The eleventh in a series on revival
Evan Roberts and the Welsh Revival: ‘Bend the Church, Save
By Ken Horn
He was 27, one of the most famous men on earth, a man of God
who had seen seldom-equaled evangelistic success. He had brought an entire
country to its knees. Multitudes found their way into God’s kingdom as a result
of his ministry. Christians traveled the ocean to see him minister; the secular
press desperately sought him for interviews. His name was a household word; he
was literally on top of the world.
And, at 27, he was finished — a fiery meteor that had
blazed onto the world’s stage, and off, in little more than a year.
Evan Roberts stands as one of the greatest examples of
Christlike service the Christian church has produced, a firebrand worthy of
emulation not solely because of his sensational evangelistic success but for
his life of intercession and his humility. He never lost a deep-seated
determination to give glory to Jesus alone.
Born in poverty, Roberts worked from the age of 12 in the
coal mines in his native country of Wales. As early as age 11 he had a passion
for revival. That passion would quietly be cultivated until, as an adult, he
would come to be known as “the Revivalist.”
The Welsh Revival of 1904 and 1905 is less known in our
ranks than the Pentecostal outpourings at the beginning of the 20th century. It
contributed to the Pentecostal revival and was essentially a parallel revival
— an indicator that the Holy Spirit cannot be contained and that God was
moving in many places across the globe at this time.
Roberts, however, did directly influence American Pentecost.
He met with Joseph Smale, a Baptist pastor from Los Angeles, and encouraged him
to bring to California the hunger for a move of God and for the work of the
Spirit seen in the Welsh Revival. Smale did so, and was instrumental in the
move of the Holy Spirit in Los Angeles.
The roots of the Welsh Revival go back to 1904 and a young
girl’s testimony in a meeting in New Quay, Cardiganshire. When Florrie Evans, a
new convert, gave a brief testimony in a Sunday prayer meeting for young
people, the results were like “an electric shock upon the congregation,”
according to contemporary journalist W.T. Stead. Many came forward in full
surrender, and news began to spread that a revival was under way.
During succeeding months, many such instances occurred in
various locales. But the revival exploded in September of that year, when, at
the close of a meeting in Blaenannerch, evangelist Seth Joshua called people to
the altar and spontaneously prayed, “Lord, bend us.” The prayer struck the
heart of Evan Roberts, who had long been praying for revival. As Roberts knelt
at the front, he prayed fervently, “Lord, bend me.” The revival now had its
theme and its leader.
“I felt ablaze with a desire to go through the length and
breadth of Wales to tell of the Savior,” Roberts said. “And had it been
possible, I was willing to pay God for doing so.” In a way, that is what he
Roberts drew out his life savings to support young people
who began traveling to minister throughout Wales.
Soon Roberts began praying for 100,000 souls to be saved in Wales.
He started meetings that were noted by the move of the Holy Spirit. One
world-renowned preacher called the Welsh Revival “Pentecost continued.”
Speaking in tongues was not common, but it was reported that ploughboys and
laborers with little education spoke in beautiful classical Welsh when moved by
Roberts’ world was not one of privilege. He was accustomed
to the dark confines of the Welsh coal mines. It was a hard life, and the
atmosphere was profane. But God changed that. It was said that as miners were
saved, the pit ponies became confused. Accustomed to hearing coarse commands
laced with profanity, they did not at first respond to the elevated speech of
the recently saved drivers.
Miners and their families repeatedly packed chapels, often
to more than double seating capacity. One such meeting began at 4 p.m., after
the miners finished their workday. Roberts didn’t arrive until 7. He pressed
through the crowd and offered one word in Welsh, which meant, “Let us pray.”
God moved upon those gathered, and at 9 Roberts left to pray the rest of the
night in his room. The meeting continued until 2 a.m.
Services were never advertised. When some traveler would
arrive and ask, “Where is Evan Roberts?” the response would be, “Find the
nearest church. He [God] will be there.”
Indeed multiple chapels were frequently filled
simultaneously, and Roberts would never let himself become the center of
attention. He granted no interviews and allowed no pictures to be taken of him
during the revival. If he felt people had come to see him, he would apologize
and leave. Often he would sit among others in a pew and simply pray during the
meeting. Once, he felt checked by the Holy Spirit and canceled meetings in the
Welsh capital, Cardiff, where thousands were anticipating his arrival. He would
go nowhere where he felt Jesus would not receive all the glory.
Famous preachers of the day had little success. Nothing that
focused on an individual succeeded. Roberts’ sermons became briefer and briefer
throughout the revival. F.B. Meyer told of a lengthy meeting, powerfully
anointed of God, in which Roberts spoke a total of seven minutes.
The revival also reached children, who held their own
meetings in homes, yards and barns. Children as young as 10 years of age were
seen to exhort, sing and pray with anointing.
Humility was also evident in the way Roberts dealt with the
heavy criticism he received from those who opposed the revival. He refused to
defend himself, leaving that responsibility in God’s hands. But the criticism,
pace and strain of the revival took its toll physically upon him. In early
1906, he went into seclusion and, with few exceptions, lived out the balance of
his life in intercession.
The Welsh revival fires seemed to wane while Pentecost
continued to spread. Some felt as though a great part of Roberts’ life was
wasted. To this he replied: “I work as hard at prayer as if I had undertaken
any other form of religious work. ... By preaching, I would reach the limited
few — by and through prayer I can reach the whole of mankind for God.”
Roberts completely cast off the fame that could have been his lifelong
God answered Evan Roberts’ prayer, “Lord, bend me,” because
Roberts was willing to be bent. God also answered the nation’s cry, “Lord, bend
us.” Of this we can be sure — Evan Roberts put Christ first; he humbled
himself throughout his public and private ministry. And he left revivalism a
legacy that we do well to heed today: Humility is part and parcel of a genuine
move of God.
It is safe to say that relatively few have followed the Evan
Roberts model. Are we willing to be bent? Can we pray with sincerity, “Lord,
bend us”? Whether or not we have revival depends on the answer to that
We also stand to benefit by considering the repeated emphases
of Roberts’ ministry: Confess openly and fully any unconfessed sin; put away
from your life anything doubtful; obey promptly anything the Spirit tells you
to say and do; confess Christ openly.
And remember the prayer for 100,000 souls? In a short
article on Roberts, The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church says this: “The revival ... was a national phenomenon, and it was calculated
that it led to some 100,000 conversions.”
Ken Horn is editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and blogs at
This series began in the Jan. 11 issue.
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