Friday, April 13, 2018

Evan Roberts & the Welsh Revival of 1904-1905: "Inspired Preaching" and Visions, Part 4 of 22

Consequently, instead of rightly dividing the Word, Roberts gave allegedly inspired “prophetic message[s]”[1] to others.  It was not necessary to preach the inspired Bible when Roberts’s own words and marvels were termed “inspiration.”[2]  After all, Roberts testified:  “We now, like the prophets of old, have . . . . transmitt[ed] . . . ‘The Word of the Lord’ . . . to the Church.”[3]  Thus, “[o]ne of the most striking things about the Revival of 1904-5 was the comparative absence of teaching,” for it employed “little theology of a definite and systematic kind,” preferring “visionary and ecstatic” experiences.[4]  Observers noted:
[A meeting would] practically resolv[e] itself into a singing festival[.] . . . At times, while one section is singing a hymn, another section in the chapel starts off a wholly different one.  This is interspersed with short, spasmodic addresses by Mr. Roberts, relating to visions he has witnessed.  Singing is kept up hour after hour—the same tunes and words being interminably repeated—far into the early hours of the morning . . . young girls and women, fatigued with exertion, are strung up to a pitch of feverish excitement.  Their emotions overpower them and they break out into wild cries and gesticulations . . . [which] are put down as a manifestation of the Spirit.  Some participants have since been confined to their homes with nervous prostration.[5]
In the sharpest contrast to the revivals found in the book of Acts, in the work of Evan Roberts, singing was employed “rather than . . . the Gospel message . . . being . . . preached. . . . The sermon is a poor thing compared with the . . . song.”[6]  While sermons in Acts and other portions of Scripture brought supernatural conviction and conversion (Acts 2:37-42), Evan Roberts claimed that the Welsh were “taught to death, preached to insensibility.”[7]  One historian noted:  “Evan Roberts . . . makes no sermons . . . [and] is . . . no[t] a preacher. . . . [P]reaching is emphatically not the note of this Revival[.] . . . If it has been by the foolishness of preaching men have been saved heretofore, that agency seems as if it were destined to take a back seat in the present movement.”[8]  At least such was the case for the preaching of the Bible—but Roberts’s “inspired preaching,”[9] his “inspiration of the exalted and supernatural kind,”[10] was considered a sufficient replacement for the exposition of the Word.  He asked, “Why should I teach [the Bible] when the Spirit is teaching?”[11]  However, in places in Wales where “greater emphasis on preaching and teaching” was made, there were “more lasting and beneficial results” than there were from Roberts’s “lack of clear biblical teaching” and emphasis upon “what he claimed to be the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit,”[12] at least among traditional denominational groups such as the Baptists and Calvinistic Methodists.  On the other hand, Roberts’s method of neglecting the Word for other alleged revelations was central to the rise of Pentecostalism.
Evan Roberts “claimed to have received over twenty ecstatic visions during the earlier part of 1904, which left him elated but strangely perplexed.”  He placed an “emphasis on direct and unmediated divine inspiration,” so that his “near clairvoyant tendency . . . bec[ame] such a marked feature of his ministry [and] was given full rein.  He would claim regularly . . . that he knew by divine intuition of particular individuals’ specific sins and of their need to repent openly in order for his meetings to continue. These claims caused some consternation.”[13]  Indeed, Roberts began his own ministry after he claimed to have a vision[14] authorizing the beginning of his revival work and “hear[ing] a voice bidding him go . . . and speak.”[15]  He felt “his whole body shaking and his sight also wavering,” after which he seemed to see the people of a certain city and men sitting in rows in a schoolroom, heard a voice telling him to go to them, and then saw the room where he was “filled with light [as] dazzling [as] . . . the glory as of the light of the sun in heaven.”  Although he wondered if “this was a deceiving vision from Satan,” he concluded it was not, and left school to work for holiness revival because of “the vision and the voice calling him” with “support” from “the God of visions.”[16]  During the few weeks[17] of his training for the ministry, Roberts “claim[ed] he was under the Spirit’s command when he missed a class or forgot a study period or failed to finish an essay.”[18]  He “would open a book, only to find it flaming in his hands . . . [t]his experience increased daily until the awe that possessed him made it impossible to battle on . . . [and] Dr. Hughes, an American specialist . . . [affirmed] that Evan was suffering from religious mania,”[19] so that Evan “came under personal attack as a lunatic at worst and eccentric at best.”[20]  Concerning one vision, Evan testified:  “For the space of four hours I was privileged to speak face to face with [God] as a man speaks face to face with a friend,”[21] a privilege Moses alone had among the Old Testament prophets (Exodus 33:11; Numbers 12:8).
However, Evan’s visions went beyond even what Moses experienced.  The Bible states that no one has seen God the Father at any time, but only God the Son has been seen (John 1:18).  And yet, Roberts claimed to regularly see “God the Father Almighty . . . and the Holy Spirit,” rather than only “Jesus Christ” as did the prophets of the Bible;[22]  his experiences were comparable to those of Teresa of Avila, who likewise claimed she conversed with God the Father rather than Jesus Christ.[23]  Indeed, Roberts testified:  “I . . . sp[oke] face to face with Him [the Father] as a man speaks face to face with a friend” for “hours” every night “for three or four months,” and then “again retur[ned] to earth.”[24]  Unless Evan Roberts was a false prophet and under Satanic delusion, a greater than Moses was here, and so the possibility that “Roberts [was] . . .  intending to set” a “notebook” with his writings “beside the writings of the New Testament” as a record of inspired revelations is explicable.[25]  Through the power of the supernatural manifestations he experienced, at times “a tremor ran through him, and his face and neck were observed to quiver in a remarkable way.”[26]  Thus, his work in the Welsh holiness revival teemed with “experiences of visions, voices, and ecstasies.”[27]  His “bodily agitations were awful to behold.  They filled the hearts of children with fear, bewildered and astounded men of mature years, and caused hysterical women to faint.”[28]  On at least one occasion he records in his diary:  “I was commanded not to read my Bible”[29] for an entire day by a voice.[30]  It was not necessary, however, for Roberts to get guidance by searching the Scriptures, for he “adopted the practice of writing down a problem, placing the paper on to an open Bible and leaving the room for the Holy Spirit to write down an answer,”[31] and in this way he could get solutions to his problems.

[1]              Pg. 121, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.  Jones records part of one particular message Roberts received to give to his former tutor, John Phillips, on pg. 121.
[2]              Pg. 66, The Welsh Religious Revival, Morgan.  “According to the teaching of the ‘New Theology’ . . . Evan Roberts was inspired . . . undoubtedly.  But if we fall back upon the old theology for our interpretation of inspiration, Evan Roberts was not inspired” (Ibid, pgs. 67-68).
[3]              Pg. 180, The Overcomer, December 1914.
[4]              Pg. 82, The Welsh Religious Revival, Morgan.  “[T]here . . . is . . . precious little . . . teaching[.] . . . Do you think that teaching is what people want in a revival?” (pg. 35, The Great Revival in Wales:  Also an Account of the Great Revival in Ireland in 1859, S. B. Shaw.  Chicago, IL:  S. B. Shaw, 1905).  Also pgs. 24-25, The Revival in the West, W. T. Stead.
[5]              Pgs. 263-264, Voices From the Welsh Revival, 1904-1905, Jones.
[6]              Pg. 31, The Revival in the West, W. T. Stead.  Comparison was also made to the liturgy of Eastern Orthodoxy, where preaching is most certainly set to the side (pg. 38, Ibid).  The “Singing Sisters,” who included “a professional singer . . . are as conspicuous figures in the movement as Evan Roberts himself”—they are “as indispensable as Mr. Sankey was to Mr. Moody.” (pgs. 49, 32, The Revival in the West, W. T. Stead)  Roberts testified:  “[T]he Singing Sisters . . . [are] [m]ost useful.  They go with me wherever I go.  I never part from them without feeling that something is absent if they are not there”  (pg. 49, The Revival in the West, W. T. Stead).
[7]              Pg. 26, The Revival in the West, W. T. Stead.
[8]              Pg. 38, The Revival in the West, W. T. Stead.
[9]             Pg. 163, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.
[10]            Pg. 73, The Welsh Religious Revival, Morgan.
[11]            Pg. 49, The Revival in the West, W. T. Stead.
[12]            Pg. 101, A Light in the Land:  Christianity in Wales, 200-2000, Gwyn Davies.
[13]            “Roberts, Evan,” A Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals, ed. Timothy Larsen.
[14]            Pg. 230, The Making of the Modern Church: Christianity in England since 1800 (New ed.), B. G. Worrall.  London: SPCK, 1993.
[15]          Pg. 86, 112, Psychological Aspects of the Welsh Revival, A. T. Fryer.   Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 19 (December 1905).
[16]            Pgs. 17-19, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.  See also pgs. 21, 25, Voices from the Welsh Revival, 1904-1905, Jones; pg. 45, The Revival in the West, W. T. Stead.  Stead gives the account in Roberts’s own words, including Roberts’s asking a confidant if his vision was “of the devil.”
[17]          Pg. 85, Psychological Aspects of the Welsh Revival, A. T. Fryer.   Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 19 (December 1905).
[18]            Pg. 18, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.  It is noteworthy that, in his revival meetings, “[a]rriving late [was] usual” for Roberts (pg. 71, Ibid.).
[19]            Pgs. 18-19, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.
[20]            Pg. 28, An Instrument of Revival, Jones.
[21]          Pg. 44, The Revival in the West, W. T. Stead. 
[22]            Pg. 44, The Revival in the West, W. T. Stead.
[23]            Pgs. 44-45, The Revival in the West, W. T. Stead.  One recalls Hannah W. Smith’s satisfaction with the “bare God” who could be approached apart from Christ.
[24]            Pg. 43, The Revival in the West, W. T. Stead.
[25]            Pg. 181, The Pentecostals, Hollenweger; cf. Henri Bois, Le Reveil dans le pays de Galles, pgs. 460-461.
[26]          Pg. 86, Psychological Aspects of the Welsh Revival, A. T. Fryer.   Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 19 (December 1905).
[27]            Pg. 165, The Trials and Triumphs of Mrs. Jessie Penn-Lewis, Brynmor P. Jones.  North Brunswick, NJ:  Bridge-Logos, 1997.
[28]            Pg. 234, The Welsh Religious Revival, Morgan.
[29]            Pg. 116, Psychological Aspects of the Welsh Revival, A. T. Fryer.   Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 19 (December 1905).
[30]            Roberts also taught that it was acceptable to read only one verse of the Bible a day (pg. 52, Revival in the West, W. T. Stead), although reading more of the Bible was commendable.
[31]            Pg. 523, “Demythologizing the Evan Roberts Revival,” Pope.

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