I woke this morning to the sad news that Dr. Paisley has died. We knew him as Dr. Paisley, or just “Doc” in familiar conversation, but he was known in later years as Lord Bannside. Ian Paisley was born in April 1926 into the home of a Baptist pastor. He preached his first sermon at the age of sixteen and was ordained in his early twenties. In 1951 he helped form the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster. He was first a preacher of the gospel, and it is this that I will remember growing up under his shadow in Northern Ireland. I have listened to him preach with power and conviction, pleading with souls for Christ and motivating young men to the ministry. I have sat under his public prayers which were particularly memorable and, like Apollos, he proved himself to be “mighty in the Scripture.”
Dr. Ian Paisley has captured the headlines for over five decades in both secular and religious newspapers and periodicals. He was a man of great abilities, a powerful and eloquent orator, with a rare ability to move the masses. People across the world who met him personally will remember his hearty laugh and affable personality. He was a gracious individual, humorous, congenial, and generous. He loved the gospel of Jesus Christ and he loved the people of God. He lived in a constant state of readiness to talk of the things of God and of his own experience of the gospel.
From a North American perspective he will be remembered as the last of the “Fighting Fundamentalists.” In recent years I had occasion to speak with him in connection with my own research of Canadian Baptist and Fundamentalist history. He was very widely read with a library of over 30,000 books. His links with North American Fundamentalism go back to his father’s ministry in Ballymena when T. T. Shields, the Canadian Fundamentalist, attended the opening of the Baptist Church in Ballymena where Pastor J. Kyle Paisley preached. Dr. Paisley treasured a photo of himself as a child with Dr. Shields in 1935. He considered Dr. Shields as a mentor.
The Fundamentalist Movement of North America became a model for Paisley’s burgeoning ministry in Belfast in the 1950’s. He rose to prominence in Northern Ireland with his strong stand against current politics and also, more particularly, against conditions in Irish Presbyterian Church. This brought him to the attention of Fundamentalist leaders in America. He received an honorary doctorate from Bob Jones University in 1966 for his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans which he wrote while serving a prison sentence. It was Ian Paisley who imported American Fundamentalism into Britain, particularly Northern Ireland.
Fundamentalism had its faults. It is no secret that Paisley was a polarizing individual; he knew this himself and he often joked about it. Recent analysis, even within Fundamentalism, has been very critical of the movement. Ian Paisley, like many of his Fundamentalist forebears and contemporaries, defended the faith at the expense of personal testimony. The objective faith—the fundamentals—was defended with greater zeal than that with which personal graces were developed. In a message in 1971 Dr. Paisley himself stated that a critical and harsh spirit often accompanied the work and life of Fundamentalists. But, despite this serious imbalance in the Fundamentalist Movement the Lord used the ministry of these men for the preservation of a gospel church. When the history of evangelicalism in Northern Ireland is written, I have no doubt that Dr. Paisley’s contribution to the defense and proclamation of the gospel will be considered significant, not only in the Free Presbyterian Church, but also, and perhaps more surprisingly, in other Protestant denominations. Psalm 116:15 “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”