Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Paisley and the Covenanters

"...Knowing about the covenanters and seeing graves of people who lost their lives because of their beliefs made the word heritage understandable..."

(Thanks to Jack Greenald for this article)

In his farewell speech, Ian Paisley paid tribute to his father, a Baptist Pastor, and his mother, who he said was ‘of Covenanter pedigree’. According to Ian Paisley, the Covenanters have been a central influence in his life and career. One commentator speaks of a religious ideology which Paisley imbued in his youth which originates ‘in the bleak Scottish Borders and the lush meadows of Ayrshire with the seventeenth century Covenanters’.

Paisley makes numerous references to the Covenanters in his preaching. In a sermon preached in 1982, he said: ‘We as Presbyterians today rejoice in the Covenanting struggle. We thank God for Richard Cameron the Lion of the Covenant. We bless God for the galaxy of the Covenanting martyrs. What did they do? They opposed the King. They opposed his Parliament. They opposed the Magistrates. They opposed the soldiers in the Army. They opposed the authority - the constituted authority law forces of the Crown’.

In another sermon he said: ‘There is in my heart a wonderful affinity with Richard Cameron’. And he described the Covenanters as ‘bold, courageous, strong men ... these were not the putty paper men of the 20th century – these were the rugged men of the Reformation’.

At the Wigtown Book Festival in 2007, Paisley spoke of the Wigtown martyrs, and said that their deaths had ‘influenced his life’. He was reported as saying: ‘Margaret Wilson and Margaret McLauchlan have obtained in our time and in the time of our fathers a celebrity such as their accusers, their judges, their persecutors and their cruel murderers never dreamed of ... I believe that the blood of the martyrs is the seed that has brought a blessing to my country and to yours ... Ulster, the Province that I love and you in Scotland owe our freedoms to these women and others who fought the battle in their day and who refused to bow the knee to false religion, and were determined to do as God would have them do’.

In 1988 Paisley republished a copy of the National Covenant of 1638. In the introductory notes he wrote: ‘The binding of ourselves under God in solemn and holy covenant to resist the tyranny of Rome and to stand true to the principles of the Protestant Reformation is our task today as it was the Covenanters task in their day ... All who accept the Scriptures as the Word of God, must renounce the errors condemned by the Covenants and contend for the truths those who subscribed them pledged themselves to maintain’.

When his children were growing up Paisley took them on holidays to Scotland to visit Covenanter graves. In her biography of her father, Rhonda Paisley wrote: ‘Many a holiday we spent trekking over the moors to be photographed at some covenanter’s grave in Scotland. It was always cold and blowy and the ground uneven and difficult to walk over. There were cowpats galore, and the occasional bull to navigate gingerly – all just to look at some weathered, green, moss-covered stone with a railing around it... I do appreciate the sacrifice made for religious freedom and I am thankful for those men and women of the past who died because of their faith... Knowing about the covenanters and seeing graves of people who lost their lives because of their beliefs made the word ‘heritage’ understandable’.

(Illustration above is an oil painting I found one day when clearing out an old cupboard in the GCAS Design studio in Belfast - don't know who the artist was, but it's a great piece of work)