"Why not ask the one-eyed lad from the North to speak? I hear he preaches quite wonderfully." The speaker was one of several ministers who were standing in a circle near a great crowd of people. The occasion was a meeting of Welshmen from many communities who had gathered to hear the Gospel. It was time to open the convention, and none of the ministers was willing to be the first speaker.
The one-eyed lad was at that moment moving about on the outskirts of the crowd. This tall, bony, haggard young fellow, uncouth and poorly dressed, certainly lacked the appearance of a preacher.
"Surely, they wouldn't ask that absurdity to preach," one of the ministers muttered. Others, however, were quick to say, "Give the lad a chance." Christmas Evans was forthwith summoned and, without the formality of an introduction, told to preach.
As he mounted the hastily improvised outdoor platform he saw a multitude, but few appeared to have focused their attention on the speaker's platform. This was a social gathering as well as a Gospel convention, and many friends and neighbors saw each other only when they assembled for such association meetings. Many were wandering about, talking to old friends, or eating refreshments at one of the numerous stalls. It was a scene to discourage the heart of any young preacher.
The young man began to present a Gospel message in tones of authority. Gradually the babbling ceased, and members of the audience turned toward the unknown and unintroduced preacher. Soon even the refreshment booths were deserted as curious listeners came to hear the young man.
With the attention of all focused on him, Christmas began to speak with increased power. The people were spellbound by his eloquence. Even the preachers were impressed.
"Gogoniant! Gogoniant!" The cry burst forth everywhere as the hearts of eager listeners melted under the intense fervor of his burning message. "Glory! Glory!" they shouted in Welsh. Never had they heard such moving proclamations of God's love.
When the excitement was at its height, the preacher seated himself. Tears streamed down many faces, and hearts were stirred as they had not been for years. The "absurdity" was a man used of God; the one-eyed preacher was destined to become one of Wales' most popular heralds of Christ.
Christmas Evans was named in honor of the day on which he was born: Christmas, 1766. The family lived in Esgairwen, in the parish of Llandysul, Cardiganshire, Wales. His father, a poor shoemaker, died while the boy was still young, and his widowed mother was unable to care for her son. When her brother offered to take young Christmas to his farm at Llanfihangel-ar-Arth, the mother rejoiced, for there her son would receive proper care.
The uncle, however, had a different purpose in mind. Now he had a boy to work for him, and the lad would not have to receive wages, but merely shelter, food and clothing. Christmas was to learn a hard lesson early in life. So cruel was his selfish and drunken uncle that Christmas said in later years, "It would be difficult to find a more unconscionable man than James Lewis in the whole course of a wicked world."
For six years the boy remained in this unpleasant environment. It was not an easy life on the farm, and many times Christmas narrowly escaped death. Once he was stabbed; another time, nearly drowned; one day he fell from a tall tree with a knife in his hand; on another occasion a horse ran away with him and ran at full speed through a narrow passage. From all these dangers the Lord delivered the boy, for he was a chosen vessel unto Him.
At the age of seventeen he could not read a word, and during the whole of that time he was surrounded by the worst examples of conduct. His companions were young ruffians whose one aim was to find opportunities for mischief.
Meanwhile a revival broke out in the Presbyterian church at Llwynrhydowain, and under the preaching of David Davies, Christmas, with several other boys, was converted. None of the other converts belonged to the rough crowd with which Christmas spent most of his free time. Desiring Christian fellowship, the boy decided to leave his sin-loving companions and strive to live a Christian life.
His new companions were, like him, ignorant farm boys. So eager were they, however, to learn to read, that they spent the money they could spare from their meager earnings to buy Bibles and candles by whose light they could study the Word. For many months the faithful few met at night in a barn and studied the Word of God, until finally they were able to read a bit of it in their own Welsh tongue.
Although Christmas had left his former companions, they did everything in their power to disturb the new convert. Failing, they decided to give him a thorough beating, and attacking him one dark night with sticks and clubs, six of them beat him into unconsciousness. When he finally regained consciousness, he discovered that he had lost the sight in one eye.
The loss of an eye would have made many young lads rebel against God. However, the experience renewed Christmas' determination to flee the wicked things that had allured him. By borrowing books and applying himself diligently to study, he soon learned a little English. His pastor, sensing the eagerness of the growing youth, encouraged his studies, and in six months the two had studied the Latin grammar.
Burning in the heart of Christmas was the fervent desire to preach the Gospel. But who will listen to a man with only one eye? he asked himself. He became greatly discouraged, but eventually the dream of the youth was to be fulfilled.
He copied his first sermon from Beveridge's Thesaurus Theologicus and memorized it. The occasion for the sermon was a cottage meeting, and young Evans delivered the message in a convincing manner. Among the listeners was an educated man named Davies, who discovered the sermon in the same book. Had it not been for the fact that Christmas had presented the message with uncommon power, his reputation would have been nipped in the bud.
Christmas joined the Baptist church at Aberduar and came under the influence of the Rev. Timothy Thomas, a man of faith and zeal, who baptized the young man. The youth began to preach in neighboring village churches and slowly his popularity increased in his neighborhood and spread to surrounding sections. In 1790 the Baptist Association at Brecknockshire appointed him as the missionary to an obscure hamlet, Lleyn.
Although at first there were few people in the church at Lleyn, within a short time after the arrival of the one-eyed preacher it was filled to overflowing. The strain was too great for him, however, so he decided to take a rest trip and preach along the way. As a result of this tour he became widely known in the North country.
It was at this time that Christmas was asked to preach to the audience mentioned at the beginning of this biographical sketch. Christmas was soon to become one of Wales' most popular pulpiteers.
On his twenty-sixth birthday, Christmas Day, 1792, he married Catherine Jones. Riding double on his faithful horse, Lemon, they started for Anglesea, where, at Llangefui, they were to establish their home. The way was long, the winds were cold, the roads were rough and covered with snow, but the cheerful young people jogged toward the home that was waiting for them.
The manse was a dilapidated one-room cottage, so low that the preacher, more than six feet tall could not stand erect. However, in this little home, bright with Christian joy, Christmas and his wife were to spend the next twenty years, where their salary was to be seventeen pounds (approximately $100) a year.
Christmas was still hungry for knowledge. One by one he conquered difficult subjects. Within a few years he had mastered Hebrew and Greek, and the humble cottage became the birthplace of soul-stirring sermons that spread his fame.
"On his way from Dolgelly to Machynlleth, while climbing up Cadair Idris, he stepped aside and spent three long hours in wrestling with God for an outpouring of the Spirit; in his supplications he embraced all the churches in Anglesea and all the ministers he knew; a mighty revival of religion followed," says an early biographer.
"In two years," says the Rev. Paxton Hood, "his ten preaching places increased to twenty, and over six hundred converts were added to the churches." Many of these new congregations appointed pastors, recommended by Christmas, who considered him their unofficial bishop or moderator. He presided at their meetings, and often interrupted a speaker with such words as "William, my boy, you have spoken before; have done with it," or "Richard, you have forgotten the question before the meeting; hold your tongue." In spite of this directness all loved him.
Forty times, from one end of Wales to the other, Christmas, with the faithful Lemon, traveled on preaching tours.
"At one place he learned that a great deal of sheepstealing had been going on for some time; and of this circumstance he took advantage, by supposing that in so great a crowd some of the sheep-stealers would be present. These he earnestly admonished to give nothing to the collection. The collection that day was large, for every one gave, even though some had to borrow to do so."
Christmas had good reason for desiring large collections, as he had assumed the task of raising money to finance new chapels throughout Wales, which were products of his evangelism. Everywhere he went, "the one-eyed man of Anglesea" collected money for more chapels, and as more converts were added to the already crowded churches, it was necessary to build even more chapels.
In 1823, Catherine, for many years his faithful wife, went to be with the Lord. This was a severe blow to Christmas. She had often accompanied him on his journeys, and her sound advice had been of great assistance. Always she had inspired her husband.
The Anglesea churches began to be restive and self-willed, and Christmas decided to leave. Accepting an invitation extended by the Baptist church of Tronyvelian, Caerphilly, he prayed earnestly "to be kept from under proud feet of members and deacons, worldly greatness and riches, and also from the strife of tongues." In this pastorate he was blessed with peace and prosperity, and his sermons were preached to large and admiring audiences.
Although he had an opportunity to marry a wealthy widow, the humble preacher declined and married instead an old servant from Anglesea. This good woman brought him joy during his remaining days on earth.
In the spring of 1838, when he was seventy-two and had entered the fifty-third year of his ministry, the two set off in their gig on a preaching tour through Tredegar, Cardiff, Cowbridge, Bridgend and Neath. They reached Swansea on Saturday, July 14. The purpose of the tour was to raise money for the debt on the Caernarvon Chapel. At no time during his career was Evans more popular.
On July 15, after preaching two sermons, he went to the house where he was to spend the night, and as he reached the stairs he was heard to remark, "That was my last sermon." The remark was prophetic, for from that hour he declined.
On Friday a group gathered around his bed to hear his dying words, "Good-bye. Drive on!" The faithful servant went home to be with the Lord. Throughout Wales there was great mourning. The memory of the one-eyed preacher was to flourish in the hearts of Welshmen.