Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Presbyterian Church Instrumental Music Controversy pt 11


The excitements and interests of the present occupied so much of my mind and time for the past fortnight that I found it impossible to concentrate my attention, sufficiently on part of the instrumental controversy to do justice to it either for myself or my readers. Now, however, that we have a temporary lull between the departure of Sir Edward Carson and the coming of Mr. Lloyd George as master of our fate, I pass from the new paths and the new excitements to the old. In my last we took leave of the question and the Assembly of 1883 with a decision for the first time adverse to the views of Dr. Petticrew and his friends. With the new year came new developments. Hitherto the battleground, so far at least as the facts, the casus belli, were concerned, was mainly in the South. But this year the North came into the limelight, and occupied the stage, almost to the exclusion of the South. The Rev. Dr. Workman had succeeded in transferring the attack largely from the small and scattered congregations in the South to the citadel of Presbyterianism in Belfast. The organ continued in full swing in Newtonbreda. But not only that, the Belfast Presbytery seems to have had its eyes opened and its conscience troubled by the fact that instrumental music was used in other churches as well. It replied that “during the past year instrumental music had been frequently used in public worship in Elmwood, Fitzroy Avenue, Rosemary Street, St. Enoch’s, Dundela, Newtonbreda, Newington, and other congregations in connection with the Presbytery; and this report having been confirmed by the testimony of several of the ministers in these congregations, the Presbytery desires that the facts in relation to the question should be in possession of the Supreme Court, decides to transmit the report to the General Assembly.” There was practically no change in the attitude of the Southern congregations regarding the instruments; but in all our minds and in the minds of Dr. Petticrew and his friends the Belfast organ had swallowed up all the other organs. There were some questionings and some cavalier answers from some of the Southern ministers, which Dr. Petticrew regarded as trifling with the Assembly. After a little heated introduction, Dr. Petticrew mounted the platform, and tabled his resolutions, arraigning all the ministers, and declaring that their conduct was utterly un-Presbyterian, and directly subversive of order and government, and asking the Assembly to appoint a commission to correspond with the ministers, “and in the event of their continued disobedience to deal with the laws of the Church made and provided in the case of contumacy.” Dr. Petticrew’s motion was seconded by the Rev. J. D. Crawford. To this an amendment was proposed by the Rev. C. L. Morrell, and seconded by the Rev. R. J. Lynd, declaring that in view of all the circumstances and Of the gravity of the issues involved, the Assembly declines to appoint the commission proposed in the motion or to take any steps which would involve disruption or the rending of the Church. The debate occupied the entire morning sederunt and till ten o’clock of the evening sederunt. As that hour approached, impatience for a vote was manifested. Mr. Thomas M’Elderry, the well known elder from Ballymoney, spoke with much vigour, but amid considerable interruption; but when the Rev. Dr. Watts got up to reply the cries of “Vote, vote,” increased, and the Moderator (Rev. Dr. T. Y. Killen) asked Dr. Watts to desist, and called on Mr. Morrell to reply, which he did briefly. On a vote being taken, it was found that 320 had voted for the amendment, and 309 against it. As the vote then was open, the names of the voters were published at the time, and an analysis made, which showed that 237 ministers had voted for the amendment and 135 against leaving a clerical majority of 102 for the amendment. The elder vote was 83 amend, and 174 not amend, giving an elder majority against the amendment of 91. This left the net majority in favour of the amendment and the Liberty side of the question of eleven as stated.

In the Assembly of 1884 the main question was, for a time, camouflaged — the word has not come into being, but the idea is very old — by a discussion on procedure, in connection with which the Belfast Presbytery came in for a good deal of criticism and ultimate censure. The meeting took place this year in Derry, which might have, in some respects, suggested a calmer atmosphere; but then the Glendermott Presbytery was (and is still) in the district, and where it reigned there was, at all events, strength and determination. The Purity party had a grievance against the Belfast Presbytery for refusing to hear a motion of the Rev. J. D. Crawford calling attention to the use of an instrument in Newtonbreda, and against the Synod of Belfast for having referred the matter simpliciter to the Assembly without entering into the merits of the case. The Rev. David Hunter was the principal representative of an appeal against the action, of the Synod, and the Assembly unanimously sustained the appeal, declaring that the Synod had acted irregularly and reversed their decision. The Assembly at the same time removed into the Assembly the appeal of the Revs. J. D. Crawford, John Meneely, and David Hunter against the decision of the Belfast Presbytery refusing to receive a notice of motion on the question of the use of the instrument in Newtonbreda. This appeal was discussed at some length, and with some heat; and in the end the Assembly sustained the appeal, and reversed the decision of the Presbytery, being of opinion that in the circumstances of the case it would have been judicious in the Presbytery to have accepted the notice of motion. Thus Belfast (Presbytery and Synod) got one knock in Derry. And the worst of it is I was in Derry on the occasion on which it was given, but was unable to save Belfast from the apostolic blows in my old city.

I have referred to the critical character of the controversy, and to the fact that for the first time Dr. Petticrew and his friends found themselves in a minority. But critical as it was at many times and in many features, it never was more critical than in the year of grace and of the instrumental controversy, 1885. One would have imagined that after sixteen or seventeen years of controversy the fires would begin to burn low. But instead, they burned more fiercely than ever, and the Church was never nearer the brink of division than it was this year. There were no fewer than eighty-seven memorials to be dealt with at the Assembly, of which sixty-one were connected with the controversy. Eleven of these, with 647 signatures, were opposed to prohibition; and forty-eight, with 181,592 signatures, were for enforcing prohibition. In the preceding year there were only forty-three memorials, and in the year before that only eighteen. The Moderator of the year was the Rev. J. W. Whigham, of Ballinasloe, whose unanimous election was a tribute not only to his own personal and ecclesiastical worth, but to the interest in and appreciation of the work in the West of Ireland with which Mr. (afterwards Dr.) Whigham had been prominently and successfully identified.

When all the preliminaries were arranged, and the combatants ready for the fray, the Rev. Dr. Morrell suggested that the Assembly should follow the precedent of the professorial election of the previous day (the election of the late Rev. J. L. Biggar to the Chair of Oriental Literature and Hermeneutics in Derry), and dispense with speeches, but this did not seem to commend itself to the Rev. A. Robinson, who said that he had no doubt Dr. Morrell’s speech would be as admirable as any that were not delivered. Then Dr. Jackson Smyth suggested a conference, but Dr. Petticrew thought it would be useless, and it did not seem to meet with any more acceptance. Then once more Dr. Petticrew added another to the many speeches he had delivered on this question, winding up, in accordance with notice given the previous year, with a resolution rescinding the resolution of the previous years, and repeating in brief form the declaration of the Assembly on the subject, and its determination not to tolerate any departure from the authorised form, and calling upon the Presbyteries to see that the prohibition should be enforced in any congregation using instruments. The Rev. Dr. G. W. Hamill, of Limavady (Limavady, like Glendermot, was strongly Purity), then moved an amendment, acknowledging the receipt of the memorials, but stating the inexpediency, of disturbing the decisions of 1883 and 1884, declining to take “such action as would involve the cutting off of congregations and the degradation of ministers and elders.” This was seconded by the Rev. Dr. Morrell, who, in the course of his brief speech, said the cry of the anti-instrumentalists was “give us discipline! give us discipline! or else we die.”

At the close of these speeches, Rev. Dr. Johnston, who had been all along a keen pacifist in this controversy, made an appeal to his friends, the Revs. Matthew Kerr, William Simpson, and Dr. Workman, to give up for the year the liberty of conscience for which they were fighting, and abandon the use of the instruments at least for the year. There was no response, however, and the Rev. Dr. Corkey, who with Dr. Petticrew sustained the “Christian Banner” and the Purity party for so many years, ascended the platform. But he was met with cries of “Vote,” “Vote," that so drowned his voice that it was impossible to hear what he said. The Moderator asked if the House wanted to hear Dr. Corkey, and there was a good deal of applause and a good deal of dissent. Dr. Petticrew tried to appeal, and the Rev. Mr. Simpson mounted the platform beside Dr. Corkey, so as to suggest that if anyone should be heard he would be heard. In the midst of the storm the Rev. J. D. Crawford suggested withdrawal, and the Rev. Mr. Robinson called on all who were in opposition to unauthorised ad unscriptural worship to withdraw from the House. The Revs. Dr. Petticrew, Crawford, Robinson, and others left the House. Meanwhile the Moderator said they were in a critical position, and he thought they should allow the discussion to continue a little longer. The Rev. Dr. N. M. Brown, who had not followed his friends, said he had as strong convictions as they, but did not like to do anything hastily, and he appealed to the Assembly to have them recalled and hear at least one speech on each side. The Rev. R. J. Lynd, who spoke with great feeling, appealed to the Assembly to let the discussion go on, adding that he would rather that every organ and harmonium should be swept out of the Church than that they should have a secession. Rev. T. Y. Killen suggested that the discussion should be resumed in the evening, and continued till a division; but Professor Rogers, D.D., thought there was enough inflammatory matter there now and there would be more in the evening, and suggesting a vote at once. The Rev. Dr. Wilson, Limerick, who said they had reached a solemn verge in the history of the Church, supported a suggestion of Rev. Dr. Wilson, of Cookstown, that the debate should be resumed in the evening, and closed at nine o’clock. Meantime the Rev. R. Jeffrey, of Portadown, entered the church and said the brethren who had left were holding a meeting in the schoolroom below, and he thought if a deputation of the Assembly went down it would be well. There were cries of “Hear, hear,” and “No, no,” at this. A very animated and exciting discussion followed, the details of which I cannot recall, but the general impression of it I can never forget, and in the end it was decided that the matter should be resumed in the evening.

From The Witness, 15th February 1918.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

The Presbyterian Church Instrumental Music Controversy pt 10


It was with a pleased surprise, when introduced last week quite casually to a gentleman in Dublin, whom I had never met before and who had never met me, the first question he asked was had I stopped my reminiscences of the instrumental music question, as there were none in the previous week’s “Witness.” It was gratifying to me to find in this way not only evidence of “The Witness” circulation in the capital, but of interest in my recollections therein. I assured my new and appreciative friend that the threads were only temporarily broken, and would be put together again soon. And I now fulfil my part of the promise. I may here state also that scarcely a week passes without receiving, as we do at the end of the year, the subscriptions from new readers in the United States and Canada and the other Colonies; and I am proud to say we have in all congratulatory references to “The Witness,” and not least to these reminiscences. As I had got into my mind the fear that these were becoming wearisome, I now take up the broken threads with greater satisfaction and pleasure.

In my references to the decision of the Assembly in 1881 sustaining the appeal against the decision of the Synod in having refused to entertain the protests and appeal of certain members of the Newtonbreda Church and the Presbytery against the action of the Presbytery, and referring the matter simpliciter to the Assembly, and again prohibiting the use of the organ, I omitted to state that about eighty ministers and elders signed a protest for themselves and as many as would join with them against the decision. In 1882 the Assembly met in May Street, when the Rev. T. Y. Killen (afterwards D.D.), Duncairn, was elected Moderator. It was reported to the Assembly that no progress in the direction of the cessation of instruments had been made in the congregations of Enniskillen or Queenstown, but that the instruments had been discontinued in Carlow and Bray. At the previous meeting two overtures had been put on the books, one asking that the Assembly should sanction instrumental music, and the other that it should come to a definite decision as to whether instrumental music is sanctioned or prohibited by the Word of God. In connection with these overtures, the reports of the judgment of three Presbyteries were read, two of which, Cork and Dublin, were in favour of an affirmative or sanctioning decision, and the third, that of Glendermott, in favour of a prohibitive or prohibitory decision. A motion was made in the Assembly that the first overture, which gave several reasons in favour of the use of the instruments, should be adopted, and the Assembly declare the use of instrumental accompaniment in praise is in harmony with the teaching of Scripture, and that it was expedient to give permission to use the instruments subject to such regulation end restriction as the Assembly might in its wisdom prescribe. To this an amendment was proposed stating that, as the mode of worship hitherto sanctioned was the mode adopted in the Christian Church when under the guidance of the inspired apostles; and as those in favour of the use of instruments professed to believe, it was not obligatory, but optional — a thing indifferent — and as those who opposed it believed it an authorised addition to worship, permission for which would grieve the consciences of many ministers, elders, and members of the Church, and prolong and embitter the existing controversies, the Assembly should direct Presbyteries to give special attention to this matter, recall the decision, of the Assembly on the subject, and take steps to have the resolution carried into effect. After a debate which extended over two sederunts, a vote was taken, with the result that 360 voted for the amendment, and 345 against, giving a majority of fifteen in favour of the anti-instrumental party. Rev. Dr. H. W. Williamson and others protested against this decision.

At the opening of the Assembly the Moderator made a suggestion with diffidence, and to chosen from both parties should meet before Friday, and see if they could come to some arrangement that would meet the unanimous approval of the Assembly. Dr. Petticrew, however, with all respect to the Chair, declined to accept it, as he said they had too many attempts, futile and vain, to settle the question; and the Rev. Dr. G. L. Morrell feared there would be such a divergence of opinion that there could be no unanimous recommendation; and the Moderator replied that it would be better to let the matter drop. And so fighting Friday came, and with it its fight. Rev. Dr. H. B. Wilson, Cookstown, moved the adoption of the “Liberty” resolution as above in a speech which occupied nearly seven columns of “The Witness.” Rev. Dr. Petticrew’s speech in support of the amendment occupied nearly five columns. These speeches practically occupied the morning sederunt. In the evening Rev. J. Maxwell Rogers, Derry, seconded Dr. Petticrew’s amendment, after which the Rev. Mr. Simpson, Queenstown, delivered one of his speeches with characteristic flashes of humour and slashes of criticism. It was on this occasion that he uttered the following personal comment, which created considerable amusement at the time — “The Rev. N. M. Brown was unrivalled for audibility — (laughter) — Rev. Mr. Crawford for strong statement — (renewed laughter) — Rev. Dr. Petticrew unrivalled for repetition, for continued dropping would wear away stones — (laughter) — and Rev. Geo. Magill entertained the House with spontaneous indignation — (loud laughter) — which is a powerful element in oratory.” This ended the question in the Assembly of ’82.

Difficulties and complications seemed to increase, as disclosed by the Minutes and proceedings of 1883. While the Dublin Presbytery had nothing new to report, the Clogher Presbytery reported that the worship in Enniskillen had been conducted without the harmonium; the Cork Presbytery reported that in Queenstown its use was continued; the Belfast Presbytery reported that it had been reported to it that instrumental music had been used in the public worship in the congregations of Elmwood, Fitzroy Avenue, Fisherwick Place, Rosemary Street, St. Enoch’s, Dundela, Newtonbreda, Newington, and other congregations in the Presbytery, and transmitted the fact, confirmed by several of the ministers, to the Assembly. Before the debate opened facilities were offered to the brethren specified to explain their action if disposed; but no brother availed himself of the opportunity. Mention was made that the attention of the Assembly having been called to the deliberate disregard of the Assembly’s prohibition, the Assembly declaring the conduct of these ministers as utterly un-Presbyterian and deliberately subversive of order and government, enjoining ministers where instruments are used to give them up forthwith, and appointing a committee with Assembly powers with instructions to take charge of this whole matter, to correspond with these ministers, and in the event of their continued disobedience to deal with them in accordance with the laws of the Church made and provided in case of obstinacy. To this an amendment was moved that, in view of all the circumstances of the case, and of the gravity of the issues involved, the Assembly decline to appoint the committee proposed in the motion or take any steps which will involve discipline. The debate was continued during the evening sederunt, and towards midnight the vote was taken, with the result that 320 verted for the amendment, and 309 against. This was a turn of the tide with a vengeance. This was the first occasion on which Dr. Petticrew and his party met with defeat. The majority of fifteen in their favour of the previous year was turned into a majority of eleven against them. Dr. Petticrew and his friends appealed against the decision, and entered reasons of dissent.

In some respects this was the most intense debate of the Assembly up to that time, though not as protracted as some of the others. There was greater uncertainty as to the division than on other occasions. Though as far as I can remember, the “Liberty” party did not expect a victory, there was a feeling that with the declining majorities in favour of Dr. Petticrew the voting might be close. The jubilation among the Instrumentalists, who, no doubt, formed a large part of the galleries, when the result of the vote was announced, was loud and enthusiastic. There were those among the majority, however, whose feelings of jubilation were modified by feelings of sympathy for Dr. Petticrew, who had been the head and front of the “Purity ” party and movement, and whose conscientious feelings and convictions were respected by all his opponents. As one who might have been described as a neutral sympathiser with the instrumentalists – music in church and out of it being one of my many weak points — I remember turning my eyes towards him as the vote was announced, and I could say with much greater sincerity than the Kaiser said later about Louvain, that my heart bled for him. Personally and ecclesiastically, he represented a stately column, and it was now shaken for the first time in the controversy. What might be said to have been his great life work had ended in defeat. But there was real nobility about him, and if he felt his defeat as an ecclesiastic, he bore it as a man and as a gentleman. His chief lieutenant, the Rev. A. Robinson, then of Broughshane — his D.D. and professorship came afterwards — was no less dispirited personally, though joining in the regret that the Church had departed from what he regarded as its true lines. I had a long and confidential conversation with him the following morning over the whole question. And this I will say for him. He showed no bitter feeling. He was disappointed, of course, but he was a Presbyterian to the core, and such he remained to the last day of his life. I may just add here that while the jubilations were being indulged in the Moderator expressed the hope that the question was now buried, and would have no resurrection; and Mr. Robinson said he had no objection to the triumph of his friends — they had won one victory in fifteen years, and why should they not rejoice? The Rev. Dr. Geo. Magill is the only hero of that fight now alive, and I can say this of him, that no man was more earnest or more able in his advocacy of the cause, which was near and dear to his heart. I do not think I am misrepresenting him in saying that he would have wished for another ending of the controversy, and that he still holds firm to his historic views on the question. But he can look back to the past with the sincere conviction that he did his duty and played his part in it ably and well, and that as a great hearted thorough Presbyterian he retains the respect of all who know him, and we all rejoice that his exemplary life has been prolonged into a period when the old controversies have ceased to be. Personally I regret that age prevents him taking the part in the new that I am sure his convictions and his feelings would lead him. And let me add also among the older generation of the band of stalwarts now surviving the name of my friend, Mr. J. D. Boyd, of Limavady, who was a keen and enthusiastic supporter of the cause both on the platform and in other ways. He has established his existence and his consistency of opinion in the letter that appeared in our columns a couple of weeks ago. At the moment I cannot recall any others surviving who took an important part in the controversy.

From The Witness, 25th January 1918.

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.