In Luke it does not say, “preach and faint not,” but “pray and faint not.” It is not difficult to preach. But while you pray, you are alone in some solitary place, fighting in a prayer-battle against the powers of darkness. And you will know the secret of victory.1
More than anything else, Evan Roberts was a man of prayer. Yes, the whole world felt the impact of revival that swept Wales from November 1904 through 1905, but certainly the extent of his public influence was a direct result of his personal commitment to prayer. More than a 100,000 Welsh came to Christ during an unprecedented nine months of intense revival that closed bars and cancelled sporting events. It triggered revival around the world, including the famous Azusa Street revival of 1906 which forever changed the landscape of Twentieth Century Christianity. As with all great heroes of the faith, a deep hunger for the Word of God and an unquenchable thirst for more of the Spirit of God began at an early age.
Of his early years, he later wrote “I said to myself: I will have the Spirit . . . for ten or eleven years I have prayed for revival. I could sit up all night to read or talk about revivals. It was the Spirit who moved me to think about revival.” Because of his unique desire for the Lord, Evan gave himself to fervent prayer and intercession. So much so, that by the time he was twenty-one years old, he was known by some as a “mystical lunatic.” It was during this period that Evan would get so caught up in the Lord that he reported his bed shaking. He would awaken every night at 1:00 a.m. to be “taken up into divine fellowship” and would proceed to pray until 5:00 a.m. when he would fall back to sleep for four hours before waking again at 9:00 a.m. continuing in prayer until noon.
The Dawn of Revival
By December 1903, Evan knew in his heart that God had planned a great revival for the Welsh community. Although he had been accepted to Bible college, he could not continue his studies because of his desire to preach and pray. Throughout that year Evan wrestled over what was expected of him and what he felt the Lord calling him to do. He battled with depression, which would prove a life-long struggle for him, eventually rendering him ineffective as a minister. But in September of 1904, Roberts discovered a breakthrough as he sat listening to the evangelist Seth Joshua plead with the Spirit to “Bend us! Bend us!” Later that night, Roberts cried out to the Lord, “Bend me! Bend me!” and fully surrendered to the will of God, allowing His compassion to fill him.
It was the very next month that Roberts had his first vision. While strolling in a garden, Evan looked up to see what seemed to be an arm outstretched from the moon, reaching down into Wales. He later told a friend, “I have wonderful news for you. I had a vision of all Wales being lifted up to heaven. We are going to see the mightiest revival that Wales has ever known – and the Holy Spirit is coming just now. We must get ready.”
He obtained approval to begin a small series of meetings that began on October 31 at a small church. This quickly grew into a major revival that lasted two weeks. Soon, entire communities were transformed as the meetings increased in fervor, strong moves of intercession flooding the services, often lasting well into the night. Evan led the congregations and teams of intercessors in prayer sometimes until morning when crowds would already be gathered outside ready to begin another day of services. Nine months later, Wales was in the midst of a sweeping revival that ushered in a worldwide hunger for God that would change the course of modern Christianity.
The Effect of Revival on a Nation
One eye-witness of the revival said that what drew people to Evan “perhaps more than any other thing, was the unfeigned humility in all his actions.” His services were marked with laughing, crying, dancing, joy, and brokenness. Soon, the newspapers began covering them, and the revival became a national story. Political meetings were cancelled, theaters were closed down, and bars and casinos lost their customers. Most wonderfully, Christians from all denominations worshipped together as doctrinal differences fell by the wayside. Some of the reporters themselves were converted at the meetings.
The revival spread with such fervor throughout the nation, that former prostitutes started holding Bible studies, while delinquent, bar-going husbands became a great joy and support to their families. Debtors paid their debts. Denominational barriers were broken, and eventually, national and racial barriers began to crumble. Women were welcome to participate in a public role for the first time in the history of Wales. They opened the meetings by leading in song and stirring testimonies; and continued to prayer, sing, and minister without restraint.
The Foundation of Revival
The foundation upon which the revival was built had a great deal to do with the softening of hearts. Evan Roberts based his principles of revival on four points; 1) Confess all known sin; 2) Search out all secret and doubtful things; 3) Confess the Lord Jesus openly; 4) Pledge that you will fully obey the Spirit.
Repentance was a central theme in light of surrendering all to the Holy Spirit and putting the love of the Lord Jesus above everything. Revival begins in a heart completely sold out to seeing the Kingdom of God revealed on earth. A heart that seeks first God’s Kingdom, and His Righteousness. A heart consumed by God’s love, and committed to perpetuating righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit; a heart hungry for holiness.
Evan’s hunger for more of the Spirit was palpable and contagious. His sensitivity to the move of God and his ability to discern spiritual things left the crowds silent with anticipation. After waiting quietly upon the Spirit, he would suddenly call out a malady that someone in the audience was suffering and they would be instantly healed, or a habit that held a listener in bondage that they would instantly be freed from. He might suddenly leave the building in search of a passerby to reveal a sin that held that person captive from which they would be compelled to cry out and repent.
Soon, word of the Welsh revival spread to other nations. The people of South Africa, Russia, India, Ireland, Norway, Canada, and Holland rushed to Wales. Many came to carry a portion of this revival back to their own nations. Such was the case with California evangelist and journalist, Frank Bartleman, who wrote to Roberts about how to bring revival to America. Evan corresponded several times with Bartleman, each time listing the principles for revival while encouraging him to pursue it, and assuring him of prayers from Wales. Barlteman would later record the events of the Azusa Street Revival that originated in Southern California in 1906. There is no doubt that the revival in Wales started a worldwide hunger for God.
Confusion, Collapse, and Confinement
By 1905, Roberts’ mind became confused from physical and emotional exhaustion. He began hearing conflicting voices in his head and doubted his ability to distinguish the voice of the Spirit among them. He would rebuke his listeners for not being pure of heart, while he became increasingly obsessed with examining his own self for un-confessed sin. He feared most that he would be exalted instead of God and became overly critical of his audiences and church leaders.
He entered into a period when he would withdraw for days at a time. When he would finally emerge, he might suddenly leave a meeting in frustration, or decide at the last minute not to show up at all. His final downfall came when he was invited to participate in an Easter convention for ministers and church leaders in the summer of 1906. It was there that he spoke on what he called his “new burden”—the identification with Christ through suffering. Soon afterwards, he became tremendously overstrained, and had a complete breakdown.
It was at this conference that he was introduced to Mrs. Jessie Penn-Lewis. She also preached on “suffering with Christ” and although she was a wealthy, influential woman, her ministry was rejected in Wales because of serious doctrinal conflicts. When Mrs. Penn-Lewis heard Evan’s message on the cross, she aligned herself with him in hope of being accepted among the Welsh leadership. She convinced Evan of her allegiance, and sympathized with the abuses he was suffering because of what she told him was his excellent teaching. In his weakened condition, Evan succumbed to her influence, and after suffering a severe nervous breakdown, allowed Mr. and Mrs. Penn-Lewis to transport him by train to their estate in England. They built their new home around his needs, including a bedroom, prayer room, and private stairway. It was there that the great revivalist was confined to bed for more than a year.
Evan became ever more isolated and reclusive as years passed. He refused to see friends, and eventually family. He allowed Penn-Lewis to dictate who he would see, and what he would do. They wrote a number of books together, the first one, War on the Saints, was published in 1913. Mrs. Penn-Lewis stated the book was birthed from six years of prayer and testing the truth. Within a year after the book was published, Roberts denounced it. He was quoted as saying it had been a “failed weapon which had confused and divided the Lord’s people.”
The Penn-Lewis Years
Though his opinion eventually changed, during the years of writing War on the Saints, Evan seemed mesmerized by Penn-Lewis, saying, “I know of none equal to her in understanding of spiritual things, she is a veteran in heavenly things.” During his years of recovery with Penn-Lewis, they formed a team that not only published numerous booklets on spiritual warfare, but also a magazine called “The Overcomer” that was widely distributed throughout the world.
In 1913, Penn-Lewis decided to discontinue the magazine and started holding “Christian Workers’ Conferences” where she would preach and Roberts would be confined to holding counseling sessions. When the conferences became less popular over the years, Evan found his outlet through the School of Prayer started during the Swansea Convention of 1908. He taught how to intercede for families, ministers and churches, and wrote essays on various aspects and degrees of prayer. Several ministers of that day commented that everything they knew about prayer came from Evan’s teaching.
Eventually, Evan Roberts stopped teaching and writing, and pulled away to focus exclusively on his own prayer life. He would pray mostly in private, interceding for Christian leaders and believers around the world. Evan remained inside the walls of the Penn-Lewis home for eight years.
The Lonely Road Home
Sometime between 1919 and 1921 he moved to Brighton in Sussex. He purchased a typewriter and began to write several booklets that were never successful. In 1926 his father became ill and he returned to Wales for a visit. When Mrs. Penn-Lewis died of lung disease in 1927, Evan relocated to his home country permanently.
When his father passed away in 1928, he did something unusual at the funeral. He suddenly interrupted the somber eulogy declaring, “This is not a death but a resurrection, Let us bear witness to this truth.” Of that day, one person remarked, “Something like electricity went through us. One felt that if he had gone on there would have been another revival then and there.”
Soon afterward, there was indeed a short revival when Evan was asked to take part in a special service locally. News traveled quickly and soon visitors came from all over to again hear Evan Roberts speak. For a time, he ministered with a renewed grace and power. Evan prayed for healings and deliverances and operated in the gift of prophecy. Healings, conversions, and answered prayers were the talk of the day with people clogging the streets to get a glimpse or take part. It was only a short year later when Roberts totally disappeared from private life.
By 1931, Roberts was nearly a forgotten man. He stayed in a room provided by Mrs. Oswald Williams and spent the last years of his life writing poetry and letters. He kept a daily journal and enjoyed watching sports and theater. In May of 1929, Evan had to stay in bed all day for the fist time. He became increasingly weak. And then, at the age of seventy-two, on a wintry day in January 1951, Evan Roberts passed away. He was buried in the family plot on January 29, 1951. It was not until many years later that a memorial column was raised there commemorating this former coal miner’s efforts to stir international revival from his small town in Wales.
1. The Revival Library