The Body, the Nerves Couldn't Follow
Some recent discussion has prompted me to take another look at the Welsh Revival of the early 1900's. The key personality was Evan Roberts.
At an early age Roberts was impressed to relinquish most youthful pursuits for intense activity in prayer and at all hours. He was often seen at the entrance to the local coal mine giving out portions of scripture to each of the workers as they entered, and then asking later for response after their day's work.
Soon opportunities came to preach and a formal period of study in the ministry could not keep up with the urgency of the agenda which had been set for this spokesperson by the Holy Spirit. Meetings multiplied beginning in 1904 and those in attendance would remark that Evan's method of operation defied description or predictability. It was not so much the force of his preaching. He spoke softly. But rather it was the sincerity of his prayer and the unashamed transparency of his countenance as he allowed the Spirit to move upon him and the people. He often chose to descend from the pulpit and to wander around the room as one of the congregation. There were often tears and pleadings. His presence was electric. Repentance, confession and rapturous song broke out frequently. He might even walk out, to the shock of onlookers, if he sensed anything significantly grieving the Spirit. That evening there might be a return, an explanation and a fresh start in power.
But the agenda of the revival and the disproportionate reliance upon one man's energy took their toll - both physically and emotionally. There were nervous breakdowns. In 1906 Roberts met Mr. and Mrs. Jessie Penn-Lewis and they offered to give him a period of recouperation at their estate in England called Woodlands.
According to one biographer, Roberts Liardon (God's Generals, Whittaker House Publishers, 1996), these people and particularly the wife, led the revivalist into dark woods indeed, of false doctrine and imbalance. Her idea of spiritual warfare was too much in the suffering travail of childbirth and not enough in the joy of reproduction. She was morbid and missed the Spirit. There was also a plan to make use of Roberts' notoriety to benefit Mrs. Penn-Lewis' ministry and writings. The unfortunate dependency lasted for more than 22 years, during which Roberts was largely a recluse.
The biographer writes:
"It is amazing to see how a national revivalist, once so strong and invincible from the power of the Holy Spirit, could now become so harnessed, subdued and deceived."
So what must we conclude from the sad and dwindling impact of Evan Roberts? That revival fires are unsustainable? That lives too much alone and too much deprived of sleep and fellowship are soon debilitated? That the Enemy knows the points of weakness to bring about confusion and ultimate failure in holy enterprise?
Let us not become too downcast. God's desire is still to deliver His Glory to the hungry. But there are lessons of teamwork, refreshment, agreement and balance never to be forgotten.
In the words of John Donne, "No man is an island."