RPM, Volume 19, Number 51 December 17 to December 23, 2017

Welsh Nonconformity

By Gary Phillips

(First printed in The Free Presbyterian Magazine)

Christians, by nature, are non-conformists, compelled to stand apart from much that is readily embraced in an increasingly secular society, knowing that their calling is to obey God rather than men (Acts 4:19, 5:29). Wales has always been a non conforming society, whether politically, spirirituality or culturally. As a Welshman I can attest to that. I have personally known the effect of Welsh non conformity.

Nonconformity made its initial impact almost exclusively upon the Anglican Church, but from 1772 onwards it began not only to permeate the ranks of the older, Calvinist Dissent — the Baptists and the Independents — but to transform them into something vibrant, zealous and influential. With the secession of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists from the Anglican body in 1811, evangelical nonconformity became the single most potent religious force in the land.

In the decade between 1815 and 1825 nonconformity seemed destined to become the predominant religious force in Wales.. With the secession of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists from the Anglican body in 1811, evangelical nonconformity became the single most potent religious force in the land. By 1825 it had succeeded to a remarkable degree in recreating Wales in its own form and image. The subsequent self-perception of the Welsh people only served to reinforce this conviction, that Wales, by the second quarter of the nineteenth century had become incontrovertibly nonconformist. One figure who both represented and contributed towards this religious, cultural and psychological change was the Baptist preacher, Christmas Evans. His life spanned the years between 1766 and 1838 and his experiences personified the transformation of the older, more sober and stratified Wales when Anglicanism was the predominant religion into the new, vigorous and ultimately radical Wales of popular Dissent. He was present at the birth of Nonconformist Wales.

Evans rejected paedo-baptism in favour of credo baptism after searching the bible for evidence of the former without success. He remained a Baptist for the rest of his life. He was set apart for the ministry in a service at Tyn’donnen, in the very Botwynnog parish in August 1789. He was a stalwart of the faith. By borrowing books, and by applying himself closely to the study of them, he soon managed to pick up a little English. Six months schooling, under the tuition of his pastor, enabled him to go through his Latin Grammar, and so rapidly did he grow in knowledge and in grace that he soon became anxious to try to preach; but the loss of an eye, and certain fearful dreams which he had about this time, greatly discouraged him.

CHRISTMAS EVANS — THE MAN

Christmas Evans was an uneducated man with a rough appearance. Evans nonetheless became a skilled communicator of the gospel to the common people, and by the time of his death he was a household name in Wales. The purpose of this short piece is to acquaint the younger generation with a man of faith and a man of the people, and those not yet privileged to hear of him.

On Christmas day 1766, a son was born to Samuel and Joanna Evans, who lived in Cardiganshire, west Wales. He was named Christmas. His father Samuel was a poor shoemaker who died when Christmas was only eight years old. The boy then passed into the care of his uncle, James Lewis, who was a drunkard, without concern for morality and far less for spiritual things. Christmas was utterly neglected, receiving no education. He had worked at various occupations but had no understanding of reading. Christmas, began attending his employer’s church, where he made his initial religious commitment. The lad had long been in fear of dying outside the covenant of faith.

He said…” and this apprehension clung to me till I was induced to rest upon Christ.

Following the Methodist Revival, a second wave of preachers emerged as Wales underwent the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. It was amongst this As the original prominent figures of the Methodist Revival died off towards the end of the eighteenth century, leadership of the movement was taken up by Thomas Charles (1755-1814).

Originally from Carmarthen, Charles settled in Bala, north Wales, and with his energy and organising genius set about making the town the centre for Methodism in north Wales. He also set about reviving the circulating reading schools of Griffith Jones, which for many Welsh people had made possible their active involvement with religion.

The work of Evans is difficult to quantity or assess. What we do know is that he was a fervent Evangelical. However we are indebted to his zeal, his preaching ability and the converts he won over during his ministry.

In course of time, however, an opportunity presented itself, and his first sermon, taken from Beveridge's "Thesaurus Theologicus" and committed to memory, was delivered in a cottage. Among his hearers was an intelligent man, by the name of Davies, who soon after discovered the sermon in the work above mentioned; and but for the excellency of Evans's prayer as well as that of the sermon, the preacher's reputation would have been nipped in the bud; but it so happened that the prayer, too, had been committed to memory from a collection of prayers by a well-known clergyman, of this Mr. Davies knew nothing, or the young man's way as a preacher might have been for ever blocked.

Calvinistic Methodists were born out of the Methodist Revival in 18th-century Wales and survive as a body of Christians now forming the Presbyterian Church of Wales. It became a major denomination in Wales, growing rapidly in the 19th century, and taking a leadership role in the Welsh Religious Revival, 1904-5. One of its famous sons is Dr. David Martyn Lloyd Jones.

The church metamorphosed into the Presbyterian Church in the 18th century.

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