William Patteson Nicholson the Rough Evangelist

William Patteson Nicholson was born on April 3, 1876, in Ulster, Northern Ireland, to a godly mother and an evangelistic Presbyterian preacher. William was named after the minister of his home church, William Patteson, who faithfully preached at Trinity, Bangor for fifty years, including ministry to the Nicholson family.

At the age of 16 Nicholson followed his father’s earlier profession and became a merchant seaman on his father’s cargo ship.  He traversed the globe and was, on one occasion, shipwrecked.  Many of these days “before the mast” became anecdotes in his sermons years later.

Back home in Bangor, as he sat at the breakfast table, at about 8.30 a.m. on 22 May, 1899, God met him.  His spiritual condition bore in upon him and he realised that it was “Christ or Hell.  I came to Jesus as I was,” he writes, “guilty, worn and sad, and accepted Him as my personal Saviour.  All my guilt and gloom vanished like the early dew and the morning cloud … I was born of God.  Hallelujah!”  (The Evangelist, by W P Nicholson, page 12).

‘W P’ became one of Christendom’s most unique evangelists.  After some training at Glasgow Bible Training Institute, and joining the Chapman-Alexander evangelistic team, he was ordained as an evangelist by the Carlisle Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church at the age of 38 years, although, as one writer has it, “he began to weep and sing and rejoice like any old-fashioned Free Methodist!”

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Sometimes unconventional in his pulpit style, he nevertheless preached the old-time gospel with a powerful anointing of the Holy Spirit. He was at times referred to as the ‘tornado’ of the pulpit. He travelled the world 10 times, including a visit to Australia, sharing the Upwey Convention platform with Dr Graham Scroggie, during Christmas/New Year 1934-35.  “That man,” said Dr Scroggie, “is filled with vulgarity and the Holy Spirit, and how a man can be filled with both at the same time I don’t know.”

“Neither do I,” adds A Lindsay Glegg.  “‘W.P.’ shocked many with his rough tongue, but it was no use trying to change him.  My wife and I did our best with, I’m afraid, no success, but still the people came and many were converted.”   Lindsay Glegg remembers the time ‘W P’ stayed in his home for 10 days.  “He was up at 6 a.m., but rarely appeared before noon; he spent hours wrestling with God in prayer.  My wife would take up his breakfast and leave it outside his bedroom door, but it was rarely taken in” (Four Score … and More, by AL Glegg, page 40).  On one occasion, “unconsciously, agonizing in prayer, he ripped the sheets into shreds”!  (page 41).

Truly a remarkable evangelist!  Ian Paisley has penned a 30-page booklet concerning this “unpredictable man.”  He tells of a drunk who disturbed a meeting where ‘W P’ was preaching.  The evangelist left the pulpit, grabbed the fellow by the scruff of the neck, and pitched him out the church door.  A woman criticised his action:  “Mr Nicholson, the Saviour would not have done that.”  “No,” said Nicholson, “He would have cast the devil out of the man.  I cannot do that, Madam, so I did the second best thing.  I cast the devil out – and the man as well…” (Nicholson, by I. Paisley, pages 24-25).

Just one quote from ‘W P’ himself, from his book On Towards the Goal, a series of messages given at the Bangor Easter Convention, 1925: “I do not know anyone in the world that I know better than the Lord.  I do not know my wife or mother the way I know the Lord.  I do not know the best friends I ever had the way I know the Lord.  We walk together, my Lord and I, because we are in fellowship, and there is nothing I have but is His.  All my sins were made His one day, and all my joys are His now.  Glory to God, we laugh together …” (pages 24-25).

He wasn’t exaggerating.

Most wonderful of all, Nicholson was an effective evangelist. His messages cut to the heart and changed the lives of those who heard him. He often preached to meetings for ‘men only’, where he would challenge the hearts of men. In the Belfast shipyard they had to erect a special shed to house stolen tools which converted workers returned as revival swept through the country. They called it the ‘Nicholson Shed’ as testimony to the power of the gospel and the power of God through Nicholson’s ministry.

Edwin Orr recorded of the 1921 Ulster Revival and Nicholson’s ministry that “‘Nicholson’s missions were the evangelistic focus of the movement: 12,409 people were counselled in the inquiry rooms; many churches gained additions, some a hundred, some double; … prayer meetings, Bible classes and missionary meetings all increased in strength. … Ministerial candidates doubled”.

W P Nicholson died in 1962.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

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St Patrick of Ireland

St Patrick’s Day is observed by some on March 17, in commemoration of St Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland, took the Christian faith to Ireland around 410AD.

As Archdeacon T.C. Hammond, staunch Protestant churchman of a past generation, said, “Every Christian who loves the Bible can look back with thankfulness to this intrepid missionary and revere his memory” (From Slave to Saint, page 11).

St Patrick’s day is celebrated by the wearing of Green, among other things. In Ireland the Green colour not only represents the nation, but symbolises the Catholic faith. The Orange colour is used by Protestants. Hence we have the Orange and the Green, Orange Marches, and so on.

Despite the fact that the Roman Catholic Church has laid claim to this man of God as one of their own, no distinctive Roman teachings are found in his writings.  Neither the Mass, nor Purgatory, is mentioned.  For that matter the Roman Church was not established in Ireland and Scotland until about two centuries after his death. It is interesting to note the contrast between writings of Patrick with his 340 quotations from 46 Bible books with that of Pope Gregory the Great – “liberally peppered with superstitious, unscriptural doctrines and legendary stories” (The Battle of the Celtic Church, by Peter Trumper, page 7).

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Patrick was born about 372, probably near Glasgow. His father was a Christian deacon, but that did not seem to create a particularly Christian home.

At the age of 16 he was captured by Irish pirates who attacked his father’s estate, and taken to Ireland where he spent his time in relative solitude, minding sheep. There, on a hill side, his conversion took place.  “The Lord opened the understanding of my unbelief.”  He later wrote, “that, late as it was, I might remember my faults and turn to the Lord my God with all my heart” (70 Great Christians, by G. Hanks, page 64).

After about six years in captivity Patrick had a dream in which he heard God tell him it was time to leave Ireland. He escaped back to Britain where he had another vision prompting him to return to Ireland as a missionary.

Patrick then spent 14 years in monastic life in Gaul (France) and a night vision that bade him return and preach the gospel in Ireland. After ordination as a priest Patrick was sent to Ireland with a dual role of ministry to the existing Christians in Ireland and evangelism of the heathen. The existence of Christians in Ireland before his arrival contradicts the widely held belief that he took Christianity there.

Patrick returned at about 410AD, and is at times confused in history with Palladius, a bishop who was sent by Pope Celestine in 431AD to be the first bishop to the Irish believers in Christ. This 431 date argues against the suggestion that Patrick went to Ireland in 432AD.

The legend of him driving out all the snakes from that island is that which typifies “his triumph of good over evil” (68 Saints of the Anglican Calendar, by S Harton, page 132). It also typifies the tendency to aggrandize heroes in the Irish verbal tradition.

It is claimed that Patrick established 365 churches and baptised 12,000 people.  He trained missionaries who went forth to Scotland, Europe, “and even Iceland” (Famous Missionaries, by J Gilchrist Lawson, page 12).  And his spiritual autobiographical book, Confessions, remains as a testimony to his faithful Christian service. His other surviving book is titled Epistola and is a denunciation of British mistreatment of Irish Christians.

Patrick integrated various aspects of the Irish superstition into his Christian message, to help promote its acceptance. The use of fire to celebrate deities was adopted with bonfires at Easter. The pre-existing Sun worship was accommodated by creation of the Celtic Cross with the sun superimposed on the cross.

Among Patrick’s many great missionary achievements, he confronted the Druids at Tara and abolished their pagan rites. History has it that he converted the warrior chiefs and princes, baptizing them and thousands of their subjects in the ‘Holy Wells‘ that still bear this name.

One account of Patrick’s death says he died at Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland, on March 17, 460 A.D. His jawbone was preserved in a silver shrine and often requested in times of childbirth, epileptic fits, and as a preservative against the ‘evil eye’. Another version puts Patrick’s death at Glastonbury, England, claiming he was buried there. The Chapel of St Patrick remains as part of Glastonbury Abbey.

Patrick died about 465. And you can see his “tooth” in the National Museum in Dublin!  (Maypoles, Martyrs and Mayhem, published 1994, page 75).

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Ulster Revival Impacts Ireland

The Ulster Revival broke out on March 14, 1859.

James McQuilkan had been converted three years previously when a visiting English lady (a Baptist Missionary), Mrs Colville, had witnessed to him. The initial contact led James to several weeks of desperate searching for conviction of salvation. Once this was gained, James began to witness to others and so attracted the interest of Jeremiah (Jerry) Meneely, a faithful church-goer who lacked assurance of salvation. Shortly thereafter Jerry also came to confidence in his salvation and James had also led two other young men, Robert Carlisle and John Wallace, to Christ.

Reading George Mueller’s autobiography, Life of Trust, had fired McQuilkan’s prayer life. McQuilkan was also impacted by reading ‘The Life of McCheyne’ and Finney’s Lectures on Revivals. McQuilkan began to long for revival.

So, in September 1857 the four young men agreed to meet weekly for prayer and Bible study, to edify themselves and win souls. The Schoolhouse at Kells became their prayer closet.

“During the long winter of 1857-1858 every Friday evening, these young men … made their way to the old schoolhouse. There they read and meditated upon the Scriptures of truth and with hearts aflame with a pure first love, poured out their prayers to the God of heaven.” They focused on three great fundamental truths, “the Sovereignty of the Holy Spirit, the Sufficiency of the Holy Scripture, and the Secret of Holy Supplication”.

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On New Year’s Day 1858 the first convert was won. A year later there were 50 men meeting to wrestle and travail in prayer, despite being ridiculed and mocked by those who did not believe in their fervent praying.

Several of the initial band of men belonged to the Presbyterian Church in Connor, where Rev Hamilton Moore encouraged their prayer activities. His prayer meeting filled up and others were started and a hunger for God’s reality swept people out of their passivity. Moore was asked to report on these doings to the General Assembly that same year.

Word has also come that similar stirrings were afoot in America and further investigation revealed that a prayer movement had begun there, also in September 1857, with ordinary men initiating prayer meetings. 12,000 men were gathering in New York City to pray for revival.

By early 1859 the church in Connor had 100 separate prayer meetings each week, in homes, barns, schools and workplaces. One meeting in a mill had 500 attendees and the preaching was done by a local farmer. The ordinary folk were not only praying but taking the ministry roles as well.

On March 14, 1859, the Presbyterian minister at Ahoghill invited McQuilkan and his three friends to organise a prayer meeting.  The church was crowded, we are told … and hundreds more gathered outside ‘in the chilling rain’ … on their knees in the mud!

Edwin Orr describes this as “the first outbreak of mass conviction of sin to occur anywhere in the British Isles during the mid-19th century …”  “This revival made a greater impact spiritually on Ireland than anything else known since the days of St Patrick …”

Revival broke out and the prayer meetings became revival meetings, attracting crowds of thousands and mass open air meetings of 25,000. James McQuilkin emerged as a most powerful preacher and later in 1859 he travelled to many towns to preach in churches and the open air to great crowds. He saw a bountiful harvest.

“When this Revival hit Ballymena it was dramatic and sudden. Many families had not gone to bed for two or three days. Everything seemed at a standstill and the noise of people crying for mercy or the singing of praise came from many homes night and day. One Minister said ‘The difficulty used to be to get the people into the church, but the difficulty now is to get them out’.”

Churches were packed … sinners were converted.  Statistics show that crime was reduced by half.  Colin Whittaker, member of the executive council of the Assemblies of God, in his book Great Revivals (page 78), makes the interesting observation that although “amazing physical manifestations occurred,” the principle one being that people were often physically prostrated, “these prostrations were very different from some current phenomena of people falling down when prayed for in healing meetings …”. Prostrations in the Ulster Revival attended deep agony over sin, then led to great outbursts of praise.

Among the many evangelists used in this spreading revival fire were H.G. Guinness and Brownlow North of Scotland. People not only collapsed or were struck down, but people fell into trances and others had visions as well. The Catholic leaders anticipated a rise in anti-Catholic sentiment, since this was a Protestant revival, but the opposite occurred. The normally strife ridden areas became trouble-free as hearts were turned to God and away from the politics of religion.

The Ulster 1859 Revival is credited with bringing 100,000 souls to Christ in one year in Ireland, but it spread to other parts of Great Britain as well. “Wales also saw 100’000 converts added to the church (one tenth of the total population). In Scotland a harvest of 300’000 souls came in. Then in England a greater harvest still.”

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

William Tennent Jnr Back from Dead

William Tennent Jnr died on March 8, 1777. He had been born 71 years earlier, on June 3, 1705; the second son of William Tennent Snr, in the county of Armagh, in Ireland. When William had just turned 13 he arrived with his family in America.

William Snr was a fiery evangelist who trained his sons to be men of God. He founded the famous “Log College“, the first Presbyterian theological institution in America.  (It was later to develop into Princeton University).

Here William Jnr and his three brothers were trained for the ministry, despite official opposition. Oldest brother, Gilbert, led his younger siblings to faith and they each became famous for their preaching. Brother John endured a near-death experience that crystallized his conversion and gave great zeal to his evangelistic efforts at Freehold, New Jersey. Under John’s passionate preaching, people would fall to their knees pleading for God’s mercy or sob uncontrollably. Some were carried from John’s meetings in a dead faint.

At the time of John’s conversion William Jnr was also very ill. William had been so intent on passing the requisite examinations by the Presbytery that his health suffered. He became like a living skeleton. One morning, while talking with his brother Gilbert, William died. He was checked for signs of life and finally laid out for burial.

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When the young doctor friend who had been attending William arrived to find him dead the young doctor was sure that there were the faintest signs of life, but no-one else could detect them. Thus it was that an argument ensued between Gilbert and the doctor that delayed the burial for three days. Just when the doctor had stalled as long as he could and William was about to be interred the “dead” man opened his eyes and groaned before falling back into a dead sleep again. His body was cold and hard, his lips discoloured and eyes sunken. But plans to bury him were put aside.

In due course William recovered, but it was a long process. He had no memory of anything prior to his “death” and could no longer read or write, or speak Latin, which he had used fluently before. Gradually his memories returned and he regained his full recollection and prior learning.

However, he also admitted to a glorious ‘after-death‘ experience. “I was accordingly wafted along, I know not how, till I beheld at a distance an ineffable glory, the impression of which on my mind it is impossible to communicate to mortal man. I immediately reflected on my happy change, and thought, Well, blessed be God! …  I saw an innumerable host of happy beings surrounding the inexpressible glory, in acts of adoration and joyous worship; but I did not see any bodily shape or representation in the glorious appearance. I heard things unutterable. I heard their songs and hallelujahs of thanksgiving and praise, with unspeakable rapture. I felt joy unutterable and full of glory.”

William was told he had to return to life, which greatly disappointed him. He woke to hear Gilbert and the doctor arguing and fainted with sorrow at missing the glories of heaven. Heaven’s sounds stayed with him every waking moment for more than three years.

When he took up preaching for John’s Freehold revival, then leading it after John’s death in 1732, he had great effect as a preacher. His near-death experience fired the imagination of his audiences and gave great authority to his words.

Visions and wonderful encounters with God and His Word occurred several times in William’s life. He had a vision of Christ while praying the woods and was carried back to the night meeting by the church elders, where he preached powerfully. Another time he had revelation of the scriptures and saw God’s divinity as he had never seen it before. Thirty souls were converted when next he preached.

One of the strangest experiences is when he awoke in the middle of the night “to discover that several toes of his foot had been cut off as if by some sharp instrument…” The missing digits were nowhere to be found.  William Jnr was convinced that the devil himself was responsible.  Others have suggested rats … or even an accident during sleepwalking.

William and Gilbert had profound impact on the Presbyterian churches in their Philadelphia Synod, promoting pursuit of sound conversion, strong faith and effective ministry. In the revival meetings which they were devoted to they avoided anything that was not soundly in line with Biblical doctrine, while allowing for visions, trances and revelations as long as they affirmed the truth, and did not draw one away from it.

And as we common in Presbyterian revivals, as seen in the Cambuslang Revival in Scotland, people would gather for Sacramental gatherings which ran for several days and which sought to affirm a person’s conviction of salvation, which was then celebrated by the taking of the Communion. In 1744 William used Sacramental gatherings in Hopewell and Maidenhead, in order to create a new church. Another biographical note regarding William is that he was a friend of the poor.

Rev William Tennent Jnr died in New Jersey at the age of 72.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Sir Robert Matheson Trips on His Salvation Call

Robert Edwin Matheson, died on January 27, 1926. He was by then the Right Hon Sir Robert Edwin Matheson, Privy Councillor, LLD, Registrar for Ireland.

While little information is readily available about this government appointee it is evident that he was a dedicated man who used his positions to advance the practical and social needs of Irish society. However he is recorded here because of the startling nature of his salvation testimony.

Don Prout nates that “Apart from his testimony in Twice Born Men, compiled by Hy Pickering, I have never heard of this gentleman. Nor, I suspect, have any who may read this. But his testimony is so remarkable it bears re-telling.”

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“In 1873 our family went for a holiday to Scotland…” he tells us. By this time he was a married man, recounting that he was with his wife, his brother and his father at the time.

They visited Lanark Old Abbey and while his wife and father settled down to paint and draw the old building Robert and his brother set off to find the graves of the martyrs. When that endeavour proved fruitless Robert decided to rejoin his wife, requiring that he cut through some long grass.

In the process of negotiating his way he tripped “and was thrown to the ground by a small grave stone concealed by grass… I felt a strong desire to see what it was that had caused my fall …” Clearing away the grass, “I saw to my astonishment and horror my own name – Robert Matheson! I could not fail to see that it was a direct message from God to me. I felt the letters of the inscription with my hand, so as to make sure it w as real…”

Matheson realised that if he had heard a voice or seen a vision he could have discounted it as a construct of his mind, but the very solid tangibility of this extraordinary find, by such random chance action meant he could not dismiss its impact.

The thought that he, too, like his namesake, would one day meet his Maker, haunted him and a few nights after his return to Ireland Matheson read the Bible in search of answers for the “deep anxiety about my soul”. His Bible opened by chance to 1John 5:1, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God”. He then felt the devil’s accusation that he would make a private commitment he could not live up to in public, so Matheson read on to verse 4, which solved that problem: “Whosoever is born of God overcomes the world: and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith”. He then stood by faith in the Word of God, claiming his salvation, despite any accusation the devil might throw at him.

Matheson’s life reflected the dedication of a man who lived in service of God. His mammoth compilation of the Special Report on Surnames in Ireland became a valued reference work at a time when governments sought to set up records which had previously only been kept by churches.

As Registrar General he set up the process of recording the citizens of Ireland and compiling faithful records. At the time of the 1901 Census, Matheson was described as “an energetic official”.

Later in his life Matheson noted, with regard to his earlier unusual challenge to salvation, “Many years have elapsed since that memorable night” and “… I have passed through many trials and many difficulties in my earthly journey … but God has been faithful, and soon I shall be in the Saviour’s presence to see the King in His beauty…”

Matheson saw the King in His beauty on January 27, 1926.

Find hundreds of succinct Church History posts at: http://chrisfieldblog.com/topics/ministry/church-history

This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com