Sunday, 21 January 2018

The Angels’ Song

Over a world of sorrow
Are angels bending low,
Stooping to soothe and comfort
Hearts that are filled with woe.

Piercing the war cloud’s thunder,
They come from the realms of light;
They have heard the sighs and groanings
In the gloom of sorrow’s night.

Over the din of battle.
With its cries of grief and pain,
The angels of peace are singing
That wonderful refrain.

They sing of the Prince of Glory
Who came as a little child;
They tell once again the story
Of Christ the undefiled.

And many a weary warrior
Pauses to think and pray;
Rememb’ring loved ones waiting
In homes so far away.

And far from the scenes of battle.
In fancy oft they roam,
Seeing their dear ones spending
Christinas in home, sweet home.

While mothers cease their weeping
To hear the angels’ song,
And hearts oppressed by sorrow,
Echo the cry, “how long!”

How long, O Lord, till strivings
And wars for ever cease?
How long till the war-clouds scatter
Before the star of peace?


Poem: The Witness, 28th December 1917.
Image: Postcard image found at

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The Presbyterian Church Instrumental Music Controversy pt 9


Sir, — A recent article in “The Witness” on the instrumental music controversy of some forty years ago prompts me to request from you space for a brief reference to the same and kindred innovations of that period. The tone of the article indicates that the writer attaches no more importance to the controversies than that they furnished matter for exciting debates; but as one of the very few who took part in the opposition to the innovations then being surreptitiously introduced, and who (unlike the great majority of my colleagues) has been spared to note the march of events consequent on the struggle to be freed from irksome restrictions, I would like space to point out to the new generation of Irish Presbyterians (now habituated to the teaching of the apostles of so-called liberty) that, even admitting there is no inherent evil in the use of instruments in public praise service, and that their use might be justified, could the plea be sustained that their use would make more general the vocal expression of praise in the congregations — which assumption has certainly not been verified, and that as regards hymns, were they Scriptural — which many of them are not, and only a very few in keeping with what the more majestic public worship of this great Creator demands; nor could serious objection be taken to the wearing of the Geneva gown in the pulpit, if it added to the efficacy of the Divine message; but the objection to all these, which, in my rough way, I expressed in the Assembly debates, lies in the fact that one and all of them were so many indications of ecclesiastical, spiritual, and worldly pride, and a craven and unworthy desire to ape the practices of the semi-deformed and more aristocratic Prelatic Church, and by their adoption made it easy to slide into conformity to the false doctrines of the latter. By the adoption as a Church of these forms and practices in our public worship we have incurred the humiliating pity of those we are bent on imitating, and they are justified in saying — as they do — “You ill-instructed and plebeian Christians are, at long-last, recognising that, in your ignorance, you have, throughout all your Church history, rejected so much that is true and beautiful in worship, and are now, in your cheap, tawdry way, trying to imitate us. To my mind and that of many — even of, the Conformist Presbyterians of the present day — the latest aping of the Prelatic Churches in dubbing the Moderator of Assembly “Right reverend” marks another and, so far, the most contemptible sign of declension from the old Christian manliness of the Irish Presbyterian Church, What next? — I am, &c.,

Barley Park, Limavady, January 8, 1918.

[We insert this letter out of respect to Mr. Boyd, whom we remember as one of the most prominent opponents of instruments during the controversy, but it will be understood that in the historical retrospect of the discussion in the Assembly we had no intention or wish to revive the subject, and we cannot publish any other letter that might have that effect – Ed. “W.”]

From The Witness, 11th January 1918.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

The Presbyterian Church Instrumental Music Controversy pt 8


I cannot say how my readers feel, but as I turn my mind and pen to the instrumental music controversy I sometimes think I am delving into a remote past at a time when digging in the present and preparing for the future would be more appropriate work. Even though I have reached the ’eighties in my tortoise-like progress, and that represents only a little more than a generation, I occasionally feel that I am dealing with a period of history as remote as the early Georges, and that interest in it has vanished. It is like mimic warfare in the midst of a great war or recording the memories of old history while we are making new. And yet the times and the story have a fascination for me, and its memories make me proud that I lived in and through such times and mingled with such men. It was in its own way, so far at least as the Church is concerned, a period of war. But it was different from the present war in that it was a contest for principles, not for power; for truth rather than victory, for the faith delivered to the saints as each side understood it. The supporters of one side inscribed “Liberty” on their standards, and the friends of the other inscribed “Purity” on their Banner; and under each they fought with an intensity of earnestness and feeling which the present generation could not realise, and with a sincerity of conviction that gave a crown to the conflict. While the friends of liberty disclaimed the monopoly of purity by their opponents, the friends of purity disclaimed any interference with liberty except in so far as in their judgment liberty meant an encroachment on what they regarded as Bible truth. And when the time came that the warfare came to an end the defeated party laid down its arms with the consciousness that they had done their duty and made their hopeless protest.

I am afraid I have spoiled the story in the telling, and lost that sense of perspective and prospective that should mark the historian, and have dwelt too long on the earlier period and incidents at the sacrifice of the general interest and proportionate importance. My excuse for that is that I lived and grew up in the midst of it; and as I looked over the Minutes and the files of “The Witness” so many of the passing incidents rose to my mind not in their relative, but in their actual proportions, with all their original significance and importance. In consequence I have now only reached the central stage of the controversy — namely, the beginning of the ’eighties. The question first came before the Assembly in 1868, and it was not till we were well advanced in the ’nineties that instrumental music ceased to figure in the Minutes’ index. But the real struggle ended in 1885, when, by a majority of twenty-one, the Assembly refused to enforce discipline, after which there were two periods of truce, failure on the part of the congregations using the instruments to abandon them, and the condition of things with which the present generation is familiar, in which liberty and purity, in the best sense of both words, reign supreme.

In 1880 there was the usual large attendance and strong feeling. The subject of discipline had passed from the air to May Street, and while the Purity party did not regard it with pleasure, their opponents dreaded alike its difficulties and its consequences. But Dr. Petticrew made one of his forceful and earnest speeches on the occasion, named Enniskillen, Queenstown, Carlow, and Bray as guilty of un-Presbyterian conduct, directly subversive of order and government, and that if further persevered in would be accounted and dealt with as contumacy. The Rev. J. D. Crawford seconded this motion, to which the Rev. John Macnaughtan and Rev. Dr. Murphy moved and seconded the previous question. It was during this debate that the Rev. Mr. Simpson, of Queenstown, delivered one of his speeches which were always characterised by much humour and originality, and enlivened, though they did not appear at the time to have convinced the Assembly. One of his points was that the Assembly did not adhere to the resolution of 1873, but that he did, he had stuck to his harmonium. He maintained that Divine sanction for instruments had been withdrawn nowhere that no knew of “save in the Gospel of St. Francis of Faughanvale, the Epistles of St. Archibald of Broughshane, the Acts of the Purity of Worship Association, or in the Apochryphal writings of the “Christian Banner.’” In the result only 250 voted for the previous question, and 265 against, so that Dr. Petticrew scored once again, and the morning sitting of the Fighting Friday came to an end.

In the evening Dr. Wilson, of Cookstown, moved, and the Rev. Dr. Murphy seconded another amendment, regretting the continued non-compliance with the order of Assembly, and making another appeal, at the same time stating that as the Assembly had passed no law the exercise of discipline would be a violation of the pledge, and inexpedient. Rev. Dr. Robb followed, stating that the question was whether the congregations were to be Presbyterian or Independent. Dr. Watts got up to continue the debate, but amid cries of “Vote” and some excitement he desisted. The vote was a very close one, 250 having voted amend, and 251 motion. A third amendment, declaring that as the use of instrumental music was a grievous offence to very many brethren, and the means to induce congregations to desist had failed, the Assembly again appeal to the brethren in the spirit of Christian charity and brotherly love to give up the instruments, was proposed and accepted as the declaration of the Assembly.

In 1881 the Assembly met in Dublin. In the meantime the instrumental controversy had entered on a new phase, or at least a new instrument with a new issue had been introduced. Hitherto, with the exception of Enniskillen, all the congregations brought into the controversy were situated in the South of Ireland. But the Rev. Robert Workman, minister of Newtonbreda, and an enthusiastic advocate of Liberty, in conjunction with his session and committee, introduced an organ into Newtonbreda Church, and it had been employed in the evening service. It certainly was and is a fine instrument, but it brought on Dr. Workman a perfect sea of conflict and controversy. It led to controversy in the Press with certain members of the congregation who objected, and for weeks the columns of “The Witness” contained letters on the subject. It led to the raising of the issue through the use of the instrument at some services in the Belfast Presbytery. The majority of the Presbytery did not seem disposed to deal with the issue, and referred the whole question simpliciter to the Synod. When it came in due course to the Synod they referred it to the General Assembly. There was a protest and appeal against the decisions both of the Presbytery and the Synod, in which the Rev. Wm. Johnston, Rev T. Y. Killen, the Rev. George Magill, Rev J. D. Crawford, and others joined. In the Synod the motion dismissing the appeal and referring the matter to the Assembly was met by an amendment, one portion of which censured the minister and office-bearers of Newtonbreda for their action, and called on them to cease using the instrument. Nineteen ministers voted for the amendment and twenty-seven against, so that it was lost.

In the Assembly the Newtonbreda case took pre-eminence over the general question, and led to a most interesting and exciting discussion. It was noticeable that Dr. Johnston, who was regarded as a friend of liberty, but as the mover of the original motion maintained to the end the part more of a pacificator than an advocate: and Dr. T. Y. Killen, the Rev. John Macnaughtan, Mr. Thomas Sinclair, and others, who were all avowed friends of liberty, took exception to the action of Mr. Workman and Newtonbreda congregation. It must be said, however, that Mr. Workman made a strong and vigorous defence on the technical points raised as well as on the general principle, and justified his action with great ability. While in the eyes of the Purity party his action not only complicated the situation but nullified the efforts they were making to secure a cessation of the use of the instruments, Mr. Workman’s position, as explained at the time in private, and I think in public, too, was that as there was a question of principle as well as practise involved, it was better that it should be fought out on the direct issue and over a strong congregation than over a remote Southern congregation with side issues as to the difficulty of getting precentors were involved. There is no doubt the Newtonbreda organ played a considerable part in the later discussions, and I think was a help and encouragement to the Southern congregations that had so long borne the brunt of the battle.

In the Assembly Rev. Dr. H. B. Wilson moved the dismissal of the appeal and the sustaining of the action of the Presbytery and Synod, which was seconded by the Rev. Robt. Black, Dundalk. To this the Rev. C. L. Morrell moved an amendment sustaining the appeal, regretting the introduction of the organ against the wish and remonstrance of a considerable number of the members of the Church, and calling for the discontinuance of the instrument. Dr. Petticrew, Mr. Thomas Sinclair, J.P.; Rev. A. Robinson, Rev. A. C. Murphy, Mr. J. P. Corry, M.P.; Rev. Mr. Macnaughtan, and others took part in the debate, which resulted in a vote in favour of Mr. Morrell’s amendment of 206 and 185 against, leaving a majority of 21 in favour of the non-instrumentalists. Rev. Mr. Macnaughtan and others protested.

In regard to the other cases in which there had been no compliance with the order of the Assembly, Enniskillen, Queenstown, Carlow, and Bray, a resolution proposed by Dr. Robb, repeating the old resolution prohibiting the use of the instrument in these congregations, and calling on the respective Presbyteries to take the necessary steps to carry it out, was carried. There were three amendments, all of which were defeated, and finally the original motion was carried by 151 votes against 109. Here ended the question in 1881.

From The Witness, 4th January 1918.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Christmas 1917

The bells of Christmas sweetly ring,
Glad tidings of great joy they bring;
On this bright and happy morn,
Unto you a Saviour’s born;
Pealing over hill and plain
Comes once more the glad refrain;
It echoes through the lonely-glen,
“Peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

Peace on earth, when war is rife
And nations meet in deadly strife,
When sorrow surges all around,
And pain and suffering abound.
O Christmas bells, on this glad day,
We yearn for loved ones far away;
For round the hearth a vacant chair
Tells of a loved one wanting there.

And memory brings again to view
Happier days that once we knew,
Days when we welcomed in the birth
Of Christ the Lord, with peace on earth.
O Christinas bells, ring out old strife,
Ring in a purer, holier life,
When war for evermore shall cease,
And man with man shall dwell in peace.


Poem from The Witness, 21st December 1917
Image Top:  A card made in 1917 by the 46th (North Midland) Division showing soldiers crossing no-man’s land, illuminated by a flare or shell.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

The Presbyterian Church Instrumental Music Controversy pt 7


Those of us who remember the instrumental music controversy, and not least I, myself, can never forget the excitement which this controversy continued to create in the Church, and the utmost apprehension with which each new meeting of the Assembly was regarded. Each Assembly was preceded with letters on both sides, and there was much discussion in congregations, and sometimes in Presbyteries, on the subject. The Assembly of 1879 was a great year for memorials. There were forty-seven memorials in all – some from sessions and committees, some from congregations. The majority of these memorials were from anti-instrumentalists. Eight demanded immediate compliance with the deliverance of 1873, and four recommended the cutting-off of recalcitrant congregations, or rather suggesting that by their own voluntary act these congregations had cut themselves off. The most numerously signed memorial was from the Instrumental Party, and had 1,879 signatures — one for each year since the Christian era — and it prayed for the suspension of all action with regard to the congregations under surveillance.

At this meeting the vote took place on the Moderatorship – a rare incident nowadays. Fifteen Presbyteries nominated the Rev. Professor Watts, and twelve had nominated the Rev. Jackson Smyth, and as no other arrangement could be made a call of the roll was demanded, and the Rev. Professor Watts Vas elected by a majority of fifty-two. Mr. Smyth afterwards known as Rev. Dr. Jackson Smyth, was a highly respected and honoured member of the Church, whose claims to the Moderatorship were many. He was a brother of the Rev. Professor Dr. Richard Smyth, Member of Parliament, and one of the most honoured of ministers and members of Parliament, who had died during the year, and his family as well as personal associations were many and distinguished. But for that year, at all events, the Assembly, preferred the Belfast professor, who had rendered great service to the Church as a professor and as a defender of sound Church theology known all over the Presbyterian world. Mr. Jackson Smyth, however, had not long to wait for the Moderatorial honours, as he was elected Moderator the following year. There was one additional incident of this Assembly worth mentioning. Mr. John Brown, who was a most loyal Presbyterian, was Mayor of the town for the year, and on the opening evening he attended and invited the members of Assembly to a conversazione, which was afterwards given in the Ulster Hall, and was a most pleasant and agreeable function. Similar or corresponding functions have been frequent since, but this, I think, was the beginning of them, so far as my memory goes.

The report of the Committee on Instrumental Music presented at the Assembly by the Rev. John Macnaughton was that matters remained substantially as they were, but in the case of Queenstown and Enniskillen the committee had received such statements from the ministers and congregations declining to fall in with the deliverance that they had not attended. Mr. Simpson, of Queenstown, wrote that if the Assembly would remove instruments from all Sabbath-schools he would remove his from the church. In the report the committee detailed all the circumstances, but while regretting the non-compliance of the recalcitrant congregations with the deliverance of the Assembly, they, stated that inasmuch as the use of instruments was not in itself sinful, they did not propose to exercise discipline on ministers or congregations who on their own responsibility had introduced instruments into churches, prayer-meetings, and Sabbath-schools. The Rev. Mr. Petticrew brought forward his amendment, demanding compliance with the deliverance of 1873, and instructing Presbyteries to see that it was carried out. This amendment was seconded by the Rev. Archibald Robinson.

The battle began, as usual, on Friday, and continued during the forenoon sederunt, when an adjournment took place in the evening. The real interest centred in the evening meeting, as it had been arranged that representatives of the memorials on both sides of the question should be heard. The gentlemen chosen to speak were Messrs. Robert MacGeagh and Josias Cunningham, on behalf of the “Liberty” or Lay-men’s memorial; and the Rev. N. M. Brown and Mr. J. D. Boyd, both of Limavady, which was almost as distinctive as Glendermott in this fight, were selected to speak on the part of the anti-instrumental. The excitement as well as the attendance at this meeting exceeded if possible any of the previous ones. It was with the greatest difficulty it was possible to keep the doors and passages clear, and the police had to be called in to the aid of the very civil ecclesiastical authorities to restrain the crushing crowds. I remember many wonderful sights and scenes in May Street during Assembly times, but this was one of the most remarkable, arising chiefly from the introduction of these lay memorials and their representatives. In fact there were almost as many people outside the building as in it, and as a matter of fact, when the time for voting came a number of ministers, including the Rev. Dr. Magill, of Cork, and Rev. Dr. Kirkpatrick, of Dublin, had found it impossible to get into the church, and their votes were lost.

I can recall to this hour the excitement and the enthusiasm manifested by the instrumentalists, as the large deputation of the memorialists filed up to the platform. Those who knew Mr. MacGeagh expected a rich treat, and they were not disappointed. Under the signature "Nec Tamen Consumebator” he had contributed a series of articles to “The Witness” on the question, which were characterised by that great incisiveness and force both of argument and of humour of which he was such a master. Neither was lacking in his speech. I remember his introduction of the old story about Daniel O’Connell and the fish, which Mr. MacGeagh told with all humour and point. As he told it it is worth repeating — it was told apropos of the point that while the Purity party dwelt so much on the question of conscience, they ignored the fact that the Liberty party had consciences too. This is the story — “It is a story,” said Mr. MacGeagh, “of the late Daniel O’Connell when on one of his frequent trips from Dublin to London. He was crossing on the Holyhead steamer, and settling down in the cabin to dinner he found on the dish before him a very good salmon trout. The day being Friday and the air keen and Dan being sharp-set he coolly transferred the entire delicacy to his own plate, apologetically remarking with a comical glance at his fellow-passengers, ‘Gentlemen, you will excuse me, but this is a fast day in my Church.’ A stalwart cattle-dealer seated opposite, who had been covetously eyeing the dainty, too modest to ask for a portion, was dumbfounded for a moment by the coolness of the procedure, but recovering his wits he seized knife and fork, stretched over the table, severed the trout in two, and bearing off the larger part, exclaimed reproachfully to O'Connell, ‘Bad manners to ye, do ye think nobody has a sowl to be saved but yourself?’ So I may ask these gentlemen,” continued Mr. MacGeagh, “Do you think nobody has a conscience to protect but yourselves?”

Mr. Josias Cunningham, the other representative of the laymen, a gentleman well known at the time, and remembered still, being represented by a fine family who are a credit to the Church, country, and to philanthropy also, in the course of an able and original speech indulged in a joke that created much amusement at the time. It had a point; at anyrate it had teeth in it. “Sometimes,” he said, “they were told not to use instruments in praise, and what were they to use? A poor fellow once who was a singer in the church lost his teeth so that he could not sing, and he was told to go to a dentist. On going back to the church with his false teeth there was a theological row, and he was told that he was using an instrument, and could not sing there any more.” It is, perhaps, because these lighter things of the speeches remained longest on my memory that I reproduce them, and I think they are worth repeating, for their humour at any rate. The Rev. Mr. Brown and Mr. Boyd, of Limavady, followed on the other side with vigorous and telling speeches, the latter rousing the ire of some of the instrumentalists by some reference he made which created a bit of stir, during which the Moderator asked as a favour if they would have mercy on him. The vote was afterwards taken, the Rev. George Magill, the Rev. William Irwin (Castlerock), and the Rev. William Park being the tellers. Rev. Dr. Magill and the Rev. Dr. Park, as both are now entitled to be called, are still with us, with a marvellous buoyancy for their years. Dr. Magill has travelled further on the road of life than Dr. Park, and has retired from active service. I talked with him only the other day, and he still retains much of his old keenness of intellect, quickness of wit, and readiness of anecdote. Dr. Park is still almost as fresh as, if he had only put on his armour.

The call of the roll, which occupied well on to the usual hour, and took place shortly before midnight, resulted in a vote of 313 for the amendment and 278 against — a majority of 35 for the opponents of the instruments. This ended the great debate of 1879. I may be slow in coming to an end, but it must be remembered, that the controversy lasted over a decade and a half, and this was the eleventh year. I am dealing with it year by year rather than in a general summary, as there were special incidents each year recalled as I look up the files. Indeed, these would, have tempted me into further excursions, but I must have respect for space and the patience of the readers.

From The Witness, 14th December 1917.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The Presbyterian Church Instrumental Music Controversy pt 6


History that is exciting in the making may become cold and tame in the recording. We have now in our running record reached the end of the ten years’ conflict over the instrumental music question. But I am afraid the chronicle gives but a poor idea of the feeling and the Spirit of the excitement of the time. Then the story of the “Ten Years’ Conflict” that ended in the severance of the union of the Established Church of Scotland and in the formation of the Free Church was familiar from its freshness, and pointed a moral. In some respects the union of the Irish Presbyterian Church was at stake in this conflict, and in the tenth year the question had approached, if it had not reached, a critical stage. While the issues and the principles at stake were not as momentous as those which had disturbed and divided the Mother Church, they were sufficiently great to affect the life and harmony, if not the unity of the Irish Presbyterian Church. There were some among its members who feared that the controversy might end in disruption, and were continually praying and pleading that it might be avoided. But there were others who had greater faith in Irish Presbyterian faith and loyalty than to anticipate such a division. As events proved they were in the right. Loyalty to Church and Empire and Presbyterianism go hand-in-hand, and in Church and State where Presbyterianism prevails loyalty and duty and union are certain to prevail. It prevailed in Church forty years ago, and would prevail in the State if its people and its principles held free sway.

In 1878 it was becoming apparent that while in some cases in which ministers and congregations could be peacefully persuaded into compliance with the decrees of the Assembly, there were others that were hopelessly and persistently recalcitrant, for reasons which no doubt satisfied themselves, but did not commend themselves even to those sections of the instrumentalists who put loyalty to the Church before any consideration of party and policy. It was becoming apparent that only by the exercise of discipline that authority could be enforced, and this was an idea repellant, I may say, to both sides. The Instrumentalists did not relish the application of coercion to brethren with whose principles they were in sympathy while disapproving of their policy, and the Purity party did not relish its application, realising the difficulty and danger of enforcing it, yet hesitated to insist upon its application. But at the same time from this forward the question of “discipline” or “no discipline” became the issue, and it was round this the controversy mainly raged.

In 1877, on the suggestion and appeal of the Rev. John Macnaughten, who was one of the commanding figures of the Assembly, and a leader of the instrumental party, the Assembly decided to appoint a committee, composed chiefly if not altogether of instrumental members, to confer with the ministers and congregations that had not fallen in with the resolution of the body. On the fighting day of the Assembly, the first Friday of its meeting, Mr. Macnaughten reported the result of the labours of the committee. He said that practically only two congregations held out — Queenstown and Enniskillen — and one (Enniskillen) had one leg in, as it had decided, that it would give up the instrument if the Assembly would require the removal of musical instruments from all Sabbath-schools. He thought that if the Queenstown members of congregation had not refused permission to the commission to visit them they might have been able to influence them in harmony with the Assembly’s decision. But they refused. He declared, however, that if the Assembly would insist upon discipline, and which would involve the cutting off of these congregations, the voluntary agreement would go to the winds, and he for his part would take no further action. He made no suggestion, but left the matter in the hands of the Assembly, contenting himself with moving the report. The Rev. Mr. Elliott, Armagh, suggested, and the Rev. A. Patton, then of Ballymoney, afterwards of Bangor, supported a motion that a committee should be appointed to confer with the two ministers. But the Rev. Mr. Simpson, who had mounted the platform, took off his coat, and laying a bundle of papers on the table, insisted upon being heard. The Assembly complied, for apart from his apparent dourness in the matter of the instrument, Mr. Simpson had the saving grace of humour developed in a high degree, and his appearances were always welcome on that account.

It is wonderful how the passing of time affects both rhetoric and humour. I have read over again many of the speeches that stirred me to the depths at the time, and yet I read them to-day with the blood cold, and as if the interest was as dead as Queen Ann. I read carefully the speech of Mr. Simpson, which many a time and oft kept myself and the House in a roar of rapturous laughter, and I almost wonder how it ever stirred me. Not that the humour was not bubbling and his anecdotes and allusions apposite and pointed. But the spirit and the personalities have all largely disappeared, and the associations faded. I quote a couple of his anecdotes by way of illustration, though they may appear flat and laboured at the present time. One of Mr. Simpson’s points was that the Assembly allowed musical instruments in Sabbath-schools and objected to them in the church:—

The conduct of his opponents reminded him of a story he had heard of a Scotch divine who was sent some centuries ago to rebuke a Royal prince because he had been seen kissing a young lady at the window of the palace. (Laughter.) The officer asked innocently. “Is it a sin, doctor, to kiss a pretty girl if she makes no objection?” “Certainly not,” said the venerable divine, “but surely you could keep away from the window,” (Great laughter.) It would seem as if it was no harm to use the instrument if they kept away from the window, (Hear, hear.) On the point of the threat of discipline he related the following anecdote – Some years ago a fine old Irishman, Barney Brohan, was arraigned before a bench of magistrates for breaking the skull of an old friend of his called Joseph Gimlett. After the facts had been deposed to, he said, “Your worships, the fact is that my Ebenezer happened to fall on his hat a little more heavily than I intended.” (Laughter.) “Oh, Mr. Brohan,” said the chairman, “that is what is alleged against you. We want to know if you have any defence.” “Well, then, your worships,” said he, “I was trying to inspire him with some blessed truths that should warm the heart of any Christian that had a soul in his body, and instead of listening he kept on crying, ‘Prove it, prove it.’ ‘Indeed,’ said I, ‘I have plenty of proof,’ so I lifted my Ebenezer and let it fall on his ridge board, and it settled the whole question and satisfied his mind completely, and from that hour to this he had heard no more of ‘prove it.' ” (Great laughter.) There were several Barney Brohans in that Assembly. (Laughter.) His worthy friend, Mr. Robinson, of Broughshane, was a Barney Brohan – (great laughter) — and Mr. Petticrew was another. He (Mr. Simpson) wanted Scriptural proof that he should give up instruments, and they said. “We will settle the question by a crack of the ecclesiastical cudgel.”  (Great laughter and applause.) Here was his principle in the worship of God — the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible (Loud applause.) (Would they vote for it? (Laughter and applause) Would they vote for the Bible of Barney Brohan? (More laughter.)

At the close of the speech the Moderator (Rev. Professor Witherow) said he had allowed Mr. Simpson, as he was on his defensive, a latitude he would not have allowed to any member of the Assembly, but reminded the House of the question that was immediately before them – namely, whether or not, they is should appoint the committee. The Rev. F. Petticrew replied, needless to say, in a more grave and reverent style than Mr. Simpson, but what his speech lacked in humour it supplied in gravity, earnestness, and the force which was the outcome alike of his ability and earnestness. An amendment to the motion appointing the committee to retire was moved, adopting the report and re-appointing the committee with some additional names to deal with the ministers and congregations, and report to next Assembly. Thus time was marked from year to year.

From The Witness, 30th November 1917.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The Presbyterian Church Instrumental Music Controversy pt 5


The Assembly of 1875 was held in Derry, the Rev. Professor J. L. Porter, LL.D., D.D., being Moderator in every sense of the word, being dignified both in person and in office. The instrumental music question, of course, came up, but it was not the real exciting question of the Assembly. What was then called the Bible wine controversy was at its height, and the debate on the subject taking the form of the question whether the wine used at Communion should be fermented or unfermented, lasted until two o'clock in the morning. The Rev. Wm. Johnston’s report of the work of the committee for the year did not suggest that much progress had been made by the committee in getting the instruments taken out. In fact, he admitted that the committee had failed, and proposed a renewal of the resolution of last Assembly, with an earnest appeal to have the compact carried out fairly and honourably. Rev. Dr. Watts seconded that resolution, which was warmly supported by Mr. Thomas Sinclair, Rev. F. Petticrew, and Rev. A. Robinson. The general feeling of the Assembly seemed to be that the Presbyteries should get another try. And they got it.

They seemed to have been more successful the next year, 1876. In all cases, except Enniskillen and Queenstown, the Presbyteries had succeeded in securing, under promise of assistance in precentorship or otherwise, compliance with the finding of 1875. There was some discussion and separate division in regard to the action of the Presbyteries and the congregations in some of the cases, the principal of which related to the action of the Presbytery of Cork in not insisting upon holding a visitation in Clonmel, the congregation having written that they would close the harmonium when the Assembly obtained and paid a precentor. Rev. J. M. Rogers, Derry, moved, and the Rev. J. Macnaughtan seconded, a resolution that the Presbytery had discharged its duty faithfully; but the Rev. F. Petticrew did not think so, and moved an amendment declaring that the Assembly do not approve. On a show of hands the amendment was lost, 202 voting in favour of it and 240 against it. After the Assembly had disposed of the action of the Presbyteries, finding that they had faithfully discharged their duty, the Rev. Mr. Johnston, after the Rev. Dr. Kirkpatrick had engaged in prayer at the request of the Moderator, opened up the discussion on the main question by some severe strictures on the recalcitrant congregations, and moving a series of resolutions reiterating the finding of 1873, and expressing disapproval of the action of the ministers and congregations of Enniskillen and Queenstown, and leaving to the Presbyteries to look after the subject and the congregations during the year. He expressed the hope that these two congregations would not continue to place themselves in conflict with the Church. The Rev. W. Fleming Stevenson seconded this resolution, appealing on the one hand for forbearance; but, at the same time, insisting that the authority of the Church should be maintained.

The Rev. Mr. Simpson, of Queenstown, resented the resolution and the attack. He was a man of strong individuality and gifted with a great sense of humour, and his speeches on this and other occasions, however much in their spirit they may have been defiant, were so brimful of humour that they gave a delightful variety to the debates. He declared there was no law forbidding him from doing what he did. There was only a deliverance, and he did not see why he should be badgered. He was met with cries of “Order,” and he said, “We’re punished or threatened with punishment.” The Assembly, he said, could not make a law. Rev. A. Robinson here cried “Order,” and Mr. Simpson said if they did not hear him he would go out of the Assembly and disobey it. (“Oh.”) Rev. Mr. Robinson demanded that the Clerk should take down that threat of disobedience. The Moderator asked Mr. Simpson — “Did you not at your ordination agree to obey the Church?” Mr. Simpson — “I did; but not out of the Lord. Another reason against the resolution is that I have your own authority for using the instruments. (“Oh, oh,” and laughter.) You have authorised the metrical version of the Psalms, and the Psalms authorise the instruments. (Laughter.) If I thought there was no Scriptural authority for the instrument, I would kick it out. (Laughter.) I will now define my Scriptural position.” The Moderator, who was this year the Rev. John Meneely, ruled this put of order, and Mr. Simpson retired. The Rev. John Macnaughtan suggested that one of the resolutions, which seemed to hold out a threat to the two congregations, should be modified, but Mr. Robinson protested, and claimed that they were entitled to take up the full position of the previous year. He said that Mr. Macnaughtan had described a suggestion of Mr. A. C. Murphy as milk-and-water; but his own were precisely similar, and it would be a long time before a person of any degree of healthy constitution would be benefited by Mr. Macnaughtan’s milk. Ultimately the resolutions as proposed, with a modification on the lines suggested by Mr. Macnaughtan, were adopted. So one sederunt disposed of the question this year — 1876 — in the Assembly.

That the question had been stirring certain sections of the Church during the year was proved at the Assembly of 1877, with eight memorials chiefly directed against the use of instruments (and some including uninspired hymns). It seemed that while the use of the harmonium had been discontinued in Ennis, and that in Tullamore the minister had stated that they would give up the harmonium if the Assembly would pay £30 a year for a precentor, the congregations of Enniskillen, Queenstown, Clonmel, Carlow, and Mountmellick continued to use it. Rev. Wm. Johnston moved a resolution expressing satisfaction with the congregation of Ennis, regretting that, notwithstanding their professed willingness, the congregations of Tullamore, Mountmellick, Carlow, and Clonmel were yet in a position of at least apparent opposition to the Assembly; expressing strong condemnation of the minister and congregations of Enniskillen and Queenstown in still resisting the Assembly, renewing their offer of aid, and renewing also the append to congregations to comply with the law. Rev. John Meneely seconded the resolution and Rev. John Macnaughtan said before he would move an amendment he would like to hear Mr. Maclatchy (Enniskillen), who set out by describing the resolution as the resolution of Mr. Johnston and not of the Assembly, which statement was protested against; but Mr. Maclatchy said he would not have been there if he did not believe it. He subsequently withdrew the statement, and concluded a speech, which met with much interruption by asking them to pass a law against the organ, and not endeavour to get rid of it by a side wind. Rev. Mr. Macnaughtan followed with an amendment, which modified the expression of “strong condemnation” to one of disappointment, and asking the Presbyteries to continue to deal with these congregations, and to try to get them to comply with the law. Rev. Mr. Robinson thought Mr. Johnston's resolutions were as moderate as the circumstance demanded, and said there seemed to be on one side of the House a disposition to connive at the obstinacy and contumacy of certain congregations. The debate was adjourned to the evening sederunt — as usual, it took place on a Friday — in order that the deputation of the Free Church of Scotland might be heard. Mr. Wm. Shaw (elder), in the evening, said he did not see what good Mr. Johnston’s resolution would do unless they were prepared to say next year that they would discipline the congregation that refused to comply with the order. Mr. N. M. Brown (Limavady) would let the matter remain for another year, and exhaust forbearance, keeping in remembrance that thorough conformity and obedience should be insisted on. Mr. Johnston said he would propose a last trial of the principle of love, and, therefore he would withdraw his resolution in favour of Mr. Macnaughtan’s amendment. Mr. Macnaughtan said he had all along been indisposed to resort to the force of law, and if the House would permit he would undertake the duty of making the law of love to operate. Both Professor Rogers and Mr. Robinson attempted to address the House; but it seemed determined to have the matter ended there and then, and so they had to desist, and Mr. Macnaughtan’s resolution was declared carried by an overwhelming majority. Revs. L. E. Berkeley, W. C. M‘Cullough, C. L. Morrell, and Dr. Watts, all strong advocates of “liberty,” were appointed as a committee to carry out the resolution.

It was at this Assembly that the question of discipline, or possible discipline, of recalcitrant congregations appeared prominently on the horizon. It seemed as if the leading spirits of the “Purity” party were contemplating discipline as a painful, but inevitable development; but that did not become a direct issue for a year or two afterwards. Neither party regarded the exercise of discipline with favour; but it was becoming evident that the anti-instrumentalists were reaching a stage at which it would become necessary if the authority of the Assembly and the principles were to be maintained. On the other hand, the leaders of the Instrumentalists were earnestly working to get the order of the Assembly carried out so as to “relieve them from the difficulty of discipline and the danger of a definite decision against instruments, which looked not improbable, with the feeling and constitution of the Assembly at the time.

From The Witness, 23rd November 1917.