Christmas Evans, so named because he was born on Christmas Day 1766, suffered a very unhappy childhood. He had no formal education, his father died when he was nine years old and he was raised by an alcoholic relative. But God had great plans for this young man. He was converted in 1783 and, on hearing the need for more preachers, was ordained in 1789.
He immediately took to itinerant evangelistic preaching but was soon affected by the erroneous teachings of Sandemanianism which thoroughly dampened his spiritual passions and desire for conversions.
Fortunately, he realised the error of his ways and was restored to the right path, renewing his covenant with God and receiving the old fire again. By the time he left Anglesey his ten Baptist churches increased to twenty. He became minister at Caerphilly, Glamorgan for three years beginning in 1826 and the congregation increased from 65 to 200. Thereafter he held other pastorates but gained wide popularity as an outstanding itinerant evangelist.
Despite his extraordinary height, the loss of one eye and continual ill-health he excelled as a preacher of the gospel. ‘His remarkable memory, copious vocabulary, keen sense of drama, infectious humour and vivid imagination, all combined to make him a preacher of rare eloquence with deep evangelistic concern….. a forceful and persuasive orator.’
It is no surprise that he was influenced by such great preachers as his contemporary Robert Roberts, the Calvinistic Methodist preacher and George Whitefield who died in 1770.
WE propose, in the following pages, to give some account of Christmas Evans, the great Welsh preacher; believing that he had a style and manner of preaching which, to English minds and readers, will seem altogether his own, perhaps more admirable than imitable. But before we enter upon the delineation of his life, or attempt to unfold his style, or to represent his method as displayed in his sermons, it may be well to present some concise view of Welsh preaching and Welsh preachers in general, especially those of the last age; for as an order of preaching it has possessed its own very distinctive peculiarities. Some readers may at first indeed inquire, Is not preaching very much the same everywhere, in all counties and in all countries? And Wales, which seems itself in its nearness now only like a district of England, and that district for the most part wild and but scantily peopled, — can there be anything so remarkable about its pulpit work as to make it either capable or worthy of any separate account of its singularities and idiosyncrasies? To most English people Welsh preaching is a phase of religious life entirely unknown: thousands of tourists visit the more conspicuous highways of Wales from year to year, its few places of public resort or more manifest beauty; but Wales is still, for the most part, unknown; its isolation is indeed somewhat disturbed now, its villages are no longer so insulated as of old, and the sounds of advancing life are breaking in upon its solitudes, yet, perhaps, its fairest scenes are still uninvaded. But if the country be unknown, still more unknown are the people, and of its singular preaching phenomena scarcely anything is known, or ever can be known by English people; yet it is not too much to say that, in that little land, during the last hundred years, amidst its wild glens and sombre mountain shadows, its villages retreating into desolate moor-lands and winding vales, where seldom a traveller passes by, there have appeared such a succession and race of remarkable preachers as could be rivalled — in their own peculiar popular power over the hearts and minds of many thousands, for their eminence and variety — in no other country. Among these, Christmas Evans seems to us singularly representative; eminently Welsh, his attributes of power seem to be especially indicative of the characteristics of the Welsh mind, an order of mind as remarkably singular and individual, and worthy of study, as any national character in the great human family. But even before we mention these, it may be well to notice what were some of the reasons for the eminent influence and usefulness of Christmas Evans, and some of his extraordinary preaching comrades and contemporaries to whom we shall have occasion to refer.
Preaching is, in Wales, the great national characteristic; the Derby Day is not more truly a characteristic of England than the great gatherings and meetings of the Associations all grouped around some popular favourites. The dwellers among those mountains and upon those hill-sides have no concerts, no theatres, no means of stimulating or satisfying their curiosity. For we, who care little for preaching, to whom the whole sermon system is perhaps becoming more tedious, can form but little idea, and have but little sympathy with that form of religious society where the pulpit is the orchestra, the stage, and the platform, and where the charms of music, painting, and acting are looked for, and found in the preacher. We very likely would be disposed even to look with complacent pity upon such a state of society, — it has not yet expired, — where the Bulwers, the Dickenses, the Thackerays, and Scotts are altogether unknown, — but where the peculiar forms of their genius — certainly without their peculiar education — display themselves in the pulpit. If our readers suppose, therefore, a large amount of ignorance, — well, upon such a subject, certainly, it is possible to enter easily upon the illimitable. Yet it is such an ignorance as that which developed itself in Job, and in his companions, and in his age — an ignorance like that which we may conceive in Æschylus. In fact, in Wales, the gates of every man’s being have been opened. It is possible to know much of the grammar, and the history, and the lexicography of things, and yet to be so utterly ignorant of things as never to have felt the sentiment of strangeness and of terror; and without having been informed about the names of things, it is possible to have been brought into the presence and power of things themselves. Thus, the ignorance of one man may be higher than the intelligence of another. There may be a large memory and a very narrow consciousness. On the contrary, there may be a large consciousness, while the forms it embraces may be uncertain and undefined in the misty twilight of the soul. This is much the state of many minds in Wales. It is the state of feeling, and of poetry, of subtle questionings, high religious musings, and raptures. This state has been aided by the secludedness of the country, and the exclusiveness of the language, — not less than by the rugged force and masculine majesty and strength of the language; — a language full of angles and sharp goads, admirably fitted for the masters of assemblies, admirably fitted to move like a wind over the soul, rousing and soothing, stirring into storm, and lulling into rest. Something in it makes an orator almost ludicrous when he attempts to convey himself in another language, but very powerful and impressive in that. It is a speaking and living language, a language without any shallows, a language which seems to compel the necessity of thought before using it. Our language is fast becoming serviceable for all that large part of the human family who speak without thinking. To this state the Welsh can never come. That unaccommodating tongue only moves with a soul behind it.
Thus, it is not the first reason, but it is not unimportant to remember, that, until very recently, the pulpit in Wales has been the only means of popular excitement, instruction, or even of entertainment; until very recently the Welsh, like the ancient Hebrew lady, have dwelt among their own people, they have possessed no popular fictions, no published poems, no published emanations either of metaphysics or natural science; immured in their own language, as they were, less than a century since, among their own mountains, their language proved a barrier to the importation of many works accessible to almost all the other languages of Europe. It may be said that religion, as represented through the men of the pulpit, has made Wales what she is. When the first men of the pulpit, Howell Harris, Daniel Rowlands, and others, arose, they found their country lying under a night of spiritual darkness, and they effected an amazing reformation; but then they had no competitive influences to interfere with their progress, or none beyond that rough, rude sensuality, that barbarism of character, which everywhere sets itself in an attitude of hostility to spiritual truth and to elevated holiness; there were no theatres or race courses, there was no possibility that the minds of the multitudes should be occupied by the intellectual casuistries of a later day; Wales possessed no Universities or Colleges, and very few Schools; on the other hand, there were some characteristics of the national mind very favourable to the impulse these men gave, and the impressions they produced. So it has happened that the Welsh preacher has been elevated into an importance, reminding us of the Welsh tradition concerning St. David, the patron saint of Wales, regarding whom it is said, that, while preaching in the year 520, in Cardigan, against the Pelagian heresy, such was the force of his argument, and the eloquence of his oratory, that the very ground on which he stood rose beneath his feet and elevated itself into a hillock; and there, in after ages, a church was erected upon the spot to which awful tradition pointed as the, marvellous pulpit of the patron saint.
Three-fourths of any amount of power which either or any of these first preachers, or their successors, have obtained over their countrymen, and countrywomen, arises from the fact that the Welsh possess, in an eminent degree, what we call a Religious Nature; they are very open to Wonder; they have a most keen and curious propensity to inquire into the hidden causes of things, not mere material causes, but Spiritual causes, what we call Metaphysics; the Unseen Universe is to them as to all of us a mystery, but it is a mystery over which they cannot but brood; when education is lacking, this realizing of the unseen is apt to give rise to superstitious feelings, and superstitions still loiter and linger among the glens, the churchyards, and old castles and ruins of Wales, although the spread of Christian truth has divested them of much of their ancient extravagance; when, therefore, the earnest voice of their native speech became the vehicle for unfolding the higher doctrines of the Christian life, the sufferings of the Redeemer and their relation to eternal laws and human conditions, probably a people was never found whose ears were more open, or whose hearts were more ready to receive, and to be stirred to their utmost depths. Thus Religion — Evangelical Religion — became the very life of the land of Wales.
“There is not a heathen man, woman, or child in all the Principality,” said a very eminent Welsh-man to us once, probably with some measure of exaggeration; “there are wicked men, and women,” he continued, “unconverted men, and women, but there is not a man, woman, or child throughout Wales who does not know all about Jesus Christ, and why He came into the world, and what He came to do.” Thus, within the memory of the writer of this volume, Religion was the one topic upon which you might talk intelligently anywhere in Wales: with the pitman in the coal-mine, with the iron-smelter at the forge, with the farmer by his ingleside, with the labourer in his mountain shieling; and not merely on the first more elementary lessons of the catechism, but on the great bearings and infinite relations of religious things. Jonathan Edwards, and Williams of Rotherham, and Owen, and Bunyan, and FlaveI, — these men and their works, and a few others like them, were well known; and, especially, the new aspects which the modified opinions of Andrew Fuller had introduced into religious thought; thus, you might often feel surprised when, sitting down in some lowly cottage, you found yourself suddenly caught, and carried along by its owner in a coil of metaphysical argument. This was the soil on which the Welsh preachers had to work, and cast abroad their seed.
No person can have heard anything of the Welsh religious life without having heard also of the immense annual gatherings, the Association meetings, a sort of great movable festival, annually held in Wales, to which everything had to give place, and to which all the various tribes of the various Houses of’ the Lord came up. Their ordinary Sunday services were crowded, but, upon these great occasions, twenty or twenty-five thousand people would come together: and, to such congregations, their great men, their great preachers, such as those we are about to mention, addressed themselves —addressed themselves not to a mass ignorant and unintelligent, but all thoroughly informed in religious matters, and prepared to follow their preacher whither-so-ever his imagination or thought might lead him. The reader must not smile when we remind him that Wale was, — had been for ages, — the land of Bards; a love of poetry, poetry chanted or recited, had always been the Welshman’s passion, and those great writers of our literature who best know what poetry is, have taught us that we are not to look upon those productions with contempt. For ages there had been held in Wales what has been called, and is still called the ‘Eisteddfodd, or Cymreigyddion’, or the meeting of the Bards and Minstrels; they were, as Pennant has called them, British Olympics, where none but Bards of merit were suffered to rehearse their pieces, or Minstrels of skill to perform. These Association meetings were a kind of religious Eisteddfodd, where the great Welsh preacher was a kind of sacred Bard; he knew nothing of written sermons; he carried no notes nor writings with him to his pulpit or platform, but he made the law and doctrine of religious metaphysics march to the minstrelsy and music of speech; on the other hand, he did not indulge himself in casting about wildfire, all had been thoroughly prepared and rooted in his understanding; and then he went with his sermon, which was a kind of high song, to chant it over the hearts of the multitude. We shall have occasion to show, by many instance’s, from the lives of their greatest men, how their own hearts had been marvellously prepared.
There is a pleasant anecdote told of one of them, Gryffyth of Caernarvon, how he had to preach one night. Before preaching, staying at a farmhouse on the spot, he desired permission to retire before the service began; he remained in his room a considerable time; the congregation had assembled, still he did not come; there was no sign of his making his appearance. The good man of the house sent the servant to request him to come, as the people had been for some time assembled and waiting. Approaching the room she heard, what seemed to her to be a conversation, going on between two persons, in a subdued tone of voice, and she caught from Mr. Gryffyth the expression, “I will not go unless you come with me.” She went back to her master, and said, “I do not think Mr. Gryffyth will come tonight; there is some one with him, and he is telling him that he will not come unless the other will come too; but I did not hear the other reply, so I think Mr. Gryffyth will not come to-night.”
“Yes, yes,” said the farmer, “he will come, and I warrant the ‘other’ will come too, if matters are as you say between them; but we had better begin singing and reading until the two do come.” And the story goes on to say that Mr. Gryffyth did come, and the other One with him, for they had a very extraordinary meeting that night, and the whole Neighbourhood was stirred by it and numbers were changed and converted. It was Williams of Wern who used to tell this pleasing anecdote; it is an anecdote of one man, but, so far as we have been able to see, it illustrates the way in which they all prepared themselves before they began to speak.
It must not be supposed from this that they imagined that prayer was to dispense with preparation; their great preachers studied hard and deeply, and Williams of Wern, one of the greatest of them all, says, “In order to be a good preacher, usefulness must be the grand aim, usefulness must choose the text and divide it, usefulness must compose the sermon and sit at the helm during the delivery; if the introduction be not clear and pertinent it is evident the preacher does not know whither he is going, and if the inferences are of the same character, it is obvious he does not know where he has been. Unstudied sermons are not worth hearing or having; who would trust his life in the hands of a physician who had never thought of his profession?” But these men never permitted the understanding to supersede emotion, and, when they met the people face to face, the greatest of them went prepared, warmed and kindled, and ready to warm and kindle.
Thus their sermons became a sort of inspired song, full of imagination — imagination very often, and usually, deriving its imagery from no far-off and recondite allusions, never losing itself in a flowery wilderness of expressions, but homely illustration, ministered to by the things and affairs of ordinary life, and, therefore, instantly preacher and people in emotion were one.
It is indeed true that many of their great preachers repeated the same sermon many times. Why not? So did Whitfield, so did Wesley, so have most eminent preachers done; but this need in no way interfere with — it did not interfere with — the felt necessity for unction on the part of the minister; and as to the people they liked to hear an old favourite again, or a sermon, which they had never heard although they had heard much about it. We believe it was to Christmas Evans a pert young preacher said, “Well, you have given us an old sermon again to-day.”
“What then, my boy?” said the Master of Assemblies; “had you a new one?”
“Certainly,” was the answer.
“Well, but look you,” said the unblushing old culprit, “I would not take a dozen new sermons like yours for this one old sermon of mine.”
“No, nor I,” chimed in a gruff old deacon. “Oh yes, and look you, I should like to hear it again but as for yours, I never heard it before, and I do not want to hear it again.”
But then the Language! Of course the language had a great deal to do with this preaching power, we do not mean generally, but particularly; on all hands the Welsh is acknowledged to be a wonderful language. A Welshman will tell you that there is no language like it on the face of the earth, but that is a testimony borne by many scholars who are not Welshmen; perhaps there is no other language which so instantly conveys a meaning and at the same time touches emotion to the quick. True, like the Welshman himself, it is bony, and strangers to its power laugh somewhat ignorantly at its never-ending succession of consonants. Somebody has said that the whole language is as if it were made up of such words as our word “strength,” and if the reader will compare in his mind the effect of the word power as contrasted with the word strength, he will feel something of the force of the language, and its fitness for the purposes of impression; but still this conveys but a poor idea of its great attributes.
It is so literal that the competent hearer, or reader, instantly realizes, from its words, things. Well do we remember sitting in Wales with a group of Welsh ministers and Welshmen round a pleasant tea-table; we were talking of the Welsh language, and one of our company, who had perhaps done more than any one of his own country for popular Welsh literature, and was one of the order of eminent Welsh preachers of whom we are speaking, broke forth: “Oh!” he said, “you English people cannot see all the things in your Bible that a Welshman can see; now your word ‘blessed,’ it seems a very dear sweet thing to an Englishman and to a Welshman, but a Welsh-man sees the thing in the word, ‘Gwyn ei fyd,’ that is, ‘a white world — white,’ literally, white their world; so a Welshman would see there is a ‘white world’ for the pure in heart, a ‘white world’ for the poor in spirit, a ‘white world’ for them who are reviled and persecuted for righteousness’ sake; and when you read, ‘Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity,’ the Welshman reads his Bible and sees there is a ‘white world’ for such a one, that is, all sin wiped out, the place quite clean, to begin again.”
This is not all. We are not intending to devote any considerable space to a vindication of the Welsh language, but, when we speak of it with reference to the effects it produces as the vehicle of Oratory, it is necessary to remark that, so far from being, — as many have supposed who have only looked at it in its strange combination of letters on a page, perhaps unable to read it, and never having heard it spoken, — so far from being harsh and rugged, coarse or guttural, it probably yields to no language in delicious softness, in melting sweetness; in this it has been likened to the Italian language by those who have been best able to judge. Lord Lyttleton, in his “Letters from Wales,” says, that when he first passed some of the Welsh hills, and heard the harp and the beautiful female peasants accompanying it with their melodious voices, he could not help indulging in the idea that he had descended the Alps, and was enjoying the harmonious pleasures of the Italian Paradise. And as we have already said, there has long prevailed an idea that the Welsh language is a multitude of consonants; but indeed the reverse is the case; the learned Eliezer Williams says, in his Historical Anecdotes of the Welsh Language,” “The alphabet itself demonstrates that the charge of a multiplicity of consonants is fallacious, since, whether the number of letters be reckoned twenty-two or twenty-four, seven are vowels; there remain therefore a more inconsiderable number than most of the European languages are obliged to admit — Y and W are considered as vowels, and sounded as such; w is pronounced like o u in French, in the word oui.” To persons ignorant of the language, how strange is the appearance, and how erroneous the idea of the sound to be conveyed by dd, Il, ch, but indeed all these are indications of the softening of the letter; in a word, the impressions entertained of the harshness of the language are altogether erroneous.
The supposition that the Welsh language is made up of consonants is more especially singular from the fact that it possesses, says a writer in the Quarterly Review, what perhaps no other nation has, — a poem of eight lines in which there is not a single consonant. These verses are very old, dating from the seventeenth century; — of course the reader will remember that the Welsh language has seven vowels, both w and y being considered and sounded as such. This epigram or poem is on the Spider, and originally stood thus, —
‘ O’i wiw wy I weu e â; — o’i iau Ei wyau a wea;
E wywa ei we aua, A’i weau yw ieuau ia.”
To this, the great Gronwy Owen added a kind of counter change of vowels, and the translation has been given as follows:
“From out its womb it weaves with care
Its web beneath the roof;
Its wintry web it spreadeth there —
Wires of ice its woof.
“And doth it weave against the wall
Thin ropes of ice on high?
And must its little liver all
The wondrous stuff supply?”
A singular illustration of the vowel power in a language ignorantly supposed to possess no vowels.
And these remarks are not at all unnecessary, for they illustrate to the reader, unacquainted with the language, the way in which it becomes such a means of immediate emotion; its words start before the eye like pictures, but are conveyed to the mind like music; and yet the bony character of the language, to which we have referred before, adds to the picture dramatic action and living strength. What a language, then, is this for a competent orator to play upon, — a man with an imaginative mind, and a fervid and fiery soul! Then is brought into play that element of Welsh preaching, without knowing and apprehending which there would be no possibility of understanding the secret of its great power; it is the “hwyl.” When the Welsh preacher speaks in his best mood, and with great unction, the highest compliment that can be paid him, the loftiest commendation that can be given, is, that he had the “hwyl”. “Hwyl” is the Welsh word for the canvas of a ship; and probably the derivation of the meaning is, from the canvas or sails of a ship filled with a breeze: the word for breeze, awel, is like it, and is used to denote a similar effect. Some years since, when the most, eminent Welsh preacher we have recently seen in England, at an ordination service, was addressing his nephew in a crowded church in the neighbourhood of London, he said, “And, my dear boy, remember you are a Welshman; don’t try to speak English, and don’t try to speak like the English.” A great many of his hearers wondered what the good man could mean; but both he and his nephew, and several others of the initiated, very well knew. He meant, speak your words with an accent, and an accent formed from a soul giving life and meaning to an expression. This, we know, is what the singer does, — this is what the musician tries to do. All words are not the same words in their meaning; the Welsh preacher seeks to play upon them as keys; the words themselves help him to do so. Literally, they are full of meaning; verbally, he attempts to pronounce that meaning; hence, as he rises in feeling he rises in variety of intonation, and his words sway to and fro, up and down, — bass, minor, and soprano all play their part, a series of intonings. In English, this very frequently sounds monotonous, sometimes even affected; in Welsh, the soul of the man is said to have caught the hwyl, — that is, he is in full sail, he has feeling and fire: the people catch it too. A Welsh writer, describing this, quotes the words of Jean Paul Richter: “Pictures during music are seen into more deeply and warmly by spectators; nay, many masters have in creating them acknowledged help from music.” Great Welsh preaching, is very often a kind of wild, irregular chant, a jubilant refrain, recurring again and again. The people catch the power of it; shouts rise — prayers! “Bendigedig” (“blessed,” or synonymous with our “Bless the Lord!”) Amen! “Diolch byth!” and other expressions, rise, and roll over the multitude; they, too, have caught the hwyl. It is singular that, with us, the only circumstances and scenes in which such manifestations can take place, are purely secular, or on the occasions of great public meetings. The Welshman very much estimates the greatness of a preacher by his power to move men; but it does not follow, that this power shall be associated with great apparent bodily action. The words of John Elias and Williams of Wern consumed like flames, and divided like swords; but they were men of immense self-possession, and apparently very quiet. It has always been the aim of the greater Welsh preachers to find out such “acceptable” — that is, fitting and piercing — words, so that the words alone shall have the effect of action.
But, in any account of Welsh preaching, the place ought never to be forgotten — the scenery. We have said, the country is losing, now, many of its old characteristics of solitude and isolation; the railways are running along at the foot of the tall mountains, and spots, which we knew thirty years since as hamlets and villages, have now grown into large towns. It has often been the case, that populations born and reared amidst remote mountain solitudes, have possessed strong religious susceptibilities. The Welsh-man’s chapel was very frequently reared in the midst of an unpeopled district, likely to provoke wonder in the mind of the passing stranger, as to whence it could derive its congregation. The building was erected there because it was favourable to a confluence of neighbourhoods. Take a region near to the spot where Christmas Evans was born, — a wild, mountainous tract of country, lying between the counties Brecon and Cardigan; for long miles, in every direction, there are no human habitations, — only, perhaps, here and there, in a deep dingle, some lone house, the residence of a sheep farmer, with three or four cultivated fields in its immediate neighbourhood; and at some distance, on the slopes of the mountain, an occasional shepherd’s hut. It is a scene of the wildest magnificence. The traveller, as he passes along, discerns nothing but a sea of mountains, — rugged and precipitous bluffs, and precipices innumerable; here the grand and sportive streams, the Irvon, the Towy, and the Dothia, spring from their rocky channels, and tumble along, rushing and gurgling with deafening roar; here; as you pass along, you encounter more than one or two “wolves’ leaps;“ — dark caverns are there, from whence these brotherly rivers rush into each other’s embrace. These regions, when we were in the habit of crossing them, many years since, — and we often crossed them, — we very naturally regarded as the Highlands, the sequestered mountain retreats, of Wales; this was Twm Shon Catty’s, the Welsh Rob Roy’s, country; for let Scotland boast as she will —
“Wales has had a thief as good,
She has her own Rob Roy.”
Welsh gentleman, and predatory chieftain. Here you find, to this day, his cave, from whence the bold and humorous outlaw was wont to spring forth, to spread terror and rapine over the whole region. It is thirty years since we passed through these desolations; they are probably much the same now as they were then; let the traveller shout as he will as he passes along, it is not from any human being, it is only from the wild rock, or screaming bird, he will have a reply.
Now, what do our readers think of a large and commodious chapel in the midst of a wild region like this? But one there is, in the very heart of the wilderness. Up to this place the worshippers come, on Sabbath mornings, from distances varying from two to eight miles. It is a Calvinistic-Methodist chapel; and the Rev. William Williams, in his interesting little historical sketch of Welsh Calvinistic-Methodism, tells how he preached in this building, several years since, when the chapel was crowded with worshippers; and in the yard adjoining, between fifty and sixty ponies, which had borne the worshippers to the place, with or without vehicles, were waiting the time for the return journey. This building had its birth from a congregation gathered first in one of the farm houses in these inaccessible wilds, in I 847. It seems strange to think how far people will travel to Divine Service when they have no such service near their own doors. We were struck with this, a short time since, in Norway; we found our way to a little village church, and there, on a spot where was next to no population, we found the Lutheran church crowded; and outside, a large square space thronged with carioles, ancient old shandydan landaus, carts, and every kind of conveyance, — horses and ponies stabled in the sheds all round; and we learned that many of the congregation had travelled in this way, beside the numbers who had walked, twelve, sixteen, eighteen miles to the service.
And thus, also, in Wales, many were the long and weary miles usually traversed, and through every variety of weather; and it seemed to be usually thought that the service, or services, repaid all the toil. And there was very little, externally, to aid the imagination, or to charm the taste, either in the building itself, or in the ritual adopted; — all was of the plainest and most severe order. The building, no doubt, was little more than a shelter from the weather; generally, perhaps, huge and capacious, — that was necessary, — but it was quite unadorned; the minister had nothing in the way of robes or attire to aid the impressions of reverence; there was no organ, — usually no instrument of any description, — although if an entire stranger to the language had entered, and heard the long, low, plaintive wail of almost any of their hymns, — most of them seeming to express a kind of dirge-like feeling of an exiled, conquered, and trampled people, a tone with its often-renewed refrain, its long-drawn minor, now sobbing into grief, occasionally swelling into triumph, — he might have found the notes of an organ were not needed to compel the unexpected tear. An exiled, conquered, and trampled people, — that expresses a great deal of truth. Wales has wrongs quite as bitter as any which Ireland ever knew; — the very cause of the existence of most of her chapels arose from the fact that, in many of her parish churches, not a word of Welsh was spoken; and perhaps frequently their ministers could not speak the native language; — the very judges who dispensed justice from the Bench were usually English, and needed an interpreter, that they might be able to understand the case upon which they were to give a judgment. Wales has had very little for which to thank England, but her people have never been seditious. Pious, industrious people, with their simple amusements and weird superstitions, and blossoming out into their great religious revivals and reformations, they have had to thank themselves, chiefly, for all the good which has unfolded itself upon their soil. These circumstances, however, have no doubt aided their peculiar and isolated religious life.
But, in those great assemblies, the Association meetings to which we have referred, many of the great preachers stood, with their vast congregations round them, in Nature’s open Cathedral. Christmas Evans preached many of his noblest sermons amidst the imposing ruins of Caerphilly, Pembroke, and Manobear Castles; or the preacher found himself with his audience on the slope of some sweet, gorse-covered hill, in the neighbourhood of tumbling torrents, which did not sing so loudly in their melody as to interfere with the sweet restfulness of the surrounding scene. Preachers and hearers were accustomed to plain living, — one of the most essential conditions of high thinking; neither of them knew anything of luxury; and when most of them spoke, the age of luxury, even with us, had not yet set in. Bread and milk, or oatmeal and milk, were the favourite diet of all, in those days; even tea was all but unknown, and the potato almost their nearest approach to a dainty dish. They lived on good terms with Nature, with whom we have been quarrelling now for some years past; and thus they were prepared to receive such lessons as Nature might give, to aid and illustrate the deeper lessons of Divine Grace.
Of course, there was considerable uncertainty about the services, — excepting those more imposing and important occasions; and this gave, very frequently, a tone of the ludicrous to their announcement of the services. Thus, if a stranger asked what time the service would commence, it would often have been quite impossible to get any information; and failures, says Mr. D. M. Evans, were so frequent, that the announcement was often made with perfect gravity, “ _____ will be here next Sunday, if he comes!’ Mr. Evans continues, that he well knew a deacon who claimed the prerogative to make announcements to the congregation, but who every week was guilty of such blunders, that he was implored to resign the honour to some other brother; to which he indignantly replied, that it was his crown, and was he not told in Scripture, “Hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown”? Often, when the preacher appeared, he showed himself in the pulpit almost out of breath, sometimes in sad disarray, sometimes apparently as if smothered with wrappers and top-coats; and by his panting and puffing, as someone said, “seeming to show that God Almighty had asked him to preach the Gospel, but had given him no time for it.”
In a word, it is impossible, knowing Wales as we know it in our own day, to form any very distinct idea of the country as it was when these great preachers arose; and, when the tides of a new spiritual life rolled over the Principality, the singular relics of even heathenish superstition were loitering still among the secluded valleys and mountains of the land. No doubt, the proclamation of the Gospel, and the elevated faith which its great truths bring in its train; broke the fascination, the charm, and power of many of these; but they lingered even until within the last forty or fifty years, — indeed, the superstition of the Sin-Eater is said to * (Dr. Thos. Rees, in a letter to the editor of the “Dysgedydd”, Rev. Herber Evans, says, “That although bred and born within ten miles of Cwm-Aman, he had never heard of this ridiculous superstition.”) linger even now in the secluded vale of Cwm-Aman, in Caermarthenshire. The meaning of this most singular institution of superstition was, that when a person died, the friends sent for the Sin-Eater of the district, who, on his arrival, placed a plate of salt and bread on the breast of the deceased person; he then uttered an incantation over the bread, after which, he proceeded to eat it, — thereby eating the sins of the dead person; this done, he received a fee of two and sixpence, — which, we suppose, was much more than many a preacher received for a long and painful service. Having received this, he vanished as swiftly as possible, all the friends and relatives of the departed aiding his exit with blows and kicks, and other indications of their faith in the service he had rendered. A hundred years since, and through the ages beyond that time, we suppose this curious superstition was everywhere prevalent.
Another odd custom was the manner in which public opinion expressed itself on account of any domestic or social delinquency. A large crowd assembled before the house of the delinquent, one of whom was dressed up in what seemed to be a horse’s head; the crowd then burst forth into strong vituperative abuse, accompanying the execrations with the rough music of old kettles, marrow-bones, and cleavers; finally, the effigy of the sinner was burnt before the house, and the sacred wrath of the multitude appeased. The majesty of outraged opinion being vindicated, they dispersed.
Some superstitions were of a more gentle character; the fairies, or “little men in green,” as they were popularly called, continued to hold their tenantry of Wales long after they had departed from England; and even Glamorganshire, one of the counties nearest to England, — its roads forming the most considerable highway through Wales, — was, perhaps, the county where they lingered last; certainly not many years have passed by since, in the Vale of Neath, in the same county, there would have been a fear in taking some secluded pathway in the night, lest the “little people” should be offended by the intrusion upon their haunts.
With all these singular observances and superstitions, there was yet a kind of Christian faith prevalent among the people, but buried beneath dark ignorance and social folly. At Christmas time, at night, it was usual to illuminate all the churches in the villages. And upon the New Year’s morning, children came waking the dawning, knocking at the doors, — usually obtaining admittance, — when they proceeded to sprinkle the furniture with water, singing as they did so the following words, which we quote on account of their quaint, sweet, old-world simplicity
“Here we bring new water from the well so clear,
For to worship God with this happy new year.
Sing levy dew, sing levy dew, the water and the wine,
With seven bright gold wires and bugles that do shine.
Sing reign of fair maid, with gold upon her toe,
Open you the west door, and turn the old year go.
Sing reign of fair maid, with gold upon her chin,
Open you the east door, and let the new year in.”
It is admitted on all hands that the dissolution of the mists of darkness and superstition is owing to the people usually called Dissenters; the Church of the Establishment — and this is said in no spirit of unkindness — did very little to humanise or soften the rugged character, or to put to flight the debasing habits of the people. Of course, there are high and honourable exceptions; but while many clergymen devoted themselves, with great enthusiasm, to the perpetuation of the singular lore, the wild bardic songs, the triads, or the strange fables and mythic histories of the country, we can call to mind the names of but very few who attempted to improve, or to ameliorate, the social condition. So that the preachers, and the vast gatherings of the people by whom the preachers were surrounded, when the rays of knowledge were shed abroad, and devotion fired, were not so much the result of any antagonism to the Established Church, — that came afterwards; they were a necessity created by the painful exigencies of the country.
The remarks on the superstitions of Wales are not at all irrelevant to the more general observations on Welsh preaching; they are so essentially inwoven with the type of character, and nationality. The Welsh appears to be intimately related to the Breton; the languages assimilate, — so also do the folk-lores of the people; and the traditions and fanciful fables which have been woven from the grasses of the field, the leaves of the forest, and the clouds of the heavens, would have furnished Christmas Evans with allegoric texts which he might have expanded into sermons. It is not possible to doubt that these form one branch, from the great Celtic stem, of the human family. And not only are they alike in language and tradition, but also in the melancholy religiousness, in the metaphysical brooding over natural causes, and in the absence of any genuine humour, except in some grim or gloomy and grotesque utterance. The stories, the heroes, and the heroines, are very much the same; historic memory in both looks back to a fantastic fairyland, and presents those fantastic pictures of cities and castles strangely submerged beneath the sea, and romantic shadows and spectral forms of wonderful kings and queens, such as we meet in the Mabinogi of Taliesin, in the Fairy Queen of Spenser, and in the Idylls of our Laureate. Thus, all that could stir wonder, excite the imagination and the fancy, and describe the nearness of the supernatural to the natural, would become very charming to a Welshman’s ears; and we instantly have suggested to us one of the sources of the power and popularity of Christmas Evans with his countrymen.
Even the spread and prevalence of Christian knowledge have scarcely disenchanted Wales of its superstitions. Few persons who know anything at all of the country, however slight such knowledge may be, are unaware of this characteristic of the people. This remark was, no doubt, far more applicable even twenty-five years since than now. The writer of this volume has listened to the stories of many who believed that they had seen the Canwyll-y-corph — corpse-candles — wending their way from houses, more or less remote, to the churchyard. Mr. Borrow, also, in his “Wild Wales,” tells us how he conversed with people in his travels who believed that they had seen the corpse-candles. But a hundred years ago, this was a universal object of faith; as was also the belief in coffins and burial trains seen wending their way, in the dead of night, to the churchyard. Omens and predictions abounded everywhere, while singular legends and traditions in many districts hung also round church bells. And yet with all this the same writer, remarking on Welsh character, says, “What a difference between a Welsh-man and an Englishman of the lower class!” He had just been conversing with a miller’s man, — a working labourer in the lowliest walk of life; and found him conversant with the old poets, and the old traditions of the country, and quite interested in them; and he says, “What would a Suffolk miller’s man have said, if I had repeated to him verses out of Beowulf or even Chaucer, and had asked him about the residence of Skelton?” We must bear this in mind as we attempt to estimate the character with which the preacher had to deal. Haunted houses were numerous. A lonely old place, very distinct to the writer’s knowledge, had hung round it some wild traditions not unlike “Blind Willie’s Story” in “Redgauntlet.” No doubt, now, all these things have, to a considerable extent, disappeared, — although there are wild nooks, far wilder than any we have in England, where the faith in the old superstitions lingers. In the great preaching days, those men who shook the hearts of the thousands of their listeners, as they dealt with unseen terrors, believed themselves to be — as it was believed of them that they were — covered with the shadow of an Unseen Hand, and surrounded by the guardianship of the old Hebrew prophet — “chariots of fire, and horses of fire;“ they believed themselves to be the care of a special Providence; and some of the stories then current would only move the contempt of that modern intelligence which has, at any rate, laid all the ghosts.
It is not within the province of this volume to recapitulate and classify Welsh superstitions; they were, and probably, in many neighbourhoods, are still, very various: we must satisfy our readers with a slight illustration. Perhaps some may object to the retailing such stories, for instance, as the following. The apology for its insertion, then, must be, that it is one of a number tending to illustrate that sense which the old Welsh mind had, of its residence upon the borders of, and relation to, the Invisible World. The Rev. John Jones, of Holywell, in Flintshire, was one of the most renowned ministers in the Principality; he was a man of extraordinary zeal and fervour as a preacher, and his life and character were, in unblemished reputation, equal to his gifts and zeal. He used to recite, with peculiar solemnity, a story of a mysterious horseman, by whom he believed he had been delivered from a position of extreme danger, when he was travelling, alone from Bala, in Merionethshire, to Machynlleth, in the county of Montgomery. He travelled on horseback through a wild, desolate country, at that time almost uninhabited; he had performed nearly half his journey, when, as he was emerging from a wood, he says, “I observed coming towards me a man on foot. By his appearance, judging from the sickle which he carried sheathed in straw over his shoulder, he was doubtless a reaper in search of employment. As he drew near, I recognized a man whom I had seen at the door of the village inn at Llanwhellyn, where I had stopped to bait my horse. On our meeting, he touched his hat, and asked if I could tell him the time of day. I pulled out my watch for the purpose, — noticing, at the same time, the peculiar look which the man cast at its heavy silver case. Nothing else, however, occurred to excite any suspicion on my part; so, wishing him a good afternoon, I continued my journey.” We must condense Mr. Jones’s narration, feeling that the story loses much of its graphic strength in so doing. He pursued his way down a hill, and, at some distance farther on, noticed something moving on the other side of a large hedge; he soon discovered it to be a man, running in a stooping position. He watched the figure with curiosity, which grew into something like fear as he recognized the reaper with whom he had spoken a short time before, and that, as he moved on, he was engaged in tearing the straw band from his sickle. The man hurried on, and Mr. Jones saw him conceal himself behind a thicker part of the hedge, within a few yards of the road, and near where a gate crossed the park. Mr. Jones says he did not doubt, then, that he intended to attack and, perhaps, murder him for the sake of the watch, and whatever money he might have about him. He looked round: no other person was in sight, — no house near; he was hemmed in by rocky banks and high hedges on either side.
“I could not turn back,” he says; “my business was of the utmost importance to the cause for which I was journeying.” He could not urge his horse with speed, for the gate was not open through which he had to pass; he felt that he was weak and unarmed, and had no chance against a powerful man with a dangerous weapon in his hand. “In despair,” he says, “rather than in a spirit of humble trust and confidence, I bowed my head, and offered up a silent prayer. At this juncture, my horse, growing impatient of delay, started off. I clutched the reins, which I had let fall on his neck, — when, happening to turn my eyes, I saw, to my utter astonishment, that I was no longer alone: there, by my side, I beheld a horseman, in a dark dress, mounted on a white steed. In intense amazement, I gazed upon him. Where could he have come from? He appeared as suddenly as if he had sprung from the earth; he must have been riding behind, and have overtaken me, — and yet I had not heard the slightest sound. It was mysterious, inexplicable; but joy overcame my feelings of wonder, and I began at once to address my companion. I asked him if he had seen any one; and then described to him what had taken place, and how relieved I felt by his sudden appearance. He made no reply, and, on looking at his face, he seemed paying but slight attention to my words, but continued intently gazing in the direction of the gate, — now about a quarter of a mile ahead. I followed his gaze, and saw the reaper emerge from his concealment, and run across a field to our left, resheathing his sickle as he hurried along. He had evidently seen that I was no longer alone, and had relinquished his intended attempt.”
Mr. Jones sought to enter into conversation with his mysterious companion, but he gave him no word in reply. He says he “was hurt at his companion’s mysterious silence;” only once did he hear his voice. Having watched the figure of the reaper disappear over the brow of a neighbouring hill, he turned to the stranger, and said, “Can it for a moment be doubted that my prayer was heard, and that, you were sent for my deliverance by the Lord?” Then it was that I thought I heard the horseman speak, and that he uttered the single word, ‘Amen!’ Not another word did he give utterance to, though I spoke to him both in English and Welsh. We were now approaching the gate, which I hastened to open; and having done so, I waited at the side of the road for him to pass through, — but he came not. I turned my head to look; the mysterious horseman was gone; he was not to be seen; he had disappeared as mysteriously as he had come. What could have become of him? He could not have gone through the gate, nor have made his horse leap the high hedges, which on both sides shut in the road. Where was he? had I been dreaming? was it an apparition, a spectre, which had been riding by my side for the last ten minutes? — was it but a creature of my imagination? I tried hard to convince myself that this was the case; but why had the reaper resheathed his murderous-looking sickle and fled? And then, a feeling of profound awe began to creep over my soul. I remembered the singular way of his first appearance, — his long silence, and the single word to which he had given utterance after I had mentioned the name of the Lord; the single occasion on which I had done so. What could I, then, believe, but that my prayer had been heard, and that help had been given me at a time of great danger? I dismounted, and throwing myself on my knees, I offered up my thankfulness to Him who had heard my cry. I then mounted my horse, and continued my journey; but through the long years that have elapsed since that memorable summer’s day, I have never for a moment wavered in my belief, that in the mysterious horseman I had a special interference of Providence, by which I was delivered from a position of extreme danger.”
Now, however our readers may account for such incidents, the only purpose in introducing such a story here, is to say that it gives a fair illustration of that peculiar cast of ideal imagination which pervaded the Welsh mind, and influenced at once the impressions both of preachers and hearers.
There is, perhaps, no other spot on our British soil where “the old order” has so suddenly “changed” as in Wales: the breaking open the mountains for mining purposes has led to the thronging of dense populations on spots which were, only a few years since, unbroken solitudes. Ruins, which the sentimental idler never visited, wrecks of castles and abbeys crumbling into dust, isolated places through which we passed thirty years since, which seemed as though they never could be invaded by the railway whistle, or scarcely reached by the penny postman, now lie on the great highway of the train. It is not saying too much to affirm that there is no spot in Europe where the traveller is so constantly brought into the neighbourhood of old magnificence, the relics of vanished cities.
The wonder grows as to what was the state of ancient society in Wales. An eminent traveller says: “In England our ancestors have left us, dispersed in various places, splendid remains of their greatness; but in Wales you cannot travel ten miles without coming upon some vestige of antiquity which in another country you would go fifty to trace out?’ It is of such spots that a Welsh poet, Dyer, says: —
“The pilgrim oft,
At dead of night, ‘mid his orisons hears,
Aghast, the voice of Time disparting towers,
Tumbling all precipitate, all down-dashed,
Rattling around, loud thundering to the moon.”
What an illustration of this is St. David’s! — a little miserable village, with the magnificent remains of its great palace, and the indications of its once splendid cathedral; itself now a kind of suffragan, it once numbered seven suffragans within its metropolitan pale — Worcester, Hereford, Llandaff, Bangor, St. Asaph, Llanbadarn, and Margam. The mitre now dimly beaming at almost the lowest step of the ecclesiastical ladder, once shone with so proud a lustre as to attract the loftiest ecclesiastics. St. David’s numbers one saint, three lord-treasurers, one lord privy-seal, one chancellor of Oxford, one chancellor of England, and, in Farrar, one illustrious martyr.
Travel through the country, and similar reflections will meet you in every direction. You step a little off the high-road, and — as, for instance, in Kilgerran — you come to the traditional King Arthur’s castle, the far-famed Welsh Tintagel, of which Warton sings, —
“Stately the feast, and high the cheer,
Girt with many an armed peer,
And canopied with golden pall,
Amid Kilgerran’s castle hall
Illumining the vaulted roof,
A thousand torches flamed aloof;
The storied tapestry was hung,
With minstrelsy the arches rung,
Of harps that with reflected light
From the proud gallery glittered bright.”
Or, in the neighbourhood of the magnificent coast of Pembrokeshire, the wondrous little chapel of St. Govan’s, the hermitage of the hundred steps; and those splendid wrecks of castles, Manopear, the home of Giraldus Cambrensis, and the graceful and almost interminable recesses of Carew. A traveller may plunge about among innumerable villages bearing the names of saints for whom he will look in vain in the Romish calendar, — St. Athan’s, St. Siebald’s, St. Dubric’s, St. Dogmael’s, St. Ishmael’s, and crowds besides. All such places are girdled round with traditions and legends known to Welsh archæologists — the very nomenclature of Wales involving poetry and historical romance, and often deep tragedy. The names of the villages have a whisper of fabulous and traditional times, and are like the half-effaced hieroglyphs upon an old Egyptian tomb. There is the Fynnon Waedog (Bloody Well), the Pald of Gwaye (the Hollow of Woe), the Maen Achwynfan, (the Stone of Lamentation and Weeping), the Leysan Gwaed Gwyr (the Plant of the Blood of Man), Me rthyr Tydvil is the Martyred Tydvil. Villages and fields with names like these, remind us of the Hebrew names of places, really significant of some buried tragedy, long holding its place in the heart, and terror of the neighbourhood.
In a land-locked solitude like that of Nevern, Cardiganshire, — where, by-the-bye, we might loiter some time to recite some anecdotes of its admirable clergyman and great preacher, one of the Griffiths, — the wanderer, after a piece of agreeable wildness, comes to a village, enchanting for its beauty, lying on the brink of a charming river, with indications of a decayed importance; the venerable yew-trees of its churchyard shadowing over a singular — we may venture to speak of it as a piece of inexplicable — Runic antiquity, in a stone of a quadrangular form, about two feet broad, eighteen inches thick, and thirteen feet high, with a cross at the top. Few countries can boast, like Wales, the charm of places in wildest and most delicious scenery, with all that can stir an artist’s, poet’s, or antiquarian’s sensibility. What a neighbourhood is Llandilo! — the home of the really great poet, John Dyer, the author of “Grongar Hill,” a delicious spot in this neighbourhood. Here, too, is Golden Grove, the retreat of our own Jeremy Taylor; and here, in his days of exile, many of the matchless sermons of him who has been called, by some, “the English Chrysostom,” and, by others, the “Milton of the English pulpit,” were preached. We made a pilgrimage there ourselves some few years since, urged by love to the memory of Jeremy Taylor. We found the old church gone, and in its place a new one, — the taste of which did not particularly impress us; and we inquired for Taylor’s pulpit, and were told it had been chopped up for fire-wood! Then we inquired for a path through the fields, which for a hundred and fifty years had been called “Taylor’s Walk,” where the great bishop was wont to meditate, — and found it had been delivered over to the plough. We hope we may be forgiven if we say, that we hurried in disgust from a village which, in spite of its new noble mansion, had lost to us its chief charm. But this neighbourhood, with its Dynevor Castle and its charming river, the Towey, and all the scenery described by the exquisite Welsh poet, in whose verse beauty and sublimity equally reign, compels us to feel that if he somewhat pardonably over-coloured, by his own associations, the lovely shrine of his birth, he only naturally described the country through which these preachers wandered, when he says, —
“Ever charming, ever new,
When will the landscape tire the view!
The fountain’s fall, the river’s flow,
The woody valleys, warm and low:
The windy summit, wild and high,
Roughly rushing on the sky!
The pleasant seat, the ruin’d tow’r,
The naked rock, the shady bow’r;
The town and village, dome and farm,
Each give to each a double charm,
As pearls upon an Ethiop’s arm.”
The manners of the people, a few years since, were as singular and primeval as their country; in all the villages there were singular usages. The “biddings” to their weddings, — which have, perhaps, yielded to advanced good taste, — had a sweeter relief in other customs, at weddings and funerals, tending to civilize, and refine. Throughout Glamorganshire, especially, and not many years since, it was the universal custom, when young unmarried persons died, to strew the way to the grave with sweet flowers and evergreens. Mr. Malkin, in his interesting work on South Wales, published now seventy years since, says: “There is in the world an unfeeling kind of false philosophy, which will treat such customs as I mention with ridicule; but what can be more affecting than to see all the youth of both sexes in a village, and in every village through which the corpse passes, dressed in their best apparel, and strewing with sweet-scented flowers the ways along which one of their beloved neighbours was carried to his, or her last home?” No doubt such customs are very much changed, but they were prevalent during that period to which most of those preachers whose manners we have mentioned belonged.
Such pathetic usages, indicating a simple state of society, are commonly associated, as we have seen, with others of a rougher kind and character. The Welsh preachers were the pioneers of civilization, — although advanced society might still think much had to be done in the amelioration of the national manners. They probably touched a few practices which were really in themselves simple and affecting, but they swept away many superstitions, quite destroyed many rude and degrading practices, and introduced many usages, which, while they were in conformity with the national instincts of the people (such as preaching and singing, and assembling themselves together in large companies), tended to refine and elevate the mind and heart.
Such were the circumstances, and such the scenery, in which the great Welsh preachers arose.
We have not thought of those Welsh preachers who have made themselves especially known in England. Many have, from time to time, settled as pastors with us, who have deserved a large amount of our esteem and honour, blending in their minds high reverence, the tender sensitiveness of a poetic imagination, with the instinct of philosophic inquisitiveness — even shading off into an order of scepticism, — but all united to a strong and impressive eloquence. These attributes seem all essentially to adhere in the character of the cultured Welsh preacher. Caleb Morris finely illustrates all this; perhaps he was no whit inferior, in the build and architecture of his mind, to Horace Bushnell, whom he greatly resembled; but, unlike Bushnell, he never committed any of his soliloquies of thought, or feeling to the press. The present writer possesses volumes of his reported sermons which have never seen the light.
And what a Welshman was Rowland Williams! Who can read his life without feeling the spirit of devotion, however languid, inflamed and fired? And how, in spite of all the heresies attributed to him, and, growing up in the midst of the sacred ardours of his character, we find illustrated the wonder of the curious and searching eye, united to the warmth of the tender and revering heart! — attributes, we repeat, which seemed to mingle in very inferior types of Welsh preachers, as well as in the more eminent, and which, as they kindle into a passion in the man’s nature who desires to instruct his fellow-men, combine to make preaching, if they be absent, an infamy, a pastime, a day labour, or a handicraft, an art or a science; or, by their presence, constitute it a virtue and a mighty power over human souls. Eminently these men seem to hear a voice saying, “ The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream! What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord.”
CHRISTMAS EVANS is not the first, in point of time, in the remarkable procession of those men whose names we might mention, and of whom we shall find occasion in this volume to speak, as the great Welsh preachers. And there may be some dispute as to whether he was the first in point of eminence; but he is certainly the one of the four whose name is something more than a tradition. John Elias, Williams of Wern, and Davies of Swansea, have left behind them little beside the legendary rumour of their immense and pattheic power. This is true, especially, of David Davies of Swansea; and yet, Dr. Rees, his successor, and a very competent authority, says: “In some respects he was superior to all his distinguished contemporaries.” But the name of Christmas Evans is, perhaps, the most extensively known of any, — just as the name of Bunyan has a far more extensive intimacy than the equally honourable names of Barrow and Butler; and there is a similar reason for this. Christmas Evans, in the pulpit, more nearly approached the great Dreamer than any pulpit master of whom we have heard; many of his sermons appear to have been long-sustained parables, and pictures alive with allegorical delineation of human character.
CHRISTMAS EVANS was born at a place called Esgairwen (Ysgarwen), in the parish of Llandysul, in Cardiganshire; he was born on Christmas Day — and hence his Christian name — in 1766. His parents, Samuel and Johanna Evans, were in the poorest circumstances; his father was a shoemaker, and although this profession has included such a number of men remarkable for their genius and high attainments, it has never found the masters of the craft greatly remarkable for the possession of gold or gear. His mother, by her maiden name Lewis, came from a respectable family of freeholders in the parish; but the father of Christmas died when he was a child, — and these were hard days of poverty, almost destitution, for the poor struggling widow and her family, — so her brother, James Lewis, of Bwlchog, in the parish of Llanfihangel-ar-Arth, took little Christmas home to his farm, engaging to feed and clothe him for such labour on the farm as the poor boy might be able to perform. Here he stayed six years, — six miserable years; his uncle was a hard, cruel man, a selfish drunkard. Christmas used to say of him, in after years, “It would be difficult to find a more unconscionable man than James Lewis in the whole course of a wicked world.” During these, which ought to have been the most valuable years of his life, no care was taken of his heart, his mind, or his morals; in fact, he had neither a friend nor a home. At the age of seventeen he could not read a word, he was surrounded by the worst of examples, and he became the subject of a number of serious accidents, through which he narrowly escaped with his life. Once he was stabbed in a quarrel, once he was nearly drowned, and with difficulty recovered; once he fell from a high tree with an open knife in his hand, and once a horse ran away with him, passing at full speed through a low and narrow passage. There is an erroneous impression that, in those days, he was a great boxer, and that he lost his eye in a fight; the truth is quite different; he was not a boxer, and never fought a battle in his life. He lost his eye after his conversion, when he and some other young men were attempting the work of mutual help, in making up for lost time, by evening meetings, for various works of instruction; a number of his former companions waylaid him at night, beat him unmercifully, and one struck him with a stick over the eye. In after years, when some one was jesting before Robert Hall at Welsh preachers, upon his mentioning Christmas Evans, the jester said, “And he only has one eye!” “Yes, sir,” he answered, “but that’s a piercer; an eye, sir, that could light an army through a wilderness in a dark night.” So that in his sightless eye, Christmas Evans, like the one-eyed Spiridion, the noble witness in the Nicean Council, really “bore in his body a mark of the Lord Jesus.” But we are anticipating.
At about seventeen years of age, he left his bad uncle and his more servile employments; still continuing the occupation of a farming lad, he went to Glanclettwr; afterwards he lived at Penyralltfawr, at Gwenawlt, and then at Castellhywel. Thus the days of his youth passed; he looks like a poor, neglected, and forsaken lad. Of books he knew nothing. — he had no men of intelligence around him with whom to converse, and his condition in life doomed him to association with all that was low and brutal. And yet, strange as it may seem, as his friend and earliest biographer, Mr. Rhys Stephen, has testified, even then, as in the instance of the rugged young Samson, “the Spirit of the Lord began to move him at times.” It is not credible that, however crushed down beneath the weight of such abject circumstances, the boy could have been exactly what the other boys and men round him were; restless feelings, and birth-throes of emotion and thought, make themselves known in most of us before they assume a shape in consciousness; it is natural that it should have been so with him. With a life of seriousness, which resulted in Church membership, and which appears to have taken place when he was about seventeen years of age, commenced his life of mental improvement, — the first humble beginnings of intellectual effort. It is singular that the Church with which he first united, at Llwynrhydowain, originally Presbyterian, and of considerable importance in the early history of Welsh Nonconformity, approached very nearly, when Evans united with it, to Unitarianism. Its pastor was the Rev. David Davies; he was an Arian, an eminent bard, a scholar, an admirable and excellent man, who has left behind him a very honourable reputation. Such a man as Mr. Davies was, he would be likely to be interested in the intelligent and intellectual state of the youth of his Church and congregation. The slight accounts we possess of the avidity with which Christmas Evans and his companions commenced their “pursuit of knowledge under difficulties,” is very animating and pleasing; they combined together with the desire to obtain the earliest and most necessary means of mental acquisitiveness, such as reading and writing, a desire for the acquisition of religious knowledge, and what may be spoken of as some of the higher branches of study. But we will employ Christmas Evans’s own words: —
“During a revival which took place in the Church under the care of Mr. David Davies, many young people united themselves with that people, and I amongst them. What became of the major part of these young converts, I have never known; but I hope God’s grace followed them as it did me, the meanest of the whole. One of the fruits of this awakening was the desire for religious knowledge that fell upon us. Scarcely one person out of ten could, at this time, and in those neighbourhoods, read at all, even in the language of the country. We bought Bibles and candles, and were accustomed to meet together in the evening, in the barn of Penyralltfawr; and thus, in about one month, I was able to read the Bible in my mother tongue. I was vastly delighted with so much learning. This, however, did not satisfy me, but I borrowed books, and learnt a little English. Mr. Davies, my pastor, understood that I thirsted for knowledge, and took me to his school, where I stayed for six months. Here I went through the Latin Grammar; but so low were my circumstances that I could stay there no longer.”
To preach, as we all know, has often been an object of ambition with young converts, and the novices in the vestibule of knowledge of the spiritual life; such an ambition seems very early to have stirred in the heart of young Christmas. We have already mentioned how it was that he so cruelly lost the use of an eye; it illustrates the singular brutality of the time and neighbourhood; an inoffensive lad, simply because he renounced the society of profane drunkards, and was laudably busying himself with the affairs of a higher life, was set upon in the darkness of the night by six young ruffians, unmercifully beaten with sticks, and the sight of an eye destroyed. It was the night after this calamity that he had a dream; and the dream of the night reveals the bent of his day dreams. He dreamt that the Day of Judgment was come, that he saw the world in a blaze; with great confidence he called out, “Jesus, save me!” And he thought he saw the Lord turn towards him and say, “It was thy intention to preach the Gospel, but it is now too late, for the Day of Judgment is come.” But this vision of the night clung to him when he awoke; perhaps he feared that the loss of the eye would interfere with his acceptance as a minister. Certainly the dream had an influence on his future career, — so had many other dreams. It was always his belief that he had received some of his most important impressions from dreams: nothing, apparently, no amount of reason or argument, could persuade him to the contrary. To preach the Gospel became an ardent desire now with this passionately imaginative and earnest youth; but there were serious hindrances in the way. There appears to have been a kind of law in the Church with which he was connected at Llwynrhydowain, that no member of the Church should be permitted to preach until he had passed through a college course. It is very remarkable that two of the greatest preachers who have adorned the pulpit of Wales should have been admitted into Church fellowship together on the same evening, — David Davies, afterwards of Swansea, whose name we have already mentioned, and Christmas Evans. It was always the regret and complaint of their first pastor, that the Church law to which we have referred, deprived his Church of the two most eminent men it had ever produced. There were, no doubt, other reasons; but it is singular, now, to notice the parallelism of the gifted pair, for they also preached their first sermon, within a week of each other, in the same cottage. Cottage preaching was then of much more importance than it now seems to our ecclesiastical and æsthetic apprehensions; and the congregations which assembled in those old Welsh cottages were such as to try the mental and spiritual strength of a young preacher. How Davies acquitted himself, and how he ran his course, we may notice by-and-bye; our present concern is with Christmas Evans. Perhaps our readers will not entertain a depreciating opinion of the youth, when they hear him very candidly confess that the substance of his first sermon was taken from Beveridge’s “Thesaurus Theologicus,” a book borrowed, probably, from his pastor. But a Mr. Davies, who must have been a reading man although a farmer, heard it, was very much impressed by it, but went home and found it; so that the poor boy’s reputation as a preacher seemed gone. “Still,” said the good man, “ I have some hope of the son of Samuel the shoemaker, because the prayer was as good as the sermon.” But perhaps he would not have thought so hopefully of the young man had he then known, what Christmas afterwards confessed, that the prayer, too, was very greatly committed to memory from a collection of prayers by a well-known clergyman, Griffith Jones of Llanddowror.
Such was the first public effort of this distinguished preacher; like the first effort of his great English contemporary, Robert Hall, we suppose it would be regarded as a failure. Meantime, we have to notice that the spiritual life of the youth was going on; he began to be dissatisfied with the frame of theologic sentiment of the Church to which he belonged. He heard preachers who introduced him to the more grand, scriptural, and evangelical views of Christian truth. The men of that time did not play at preaching; the celebrated David Morris, father of the yet more celebrated Ebenezer Morris; the great Peter Williams, Jones of Llangan, Thomas Davies of Neath, — such men as these appear to have kindled in his mind loftier views of the person and the work of Christ. Also, a man named Amos, who had been a member of the same Church with Christmas Evans, had left that communion, and joined that of the Baptists. A close study of the Word of God led Christmas also to a change of convictions as to the meaning and importance of the rite of baptism. A similar change of theologic opinion was passing through the mind of his young friend and fellow-member, David Davies, who finally united himself with the Independent communion. Christmas Evans says, “I applied to the Baptist Church at Aberduar, where I was in due time received; I was then about twenty years and six months old. I was baptized by the Rev. Timothy Thomas.”
As the names of successive persons and pastors pass before our eyes, and appear in these pages, it is at once affecting, humbling, and elevating, to think of men of whom our ears have scarcely ever heard, but who, in their day, were men “of whom the world was not worthy;’ and whose “record is now on high.” Such a man, beyond all question, was this Timothy Thomas, the son of an eminent father, the brother of men who, if not as eminent as himself, were yet worthy of the noble relationship. He was a Welsh gentleman, lived on a farm, an extended lease of which he held, and which enabled him to preach and fulfil the work of a pastor without any monetary reward. He appears to have devoted himself, his time, his energy, and his property to the work of the ministry. His farm was a splendid one in the vale of the Teivy. Mr. Rhys Stephen, who knew him, speaks of his gallant bearing, his ingenuous spirit, and of his princely magnanimity; he would ride thirty or forty miles on a Saturday, through the remote wilds of Caermarthenshire and Cardiganshire, to be ready for the services on the Sunday. His gentlemanly bearing overcame and beat down mobs which sometimes assembled for the purpose of insulting and assailing him. Mr. Stephen mentions one singular instance, when Mr. Thomas was expected to administer the ordinance of baptism, and, as was not unusual in those days, in the natural baptistry of the river. A mob had assembled together for the purpose of insulting and annoying the service, the missiles of offence in their hands; when, suddenly, a well-dressed gentleman, mounted on a noble hors; rode over the village bridge; he hastily alighted, gave his bridle to a bystander, walked briskly into the middle of the little flock; the inimical members of the mob set him down for a magistrate at the least, and expected that he would give the word to disperse; but instead of doing so, he took the nearest candidate by the hand, and walked himself down into the stream, booted and spurred as he was. Before the mob had done gaping, he had done this part of his work; after this, however, he stood upon the brink of the stream, still in his wet attire, and preached one of his ardent sermons. He certainly conciliated the homage of the opposing forces, and left them under the impression that the “dippers;’ as the Baptists were generally called, had certainly one gentleman among them. We do not know how our Baptist brethren would like to submit to this kind of service, but it certainly seems to resemble more closely the baptism of Enon, near to Salem, and that of the Ethiopian prince by Philip, than some we have seen.
The anecdotes of this Timothy Thomas are too good and too numerous to be entirely passed by. Once he was preaching in the enchanting neighbourhood near Llandeilo, to which we referred in the first chapter — the neighbourhood of Grongar Hill, and Golden Grove; the neighbourhood of Dyer, Steele, and Jeremy Taylor. It was a still Sabbath morning in the summer, and in that lovely spot immense crowds were gathered to hear him. He had administered baptism, and preached, without interruption, when someone came up to him and told him, with startled fear and trepidation, that the clergyman, — the rector, — on his way to the church, had been detained, utterly unable to pass through the crowd, through the greater part of the service. Instantly, with admirable tact and catholicity, he exclaimed: “I understand that the respected clergyman of the parish has been listening patiently to me for the last hour; let us all go to the church and return the compliment by hearing him.” The church, and the churchyard as well, were instantly crowded; the clergyman was delighted with the catholic spirit displayed by the Baptist minister, and of course not a word further was said about the trespass which had been committed.
Timothy Thomas was a noble specimen of what has been called the “muscular Christian;” he had great courage. Once, when travelling with his wife, and set upon by four ruffians, he instantly, with his single stick, floored two, but broke his stick in the very act of conquest. Immediately he flew to a hedge and tore up a prodigious stake, and was again going forth to victory, when the scoundrels, having had enough of this bishop of the Church militant, took to flight and left him in undisputed possession of the field. A remarkable man this, — a sort of Welsh chieftain; a perfect gentleman, but half farmer, half preacher. In the order of Church discipline, a man was brought up before him, as the pastor, for having knocked down an Unitarian. “Let us hear all about it,” said the pastor. “To tell all the truth about it, sir;’ said the culprit, “I met Jack the miller at the sign of the Red Dragon, and there we had a single glass of ale together.” “Stop a bit,” said the minister; “ I hope you paid for it.” “I did, sir.” “ That is in your favour, Thomas,” said the pastor; “I cannot bear those people who go about tippling at other people’s expense. Go on, Thomas.” “Well, sir, after a little while we began quietly talking about religion, and about the work of Jesus Christ. Jack said that He was only a man, and then he went on to say shocking things, things that it was beyond the power of flesh and blood to bear.” “I dare say,” said the pastor; “but what did he say?” “He actually said, sir, that the blood of Christ had no more power in it than the blood of a beast. I could not stand that any more, so I knocked him down.” “Well, brother,” said the minister, “I cannot say that you did the right thing, but I quite believe that I should have done so too. Go, and sin no more.”
But with all these marks of a strong character, the lines of Timothy Thomas’s faith were clear and firm.
Such was the man who received Christmas Evans into the Church of which he became so bright and shining an ornament. This noble man survived until his eighty-sixth year; he died at Cardigan, in 1840. He was asked, sometimes, how many he had baptized during his lifetime, and he would reply, brusquely, “About two thousand;” at other times, he would be more particular, and say, “I have baptized at least two thousand persons. Yes,” he would add tenderly, “and thirty of them have become ministers of the Gospel; and it was I who baptized Christmas Evans,” — sometimes adding naïvely, “I did it right, too, — according to the apostolic practice, you know.” Thus we are brought to the interesting and important turning-point in the life of Christmas Evans. He had united himself with the Baptist communion. Our readers will clearly perceive, that he was a young man who could not be hidden, and it was soon discovered that the work of the ministry was to be his destination. As to his internal state, upon which a ministerial character must always depend, these early years of his religious life were times and seasons of great spiritual depression. Such frames of feeling depend, perhaps, not less, or more, upon certain aspects of religious truth, than they do upon the peculiarities of temperament; a nervous imagination is very exhausting, and brings the physical frame very low; moreover, exalted ideas, and ideals, produce very depressing appreciations of self. He thought himself a mass of ignorance and sin; he desired to preach, but he thought that such words as his must be useless to his hearers: then, as to the method of preaching, he was greatly troubled. He thought by committing his sermons to memory he forfeited the gift of the Holy Spirit; so he says he changed his method, took a text without any premeditation, and preached what occurred to him at the time; “but,” he continues, “if it was bad before, it was worse now; so I thought God would have nothing to do with me as a preacher.”
The young man was humbled; he entered every pulpit with dread; he thought that he was such an one that his mere appearance in the pulpit would be quite sufficient to becloud the hearts of his hearers, and to intercept the light from heaven. Then it seems he had no close friend to whom he could talk; he was afraid lest, if he laid bare the secrets of his heart, he should seem to be only a hypocrite; so he had to wrap up the bitter secrets of his soul in his own heart, and drink of his bitter cup alone. Is this experience singular? Is not this the way in which all truly great, and original preachers have been made? — Luther, Bunyan, Dr. Payson, Robert Hall, — how many beside? Such men have attained high scholarships, and fellowships, in the great university of human nature; like Peter, pierced to the heart themselves, they have “pricked” the hearts, the consciences, of the thousands who have heard them. Thus, more than from the lore of classical literatures, they have had given to them “the tongue of the learned,” which has enabled them to speak “a word in season to those who were wearied;” thus, “converted” themselves, they have been able to “strengthen their brethren.”
Evans passed through a painful experience; the young man was feeling his way. He was unconscious of the powers within him, although they were struggling for expression; and so, through his humility and lowly conceptions of himself, he was passing on to future eminence and usefulness.
Lleyn was the first place where he appears to have felt his feet. Lleyn at that time had not even the dignity of being a village; it is a little inland hamlet out of Caernarvon Bay; Nevin is its principal village; perhaps if the reader should seek out Lleyn, even upon a tolerable map of Caernarvonshire, he will have a difficulty in finding it. It seems to have been a hamlet of the promontory, on a grand coast, surrounded by magnificent hills, or overhanging mountains; we have never visited it, but those who have done so speak of it as possessing the charms of peculiar wildness: on the one side, precipitous ravines, shut in by the sea; on the other, walls of dark mountains, — forming the most complete picture of isolation possible to imagine. Here is said to be the last resting-place of Vortigern, who fled hither to escape the rage of his subjects, excited by his inviting the Saxons to Britain. A curious tradition holds that the mountains are magnetic, and masters of vessels are said to be careful not to approach too near the coast, fearing the effect upon their compasses; this is believed to be the effect of a strong undercurrent setting in all along the coast, dangerous to vessels, and apt to lead them out of their course. Such was Lleyn, the first field of labour on which this melancholy and brooding youth was to exercise his ministry.
Evans had attended the Baptist Association at Maesyberllan in Brecknockshire, in 1790; he was persuaded there to enter upon the ministry in this very obscure district, and he was ordained as a missionary to work among the humble Churches in that vicinity. It does not appear that, in his own neighbourhood, he had as yet attained to any reputation for peculiar power, or that there were any apparent auguries and prognostications of his future usefulness. It is curious to notice, almost so soon as he began his work in this his first distinct field of labour, he appears like a man new made; for this seems to have been the place where the burden of which Bunyan speaks, rolled from this Christian’s back; here a new life of faith began to glow in him, and he knew something of what it is to have the “oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise instead of the spirit of heaviness.” A little success is very encouraging; depreciation is frequently the parent of depression; success is often a fine old strengthening wine; and how often we have had occasion to admire men who have wrought on at life’s tasks bravely and cheerfully, although success never came and sat down by their side, to cheer and encourage them; one sometimes wonders what they would have done had their efforts and words received the garland and the crown. Well, perhaps not so much; these things are more wisely ordered than we know. Only this also may be remarked, that, perhaps, the highest order of mind and heart can do almost as well without success as with it, — will behave beautifully if success should come, will behave no less beautifully even if success should never come.
At Lleyn, Christmas Evans tasted the first prelibations of a successful ministry; a wondrous power attended his preaching, numbers were gathered into the Church. “I could scarcely believe,” he says, “the testimony of the people who came before the Church as candidates for membership, that they were converted through my ministry; yet I was obliged to believe, though it was marvellous in my eyes. This made me thankful to God, and increased my confidence in prayer; a delightful gale descended upon me as from the hill of the New Jerusalem, and I felt the three great things of the kingdom of heaven, righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” Indeed, very unusual powers seemed to attend him. He says, “I frequently preached out of doors at nightfall,” and the singing, and the praising seem to have touched him very tenderly; he frequently found his congregations bathed in tears and weeping profusely. Preaching was now to him, as he testifies, a very great pleasure, — and no wonder; quite a remarkable revival of religious feeling woke up wherever he went. When he first entered Lleyn, the religious life was very cold and feeble; quite wonderful was the change.
After a time, exhausted with his work in these villages, he accepted an invitation to visit the more remote parts of South Wales. When ministers, like Christmas Evans, are enfeebled in health, they recreate themselves by preaching; the young man was enfeebled, but he started off on his preaching tour; he could not obtain a horse, so he walked the whole way, preaching in every village or town through which he passed. Very frequently large numbers of the same congregation would follow after him the next day, and attend the services fifteen or twenty times, although many miles apart. So he went through the counties of Cardigan, Pembroke, Caernarvon, Glamorgan, Monmouth, and Brecknock, stopping and holding services at the innumerable villages lying on his way. The fame that a wonderful man of God had appeared spread through South Wales on the wings of the wind, and an appointment for Christmas Evans to preach was sufficient to attract thousands to the place. While he yet continued at Lleyn as itinerant missionary, in that short time he had acquired perhaps a greater popularity than any other preacher of that day in Wales.
We have not said that, during the first years of his residence at Lleyn, he married Catherine Jones, a young lady a member of his own Church, — a pious girl, and regarded as in every way suitable for his companion. It will be seen that, so far from diminishing, it seemed rather to increase his ardour; he frequently preached five times during the Sabbath, and walked twenty miles; his heart appeared to be full of love, he spoke as in the strains of a seraph. No wonder that such labour and incessant excitement told upon his health, it was feared even that he might sink into consumption; but surely it was a singular cure suggested for such a disease, to start off on the preaching tour we have described.
At last, however, in an unexpected moment, he became great. It was at one of those wonderful gatherings, an Association meeting, held at Velinvoel, in the immediate neighbourhood of Llanelly. A great concourse of people were assembled in the open air. Here was some hitch in the arrangements. Two great men were expected, but still some one or other was wanted to break the ice — to prepare the way. On so short a notice, notwithstanding the abundant preaching power, no one was found willing to take the vacant place. Christmas Evans was there, walking about on the edge of the crowd — a tall, bony, haggard young man, uncouth, and ill-dressed. The master of the ceremonies for the occasion, the pastor of the district, was in an agony of perplexity to find his man, — one who, if not equal to the mightiest, would yet be sufficient for the occasion. In his despair, he went to our old friend, Timothy Thomas; but he, declining for himself; said abruptly, “Why not ask that one-eyed lad from the North? I hear that he preaches quite wonderfully.” So the pastor went to him. He instantly consented. Many who were there afterwards expressed the surprise they felt at the communication going on between the pastor and the odd-looking youth. “Surely,” they said, “he can never ask that absurdity to preach!” They felt that an egregious mistake was being committed and some went away to refresh themselves, and others to rest beneath the hedges around, until the great men should come; and others, who stayed, comforted themselves with the assurance that the “one-eyed lad” would have the good sense to be very short. But, for the young preacher while he was musing, the fire was burning; he was now, for the first time, to front one of those grand Welsh audiences, the sacred Eisteddfodd of which we have spoken, and to be the preacher of an occasion, which, through all his life after, was to be his constant world. Henceforth there was to be, perhaps, not an Association meeting of his denomination, of which he was not to be the most attractive preacher, the most longed-for and brilliant star.
He took a grand text: “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled, in the body of His flesh, through death, to present you holy, and unblamable, and unreprovable in His sight?’ Old men used to describe afterwards how he justified their first fears by his stiff, awkward movements; but the organ was, in those first moments, building, and soon it began to play. He showed himself a master of the instrument of speech. Closer and closer the audience began to gather near him. They got up, and came in from the hedges. The crowd grew more and more dense with eager listeners; the sermon became alive with dramatic representation. The throng of preachers present confessed that they were dazzled with the brilliance of the language, and the imagery, falling from the lips of this altogether unknown and unexpected young prophet. Presently, beneath some appalling stroke of words, numbers started to their feet; and in the pauses — if pauses were permitted in the paragraphs — the question went, “Who is this? who have we here?” His words went rocking to and fro; he had caught the “Hwyl,” — he had also caught the people in it; he went swelling along at full sail. The people began to cry, “Gogoniant!” (Glory!) “Bendigedig” (Blessed!) The excitement was at its highest when, amidst the weeping, and rejoicing of the mighty multitude, the preacher came to an end. Drawn together from all parts of Wales to the meeting, when they went their separate ways home they carried the memory of “the one-eyed lad” with them.
Christmas Evans was, from that moment, one of the most famous preachers in the Principality. Lord Byron tells us how he woke up one morning and found himself famous. In those days, a new great Welsh preacher was quite as famous a birth in the little country of Wales as the most famous reputation could be in the literary world of England.
We can conceive it all; for, about thirty-five years since, we were spectators of some such scene. It was far in the depths of the dark mountains beyond Abersychan, that we were led to a large Welsh service; but it was in a great chapel, and it was on a winter’s night. The place was dimly lit with candles. There were, we remember, three preachers. But whilst the first were pursuing their way, or the occasional hymns were being chanted, our companion said to us, “But I want you to hear that little humpbacked man, behind there; he will come next.” We could scarcely see the little hump-backed man, but what we saw of him did not predispose our minds to any very favourable impressions, or prophecies of great effects. In due time he came forward. Even as soon as he presented himself, however, there was an evident expectation. The people began more certainly to settle themselves; to crane their necks forward; to smile their loving smile, as upon a well-known friend, who would not disappoint them; and to utter their sighs and grunts of satisfaction. He was as uncouth a piece of humanity as we have ever seen, the little hump-backed man, thin and bony. His iron-grey hair fell over his forehead with no picturesque effect, nor did his eyes seem to give any indicator of fire; and there was a shuffling and shambling in his gait, giving no sign of the grace of the orator. But, gradually, as he moved along, and before he had moved far, the whole of that audience was subject to his spell of speech. His hair was thrown back from his forehead; his features were lighted up. Hump-backed! You neither saw it, nor thought of it. His very movement seemed informed by dignity and grandeur. First, there came forth audible gaspings, and grunts of approval and pleasure. His very accent, whether you knew his language or not, compelled tears to start to the eyes. Forth came those devout gushings of speech we have mentioned, which, in Wales, are the acclamations which greet a preacher; and, like Christmas Evans with the close of his first grand sermon, the little hump-backed man sat down, victorious over all personal deformity, amidst the weeping and rejoicing of the people. We have always thought of that circumstance as a wonderful illustration of the power of the mind over the body.
Christmas returned to Lleyn, but not to remain there long. The period of his ministry in that neighbourhood was about two years, and during that time the religious spirit of the neighbourhood had been deeply stirred. It is most likely that the immediate cause which led to his removal may be traced to the natural feeling that he was fitted for a much more obvious and extended field of labour. Lleyn was a kind of mission station, its churches were small, they had long been disorganised, and it was not likely that, even if they woke at once into newness of life, they could attain to ideas of liberality and Church order, on which the growth and advance and perpetuity of the Churches could alone be founded and then it was very likely discovered that the man labouring among them would be demanded for labours very far afield; it is awkward when the gifts of a man make him eminently acceptable to shine and move as an evangelist, and yet he is expected to fill the place, and be as steady in pastoral relations as a pole star!
IN 1792 Christmas Evans left Lleyn. He speaks of a providential intimation conveyed to him from the Island of Anglesea; the providential intimation was a call to serve all the Churches of his order in that island for seventeen pounds a year! and for the twenty years during which he performed this service, he never asked for more. He was twenty-six years of age when he set forth, on his birthday, Christmas Day, for his new and enlarged world of work. He travelled like an Apostle, — and surely he travelled in an apostolic spirit, — he was unencumbered with this world’s goods. It was a very rough day of frost and snow,
“The way was long, the wind was cold.”
He travelled on horseback, with his wife behind him; and he arrived on the evening of the same day at Llangefni. On his arrival in Anglesea he found ten small Baptist Societies, lukewarm and faint; what amount of life there was in them was spent in the distraction of theological controversy, which just then appeared to rage, strong and high, among the Baptists in North Wales. He was the only minister amongst those Churches, and he had not a brother minister to aid him within a hundred and fifty miles; but he commenced his labours in real earnest, and one of his first movements was to appoint a day of fasting and prayer in all the preaching places; he soon had the satisfaction to find a great revival, and it may with truth be said “the pleasure of the Lord prospered in his hand.”
Llangefni appears to have been the spot in Anglesea where Christmas found his home. Llangefni is a respectable town now; when the preaching apostle arrived there, near a hundred years since, its few scattered houses did not even rise to the dignity of a village. Cildwrn Chapel was here the place of his ministrations, and here stood the little cottage where Christmas and his wife passed their plain and simple days. Chapel and cottage stood upon a bleak and exposed piece of ground. The cottage has been reconstructed since those days, but upon the site of the queer and quaint old manse stands now a far more commodious chapel-keeper’s house. As in the Bedford vestry they show you still the chair in which John Bunyan sat, so here they show a venerable old chair, Christmas Evans’s chair, in the old Cildwrn cottage; it is deeply and curiously marked by the cuttings of his pocket-knife, made when he was indulging in those reveries and daydreams in the which he lived abstracted from everything around him.
The glimpses of life we obtain from this old Cildwrn cottage do not incline us to speak in terms of very high eulogy of the Voluntary principle, as developed in Anglesea in that day; from the description, it must have been a very poor shanty, or windy shieling; it is really almost incredible to think of such a man in such a home. The stable for the horse or pony was a part of the establishment, or but very slightly separated from it; the furniture was very poor and scanty: a bed will sometimes compensate for the deprivations and toils of the day when the wearied limbs are stretched upon it, but Christmas Evans could not, as James Montgomery has it, “Stretch the tired limbs, and lay the head, upon his own delightful bed;” for, one of his biographers says, the article on which the inmates, for some time after their settlement, rested at night, could be designated a bed only by courtesy; some of the boards having given way, a few stone slabs did some necessary service. The door by which the preacher and his wife entered the cottage was rotted away, and the economical congregation saved the expense of a new door by nailing a tin plate across the bottom; the roof was so low that the master of the house, when he stood up, had to exercise more than his usual forethought and precaution.
Here, then, was the study, the furnace, forge, and anvil whence were wrought out those noble ideas, images, words, which made Christmas Evans a household name throughout the entire Principality. Here he, and his Catherine, passed their days in a life of perfect naturalness — somewhat too natural, thinks the reader — and elevated piety. Which of us, who write, or read these pages, will dare to visit them with the indignity of our pity? Small as his means were, he looks very happy, with his pleasant, bright, affectionate, helpful and useful wife; he grew in the love and honour of the people; and to his great pulpit eminence, and his simple daily life, have been applied, not unnaturally, the fine words of Wordsworth —
“So did he travel on life’s common way
In cheerful lowliness; and yet his heart
The mightiest duties on itself did lay.”
And there was a period in Wordsworth’s life, before place, and fame, and prosperity came to him, when the little cottage near the Wishing Gate, in Grasmere, was not many steps above that of the Cildwrn cottage of Christmas Evans. The dear man did not care about his poverty, — he appears never either to have attempted to conceal it, nor to grumble at it; and one of his biographers applies to him the pleasant words of Jean Paul Richter, “The pain of poverty was to him only as the piercing of a maiden’s ear, and jewels were hung in the wound.”
It was, no doubt, a very rough life, but he appears to have attained to the high degree of the Apostle, — “having food and raiment, let us be therewith content;” and he was caught up, and absorbed in his work: sermons, and material for sermons, were always preparing in his mind; he lived to preach, to exercise that bardic power of his. That poor room was the study; he had no separate room to which to retire, where, in solitude, he could stir, or stride the steeds of thought or passion.
During those years, in that poor Cildwrn room, he mastered some ways of scholarship, the mention of which may, perhaps, surprise some of our readers. He made himself a fair Hebraist; no wonder at that, he must have found the language, to him, a very congenial tongue; we take it that, anyhow, the average Welshman will much more readily grapple with the difficulties of Hebrew than the average Englishman. Then he became so good a Grecian, that once, in a bookseller’s shop, upon his making some remarks on Homer in the presence of a clergyman, a University man, which drew forth expressions of contempt, Christmas put on his classical panoply, and so addressed himself to the shallow scholar, that he was compelled, by the pressure of engagements, to beat a surprisingly quick retreat.
Very likely the slender accoutrements of his library would create a sneer upon the lips of most of the scholars of the modern pulpit: his lexicons did not rise above Parkhurst, — and we will be bold to express gratitude to that forgotten and disregarded old scholar, too; Owen supplied him with the bones of theological thought, the framework of his systematic theology: and whatever readers may think of his taste, Dr. Gill largely drew upon his admiration and sympathy, in the method of his exposition. But, when all was said and done, he was the Vulcan himself, who wrought the splendid fancies of the Achilles’ shield, — say, rather, of the shield of Faith; he did not disdain books, but books with him were few, and his mind, experience, and observation were large.
A little while ago, we heard a good story. A London minister of considerable notoriety, never in any danger of being charged with a too lowly estimate of himself; or his powers, was called to preach an anniversary sermon, on a week evening, some distance from London. Arrived at the house of the brother minister, for whom he had undertaken the service, before it commenced, he requested to be shown into the study, in which he might spend some little time in preparation: the minister went up with him.
“So!” said the London Doctor, as he entered, and gazed around, “this is the place where all the mischief is done; this is your furnace, this is the spot from whence the glowing thoughts, and sparks emanate!”
“Yes,” said his host, “ I come up here to think, and prepare, and be quiet; one cannot study so well in the family.”
The Doctor strode up and down the room, glancing round the walls, lined with such few books as the modest means of a humble minister might be supposed to procure.
“Ah!” said the Doctor, “and these are the books, the alimentary canals which absorb the pabulum from whence you reinvigorate the stores of thought, and rekindle refrigerated feeling.”
“Yes, Doctor,” said the good man, “these are my books; I have not got many, you see, for I am not a rich London minister, but only a poor country pastor; you have a large library, Doctor?”
The great man stood still; he threw a half-indignant and half-benignant glance upon his humble brother, and he said, “I have no library, I do not want books, I am the Book!”
Christmas Evans, so far as he could command the means, — but they were very few, — was a voracious reader; and most of the things he read were welded into material for the imagination; but much more truly might he have said, than the awful London dignitary and Doctor, “I have no books, I am the book.” His modesty would have prevented him from ever saying the last; but it was nevertheless eminently and especially true, he was the book. There was a good deal in him of the self-contained, self-evolving character; and it is significant of this, that, while probably he knew little, or nothing, of our great English classical essayists, John Foster and his Essays were especially beloved by him; far asunder as were their spheres, and widely different their more obvious and manifested life, there was much exceedingly alike in the structure of their mental characters.
We have already alluded to the dream-life of Christmas Evans; we should say, that if dreams come from the multitude of business, the daily occupation, the ordinary life he lived was well calculated to foster in him the life of dreams. Here is one, — a. strange piece, which shows the mind in which he lived: — “I found myself at the gate of hell, and, standing at the threshold, I saw an opening, beneath which was a vast sea of fire, in wave-like motion. Looking at it, I said, ‘What infinite virtue there must have been in the blood of Christ to have quenched, for His people, these awful flames!”
Overcome with the feeling, I knelt down by the walls of hell, saying, ‘Thanks be unto Thee, O great and blessed Saviour, that Thou hast dried up this terrible sea of fire!’ Whereupon Christ addressed me: ‘Come this way, and I will show you how it was done.’ Looking back, I beheld that the whole sea had disappeared. Jesus passed over the place, and said: ‘Come, follow Me.’ By this time, I was within what I thought were the gates of hell, where there were many cells, out of which it was impossible to escape. I found myself within one of these, and anxious to make my way out. Still I felt wonderfully calm, as I had only just been conversing with Jesus, and because He had gone before me, although I had now lost sight of Him. I got hold of something, with which I struck the corner of the place in which I stood, saying, ‘In the name of Jesus, open!’ and it instantly gave way; so I did with all the enclosures, until I made my way out into the open field. Whom should I see there but brethren, none of whom, however, I knew, except a good old deacon, and their work was to attend to a nursery of trees; I joined them, and laid hold of a tree, saying, ‘In the name of Jesus, be thou plucked up by the root!’ And it came up as if it had been a rush. Hence I went forth, as I fancied, to work miracles, saying, ‘Now I know how the Apostles wrought miracles in the name of Christ!’ ”
It was during the earlier period of Christmas Evans’s ministry at Anglesea, that a great irruption took place in the island, and, indeed, throughout the Principality; and the Sandemanian controversy shook the Churches, and especially the Baptist Churches, almost beyond all credibility, and certainly beyond what would have been a possibility, but for the singular power of the chief leader, John Richard Jones, of Ramoth. Christmas Evans himself fell for some time beneath the power of Sandemanian notions. Our readers, perhaps, know enough of this peculiar form of faith and practice, to be aware that the worst thing that can be said of it is, that it is a religious ice-plant, religion in an ice-house, — a form chiefly remarkable for its rigid ritualistic conservation of what are regarded as the primitive forms of apostolic times, conjoined to a separation from, and a severe and cynical reprobation of, all other Christian sects.
Christmas Evans says of himself at this peridd:
“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 realize the testimony of a good conscience. Sabbath nights, after having been in the day exposing and vilifying, with all bitterness, the errors that prevailed, my conscience felt as if displeased, and reproached me that I had lost nearness to, and walking with, God. It would intimate that something exceedingly precious was now wanting in me; I would reply, that I was acting in obedience to the Word; but it continued to accuse me of the want of some precious article. I had been robbed, to a great degree, of the spirit of prayer, and of the spirit of preaching.”
And the man who headed and gave effect to this Sandemanian movement, which was regarded as a mighty reform movement, was Jones of Ramoth. No doubt a real and genuine character enough, a magnificent orator, a master of bitter wit, and vigorous declamation. That is a keen saying with which Richard Hooker commences his “Ecclesiastical Polity:” “He that goeth about to persuade a multitude, that they are not so well governed as they ought to be, shall never want attentive and favourable hearers; because they know the manifold defects whereunto every kind of regiment is subject; but the secret lets and difficulties, which in public proceedings are innumerable and inevitable, they have not ordinarily the judgment to consider.” This seems to have been the work, and this the effect, of John Richard Jones: very much the sum and substance of his preaching grew to be a morbid horror of the entire religious world, and a supreme contempt — one of his memorialists says, a superb contempt — for all preachers except himself, especially for all itinerant preachers. In fact, Ramoth Jones’s influence in Anglesea might well be described in George MacDonald’s song, “The Waesome Carl”: —
“Ye’re a’ wrang, and a’ wrang,
And a’thegither a wrang;
There’s no a man aboot the toon
But’s a’thegither a’ wrang.
“The minister wasna fit to pray,
And let alane to preach;
He nowther had the gift o’ grace,
Nor yet the gift o’ speech.
He rnind’t him o’ Balaäm’s ass,
Wi’ a differ ye may ken:
The Lord He opened the ass’s mou’,
The minister opened’s ain.
“Ye’re a’ wrang, and a’ wrang,
And a’thegither a’ wrang;
There’s no a man aboot the toon
But’s a’thegither a’ wrang.”
Compared with the slender following of the Sandemanian schism now, — for we believe it has but six congregations in the whole United Kingdom, — it seems strange to know that it laid so wonderful a hold upon the island of Anglesea. It did, however; and that it did was evidently owing to the strong man whose name we have mentioned. He was a self-formed man, but he was a man, if not of large scholarship, of full acquaintance with Latin, Greek, and Hebrew; he was a skilful musician; he understood the English language well, but of the Welsh he was a great master. But his intelligence, we should think, was dry and hard; his sentiments were couched in bitter sarcasm: “If,” said he, “every Bible in the world were consumed, and every word of Scripture erased from my memory, I need be at no loss how to live a religious life, according to the will of God, for I should simply have to proceed in all respects in a way perfectly contrary to the popular religionists of this age, and then I could not possibly be wrong.” He was very arrogant and authoritative in tone and manner, supercilious himself, and expecting the subordination of others. He was so bitter and narrow, that one naturally supposes that some injustice had embittered him. Some of his words have a noble ring. But he encouraged a spirit far other than a charitable one wherever his word extended; and it has been not unnaturally said, that the spread of this Sandemanian narrowness in Anglesea, realized something of the old Scotch absurdity of having two Churches in the same cottage, consisting of Janet in one apartment, and Sandy in the other; or of that other famed Scottish Church, which had dwindled down to two members, old Dame Christie, and Donald, but which seemed at last likely to dwindle yet farther into one, as Christie said she had “sair doubts o’ Donald.”
The work of Christmas Evans, so far successful, seemed likely to be undone; all the Churches seemed inoculated by these new and narrow notions, and Christmas Evans himself appears, as we have seen, to have been not altogether unscathed. There is something so plausible in this purism of pride; and many such a creed of pessimism is the outgrowth of indifference born, and nurtured, upon decaying faith, — a faith which, perhaps, as in the instance of Ramoth Jones and his Sandemanian teachers, continued true to Christ, so far as that is compatible with utter indifference to humanity at large, and an utter separation from the larger view of the Communion of Saints.
There was, however, a grand man, who stood firm while ministers and Churches around him were reeling, Thomas Jones, of Glynceiriog, in Denbighshire; he is said to have been the one and only minister, at all known to the public, who remained in his own denomination firm, and, successfully in his own spirit, withstood, and even conquered, in this storm of new opinion. And this Thomas Jones did not stand like an insensible stone or rock, but like a living oak, braving the blasts of veering opinion. Most men think in crowds, — which is only to say they are the victims of thoughtless plausibilities. This Thomas Jones appears to have known what he believed; he was eminent for his politeness, and greatly deferential in his bearing; but with all this, his courtesy was the courtesy of the branch which bows, but retains its place. He was a man of marvellous memory, and Christmas Evans used to say of him, that wherever Thomas Jones was, no Concordance would be necessary. He was a great master in the study of Edwards “On the Freedom of the Will,” and his method of reading the book was characteristic; he would first seize a proposition, then close the book, and close his eyes, and turn the proposition round and round that it might be undisturbed by anything inside the treatise, or outside of it, and in this way he would proceed with the rigorous demonstration. He was a calm and dignified knight in the tournament of discussion; and, before his lance, more vehement but less trained thinkers and theologians went down.
Thus it was that he preached a great Association sermon at Llangevni, in 1802, which dealt the Sandemanian schism a fatal blow; the captivity beneath the spell of the influence of Ramoth Jones was broken, and turned as streams in the south. While the sermon was being preached, Christmas Evans said, “This Thomas Jones is a monster of a man!” Then the great revival sprang up, — the ice reign was over; but shortly after, he was called away to Rhydwilym, in Caermarthenshire. Young as he was, when John Elias heard of his departure, he said, “The light of the north is removed.” He died full of years, full of honours, full of love; closing a life, says one, of quiet beauty, which perhaps has never been surpassed, at Rhydwilym, in 1850.
This irruption of Sandemanian thought, as we have said and seen, affected the spiritual life and earnest usefulness of Christmas Evans. It is well we should place this passing flower upon the memory of Jones of Rhydwilym, for he, it seems, broke the spell and dissolved the enchantment, and bade, in the heart of Christmas Evans, the imprisoned waters once more to flow forth warm, and rejoicing, in the life and enthusiasm of love. May we not say, in passing, that some such spell, if not beneath the same denomination of opinion, holds many hearts in bondage among the Churches in our time?
The joy which Christmas Evans felt in his deliverance, realizes something of the warm words of the poet of the Messiah: —
“The swain in barren deserts, with surprise
Sees liIies spring, and sudden verdure rise;
And starts, amidst the thirsty wilds, to hear
New falls of water murmuring in his ear.”
“I was weary,” he says, referring to this period, “of a cold heart towards Christ, and His sacrifice, and the work of His Spirit — of a cold heart in the pulpit, in secret prayer, 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 Dolgelly to Machynlleth, and climbing up towards Cadair Idris, I 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 that He would visit the Churches in Anglesea that were under my care. I embraced in my supplications all the Churches of the saints, and nearly all the ministers 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, until my nature became faint by weeping and crying. Thus I resigned myself to Christ, body and soul, gifts and labours — all my life — every day, and every hour 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 wrestlings with God.
“From this time, I was made to expect the goodness of God to Churches, and to myself. Thus the Lord delivered me and the people of Anglesea from being carried away by the flood of Sandemanianism. In the first religious meetings after this, I felt as if I had been removed from the cold and sterile regions of spiritual frost, into the verdant fields of Divine promises. The former striving with God in prayer, and the longing anxiety for the conversion of sinners, which I had experienced at Lëyn, were now restored. I had a hold of the promises of God. The result was, when I returned home, the first thing that arrested my attention was, that the Spirit was working also in the brethren in Anglesea, inducing in them a spirit of prayer, especially in two of the deacons, who were particularly importunate that God would visit us in mercy, and render the Word of His grace effectual amongst us for the conversion of sinners.”
And to about this time belongs a most interesting article, preserved among his papers, “a solemn covenant with God,” made, he says, “under a deep sense of the evil of his own heart, and in dependence upon the infinite grace and merit of the Redeemer.” It is a fine illustration of the spirit and faith of the man in his lonely communions among the mountains.
COVENANT WITH GOD.
I. I give my soul and body unto Thee, Jesus, the true God, and everlasting life; deliver me from sin, and from eternal death, and bring me into life everlasting. Amen. — C. E.
II. I call the day, the sun, the earth, the trees, the stones, the bed, the table, and the books, to witness that I come unto Thee, Redeemer of sinners, that I may obtain rest for my soul from the thunders of guilt and the dread of eternity. Amen. — C. E.
Ill. I do, through confidence in Thy power, earnestly entreat Thee to take the work into Thine own hand, and give me a circumcised heart, that I may love Thee; and create in me a right spirit, that I may seek thy glory. Grant me that principle which Thou wilt own in the day of judgment, that I may not then assume pale-facedness, and find myself a hypocrite. Grant me this, for the sake of Thy most precious blood. Amen. — C. E.
IV. I entreat Thee, Jesus, the Son of God, in power grant me, for the sake of Thy agonizing death, a covenant interest in Thy blood which cleanseth; in Thy righteousness, which justifieth; and in Thy redemption, which delivereth. I entreat an interest in Thy blood, for Thy blood’s sake, and a part in Thee, for Thy Name’s sake, which Thou hast given among men. Amen. — C. E.
V. O Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, take, for the sake of Thy cruel death, my time, and strength, and the gifts and talents I possess: which, with a full purpose of heart, I consecrate to Thy glory in the building up of Thy Church in the world, for Thou art worthy of the hearts and talents of all men. Amen. — C. E.
VI. I desire Thee, my great High Priest, to confirm, by Thy power from Thy High Court, my usefulness as a preacher, and my piety as a Christian, as two gardens nigh to each other; that sin may not have place in my heart to becloud my confidence in Thy righteousness, and that I may not be left to any foolish act that may occasion my gifts to wither, and I be rendered useless before my life ends. Keep Thy gracious eye upon me, and watch over me, O my Lord, and my God for ever! Amen. — C E.
VII. I give myself in a particular manner to Thee, O Jesus Christ the Saviour, to be preserved from the falls into which many stumble, that Thy name (in Thy cause) may not be blasphemed or wounded, that my peace may not be injured, that Thy people may not be grieved, and that Thine enemies may not be hardened. Amen. — C. E.
VIII. I come unto Thee, beseeching Thee to be in covenant with me in my ministry. As Thou didst prosper Bunyan, Vavasor Powell, Howell Harris, Rowlands, and Whitfield, O do Thou prosper me. Whatsoever things are opposed to my prosperity, remove them out of the way. Work in me everything approved of God for the attainment of this. Give me a heart “sick of love” to Thyself, and to the souls of men. Grant that I may experience the power of Thy Word before I deliver it, as Moses felt the power of his own rod, before he saw it on the land and waters of Egypt. Grant this, for the sake of Thine infinitely precious blood, O Jesus, my hope, and my all in all. Amen. — C. E.
IX. Search me now, and lead me into plain paths of judgment. Let me discover in this life what I am before Thee, that I may not find myself of another character when I am shown in the light of the immortal world, and open my eyes in all the brightness of eternity. Wash me in Thy redeeming blood. Amen. — C. E.
X. Grant me strength to depend upon Thee for food and raiment, and to make known my requests. O let Thy care be over me as a covenant-privilege betwixt Thee and myself, and not like a general care to feed the ravens that perish, and clothe the lily that is cast into the oven; but let Thy care be over me as one of Thy family, as one of Thine unworthy brethren. Amen. — C. E.
XI. Grant, O Jesus, and take upon Thyself the preparing of me for death, for Thou art God; there is no need but for Thee to speak the word. If possible, Thy will be done; leave me not long in affliction, nor to die suddenly, without bidding adieu to my brethren, and let me die in their sight, after a short illness. Let all things be ordered against the day of removing from one world to another, that there be no confusion nor disorder, but a quiet discharge in peace. O grant me this, for the sake of Thine agony in the garden. Amen. — C. E.
XII. Grant, O blessed Lord, that nothing may grow and be matured in me to occasion Thee to cast me off from the service of the sanctuary, like the sons of Eli; and for the sake of Thine unbounded merit, let not my days be longer than my usefulness. O let me not be like lumber in a house in the end of my days, in the way of others to work. Amen. — C. E.
XIII. I beseech Thee, O Redeemer, to present these my supplications before the Father; and oh, inscribe them in Thy Book with Thine own immortal pen, while I am writing them with my mortal hand in my book on earth. According to the depths of Thy merit, Thine undiminished grace, and Thy compassion, and Thy manner unto Thy people, O attach Thy Name in Thine Upper Court to these unworthy petitions; and set Thine Amen to them, as I do on my part of the covenant. Amen. — CHRISTMAS EVANS, Llangevni, Anglesea, April 1818 —.
Is not this an amazing document? It is of this time that he further writes: — “I felt a sweet peace and tranquillity of soul, like unto a poor man that had been brought under the protection of the Royal Family, and had an annual settlement for life made upon him; and from whose dwelling painful dread of poverty and want had been for ever banished away.” We have heard of God-intoxicated men; and what language can more appropriately describe a covenant-engagement so elevated, so astonishing, and sublime?
Now, apparently strengthened as by a new spirit, with “might in the inner man,” he laboured with renewed energy and zeal; and new and singular blessings descended upon his labours. In two years, his ten preaching places in Anglesea were increased to twenty, and six hundred converts were added to the Church under his own immediate care. It seemed as if the wilderness and the solitary place were glad for him, and the desert rejoiced and blossomed as the rose.
Probably, Christmas Evans’s name had been scarcely announced, or read, in England, until his great Graveyard Sermon was introduced to a company of friends, by the then celebrated preacher, Dr. Raffles, of Liverpool. As the story has been related, some persons present had affected contempt for Welsh preaching. “Listen to me,” said Raffles, “and I will give to you a specimen of Welsh eloquence.” Upon those present, the effect was, we suppose, electrical. He was requested to put it in print; and so the sermon became very extensively known, and has been regarded, by many, as the preacher’s most astonishing piece.
To what exact period of Evans’s history it is to be assigned cannot be very well ascertained, but it is probably nearly sixty years since Raffles first recited it; so that it belongs, beyond a doubt, to the early Anglesea days. It was, most likely, prepared as a great bardic or dramatic chant for some vast Association meeting, and was, no doubt, repeated several times, for it became very famous. It mingles something of the life of an old Mystery Play, or OberAmmergau performance; but as to any adequate rendering of it, we apprehend that to be quite impossible. Raffles was a rhetorician, and famous as his version became, the good Doctor knew little or nothing of Welsh, nor was the order of his mind likely very accurately to render either the Welsh picture or the Welsh accent. His periods were too rounded, the language too fine, and the pictures too highly coloured.
It was about the same time that, far away from Anglesea, among the remote, unheard of German mountains of Baireuth, a dreamer of a very different kind was visited by some such vision of the world, regarded as a great churchyard. Jean Paul Richter’s churchyard, visited by the dead Christ, was written in Siebinckas, for the purpose of presenting the misty, starless, cheerless, and spectral outlook of the French atheism, which was then spreading out, noxious and baleful, over Europe.
Very different were the two men, their spheres, and their avocations; overwhelming, solemn, and impressive as is the vision of Jean Paul, it certainly would have said little to a vast Welsh congregation among the dark hills. Christmas Evan’s piece is dramatic; his power of impersonation and colloquy in the, pulpit was very great; and the reader has to conceive all this, while on these colder pages the scenes and the conversations go on. It appears to have been first preached in a small deli among the mountains of Carnarvonshire. The spot was exquisitely romantic; it was a summer’s season, the grass was in its rich green, brooks were purling round, and the spot hemmed in by jagged crags and the cliffs of tall mountains; a beautiful spot, but an Englishman spoke of it as “beauty sleeping on the lap of terror.”
A preliminary service, of course, went on, — hymns, the sounding of the slow, plaintive minor melody from thousands of tongues, rising and loitering, and lingering among the neighbouring acclivities, before they finally fade off into silence; then there is reading, and prayer, singing again, and a short sermon before Christmas Evans comes. He has not attained to the full height of his great national fame as yet; he is before the people, however, “the one-eyed man of Anglesea,” — the designation by which he was to be known for many years to come. He stands six feet high, his face very expressive, but very calm and quiet; but a great fire was burning within the man. He gave out some verses of a well-known Welsh hymn, and while it was being sung took out a small phial from his waistcoat-pocket, wetting the tips of his fingers and drawing them over his blind eye; it was laudanum, used to deaden the excruciating pain which upon some occasions possessed him.
He gave out his text from Romans V. 15 “If through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.” Naturally, he does not begin at once, but spends a little time, in clearly-enunciated words, in announcing two things, — the universal depravity and sinfulness of men, and the sighing after propitiation. Mene! Tekel! he says, is written on every human heart; wanting, wanting, is inscribed on heathen fanes and altars, on the laws, customs, and institutions of every nation, and on the universal consciousness of mankind; and bloody sacrifices among pagan nations show the handwriting of remorse upon the conscience, — a sense of guilt, and a dread of punishment, and a fear which hath torment.
As he goes on the people draw nearer, become more intense in their earnest listening; they are rising from their seats, their temporary forms. Some are in carriages; there is a lady leaning on her husband’s shoulder, he still sitting, she with outstretched neck gazing with obviously strange emotion at the preacher; some of the people are beginning to weep. There is an old evangelical clergyman who has always preached the Gospel, although laughed at by his squire, and quite unknown by his Bishop; he is rejoicing with a great joy to hear his old loved truths set forth in such a manner; he is weeping profusely.
Christmas Evans, meantime, is pursuing his way, lost in his theme. ‘Now his eye lights up, says one who knew him, like a brilliantly flashing star, his clear forehead expands, his form dilates in majestic dignity; and all that has gone before will be lost in the white-heat passion with which he prepares to sing of Paradise lost, and Paradise regained. One of his Welsh critics says: “All the stores of his energy, and the resources of his voice, which was one of great compass, depth, and sweetness, seemed reserved for the closing portions of the picture, when he represented the routed and battered hosts of evil retreating from the cross, where they anticipated a triumph, and met a signal, and irretrievable overthrow.” Thus prepared, he presented to his hearers the picture of
“THE WORLD AS A GRAVEYARD.”
“Methinks,” exclaimed the impassioned preacher, “I find myself standing upon the summit of one of the highest of the everlasting hills, permitted from thence to take a survey of the whole earth; and all before me I see a wide and far-spread burial-ground, a graveyard, over which he scattered the countless multitudes of the wretched and perishing children of Adam! The ground is full of hollows, the yawning caverns of death; and over the whole scene broods a thick cloud of darkness: no light from above shines upon it, there is no ray of sun or moon, there is no beam, even of a little candle, seen through all its borders. It is walled all around, but it has gates, large and massive, ten thousand times stronger than all the gates of brass forged among men; they are one and all safely locked, — the hand of Divine Law has locked them; and so firmly secured are the strong bolts, that all the created powers even of the heavenly world, were they to labour to all eternity, could not drive so much as one of them back. How hopeless is the wretchedness to which the race is doomed! into what irrecoverable depths of ruin has sin plunged the people who sit there in darkness, and in the shadow of death, while there, by the brazen gates, stands the inflexible guard, brandishing the flaming sword of undeviating Law!
“But see! In the cool of the day, there is one descending from the eternal hills in the distance: it is Mercy! the radiant form of Mercy, seated in the chariot of Divine Promise. She comes through the worlds of the universe; she pauses here to mark the imprisoned and grave-like aspect of our once fair world; her eye affected her heart as she beheld the misery, and heard the cry of despair, borne upon the four winds of heaven; she could not pass by, nor pass on; she wept over the melancholy scene, and she said, ‘Oh that I might enter! I would bind up their wounds, I would relieve their sorrows, I would save their souls!’ An embassy of angels, commissioned from Heaven to some other world, paused at the sight; and Heaven forgave that pause. They saw Mercy standing by the gate, and they cried, ‘Mercy, canst thou not enter? Canst thou look upon that world and not pity? Canst thou pity and not relieve?’ And Mercy, in tears, replied, ‘I can see, and I can pity, but I cannot relieve.’ ‘Why dost thou not enter?’ inquired the heavenly host. ‘Oh,’ said Mercy, ‘Law has barred the gate against me, and I must not, and I cannot unbar it.’ And Law stood there watching the gate, and the angels asked of him, ‘Why wilt thou not suffer Mercy to enter?’ And he said, ‘No one can enter here and live;’ and the thunder of his voice outspoke the wailings within. Then again I heard Mercy cry, ‘Is there no entrance for me into this field of death? may I not visit these caverns of the grave; and seek, if it may be, to raise some at least of these children of destruction, and bring them to the light of day? Open, Justice, Open! drive back these iron bolts, and let me in, that I may proclaim the jubilee of redemption to the children of the dust!’ And then I heard Justice reply, ‘Mercy! surely thou lovest Justice too well to wish to burst these gates by force of arm, and thus to obtain entrance by lawless violence. I cannot open the door: I am not angry with these unhappy, I have no delight in their death, or in hearing their cries, as they lie upon the burning hearth of the great fire, kindled by the wrath of God, in the land that is lower than the grave. But without shedding of blood there is no remission.’
“So Mercy expanded her wings, splendid beyond the brightness of the morning when its rays are seen shooting over mountains of pearl, — and Mercy renewed her flight amongst the unfallen worlds; she re-ascended into the mid air, but could not proceed far, because she could not forget the sad sight of the Graveyard-World, the melancholy prison. She returned to her native throne in the Heaven of heavens; it was a glorious high throne, unshaken and untarnished by the fallen fate of man and angels. Even there she could not forget what she had witnessed, and wept over, and she weighed the woes of the sad world against the doom of eternal Law; she could not forget the prison and the grave yard, and she re-descended with a more rapid and radiant light, and she stood again by the gate, but again was denied admission. And the two stood there together, Justice and Mercy; and Justice dropped his brandishing sword while they held converse together; and while they talked, there was silence in heaven.
“ ‘Is there then no admission on any terms whatever?’ she said. ‘Ah, yes,’ said Justice; ‘but then they are terms which no created being can fulfil. I demand atoning death for the Eternal life of those who lie in this Graveyard; I demand Divine life for their ransom.’ And while they were talking, behold there stood by them a third Form, fairer than the children of men, radiant with the glory of heaven. He cast a look upon the graveyard. And He said to Mercy, ‘Accept the terms.’ ‘Where is the security?’ said Justice. ‘Here,’ said Mercy, pointing to the radiant Stranger, ‘is my bond. Four thousand years from hence, demand its payment on Calvary. To redeem men,’ said Mercy, ‘I will be incarnate in the Son of God, I will be the Lamb slain for the life of this Graveyard World.’
The bond was accepted, and Mercy entered the graveyard leaning on the arm of Justice. She spoke to the prisoners. Centuries rolled by. So went on the gathering of the first-fruits in the field of redemption. Still ages passed away, and at last the clock of prophecy struck the fullness of time. The bond, which had been committed to patriarchs and prophets, had to be redeemed; a long series of rites and ceremonies, sacrifices and oblations, had been instituted to perpetuate the memory of that solemn deed.
“At the close of the four thousandth year, when Daniel’s seventy weeks were accomplished, Justice and Mercy appeared on the hill of Calvary; angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, principalities and powers, left their thrones and mansions of glory, and bent over the battlements of heaven, gazing in mute amazement and breathless suspense upon the solemn scene. At the foot of Calvary’s hill was beheld the Son of God. ‘Lo, I come,’ He said; ‘in the bond it is written of me.’ He appeared without the gates of Jerusalem, crowned with thorns, and followed by the weeping Church. It was with Him the hour and the power of darkness; above Him were all the vials of Divine wrath, and the thunders of the eternal Law; round Him were all the powers of darkness, — the monsters of the pit, huge, fierce and relentless, were there; the lions as a great army, gnashing their teeth ready to tear him in pieces; the unicorns, a countless host, were rushing onwards to thrust him through; and there were the bulls of Bashan roaring terribly; the dragons of the pit unfolding themselves, and shooting out their stings; and dogs, many, all round the mountain.
“And He passed through this dense array, an unresisting victim led as a lamb to the slaughter. He took the bond from the hand of Justice, and, as He was nailed to the cross, He nailed it to the cross; and all the hosts of hell, though invisible to man, had formed a ring around it. The rocks rent, the sun shrank from the scene, as Justice lifted his right hand to the throne, exclaiming, ‘Fires of heaven, descend and consume this sacrifice!’ The fires of heaven, animated with living spirit, answered the call, ‘We come we come! and, when we have consumed that victim, we will burn the world.’ They burst, blazed, devoured; the blood of the victim was fast dropping; the hosts of hell were shouting, until the humanity of Emmanuel gave up the ghost. The fire went on burning until the ninth hour of the day, but when it touched the Deity of the Son of God it expired; Justice dropped the fiery sword at the foot of the cross; and the Law joined with the prophets in witnessing to the righteousness which is by faith in the Son of God, for all had heard the dying Redeemer exclaim, ‘It is finished!’ The weeping Church heard it, and lifting up her head cried too, ‘It is finished!’ Attending angels hovering near heard it, and, winging their flight, they sang, ‘It is finished!’ The powers of darkness heard the acclamations of the universe, and hurried away from the scene in death-like feebleness. He triumphed over them openly. The graves of the old Burial-ground have been thrown open, and gales of life have blown over the valley of dry bones, and an exceeding great army has already been sealed to our God as among the living in Zion; for so the Bond was paid and eternal redemption secured.”
This was certainly singular preaching; it reads like a leaf or two from Klopstock. We may believe that the enjoyment with which it was heard was rich and great, but we suppose that the taste of our time would regard it as almost intolerable. Still, there are left among us some who can enjoy the Pilgrim’s Progress, and the Fairy Queen, and we do not see how, in the presence of those pieces, a very arrogant exception can be taken to this extraordinary sermon.
A more serious objection, perhaps, will be taken to the nomenclature, the symbolic language in which the preacher expressed his theology. It literally represented the theology of Wales at the time when it was delivered; the theology was stern and awful; the features of God were those of a stern and inflexible Judge; nature presented few relieving lights, and man was not regarded as pleasant to look upon. Let the reader remember all this, and perhaps he will be more tolerant to the stern outline of this allegory; it is pleasant, now, to know that we have changed all that, and that everywhere, and all around us, God, and nature, and man are presented in rose-hued lights, and all conditions of being are washed by rosy and pacific seas; vie see nothing stern or awful now, either in nature or in grace, in natural or in supernatural things; Justice has become gentlemanly, and Law, instead of being stern and terrible, is bland, and graceful, and beautiful as a woman’s smile!
In Christmas Evans’s day, it was not quite so. As to objections to the mode of preaching, as in contrast with that style which adopts only the sustained argument, and the rhetorical climax and relation, we have already said that Christmas must be tried by quite another standard; we have already said that he was a bard among preachers, and belonged to a nation of bards. It was a kind of primeval song, addressed to people of primeval instincts; but, whatever its merits or demerits may be, it fairly represents the man and his preaching. It does not, indeed, reflect the style of the modern mind; but, there are many writers, and readers at present, who are carrying us back to the mediaeval times, and the monastic preachers of those ages, and among them we find innumerable pieces of the same order of sustained allegory which we have just quoted from Christmas Evans. What is it but to say, that the simple mind is charmed with pictures, — it must have them; and such sermons as abound in them, have power over it?
We believe we have rendered this singular passage with such fairness that the reader may be enabled to form some idea of its splendour. When it was repeated to Robert Hall, he pronounced it one of the finest allegories in the language. When Christmas Evans was on a visit to Dr. Raffles, the Doctor recited to him his own version, and, apparently with some amazement, said, “Did you actually say all that, but I could never have put it into such English.” And this we are greatly disposed to regard as impairing the bold grandeur and strength of the piece; any rendering of it into English must, as it seems to us, add to its prettiness, and therefore divest it of its power.
Probably to the same period of the preacher’s history belongs another sermon, which has always seemed to us a piece of undoubted greatness. It is upon the same subject, the Crucifixion of Christ. We should think that its delivery would, at any time, from such lips as his, produce equally pathetic emotions. The allegory is not so sustained, but it is still full of allegorical allusions derived from Scriptural expression.
“THE HIND OF THE MORNING.
“It is generally admitted that the twenty-second Psalm has particular reference to Christ. This is evident from His own appropriation of the first verse upon the cross: ‘My God! my God! why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ The title of that Psalm is ‘Aijeleth Shahar,’ which signifies ‘A Hart, or the Hind of the Morning.’ The striking metaphors which it contains are descriptive of Messiah’s peculiar sufferings. He is the Hart, or the Hind of the Morning, hunted by the Black Prince, with his hell-hounds — by Satan, and all his allies. The ‘dogs,’ the ‘lions,’ the ‘unicorns,’ and the ‘strong bulls of Bashan,’ with their devouring teeth, and their terrible horns, pursued Him from Bethlehem to Calvary. They beset Him in the manger, gnashed upon Him in the garden, and well nigh tore Him to pieces upon the cross. And still they persecute Him in His Cause, and in the persons and interests of His people. “The faith of the Church anticipated the coming of Christ, ‘like a roe or a young hart;’ with the dawn of the day promised in Eden; and we hear her exclaiming in the Canticles — ‘The voice of my beloved! behold, He cometh, leaping upon the mountains, and skipping upon the hills!’ She heard Him announce His advent in the promise, ‘Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God!’ and with ‘prophetic eye, saw Him leaping from the mountains of eternity to the mountains of time, and skipping from hill to hill throughout the land of Palestine, going about doing good. In the various types and shadows of the law, she beheld Him ‘standing by the wall, looking forth at the windows, showing Himself through the lattice;’ and then she sang — ‘Until the day break and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like the roe or the young hart upon the mountains of Bether!’ Bloody sacrifices revealed Him to her view, going down to the ‘vineyards of red wine;’ whence she traced Him to the meadows of Gospel ordinances, where ‘He feedeth among the lilies’ — to ‘the gardens of cucumbers,’ and ‘the beds of spices;’ and then she sang to Him again — ‘Make haste’ — or, flee away — ‘my beloved! be thou like the roe or the young hart among the mountains of spices.’
“Thus she longed to see Him, first ‘on the mountain of Bether,’ and then ‘on the mountain of spices.’ On both mountains she saw Him eighteen hundred years ago, and on both she may still trace the footsteps of His majesty, and His mercy. The former He hath tracked with His own blood, and His path upon the latter is redolent of frankincense and myrrh.
“Bether signifies division. This is the craggy mountain of Calvary; whither the ‘Hind of the Morning’ fled, followed by all the wild beasts of the forest, and the bloodhounds of hell; summoned to the pursuit, and urged on, by the prince of perdition; till the victim, in His agony, sweat great drops of blood — where He was terribly crushed between the cliffs, and dreadfully mangled by sharp and ragged rocks — where He was seized by Death, the great Bloodhound of the bottomless pit — whence He leaped the precipice, without breaking a bone; and sunk in the dead sea, sunk to its utmost depth, and saw no corruption.
“Behold the ‘Hind of the Morning’ on that dreadful mountain! It is the place of skulls, where Death holds his carnival in companionship with worms, and hell laughs in the face of heaven. Dark storms are gathering there — convolving clouds, charged with no common wrath. Terrors set themselves in battle-array before the Son of God; and tempests burst upon Him which might sweep all mankind in a moment to eternal ruin. Hark! hear ye not the subterranean thunder? Feel ye not the tremor of the mountain? It is the shock of Satan’s artillery, playing upon the Captain of our Salvation. It is the explosion of the magazine of vengeance. Lo, the earth is quaking, the rocks are rending, the graves are opening, the dead are rising, and all nature stands aghast at the conflict of Divine mercy with the powers of darkness. One dread convulsion more, one cry of desperate agony, and Jesus dies — an arrow has entered into His heart. Now leap the lions, roaring, upon their prey; and the bulls of Bashan are bellowing; and the dogs of perdition are barking; and the unicorns toss their horns on high; and the devil, dancing with exultant joy, clanks his iron chains, and thrusts up his fettered hands in defiance towards the face of Jehovah!
“Go a little farther upon the mountain, and you come to ‘a new tomb hewn out of the rock.’ There lies a dead body. It is the body of Jesus. His disciples have laid it down in sorrow, and returned, weeping, to the city. Mary’s heart is broken, Peter’s zeal is quenched in teals, and John would fain lie down and die in his Master’s grave. The sepulchre is closed up, and sealed, and a Roman sentry placed at its entrance. On the morning of the third day, while it is yet dark, two or three women come to anoint the body. They are debating about the great stone at the mouth of the cave. ‘Who shall roll it away?’ says one of them. ‘Pity we did not bring Peter, or John with us.’ But, arriving, they find the stone already rolled away, and one sitting upon it, whose countenance is like lightning, and whose garments are white as the light. The steel-clad, iron-hearted soldiers lie around him, like men slain in battle, having swooned with terror. He speaks: ‘Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here; He is risen; He is gone forth from this cave victoriously.’
“It is even so! For there are the shroud, and the napkin, and the heavenly watchers; and when He awoke, and cast off His grave-clothes, the earthquake was felt in the city, and jarred the gates of hell. ‘The Hind of the Morning’ is up earlier than any of His pursuers, ‘leaping upon the mountains, and skipping upon the hills.’ He is seen first with Mary at the tomb; then with the disciples in Jerusalem; then with two of them on the way to Emmaus; then going before His brethren into Galilee; and, finally, leaping upon the top of Olivet to the hills of Paradise; fleeing away to ‘the mountain of spices,’ where He shall never more be hunted by the Black Prince and his hounds.
“Christ is perfect master of gravitation, and all the laws of nature are obedient to His will. Once He walked upon the water, as if it were marble beneath His feet; and now, as He stands blessing His people, the glorious Form, so recently nailed to the cross, and still more recently cold in the grave, begins to ascend like ‘the living creature’ in Ezekiel’s vision, ‘lifted up from the earth,’ till nearly out of sight; when ‘the chariots of God, even thousands of angels,’ receive Him, and haste to the celestial city, waking the thrones of eternity with this jubilant chorus — ‘Lift up your heads, O ye gates! and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors! and the King of glory shall come in!’
“Christ might have rode in a chariot of fire all the way from Bethlehem to Calvary; but he preferred riding in a chariot of mercy, whose lining was crimson, and whose ornament the malefactor’s cross. How rapidly rolled his wheels over the hills and the plains of Palestine, gathering up everywhere the children of affliction, and scattering blessings like the beams of the morning! Now we find Him in Cana of Galilee, turning water into wine; then treading the waves of the sea, and hushing the roar of the tempest; then delivering the demoniac of Gadara from the fury of a legion of fiends; then healing the nobleman’s son at Capernaum; raising the daughter of Jairus, and the young man of Nain; writing upon the grave of Bethany, ‘I am the resurrection and the life;‘ curing the invalid at the pool of Bethesda; feeding the five thousand in the wilderness; preaching to the woman by Jacob’s well, acquitting the adulteress, and shaming her accusers; and exercising everywhere, in all his travels, the three offices of Physician, Prophet, and Saviour, as he drove on towards the place of skulls.
“Now we see the chariot surrounded with enemies — Herod, and Pilate, and Caiaphas, and the Roman soldiers, and the populace of Jerusalem, and thousands of Jews who have come up to keep the Passover, led on by Judas and the devil. See how they rage and curse, as if they would tear him from his chariot of mercy! But Jesus maintains his seat, and holds fast the reins, and drives right on through the angry crowd, without shooting an arrow, or lifting a spear upon his foes. For in that chariot the King must ride to Calvary — Calvary must be consecrated to mercy for ever. He sees the cross planted upon the brow of the hill, and hastens forward to embrace it. No sacrifice shall be offered to justice on this day, but the one sacrifice which reconciles heaven and, earth. None of these children of Belial shall suffer to-day. The bribed witnesses, and clamorous murderers, shall be spared — the smiters, the scourgers the spitters, the thorn plaiters, the nail drivers, the head-shakers — for Jesus pleads on their behalf: ‘Father, forgive them! they know not what they do. They are ignorant of Thy grace and truth. They are not aware of whom they are crucifying. Oh, spare them! Let Death know that he shall have enough to do with me to-day! Let him open all his batteries upon me ! My bosom is bare to the stroke. I will gather all the lances of hell in my heart!’
“Still the chariot rushes on, and ‘fiery darts’ are thick and fast, like a shower of meteors, on Messiah’s head, till He is covered with wounds, and the blood flows down His garments, and leaves a crimson track behind Him. As He passes, He casts at the dying malefactor a glance of benignity, and throws him a passport into Paradise, written with His own blood; stretches forth His sceptre, and touches the prison-door of death, and many of the prisoners came forth, and the tyrant shall never regain his dominion over them; rides triumphant over thrones and principalities, and crushes beneath his wheels the last enemy himself, and leaves the memorial of his march engraven on the rocks of Golgotha!
“Christ is everywhere in the Scriptures spoken of as a Blessing; and whether we contemplate His advent, His ministry, His miracles, His agony, His crucifixion, His interment, His resurrection, or His ascension, we may truly say, ‘All His paths drop fatness.’ All His travels were on the road of mercy; and trees are growing up in His footsteps, whose fruit is delicious food, and ‘whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.’ He walketh upon the south winds, causing propitious gales to blow upon the wilderness till songs of joy awake in the solitary place, and the desert blossoms as the rose.
“If we will consider what the prophets wrote of the Messiah, in connection with the evangelical history, we shall be satisfied that none like Him, either before or since, ever entered our world, or departed from it. Both God and man — at once the Father of eternity and the Son of time, He filled the universe, while He was embodied upon earth, and ruled the celestial principalities and powers, while He wandered, a persecuted stranger, in Judea. ‘No man,’ saith He, ‘hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of man who is in heaven.’
“Heaven was no strange place to Jesus. He talks of the mansions in His Father’s house as familiarly as one of the royal family would talk of Windsor Castle where he was born; and saith to His disciples, ‘I go to prepare a place for you; that where I am there ye may be also.’ The glory into which He entered was His own glory — the glory which He had with the Father before the world was. He had an original and supreme right to the celestial mansions; and He acquired a new and additional claim by His office as Mediator. Having suffered for our sins, He ‘ought to enter into His glory.’ He ought, because He is ‘God, blessed for ever;’ He ought, because He is the representative of His redeemed people. He has taken possession of the kingdom in our behalf, and left on record for our encouragement this cheering promise, ‘To him that over-cometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne; even as I also have overcome, and am set down with my Father in His throne.’
“The departure of God from Eden, and the departure of Christ from the earth, were two of the sublimest events that ever occurred, and fraught with immense consequences to our race. When Jehovah went out from Eden, He left a curse upon the place for man’s sake, and drove out man before him into an accursed earth. But when Jesus descended from Olivet, He lifted the curse with Him, and left a blessing behind Him — sowed the world with the seed of eternal blessings; ‘and instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree; and instead of the briar shall come up the myrtle-tree; and it shall be to the Lord for a name, and an everlasting sign, that shall not be cut off.’ He ascended to intercede for sinners, and reopen Paradise to His people; and when He shall come the second time, according to the promise, with all His holy angels, then shall we be ‘caught up to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.’
“ ‘The Lord is gone up with a shout!’ and has taken our redeemed nature with Him. He is the Head of the Church, and is the representative at the right hand of the Father. ‘He hath ascended on high; He hath led captivity captive; He hath received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that God may dwell among them.’ ‘Him hath God exalted, with His own right hand, to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins.’ This is the Father’s recognition of His ‘Beloved Son,’ and significant acceptance of his sacrifice. ‘Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in the earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’
“The evidence of our Lord’s ascension is ample. He ascended in the presence of many witnesses, who stood gazing after Him till a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven, two angels appeared to them, and talked with them of what they had seen. Soon afterward, on the day of Pentecost, He fulfilled, in a remarkable manner, the promise which He had made to His people: ‘If I go away I will send you another Comforter, who shall abide with you for ever. Stephen, the first of His disciples that glorified the Master by martyrdom, testified to his murderers, ‘Lo, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God!’ And John, the ‘beloved disciple,’ while an exile ‘in Patmos, for the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ,’ beheld Him ‘in the midst of the throne, as a Lamb that had been slain!’ These are the evidences that our Lord is in heaven; these are our consolations in the house of our pilgrimage.
“The Apostle speaks of the necessity of this event, ‘Whom the heaven must receive.’
“Divine necessity is a golden chain reaching from eternity to eternity, and encircling all the events of time. It consists of many links all hanging upon each other; and not one of them can be broken without destroying the support of the whole. The first link is in God, ‘before the world was;’ and the last is in heaven, when the world shall be no more. Christ is its Alpha, and Omega, and Christ constitutes all its intervenient links. Christ in the bosom of the Father, receiving the promise of eternal life, before the foundation of the world, is the beginning; Christ in His sacrificial blood, atoning for our sins, and pardoning and sanctifying all them that believe, is the middle; and Christ in heaven, pleading the merit of His vicarious sufferings, making intercession for the transgressors, drawing all men unto Himself; presenting the payers of His people, and preparing their mansions, is the end.
“There is a necessity in all that Christ has done as our Mediator, in all that He is doing on our behalf; and all that he has engaged to do — the necessity of Divine love manifested, of Divine mercy exercised, of Divine purposes accomplished, of Divine covenants fulfilled, of Divine faithfulness maintained, of Divine justice satisfied, of Divine holiness vindicated, and of Divine power displayed. Christ felt this necessity while He tabernacled among us, often declared it to His disciples, and acknowledged it to the Father in the agony in the Garden.
“Behold Him wrestling in prayer, with strong crying and tears: ‘Father, save me from this hour! If it be possible, let this cup pass from me!’ Now the Father reads to Him His covenant engagement, which He signed and sealed with His own hand before the foundation of the world. The glorious Sufferer replies, ‘Thy will be done! For this cause came I unto this hour. I will drink the cup which Thou hast mingled, and not a dreg of any of its ingredients shall be left for my people. I will pass through the approaching dreadful night, under the hidings of Thy countenance, bearing away the curse from my beloved. Henceforth repentance is hidden from my eyes!’ Now, on His knees, He reads the covenant engagements of the Father, and adds, ‘I have glorified Thee on the earth. I have finished the work which Thou gayest Me to do. Now glorify Thou Me, according to Thy promise, with Thine own Self; with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was. Father, I will also that they whom Thou hast given Me be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory. Thine they were, and Thou hast given them to Me, on condition of My pouring out My soul unto death. Thou hast promised them, through My righteousness and meritorious sacrifice, the kingdom of heaven, which I now claim on their behalf. Father, glorify My people, with Him whom Thou lovedst before the foundation of the world!’
“This intercession of Christ for His saints, begun on earth, is continued in heaven. This is our confidence and joy in our journey through the wilderness. We know that our Joshua has gone over into the land of our inheritance, where He is preparing the place of our habitation for Israel; for it is His will that all whom He has redeemed should be with Him for ever!
“And there is a text which speaks of the period when the great purposes of our Lord’s ascension shall be fully accomplished: ‘Until the times of the restitution of all things.’
“The period here mentioned is ‘the dispensation of the fullness of time,’ when ‘the fullness of the Gentiles shall come in,’ and ‘the dispersed of Judah’ shall be restored, and Christ shall ‘gather together in Himself all things in heaven and in earth,’ overthrow his enemies, establish his everlasting kingdom, deliver the groaning creation from its bondage, glorify His people with Himself, imprison the devil with his angels in the bottomless pit, and punish with banishment from His presence them that obey not the Gospel.
“To this glorious consummation, the great travail of redemption, and all the events of time, are only preparatory. It was promised in Eden, and the promise was renewed and enlarged to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. It was described in gorgeous oriental imagery by Isaiah, and ‘the sweet Psalmist of Israel;’ and ‘spoken of by all the Prophets, since the world began.’ Christ came into the world to prepare the way for His future triumph — to lay on Calvary the ‘chief corner-stone’ of a temple, which shall be completed at the end of time, and endure through all eternity. He began the great restitution. He redeemed His people with a price, and gave them a pledge of redemption by power. He made an end of sin, abolished the Levitical priesthood, and swallowed up all the types and shadows in Himself. He sent home the beasts, overthrew the altars, and quenched the holy fire; and, upon the sanctifying altar of His own divinity, offered His own sinless humanity, which was consumed by fire from heaven. He removed the seat of government from Mount Zion, in Jerusalem, to Mount Zion above, where He sits — ‘a Priest upon His throne,’ drawing heaven and earth together, and establishing ‘the covenant of peace between them both.’
“Blessed be God! we can now go to Jesus, the Mediator; passing by millions of angels, and all ‘the spirits of just men made perfect;’ till we ‘come to the blood of sprinkling, which speaketh better things than that of Abel.’ And we look for that blessed day, when ‘this gospel of the kingdom’ shall be universally prevalent; ‘and all shall know the Lord, from the least even to the greatest;’ when there shall be a ‘new heaven, and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness;’ when both the political, and the moral aspects of our world shall be changed; and a happier state of things shall exist than has ever been known before, — when the pestilence, the famine, and the sword shall cease to destroy, and ‘the saints of the Most High shall possess the kingdom’ in ‘quietness, and assurance for ever.’ Then cometh the end, when Emmanuel ‘shall destroy in this mountain the veil of the covering cast over all people, and swallow up death in victory!”
Such sermons as we have quoted surely convey a living and distinct idea of the kind of power which made the man remarkable. It is, from every aspect, very unlike the preaching to which we are now accustomed, and which, therefore, finds general favour with us; it is dogmatic in the last degree; nothing in it is tentative, or hypothetical, yet the dogmatism is not that of a school-man, or a casuist; it is the dogmatism of burning conviction, of a profound and unquestioning faith in the veracity of New Testament truth, and the corresponding light and illustration from the Old. In these sermons, and others we shall place before our readers, there is nothing pretty, no nice metaphysical or critical analysis, no attempt to carve giants’ heads on cherry-stones. He realized his office as a preacher, not as one set apart to minister to intellectual luxury, or vanity, but to stand, announcing eternal truth. The people to whom he spoke were not dilettantic, he was no dilettante. We can quite conceive, — and therefore these remarks, — that the greater number even of the more eminent men in our modern pulpit will regard the style of Christmas Evans with contempt. We are only setting it forth in these pages. Evidently it told marvellously on the Principality; it “searched Jerusalem with candles;” those who despise it had better settle the question with Christmas Evans himself, and show the superiority of their method by their larger ministerial usefulness.
The worth and value of great preaching and great sermons must depend upon the measure to which they represent the preacher’s own familiarity with the truths he touches, and proclaims. The history of the mind of Christmas Evans is, from this point of view, very interesting. We can only get at it from the papers found after his death; but they reveal the story of the life, walk, and triumph of faith in his mind and heart. He kept no journal; but still we have the record of his communions with God amongst the mountains, — acts of consecration to God quite remarkable, which he had thought it well to commit to paper, that he might remind himself of the engagements he had made. It was after some such season that he said to a brother minister, Brother, the doctrine, the confidence, and strength I feel will make people dance with joy in some parts of Wales;” and then, as the tears came into his eyes whilst he was speaking, he said again, “Yes, brother!
Little idea can be formed of the Welsh preacher from the life of the minister in England. The congregations, we have seen, lay wide, and scattered far apart. Often, in Wales ourselves, we have met the minister pursuing his way on his horse; or pony, to his next “publication;“ very often, his Bible in his hand, reading it as he slowly jogged along. So Christmas Evans passed his life, constantly, either on foot or on horseback, urging his way; sometimes through a country frowning as if smitten by a blow of desolation, and at others, laughing in loveliness and beauty; sometimes through the hot summer, when the burning beams poured from the craggy mountains; sometimes in winter, through the snow and rain and coldest inclemency, to fulfil his engagements. For the greater part of his life his income was never more than thirty pounds a year, and for the first part only about from ten to seventeen. It looks a wretched sum; but we may remember that Luther’s income was never much more; and, probably, what seems to us a miserable little income, was very much further removed from want, and even poverty, than in other, less primitive, circumstances is often an income of hundreds. Certainly, Christmas Evans was never in want; always, not only comfortable, but able even to spare, from his limited means, subscriptions to some of the great societies of the day.
THE few glimpses we are able to obtain of the life and ministry in Anglesea, assure us of the supreme influence obtained by Christmas Evans, as was natural, over all the Churches of his order throughout that region. And in a small way, in a circle far removed from the noise of ideas, and the crowds and agitations of the great world, incessant activity was imposed upon him, — so many Societies and funds to be procured for their erection, so many cases of Church discipline, so many co-pastors appointed, and set apart to work with him — who, however, were men mostly in business, had their own domestic affairs to manage, and for all the help they could give, needed helping and guidance; who had to receive instructions from him as to what they were to do, and whither they were to go, — so that, in fact, he was here, in Anglesea, a pastor of pastors, a bishop, if ever any pastor deserved that designation; an overseer of many Churches, and of many ministers. And hence, as a matter of course, in all ministerial meetings, and other smaller gatherings, he was usually at once not merely the nominal president, but the presiding spirit.
Rhys Stephen suggests a good many ludicrous aspects to the monthly meetings, and other such gatherings; indeed, they were of a very primitive description, and illustrative of what we should call a very rude, and unconventional state of society. Order was maintained, apparently, very much after the patriarchal or patristic fashion. All the preachers he called by their Christian names, and he would certainly have wondered what stranger happened to be in the place had any one addressed him as Mr. Evans; “Christmas Evans,” before his face and behind his back, was the name by which he was known not only throughout all Anglesea, but, by-and-by, throughout the entire Principality.
Affectionate familiarity sometimes pays the penalty in diminished reverence, and in a subtraction from the respect due to a higher gift or superior position. Christmas appears to have been equal to this dilemma, and to have sustained with great natural dignity the post of Moderator, without surrendering his claim upon the affection of his colleagues. In such a meeting, some humble brother would rise to speak a second time, and, perhaps, not very pointedly, to the question; then the Moderator in the pulpit, gathering up his brows, would suddenly cut across the speaker with, “William, my boy, you have spoken before: have done with it;“ or, “Richard, back, you have forgotten the question before the meeting: hold your tongue.”
On one occasion, a minister from South Wales, although a native of Anglesea, happening to be present, and rising evidently with the intention of speaking, Christmas, who suffered no intrusion from the south into their northern organizations, instantly nipped the flowers of oratory by crying out, “Sit down, David, sit down.”
Such instances as these must seem very strange, even ‘outré’, to our temper, taste, and ideas of public meetings; but they furnish a very distinct idea of time, place, and circumstances, and give a not altogether unbeautiful picture of a state of society when, if politeness and culture had not attained their present eminence, there was a good deal of light and sweetness, however offensive it might seem to our intellectual Rimmels and Edisons.
Perhaps in every truly great and apostolic preacher, the preaching power although before men the most conspicuous, is really the smallest part of the preacher’s labour, and presents the fewest claims for homage and honour. We have very little, and know very little, of the Apostle Paul’s sermons and great orations, mighty as they unquestionably were; he lives to us most in his letters, in his life, and its many martyrdoms. Ah, we fancy, if Christmas Evans had but to preach, to stay at home and minister to his one congregation, what a serene and quiet life it would have been, and how happy in the humble obscurity of his Cildwrn cottage!
But all his life in Anglesea seems to have been worried with chapel-debts. Chapels rose, — it was necessary that they should rise; people in scattered villages thronged to hear the Word; many hundreds appear to have crowded into Church fellowship, chapels had to be multiplied and enlarged; but, so far as we are able to read his biography, Christmas appears to have been the only person on whom was laid the burden of paying for them. Certainly he had no money: his wealth was in his eloquence, and his fame; and the island of Anglesea appears to have been by no means indisposed to lay these under contribution. A chapel had to be raised, and Christmas Evans was the name upon which the money was very cheerfully lent for its erection; but by-and-by the interest pressed, or the debt had to be paid: what could be done then? He must go forth into the south, and beg from richer Churches, and from brethren who, with none of his gifts of genius or of holiness, occupied the higher places in the sanctuary.
Our heart is very much melted while we read of all the toils he accomplished in this way. Where were his sermons composed? Not so much in his lowly cottage home as in the long, lonely, toilsome travels on his horse through wild and unfrequented regions, where, throughout the long day’s journey, he perhaps, sometimes, never met a traveller on the solitary road. For many years, it is said, he went twice from his northern bishopric to the south, once to the great Association, wherever that might be, and where, of course, he was expected as the chief and most attractive star, but once also with some chapel case, a journey which always had to be undertaken in the winter, and which was always a painful journey. Let us think of him with affection as we see him wending on, he and his friendly horse, through wild snows, and rains, and bleak storms of mountain wind.
Scarcely do we need to say he had a highly nervous temperament. The dear man had a very capricious appetite, but who ever thought of that? He was thrown upon himself; but the testimony is that he was a man utterly regardless of his own health, ridiculously inattentive to his dress, and to all his travelling arrangements. These journeys with his chapel case would usually take some six weeks, or two months. It was no dainty tour in a railway train, with first-class travelling expenses paid for the best carriage, or the best hotel.
A man who was something like Christmas Evans, though still at an infinite remove from him in the grandeur of his genius, a great preacher, ‘William Dawson — Billy Dawson, as he is still familiarly called — used to say, that in the course of his ministry he found himself in places where he was sometimes treated like a bishop, and sometimes like an apostle; sometimes a great man would receive, and make a great dinner for him, and invite celebrities to meet him and give him the best entertainment, the best room in a large, well-furnished house, where a warm fire shed a glow over the apartment, and where he slept on a bed of down, — and this was what he called being entertained like a bishop; but in other places he would be received in a very humble home, coarse fare on the table, a mug of ale, a piece of oatmeal cake, perhaps a slice of meat, a poor, unfurnished chamber, a coarse bed, a cold room, — and this was what he called being entertained like an apostle.
We may be very sure that the apostolic entertainment was that which usually awaited Christmas Evans at the close of his long day’s journey. Not to be looked upon with contempt either, — hearty and free; and, perhaps, the conversation in the intervals between the puff of the pipe was what we should rather relish, than the more timorous and equable flow of speech in the finer mansion. This is certain, however, that the entertainment of Christmas Evans, in most of his excursions, would be of the coarsest kind.
And this was far from the worst of his afflictions; there were, in that day, persons of an order of character, unknown to our happier, more Christian, and enlightened times, — pert and conceited brethren, unworthy to unloose the latchet of the great man’s shoes, but who fancied themselves far above him, from their leading a town life, and being pastors over wealthier Churches. Well, they have gone, and we are not writing their lives, for they never had a life to write, only they were often annoying flies which teased the poor traveller on his way. On most of these he took his revenge, by fastening upon them some sobriquet, which he fetched out of that imaginative store-house of his, — from the closets of compound epithet; these often stuck like a burr to the coat of the character, and proved to be perhaps the best passport to its owner’s notoriety through the Principality. Further than this, we need not suppose they troubled the great man much; uncomplainingly he went on, for he loved his Master, and he loved his work. He only remembered that a certain sum must be found by such a day to pay off a certain portion of a chapel-debt; he had to meet the emergency, and he could only meet it by obtaining help from his brethren.
In this way he travelled from North to South Wales forty times; he preached always once every day in the week, and twice on the Lord’s Day. Of course, the congregations everywhere welcomed him; the collections usually would be but very small; ministers and officers, more usually, as far as was possible, somewhat resented these calls, as too frequent and irregular. He preached one of his own glorious sermons, and then — does it not seem shocking to us to know, that he usually stood at the door, as it were, hat in hand, to receive such contributions as the friends might give to him? And he did this for many years, until, at last, his frequent indisposition, in consequence of this severity of service, compelled him to ask some friend to take his place at the door; but in doing this he always apologised for his delegation of service to another, lest it should seem that he had treated with inattention and disrespect those who had contributed to him of their love and kindness.
And so a number of the Welsh Baptist chapels, in Anglesea and North Wales, rose. There was frequently a loud outcry among the ministers of the south, that he came too often; and certainly it was only the marvellous attractions of the preacher which saved him from the indignity of a refusal. His reply was always ready: “What can I do? the people crowd to hear us; it is our duty to accommodate them as well as we can; all we have we give; to you much is given, you can give much; it is more blessed to give than receive,” etc., etc. Then sometimes came more plaintive words; and so he won his way into the pulpit, and, once there, it was not difficult to win his way to the people’s hearts. It was what we suppose may be called the age of chapel cases. How many of our chapels in England have been erected by the humiliating travels of poor ministers?
Christmas Evans was saved from one greater indignity yet, the encountering the proud rich man, insolent, haughty, and arrogant. It is not a beautiful chapter in the history of voluntaryism. In the course of these excursions, he usually succeeded in accomplishing the purpose for which he set forth; probably the contributions were generally very small; but then, on many occasions, the preacher had so succeeded in putting himself on good terms with all his hearers that most of them gave something.
It is said that on one occasion not a single person passed by without contributing something: surely a most unusual circumstance, but it was the result of a manœuvre. It was in an obscure district, just then especially remarkable for sheep-stealing; indeed, it was quite notorious. The preacher was aware of this circumstance, and, when he stood up in the immense crowd to urge the people to liberality, he spoke of this crime of the neighbourhood; he supposed that amidst that large multitude it was impossible but that some of those sheep-stealers would be present: he addressed them solemnly, and implored them, if present, not to give anything to the collection about to be made. It was indeed a feat rather worthy of Rowland Hill than illustrative of Christmas Evans, but so it was; those who had no money upon them borrowed from those who had, and it is said that, upon that occasion, not a single person permitted himself to pass out without a contribution.
The good man, however, often felt that a burden was laid upon him, which scarcely belonged to the work to which he regarded himself as especially set apart. Perhaps he might have paraphrased the words of the Apostle, and said, “The Lord sent me not to attend to the affairs of your chapel-debts, but to preach the gospel.” There is not only pathos, but truth in the following words; he says, “I humbly think that, no missionaries in India, or any other country, have had to bear such a burden as I have born; because of chapel-debts, and they have not had besides to provide for their own support, as I have had to do through all my life in Anglesea; London committees have cared for them, while I, for many years, received but seventeen pounds per annum for all my services. The other preachers were young, and inexperienced, and the members threw all the responsibility upon me, as children do upon a father; my anxiety often moved me in the depths of the night to cry out unto God to preserve His cause from shame. God’s promises to sustain His cause in the world greatly comforted me. I would search for the Divine promises to this effect, and plead them in prayer, until I felt as confident as if every farthing had been paid. I laboured hard to institute weekly penny offerings, but was not very successful; and after every effort there remained large sums unpaid in connection with some of the chapels which had been built without my consent.”
Poor Christmas! As we read of him he excites our wonder.
“Passing rich with forty pounds a year” looks like positive wealth as compared with the emoluments of our poor preacher; and yet the record is that he was given to hospitality, and he contributed his sovereign, and half-sovereign, not only occasionally, but annually, where his richer neighbours satisfied their consciences with far inferior bequests. How did the man do it? He had not married a rich wife, and he did not, as many of his brethren, eke out his income by some farm, or secular pursuit; a very common, and a very necessary thing to do, we should say, in Wales.
But, no doubt, Catherine had much to do with his unburdened life of domestic quiet; perhaps, — it does not appear, but it seems probable — she had some little money of her own; she had what to her husband was incomparably more valuable, a clear practical mind, rich in faith, but a calm, quiet, household faith. Lonely indeed her life must often have been in the solitary cottage, into which, assuredly, nothing in the shape of a luxury ever intruded itself. It has been called, by a Welshman, a curious anomaly in Welsh life, the insatiable appetite for sermons, and the singular, even marvellous, disregard for the temporal comforts of the preacher. Christmas, it seems to us, was able to bear much very unrepiningly, but sometimes his righteous soul was vexed. Upon one occasion, when, after preaching from home, he not only received less for his expenses than he naturally expected, but even less than an ordinary itinerant fee, an old dame remarked to him, “Well, Christmas, back, you have given us a wonderful sermon, and I hope you will be paid at the resurrection,” “Yes, yes, shan fach,” said the preacher, “no doubt of that, but what am I to do till I get there? And there’s the old white mare that carries me, what will she do? for her there will be no resurrection.”
Decidedly the Welsh of that day seemed to think that it was essential to the preservation of the purity of the Gospel that their ministers should be kept low. Mr. D. M. Evans, in his Life of Christmas Evans, gives us the anecdote of a worthy and popular minister of this time, who was in the receipt of exactly twenty pounds a year; he received an invitation from another Church, offering him three pounds ten a month. This miserable lover of filthy lucre, like another Demas, was tempted by the dazzling offer, and intimated his serious intention of accepting “the call.” There was a great commotion in the neighbourhood, where the poor man was exceedingly beloved; many of his people remonstrated with him on the sad exhibition he was giving of a guilty love of money; and, after much consideration, the leading deacon was appointed as a deputation to wait upon him, and to inform him, that rather than suffer the loss of his removal on account of money considerations, they had agreed to advance his salary to twenty guineas, or twenty-one pounds! Overcome by such an expression of his people’s attachment, says Mr. Evans, he repented of his incontinent love of money, and stayed.
A strange part-glimpse all this seems to give of Welsh clerical life, not calculated either to kindle, or to keep in a minister’s mind, the essential sense of self-respect. The brothers of La Trappe, St. Francis and his preaching friars, do not seem to us a more humiliated tribe than Christmas and his itinerating ‘little brethren of the poor.” We suppose that sometimes a farmer would send a cheese, and another a few pounds of butter, and another a flitch of bacon; and, perhaps, occasionally, in the course of his travels, — we do not know of any such instances, we only suppose it possible, and probable, — some rich man, after an eloquent sermon, would graciously patronize the illustrious preacher, by pressing a real golden sovereign into the apostle’s hand.
One wonders how clothes were provided. William Huntingdon’s “Bank of Faith” seems to us, in comparison with that of Christmas Evans, like the faith of a man who wakes every morning to the sense of the possession of a million sterling at his banker’s, — in comparison with his faith, who rises sensible that, from day to day, he has to live as on the assurance, and confidence of a child.
Certainly, Wales did not contain at that time a more unselfish, and divinely thoughtless creature than this Christmas Evans; and then he had no children. A man without children, without a child, can afford to be more careless and indifferent to the world’s gold and gear. The coat, no doubt, often got very shabby, and the mothers of Israel in Anglesea, let us hope, sometimes gathered together, and thought of pleasant surprises in the way of improving the personal appearance of their pastor; but indeed the man was ridiculous in his disregard to all the circumstances of dress and adornment. Once, when he was about to set forth on a preaching tour, Catherine had found her mind greatly exercised concerning her husband’s hat, and, with some difficulty, she had succeeded in equipping that noble head of his with a new one. But upon the journey there came a time when his horse needed to drink; at last he came to a clear, and pleasant pond, or brook, but he was at a loss for a pail; now what was to be done? Happy thought, equal to any of those of Mr. Barnand! he took the hat from off his head, and filled it with water for poor old Lemon. When he returned home, Catherine was amazed at the deterioration of the headgear, and he related to her the story. A man like this would not be likely to be greatly troubled by any defections in personal adornment.
Wordsworth has chanted, in well-remembered lines, the name and fame of him, whom he designates, for his life of probity, purity, and poverty, — united in the pastoral office, in his mountain chapel in Westmoreland, — Wonderful Robert Walker. Far be it from us to attempt to detract from the well-won honours of the holy Westmoreland pastor; but, assuredly, as we think of Christmas Evans, he too seems to us even far more wonderful; for there was laid upon him, not merely the thought for his own pulpit and his own family, but the care of all the Churches in his neighbourhood.
And so the end is, that during these years we have to follow him through mountain villages, in which the silence and desolation greet him, like that he might have found in old Castile, or La Mancha, — through spots where ruined old castles and monasteries were turned into barns, and hay and straw stowed away within walls, once devoted either to gorgeous festivity or idolatry, — through wild and beautiful scenes; narrow glen and ravine, down which mountain torrents roared and foamed, — through wild mountain gorges, far, in his day, from the noise and traffic of towns, — although in such spots Mr. Borrow found the dark hills strangely ablaze with furnaces, seeming to that strange traveller, so he said, queerly enough, “like a Sabbath in hell, and devils proceeding to afternoon worship,” — past simple, and unadorned, and spireless churches, hallowed by the prayers of many generations; and through churchyards in which rests the dust of the venerable dead. We can see him coming to the lonely Methodist chapel, rising like a Shiloh, bearing the ark, like a lighthouse among the high hills — strolling into a solitary cottage as he passes, and finding some ancient woman, in her comfortable kitchen, over her Welsh Bible, and concordance, neither an unpleasant nor an unusual sight; — never happier, we will be bold to say, than when, keeping his own company, he traverses and travels these lone and solitary roads and mountain by-paths, not only through the long day, but far into the night, sometimes by the bright clear moonlight, among the mountains, and sometimes through the “villain mists,” their large sheets rolling up the mountain sides, bushes and trees seen indistinctly like goblins and elves, till —
“In every hollow dingle stood,
Of wry-mouth fiends a wrathful brood.”
So we think of him pressing on his way; no doubt often drenched to the skin, although uninjured in body; sometimes through scenes novel and grand, where the mountain looks sad with some ruin on its brow, as beneath Cader Idris (the chair or throne of Idris), where the meditative wanderer might conceive he saw some old king, unfortunate and melancholy, but a king still, with the look of a king, and the ancestral crown on his forehead.
We may be sure he came where corpse-candles glittered, unquenched by nineteenth-century ideas, along the road; for those travelling times were much nearer to the days of Twm ór Nant, who, when he kept turnpike, was constantly troubled by hearses, and mourning coaches, and funeral processions on foot passing through his gate. Through lonely places and alder swamps, where nothing would be heard but the murmuring of waters, and the wind rushing down the gullies, — sometimes falling in with a pious and sympathetic traveller, a lonely creature, “Sorry to say, Good-bye, thank you for your conversation; I haven’t heard such a treat of talk for many a weary day.” Often, passing through scenes where the sweet voice of village bells mingled with the low rush of the river; and sometimes where the rocks rolled back the echoes like a pack of dogs sweeping down the hills. “Hark to the dogs!” exclaimed a companion to Mr. Borrow once. “This pass is called Nant yr ieuanc gwn, the pass of the young dogs; because, when one shouts, it answers with a noise resembling the crying of hounds.”
What honour was paid to the name and memory of the earnest-hearted and intrepid Felix Neff, the pastor of the Higher Alps; but does not the reader, familiar with the life of that holy man, perceive much resemblance in the work, the endurance, and the scenery of the toil, to that of Christmas Evans? May he not be called the pastor of our English Engadine?
All such lives have their grand compensations; doubtless this man had his, and great compensations too; perhaps, among the minor ones, we may mention his ardent reception at the great Association gatherings. At these his name created great expectations there he met crowds of brethren and friends, from the remote parts of the Principality, by whom he was at once honoured and loved. We may conceive such an occasion; the “one-eyed man of Anglesea” has now been for many years at the very height of his popularity; his name is now the greatest in his denomination; this will be one of his great occasions, and his coming has been expected for many weeks. No expectation hanging upon the appearance of Jenny Lind, or Christine Nielson, or Sims Reeves, on some great musical festivity, can reach, in our imagination, the expectations of these poor, simple villagers as they think of the delight they will experience in listening to their wonderful and well loved prophet.
So, along all the roads, there presses an untiring crowd, showing that something unusual is going on somewhere. The roads are all picturesque and lively with all sorts of people, on foot, on horseback, in old farm carts, and even in carriages; all wending their way to the largest and most central chapel of the neighbourhood. It is the chief service. It is a Sabbath evening; the congregation is wedged together in the spacious house of God; it becomes almost insupportable, but the Welsh like it. The service has not commenced, and a cry is already raised that it had better be held in an adjoining field; but it is said this would be inconvenient. The doors, the windows, are all thrown open; and so the time goes on, and the hour for the commencement of the service arrives. All eyes are strained as the door opens beneath the pulpit, and the minister of the congregation comes in, and makes his way, as well as he can, for himself and his friend, the great preacher — there he is! that tall, commanding figure, — that is he, the “one-eyed man of Anglesea.”
A murmur of joy, whisperings of glad congratulation, which almost want to burst into acclamations, pass over the multitude. And the service commences with prayer, singing, reading a chapter, and a short sermon, — a very short on; only twenty minutes. There are crowds of preachers sitting beneath the pulpit, but they, and all, have come to hear the mighty minstrel — and the moment is here. A few more verses of a hymn, during which there is no little commotion, in order that there may be none by-and-bye, those who have been long standing changing places with those who had been sitting. There, he is up! he is before the people! And in some such circumstances he seems to have first sung that wonderful song or sermon,
THE DEMONIAC OF GADARA.
The text he announced was — “Jesus said unto him, Go home unto thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.”
The introduction was very simple and brief; but, before long, the preacher broke loose from all relations of mere comment and explanation, and seemed to revel in dramatic scenery, and pictorial imagination, and, as was so usual with him in such descriptions, increasing, heightening, and intensifying the picture, by making each picture, each scene, to live even in the kind of enchantment of a present demoniacal possession. He began by describing the demoniac as a castle garrisoned with a legion of fiends, towards which the great Conqueror was approaching over the Sea of Tiberias, the winds hushing at His word, the sea growing calm at His bidding. Already He had acquired among the devils a terrible fame, and His name shook the garrison of the entire man, and the infernal legion within: with confusion and horror.
“I imagine,” he said, “that this demoniac was not only an object of pity, but he was really a terror to the country. So terrific was his appearance, so dreadful and hideous his screams, so formidable, frightful, and horrid his wild career, that all the women in that region were so much alarmed that none of them dared go to market, lest he should leap upon them like a panther on his prey.
“And what made him still more terrible was the place of his abode. It was not in a city, where some attention might be paid to order and decorum (though he would sometimes ramble into the city, as in this case). It was not in a town, or village, or any house whatever, where assistance might be obtained in case of necessity; but it was among the tombs, and in the wilderness — not far, however, from the turnpike road. No one could tell but that he might leap at them, like a wild beast, and scare them to death. The gloominess of the place made it more awful and solemn. It was among the tombs — where, in the opinion of some, all witches, corpse-candles, and hobgoblins abide.
“One day, however, Mary was determined that no such nuisance should be suffered in the country of the Gadarenes. The man must be clothed, though he was mad and crazy. And if he should at any future time strip himself, tie up his clothes in a bundle, throw them into the river, and tell them to go to see Abraham, he must be tied and taken care of.
Well, this was all right; no sooner said than done. But, so soon as the fellow was bound, although even in chains and fetters, Samson-like he broke the bands asunder, and could not be tamed.
“By this time, the devil became offended with the Gadarenes, and, in a pout, he took the demoniac away, and drove him into the wilderness. He thought the Gadarenes had no business to interfere, and meddle with his property; for he had possession of the man. And he knew that ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.’ It is probable that he wanted to send him home; for there was no knowing what might happen now-a-days. But there was too much matter about him to send him as he was; therefore, he thought the best plan would be to persuade him to commit suicide by cutting his throat. But here Satan was at a nonplus — his rope was too short. He could not turn executioner himself as that would not have answered the design he has in view, when he wants people to commit suicide; for the act would have been his own sin, and not the man’s.
The poor demoniac, therefore, must go about to hunt for a sharp stone, or anything that he could get. He might have been in search of such an article, when he returned from the wilderness into the city, whence he came, when he met the Son of God.
“Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. And when he saw Jesus he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, ‘What have I to do with thee, Jesus, Thou Son of God most high? I beseech Thee, torment me not.’
“Here is the devil’s confession of faith. The devils believe and tremble, while men make a mock of sin, and sport on the brink of eternal ruin. To many of the human race, Christ appears as a root out of dry ground. They see in Him neither form nor comeliness, and there is no beauty in Him that they should desire Him. Some said He was the carpenter’s son, and would not believe in Him; others said He had a devil, and that it was through Beelzebub, the chief of the devils, that He cast out devils: some cried out, ‘Let Him be crucified;’ and others said, ‘Let His blood be on us and on our children.’ As the Jews would not have Him to reign over them, so many, who call themselves Christians, say that He is a mere man; as such, He has no right to rule over their consciences, and demand their obedience, adoration, and praise. But the devils know better — they say, Jesus is the Son of God most high.
“Many of the children of the devil, whose work they do, differ very widely from their father in their sentiments respecting the person of Christ.
“Jesus commanded the legion of unclean spirits to come out of the man. They knew that out they must go. But they were like Irishmen — very unwilling to return to their own country. They would rather go into hogs’ skins than to their own country. And He suffered them to go into the herd of swine. Methinks that one of the men who fed the hogs, kept a better look out than the rest of them and said, ‘What ails the hogs? Look sharp there, boys — keep them in — make good use of your whips! Why don’t you run? Why, I declare, one of them has gone over the cliff! There, there, Morgan, goes another! Drive them back, Tom.’ Never was there such a running, and whipping, and hallooing; but down go the hogs, before they are aware of it.
“One of them said, ‘They are all gone!’
“ ‘No, sure not all gone into the sea!’
“ ‘Yes, every one of them, the black hog and all. They are all drowned! the devil is in them! What shall we do now? What can we say to the owners?’
“ ‘What can we say?’ said another; ‘we must tell the truth — that is all about it. We did our best — all that was in our power. What could any man do more?’
“So they went their way to the city, to tell the masters what had happened.
“ ‘John, where are you going?’ exclaimed one of the masters.
“ ‘Sir, did you know the demoniac that was among the tombs there?’
“ ‘Demoniac among the tombs! Where did you leave the hogs?’
“ ‘That madman, sir —’
“ ‘Madman! Why do you come home without the hogs?
“ ‘That wild and furious man, sir, that mistress was afraid of so much —’
“ ‘Why, John, I ask you a plain and simple question — why don’t you answer me? Where are the hogs?’
“ ‘That man who was possessed with the devils, sir —’
“‘Why, sure enough, you are crazy! You look wild! Tell me your story, if you can, let it be what it may.’
“ ‘Jesus Christ, sir, has cast the unclean spirits out of the demoniac; they are gone into the swine; and they are all drowned in the sea; for I saw the tail of the last one!’
“ The Gadarenes went out to see what was done, and finding that it was even so, they were afraid, and besought Jesus to depart from them.
“How awful must be the condition of those men who love the things of this world more than Jesus Christ.
“The man out of whom the unclean spirits were cast, besought Jesus that he might be with Him. But He told him to return to his own house, and show how great things God had done unto him. And he went his way, and published, throughout the whole city of Decapolis, how great things Jesus had done unto him. The act of Jesus casting so many devils out of him, was sufficient to persuade him that Jesus was God as well as man.
“I imagine I see him going through the city, crying — ‘Oh yes! Oh yes! Oh yes! please to take notice of me, the demoniac among the tombs. I am the man who was a terror to the people of this place — that wild man, who would wear no clothes, and that no man could bind. Here am I now, in my right mind. Jesus Christ, the Friend of sinners, had compassion on me. He remembered me when I was in my low estate — when there was no eye to pity, and no hand to save. He cast out the devils and redeemed my soul from destruction.’
“Most wonderful must have been the surprise of the people, to hear such proclamation. The ladies running to the windows, the shoemakers throwing their lasts one way, and their awls another, running out to meet him and to converse with him, that they might be positive that there was no imposition, and found it to be a fact that could not be contradicted. ‘Oh, the wonder of all wonders! Never was there such a thing,’ must, I think, have been the general conversation.
“And while they were talking, and everybody having something to say, homeward goes the man. As soon as he comes in sight of the house, I imagine I see one of the children running in, and crying, ‘Oh, mother! father is coming — he will kill us all!’
“Children, come all into the house,’ says the mother. ‘Let us fasten the doors. I think there is no sorrow like my sorrow!’ says the broken-hearted woman. ‘Are all the windows fastened, children?’
“ ‘Yes, mother.’
“ ‘Mary, my dear, come from the window — don’t be standing there.’
“ ‘Why, mother, I can hardly believe it is father! That man is well dressed.’
“Oh yes, my dear children, it is your own father. I knew him by his walk, the moment I saw him.’
“Another child stepping to the window, says, ‘Why, mother, I never saw father coming home as he comes to-day. He walks on the footpath, and turns round the corner of the fence. He used to come towards the house as straight as a line, over fences, ditches, and hedges; and I never saw him walk as slowly as he does now.’
“In a few moments, however, he arrives at the door of the house, to the great terror and consternation of all the inmates. He gently tries the door, and finds no admittance. He pauses a moment, steps towards the window, and says in a low, firm, and melodious voice, ‘My dear wife, if you will let me in, there is no danger. I will not hurt you. I bring you glad tidings of great joy.’ The door is reluctantly opened, as it were between joy and fear. Having deliberately seated himself, he says: ‘I am come to show you what great things God has done for me. He loved me with an everlasting love. He redeemed me from the curse of the law, and the threatenings of vindictive justice. He saved me from the power and dominion of sin. He cast the devils out of my heart, and made that heart, which was a den of thieves, the temple of the Holy Spirit. I cannot tell you how much I love my Saviour. Jesus Christ is the foundation of my hope, the object of my faith, and the centre of my affections. I can venture my immortal soul upon Him. He is my best friend. He is altogether lovely — the chief among ten thousand. He is my wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. There is enough in Him to make a poor sinner rich, and a miserable sinner happy. His flesh and blood is my food, — His righteousness my wedding garment, and His blood is efficacious to cleanse me from all my sins. Through Him I can obtain eternal life; for He is the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His Person: in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. He deserves my highest esteem, and my warmest gratitude. Unto Him who loved me with an eternal love, and washed me in His own blood, unto Him be the glory, dominion, and power, for ever and ever! For He has rescued my soul from hell. He plucked me as a brand from the burning. He took me out of the miry clay, and out of a horrible pit. He set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings, and put in my mouth a new song of praise, and glory to Him! Glory to Him for ever! Glory to God in the highest! Glory to God for ever and ever! Let the whole earth praise Him! Yea, let all the people praise Him!’ How sweet was all this, the transporting joy of his wife
“It is beyond the power of the strongest imagination to conceive the joy and gladness of this family. The joy of seafaring men delivered from shipwreck; the joy of a man delivered from a burning house; the joy of not being found guilty at a criminal bar; the joy of receiving pardon to a condemned malefactor; the joy of freedom to a prisoner of war, is nothing in comparison to the joy of him who is delivered from going down to the pit of eternal destruction. For it is a joy unspeakable and full of glory.”
The effect of this sermon is described as overwhelmingly wonderful. The first portion, in which he pictured the mysterious and terrible being, the wild demoniac, something of a wild beast, and something of a fiend, made the people shudder. Then, shifting his scene, the catastrophe of the swine, the flight of the affrighted herdsmen, the report to the master, and the effect of the miracle on the populace, was rendered with such dramatic effect, the preacher even laughing himself, as he painted the rushing swine, hurrying down the steep place into the lake, especially the “black hog,” and all, — for they all understood the point of that allusion, — that beneath the grim grotesqueness of the scene, laughter ran over the whole multitude. But the pathos of the family scene! Mary embracing her restored husband; and the restored maniac’s experience, and hymn of praise. The place became a perfect Bochim; they wept like mourners at a funeral. Shouts of prayer and praise mingled together. One who heard that wonderful sermon says, that, at last, the people seemed like the inhabitants of a city which had been shaken by an earthquake, that, in their escape, rushed into the streets, falling upon the earth screaming, and calling upon God!
This sermon has never been printed; indeed, it is obvious that it never could be prepared for the press. It defies all criticism; and the few outlines we have attempted to present are quite inadequate to reproduce it. All who heard it understood, that it was a picture of a lunatic, and demon-haunted world; and it was beneath the impression of this, that passionate cries, universal, thankful, penitent murmurs rose whilst amidst loud “Amens!” and sobs, and tears, some petitions ascended “O Lord, who didst walk on the sea, that Thou mightest meet the Gadaren; cast out some demons from our midst to-night”
Although the demoniac of Gadara is not, in the strict sense of the word, an allegory, yet it is allegoric throughout; a fine piece of shadowy painting, in which unconverted, and converted men, and women might realize something of their own personal history, and the means by which they would “come to them-selves.”
And, no doubt, the chief charm, and most original characteristic of the preacher, was his power of sustained allegory; some incident, even some passing expression in Scripture, some prophetic figure of speech, was turned round and round by him, beaten out, or suggested a series of cartoon paintings, until it became like a chapter from the “Pilgrim’s Progress?” It has seemed to us, that his translators have been singularly unfortunate in rendering these excursions of his fancy into English; our most vivid impressions of them have been derived from those who had heard them, in all their freshness, from the preacher’s own wonderful lips. We will attempt to transfer one or two of these allegories to our pages. It must have been effective to have heard him describe the necessity of Divine life, spiritual power, to raise a soul from spiritual death. This may be called
“The Four Methods Of Preaching.
“He beheld,” he said, “such a one as Lazarus lying in the cave, locked in the sleep of death; now how shall he be raised? how shall he be brought back to life? Who will roll away for us the stone from this sepulchre? First came one, who went down to the cave with blankets, and salt, to rub with the fomentations of duty, to appeal to the will, to say to the sleeping man, that he could if he would; chafing and rubbing the cold and inert limbs, he thinks to call back the vital warmth; and then retiring, and standing some distance apart, he says to the other spectators, ‘Do you not see him stir? Are there no signs of life? Is he not moving?’ No, he lies very still, there is no motion. How could it be otherwise? how could a sense of moral duty be felt by the man there? — for the man was dead!
“The first man gave up in despair. And then came the second. ‘I thought you would never do it,’ he said; ‘but if you look at me, you will see a thing. ‘No,’ he said, ‘your treatment has been too gentle.’ And he went down into the cave with a scourge. Said he, ‘The man only wants severe treatment to be brought back to life. I warrant me I will make him feel,’ he said. And he laid on in quick succession the fervid blows, the sharp threatenings of law and judgment, and future danger and doom; and then he retired to some distance. ‘Is he not waking?’ he said. ‘Do you not see the corpse stir?’ No! A corpse he was before the man began to lay on his lashes, and a corpse he continued still; — for the man was dead!
“‘Ah,’ said another, advancing, ‘but I have wonderful power. You with your rubbing, and your smiting, what can you do? but I have it, for I have two things.’ And he advanced, and he fixed an electric battery, and disposed it so that it touched the dead man, and then, from a flute which he held, he drew forth such sweet sounds that they charmed the ears which were listening; and whether it was the battery, or whether it was the music, so it was, that effect seemed to be produced. ‘Behold,’ said he, ‘what the refinements of education and cultivation will do!’ And, indeed, so it was, for the hair of the dead man seemed to rise, and his eye-balls seemed to start and dilate; and see! he rises, starts up, and takes a stride down the cave. Ah, but it is all over; it was nothing but the electricity in the battery; and he sank back again flat on the floor of the cave; — for the man was dead.
“And then, when all were filled with despair, there came One, and stood by the entrance of the cave; but He was the Lord and Giver of life, and standing there, He said, ‘Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon this slain one, that he may live. Christ hath given thee life. Awake, thou that sleepest.’ And the man arose; he shook off his grave-clothes; what he needed had come to him now — life! Life is the only cure for death. Not the prescriptions of duty, not the threats of punishment and damnation, not the arts and the refinements of education, but new, spiritual, Divine life.”
The same manner appears in the way in which he traces the story of a soul seeking Christ, under the idea of the Wise Men following the leading star in
“SEEKING THE YOUNG CHILD.”
We have remarked before that the preacher’s descriptions of Oriental travel were always Welsh, and this could not arise so much from ignorance, for he was fairly well read in the geography, and, perhaps, even in the topography, of the Holy Land; but he was quite aware that Oriental description would be altogether incomprehensible to the great multitude of his auditors. He described, therefore, the Wise Men, not as we, perhaps, see them, on their camels, solemnly pacing the vast sandy desert, whose sands reflected the glow of the silvery star. They passed on their way through scenes, and villages, which might be recognised by the hearers, anxiously enquiring for the young Child. Turnpikes, if unknown in Palestine, great nuisances of even a very short journey in Wales in Christmas’s day.
“The wise men came up to the gate, — it was closed; they spoke to the keeper, inquiring, ‘Do you know anything of the Child?’
“The gatekeeper came to the door, saying, in answer to the question, ‘You have three pence to pay for each of the asses.’
“They explained, ‘We did not know there was anything to pay; here is the money; but tell us, do you know anything of the young Child?’
“No, the keeper did not even know what they meant. For they know nothing on the world’s great highway of the Child sent for the redemption of man. But he said, ‘You go on a little farther, and you will come to a blacksmith’s shop; he has all the news, he knows everything, and be will be sure to be able to tell you all you want to know.’
“So they paced along the road, following the star, till they came to the blacksmith’s shop; and it was very full, and the blacksmith was very busy, but they spoke out loudly to him, and said, ‘Where is the young Child?’
“‘Now,’ said the blacksmith, ‘it is of no use shouting that way; you must wait, you see I am busy; your asses cannot be shod for a couple of hours.’
“‘Oh, you mistake us,’ said the wise men; ‘we do not want our asses shod, but we want you to tell us, you, who know everything hereabouts, where shall we find the young Child.’
I do not know,’ said the blacksmith. For the world, in its bustle and trade, knows nothing, and cares nothing about the holy Child Jesus. ‘But look you,’ he said, ‘go on, and you will come to the inn, the great public-house; everybody from the village goes there, they know all the news there.’
“And so, with heavy hearts, they still pursued their way till they came to the inn; at the door, still resting on their asses, they inquired if any one knew of the Child, the wonderful Child.
“But the landlord said, ‘Be quick! Evan, John, where are you? bring out the ale — the porter — for these gentlemen.’
“‘No,’ they said, ‘we are too anxious to refresh ourselves; but tell us, hereabouts has been born the wonderful Child; He is the desire of all the nations; look there, we have seen His Star, we want to worship Him. Do you know?’
“ Not I,’ said the landlord. For pleasure knows nothing of Him through whom the secrets of all hearts are revealed. ‘Plenty of children born hereabouts,’ said the landlord; ‘but I know nothing of Him whom you seek.’ And he thought them a little mad, and was, moreover, a little cross because they would not dismount and go into the inn. ‘However,’ he said, ‘there is an old Rabbi lives in a lane hard by here; I think I have heard him say something about a Child that should be born, whose name should be called Wonderful. See, there is the way, you will find the old man.’
“So again they went on their way; and they stopped before the house of the old Rabbi, and knocked, and the door was opened; and here they left their asses by the gate, and entered in; and they found the old Rabbi seated with his Hebrew books, and chronicles about him, and he was strangely attired with mitre and vestment. And now, they thought, they would be sure to learn, and that their journey might be at an end. And they told him of the Star, and that the young Child was born who should be King of the Jews, and they were come to worship Him.
“‘Ah, yes,’ he said, ‘He is coming, and you shall see Him, but not now. You shall behold Him, but not nigh. See, it is written here — a Star shall rise out of Jacob. And when He comes it will be here He will show Himself. Go back, and when He comes I will send word and let you know.’ For even religious people, and Churches, cannot always guide seekers after God to Him whom to know is life eternal.
“But they were not satisfied, and they said, ‘No, no, we cannot return; He is born, He is here!’
‘There has been a great mistake made,’ said the Rabbi; “there have been some who have said that He is born, but it is not so.’
“‘But who has said it?’ they inquired.
“And then he told them of another priestly man, who lived near to the river hard by; and to him they went, and inquired for the young Child.
“‘Yes, yes,’ he said, when they pointed him to the Star, ‘yes, through the tender mercies of our God, the Dayspring from on high hath visited us; to give light to them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death; to guide our steps into the way of peace.’
“And so he guided them to the manger, and the Star rested and stood over the place where the young Child was, while they offered their gifts of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
Sometimes the preacher, in another version which we have seen, appears to have varied the last guide, and to have brought the wise men, by a singular, and perfectly inadmissible anachronism, to the man in the camel’s hair by the river’s brink, who said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world!”
But one of the most effective of these sustained allegories, was founded on the text which speaks of the evil “spirit walking through dry places, seeking rest, and finding none.” We believe we were first indebted for it, to the old dame who entertained us nearly forty years since in the Caerphilly Cottage.
Satan Walking In Dry Places.
The preacher appears to have been desirous of teaching the beautiful truth, that a mind preoccupied, and inhabited by Divine thoughts, cannot entertain an evil visitor, but is compelled to betake himself to flight, by the strong expulsive power of Divine affections. He commenced, by describing Satan as a vast and wicked, although invisible spirit, — somehow, as Milton might have described him; and the preacher was not unacquainted with the grand imagery of the “Paradise Lost,” in which the poet describes the Evil One, when he tempts, with wandering feet, the dark, unbottomed, infinite abyss, and, through the palpable obscure, seeks to find out his uncouth way. Christmas described him, as spreading his airy flight on indefatigable wings, determined to insinuate himself, through the avenues of sense, to some poor soul, and lure it to destruction. And, with this end, flying through the air, and seeking for a dwelling-place, he found himself moving over one of those wide Welsh moors, the preacher so well knew, and had so often travelled; and his fiery, although invisible glance, espied a young lad, in the bloom of his days, and the strength of his powers, sitting on the box of his cart, driving on his way to the quarries for slate or lime.
“‘There he is,’ said Satan; ‘his veins are full of blood, his bones are full of marrow. I will cast my sparks into his bosom, and set all his passions on fire; I will lead him on, and he shall rob his master, and lose his place, and find another, and rob again, and do worse; and he shall, go on from worse to worse, and then his soul shall sink, never to rise again, into the lake of fire.’ But just then, as he was about to dart a fiery temptation into the heart of the youth, the evil one heard him sing,
“‘Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but Thou art mighty,
Hold me by Thy powerful hand;
Be Thou still my Strength and Shield.’
‘Oh, but this is a dry place,’ said the fiery dragon as he fled away.
“But I saw him pass on,” said the preacher, “hovering, like a hawk or a vulture, in the air, and casting about for a suitable place where he might nestle his black wings; when, at the edge of the moor, he came to a lovely valley; the hills rose round it, it was a beautiful, still, meadow-like spot, watered by a lovely stream; and there, beneath the eaves of a little cottage, he saw a girl, some eighteen years of age, a flower among the flowers: she was knitting, or sewing at the cottage door. Said Satan, ‘She will do for me; I will whisper the evil thought in her heart, and she shall turn it over, and over again, until she learns to love it; and then the evil thought shall be an evil deed; and then she shall be obliged to leave her village, and go to the great town, and she shall live a life of evil, all astray from the paths of my Almighty Enemy. Oh, I will make her mine, and then, by-and-bye, I will cast her over the precipices, and she shall sink, sink into the furnace of divine wrath.’ And so he hastened to approach, and dart into the mind of the maiden; but while he was approaching, all the hills and crags seemed to break out into singing, as her sweet voice rose, high and clear, chanting out the words,
“ ‘Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high.
Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee
Leave, ah, leave me not alone,
Still support, and comfort me.’
‘This is a very dry place, too,’ said the dragon, as he fled away.
“And so he passed from the valley among the hills, but with hot rage. ‘I will have a place to dwell in!’ he said; ‘I will somehow leap over the fences, and the hedges, of the purpose, and covenant, and grace of God. I do not seem to have succeeded with the young, I will try the old; for passing down the village street, he saw an old woman; she, too, was sitting at the door of her cot, and spinning on her little wheel. ‘Ah!‘ said Satan, ‘it will be good to lay hold of her grey hairs, and make her taste of the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone.’ And he descended on the eaves of the cot; but as he approached near, he heard the trembling, quavering voice of the aged woman murmuring to herself lowlily, ‘For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed, saith the Lord, that hath mercy on thee.’ And the words hurt the evil one, as well as disappointed him; they wounded him as he fled away, saying, ‘Another dry place!’
“Ah, poor Devil!” exclaimed the preacher, “and he usually so very successful! but he was quite unsuccessful that day. And, now, it was night, and he was scudding about, like a bird of prey, upon his black wings, and pouring forth his screams of rage. But he passed through another little Welsh village, the white cottages gleaming out in the white moonlight on the sloping hillside. And there was a cottage, and in the upper room there was a faint light trembling, and ‘Oh,’ said the Devil to himself, ‘Devil, thou hast been a very foolish Devil to-day, and there, in that room, where the lamplight is, old Williams is slowly, surely wasting away. Over eighty, or I am mistaken; not much mind left; and he has borne the burden and heat of the day, as they call it. Thanks to me, he has had a hard time of it; he has had very few mercies to be thankful for; he has not found serving God, I think, a very profitable business. Come, cheer up, Devil, it will be a grand thing if thou canst get him to doubt a bit, and then to despair a bit, and then to curse God, and die; that will make up for this day’s losses.’
“Then he entered the room; there was the old man lying on the poor bed, and his long, thin, wasted hands and fingers lying on the cover-lid; his eyes closed, the long silvery hair falling over the pillow. Now, Satan, make haste, or it will be too late; the hour is coming, there is even a stir in every room in the house: they seem to know that the old man is passing. But as Satan himself moved before the bed, to dart into the mind of the old man, the patriarch rose in bed, stretched forth his hands, and pinned his enemy to the wall, as he exclaimed, ‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me; Thou preparest a table before me, in he presence of mine enemy; Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over; goodness and mercy, all the days of my life, dwell in the house of my God for ever.” Oh, that was a fearfully dry place! The old man sank back, it was all over; those words beat Satan down to the bottom of his own bottomless pit, glad to escape from such confusion and shame, and exclaiming, ‘I will return to the place from whence I came, for this is too dry for me.’”
This will, no doubt, be thought, by many, to be strange preaching; many would even affect to despise it, — perhaps would even regard it as a high compliment were we to say, they would feel exceedingly puzzled even if, by way of a change, they were called upon to use it. It appears, however, to have been a style exceedingly fascinating to the Welsh mind of that day; it told, it stirred up suggestions, awakened thoughts, and reclaimed and converted character; and we need not, therefore, stay to attempt any vindication of it.
We have inserted these very characteristic illustrations here, because they appear to have belonged to the Anglesea period. Such, then, was the teaching, the preaching, the truth, which, while it was his own truth, and sustained his own mind, gave to him such power, at once, amongst the Churches to which he immediately administered, and made him the object of such attraction, when visiting distant neighbourhoods.
It might have been thought — it has usually been the case, in the instances of other men — that such excursions as those we have described, would have interfered with the great success of his work in the ministry as a preacher, and with his efficiency as a pastor. That they did not, substantially, is clear from many evidences. There can be no doubt that his sermons were no off-hand productions; there was a careful, rigid, and patiently conscientious weighing of their material. All those which we possess, abundantly show this; and he entered with all his heart, and mind, and strength into the work of preaching; but he never had an easy sphere; and yet, would his sermons have been greater had he been placed where the circle of his labour would have been narrower, and the means of his support more ready, and sufficient, and ample? Most likely not; but he weighed the entire work of the ministry in a manner which seems to us, sometimes, more like the sound thoughtfulness, and consideration of the theological Principal of a college, than a popular, or itinerant preacher. As an illustration of this, we may insert the following, very lengthy, but admirable letter to a young minister, written, we believe, some time nearer the close of his career than that we have just depicted
“DEAR BROTHER, — I. Consider, in the first place, the great importance, to a preacher, of a blameless life. You must, like Timothy, ‘flee youthful lusts,’ as you would escape from beasts of prey; for there are kinds of beasts, living in the wilderness of man’s corruption, that will charm, by means of their beauteous colours, those that walk among their haunts; there is no safety but by keeping from them, and adhering to such as live by faith, and watch, and pray. It will be well for you, while you travel through the coppice of youth, to keep from all appearance of evil. May you have grace to pass through the coppice of forbidden trees, without cutting your name into the bark of one of them, or you may be upbraided, at critical times, by those who may wish to prove that you are not better than themselves; even the iota, inserted by your hand, may be produced after many years.
“2. I remember the words of Luther, that reading, prayer, and temptation are necessary to strengthen, and to purify the talents of a minister. Read, to extend your general knowledge, especially as to the plan of redemption, according to the Scriptures, in all its parts, from the election to the glorification; that you may, like a spiritual watchmaker, know all the relative cog-wheels, and be able to open them in the pulpit, and to connect them all by faith, hop; and charity, that they may occupy their own places, and exhibit their true results on the dial-plate; thus proving yourself a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. Be not like that thrasher, who presumptuously took his watch to pieces in the barn, and could not put it together again, but was obliged to carry it home in his handkerchief. The messengers of God, described in the book of Revelations, are full of eyes behind, and before. You must use prayer to fetch strength out of Christ, like the homer to carry home the manna in, or the water-pot of the woman of Samaria. Without the prayer of faith, the preacher will have ‘nothing to draw with,’ from the well that is deep, — even the deep things of God. Temptation is requisite, to prove the nature of the metal of the preacher’s character, and doctrine, — ‘approved of God.’ The piece of gold, in every true minister’s ministry, must be tried in some furnace, prepared by Divine Providence. He must, therefore, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil his ministry, endure hardness, and affliction, and thus prove himself a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
“3. Avail yourself, in the morning of your days, of every opportunity to acquire knowledge useful for the ministry. Let it be your constant aim, to turn every stream and rivulet of knowledge in the right direction, to facilitate the work of the ministry, for the good of souls, and the glory of God; as the bee, in all her excursions amongst the flowers of the gardens, and the hedges, gathers honey to enrich the hive, as the common treasury of the industrious race. Always have a book to read, instead of indulging in vain conversations. Strive to learn English, as you cannot have academical training. Learn your own mother-tongue well. Learn to write a good hand by frequent practice. Avoid vain conversation, instead of growth in knowledge. Remember this, that you cannot commit some loved sin in private, and perform the work of the ministry, in public, with facility and acceptance. For a preacher to fall into sin, be it a secret one, and to live in it, is as fatal, ultimately, as the cutting of Samson’s hair. Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus against all corruption.
“4. With regard to the composition of your sermons: first, let the matter be evangelical. The doctrine of the Gospel is a mould from heaven, and not changed. It puts its own impress and shape on the professor that is melted into it, so that his justification, sanctification, and all his salvation, flow from the merits of Christ; and all through God’s grace, and not of ourselves. The gospel, as a glass, should be kept clean and clear in the pulpit, that the hearers may see the glory of Christ, and be changed to the same image. Every duty is to be urged by evangelical motives. ‘Let us have grace,’ etc.
Hereby we can serve God in all the duties of the kingdom of heaven. The whole is summed up in living by faith, which worketh by love, to him that died for us, and rose again for our justification. Secondly, let your divisions be natural to the text. Take care that your interpretation accord with the contexts. Two or three general heads; avoid many. Four or five remarks you may make on each head; see that they are fairly in the truth of the text. Thirdly, I am not inclined to make inferences, or applications, from the whole. When the preacher has expended his strength, or ingenuity, in endeavouring to impress, and apply the truth to the minds of his hearers, application seems to me to be doing again what has been effected already. The blacksmith does not put the horse-shoe in the fire, after he has nailed it to the hoof; and the cook does not spread the cloth again, when dinner is over. Fourthly, beware of long sermons, as well as long prayers. When there is but one preacher, he should not preach for more than an hour; when there are two, both should not be more than an hour and a half, that the worship may close within two hours; whenever this time is passed, coolness and fatigue ensue. To put three ministers to preach (in one meeting) is a modern corruption, and likely to make some progress in Wales; while the English, generally, have but one sermon in one service. They excel us herein; for we do not read that, on the day of Pentecost, Peter; James, and John, preached after each other; but Peter, ‘one of the twelve,’ delivered that successful sermon. When we lose sight of the Scriptures, and common sense, we are driven to extremes, though it be with the kindly purpose of respecting strange ministers, by putting them to preach.
“5. Attend, also, my young brother, to your outward appearance in the pulpit. Beware of a proud haughty appearance, with wandering eyes, and unfeeling countenance, so that the people utterly fail to see the man of God in you. We must, in order hereunto, have something like unto Moses, when he had been on the mount with God, that will indicate seriousness, love to souls, a spirit of prayer, zeal for Christ, and longing for the salvation of men; like unto those who have felt the fear of perdition ourselves, and the infinite value of salvation by God’s grace; and that we wrestle with God in order to be useful to souls. These things must be imprinted on our appearance and deportment, having transformed us, in some measure, to a heavenly form and habit. Our outward conversation should be consistent herewith, or men will despise us as hypocrites, without the fear of God.
“6. Avoid, my dear brother, all foolish bodily gestures.
“7. We now come to the part of the subject upon which you are most anxious to have my thoughts: that refers to the delivery of your sermons. It is difficult to put general rules of rhetoric into execution. After reading all that has been said by Blair, Williams, Fuller, and the Archbishop of Cambray (Fenelon), who have spoken at length of Cicero and Demosthenes, it is easy, by endeavouring to follow them, to lose the spirit of the work, and thus, by seeking the form, to forfeit the life. Preach the gospel of the grace of God intelligibly, affectionately, and without shame — all the contents of the great box, from predestination to glorification. It was the closing, and concealing, of this box that occasioned the opening of the venomous Mohammedan box, as well as that of Popery, together with all the vain legality that is to be found among Protestants, established and dissenting. It may be said, that they seek justification; but it is by the deeds of the law. The locking up, and the losing, of the doctrine of grace, through the merits of Christ, utterly destroyed the Jewish Church; for it was in the chest, which they locked up by their false interpolations of Scripture, that the ‘things which belong to their peace’ were contained; ‘but now,’ says the Redeemer, ‘they are concealed from their eyes;’ shut up under unbelief. ‘The things that pertain to their peace’ belong also to our peace, as Gentiles. The Deity of Christ, etc.; Redemption, etc. Excuse this digression, for the river of God’s throne moved me along.
“We were upon the best mode of delivering sermons for edification. It is not easy to reduce the rules of prudence into practice. I have seen some men, of the highest powers, who understood Greek better than their mother-tongue, attempting to preach according to rule, and to them the pulpit was like unto Gilboa; they neither affected themselves, nor their hearers. The difficulty was, the bringing of their regulations into natural practice. I saw one of those men, the most eminent for learning and genius, who found the right way, under the influence of a mighty fervency that descended upon him in the pulpit, so that his voice became utterly different from what it used to be, and his tongue at liberty, as though something was cut that had hitherto restrained his tongue, and affections, from natural exercise.
“Here you have the sum, and substance, and mystery of all rules: — I. Let the preacher influence himself; let him reach his own heart, if he would reach the hearts of others; if he would have others feel, he must feel himself. Dry shouting (or vociferation) will not do this. The shout of a man who does not himself feel the effect of what he says, hardens, instead of softening; locks, instead of opening the heart. 2. The elevation, and fire of the voice must accord with the fervency of the matter in the heart. A person said to me once, ‘Mr. Evans, you have not studied Dr. Blair’s Rhetoric.’ That man, with his rules, was always as dry as Gilboa. ‘Why do you say so,’ replied I, ‘when you just now saw hundreds weeping under the sermon? That could not be, had I not first of all been influenced myself, which, you know, is the substance, and mystery, of all rules for speaking.’ Wherever there is effect, there is life; and rules, without life, have no power. Now, brother, follow the natural course of affection, and voice. Raise not the voice while the heart is dry; but let the heart and affections shout first; let it commence within. Take this comparison:
— Go to the blacksmith’s shop; he first puts the piece of iron in the fire; and there is no sound of striking the anvil; he collects together the coals for heat; then he tells the boy, ‘Blow!’ while he masterfully manages the shovel, adjusting the coals, and asking sundry questions. He calmly looks at the fire heating the iron, and does not yet take hold of the hammer, nor order his assistants to use the sledge; but at length, seeing that the iron has attained the proper malleability, he takes it out, covered with sparkling fire, puts it on the anvil, handles the hammer, and orders his workman to take the larger one, and fashions it according to his pleasure; and so on, all day long. Here, observe, he does not beat the iron in order to make it hot, for without first heating it, the beating process is in vain. Equally vain is the hammer of vociferation, unless the matter is brought home with warmth into our hearts. We have often sought to produce effect, and to influence our hearers, much as though the smith merely put the iron in fire, and barely warmed it; it is contrary to the nature of things to use the hammer while the material is not duly tempered. Thus I have frequently, brother, found myself in preaching. You have, above, the mystery of all effective speaking, in Parliament, at the bar, and in the pulpit; remembering the difference in the subjects, and the sources of heat. In the pulpit, we speak of the deep things of God; and we are to pray for, and to expect warmth from the Divine Spirit. You complain that you cannot get your voice into a manageable key, and yet to speak with liveliness and power. Many, with a bad voice, well-governed, have become powerful speakers; while others, with a good voice, have, in consequence of not mastering a natural key, and not being able to move themselves, been most ineffective speakers. I would direct you to fix your voice at its natural pitch, which you may easily do; you may then, with facility, raise and lower it according to the subject in hand. If you commence in too high a key, you cannot keep it up long. First, you cannot modulate it as the occasion may require; and you fall into an unpliable, tedious monotony, and all natural cadence, and emphasis is lost. Without attuning the voice into the natural key, effective oratory is impossible. Secondly, remember, not to speak in your throat, or nostrils. If the former, you must soon become hoarse, and harsh loudness follows; the glory and vivacity are then departed, and instead of facility and cheerfulness, you have the roarings of death — the breath failing, with forced screams, and harsh whisperings. Thirdly, raise your voice to the roof of your mouth; do not close your teeth against it, neither imprison it in the nostrils, but open your mouth naturally, and keep your voice within your lips, where it will find room enough to play its high, and its low intonations, to discourse its flats, and sharps, to utter its joys, and sorrows. When you thus have your voice under control, instead of you being under its control, dragging you about in all disorder, you will find it your servant, running upon your errands, up and down, all through the camp, alternating in energy, and pliability, to the end of the sermon; and not becoming cold and weak, scarcely bearing you through, like Bucephalus, Alexander the Great’s horse, which, mortally wounded, just brought his master out of the battle, and then expired. Fourthly, remember, not to press too much upon your breath, when you have attained the natural use of it, by using very long sentences, without pausing at proper places, which (pauses) will add to the effect, as well as preserve the voice; so that you will be, like the smith, ready to strike the duly-tempered metal, prepared to give the suitable emphasis at the end of the paragraph. Let the matter raise the voice, do not attempt by the voice to elevate the subject. Fifthly, use words easily understood, that the people’s affections may not cool, while the mind is sent to a dictionary, to understand your terms. The great work, the exploit of a minister, is to win the heart to believe in Christ, and to love Him. Sixthly, bear in mind, also, the necessity of keeping the voice free, without (affected) restraint; give every syllable, and every letter, its full and proper sound. (It is one of the peculiarities and excellences of the Welsh language, and proves its Eastern origin.) No letter has to complain that it is (condemned to be) mute, and neglected, and has no utterance. In English, many letters have this complaint; but in Welsh, every letter, even as the knights at the round table of King Arthur, has, without preference, its own appropriate and complete sound. Seventhly, remember, also, to enunciate clearly the last syllable in every Welsh word; that will cause your most distant hearer to understand you; while, without this, much of what you say must be inevitably lost. Eighthly, in order to all this, carefully attend to the manner of the best, and ablest preachers, and imitate, not their weaknesses, but their excellences. You will observe, that some heavenly ornament, and power from on high, are visible in many ministers when under the Divine irradiation, which you cannot approach to by merely imitating their artistic excellence, without resembling them in the spiritual taste, fervency, and zeal which Christ and his Spirit ‘work in them.’ This will cause, not only your being like unto them in gracefulness of action, and propriety of elocution, but will also induce prayer for the anointing from the Holy One, which worketh mightily in the inward man. This is the mystery of all effective preaching. We must be endowed with power from on high: here is the grand inward secret. Without this, we (often) perceive that it is impossible, with all academic advantages, to make good preachers of young men from any college, in the Church of England, or among the dissenters, in the English or the Welsh language. A young preacher must have the mystery of being ‘constrained’ by ‘the love of Christ’; ‘the gift of God’ must be kindled in him; and He alone, by the Spirit, can sustain that gift by the Holy Spirit. ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ May the Lord give you, brother, a good understanding in all things; and preserve in you the heavenly gift by the Holy Ghost! may it be rekindled where it is, and contributed where it is not! Without it, we can do nothing for the glory of God, or the good of souls.
Sometimes Mr. Evans occupied such slight leisure as he could command, by a contribution to the ‘Seren Gomer’, an extensively-circulating magazine of the Principality. Several of these papers are interesting; we select one, illustrating the bent of the writer’s mind; it was published January 1821, — “An inquiry into the meaning of the singular language of the Apostle, his wish “To BE ACCURSED FROM CHRIST.
“ ‘For I could wish that I were accursed (anathema) from Christ for my brethren,’ etc. (Rom. IX. 3). Many things, most incredible to me, have been said in exposition of this passage; and principally, I think, from not observing that the word ‘anathema’ is used in two senses, — the one good, and the other bad. Barclay analyses into four acceptations; and, according to the first, it signifies that which is devoted, or set apart, to God, in a good sense. According to Parkhurst, it signifies, in Luke XXI. 5, a consecrated gift, set apart for the temple of God, and to His service alone. The word translated gifts is anathemasi. In the second book of Maccabees, IX. 8, the word denotes a consecrated gift. The word in the LXX., according to Parkhurst, is synonymous with the Hebrew word CHEREM, and signifies, generally, that which is entirely separated from its former condition, and use. If so, why should we not understand Paul, in the text, as expressing his ardent desire that he should be separated, a devoted thing, for the conversion of his brethren according to the flesh? Having gone thus far in explanation, we offer the following interpretation: ‘For I could wish that I were anathema, or a gift, in my labours as an apostle, and a preacher of the Gospel, from Christ, for the spiritual benefit of my brethren according to the flesh, principally, instead of being an apostle to the Gentiles, as I am appointed; theirs is the adoption, etc.; and I could also wish that I, also, as an apostle, were an especial gift of Christ for their distinctive service.’ If this be correct, there is no necessity for changing the tense of the verb from the present to the perfect, and reading. ‘I could wish,’ as ‘I have wished;’ while it saves us from putting in the Apostle’s mouth a wish entirely opposed to the ‘new creation,’ to the plan of Divine grace, and to the glory of God; for it is certain that it is quite in opposition to all this, for a man to desire to live in sin, and to be accursed for ever, — and that cannot for a moment be predicated of the Apostle of the Gentiles. I humbly ask some learned correspondent, whether there is anything in the original text with which this exposition will not harmonize.
This letter led to some unsympathetic criticism, and reply. Christmas Evans wrote a vindication of his former views, which may be not uninteresting to our readers, as illustrating a phase of his intellectual character. It appeared in the ‘Seren Gomer’ for
“MR. GOMER, — If you please, publish the following, in defence of my former letter on Romans IX. 3, and in reply to your correspondent, Pen Tafar.
“It is admitted, on all hands, that the words in the question express the highest degree of love to the Jews. Let us, now, put the different expositions before the reader, and then let him judge which of them contains the greatest harmony and fitness; i.e., first, to express love to the Jews; second, the best adapted to bring about their salvation; third, the most consistent with supreme love to Christ; and fourth, within the confines of sinlessness.
“I. Many learned men set forth the Apostle as having formed this desire when he was an enemy to Christ. This they maintain by tracing the word anathema throughout the Greek Scriptures, and the Hebrew word cherem, of which it is the synonym. Anathema, they say, always signifies ‘without an exception,’ a separation, or devotement of a beast, a city, or something else, to irredeemable destruction (Lev. XXVII. 29). The devoted thing was not to be redeemed, but certainly to be put to death (Gal. I. 9). ‘Let him be accursed;’ says Paul of the angel that would preach another gospel. ‘If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema maranatha,’ ‘accursed when the Lord cometh.’ But who can believe that this is the meaning of the word in the passage before us? I say, with Dr. Gill, ‘This never can be the signification.’ What probability is there that Paul would swear, calling Jesus Christ to witness, to his ancient enmity against Him? This was notorious enough throughout the whole country. No asseveration was necessary to prove Paul’s persecuting spirit.
“Again, how could that which he formerly had been, prove, he now having denied himself, his old persecuting spirit, and, being deeply ashamed on the account, prove his present love to the Jews? How did his former love to Satan prove his present love to the Jews?
“2. Others say that it is Paul’s wish as a Christian, whatever anathema means. I believe it is his desire as a Christian; otherwise I see not how it could be an instance of his love to his brethren according to the flesh. Several authors maintain that Paul was willing, for the sake of saving his nation, to part with his interest in Christ, and to perish for ever. Peter Williams and Matthew Henry give this interpretation. But, seriously, how can a person persuade himself to believe this? Would not the Apostle, in this case, love his nation more than Christ, and be accordingly unworthy of Christ? This is opposed to a principle of our nature, which never can desire its own destruction; to the principle of grace, which loves Christ above all things on earth, and in heaven. Such a desire would make Paul a devil.
“3. Others suppose that Paul here speaks inconsiderately, in a kind of ecstasy, carried away by a stream of affection to his people. Who can believe this without giving up Paul’s inspiration, even when he solemnly appeals to Christ?
“4. Another notion is, that the Apostle was willing, and desirous to be excommunicated from the Church of Christ upon earth, and to be deprived of its ordinances. How can this, again, be considered as consistent with love to Christ, and His Church? What tendency could his leaving the Church have to induce the Jews to enter it? This is contrary to the whole course of the Divine command, and promises: God will give His people an everlasting home, and place in His house.
“5. Some say, it is an hyperbole. To confirm this, Exod. XXX. 32 is quoted as a case in point: ‘Blot me, I pray thee, out of Thy book, which Thou hast written.’ This is not the book of eternal life, but the book of the dispensation, in which Moses was leader, and mediator. ‘I would,’ he says, ‘give up my office.’ God rejected the request: ‘Lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken to thee.’ It was not for Israel, nor a condition of forgiveness to them, but for himself, that Moses said, ‘Blot my name out of Thy book.’ All this gives but little assistance to understand the Apostle. The two spiritual men do not stand on the same ground. Moses seeks the obliteration of his name, unless Israel was pardoned. Paul seeks a work, and an office, in order to the forgiveness of his nation.
“6. Further, it is supposed to be proper to modify — to soften — the meaning of the word anathema, as signifying, sometimes, anything devoted to God, and that never could, afterwards, be appropriated to any other service; and here, to understand it in that softened sense, signifying that Paul was willing for the Redeemer to make him a devoted thing — a martyr for the truth, for the good of the Jewish nation. This is substantially the opinion of Thomas Charles, and Dr. Gill. Christmas Evans’s theory is erected on this ground — the modified sense of the word; thus, ‘I could wish myself entirely set apart, by Christ, to the service of my people, for their spiritual good; I should have been glad, had I my choice, to have been an Apostle, separated to them alone, and not to the Gentiles, with my dwelling, and labours, amongst them, and to die a martyr for the truth, even the most horrible death that could be devised, if Christ had appointed me hereto.’ If ‘P. T.’ says this is a new interpretation of Christmas Evans’s, the answer is, No, but a legitimate extension of a former one; for he did not intend, nor did his words import, the separation of martyrdom, or the most anathematised sufferings, from Paul for his kinsmen according to the flesh.
“7. Is it not plain, and does not ‘P. T.’ see, that this view is superior to the former five, and that it takes in, and is an improving addition to the latter of the five, as to its fitness to express the Apostle’s great love to his people, without destroying his love to Christ, as well as to bring about the salvation of the Jews by proper means? How could the death of the Apostle contribute to the conversion of the Jews, unless he died as an apostate of the circumcision?”
It appears to have been towards the close of the Anglesea period, that he was thrown into a panic of fear, by a threat of a legal prosecution, on account of some chapel debts, for which, of course, he was regarded as responsible. “They talk,” he said, “of casting me into a court of law, where I have never been, and I hope I shall never go; but I will cast them, first, into the court of Jesus Christ.” We have seen that he was in the habit of putting on paper his prayers, and communions with God. It was a time of severe trial to him. He says, “ I knew there was no ground of action, but, still, I was much disturbed, being, at the time, sixty years of age, and having, very recently, buried my wife.” He continues, “I received the letter at a monthly meeting, at one of the contests with spiritual wickedness in high places. On my return home, I had fellowship with God, during the whole journey of ten miles, and, arriving at my own house, I went upstairs to my own chamber, and poured forth my heart before the Redeemer, who has in His hands all authority, and power.” And the following seem to be the pathetic words in which he indulged: — “O blessed Lord! in Thy merit I confide, and trust to be heard. Lord, some of my brethren have run wild; and forgetting their duty, and obligations to their father in the Gospel, they threaten me with the law of the land. Weaken, I beseech Thee, their designs in this, as Thou didst wither the arm of Jeroboam; and soften them, as Thou didst soften the mind of Esau, and disarmed him of his warlike temper against Thy servant Jacob, after the wrestling at Penuel. So disarm them, for I do not know the length of Satan’s chain in this case, and in this unbrotherly attack. But Thou canst shorten the chain as short as it may please Thee. Lord, I anticipate them in point of law. They think of casting Thine unworthy servant into the little courts here below; but I cast my cause into the High Court, in which Thou, gracious Jesus, art the High Chancellor. Receive Thou the cause of Thine unworthy servant, and send him a writ, or a notice, immediately — sending into their conscience, and summoning them to consider what they are doing. Oh, frighten them with a summons from Thy court, until they come, and bow in contrition at Thy feet; and take from their hands every revengeful weapon, and make them deliver up every gun of scandal, and every sword of bitter words, and every spear of slanderous expressions, and surrender them all at Thy cross. Forgive them all their faults, and clothe them with white robes, and give them oil for their heads, and the organ, and the harp of ten strings, to sing, for the trampling of Satan under our feet by the God of peace.
“I went up once,” he says, “and was about ten minutes in prayer; I felt some confidence that Jesus heard. I went up again with a tender heart; I could not refrain from weeping with the joy of hope that the Lord was drawing near to me. After the seventh struggle I came down, fully believing that the Redeemer had taken my cause into His hands, and that He would arrange, and manage for me. My countenance was cheerful, as I came down the last time, like Naaman, having washed himself seven times in the Jordan; or Bunyan’s Pilgrim, having cast his burden at the foot of the cross, into the grave of Jesus. I well remember the place — the little house adjoining the meeting-house, at Cildwrn, where I then resided — in which this struggle took place; I can call it Penuel. No weapon intended against me prospered, and I had peace, at once, to my mind, and in my (temporal) condition. I have frequently prayed for those who would injure me, that they might be blessed, even as I have been blessed. I know not what would have become of me, had it not been for these furnaces in which I have been tried, and in which the spirit of prayer has been excited, and exercised in me.”
It is scarcely necessary to add, that the threat was never executed, nor did poor Christmas, apparently, hear anything further of the matter; but we have seen how great was the trouble, and agitation it caused him, while the fear was upon him. It is very affecting to find that this great, this saintly, and earnest minister, had upon his heart, and mind, the burden of all the chapel-debts connected with his denomination in Anglesea, while he was minister there.
It might have been thought that the ministerial course of Christmas Evans would close in Anglesea, where he had laboured so long, and so effectually. He was, now, about sixty years of age, but there was little light just now, in the evening-time of his life; indeed, clouds of trouble were thickening around him. It often seems that trouble, in the ministerial life, comes exactly at that moment when the life is least able to stand, with strength, against it; and, certainly, in the life of Christmas Evans, sorrows gathered, and multiplied at the close.
Chief among these must be mentioned, beyond any doubt, the death of the beloved companion of all the Anglesea life, his good wife, Catherine; she left him in 1823. She was eminently, and admirably fitted to be the wife of such a man as Christmas. Somewhat younger than her husband, she supplied many attributes of character, to him most helpful; she was not an enthusiast, but she was a Christian, with real, deep, and devout convictions. We have no lengthy accounts of her; but little side-lights, a kind of casemented window, reveal a character at once affectionate, beautiful, and strong.
We have seen that their home was the region of self-denial, and her husband long remembered, and used to tell, how “if there happened to be on our table one thing better than the other, she would, modestly, but cheerfully and earnestly, resist all importunity to partake of it until she ascertained that there was enough for both.” What a little candle such a sentence as this is, but what a light it sheds over the whole room! She did not pretend to be her husband; he filled his larger sphere, and she, in all her manifold, gentle ways, sought to give him rest. Surely she adds another name to the long catalogue of good wives. She reminds us of Lavater’s wife, and some little incidents in that Cildwrn cottage call up memories from the manse of St. Peter’s Church, and the shadows of the old Lindenhof of Zurich, where probably life did not put on a gayer apparel, or present more lavish and luxurious possibilities, than in the poor parsonage of Anglesea.
It is incredible, almost, to read what the good Catherine did, poor — to our thinking, miserable — as was the income of her husband. Her hand was most generous; how she did it, what committee of ways and means she called together, in her thoughtful mind, we do not know, — only, that she, constantly, found some food to give to poor children, and needy people; unblessed by children of her own, she employed her fingers in making clothes for the poor members, and families, of the Church. There was always help for the poor hungry labourer passing her cottage; the house was always open for the itinerant minister travelling on his way to some “publication,” and she was always ready to minister to his necessities with her own kind hands. Her husband often thought that the glance she gave upon a text shed light upon it. She never had robust health, but she accompanied her husband on several of his longer journeys through the greater part of Wales, — ah, and some of them in the winter, through storms of rain, and snow, and hall, along dangerous roads too, across difficult ferries; and she was uniformly cheerful! What an invaluable creature, what a blessed companion! A keener observer of character, probably, from what we can gather, than her husband; a sharper eye, in general, to detect the subterfuges of selfishness and conceit.
One mighty trial she had before she died; she had, in some way, been deeply wounded, grievously injured, and hurt, and she found it hard to forgive; she agonized, and prayed, and struggled; and before she was called to eternity, she was able to feel that she had forgiven, and buried the memory of the injuries in the love and compassion of the Redeemer. Her husband had to give her up, and at a time, perhaps, when he needed her most. The illness was long, but great strength was given to her, and at last the release came. There was mourning in the Cildwrn cottage. The last night of her life she repeated a beautiful, and comfortable Welsh hymn, and then, ejaculating three times, “Lord Jesus, have mercy upon me!” she breathed forth her quiet, affectionate, and hopeful spirit, into her Saviour’s hands, and left her husband all alone, to bear the burden of her departure, and other griefs, and troubles which were crowding upon him.
Other troubles, — for, in what way we need not attempt too curiously to inquire, — the pastorate gave to the poor old pastor little, or no peace. There were strong Diotrephesian troubles agitating the great preacher’s life. The Churches, too, which Christmas Evans had raised, and to which, by his earnest eloquence, and active, organizing mind, he had given existence, grew restive, and self-willed beneath his guidance, refusing his advice with reference to ministers he suggested, and inviting others, whose appointment he thought unwise.
Poor Christmas! Did he ever ask himself, in these moments, when he thought of his lost Catherine, and felt the waves of trouble rising up, and beating all round him, — did he ever ask himself whether the game was worth the candle? whether he was a mere plaything in life, whom that arch old player, Death, had outplayed, and defeated? Did it ever seem to him that it was all a vanity, ending in vexation of spirit? The life most beloved had burnt out, the building he had spent long years to erect, seemed only to be furnished for discomfort, and distraction.
Did he begin to think that the wine of life was only turning into acrid vinegar, by-and-by to end with the long sleeping-draught? Of life’s good things, in the worldling’s sense of good, he had tasted few; most clearly he had never desired them. He had never the opportunity, nor had he ever desired to be like a Nebuchadnezzar, roaming the world like a beast, and pasturing at a dinner-table, as upon a sort of meadow-land of the stomach, sinking the soul to the cattle of the field; but he might have expected that his Church, and Churches, would be a joy, a rest, a pleasant meadow-land to him. The body was certainly crumbling to decay: would the ideas also prove like frescoes, which could be washed out by tears, or removed, and leave the soul only a desolate habitation, waiting for its doom of dust I
We do not suppose that, amidst his depressing griefs, these desolating beliefs, or unbeliefs, had any mastery over him. What did the men who tormented him know of those mighty springs of comfort, which came from those covenants he had made with God, amidst the lonely solitudes of his journeyings among the wild Welsh hills? He had not built his home, or his hopes, on the faithfulness of men, or the vitality of Churches; the roots of his faith, as they had struck downward, were now to bear fruit upward.
There was a fine healthfulness in his spirit. There is nothing in his life to lead one to think that he had ever been much intoxicated by the fame which had attended him; he appears to have been always beneath the control of the great truths in which he believed, and it was not the seductive charms of popularity for which he cared, but the power of those truths to bring light, conviction, and rest, to human souls. All his sermons look that way; all that we know of his preaching, and experience, turns in that direction.
Rose-leaves are said to act as an emetic, and have much the same effect on the constitution as senna leaves. It is so with those sweet things which fame offers to the imagination; the conserves of its fragrance, by-and-by, become sickening. So, the robust nature of our fine old friend had to rise over grief, and disappointment, and unfriendliness, and diaconal dictation and impertinence. Only one thing he remembered. He appears to have been sustained, even as Edward Irving was, in his conviction that the truth of his message, the lamp of the ministry which he carried, gave to him a right, and a prerogative which he was not to relinquish; he had proved himself, he had proved the Spirit of God to be in him of a truth. He was not a wrangler, not disposed to maintain debates as to his rights; nor was he disposed to yield to caprice, faction, and turbulence; and so, he began to think of retiring, old as he was, from the field, the fragrance of which had proclaimed that the Lord had blessed him there.
Christmas Evans, as he draws near to the close of his work in Anglesea, only illustrates what many a far greater, and many a lesser man than he, have alike illustrated. There is a fine word among the many fine words of that great, although eccentric teacher, John Ruskin: — “It is one of the appointed conditions of the labour of man, that in proportion to the time between the seed-sowing and the harvest, is the fulness of the fruit; and that generally, therefore, the further off we place our aim, and the less we desire to be the witnesses of what we have laboured for, the more wide and rich will be the measure of our success.” This was, no doubt, the consolation of Christmas; but as we look upon him, a friendly voice reminds us, that, as he leaves Anglesea, ‘he realizes very much of Robert Browning’s soliloquy of the martyred patriot: —
“Thus I entered, and thus I go!
In triumphs people have dropped down dead.
Paid by the world, — what dost thou owe
Me? God might question; now, instead,
‘Tis God shall repay! I am safer so.”
So the candlestick was removed out of its place in Anglesea, and Anglesea soon, but too late, regretted the removal. Christmas Evans, however, seems to illustrate a truth, which may be announced almost as a general law, from the time of the Saviour and his Apostles down to our own, that those who have wrought most unselfishly, and serviceably for the cause of God, and the well-being of man, had to receive their payment in themselves, and, in the life to come. In proportion to the greatness of their work was the smallness of their remuneration here.
If we refer to the painful circumstances in connection with the close of the ministry of Christmas Evans at Anglesea, it is, especially, to notice how his faith survived the shock of surrounding trouble. He himself writes: “Nothing could preserve me in cheerfulness and confidence under these afflictions, but the assurance of the faithfulness of Christ. I felt assured that I had much work yet to do, and that my ministry would be instrumental in bringing many sinners to God. This arose from my trust in God, and in the spirit of prayer that possessed me; I frequently arose above all my sorrows.”
And again he writes: “As soon as I went into the pulpit during this period, I forgot my troubles, and found my mountain strong; I was blessed with such heavenly unction, and longed so intensely for the salvation of men, and I felt the truth like a hammer in power, and the doctrine distilling like the honey-comb, and like unto the rarest wine, that I became most anxious that the ministers of the county should unite with me to plead the promise, ‘If any two of you agree touching anything,’ etc. Everything now conspired to induce my departure from the island: the unyielding spirit of those who had oppressed, and traduced me; and my own most courageous state of mind, fully believing that there was yet more work for me to do in the harvest of the Son of Man, my earnest prayers for Divine guidance, during one whole year, and the visions of my head at night, in my bed — all worked together towards this result.”
Few things we know of are more sad than this story. “It was an affecting sight,” says Mr. William Morgan, quoted by Mr. Rhys Stephen in his Memoir, “to see the aged man, who had laboured so long and with such happy effects, leaving the sphere of his exertions under these circumstances; having laboured so much to pay for their meeting-houses, having performed so many journeys to South Wales for their benefit, having served them so diligently in the island, and passed through so many dangers; now some of the people withheld their contributions, to avenge themselves on their own father in the Gospel; others, while professing to be friends, did little more; while he, like David, was obliged to leave his city not knowing whether he should ever return to see the ark of God, and his tabernacle in Anglesea again. Whatever misunderstanding there was between Mr. Evans, and some of his brethren, it is clear that his counsels ought to have been received with due acknowledgment of his age, and experience, and that his reputation should have been energetically vindicated. I am of opinion, I am quite convinced, that more strenuous exertions should have been made to defend his character, and to bear him, in the arms of love, through the archers, and not to have permitted him to fall in the street without an advocate.”
The whole aim of Mr. Evans’s life, as far as we have been able to read it, was to get good from heaven, in order that he might do good on earth. Clearly, he never worked with any hope of a great earthly reward for any personal worthiness; perhaps there arose a sense that he had always been unjustly remunerated, that burdens had been laid upon him he ought not to have been called upon to bear;. and now the sense of injustice sought, as is so frequently the case, to vindicate itself by ingratitude. It seems so perpetually true, in the sad record of the story of human nature, that it is those who have injured us who seek yet further to hurt us.
Chapter 1. Some General Characteristics Of Welsh Preaching.
Chapter 2. Early Life Until His Entrance Into The Ministry.
Chapter 3. The Ministry In The Island Of Anglesea.
Chapter 4. The Ministry In Anglesea (Continued).
Chapter 5. Contemporaries In The Welsh Pulpit — Williams Of Wern.
Chapter 6 Contemporaries — John Elias.
Chapter 7. Contemporaries — Davies Of Swansea.
Chapter 8. The Preachers Of Wild Wales.
Chapter 9. Christmas Evans Continued — His Ministry At Caerphilly.
Chapter 10. Caernarvon And Last Days.
Chapter 11. Summary Of General Characteristics Of Christmas Evans, As A Man And A Preacher.
Chapter 12. Summary Of General Characteristics Of Christmas Evans As A Preacher.
Appendix Selection Of Illustrative Sermons.
1881 420pp We have included 4 of the 12 chapters.