16. Evan Roberts
Thinkers (816 votes)
1878 – 1950
"God’s chosen instrument”- youthful leader of the great religious revival of 1904.
Such was the power of the great religious revival of 1904-5 that even the worldly David Lloyd George was caught up in it. The movement, he said, was “rocking Welsh life like a Great Earthquake”. At its epicentre stood the charismatic Evan Roberts, his face radiant with the joy of salvation.
Roberts was born at Loughor near Llanelli and worked as a miner and blacksmith before attending theological classes at Newcastle Emlyn. Answering a heavenly call, he broke off his studies and returned home to begin spreading the Word of God without delay.
News spread of the intense fervour generated by his gatherings. Roberts’ face appeared on postcards, his every appearance reported at length by the newspapers. His revivalist movement engulfed the length and breadth of Wales.
A follower of the Calvinistic Methodist tradition, Roberts was neither a minister nor a preacher. He would simply lead the congregation through prayer, self examination and testimony into solemn and often ecstatic awareness of spiritual realities. Meetings could last for up to ten hours, often ending in the small hours of the morning.
Contemporary accounts report how the saloons, music halls and even the
rugby terraces were emptied as tens of thousands joined the great revival.
Temperance, bible study and communal hymn singing were now the order of the day.
The revival added considerably to the membership of the diverse nonconformist groups and to a lesser extent, the numbers attending the Anglican churches. More than half the population attended a place of worship in the years during and immediately after the revival.
Evan Roberts, however, was burned out. Suffering probably from nervous exhaustion, he retreated into seclusion, and died in obscurity at Cardiff. However, the effects of the great revival persisted in changed lives and homes, and mature live leadership in the churches. The revival had attracted visitors from neighbouring countries and further afield. It spread to many countries: India, Korea, Scandinavia and North America among them.
While at the end of the 20th century Wales is one of the most secular countries in Europe, at its begining its Christian faith and influence was both vigorous and influential.