Dr. Francis Nigel Lee entered eternity on Friday, 23 December 2011. On 5 December, he celebrated his 77th birthday and two days later, 48 years of marriage with his wife, Nellie.
Dr. Francis Nigel Lee stands out in so many ways. Professor, Doctor, Advocate, Rev. Francis Nigel Lee lived on four continents, mastered seven languages and visited 88 countries. He was a most serious scholar, accomplished linguist and dedicated Theologian. Francis Nigel Lee was quite possibly the most academically accomplished and degreed person in the world. Certainly I know of no one else who had more doctorates and more degrees than Francis Nigel Lee. He had far more letters after his name than in them. His letters included: Ph.D., Th.D., D.Phil., D.Min., D.Ed., L.L.D., Dr.Sac.Th., D.Jur., D.Litt., D.C.L., D.Hum. and more.
Law and Gospel
Nigel Lee was an Advocate, or Barrister, of the Supreme Court of South Africa, before becoming a minister of the Gospel in the Dutch Reformed Church and later of the Presbyterian Church in America and of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. He earned degrees and doctorates in languages, dogmatics, systematics, Missiology, Philosophy, Sociology, Ethics, Practical Theology and Pedagogics. His degrees were earned from the University of Cape Town, Stellenbosch University, University of Potchefstroom, University of the Orange Free State, Whitefield Theological Seminary, and Reformed Theological Seminary. Dr. Nigel Lee was an Ernest Oppenheimer Memorial Fellowship Scholar (1964 – 1966).
From Catholicism to Christ
Nigel Lee was born 5 December 1934, in Kendal, Cumbria, in Great Britain and raised in Cape Town as a Roman Catholic. He was converted to Christ in 1955, while working underground in a gold mine.
Confronting the Killer of His Father
I had the privilege of knowing Dr. Francis Nigel Lee, travelling with him on occasion and ministering in churches and conferences. One event which stands out was how he confronted the murderer of his father. It was July 1994, when his 85 year-old father was robbed, assaulted and left for dead in his home. Nigel Lee’s mother lost her sanity as a result of this and was permanently hospitalised. At this time Nigel Lee was a professor at Queensland Theological Seminary in Australia. When he arrived in Swellendam, the police informed him that they had apprehended the assailant responsible for his father’s death. Francis Nigel Lee requested to meet the suspect and confronted him: I am the only child of the old man who was left for dead behind the front door of his house in Barrydale on 10 July – whom you are accused of having assaulted. For many years my father was not a Christian. But there came a time in his life when he turned from his sins and submitted to Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour. That is why he is now in Heaven, and waiting for me to join him.
I assure you, that if you make your peace with God – whether you die right now of a heart attack, or are put to death for murder, or die naturally later on – you too will go to Heaven. I also assure you that my father, whom you are accused of having murdered, will be the first to welcome you there. However, if you do not repent and if you die in your sins, I assure you that you will spend eternity in hellfire and damnation – forever!
Whether you repent and become a Christian, or whether you harden yourself and die in your sins, know for sure that if found guilty by the court – I would want you to receive the maximum penalty. I fully support the death penalty for murder. I will plead no leniency whatsoever for you, even if you become a Christian. But I am offering you everlasting life in Heaven after you die, if you repent and come to Jesus Christ in Faith.
Three men died on a little hill called Calvary. Two were guilty robbers, but the one in the middle, the Lord Jesus Christ, was innocent. Robbers, as you know, include those who go around beating up old men and leaving them for dead after stealing from them. Both of these robbers jeered at the innocent Jesus, crucified between them.
But then, one of the robbers repented, turned to the other, and said: we are being condemned justly. For we are receiving the punishment due for our deeds. But this Man has done nothing wrong! Then the penitent robber said to Jesus: Lord, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom! So Jesus said to him: truly, I tell you, today you shall be with Me in paradise!
Do you not see yourself as one of those two robbers next to Jesus on Calvary? Will you die in your sins and go to hell like the unrepentant robber? Or will you, like the other robber, repent of your sins, receive Jesus as your Lord, and be assured by Him that you will go to Heaven when you die?
If you wish, I will leave this jail right now, but if you prefer, I would be privileged to show you right now how you too can become a Christian. Which is it to be?
The criminal could not look Nigel Lee in the eye, but he said: Sir; would you please show me how to become a Christian.
The four policemen who were witnessing this scene were in a state of amazement, as Dr. Nigel Lee requested: Officer, could you kindly get us a Bible. An officer went galloping out the room and returned almost immediately with a Bible with which Dr. Nigel Lee explained the way of Salvation to what he described as a wicked hell-deserving sinner.
He put his arm around the shoulder of the one responsible for his father’s death and prayed for him. Then the accused cried out: Lord, I am a miserable sinner! Please don’t let satan destroy me! I’m sorry for all my sins. Forgive me for the sake of Jesus who died for people like me.
The atmosphere in the jail was electric. Nigel Lee continued to maintain correspondence with the man after he was sentenced to prison for the death of his father. He became convinced that the man’s conversion was genuine.
Dr. Nigel Lee related this whole encounter to me as we were climbing Lions Head. Later he wrote an article on this for Africa Christian Action to publish.
On that same hike I asked Professor Nigel Lee, what was the best Bible translation that he would recommend. There followed a most fascinating lecture as we were scaling rocks and negotiating sheer drops. To summarise, Dr. Nigel Lee said that without a doubt the very best translation of the Bible is Dr. Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible into German, which he reads every day.
I knew that Professor Lee was a linguist and that he was as comfortable reading in German, as in Dutch, Afrikaans, English, Greek or Hebrew. So I then asked which English translation would he most highly recommend. After surveying the merits of the various English translations, he recommended the Geneva Bible.
That is unfortunately not so widely available today, I said. What translation that is most readily available would you recommend? After more explanations and analysis, Nigel Lee recommended the New King James Version (NKJV) as the most faithful translation since the Geneva Bible of 1560.
The Controversy over Christmas
I also asked him what his opinion was of the controversy over the date of Christmas. Until we reached the summit, he gave a most fascinating historical lecture, which spanned the centuries and concluded that our Lord was most certainly born on 25th December, and the church councils convened closest to the event were accurate. Whereas those who were questioning the date, actually had no solid reasons to do so.
Dr. Nigel Lee served as professor of Philosophy at Shelton College in New Jersey, and for over 20 years as professor of Theology and Church History at Queensland Presbyterian Theological College, Brisbane, Australia.
Professor Francis Nigel Lee was an enthusiastic Calvinist and steadfast advocate of the Post-millennial Eschatology of Victory. He was not optimistic concerning the immediate future, since he recognised the fragile state of the church, its dangerous tolerance of compromise, and its unwillingness to embrace God’s Law. He said: We may be headed into a dark age that could last for centuries. But in the end Christ will be victorious, and His people will inherit the earth.
Dr. Nigel Lee has left a legacy of published articles on the internet which you can find at Dr-fnlee.org. Nigel Lee was well aware of the overwhelming dangers of communism and Islam. Numerous of his publications dealt with the threats of communism, socialism and Islam which the church must face up to and overcome. Some of the hundreds of books and dissertations published by Dr. Nigel Lee include: The Covenantal Sabbath, Effective Evangelism, Origin and Destiny of Man, Communist Eschatology, Calvin on the Sciences, Mohammed in the Bible, The Sabbath Before Sinai, and his last book, which is due to be published by Nordskog this year, Certain Victory: The Biblical View of the Future.
A gifted orator, Dr. Nigel Lee had a dogmatic teaching style where he did not entertain discussion and interaction with his students in the classroom. When asked why he did not give time for questions, he replied that students were there to learn. He was there to teach. There was no need for discussion. Students need to pay attention and take careful notes. In the exams they need to repeat what they had been taught!
I never saw Nigel Lee read the Scriptures in a pulpit, or at a Conference lectern, without wearing a tie and jacket. However, somewhere into the sermons, or lectures, he would tend to undo his top shirt button, loosen his tie and frequently remove his jacket.
Dr. Nigel Lee and his wife Nellie had two daughters, Johanna and Anna-Marie. Johanna wrote that her father passed away peacefully after a prolonged struggle with Motor Neurone Disease. In October he was already wheelchair bound and when a panel of specialists confirmed his diagnosis, he calmly replied: Whether I die in two years, or two months, it is in God’s hands. My hope is in the next life.
A Giant of the Faith
We praise God for the memory of a steadfast friend of our Mission, a dynamic champion of the Reformed Faith, and we are grateful for the legacy that he has left in his published scholarship, which so clearly lays out sound Biblical teaching on all areas of life.
“Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.” Daniel 12:3