Ministry in Ireland (V)

Dr. Ian Paisley presenting me with his book on the 1859 Revival in Northern Ireland

(This post continues my conversation with Dr. Paisley, as I asked him more questions.)

5. There is an old Dutch saying that “he who stands in the front, gets kicked in the rear.” You have stood in the front most of your life both in church and in politics. How have you managed to cope with all the criticism that that entails—especially when, as David says, that your own familiar friends have lifted up their heel against you? What advice would you give to young ministers who are just beginning to face criticism?

Expect criticism. If you’re doing anything for the Lord, the devil will be aware of this. If a man is working for God, he is under attack. There is no discharge in this war.

Get the Lord’s armor of Ephesians 6 to cover you and the stones won’t touch you. You’re invincible when you have God’s armor on. Keep on the Lord’s way—which is usually through both difficult afflictions and joyful times—and decide throughout to be joyful in His ways.

Then, too, don’t forget that others are entitled to criticize you. This is part of the cross. We don’t need to be vindicated because we are only bearing Christ’s cross after Him. Our vindication will come on the Judgment Day, but even that is not important. Only Christ’s vindication is important; we are but unworthy servants.

If you respond to criticism well, then as you grow older in the Lord’s work, there comes a time when criticism just passes you by. It then does not really bother you much, as you have more to do with the Lord than with people. We need to remember that John 3:16 is enough for time and eternity.

6. As you look back over your long life, what is the best decision you ever made by God’s grace? What decision do you most regret?  

By grace, the best decision I ever made was when I knelt at my mother’s knee at age 6 and received the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. From that time on, I felt an urge to speak about Christ to others. I was privileged to lead my first convert to Christ at age 8. I had a friend who I would walk home with from school. One day he expressed his need to me for a Savior. I took him aside and explained the gospel to him. Together we found a place off of the beaten path where we knelt down together, prayed to God earnestly for His salvation, and my friend was truly saved that day. He has been walking with the Lord ever since and today is a faithful gospel minister.

What do I regret? I regret all my sins—and there are hundreds of them.

After this interview, Mrs. Paisley told us some stories of remarkable conversions connected with her husband’s ministry.  I’ll just mention one of them. One man hated her husband so much that he moved to Texas to get away from his constant emphasis on the need for being born again. But once he was settled in Texas, Dr. Paisley’s voice kept ringing in his ears, “Ye must be born again”—to the point that the man fainted under the stress. A friend found him and helped him recover. He then told his friends about his spiritual struggles. His friend then said, “I have a tape you have to listen to.” Imagine how shocked the poor man was to discover the tape was by Dr. Paisley! He went home but refused to listen to it. Finally, to quiet his stormy conscience, he decided to listen to it, though he still hated the speaker. But as he listened, the Holy Spirit brought him powerfully to the cross and he was saved.

Wednesday evening, I preached for the last time on backsliding—this time to an overflow crowd. To my surprise, Dr. and Mrs. Paisley attended, together with their security guards. Due to Dr. Paisley’s weakness, they left immediately afterward. As we said farewell to each other, Dr. Paisley handed me a note.Like all the other evenings, the address was followed with a late-night supper. By the time all the goodbyes were said and I was back in my room, it was past midnight. I opened the note that Dr. Paisley handed me a few hours before as he was leaving  the gathering:

For the Preacher

Thanks for showing us our Lord.

Blessed by His Name.

Ian Paisley

Eph. 6:19-20

Ministry in Ireland (IV)

Mrs. Eileen Paisley, Dr. Ian Paisley, and Me

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.)

Ministry in Ireland (III)

On Tuesday, September 11, Rev. Stanley Barnes, a close friend of Dr. Ian Paisley, drove me two hours through the beautiful Northern Ireland countryside to Enniskillen to see my old friends, John and Pearl Gowan. John has a beautiful home out in the boondocks, and behind his house he has one of the most wonderful used bookstores in all the world. I spent about half a day with these three friends, fellowshipping over lunch and methodically going through the store—especially the antiquarian section, where I found about a dozen gems for our Puritan Resource Center.

Pearl and John Gowan, and Rev. Stanley Barnes


We arrived back in the Belfast area in time to go out for supper with my chauffeur, Rev. Stanley Barnes and his wife Ina, as well as with Dr. Allan and Joan Cairns. Dr. Cairns is a well-known preacher and theological teacher who served the FP church in Greenville, South Carolina, for nearly thirty years—which is the church and seminary that Dr. Michael Barrett hails from. Lots of theology got talked over in that hour; it was a great time. From there, we went straight to church where I brought my fourth message of five on the theme of backsliding.

Alan and Joan Cairns, Stanley and Ina Barnes

Afterward I spent some time fellowshiping with a well-known national soccer player who has been reading my books and listening to my sermons on He is still attending a Pentecostal church, but is now in the process of embracing the Reformed faith. He wanted to thank me for leading him into the rich Reformed and Puritan doctrine. This young man was so sincere and zealous, that as he spoke about the need to live fully for Christ with head, heart, and hand, I must admit that several times chills went up and down my spine. This conversation was uplifting, humbling, and exciting, all at once.

On Wednesday morning, Paul Thompson and I visited an aged, mature believer named Reggie Hamilton. He has a strong Ulster personality and character—a straightshooter, to be sure! He nearly died recently. When the doctor told him that he was glad to see him healed, he told the doctor that he had been longing for complete healing—“to be taken to be with my Lord forever.” When the chaplain visited him, he asked the chaplain, “Are you born again?” He said, “The chaplain bolted out this room as if he were returning to Mars!”


Ministry in Ireland (II)

Sunday morning, September 9, I served the Ballymena Free Presbyterian Church (FP), where Rev. John Greer serves as senior pastor. First, I spoke to the church’s adult Bible Class on “Wrestling for Inward Holiness” (Rom. 7:22–25) and then preached with some freedom at the morning service on “Gethsemane’s King-Lamb” to approximately 600 people. It was truly a joy serve this church.

After a delicious mid-afternoon meal and good fellowship with the Greer family, which included their married children and grandchildren, one on John Greer’s sons drove me back to the Mount Merrion FP, where I gave my first two of five sermons on backsliding. (The first sermon was their regular evening service and the second, which began at 9:00 p.m., was for a “Family and Youth Rally” that drew people from other churches. Unknown to me, one of Northern Ireland’s MLA’s (comparable to one of our national senators) was present, and invited me to come and see him in the Parliament building. By the time I arrived back at my motel, it was midnight. Having preached four times, and having spent several hours speaking with people, I was tired—but it was a joyful weariness. How good it is to have such opportunities to reach so many souls in one Sabbath, including many young people, with the whole counsel of God! What a privilege and honor it is to be a servant of Jesus Christ!

Ministerial Fellowship, Northern Ireland

On Monday morning, I spoke to a ministerial fellowship about “Coping with Criticism.” More than fifty pastors attended (only twenty were expected), plus several of their wives. Afterward, lunch and fellowship continued for a good, long while. It was great to get to meet and befriend so many FPC ministers.

In the afternoon, Rev. Thompson took me to the Parliament building of No. Ireland. We sat in on the highest body’s political house for a while, though the matter being discussed was rather boring. I sure am glad that our church members do not listen to preachers the way these politicians listen to each other (I know it is no different in our Capitol’s highest chambers!). Soon MLA Robin Newton met us and we went to have coffee with him and his associate named Denny, and to tour the magnificent building of Parliament. Our conversation was fascinating. I peppered him with questions about what it was like to be a full-time politician in such a high political office. He admitted that it is easy to backslide, and told me that my sermon on backsliding was “spot on.” He was very open and honest about being a politician and strives hard to be open and honest with his constituency. “Dedication, calmness, and balance are critical in political life,” he said. He works long hours, absolutely loves his job and opportunities to help people, and told me that one of the common people’s greatest misnomers about most politicians is that they are lazy.

MLA Robin Newton, Myself, and His Associate Denny

Due to all the religious and political strife between Protestants and Roman Catholics in recent decades, political life in No. Ireland has many challenges and tensions. The Protestants and Roman Catholics now have shared power in government, so they are compelled to work together.  Unlike former days, however, many who fly under both the Protestant and the Roman Catholic banners are only, at best, nominal in their religious convictions.

That evening, I had supper with the Rev. Paul and Kay Thompson, family, together with their seven children, aged 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, and 8 days old! What a precious family they are! I thoroughly enjoyed giving them a trick math problem, and then telling them a few Christ-exalting stories. Afterward, I gave a third address on the backsliding theme at the Mount Merrion FP Church.

With the Thompson Children

Ministry in Ireland (I)

On Friday, September 7, I did e-mail catch-up work for ten hours while sitting in the Newark airport, waiting for a flight to Belfast, Northern Ireland. The overnight flight was uneventful, though a bit tense since the flight was to land at 9:00 a.m. and I was scheduled to speak a half hour drive from the airport at 10:15 a.m. Rev. Paul Thompson, my itinerary guide, felt badly that he read my ticket wrongly. He thought I was landing on Friday morning, so he scheduled me to speak three times on Saturday morning. Only a few days before the conference did I realize the error, but , after discussing what I would have to cancel to come earlier, as well as the sky-high price for changing an overseas ticket the last moment, we decided to commit the trip prayerfully to the Lord, and surrender to His providence.

When we landed in Belfast, I ran to the head of the line and was the second person from the plane to pass through customs. Everything went incredibly smoothly (my suitcase was the third item of hundreds off of the plane), and my driver drove as fast as possible. Kind providence brought me to the Mount Merrion Free Presbyterian Church at 10:00, so I had 15 minutes to freshen up before speaking.  Despite having only an hour or two of sleep on the plane that night, the Lord strengthened me to deliver three addresses in a row on the theme of living coram Deo—living in the presence of God.

Rev. Andrew and Joan Woolsey

I then spent some time with my dear friends, Rev. Andrew and Joan Woolsey, whom I have known for about a dozen years. Presently, we are about ready to send brother Woolsey’s outstanding dissertation on the development of covenant theology to the printer. After having supper with the Woolseys, we went to a buffet reception at the Lisburn Free Presbyterian (FP) Church, to which about 75 ministers and their wives and a several other FP people had been personally invited to meet me. I was asked to speak briefly about the seminary and various ministries of our churches, and then open up the meeting for a Question and Answer session. It was great to finally meet Rev. John Greer, whose ministry many of us have profited from. A few days ago he was elected to serve as Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church of No. Ireland—a conservative, largely Reformed denomination of about 65 churches that stresses salvation by the blood of Christ and separation from the world.

Dr. John Greer and Me