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.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The Presbyterian Church Instrumental Music Controversy pt 4


In my last article we took leave of the Assembly and the Instrumental Music question in 1873 with the statement of the intention and hope of the body that the compromise arranged — the passing of no law on the one side against the use of instruments and the refraining from their introduction or uses on the other — would be not for a year, but for all time. But the best laid schemes of Assemblies, like those of mice and men, gang aft agley. The ex-Moderator, Rev. Wm. Johnston, during the year put himself into communication with the several congregations using the instrument — these now numbered six or seven, chiefly in the South and West — but it was whispered during the year, that these had only resulted in a partial compliance with the resolution, and the tocsin of war was again sounded, with the result that there was a great gathering of- all the clans at the meeting and a renewal of the controversy anticipated. And it was so.

The Assembly of this year was held in St. Enoch's, which had then come into being, and was regarded with the pride which continues to this day. The Moderater of the year was a Southern minister, the Rev. Wm. Magill, of Cork, one of the most saintly and eloquent ministers of his time, a man of piety and power, whose ascent to the Chair was welcomed as a special tribute not only to himself, but the Southern provinces, whose Presbyterianism he so worthily represented and sustained. There was a large attendance of elders — 183 — but it was not so large as at some subsequent stages of the controversy. When the fateful Friday arrived — for the Instrumental Music question seemed to have been fated for that day, which was called fighting Friday — Rev. Mr. Johnston, the ex-Moderator, gave an account of his instrumental stewardship for the year. It may be interesting to record briefly the results — Wicklow (Rev. Mr. Porter) — No instrument since October. Mountmellick (Rev. R. H. Hanshow) — Carrying out resolution as far as in his power. Tullamore (Rev. Mr. Smyth) — Harmony of congregation depended on continuance of instrumental music. Clonmel (Rev. H. H. Beatty) — Complying with resolution if precentor paid. Disuse would silence voice of praise. Enniskillen (Rev. Mr. Maclatchey) — Resolved to continue. Queenstown (Rev. W. Simpson) — Cling to instruments as necessary to their very existence. Carlow (Rev. Mr. Coffey) — Still using the instrument, as minister not having been present at Assembly resolution not binding. In making these intimations Mr. Johnston added that a rumour had prevailed that Fisherwick Place Church had used a harmonium,, but that Mr. Wm. L. Finlay, a respected elder of the congregation, had informed him that no instrument had been used, but only a tuning fork, and that had been discarded. He then moved a resolution expressing grave disapproval of the action of the congregations that did not harmonise their praise in compliance with the resolution, while sympathising with their difficulties, requiring that the deliverance of 1873 should be carried out in all the congregations, that deputations be appointed to visit the congregations to exhort ministers and congregations to yield obedience in the Lord to the Courts of the Church, and that it be remitted to congregations to look after the matter and report. Mr. Thomas Sinclair seconded the resolution, and while expressing sympathy with the difficulties of the congregations he asked them to obey the Church. Rev. Archd. Robinson said as his party could have the previous year carried a resolution against instruments and refrained, he thought the congregations were bound to carry out the honourable arrangement, as Mr. Sinclair had held they should do. Rev. Dr. Wilson, Cookstown, moved a less restrictive amendment, but for the peace of the Church withdrew it. The question of discipline arose, but Mr. Johnston said he did not entertain the idea of discipline. The resolution was carried by a show of hands, only twelve voting against it, but Mr. Maclatchey, Mr. Waren, and Mr. Simpson protested.

So ends the question so far as the Assembly of 1874 with regard to the Instrumental Music question is concerned. But it was only the beginning of my own connection with it and also with that of “The Witness.” And I am free to say that if the controversy gave trouble to the Assembly for this and many after years, it gave quite as much to me. I was assisted in the work of “The Witness” by the then Rev. Thomas Hamilton, now the venerable Vice-Chancellor of the Belfast University. It was their desire, as well as that of my directors and myself, that, having regard to the marked division of the Assembly on the question, the paper should not be committed to any side in that controversy, but steer an even keel and give fairness and freedom to both. It was, to say the least of it, a trying task. As my two clerical guides were in favour of “Liberty” on the question, and as Mr. Sinclair was known to be a director of the paper it was difficult to make the “Purity Party,” as the opponents of instrumental music became known, understand that an even hand could or would be held out. Apart, however, from the honourable character of those to whom I was responsible, there was the fact that not having been gifted with a musical taste or enthusiasm I was personally very much of a Gallio in the matter, though I must admit that my sympathies and associations were with the “Liberty Party.” And I treasured more than any compliment I ever received a letter voluntary sent me by Dr. Petticrew, in which he acknowledged that, as far as it was possible for a human being to do, I had dealt fairly and impartially with the controversy in the paper. I admit frankly my difficulty was not so much to be impartial as to convince the “Purity” extremists that I could be from my Belfast associations. And though I fear Dr. Petticrew’s verdict may not have been accepted by all his followers, I believe it was by the majority.

When it is remembered that simultaneously with this controversy we had a Bible wine controversy and a hymn controversy, the trouble of an Editor as well as of the Church can be realised. Our space was limited and the demands on it from all sides of these controversies unlimited, so that I think the conductors of a newspaper like “The Witness” had almost as many difficulties to encounter and as many sections to satisfy as the governors of Ireland at the present time. During the year 1874 it became abundantly evident that the controversy had not ended; indeed, that it was only beginning. And we decided that on the eve of the Assembly we would give a limited number of the leaders on both sides a free hand to discuss the question in our columns. This began in May, continued till the Assembly of ’75, and was resumed after it, extending into the month of October. The Purity of Worship Party had prepared and published in the spring or early summer a full statement of their case in a pamphlet. On the 30th April the Rev. T. Y. Killen opened the controversial ball by a letter of three columns in length. The Rev. Joseph Corkey replied on May 14th with a letter a column add a half in length, and Mr. Killen replied to him on May 21 to the then very modest length of a column. On May 21, and 28 the Rev. Archd. Robinson took Mr. Killen to task in two and a half columns on the first day and three and a half columns on the second. On June 4, the eve of the Assembly, Mr. Killen had a four-column reply to Mr. Robinson, and Mr. Corkey had a two-and-a-quarter-column reply to Mr. Killen’s previous letter. Then the Rev. James Heron came on the scene with a four-column article — the first of a series on “Christian Liberty” directed to the same controversy. Silence prevailed in the controversial columns of “The Witness” till after the Assembly. On the 25th June the Rev. Mr. Corkey resumed his examination of Mr. Killen's examination of the “Purity” pamphlet, with attention also to Mr. Heron, to the extent of three columns. While Mr. Heron followed up his introduction with a three-column article, Mr. Killen replied the following week in a column. In July the Rev. Wm. Dobbin, of Anaghlone, opened up a reply to Mr. Heron, entitling his series, “The Danger of Elastic Principles.” This series extended to August 13, and amounted in the aggregate to six newspaper columns. Then Mr. Heron replied to Mr. Dobbin on the 20th August, and continued till 17th September, the aggregate representing five and a half columns. Mr. Dobbin replied to Mr. Heron in two articles of one and a half columns each, and Mr. Heron replied on the 15th and 22nd October in two articles aggregating two and a half columns. As an instance of the chivalrous spirit of the controversy, Mr. Heron in his final letter (for the time) said — “I conclude by returning Mr. Dobbin’s salaam, and by thanking him very cordially for the fresh opportunity he has given me of putting the subject before the readers of ‘The Witness.’” The controversy then ended, so far as “The Witness” was concerned, til the following spring, when, I am sure, it was resumed, though at the time of writing I have not looked up the files.

From The Witness, 9th November 1917.