To place Christmas Evans among the biographies of such noted Baptists as John Bunyan and Isaac Backus may seem strange. Known as the “one eyed Bunyan of Wales”, Evans remains an unusual and yet very useful servant in God’s army. Christmas was born at Llandysul, Wales on the day from which his name is taken, to Samuel and Johanna Evans in 1766. His long life would carry him until 1838 and leave a legacy of great Baptist leadership in his homeland of Wales. Early in Evans life, his father died leaving his mother nearly destitute. In desperation, Johanna Evans sent her nine-year-old Christmas to live with her brother and work on his farm. Unfortunately, Evan’s uncle was a drunkard and a cruel man. Due to the circumstances of his life, Christmas found himself illiterate and irreligious at the age of eighteen. Finally, sick of his condition, Evans headed to the town of Llwynrhydewain to get away from his abusive uncle and the life which held him in its snare.
In God’s sovereignty, a revival was waiting on Evans when he arrived at his new home town. It was there that he was converted and came to know the living and risen Lord. Late in his life, Christmas wrote of this time: “The fear of dying in an ungodly state especially affected me … and this apprehension clung to me till I was induced to rest upon Christ … this concern was the dawn of the day of grace in my spirit.” Almost immediately, Christmas knew that he had to separate himself from his lost and wicked companions. Not long after his conversion, he was attacked by six of his former rogue friends. They beat him unmercifully and blinded him in one eye with a stick. It was because of this cruel attack that Evans would be called later in life, “the one-eyed preacher of Wales.” Christmas Evans could say along with the Apostle Paul, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Soon after his conversion, Evans felt the call to preach. His low upbringing and lack of education were a loss for the established church and a gain for Baptists. Because he lacked credentials, Evans could only preach in cottage meetings and it was there that he came into contact with Baptist Christians. Because of these Calvinistic Baptists, the “one-eyed preacher” began to study God’s Word deeply for Himself. At the age of twenty, Christmas was baptized as a believer. He wrote: “Having read the New Testament through, I found not a single verse in favour of paedobaptism (infant baptism) … These Scriptures spoke to my conscience, and convinced me of the necessity of personal obedience to the baptism which Christ had ordained.” After his baptism, Evan’s preaching changed. Everyone noticed the power with which he spoke. As he preached, the people who listened were moved to repentance and true revival.
Reading his sermons definitely reminds one of the styles of John Bunyan. There is deep Biblical truth accompanied by powerfully moving allegory. Perhaps, only in Wales could such a man have risen for that land is known for its fervent emotion. Christmas attributed much of his preaching style to a Calvinistic Methodist preacher by the name of Robert Roberts. Outside of church polity, Welsh Baptist and Calvinistic Methodist held much in common. Two names from the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist church should ring a bell, George Whitefield and Martin Lloyd-Jones. Christmas said of Robert Roberts: “I went one Sunday to hear him. He was one of the most insignificant looking persons I ever saw – a little-hunchbacked man; but he neither thought nor said anything like other people; there was something wonderful and uncommon about him.” Like most Welshmen, Evans believed in a fervent religion of the heart. He had little use for much of what he called the “new hymn singing” because he thought it lacked meaning from the heart. Once he saw a church member pull a hymn book from his pocket. “You won’t have those in heaven,” chided Evans, “put it back in your pocket.”
Baptists, in the south, in particular, inherited much of their fervent and yet doctrinally sound religion from their Welsh and Scottish ancestors. Like Jonathan Edwards, they knew one did not have to divorce emotion from doctrine. One can, in fact, must be, sound in doctrine and fervent in spirit. Christmas described himself as a fisher of men. He said: “(my) line should not be of fine silk but of strong thread interwoven with the help of truth and dipped in the spirit of prayer, for what was wanted was not something nice to look at, but a line with a hook on one end to bite.” The preceding quote emphasizes a Baptist distinctive of preaching for decision. Our forefathers were doctrinally sound as can be seen in Evans’ reading of such weighty stuff as the complete works of John Owen. They also believed in a religion of the heart. They preached to see men and women soundly converted. To the wayward saints, they preached for the godly sorrow which leads to repentance. Another momentous time in Evan’s life was when he met and married Catherine Jones.
His beloved Catherine would prove to be a great stabilizing force in the preacher’s life. Christmas and his wife moved to the Isle of Anglesey to begin a new work among the Baptists of that island. During his ministry on the island that Evans began to read John Owen and to translate John Gill’s, Body of Divinity into Welsh. The work was difficult and the opposition was great but God blessed his efforts among a number of Baptists churches on the island. Life has many strange turns and Christmas walked down a most crooked road as he approached his sixtieth birthday. First, his beloved Catherine was called home to Christ in 1823. Not long after that, Evans was named in a lawsuit by creditors seeking to recover unpaid debts from some of the Angsley chapels. Then he spent nine months battling an infection which threatened to rob the sight Evans had left. If that wasn’t enough, many of the Baptist church on the island began to chafe under Evan’s leadership and made it plain that felt it was time for him to move one. One is reminded of the words of Paul in Corinthians when he names all of his troubles and adds “as well as care for all of the churches.”
In spite of all of these trials, Christmas never hesitated in his march for the kingdom of God. Evans left Anglesey in 1826 and moved alone to the little village of Caerphilly. God once again blessed Evans in his love and gave him a loving new wife in Mary Evans. Christmas spent the last few years of his life preaching from one place to another, often returning to preach at the great annual assemblies of all evangelical Christians in Wales. On July 19th, 1838, God called Christmas home after a job well done. David Rhys Stephen preaching at Evans’ funeral said: “He had a heart swelling with love to God and man … He was a man that feared the Lord God … He walked before Him with great humility all the day long.” On the day of his death, Evans preached a sermon on the apostles on the day of Pentecost. He likened their mission as going out into a great naval battle: “The captain of our salvation sent out twelve little boats to engage the whole fleet of hell. For a time all was enveloped in fire and smoke, and the issue of the day seemed doubtful, but when the conflict had ceased … it was ascertained that the twelve little boats had captured three thousand of Satan’s ships of war.”
After preaching, Christmas Evans sat down and said, “This is my last sermon.” And it was. Yet Evans still preaches from the past. His life of solid dedication to God and God’s church is a monument to what it means to serve God with one’s whole heart. The one-eyed preacher from Wales may not have had a face that was much to look at but he had a heart that was a work of art. May his legacy lives in our hearts.