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Christmas Evans: Welsh Preacher

Christmas EvansChristmas Evans (1766-1838), one of the great Welsh preachers, was born on Christmas day 1766, at a place called Ysgaerwen, in the parish of Llandyssul, Cardiganshire [Wales]. His father, Samuel Evans, was a poor shoemaker, who, dying when his son was only nine years old, left him in a state of complete destitution. The next six years Christmas spent with his mother's uncle at Llanvihangel-ar-Arth in Carmarthenshire, "than whom," he says, "it would be difficult to find a more unconscionable man in the whole course of a wicked world." So he left him to become a farm servant at various places, and ultimately came under the influence of David Davies of Castellhywel, a well-known bard and schoolmaster, and the minister of a congregation of presbyterians fast slipping into unitarianism at Llwynrhydowen. Evans joined Llwynrhydowen Chapel, was taught a little by Davies in his school, learnt how to read Welsh, and acquired some knowledge of English; became religious, and began to preach. But as the strict rules of the presbyterians required an academical education for their ministers, he gradually gravitated towards the baptists, who had no such limitations, and in 1788 was baptised in the river Duar at Llanybyther in Carmarthenshire, and joined the baptist congregation at Aberduar.

Before this he had seriously injured an eye in an affray in which he does not seem to have been to blame. He was now a regular preacher, and in 1789 was ordained as a sort of missionary to the scattered baptists of Lleyn, the peninsula of Carnarvonshire. Here he married Catherine Jones, a member of his congregation. They had no family. While there he was "converted" during a preaching journey, and now began to preach with a power and earnestness of conviction that soon made him famous. In 1792 be removed to Anglesey to act as minister to all the baptist churches in the island. He lived at Llangevni, where the most important chapel was situated. Here he worked with great success, but a curious wave of Sandemanianism spread over Anglesey and greatly influenced rigid Calvinists like Evans.

"The Sandemanian heresy afflicted me so much as to drive away the spirit of prayer for the salvation of sinners." After a time he regained his orthodoxy, and became the center of a great baptist movement in Anglesey. Though for many years his salary was only 17£ a year, he ruled over the Anglesey baptists with a rod of iron; built new chapels, and made at least two long and laborious preaching journeys every year all over Wales to collect money to pay off the chapel debts, which often weighed very heavily upon him. These constant wanderings spread his fame over all Wales. Crowds flocked to hear his sermons. His humour sometimes threw a congregation into roars of laughter, often changed in a moment by his pathos into tears, and his startling power of declamation exercised extraordinary influence on all who heard him, whom his brethren called the "Bunyan of Wales." He remained in Anglesey more than thirty years.

In 1823 his wife died, and he suffered a good deal from ill-health. His wounded eye always gave him trouble, and sometimes he was threatened with blindness. At last the baptist churches of Anglesey threw off the yoke which Evans's government had imposed on them. They desired naturally to become independent churches, and his position as a sort of baptist bishop thus became untenable. He bitterly resented their choosing ministers without reference to him. A lawsuit about a chapel debt added to his difficulties, and he gladly accepted in 1826 the ministry of the chapel of Caerphilly in Glamorganshire. Here he preached very successfully for two years, and made his second marriage with his housekeeper, Mary Evans. But difficulties with his flock again arose and caused him to remove to Cardiff in September 1828; but the constitution of that church was so democratic that with his autocratic ways he had fresh troubles with the congregation, and in 1832 made his final change to Carnarvon. The dissensions of the thirty church members, the drunkenness of some, and the pressure of a debt of 800£ left him little peace. While on a begging journey to South Wales he was suddenly taken ill, and died on 19 July 1838 at Swansea, where on 23 July he was buried with great honour in the burial-ground of the Welsh baptist chapel. His sermons were published in Welsh (last edition, Wrexham, 1883), and several of them have been translated, besides the copious specimens of them given in English by most of his biographers. He also wrote some hymns and tracts in Welsh, and assisted in translating into that language an exposition of the New Testament.

[Memoirs of the late Christmas Evans, by David Rhys Stephen, 1847; Christmas Evans, a Memoir, by D. M. Evans, 1863; A Lecture on Christmas Evans, by R. Morris, 1870; Cofiant neu hanes bywyd y diweddar Barch. Christmas Evans, by W. Morgan of Holyhead, 1883, along with which are issued the current edition of Evans's Pregethau, Damegion ac Areithiau; Owen Jones's Great Preachers of Wales, 1885, pp. 159-224; Mr. Paxton Hood's Christmas Evans, 1881, is very full, but is rather wanting where knowledge of things and places specifically Welsh is desirable.]

From Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1889.

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