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.
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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