything in your life that you are in doubt or feel unsure about.
3. Be ready to obey the Holy Spirit instantly.
4. Publicly confess the Lord Jesus Christ.
Roberts became perhaps the most famous man in the world at the time. Even the future UK Prime Minister, Lloyd George, vouched for the genuineness of Evan Roberts and the Welsh revival.
Roberts was present at only about 259 of the tens of thousands of Welsh revival meetings that took place. The chapels were often so crowded that Roberts often had to climb over people’s shoulders just to make it to the pulpit. Participants said that it was not the eloquence of Evan Roberts that transformed people – it was his tears. People were standing for hours in the cold, wintry air hoping that by someone leaving the church, they could push in to witness the scenes that were taking place inside. Troubled by both the adulation and criticism, he wouldn’t announce his meetings in advance. He wanted Jesus, not himself, to be the focus. Sometimes, he would go to a revival meeting and then refuse to speak, instead praying silently before leaving. He said, “I am not the source for this revival. I am only one worker in that which is growing to be a host. I am not moving the hearts of men and changing their lives; but ‘God is working through me.”
From the very beginning of the revival, there was a strong sense of conviction of sin, with wrongdoing publicly confessed. Instead of sports, the hot topic in the pubs was about Evan Roberts and the revival. Drunkenness was cut in half, causing bankruptcies in many pubs. Crime was cut in half. Former houses of prostitution turned into homes of heavenly singing, encouraging their former customers to go to the revival meetings. The Bible Society in Wales could not keep up with the request for their bibles. People began to pay off their bad debts. Some of the toughest characters in the Welsh valleys were converted. Pit-ponies could no longer understand the miners’ commands as they had stopped cursing the ponies. The police, often having no one to arrest, would come to the revivals to sing in quartets. In one court case, the prisoner came under conviction, confessing his sins. The judge then preached the gospel to him, and the jury spontaneously broke out into Welsh revival singing.
Just like with the 1970s Jesus movement, most of the Welsh revival leaders and participants were very young. The revival services were marked with informality, laughing, crying, dancing, joy, and brokenness. Many of these youth did spontaneous Jesus marches, singing songs and visiting the pubs to invite people to the revival. No one bothered about the clock. People often stayed until two to three in the morning, and then marched through the streets singing hymns. A participant, David Matthews, commented, “When I left the heavenly atmosphere of the church for home, I discovered that it was five in the morning! I had been in the house of God for ten hours – they passed like ten minutes!”
As predicted by Roberts, the Welsh revival had a worldwide impact, birthing over 30 revivals around the world, including in China, Korea, India, East Africa, and the 1906 Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, impacting hundreds of millions. At one meeting, all Roberts said was ‘let us pray’, before revival broke out. As with the later Korean revival, the Welsh all prayed simultaneously. This revival of love gave Roberts the ability to sing all day. The first Welsh revival team was five teenage girls who would sing about God’s love at the revival meetings. The love song of the Welsh revival was the song, “Here is love vast as the ocean”. Roberts told reporters, “I preach nothing but Christ’s love.”
Because he seldom ate, slept and rested, Roberts soon succumbed to the pressure of his rigorous schedule, and, in 1906, suffered a physical and emotional collapse, the first of his eight nervous breakdowns. The doctor told him after his nervous breakdown that if he ever preached again, he would die.
He moved to England, living in virtual seclusion until he died. Sadly, Roberts refused to see his family when they visited, only returning to Wales upon the death of his father in 1928. While there for his dad’s funeral in Loughor, Roberts spoke a few sentences and a “mini-revival” sparked. Evan Roberts died in 1951 at age 72.
Imagine what God might do in Canada if we, like Evan Roberts, bent our will to God’s will for our nation? Bend us, Lord! Bend the Church in Canada!
Rev. Dr. Ed & Janice Hird -co-authors of For Better, For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship