Two months ago, evangelical churches learned of the sudden homecall of Rev. Graham Harrison. Mr Harrison was one of a handful of deeply spiritual, highly influential Reformed church leaders, much used by God in the UK over the last 40 years. Evangelical Times is pleased to feature this tribute published in The Banner of Truth (July 2013 edition; with kind permission).
On the morning of Monday 20 May, at his home in Newport, Monmouthshire, Graham Harrison was called in to the presence of the Lord, whom he had served most faithfully. Even as we mourn his death, many people, myself included, have reason to be grateful to God for the impact of his life and ministry.
I was never a member of Emmanuel Evangelical Church, Newport, in Wales, where he ministered for almost 49 years, but I often attended the church and sat under his preaching. While he was never given to pulpit histrionics, his authoritative, pastorally sensitive and gospel-centred ministry never ceased to move me.
His pattern was to preach a series of sermons on a Bible book on Sunday mornings and preach one-off evangelistic messages in the evenings. His evangelistic preaching was invariably fresh, punchy and gripping.
Born in Cardiff and raised in a Christian home, Graham Harrison heard the gospel in Grangetown Baptist Church. He studied at the University of Aberystwyth and was active in the IVF. He proceeded to Regents Park Baptist College in Oxford, where he received his MPhil degree for a thesis on baptism.
During his long ministry in Newport, he built up the church to one of the strongest in the Associating Churches in Wales. Of all of us Welsh preachers, Graham had the most magnificent rich voice. It would have made an actor envious!
One of the reasons why I opted to study at the London Theological Seminary (1988-90) was that Graham Harrison was one of the lecturers. He used to visit the seminary every other week during term time to teach Christian doctrine or systematic theology.
His lectures were sound, clear and insightful, the product of wide and deep reading in the field of systematics. But he was ever the pastor-theologian and would give plenty of time for students to discuss the pastoral relevance of whatever subject he had been teaching. In discussion his intellect was sharp and his wit dry. ‘Know-it-all’ students were soon cut down to size!
Graham also taught at the Evangelical Movement of Wales school of theology (Theological Training Course), teaching distance learners and then in gatherings for an intense week of study at Easter and again in the summer.
Men who became fine preachers were helped by his teaching and his ability to lead discussions. He spoke at conferences at Bala and at Aberystwyth, and most helpfully gave addresses at the Puritan and Westminster Conferences. He also travelled across the world speaking at churches of former students.
Graham Harrison was a shy man and could sometimes seem a little forbidding to those who did not know him well. But this did not stop him from throwing himself into the every-day work of pastoral ministry.
He was no extrovert, but in his own way was a real people-person and had a deep and abiding love for the flock at Emmanuel. This only really struck me when I did a couple of ‘summer pastorates’ at Emmanuel when he was on sabbatical.
I would do a little pastoral visiting and elderly church members would speak warmly of their minister, telling of his regular visits and the support he had given them during times of sorrow and trial.
The powerful preacher and incisive lecturer was above all a local church pastor. That is what made him such a fine role model for budding ministers of the gospel.
One great achievement of Graham’s was his work with Paul Cook in producing the hymnbook Christian hymns, in its first and second editions. He contributed five fine hymns in the first edition and two others in the second. Graham Harrison became an authority on hymnology.
He also wrote a book of his sermons on the early chapters of Genesis, Beginning at the beginning, which was published by Bryntirion Press.
Graham Harrison was a ‘Lloyd-Jones man’. Not that he followed Dr Lloyd-Jones’ teaching slavishly (he was a Baptist after all), but he was a big admirer of ‘the Doctor’.
We had him speak at Providence Baptist Church, Westbury, on ‘Martyn Lloyd-Jones — 1966 and today’, back in 2006, the 40th anniversary of Lloyd-Jones’ call for evangelical unity. Graham shared Lloyd-Jones’ great emphasis on the need for the empowering of the Spirit in the church.
While a student at the London Theological Seminary, I wrote a thesis on ‘The sealing of the Spirit’ under his guidance.
The comments he offered on my work were typical of the man: ‘May this subject not simply interest your mind but grip your soul and drive you increasingly to pray for its fulfilment in your own experience. Remember, there is always more of God’.
Just how much more, Graham Harrison is only beginning to realise now that he is absent from the body, but present with his Lord in glory.
We thank God for the life and ministry of his servant and pray that Graham’s wife Eluned, and his daughter Nia van Baalen and her family, will be comforted by the hope of the gospel at this time.
Guy Davies, with Geoff Thomas