In the home of Jim Irwin in Newtownards, on Thursday night at 9:00 P.M., December 19, 1935, a young man of sixteen was saved through the truth of Romans 5:6, “Christ died for the ungodly.” In over 45 years of preaching the gospel, Sydney Maxwell seldom preached without referring to that happy night. To him the story never grew old, nor did it ever become boring to the listeners, for it was told out of a heart that was filled with Christ.
Sydney had no gospel background. His only religious training was in the formal Church of Ireland where the need of the new birth was never preached. Under the awakening preaching of Mr. George Olley, a Baptist pastor of Newtownards, Sydney came under conviction of sin and learned his need of a personal Savior.
As Sydney was on his knees that night in 1935, with the Bible open at Romans 5:6, Mr. Olley asked him what he could see in the verse. “Mr. Olley,” he answered, “Christ died for me.” The next question was, “What are you going to do about it?” The answer was, “I am going to trust the Man who died for me.” Then Mr. Olley asked, “Do you think you could thank the Lord for dying for you?” The immediate response was, “I think I could.” For the first time in his life, Sydney prayed. He often said, “To this good day, I cannot tell you what I said. I only know that I thanked the Lord Jesus for dying for me.”
He went home to find his parents sitting in the family living room. Hesitantly, he stopped on his way to his own room and said, “I trusted Christ as my Savior tonight.” His mother went on with her knitting and his father continued to read his newspaper. Later, when Sydney asked for fellowship in the Newtownards assembly, the op position grew so great in the home that his clothes were left at the door. But as the years passed, he had the great joy of seeing his parents saved. One of the greatest thrills of his life was to sit down beside his dear aged father at the Lord’s supper to break bread together as two believers.
Soon after his salvation, he became acquainted with Christian young men who had a great zeal for souls. Along with John Gray and other men, the “Gospel Lightbearers Testimony Band” was formed to preach on street corners and carry the gospel to surrounding towns. Employed at the aircraft factory in Belfast as an inspector, Sydney came in contact with Tom Bentley and a group of Christians who met regularly at lunchtime for Bible readings. The precious truths of assembly gathering deeply impressed his heart. Going down the steps of the hall at the Christmas conference time, Sydney turned and said, “Tom, it’s the assembly for me.” Those simple words characterized the life of Sydney Maxwell.
Through many years, I shared as many as 30 series of meetings in gospel and ministry with Sydney. As an evangelist, his gospel spirit stirred me deeply. As many times as I heard him preach, I never wearied of listening, for he was stirring, awakening, and Christ-exalting in all his preaching. When it was my lot to follow him in preaching, I felt reluctant, knowing that I could not rise to his level, and yet I was so stirred that I was eager to follow him. We shared in the joy of many precious souls saved for eternity.