The formation of the Free Presbyterian Church

“Glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen,” Luke 2:20.

Read Psalm 145.

Stream or download Sacred memories of God’s goodness Pt 2

We come to the second part of our story of the Free Presbyterian Church. In the first part we sought to show you how, in the providence of God, a series of events in the religious affairs of Ulster in the early years of the last century preceded the formation of the Free Presbyterian Church.

Just as events in Egypt prepared the people for that glorious upheaval and departure from their captivity, so the Lord in like fashion ordered the spiritual affairs of Ulster in the 1920s and 1930s in preparation for the formation of a new and vigorous separated, Reformed witness in Ulster by which the Lord would take the battle to the enemy.


There are parallels with the state of Israel in Egypt and God’s people in Ulster back then.
There was, to a great degree, a spirit of complacency amongst both Israel and Christians here in the 1930s – 1950s.

Exodus 2:12-14 records a spirit of contentment under the oppression of Egypt and a rejection of any intervention by the one who was to be God’s deliverer. There was an ignorance of God’s purpose amongst God’s people. As Stephen declares in his speech before the Sanhedrin in

Acts 7:25. “For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not.”

There was also an obvious ignorance amongst Christians in Ulster in those days of controversy. Little support was given to the protesters within the Irish Presbyterian Church and even less given to those who separated and formed the Evangelical Presbyterian Church!
There was just no awareness of God’s purpose in separation.

Further evidence of Israel’s complacency is seen in the face of increasing cruelty by Pharaoh in Stephen’s statement in Acts 7:19. “The same dealt subtilly with our kindred, and evil entreated our fathers, so that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live.” Note the words: “So that they cast out their young children, to the end they might not live.” The Israelite parents complied with the wicked and cruel demands of Pharaoh!


So it was in Ulster in some 90 years ago! The perverted theology of J E Davey was embraced virtually unchallenged by the Presbyterian Church and the rising generation was willingly sacrificed to that soul-damning doctrine!

But as the cruelties of Pharaoh in the end aroused and awakened Israel to their state of bondage, likewise there arose a like awareness, at least to a measure, in Ulster, not just before the Free Presbyterian Church was formed but in the subsequent years as its witness drew the attention of Christians to just what was happening in the ecclesiastical world! “And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them,” Exodus 2:23-25.

I believe that the ‘groaning’ of God’s people began some time before 1951 as God prepared to do “a new thing in Ulster.” Indeed, that season of prayer we mentioned in our first message, when Ian Paisley and John Douglas and two other men, waited upon God and ‘sighed and cried’ for His blessing and were heard, was an evidence of that stirring!

The Free Presbyterian Church was formed in war!

The controversy in Crossgar in March 1951 was centred upon the gospel! That has been challenged by some in the Irish Presbyterian Church. They say that they had no objections to a gospel mission but it was the preacher, Ian Paisley, they objected to.

The elders of the vacant Lissara congregation in Crossgar had witnessed the blessing of God upon Ian Paisley as he preached in the months following the prayer meeting of October 1949. They had seen the wonderful interest stirred amongst people, the crowds that had flocked to his missions and, above all, the souls that had been saved. They desired to see something of that blessing amongst their flock in Lissara.

However, the Presbytery of Down did not share their desire. They did not like Ian Paisley’s message. WHY? For the simple reason that they were disciples of the ‘new gospel’ then prevalent within the Irish Presbyterian Church, the gospel of J E Davey! Ian Paisley was preaching against the modernism and the ecumenism of Irish Presbyterianism and the Presbytery of Down, amongst many others, did not like it!

Dr Davey’s gospel was a blasphemous attack upon the Biblical record of the ‘good news of salvation’!

Listen to some of the things Davey said and wrote. Let me quote again from Dr Paisley’s sermon, which he preached in 1983, on Davey’s heresy.

“Nineteen hundred and twenty-one is an important year, because that year Professor J. E. Davey, Master of Arts and Bachelor of Divinity, delivered a series of lectures known as the Kerry lectures. The subject was ‘The Changing Vesture of the Faith – Studies in the Origins and Development of Christian Forms of Belief, Institution and Observance’. These lectures were published. Let me read you a few extracts and you will realise the type of heresy that

Professor Davey was propagating:
‘The faith which is found to depend on Book or Church has put these things in place of God; the visible in place of the invisible on whom alone faith can depend, and such idolatry is always helpless in the face of reason and progress.’

So Professor Davey said it was idolatry to put your faith in the Blessed Book of God. ‘It was idolatry’. Just as evil to bow before the graven image as to take out the Bible and believe its Precious Truth and its Divinely revealed doctrine.

Let me give you another extract from this same publication: ‘Protestants’ insistence on the Sacred Book which touches us most closely has been progressively modified under the attacks of modern scholarship. To the quest for an external Infallibility there is no answer. Throughout all the search of men for such an external Infallibility the heavens are as brass, and all the Infallibilities which men have laboriously pieced together crumble away at the touch of criticism.’

I’m glad my old Bible has not crumbled away at the touch of criticism. Professor Davey’s body is today eaten by the skin worms; his soul is in Hell in the torments of the damned, if this Book is right, but, thank God, God’s Truth is marching on and marching on to final and blessed victory.

Let us go on. In page 27 of this book, he makes a terrible indictment, he says: ‘The new vigour of Rome after the Reformation, evidenced especially in the counter-Reformation in all its aspects, and in the great missionary activities in which Rome gave the lead to Protestantism is a sure sign that in Romanism there are elements of life as genuine as in the opposing faith.’ (Shades of Ecumenism) that ‘Romanism has elements of life as genuine as lies in the heart of Protestantism.’

Dr Paisley further quoted Davey. “Professor Davey says, ‘The centre of Protestantism’s orthodox system is a doctrine of atonement, resting upon a theory of imputation which is only another form of Transubstantiation.’ So he likens the doctrine that Christ was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him, to the idolatry of the Mass. “God does actually take responsibility for all things present and to come, but imputation is not only an unsuitable word in virtue of its commercial derivation, but it stands for an absurd theory of what actually happens in experience, and it is almost an exact parallel to the Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation. Each of these two branches of Christendom possessing the same rationality at the very centre of its system of salvation. It is surely then not for us to sneer at others ’till at least our own house has been set in order.’

hink of it, that glorious doctrine so ably set forth in our Catechism, ‘What is Justification?’ ‘It is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardoneth all our sins and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the Righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.’
He goes on in the book to say, ‘We can’t even be certain there is a God at all; no one can be certain of the Being of God’; and he tells us that ‘Christian Science and Spiritism are great vital movements. They testify to a new and living religious spirit seeking after God. These movements are not purely speculative, they are doing positive good, making better, stronger and wiser men and women.’ So when that was published the Bible Standards League knew, and Mr. Hunter (Rev James Hunter) knew, the battle-lines were really drawn. The next year Professor Davey lectured to the Students’ Christian Movement, and he published his lectures under the title, ‘Our Faith in God through Jesus Christ, Its reasonableness, necessity, effectiveness and finality,’ and again we have the poison. On page 61 in answer to the great Gospel question, ‘What think ye of Christ? Whose Son is He?’, Professor Davey tells the students, ‘Christ is the decentest chap we know of.’ Think of that! Christ the Eternal Son of the Everlasting Father, the One Who was and is and forever will be; the One Who in the Eternity of the past was in the bosom of the Father, co-equal and co-Eternal in the Blessed relationship of the Trinity, and that One Who humbled Himself and came down to this earth and dwelt among men, that One of Whom Paul could write, ‘Great is the Mystery of Godliness, God manifest in the flesh.’ J. Ernest Davey says ‘He is the decentest chap we know of.’ And he goes on in this book to tell us that ‘we don’t accept the views of Christ as final, not at all. In Christ we have a perfect spirit, a perfect life, a final faith in the imperfect vestments, social, historical and intellectual, of a provincial Judaism and apocalyptical peasant piety. That is, that we must penetrate beneath the clothes to the abiding reality for our final faith. This finality lies and will lie so far as our mind can conceive the problem and the future at all in the moral finality of His spirit.’”

We further quote from Dr paisley’s 1983 sermon. “When a student, Mr. W. J. Grier, Bachelor of Arts, returned from doing two years in Princetown Seminary, and came to finish his final year in Assembly’s College, he was aghast at what Professor Davey was teaching. Another student, Mr. Nesbitt, was also aghast at the statements which the Professor was making. The Rev. W. A. Nesbitt affirmed that when he was a student in Assembly’s College, one day Professor Davey said, ‘The Jewish view was that Jesus was the illegitimate son of Joseph and Mary, and I accept that view.’ Mary was a strumpet and our Lord a bastard, according to Professor Davey.

Another student, who is now settled in a Church, stated that ‘he himself did not believe in the Virgin Birth, neither did Professor Davey.’

On another occasion the Professor said, ‘Jesus had a downward tendency which our forefathers would call original sin, but which we would call the dregs of evolution.’ So the Lord came from a monkey according to Professor Davey.’ ”

This was Davey’s gospel! I urge you to read Dr paisley’s full sermon which is available here online.

To each minister and elder of the Free Presbyterian Church there comes, as part of their ordination oath, a solemn reminder of the obligation God laid upon us to maintain the battle against apostasy commenced in 1951.

Each minister and elder is asked: “Will you maintain with all the strength God shall give you the truly Scriptural separation position of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster and vigorously withstand the apostasy of Irish Presbyterianism exhorting God’s people to obey the teaching and commandment of 1 Timothy 6:3-5.”

Oh that every man, minister, elder and student would cry out in response to this question with all the fervour of Luther long ago: ‘Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.’

Davey’s gospel was a complete contradiction of Biblical Christianity and the rediscovered glorious truth which emerged at the Reformation, brought to light again by the merciful Providence of God. J E Davey was little more than an advocate of Popery in the guise, a thin one at that, of a Presbyterian minister.

It was little wonder that the Down Presbytery of the Irish Presbyterian Church refused to have Ian Paisley preach the message of the Bible in Lissara church hall!

On the Free Presbyterian website we can find these words.

“Early in 1950, the Committee of the Crossgar Mission Hall approached the 24-year-old Rev. Ian Paisley to determine whether he would conduct a Gospel Campaign in the town. After careful consideration and prayer, the date was fixed for February 1951. The Campaign Committee, the majority of whom were office-bearers or members of Lissara Presbyterian Church, feeling that the Mission Hall would be too small, decided to ask their Kirk Session for the use of the local Presbyterian Church hall for the campaign. This was unanimously granted at a meeting of Session.

However, in what local people saw as evidence of the liberal agenda that was becoming increasingly evident in their church, the Down Presbytery meeting on Monday January 8th 1951 ruled that the mission should not go ahead in Lissara Church hall. It is doubtful that the local elders were ever properly informed of this because the plans for the mission continued. Certainly the ordinary members knew nothing about the ruling.

Matters were drawn sharply to a head when on the evening of Saturday 3rd February 1951, just 90 minutes prior to a march of witness to advertise the mission, Down Presbytery held a special meeting to which Lissara’s Church Session were summoned. At this meeting the Moderator of Down Presbytery demanded that the Lissara Session reverse their decision to grant the use of the church hall to the missioners.

The evangelicals, who had already been battling against liberalism in their own congregation, saw these moves as further evidence of the downward trend in their denomination. They could not believe that the Presbytery would ban a gospel mission in their own church hall. For two of the elders, Hugh James Adams and George K. Gibson the high-handedness of the Presbytery was too much. They refused what they saw as an anti-gospel demand by Presbytery officers to immediately cancel the gospel campaign. For this they were suspended.
These events were as yet unknown to those who were at that time gathered for a March of Witness. They made their way to Lissara Church Hall only to discover that the Down Presbytery had closed the doors of the hall to the preaching of the gospel and to them. One of the abiding memories of those who were on that March of Witness is having to shelter from torrential rain in the porch of their own church hall from which they had been locked out.
The Mission however, went on in the Killyleagh Street Mission Hall and was blessed of God in the salvation of 94 precious souls. Dr. Paisley speaking in the Crossgar Church in 1997 said, ‘My memory of those meetings was not the packed house that we had overflowing each evening, the great spirit of blessing and the joy of leading precious souls to Christ but it was of the continued sessions of prayer – one on Tuesday night and one on Friday night when we went on past midnight and past two o’clock in earnest intercessions before God. For a crisis would arise at the end of the campaign- back to the Church that put out the light of the gospel or outside the camp to bear reproach for the Lord Jesus Christ. That was the decision and choice that had to be made.’ ”

Thus war began! Under Ian Paisley’s leadership, the Free Presbyterian Church continued to challenge the apostasy of the Irish Presbyterian Church which had in 1948, become one of the foundation members of the World Council of Churches.

An example of that challenge may be seen in the events of 1953. JE Davey was elected and installed as moderator of the Irish Presbyterian Church. It was an act as wicked and as damning as the acceptance of the thirty pieces of silver by Judas! I believe that it was then, if it was not already written over that denomination, that ‘ICABOD’ was written large over the Irish Presbyterian Church.


In 1953, Ian Paisley led his Ravenhill congregation in a march down to High Street in the centre of Belfast where there was large open space, a reminder of the Belfast blitz of some 12 year earlier, and there held a protest against the actions of the General Assembly in installing Davey as its moderator and burned a number of his writings in protest.

Dr Paisley busily engaged in evangelism and new congregations were formed. Cabra, now Hebron congregation in Ballymoney, was formed in 1951, after a mission in Cabra schoolhouse at which 100 people were converted.

Mr. Sandy McAuley and his two sons, Ansy and Billy, had been saved in Faith Mission meetings some time earlier. This had a great impact on the life of Mr. McAuley and his family. Following his conversion Mr. McAuley held cottage meetings in his home where the Gospel was preached faithfully each Sunday evening.

The McAuley family attended Drumreagh Presbyterian Church where Mr. McAuley was the Clerk of Session and Superintendent of the Sunday School and had a well-attended Bible Class. When strong allegations arose about the immoral conduct of the minister of that congregation, Sandy was approached about the matter by some church members. He felt that he should visit the minister to inform him that such rumours were in circulation. The minister adamantly denied all allegations and indeed treated Mr. McAuley as if he were the accuser.


Sometime later he arrived at the McAuley farm with two of his elders. It was clear to Mr. McAuley that he was in a drunken state. The minister, who was reputed to be something of an amateur boxer, beat Sandy brutally and left him battered and bleeding. His daughter, Miss Sadie McAuley, remembers seeing her father later that evening and hardly being able to recognise him because of the swelling and bruises on his face.

Mr McAuley first heard Rev. Ian Paisley at an Orange rally in Ballymena. But then Mr. McAuley and other Cabra men heard Rev. Ian Paisley’s powerful preaching in Crossgar and it caused them to long for a mission in their own area. They arranged for the campaign to be held in the old schoolhouse. It was from that mission that the Free Presbyterian Church in Cabra was constituted on Saturday, 23 rd June, 1951 at 3.30 pm, as the third congregation of the Free Presbyterian Church, Crossgar and Ravenhill being the first and second congregations.
We read on the Website of Hebron FPC  the following account of the constitution service.

“The meeting place was a large tent erected in Mr. William Stevenson’s field just beside the old Schoolhouse. Originally the plan was to start the church in the Schoolhouse where the mission had been held. When it became clear that the people were seceding from the Presbyterian church to form a Free Presbyterian congregation, the old school building was closed to them.

The tent, holding about four hundred people, was well filled for the constitution service. Just before the sermon, Rev. J.G. Leitch MA and Rev. W. J. Hemphill BA, ministers of the Route Presbytery, arrived ‘to spy out the land.’ They looked very bewildered as they saw the huge crowd gathered and seemed not too comfortable as they had to take their seats directly below the platform, such was the large crowd. During the service, when the congregation shouted a hearty ‘hallelujah,’ they joined in the shout, carried away perhaps by the intense zeal of the people.

Rev. Ian Paisley delivered the constitution sermon. He spoke powerfully against modernism, apostasy and the World Council of Churches. He also spoke out against Professor Davey who denied the Virgin Birth of Christ and who had been acquitted, in 1927, of heresy charges by the General Assembly of the Irish Presbyterian Church. This was followed by prayer when the whole future of the work in Cabra was committed into the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ, the great King and Head of the Church. Then Mr. James Atkinson, Mr. Alexander McAuley, Mr. William Stevenson and Mr. Albert Hanna, the seceding elders, answered the prescribed questions and subscribed to the Confession of Faith. They were inducted into their offices and given the right hand of fellowship by Rev. George Stears and Rev. Ian R. K. Paisley.

Rev. Stears then delivered a solemn charge to the elders and congregation. The service, which lasted for two hours, was brought to an end by prayer and the benediction offered by Rev. J. Kyle Paisley from Ballymena. A sumptuous tea was then served by the ladies of the congregation.

After the tea, greetings to the new congregation were conveyed from the other congregations of Ravenhill and Crossgar and from friends in Ballymena, Dundonald and Rathfriland.”

Rasharkin FPC was formed shortly after when a division took place in the local Presbyterian Church. Here is an extract from the history on its webpage.

“Those families and individuals who left the Presbyterian Church met in an old barn, belonging to Mr Daniel Wallace. Dr. Paisley, who at that time had been preaching in Cabra, was invited to conduct a Service. After this meeting the people decided to form themselves into a congregation of the Free Presbyterian Church, and on 18 August 1951, the congregation was formally constituted, the same year as the Denomination itself was brought into existence.

The barn they had worshipped in was extensively renovated and made ready for use as a Church. Those in opposition to the new work nicknamed the congregation ‘barn rats’. Rev. Cecil Menary was the first Minister of the congregation, and the first Session consisted of Daniel Wallace, William Rea and Samuel Logan.

The following February Dr. Paisley conducted a Gospel Mission. The power of God’s Holy Spirit was manifested, and many people, young and old, were saved. The outcome of that Mission was that over forty souls put their trust in the Saviour, including Mr Bobby Wilson, a past Clerk of Session.”

Thus four Free Presbyterian congregation were born in the first year. Each of those early congregations had a birth in the fires of evangelism.

Later in 1952, Rev Paisley had a tent mission down at the roundabout at the junction of Cregagh Road, Mount Merrion Avenue and Ladas Drive. As a result of that Mount Merrion congregation was constituted on 2nd August 1952 as the 5th congregation. Dr Paisley negotiated and purchased the plot of ground, which was previously an allotment, and the church building has been on the same site ever since.  Rev. John Douglas and Rev. S. B. Cooke were involved from the start of the work and Rev. Cooke’s was its first minister.
Trinity Free Presbyterian Church in Portavogie, was born out of revival. The commencement of the witness can be traced back to 1954 when Dr. I R K Paisley was invited by a number of Presbyterian families to conduct services each Lord’s day in Ballyhalbert Orange Hall. These families then petitioned the Presbytery of the Free Presbyterian Church to be formed into a congregation. In 1955, at a meeting presided over by Dr. Paisley, it was decided to secure ground and commence a building fund. A site for a building in the village of Portavogie was purchased in 1956. The congregation met on the site in January 1957, when the Moderator cut the first sod. The building was erected entirely by voluntary labour by men of the congregation.

The first building was opened in September 1958. Approximately 450 people gathered to attend that opening ceremony and the ordination and installation of their first minister. Rev. John Douglas.

Later that same year, 1957, Dr. Ian Paisley held missions in Lisburn Orange Hall and afterwards in Derriaghy Mission Hall. A few brethren with a burden for souls met for prayer in an old cottage on the Mosside Road, Dunmurry. A Gospel Mission was planned for Dunmurry on the site where the new Free Presbyterian Church would be opened.

Despite the earlier successes in the gospel, the Free Presbyterian Church entered a period which we might likened unto the wilderness journey of Israel. From the early events in Ballymoney and Rasharkin etc., until the early 1960s, there seemed to be little happening, though in the wisdom of God a work of preparation was taking place. A great longing for revival blessing began to fall upon many in Ulster. I can recall the longing for God’s blessing that there was upon the people amongst whom God had placed me.
Prayer was answered and that in a most unexpected manner.

It is to those times we will turn in our next message.