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A Case Study in the Rise and Fall of Christian Celebrities
by John Royal
Shortly after the 1904 summer Keswick Convention was held in Southeast Wales, something extraordinary occurred. In the fall of that same year, Wales experienced a monumental religious awakening that shook the nation, turning its coal mines into sanctuaries, shutting down its saloons and brothels, and even canceling its scheduled sporting events. In the midst of all this activity, a young mystic named Evan Roberts arose to national prominence. News stories about him and the revival meetings he presided over dominated the Welsh press for several months.
After six months of intensive labor, Roberts withdrew from his ministry efforts an emotionally and physically broken man. At the invitation of Mrs. Jessie Penn Lewis, Roberts retreated to the Lewis home in Leicester for what was originally intended to be a recuperative stay of one week. Mysteriously, he did not return to public ministry or his beloved country of Wales for nearly twenty-five years — not even for his own mother*s funeral. 
After a brief ministry campaign at the Moriah Chapel of Loughor in 1929-30, Roberts spent the remainder of his years in deep depression and isolation, dying in 1951 at the age of seventy-two.
The historical landscape of Revivalism is littered with personalities that have experienced meteoric rises to fame and influence, only to be followed by equally rapid declines into obscurity, avarice, or both.  Why does this tragic pattern seem to repeat? Is this phenomenon simply the reflection of a capricious God who temporarily uses human agents for his own purposes and then discards them like table scraps, or is something more involved?
This article will argue that the casualties of Revivalism are not merely random victims of the puppeteering of God, but rather are tragic victims of their own human limitations and depravity. In the attempt to prove this thesis, we will take a concise inventory of the life and ministry of Welsh Revivalist, Evan Roberts, where we will uncover several factors that contributed to his mysterious and permanent departure from public ministry at the twilight of the Welsh Revival.
The old cliché “No man is an island” certainly applies to Mr. Evan Roberts. In order to accurately understand his life and ministry, one must realize that his revivalist emphasis was neither unique to him, nor his beloved country of Wales, but rather, was an extension of a religious/cultural phenomenon which long preceded him.
The country of Wales has been affectionately referred to as the “Land of Revivals.” Historians report that the nation experienced 15 significant revivals between 1762 and 1862,  with the Welsh Revival of 1904 being the sixteenth awakening to occur in 300 years. 
Although the intensity and long term effects of these revivals may be argued among historians, one thing seems certain — the theme of Revival seems to have dominated the religious culture of Wales up through the time of Evan Roberts. In fact, the very day the 1905 Revival began, it is reported that some of the seasoned members of the congregation jumped to their feet and shouted, “Here it Comes! Old ‘59!”  They were of course referring to the great revival of 1859, which they had been first hand participants of, and had been praying for a repeat performance for some forty-five years!
Perhaps the only topic of discussion among Welsh Christians that would even come close to revival, would be a discussion of the great leaders associated with the revivals of the past. Since the days of John Knox, Scotland and her sister country of Wales have had a number of national and regional heroes, most of whom have been preachers and evangelists connected with the nation*s numerous spiritual awakenings.
In his book, Living Echoes, Rev. Robert Ellis fondly speaks of the famous Welsh orators of the past, much like current sports fans speak of their favorite football, basketball or baseball players. The chapters of his volume read like a virtual Who*s-Who of preachers that he views changed the spiritual climate of the nation.  In gushing hyperbole, he states of Evan Roberts, “As the sun is the center of the planetary system, so Evan Roberts was the center of the [Welsh] Revival.” 
Unfortunately, the numerous Welsh revivals, and the legendary revivalist preachers associated with them, did not insure a consistent growing Christian witness. By the early 1890*s the Calvinistic Methodist Church was in steep decline, losing some thirteen thousand members in 1899 alone.  In the face of this undeniable spiritual decline, the Christians of Wales did what they had always done before — they prayed.
London journalist W.T. Stead estimated that some thirty to forty-thousand people were mobilized and praying for world-wide revival just prior to the Welsh Revival.  In the midst of this sociological milieu, the very young, idealistic, devout and honorable Evan Roberts emerged upon the scene of a small country whose religious culture was actively seeking yet another experience of revival, and who was more than ready to coronate its next hero.
For example, Welsh religious folklore tells the story of a coal mining accident in which Evan Roberts miraculously escaped the deadly flames of an explosion which allegedly scorched most of his personal Bible, but spared the pages containing the passage 2 Chronicles 7:1 (Now when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the LORD filled the house.) Many viewed this as a “sign” of things to come. 
It is the belief of the writer that these sociological factors played a significant part in Evan Roberts* premature retreat from the revival and from public ministry. The pressure was to great for the fragile shoulders of a coal-miner*s son with youthful dreams and limited education. The expectations and pride of an entire nation, fostered by over two hundred years of rich religious history, no doubt took a severe toll on the emotional, physical, and spiritual well being of Wales* latest folk hero.
The theology of Evan Roberts was very much a product of his day. The young idealist exhibited a simple Bible-believing faith that heavily emphasized obedience to the Holy Spirit. The “total surrender” theology espoused and proliferated by the annual Keswick conventions in England had quickly become a part of the religious culture of the United Kingdom by the time Roberts arose to prominence. The discerning eye can see the correlation between Keswick ideology and Roberts* theology.
For example, Roberts believed that the Holy Spirit had personally revealed to him the four “pre-conditions” of revival:
1. Avoid all doubtful things
2. Confess all secret sin
3. Confess the Lord Jesus publicly
4. Pledge full obedience to the Holy Spirit 
Similar thoughts were echoed in the Theology Roberts taught new converts at the “after-meetings” which were designed to indoctrinate new believers in the teachings of the spiritual life. The principles taught at these “after-meetings” included:
1. Yielding to the Lordship of the Savior
2. Putting away all known sin
3. Reconciling with others of God*s children
4. Surrendering the will
5. Receiving the Holy Spirit 
In addition to his Keswick underpinnings, Roberts also espoused a two-step, or subsequent view of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. He said as much to his mother in a story recounted by Tudor Nees:
“One day, after having spent some time on his knees in his tiny room, he [Evan] went out to his mother. Placing his hand upon her shoulder, he said with a tremor in his voice and a strange light in his eyes, ‘Mother, you have been a Christian a good many years and a good Christian mother you have been. But Mother, there is one more thing that you need ... Ma*am, the one thing more that you need is the Baptism of the Holy Ghost.’”  (emphasis added)
Not only did Roberts espouse a subsequent view of the Baptism of the Spirit, but in typical Keswick fashion, he believed the experience was predicated upon total surrender and obedience to God.  Did these extreme theological views set Evan Roberts up for a failure? It seems plausible.
One of the biggest liabilities accompanying Keswick, or “total surrender theology is that it sets up unrealistic, if not impossible expectations. Having come out of a Christian tradition heavily influenced by Keswick beliefs, I can speak from personal experience that striving for complete or total obedience to God is a prescription for disaster; inevitably resulting in spiritual frustration and burnout. The emotional and spiritual fatigue that develops from trying to attain the impossible, causes a superstitious, schizophrenic like faith to develop.
At this point, personal faith becomes self-defeating and contradictory in nature. Evan Roberts seems to exhibit this type of spirituality in a question and answer period held at the Theological College of the Calvinistic Methodists at Bala, where he fielded questions from aspiring Bible students. In response to the question, “How does one get the joy of the Spirit?” Roberts responded:
The joy of the Spirit is not a thing for the soul only. It penetrates through my body also. To get this joy, everything doubtful must be given up— everything we are uncertain whether it is bad or not, or else the Spirit will not come into our hearts.  (Emphasis added)
Of interesting note, is the fact that Roberts seems to contradict his own ideas in the very same question and answer period. When further questioned about total surrender by the same group of students, Roberts states that one “. .cannot, in this world be sinless. Self will come to the front.” 
And so goes the labyrinth of Roberts* Keswick theology. On one hand, Roberts taught that personal revival and joy in the Holy Spirit is predicated upon total obedience to the Spirit — even in questionable matters. On the other hand, total obedience or sinlessness will never be attained in this life. This is the spiritual “schizophrenia” I am referring to.
When confronted with his own depravity and limitations, I suspect Roberts eventually became disillusioned with the very “product” that he was selling. Although it cannot be conclusively proven from the available sources of information, I believe at the close of the revival, Roberts knew down deep that he was promising people more than he could deliver. As a result, he had one more good reason for speedily exiting the revival.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the life and ministry of Evan Roberts is his repeated pattern of naively flirting with occult mysticism. I realize that these are “loaded” terms, so for the purposes of this study, let me precisely define what I mean. When I say “occult,” I am referring to Roberts* early tendencies of being overly involved with supernatural experiences and feelings, as well as his general method of relinquishing complete control of the revival meetings to the Holy Spirit.
In no way do I wish to imply that Roberts was a Satanist or a witch; however, he clearly was privy to supernatural activity, which he would later attribute to evil spirits.  When referring to Roberts as “mystical,” I am referring to his preference for protracted periods of prayer and devotion, isolated from most of the community of faith. In other words, it seems to this observer that he had trouble separating Christian living from Christian ministry.
Just prior to the outbreak of the Welsh revival, it is reported that Roberts had what sounds like an out-of-body experience. Professor Neprash, a close friend of Evan in his twilight years, recalls that Evan Roberts reported an unusual experience to Neprash, Charles Usher (Roberts* right hand man and co-minister of prayer), and Frank Perryman (secretary of the Overcomer Magazine).  Apparently, while ministering together on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel, Roberts shared with his closest friends that he had what he called a 1 Corinthians 12 experience just prior to the revival.
“It happened about 1 o*clock in the morning, when someone touched me and I was caught up; whether in body or out of the body, I cannot recall, but I went higher and higher.” 
Rev. Robert Ellis appears to recount the same event, as Evan Roberts once shared with him:
“During the Spring of 1904, on a Friday night, while on my knees, I was swept into a place oblivious of time and space — it was communion with God. Prior to that experience my God was distant. I had a fright that night but never afterwards. Such was my trembling that the bed shook and my brother woke. After that, I was awakened each night after 1 o*clock. This was remarkable because I usually slept like a rock. After awakening I had three or four hours with God, then after five I could sleep until nine. There followed divine communion until twelve or one o*clock. This lasted for about three months. My one fear when I went to grammar school was the losing of this experience. I endeavored hard to keep up the work of the school, but the divine visitations became irresistible.”  (emphasis added)
There are two components of these experiences that should alarm even the most sympathetic of interpreters. First, the result of the initial 1 Corinthians 12 experience and of those that followed, was that they became irresistible — so irresistible in fact, that Roberts was afraid of losing them. Why is this significant?
I believe the euphoria of these experiences encouraged Roberts in his early methods of relinquishing complete control of the revival meetings to the Holy Spirit. Certainly he didn*t want to do anything that would jeopardize the feelings emoted from abandoned communion and cooperation with God.
It seems this unending quest to appease the Spirit may have caused Roberts to take this passive attitude, which he typically demonstrates in an interview with journalist W.T. Stead at the apex of the revival. In response to Stead*s questions concerning the role of the Spirit in the revival meetings, Roberts replies:
“This movement is not of me, it is of God. I would not dare direct it. Obey the Spirit — that is our word in everything. It is the Spirit alone which is leading us in our meetings and all that we do. . .why should I teach when the Spirit is teaching?” 
Secondly, not only did these initial supernatural experiences prove to be irresistible, but they also became instructional. It is reported that during his first 1 Corinthians 12 experience, Roberts received divine instruction on the principles of revival.  These are the same principles noted earlier as the “pre-conditions” of revival.
Why is this fact so disturbing? It is disturbing because the fourth principle states that personal revival is preceded by full obedience to the Holy Spirit. The only problem is, five years after the fact, Roberts rejects this “divinely” inspired idea in War on the Saints:
“To place the Holy Ghost as the object of obedience, rather than God the Father through the Son and by the Spirit, creates a danger of leading believers to rely upon a ‘spirit* rather than God on the throne who is to be obeyed by the child of God, united to his Son; the HoIy Spirit being the media through whom God is worshipped and obeyed.” 
Based upon the later enlightened testimony of Roberts in War on the Saints, it seems that the original “divine” source of information is contradicting himself; therefore, it seems prudent to conclude that unless God changed his mind, Roberts was following a ‘spirit* and not the Holy Spirit from the very beginning of his ministry.
Unfortunately, Evan Roberts* journey into the bizarre did not end with his first supernatural experiences. In the early days of the revival, he and his small band of inner circle followers utilized a most unusual technique for acquiring divine guidance in regards to their future ministry. Sympathetic biographer, Brynmore Jones reports:
“When they felt they needed guidance, Evan wrote down four questions in shorthand and placed them on two small Bibles in the Lord*s presence. They came back in fear and trembling to that room to collect God*s answers, but there were none. Then a voice spoke to Evan: You asked who should go and where and when and how. First you should have asked God, Shall we go? The good Lord permitted them to go ahead, but they had learned a vital lesson for missioners.” 
One might easily dismiss these methods as the actions of misguided youth, however, Roberts* repeated pattern of preferring the mystical prevents the interpreter from doing so. Evan*s unusual behavior continued throughout his life and ministry.
In a similar mystical fashion, after four months of intense labor in the revival, Roberts retreated to the Jones estate for a week of silence. During this week, his only source of communication with the outside world was through notes passed from his bedroom.  Although Roberts publicly claimed that this silent week was an attempt to foster deeper communion with God, one wonders if he simply needed some time to sort out his fatigued and cluttered mind.
In April of 1905, Roberts spoke at the Calvinistic Methodist Chapel of Liverpool. In this meeting he stood for two hours in a near catatonic state as he waited for obstacles to the work of the Spirit to be removed — a practice Roberts referred to as waiting for a meeting to “clear.”  Similar trance like states were also observed by the wives and children of Roberts* co-workers on the streets of Loughor. 
Although numerous other examples of psychic experiences could be cited, perhaps the most striking example of Roberts* unusual behavior is reported by David Matthews. According to his eyewitness account, Evan asked God for a taste of the agonies of Gethsemane. Matthews believed that his prayer was answered before his eyes:
“Falling on the floor near the pulpit, he [Roberts] moaned like one mortally wounded, while his tears flowed incessantly. His fine physical frame shook under crushing soul-anguish. No one was allowed to touch him. Those seated close to him frustrated any attempt at assistance which many willing hands would have gladly rendered. The majority of us were petrified with fear in the presence of such uncontrollable grief.” 
Did occult mysticism contribute to Roberts* hasty retreat from public ministry? The answer appears to be yes. The timing and content of his collaborative work War on the Saints, seems to prove this assertion. First, the book was first published in 1912, seven years after Evan*s mysterious departure from the Revival. Secondly, the sub-title of the volume is highly suggestive of Roberts* post-revival mindset; advertising itself as A Textbook for Believers on the Work of Deceiving Spirits among the Children of God.
No one likes to be duped. Evan Roberts is no exception. It appears that Roberts realized he had been duped. Unable to face his own disillusionment, as well as the potential disillusionment of those who followed him at the height of the Revival, I believe he retreated in a state of disgust, confusion and despair. As a probable therapeutic and restitutionary exercise, Roberts then later co-wrote and published with Jessie Penn Lewis the book War on the Saints, in the effort to make sense of, and warn others of his previous state of spiritual deception and confusion 30
Psychology and Physiology
Growing consensus among current medical science seems to affirm that mental and physical health greatly influence each other. In the case of Evan Roberts, it is hard to determine which had more influence over the other. However, it seems that both his mind and body were in a state of turmoil just prior to his departure from the ministry. When Evan Roberts left the Revival to convalesce at the Lewis home in Leicester, most commentators agree that he was physically broken and in the state of a nervous breakdown. 
Although the exact psychological state of Roberts is hard to conclusively ascertain, careful analysis of the available information allows one to piece together a reasonable assessment of his probable state of mind at this time. It is interesting to note that Evan*s mental health was in question before the Revival began. Prior to the Welsh outpouring, Roberts was diagnosed by an American physician as suffering from “religious mania.” 
One might find it easy to dismiss one diagnosis; however, a second and similar opinion, offered by a well respected physician and theologian at a later time in Evan*s life, should lend some suspicion. The beloved Scotsman, Lloyd Jones, after treating Roberts, believed that he had experienced an emotional and physical breakdown, which he attributed to Roberts* entrance into the psychic realm. In the previously mentioned Bala address, Roberts candidly commented on the arduous task of living his version of the spiritual life:
“. . . the higher you go in the spiritual life, the harder is the battle, and the more difficult it is to know the difference between the devil*s voice and the voice of God. This is my difficulty now, how to know the difference between the two voices . . . If there is a rule to know the difference, I do not know of it yet. 
I suspect that distinguishing between the two “voices” became increasingly difficult and exhausting over time, eventually getting the best of Roberts* mental and physical faculties.
In addition to the psychic influences that undermined Roberts* health, a number of other tangible events probably contributed to his psychological and physical breakdown. Historically, significant spiritual awakenings generate controversy. The Welsh Revival was no stranger to this phenomenon.
One of Roberts* strongest critics was the young, Cambridge educated, Rev. Peter Price. Price was highly critical of Roberts and the Revival because he believed that had interfered with a genuine revival that he had been involved in. Price*s criticism went public when the Western Mail Newspaper published a letter written by Price, charging Roberts with being a deluded actor and a prophet of Baal calling down false fire into the churches of Wales. 
To make matters worse, members of the secular world echoed some of Price*s thoughts. Investigator A.T. Fryer believed that Roberts* antics were not Spirit-inspired but rather were natural intuition. At the height of the controversy Fryer sarcastically observes:
“Evan Roberts* immobility is only apparent. He is transfixing everyone with his gaze. For a long time he reviews methodically the rows of faces. It is the gaze of a practiced physician. By the time he gets up to speak, he has made a mental census of the audience. He knows what souls are ill at ease. He predicts conversions and detects hindrances. He waits for the audience to reveal itself to him and then gets up and tells people what they know already, yet they are puzzled — amazed.” 
In the midst of criticism from both the church and the secular worlds, Roberts also began to hear disturbing reports that some of his converts were beginning to follow after cults characterized by most unusual behavior. Some “. . . barked at the devil, danced and swooned, or followed healers and prophetesses.” 
When one considers that Evan Roberts* psychological state was considered questionable before the Revival began, it seems reasonable to conclude that these tangible events could have helped push him over the edge. Indeed, I believe they did push him over the edge and it seems that he never recovered.
Emotional turmoil seems to have haunted Roberts for the rest of his life. In his twilight years, Roberts* depressive state is quite evident some thirty or more years after the Revival. The titles of some of the poems he wrote during this time tell the story: Titles such as “Maze,” “Lost;” “Prison,” “Malcontent,” “Phantom Joy,” “Joy is Pain,” “Empty Hands,” and “Gentlemen Beggar,”  reveal a dejected man who still was unable to make complete sense of his past.
One cannot study the life of Evan Roberts and remain unaffected. The more one studies his life, the more one*s affection grows for him and the more his heart breaks for him. His love and devotion to God and the people of his beloved Wales, has most likely never been equaled. The motive of his evangelistic heart was undoubtedly pure.
These are the facts that make criticism and analysis of his life and ministry so difficult. How could such a humble, devoted, loving and praying man of God be so misled? Hopefully, this study has shown that this question has no single answer — hard questions rarely do. The answers should serve as a sober warning to all who consider themselves called to Christian service — especially in our current experience-driven culture.
Sociologically, Roberts was drafted into a religious and cultural phenomenon that was much bigger than he was. The drive for Wales to experience another supernatural revival was strong, and Roberts was in the right place, at the right time to orchestrate the next “move” of God; whether he was mature enough to do so or not.
Theologically, Roberts was walking under the delusional influence of Keswick theology; thinking that absolute obedience was the key to his dynamic relationship with the Spirit and his continued success in ministry.
Mystically, Roberts allowed himself to be swept into the psychic arena, preferring the mystical over the mundane. One wonders if the supernatural manifestations he was experiencing helped to ease him in the despair of his probable failure to be completely obedient. Psychologically and physically, Roberts was beaten and broken because of inner turmoil, physical exhaustion, and severe criticism from both the church and secular worlds.
It is the belief of this writer that all of these factors contributed to Evan Roberts* undoing. In addition, it seems highly probable that many of the tragic circumstances and experiences highlighted in this study are not unique to Evan Roberts. Because the characteristics of human depravity are universal, Evan*s story is probably very similar to numerous other casualties of Revivalism. May all of God*s servants take the time to learn from his tragic experience — especially those who plan to follow him in the Revivalist tradition.
Notes on “Evan Roberts and the Welsh Revival”
1. R.B. Jones, Rent Heavens (London: Stanley Martin & Co., 1930), 49
2. Owen Roberts. Glory Filled the Land (Wheaton: International Awakening Press, 1989), 195-96
3. Two of the most recent examples of this in the United States would be the scandalous demise of the ministries of Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart in the late 1980*s Nevertheless, their stories are hardly unique; as one could see a similar pattern in the scandal ridden ministries of Aimee Semple McPherson in the 1920*s, as well as those of the healing evangelists William Branham, Jack Coe, and A.A. Allen in the 1940*s. In no way does the writer wish to imply that Evan Roberts was cut from the same cloth as these individuals; however, he does believe an understanding of the life and ministry of Roberts should lend insight into the lives of those who followed him in the Revivalist tradition.
4. Maurice Smith, When the fire fell: the great Welsh Revival of 1904 and its meaning for revival today (Reno, NA: Preparedness Publications), 31
5. Roberts, Glory Filled the Land, xiv
6. Ibid., 5
7. Robert Ellis, Living Echoes, (London: Delyn Press: London, 1940), 1-77 8 Ibid., 21
8. Ibid., 21
9. Smith, When The Fire Fell, 32
10. 10 Ibid., 32
11. Brynmore Pierce Jones, An Instrument of the Spirit: The Complete Life of Evan Roberts, (South Plainfield, NJ: Bridge Publishing, 1995), 10
12. Ibid., 34-36
13. Jones, Rent Heavens, 33
14. Jones Instrument of Revival, 39
15. Jessie Penn Lewis and Evan Roberts. War on the Saints: a Text Book for Believers on the Work of Deceiving Spirits among the Children of God (London: Marshal Bros., 1912), 290
16. D. M. Phillips, Evan Roberts: The Great Welsh Revivalist and His Work, (London: Marshall Bros., 1906), 434
17. Ibid., 439
18. For a full understanding of Evan*s later awareness of spiritual evil, see his collaborative work with Mrs. Jessie Penn Lewis in the book War On the Saints. The appendix section entitled “The Workings of Evil Spirits in Christian Gatherings” is especially instructive. See pp. 312-314
19. The Overcomer Magazine was established by Jessie Penn Lewis and Evan Roberts seven years after the Welsh Revival. The intent of the magazine was similar to that of Lewis* book War on the Saints. She and Roberts felt that the body of Christ needed special training in the area of Spiritual deception, and they utilized this magazine as a vehicle for that training.
20. Roberts, Glory Filled the Land, 183
21. Ellis, Living Echoes, 24
22. lbid., 25
23. Roberts, Glory Filled the Land, 183
24. Lewis, War on The Saints, 52
25. Jones, An Instrument of the Spirit, 26
26. D.M. Phillips, Evan Roberts: The Great Welsh Revivalist and His Work (London:
Marshall Brothers, 1906), 364
27. lain H. Murray, Pentecost Today? (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Publishing, 1998), 157-59
28. Jones, An Instrument of Revival, 12
29. David Matthews, I Saw the Welsh Revival: an Eyewitness Account of the 1904 Revival in Wales (Kimmell, IN: Pioneer Books), 43-44
30. In a letter published in the Overcomer Magazine, Roberts refers to War on the Saints as his unnamed biography. See Instrument of Revival, 168-69
31. lain H. Murray believes that when Roberts was faced with the growing possibility that his prophetic powers may have had their source in something other than the Holy Spirit, a nervous breakdown was inevitable. I am inclined to agree with his assessment. See Pentecost Today?, 160
32. Jones, Instrument of Revival, 19
33. Murray, Pentecost Today?, 160, Note 2
34. Phillips. Evan Roberts: The Great Welsh Revivalist and His Work, 435
35. Jones, Instrument of Revival, 80; 98
36. Ibid., 83
37. Ibid., 158
38. Brynmore Jones believes these despairing titles were the laments of one struggling with the ravages of World War II. I think otherwise. See Instrument of Revival, 236-40