On Wednesday, September 12, Paul Thompson and I had a private, two-and-one-half hour lunch with Dr. Ian and Eileen Paisley, now both of the House of Lords (hence their official titles are Lord Bannside and Baronness Paisley). At first, it was a rather surreal experience as the Paisleys pulled up with their security guards, but what a delightful time we had. Dr. Paisley, now 86 and feeble (last February he nearly died in the hospital), came across as being open, honest, thoughtful, spiritual, and humorous. His wife is quite a lady as well—like her husband, she also has served in Parliament, is an author, and articulates well and in detail their past experiences.
While Dr. Paisley was still enjoying his fish and chips, he willingly answered some questions I prepared for him. Here they are together with his answers:
1. After many decades of experience in ministry, what two major pieces of advice would you give a theological student who is about to enter a lifetime of ministry?
Know your Scriptures and be a man of prayer. These are the two most important things in the ministry. If ministers are strong in the Scriptures and strong at the throne of grace, well, they are nearly in heaven already.
2. In the midst of an incredibly busy life, how does one manage to stay close to God in terms of personal experiential fellowship with Him and His Son by His Spirit?
You must not let anything break into your personal prayer and devotional life. The first book I reached for all my life is the Bible. As a minister and a politician, it is essential to be grounded in the Scriptures well since you’re engaging in spiritual warfare. You need to be instructed from the book, and you must remain on speaking terms with the Lord.
Communion with God, as you well know, is a scarce thing today. The prayers of many Christians are far too shallow, and mostly selfish. We need to rise above these things as leaders.
Another important thing to maintain is family worship. We kept up family worship from our earliest days. We all prayed together on our knees and the Lord has blessed that for ourselves and for our children. Our one son is now a minister and the other is in Parliament.
3. You have been a major leader in both the ecclesiastical and political spheres. In terms of exercising leadership in these spheres, do you see any difference between them? Are the same skills needed in both?
In both professions it is all about getting your orders from above and obeying them. No one in public life should leave home in the morning prayerless and careless. Leaders must remember that they are constantly going out into deep combat, so they need to know God’s will and then do it.
4. You and I have a common love—great Christian books. You have a great and a tremendous library which you are presently opening up as a reading room so that others can greatly benefit from the tens of thousands of books you have collected over a lifetime. What has your library meant to you throughout your life? What two books have most impacted your thinking? What is your favorite book?
Let me say first that in homiletics and church history and the exposition of Scriptures, we have been left a great treasury. Through books in your hands, you can benefit greatly from godly men who were guided by God and spoke with God. A minister or even a lay Christian who doesn’t unlock this treasury, is a poor man.
Second, the big problem of many Christians today is that they don’t read the books they should read. They read largely trash. They could better burn most of those books.
Third, it is important for ministers not to become merely the echo of what they have read. But ministers do need to know what others have said. Our big problem today is that television has destroyed the nation in terms of reading and study. Another big problem is that people are not consistent in their Bible reading. They act as if when they do read that they are obliging God, but don’t realize that God is actually obliging you by giving you His word.
Finally, in terms of books that have transformed me, the first book that touched me deeply as a child was Pilgrim’s Progress. It is amazing that in Bunyan’s own day some did not want him to publish it—and actually warned him not to do so, but it is pure gold. As for a second book, I would just like to say that all of the Puritan works as a whole have greatly impacted me. The Puritans are the finest of the wheat. If a man owns Puritan writings, he has all the finest of the wheat and doesn’t need much else. These great Puritan works, when brought together, make a superb treasury when all brought together.
(In the next post I will share the rest of my conversation with Dr. Paisley.)