A Big Man
It was in the late 1980s that the name Ian R K Paisley came on my radar. The media at the time presented him as something of a political buffoon, a ranter and raver, a disturber of the political peace. However, one afternoon I was in a bookstore in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, and came upon a book titled “Christian Foundations” by the same Ian Paisley. It engaged me immediately. As I read, I found my spirit concurring with the author’s words. He ably asserted and illustrated truth after truth from the Bible.
Around the same time, surfing the radio waves one evening, I came across a weekly program from the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, going by name “Let the Bible speak.” Presented by a man with a strong, lilting Northern Irish accent, Leslie Curran, I was hooked. Short devotional thoughts, great gospel music, the Word read with clarity and grace, and a short but punchy exposition filled a half hour with good and edifying listening. It even occasionally referenced Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. At that time, I would not even have been able to point to a blank map of North America and guessed where South Carolina was!
While I never heard Dr. Paisley on the radio, I followed with interest and appreciation his ministry movements, especially once I relocated to the UK. I appreciated his stance for truth, righteousness, and the godliness born of the gospel of grace.
It was with sadness that I learned of Dr. Paisley’s death in September. Psalm 116:15 articulates it well: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.”
Earlier today, thanks to Dr. Samuel Lowry, I came upon some notes originating from the The Ian R.K. Paisley Library book series published by Ambassador International in Belfast, and introduced along the following lines (I have added the headings for summary navigation):
In His Own Words: Remembering Dr. Ian Paisley
If you don’t know anything else about Dr. Ian Paisley, you should know that he was a fiery Presbyterian preacher and Irish politician with great devotion to his faith and to the unionist people of Northern Ireland. In fact, he was known as the “Big Man” of politics, and even co-founded the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster. Before he passed away on September 12, 2014, his strong convictions led him to speak on platforms and in pulpits all over the world.
Alive and Singing
If you read in the press or hear on TV Ian Paisley is dead, don’t believe a word of it. I’ll be more alive than ever. . . . I’ll be singing as never before.
I want to take you to the text where I first cast anchor. In 1932, my father was minister of Hill St. Baptist Church in Ballymena. That church was born out of the 1859 revival. It had an unusual parentage. A Covenanting minister of The Reformed Presbyterian Church preceded my dad. In the basement of that Church, my mother held a children’s meeting and gently spoke from John 10:11 on the Good Shepherd. When the other children had gone out, I slipped up to her side. “Mummy,” I said, “I don’t want to be a lost sheep, I want to be a saved lamb.” When that Church was renovated I asked the Pastor for the old pew where I had knelt in prayer beside my mother. Now, I do not believe in relics, but I believe in precious memories. We placed it in the Lecture Hall at our Whitefield College, and in a recent students’ early-morning prayer meeting I knelt at that pew and repeated those lines: “High Heaven that heard that solemn vow, that vow renewed shall daily hear”.
Woe Is Me if I Preach Not the Gospel
If I am called to preach the gospel, and thank God I am, nothing will stop me. You could as soon stop the Niagara torrent with a teaspoon, or the rising sun with a lollipop stick, as stop a Holy Ghost preacher when God has commissioned him. Close him out of the house and he’ll preach it on the doorstep. Ridicule him, refuse him, sneer at him, slander him, seek to bury him, [and] he’ll rise again with the gospel upon his lips.
I studied in Wales under an old revival preacher of the 1904 Welsh Revival and practiced my preaching skills in the open-air. Once when preaching in a town center, a bystander, who was a little under the influence, on hearing my Northern Irish accent shouted out, “Tell us about the Shamrock.” I replied, “On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other rocks are sham rocks!” I also preached in those little chapels spotted over the Welsh valleys. Some congregations received me graciously. Others didn’t. I was an Ulsterman and lacked the richness of the wonderful Welsh tongue. In due course I returned home and entered the Theological Hall of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland.
A Tongue Like a File
In 1946, when twenty years of age, I was ordained as minister of Ravenhill Church, Belfast. The following Sunday Morning the renowned Reverend W. P. Nicholson was in the service. Just after I had finished preaching, Mr. Nicholson came forward to the front of the church, rapped the communion table sharply with his knuckles, and asked gruffly, “Young man, have you ever seen a cow’s tongue?” Being a country lad I said, “Yes, sir.” “Well, what is it like?” the famous preacher persisted. I said, “It is like a file.” Then lifting his hands to heaven he offered an unusual prayer. “Lord, give this young man a tongue like an old cow.”
Preaching Moving Sermons!
We had a small church; we had 346 seats and a congregation of sixty, including children. For six months I preached the most moving sermons of my life, because half the congregation left. So I thought I had better do something about it and went out on the door knockers. I started on a good street, Shamrock Street, and I knocked on my first door. A little lady opened the door, and I said as politely as I could, “Good morning.” Then she looked me up and down and snapped, “Are you the new preacher from around the corner?” I said, “I am.” She replied, “God Almighty help you among that bunch!” and she slammed the door in my face.
Are They Growing?
When I was a young preacher, I was like the little boy who was given a tulip bulb. He planted it in his mother’s garden, and he dug it up every day to see if it was growing! I was like that with young converts.
Ministry of Defense
We had trouble in the church over song-leaders, so I decided that I would become the song-leader. By the way, we had a choir in those days; it was the war department of the church, so I sacked them and told the congregation to sing, “No, not one! No, not one!” We have never had a choir since.
How to Grow Your Church from Prison
[I had] a couple of terms in prison for our uncompromising stand and each time our church grew. The first Sunday after I was released, we received 200 new members who had been saved or separated from apostasy during the time I was inside. So my elders said, “If we get 200 new members after three months’ imprisonment, you should have stayed for six.” I said, “You can do the other three months, gentlemen; I’ll stay out for now.”
The Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster caught fire, [grew to] around sixty congregations in Northern Ireland, this Martyrs Memorial Church was built, [and so were] many others across the British Isles, in North America, and [in] Australia. I’ll tell you what we are: we are God’s laugh at the devil. John the Baptist was God’s laugh at the Pharisees. They had their Sanhedrin, but here comes a fiery preacher. The early apostles were called “unlearned and ignorant,” but they had been with Jesus.
Reformation Truth Preaching
Every true revival in church history was a revival of great preaching. The church of Jesus Christ has gone cold and formal. The pulpit and preacher are weak; the pulpit has been pushed to the side because preaching is only a side-line. In churches which preach Reformation truth, the pulpit has the pre-eminence, and upon the desk is the open Word of God, and behind the desk is someone who believes that God has one method divinely ordained for the salvation of souls, and that is the preaching of the cross.
The preacher who never weeps never really works. The preacher who never sobs never really supplicates. The preacher who never sheds tears seldom ever triumphs. A tearless ministry is dry and passionless. We are called to serve with humility and many tears.
Give Me Rome and Dublin!
I heard a preacher the other day say you should not have your eye on rewards. Well Moses had respect for the recompense of the reward. I would serve Jesus if there was no reward at the end of it, for serving Him is reward enough, but there is going to be a reward. It says He is going to set us over cities. Some people will have ten. I have asked God for two cities, Rome and Dublin—that would do me!
Not Ashamed of the Gospel
It is common today for a minister, when he remains for some considerable time in the ministry, to talk about the progress he has made in his theology, his philosophy, [and] in his religious ideas. Let me unashamedly confess that in over fifty years I have not made any progress whatsoever. I believe the Bible—from the first “In” to the last “Amen.” . . . I am not ashamed of the Gospel; not ashamed of the cause of the Gospel; not ashamed of the cost of the Gospel; not ashamed of the constraint of the Gospel; not ashamed of the consequences of the Gospel. And I will not be ashamed at the coronation of the Gospel. The Gospel Ship has not had an easy voyage since it was launched by the Hand of Grace in the Red River of the Redeemer’s Blood. Its passage has been stormy, but the crowning day is coming.
When the sun goes down, as it shall, upon my ministry, and when the sands of time run out, there will be a blessed picture before me. That of a little boy of six on that day when I started my pilgrimage for heaven. It has been a zigzag path—twice in jail, a member of three parliaments, and holder of high office. I do not know what lies ahead, but this I know: Jesus has never failed. People have let me down. I have let the Lord down, and I say that with penitence of heart and repentance of soul. If I never see you again, remember that Jesus Christ, Ian Paisley’s Savior, has been preached up in this place tonight. Oh sinner, come to Him and be saved. Backslider, return to Him and be restored. Christian, renew your vows. May God send to Ulster an old-fashioned, heaven-sent revival so that this beloved land will be delivered from the wrath that is to come. May it be so, for Jesus’ sake! Amen and Amen.