Wednesday, 25 October 2017

The Presbyterian Church Instrumental Music Controversy pt 3


I am inclined to think that the tie in the decision of '72 intensified rather than lessened the interest and excitement of the controversy during the interval of next Assembly. But that is just the one year in regard to which I am unable to write with personal recollections of the controversy and of Ulster, Presbyterial or otherwise. That was the first year of my temporary divorce from Belfast and its life and controversies in either Church or State. But if I was detached from Ulster controversies, ecclesiastical and political, I did not escape controversies in regard to both. My earliest experiences of Dublin were in connection with an ecclesiastical controversy, but developed in a civil Court, perhaps the most remarkable before or since. It was the celebrated case of O'Keefe and Cullen, compared to which most other controversies of the kind with which I was associated were mere leather and prunella. The Rev. Mr. O'Keefe, a parish priest in the South of Ireland, possessed a spirit of independence rare in ecclesiastics of that Church. Cardinal Cullen, who introduced Ultramontanism into Ireland, with such baneful and divisive results, had suspended “Father O'Keefe” for some assertion of independence which did not meet with the approval of the Cardinal, and involved some violation of canon law, which brought on him the vials of ecclesiastical wrath and judgment. The suspension or removal of the priest involved the loss of his income, and the resolute priest appealed to the law of the land as against the law of the Church. The trial lasted a week, with Chief Justice Whiteside as the Judge, and a strong Bar, with Mr. Gerald Fitzgibbon, Q.C., as leading counsel for the parish priest, and Mr. John O'Hagan, Q.Q., afterwards Judge, as leader for the Cardinal. The case lasted for a week, and ended in a triumph for Father O'Keefe, the jury and Judge holding that the deprivation of Father O'Keefe's income was an act in violation, of British law, and that he was entitled by that law to his income or compensation for its loss. I have no recollection of the ultimate fate of Father O'Keefe and the legislation; but there were two dramatic incidents that come into my mind which the reader will, I hope, excuse my further breaking the continuity of my Assembly life to refer to.

The first was the appearance of two canonists from Rome as witnesses on canon law on behalf of the Cardinal. Both these were gentlemen in the prime of life, of fine appearance and address, and full shoulders and chest one is accustomed to associate with Italians. Their voices were rich and musical, and their appearance that of the most robust health and joy of life. As neither understood English, the celebrated Father Burke appeared on the table as interpreter. Father Burke was one of the most celebrated orators and preachers of his time, with a rich, full, and pleasing voice. He wore the garb of a Dominican, and was as lean and ascetic looking as the Italians were the reverse; and having regard to his almost absence of chest one wondered where or how the rich resonant notes were produced. But though I have not much of a musical ear, I listened spellbound to the sounds that emanated alternately from the canonists and Dominican. It was more like an entertainment in musical sounds than a trial in a court of justice, so much more enjoyable. To me the sound was more intelligible than the sense. The pleasure I experienced from the sound is revived almost to the point of reality as I think of it now.

It fell to the lot of Mr. Fitzgibbon to cross-examine these canonists, and what struck me at the time was the counsel's apparent familiarity with the canons in their original language. Frequently when he asked for a certain canon., and the canonist would read it in the original, Mr. Fitzgibbon, if it happened not to be the one he wanted, would stop him and say, “That is not the canon I mean.” And apropos the canon law, I may mention that afterwards in his speech, one of the most brilliant and memorable I ever listened to, Mr. Fitzgibbon pointed out that it was impossible to catch the Church or its high authorities on any of its canons. If you found a canon that would apply to what you wanted (in the relation of the individuals in the Church to it), you found there was an exception in favour of a bishop; then another exertion in favour of an archbishop; and still another in favour of a cardinal. This was said in connection with the liberties given or the restrictions opposed on the various grades of ecclesiastical authority.

The second was the, to me, startling and theatrical but really brilliant and picturesque scene when Cardinal Cullen, with the then Bishop Vaughan, a splendid specimen of manhood, I am sure six and a half feet high and built in solid, not gross, proportion, afterwards Cardinal Vaughan; and I think another bishop, with all their ecclesiastical officers, garbed in their robes and vestments, marched into court one morning in full state and dignity, which seemed for the time to cast those of the Judge and Court into the shade. It was a very picturesque and very dramatic sight; and whether it had the influence on Court and jury that was intended, I cannot say.

The other controversy was political, connected with the early days of Home Rule. The Home Government Association was a puny child, the offspring of a union between certain Trinity College professors and other Episcopalians to take revenge for the passing of the Irish Church Act, and of Roman Catholics who were always ready to take part in anything that would be “agin” the Government. The founders numbered less than twenty, and the majority were Episcopalian Protestants, chiefly Trinity College professors, with Isaac Butt as the official head and parent. I have personally seen the original document founding the association, with the signatures. Mr. Butt was one of the greatest lawyers of his time, who had missed his way to the Bench, for which he was better qualified than many who attained it by personal characteristics of unreliability and irresponsibility, and hoped to find in this new movement a means of vengeance, if not a path to power. It is possible the lore of the time may give a different account of the leader and the circumstances; but I think this is the most unvarnishedly truthful of any given. It was a puny child at first, and received careful nursing to keep it alive. Its meetings in my time were held in a room in Great Brunswick Street, with Mr. Robert Butt (son of Isaac) and Professor Galbraith, of Trinity College and Mr. A. M. Sullivan, and others as bright particular occasional stars. Often at the hour fixed for the meetings to commence the attendance were very small, and whips would be sent out to the adjoining public or other houses in search of “enthusiastic” votaries of the new movement. It was at this time that Mr. Parnell, at least in name, appeared first on the horizon. He was selected to contest one of the two county divisions of Dublin in opposition, if I remember aright, to Colonel Taylour, who had been before (or was perhaps after) the Conservative whip. I was present at nearly all the election meetings held in the interests of Mr. Parnell in the county, and I never heard Mr. Parnell open his mouth. Professor Galbraith usually apologised for his absence at each meeting on the ground that he was at that time addressing a meeting in distant parts of the county. Such an apology was made for him at a meeting a few miles from Dublin, at the foot of the Wicklow Mountains.

When the reporters, who were the last to leave the field, reached the road a gig containing a lady and gentleman drove past, and we were told that was Mr. Parnell. That was all I saw of the modest and retiring candidate, whose subsequent lack of modesty and reserve are matters of history. So if I escaped the instrumental music controversy for that year, I had enough of controversy to lay a good foundation of the characteristic condition of Ireland.

For the year's account of the controversy I am obliged to fall back upon the Minutes and the newspapers for what occurred. But it is interesting reading. As I have said, the division of 1872 ended in a tie and an understanding that nothing would be done during the year either to put in or put out an instrument. I was not in a position! to follow the controversy in the Press and in pamphlets; but I suspect there was a great deal, from some reference in the debate. Rev. Wm. Johnston (afterwards D.D.) was the outgoing Moderator; but he made no reference to the controversy in his retiring address. He and the Rev. Geo. Bellis were nominated for the Moderatorship — there were other names, but the contest was between these two, and Mr. Johnston was elected by a large majority. On Tuesday he intimated that he hoped there would be no discussion on the instrumental music controversy, but if there was it would take place on the following day (Wednesday). The ladies of the Church did their best to promote harmony in the Assembly by inviting the members to a couple of breakfasts during the sittings; but even that failed to avert the discussion. It began on that same day. The Moderator, when he found discussion inevitable, suggested that the leaders should be limited to three-quarters of an hour; and though I was not there, I am sure they occupied the full time.

Rev. T. Y. Killen moved that a small committee be appointed to confer and, if possible, bring in a resolution which might be unanimously adopted by the Assembly. But Mr. Petticrew leaped at once into the trench, and moved the following amendment:—

“It having been referred to this committee to consider whether it would be necessary for the Assembly to legislate at present on the subject of the use of instrumental music in the public worship of God, and if so to suggest what the legislation should be, the committee report that they find the Assembly of 1868 declared ‘that the common law of the Church excludes instrumental music in the public worship of God and that Presbyteries be instructed to see that congregations conform to this law;' the committee are of opinion that no additional legislation is necessary and that any departure from the uniform practice of the Church in this matter would create discord among brethren, and wound the conscience of many.” The debate was continued with great vigour and apparently with much heat during the entire morning and evening sederunts of Wednesday and the greater part of Friday. Amongst the speakers in support of Mr. Petticrew's amendment, following in the old paths were Revs. Archibald Robinson, N. M. Brown, Joseph Corkey, Wm. Dobbin, J. B. Rentoul, Dr. J. G. Murphy. Among the “Liberty” speakers were Mr. Thomas Sinclair, Revs. Professor Killen, Robert Ross. Mr. Petticrew's position was that no additional legislation was necessary or expedient; that instrumental music was no part of worship in the Old Testament outside the Temple, and had no part in the New or Christian Church for the first seven hundred years. The arguments and illustrations were many. Mr. Sinclair's position was that instrumental music in worship was allowed in the Old and not repealed in the New. He was willing to forego the liberty, but he did not want to be compelled. He did not want to force any instrument on any church, but he would resent any attempt to coerce him or hedge in his liberty. Professor Killen was of opinion that the reason there was no instrumental music in the primitive Church was that they had no opportunity, and Dr. Murphy said instrumental music was not part of the ceremonial law, of the moral law, or the law of the Church. It had been in harmony with the old worship and was not congruous with the new, which was more spiritual in form. Mr. Robinson said that those who regarded instrumental music as merely a circumstance wanted liberty to introduce it — to introduce what many of their brethren regarded as a sin. Dr. Smyth, while in favour of the old paths and old form of worship, was also in favour of liberty, though he expressed himself opposed to both motion and amendment. He said that things were commanded in the early Church that were not commanded now. For instance, he said, in the early Church it was positively enacted that people should greet one another with a holy kiss; that command was not enforced now; it was left entirely as a matter of discretion. In place of the motion and amendment he was prepared to move that a portion of the petition to King Charles the First of the 2,000 Nonconformists who were expelled from the Church for Nonconformity be put on the minutes of the General Assembly.

At the opening of the sederunt on Friday a letter was read from one of the most respected elders of his own or any day, Mr. Charles Finlay, stating that at the Evangelical Alliance on one occasion, when some difficulty arose, the members devoted five minutes to silent prayer, and suggested that the Assembly should follow the example before further discussing the question. The suggestion was complied with, and after a period of silent prayer the Moderator, after a few sentences explaining that with one section it was against conscience to use instruments and with another it was against conscience to refuse liberty to use them, having regard to the common desire for the peace and prosperity of the Church, submitted the following resolutions:—

“First — To abstain from passing any law in relation to the service of praise.

“Second — To give up and abstain from the use of instrumental music in the public worship of God.

“Third — To address ourselves with increased diligence to improve the Psalmody of the Church.”

Some of the leaders on both sides expressed themselves satisfied. Dr. Kirkpatrick said the resolution might be tried in good faith for a year. Mr. Robinson said he clearly understood it would be a permanent settlement, and the Moderator said he proposed it as a permanent settlement, adding — “Let us be swathed together in the baptism of love.” The resolutions were then passed unanimously, and the Assembly engaged solemnly in prayer.

Some readers may think I am giving too much detail, but I think it is best to show as far as I can by what slow degrees and by how many attempts at compromise the question reached its final stage. This was the fifth year of the controversy; yet it was not till 1874, when “The Witness” was started, that I was most closely and directly connected with it. The agitation, the excitement, the controversies of the first five years were nothing to those that followed. For myself it seemed an eternity before the end came.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 26th October 2017

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The Presbyterian Church Instrumental Music Controversy pt 2

By “The Man in the Street.”

As I have indicated, the feeling of excitement throughout the Church was great at the time, and we had many pamphlets on the subject, the only one of which I can recall being one by Professor Wallace, but I know there were others. The subject was discussed in the papers, though, perhaps, less at this time than since “The Witness” came into existence two years afterwards, of which I shall have something to say by and bye. It was the chief topic in congregations and among Presbyterians, either corporate or individual. “Liberty” and “Purity” had become watchwords at that time as descriptive of the two parties. There was scarcely a Young Men’s Association connected with the Presbyterian Church that did not debate the question at its meetings. We debated it in Duncairn, where, apart from other reasons, the prominence into which Mr. Thomas Sinclair had sprung in the Church, as well as that attained by its minister, the Rev. T. Y. Killen, special interest attached to the subject. I was myself for the first time caught in the vortex of debating excitement. Our young men’s society arranged a debate on the subject, with Mr. Sinclair to lead off on the “Liberty” side. At the last moment he was called away on business, and I was asked to take his place. The honour was as great as the responsibility was appalling. I had never taken a leading part in a debate before, and thought I would prepare a speech for the great occasion. I kept writing away, but only to find that my introduction would have occupied as much time as was allotted to me altogether; and so had to trust to a hesitating tongue and inadequate thought and information for giving the lead. And a poor lead it was. I boggled through for a quarter of an hour with a consciousness of having made a poor exhibition of myself and my cause. But worse was to follow. I had only arranged for one or two speakers to follow me on my side. But to my surprise my friends the enemy, and chief among them my best friend and companion, Hugh Jamison, brother of the minister of Rasharkin, had a whole relay of speakers arranged for. The result was that while I believe the majority of the audience were on my side, the majority of the speakers were on the other side, and, I am afraid, the best speaking, too. There were nearly two speeches on the “Purity” side for one on mine. It was after ten o’clock before the time came for my reply. Between shame at what I regarded as my failure both of speech and organisation, and a resolute determination to make amends at the finish, I could scarcely keep my seat for the previous half-hour. When my time came I rattled off all I knew as rapidly and confidently as I could. Beyond the fact that I kept harping on the harp and kept watching the clock for time and the faces of my audience for signs of weariness, I was conscious of nothing when I sat down but that I had been talking. I could no more have reconstituted that speech than I could have converted Hugh Jamison or Mr. Petticrew. How the vote went I cannot remember. But I fought shy of debates on that question, or, indeed, any other of the kind, afterwards.

It was different with the Assembly of 1872 so far as perfection and the marshalling of forces were concerned. There were no end of speakers and no end of speaking and no end of marshalling forces. Attempts were made to have the speeches limited, and I think a limit was fixed, but, like many other rules, it was, I suspect, more honoured in the breach than in the observance. According to form, the question arose on the report of the committee of which Rev. Dr. Knox was convener, and the moving of the reception of the report should have fallen on Dr. Knox. But, as a matter of fact, the report in committee had been carried by a majority against him and his friends. Professor Wallace, Rev. W. F. Stevenson, Rev. Jas. Gibson, and Mr. Wm. Shaw, elder, with Dr. Knox himself, had dissented from the report. Dr. Knox had given the name of the dissenters in his report, and the Rev. Archibald Robinson protested against that, and this led to some heated remarks, in the midst of which the Moderator (Rev. Dr. Richard Smyth) said — “May I request that you will not allow feeling to get up so soon.” In the end Dr. Knox did not move the reception of the report — only presenting it, and this duty fell to the Rev. Francis Petticrew, who at the first and till the end was the acknowledged leader of what was known as the Purity party. Tall and dignified, straight as an arrow and firm as steel, solid and scholarly, Dr. Petticrew (he was not D.D. at the time, but in his and other cases I shall continue to use the names that were more familiar to the present generation) was an ideal leader of any cause. He was not only a man of principle, but a man of consistency, a man of intense earnestness, to whom truth and duty were more than life. If Dr. Petticrew had lived in the days when men were sent to the stake for their principles, he would have faced the stake with the heroism of a martyr and the hopefulness of a saint. He was not as ready in extemporised debates as some others, but when he prepared a speech it was a complete and perfect speech. I could not recall even the number of speeches he made in the Assembly and elsewhere, or the number of articles he wrote during this controversy. II It was remarkable, however, that while the bases of his speech were always the same, the superstructure was different, forceful in argument, unsurpassed in its sincerity and earnestness, and finished in style. And as he filled so large a share in the controversy, let me say here that at the end he was the same noble, high-minded Christian gentleman, as noble and dignified in defeat as he was high-minded and honourable in victory.

Setting out with the Assembly resolution, of which, I think, Dr. Cooke was the father, that the common law of the Church excluded instrumental music, he appealed to the Old and New Testament, holding that it was only for the temple that instrumental music was prescribed, and that there was no example of it in the New, and argued that those who proposed a change were bound to justify the change, which they had hitherto failed to do, and thus he claimed that, even if lawful, a practice should not be introduced which would offend the consciences of many worshippers.

I need not say that the speech created great enthusiasm among the Purity party, and was listened to with great respect by the other side, a courtesy which that leader always received, as was his due. The Rev. James Rogers, Glascar, seconded the resolution. Then Mr. Thomas Sinclair, known to this generation as the Right Hon. Thos. Sinclair, mounted the platform. Mr. Sinclair was then a young man on the right side of thirty, but he had already taken the place of leadership as by natural selection. His brilliant service in the financial settlement of the Church, as well as his high Christian character, Presbyterian loyalty, and statesmanlike sagacity and cultivated eloquence, had secured for him a respect and influence which grew with his growth and remained to his death. Dr. Petticrew and he were honoured graduates of the same — Queen’s — University, and in personal and ecclesiastical relations it might be truly said that each loved the other more than himself. These two withstood each other face to face all through this controversy, and their relations to the end were those of the truest Christian affection, Christian brotherhood in the highest and best sense of the term. It was my privilege to have known both very intimately, and to have had opportunities of knowing how each regarded the other, the respect and affection each had for the other, and the regret each felt that there should be any differences between them in regard to the services of a Church they both loved so dearly. I have heard the majority of the speeches of Mr. Sinclair on questions of Church and State, and I could not say there was any difference in tone and character or ability from one period to the other. His early speeches had a literary tone and feeling begotten of his university training, but they were never the flamboyant speeches of a young man. Large views, a high sense of duty in Church and State, a high sense of individuality, responsibility, and of public duty animated him in youth as in age. If polish might be regarded as a speciality of youth, it was as marked a characteristic of Mr. Sinclair’s age. In the memorable speech on this occasion, a cultured speech, the youth was father to the man, loyalty to Church above all and before all. His declaration at the close of a magnificent speech was like the man — “If the issue of this question be the use of an instrument or the peace of the Church. ‘Perish the instrument, but God save the Church.’ ”

Professor Wallace, who carried the weight of great learning and a philosophic mind into this controversy, seconded Mr. Sinclair’s amendment, which was as follows — “That the report be received and the committee discharged, and that the General Assembly believing it to be the duty of Christian people to offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of the lips giving thanks unto His mine, do not feel called upon to legislate regarding certain ‘circumstances’ concerning the public worship of God in this ordinance, such as the employment of precentors and choirs and the use of instrumental aid, believing that these circumstances are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.”

The debate was continued for the whole forenoon sederunt on Thursday, the whole forenoon sederunt on Friday, and from nine o’clock on that evening till cock crowing in the morning. Amongst those who took part in the debate were Rev. Dr. Gardner Robb, of Clogher; Rev. Dr. Killen, Comber; Rev. J. L. Rentoul, Garvagh; Rev. G. H. Shanks, Boardmills; and Rev. W. Kirkpatrick, Dublin, in support of Dr. Petticrew; and Rev. Dr. Watts, Rev. Professor Macloskie, Rev. L. E. Berkeley, and others contra.

It was not till after three o’clock on Saturday morning that the vote was taken. There was an electric feeling in the House at the time, as, indeed, there was during the whole night. This was the first occasion on which the subject was discussed on its merits. And it was a memorable discussion. I cannot say how many debates, both in day and night, that I heard in May Street and elsewhere on this subject. But none impressed me more than this. One thing these debates did for me was to enable me to realise as I never had done before the great ability, and, especially the debating ability, of the Assembly of those days. The newspapers gave very full and fair reports of the debates, but no effort to represent in black and white the speeches, whether in full or in summary, could give any adequate  idea of the character and effect of the speeches. It requires the living voice, the crowds, the atmosphere, and the feeling and spirit of the moment to enable one to fully appreciate tho character of a speaker or its effectiveness. Oft times the speeches that read best in the Press are not the most effective on the platform. It was not only in the ranks of the Presbyterian Church but outside them that the speeches and debates left an impression. It is true some captious outside critics commented on the strength of the language at times used and the excitement that prevailed, but I question if any other body of the time, ecclesiastical or lay, could have produced, an equal number of men to make an equal number of able speeches; and the heat and excitement that prevailed were simply indications that the debates were not academic displays, but discussions that went to the heart and life of the Church.

While the first debate left the deepest impression on my mind, the longer the discussion lasted the greater my admiration grew, and if as a Presbyterian I felt gratified at the manner in which harmony developed out of what was a critical and divisive controversy, I retain a general sense of pride and satisfaction at the high character of the oratory the subject developed. And what was true of the first debate was true of others. Some of the best speeches, delivered in the middle of the night, seldom saw the light of day, except in the baldest summary. The newspapers had to go to Press before the debates closed, and sufficient for the work of the day was the reporting thereof. I re-read, however, the published reports of this first debate, and found them still readable, though many of the arguments have an old world ring about them now, and some of the phrases rather an archaic character.

It was towards the close of the debate that one of the exciting incidents or scenes of the debate took place, and it is indicative alike of the attention and the tension. While the Rev. L. E. Berkeley was speaking he referred to the fact that Dr. Robb had looked scornfully at the tuning-fork he had in his hand. Dr. Robb waxed indignant at this and at a comparison the minister of Lurgan had drawn between him and Goliath attacking David. This intervention raised a mild storm, but the Moderator allowed Mr. Berkeley to finish in peace.

The vote was then taken by the old and tedious process of calling the roll, and occupied the greater part of an hour, which was an hour of intensely suppressed interest and excitement. In the end 145 voted “amend,” and 180 “not,” which meant the defeat of the “liberty” party by 35 votes. The cheering of the victorious party was loud and vociferous. It was the first real test vote on the merits, and the first victory I went to Dr. Petticrew and his party,

The Rev. Dr. Charles Morrell, of Dungannon, whose portly presence and genial and moderating humour often relieved the dulness of the House or the tension of a moment, then came forward to move as a second amendment that the report be received and the committee dissolved, and that the Assembly declare that vocal music is the only music in the public worship of God authorised by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Mr. J. P. Corry seconded the amendment. There was another roll call and another vote on this amendment, which had the extraordinary and unexpected result of ending in a tie — 152 on each side. If the excitement was great before, it was, if possible, greater now. It was suggested that the Moderator should give a casting vote, but he said while he would be prepared to do so if necessary he would prefer to refrain. He was not pressed, and after some discussion he suggested that it would be better to let the question remain as before for another year,  with the understanding that no action be taken during the year either to put out or put in an instrument. In this way the first great instrumental debate ended.

To be continued at a later date...

From The Witness, 12th October 2017

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

The Presbyterian Church Instrumental Music Controversy


Now that the holidays are over and “Southern Presbyterian” is himself again, I feel stimulated to resume some of my old activities and take up the thread of my musings, which the General Assembly interrupted. I felt for the time that the work and interest of the present Assembly was enough for my readers and myself, and I am not quite sure that either of us has discharged our full duty to it. But, I fear, as it has been in the beginning is now, and ever shall be, failure of duty will be the badge of too many of the sons of men, and even the sons of the Presbyterian Church.

While I was thinking over what branch or period of the past Assembly life and work I should take up a clerical friend suggested that the instrumental music controversy had become sufficiently ancient history to be discussed with ecclesiastical and philosophic calm, and, at the same time, sufficiently modern and interesting to make the controversy and its personages and incidents interesting to the present generation. To those who knew the great men of that day the story might recall interesting memories, and to those of the new generation it might be of interest to know something of the giants of the old day, and how they wrought and fought for what each believed to be the right. Looking back over that controversy extending over two decades, thinking of the feeling that produced it and the heat it inspired, the sanctity of use and wont on the one side, and the stimulus of new ideas and ideals on the other, I often wonder how it came to an end without a rupture and leaving so few bitter memories behind it. It is when men think strongly and feel strongly they speak strongly, and there was as much strong speaking and writing during this controversy as ever marked any controversy, ecclesiastical or political. And yet amid it all so powerful was respect for honest conviction and so deep the respect and veneration of the leaders in the controversy for each other’s sincerity, and reverence for God and the Church, that I do not think a private friendship was broken during the entire period, or a word uttered — except now and then in the heat of debate, and at once apologised for — that left any embittering memories behind it. Apart from what the general public knew of this, I can bear testimony such as few others could have had opportunity of doing. I was, perhaps, thrown more into personal contact with the leaders of both sides than the average man. I had most familiar and intimate converse with them not only in regard to the controversy, but in regard to the opponents of each in the controversy, and I can say this, that I never once heard the leaders on either side speak with anything but the greatest respect of the spirit and the motives of those on the other side. In the old days Professors Killen and Watts, Dr. Heron, Rev. Dr. T. Y. Killen, and other, leaders of what was called the Instrumental Music Party dropped into my office for a chat, as did also Dr. Petticrew, Dr. Corkey, Rev. Dr. George Magill, and others on the other side, and frequently some of the friendly rivals met and discussed matters together in my room. And they discussed it on all occasions like Christian gentlemen, each respecting the other's position, and each dealing with the question from the point of view of principle and the interests of the Church and truth. But I can go further and say that each of these and many others that I could name, in speaking of their opponents on the question,  never once spoke disrespectfully or unappreciatively of the other, and if I had no other means of forming an estimate of the tone, character, and dignity of the leaders of the Church at that time, I had ample to satisfy me that the leaders of that time, and not least the leaders in this great controversy, were men of whom the Church had reason be proud. Their ability and example were not only great, but inspiring.

As the source of great rivers are found in mountain streams, the great controversy had its fountain and origin in two simple-looking lines hidden away in the report of the Synod of Armagh and Monaghan. The Synod reported inter alia that “they agreed to refer to the Assembly the case of Enniskillen Presbyterian Church, where instrumental music was employed in the celebration of the praise of God during public worship.” I doubt if many at the time realised how great a storm this little breath of music was create. It is said of troubles that they do not come alone. So far as the Assembly of 1868 is concerned, it had to do with questions compared to which this seemed little indeed. The whole question of the threatened Regium Donum was to be raised, and the ministers and elders had come up from all parts of the Church to consider the attitude on that great question. That issue excited and divided the Assembly, and raised controversies which lasted many years. But these, like that on instrumental music, have all mingled with the azure of the past, and newer and different issues, some, however, no less far-reaching, now occupy the attention of the Church.

There was little more than skirmishing on this first occasion, parties having apparently not got quite in line, but the trend of feeling on one side, at least, may be gathered from a statement of the Rev. J. B. Rentoul, that when other Churches are running Rome-wards he thought it was their interest to adhere closely to the principles of their forefathers and worship God in their simple style. After some skirmishing, the Rev. John Rogers, Comber, moved “That a committee be now appointed, with powers to suspend action in this case, to examine the simple question of the use of instrumental music in public worship, declare the whole law of the Church in this matter, with the course that should be pursued, and report to the next Assembly.”

The Rev. Dr. Cooke, who appeared in this Assembly for the last time this year, moved the following amendment — “That the common law of the Church excludes the use of instrumental music in the public worship of God, and that Presbyteries be requested to conform to the law.” The amendment was carried. I cannot say how far the personal influence of Dr. Cooke may have been responsible for this. I well remember his appearance on the occasion. His voice was feeble, but his spirit was as strong as ever. It must have been saddening to the old of the time that the venerable leader who had so often commanded that and other Assemblies by his eloquence was only able to utter a few sentences. But they were clear and crisp, and carried great weight at the time, and the words of the amendment that the common law of the Church was against instrumental music rang in speeches and re-appeared in pamphlets for many years. The next General Assembly had to chronicle the illustrious leader’s death, and pass, as it did, most appreciative resolutions as to his worth and services.

The Rev. Mr. Maclatchy, a very fine, cultivated minister, venerable in years, and strong in personality, was minister of Enniskillen Church. It was freely stated at the time that he had been obliged to use the instrument on account of the difficulty that was found to get the praise service properly conducted otherwise. And I find that in the following Assembly, that of 1869, he said that he had determinedly objected to the use of a harmonium, but had difficulty in getting a precentor, and frequently had been unable to have any praise at all. It was the Clogher Presbytery that first raised the issue, and I do not think I am doing any injustice to his memory or to the facts in stating that the Rev. J. Gardiner Robb, who for years was one of the most brilliant opponents of instrumental music, was responsible for the introduction of the question into the Clogher Presbytery, from which it extended to the Synod and the Assembly. He certainly held strong opinions on the subject, and defended his opinions in the Assembly while he lived with a vigour and eloquence worthy of any man or any Assembly.

The next year the congregation of Enniskillen sent up a memorial to the Assembly explaining their difficulties and asking permission to use the harmonium. The Rev. Kennedy M'Kay, a miracle of eccentricity and fluency, moved that the prayer of the memorial be dismissed, and that a commission be appointed to confer with the congregation. Rev. Dr. Knox moved an amendment that a commission be appointed to visit the congregation, and have a conference with a view to the removal of the instrument. A discussion in private followed, resulting in the carriage, in public Assembly, by a majority of 253 to 4, that a commission be appointed to take charge of the matter and report to next Assembly. This was done, and the next year, 1870, Dr. Knox reported that the commission had attended, and recommended that it would be inexpedient to interfere with the use of the harmonium in the congregation. The previous question was moved by Rev. Dr. J. M. Killen, Comber, and carried by 67 against 46. This just left matters as they were. This decision took place in the second week of the Assembly, which explains the comparatively small vote. In 1871 the subject again came up, and Dr. Knox repeated his motion, that it would be inexpedient to interfere with the use of the harmonium. Dr. Gardner Robb, who took a leading part in this question, demanded that if an instrument was to be introduced it should be done in a right way. Some advocated delay, but Rev. F. Petticrew (he was not D.D. at the time) opposed any delay or staving off, but the previous question was again carried.

In 1872 the first of the many really great debates on the issue took place. It was started on a report of the committee, presented by the Rev. Dr. Knox, which stated that “as the common law of the Church excluded the use of instrumental music, and that all congregations should conform to it, the committee was of opinion that no further legislation was necessary.” There was a very large attendance of ministers and elders from all parts of the Church, and the atmosphere was electrical. Feeling on the subject had been developed by speeches and pamphlets, and the excitement not only in Belfast, but throughout the Church was great. The Rev. Professor Smyth, then of Magee College, Derry, afterwards M.P. for the county, was the Moderator of the year. Arrangements had been made for a field day. And it was a field day. Not only a field day, but a field night. The debate opened on the first Wednesday of the Assembly and occupied the entire sederunt. It was then adjourned till Friday, the whole forenoon of which it occupied. In the evening there was an interval to hear the English deputation, which consisted of the Rev. Dr. J. Thain Davison, Rev. Dr. J. O. Dykes, and Mr. Ed. Jenkins, author of “Gink’s Baby,” a political brochure that commanded great attention at the time. Mr. Jenkins was member for Dundee, and a son-in-law of the late Mr. Philip Johnson, J.P., of Belfast. The instrumental debate was then resumed and continued without intermission till half-past five o’clock in the morning. The newspapers of the day and my own memory were more suggestive of six o’clock, but I accept the statement of the Minutes. At any rate, we all went home with the milk in the morning, women as well as men, for some noble and and enthusiastic women, if I remember aright, remained to the last. At least if they were not there in the flesh, they were in the spirit, for the women in many cases, and especially on the instrumental side, were, if possible, more earnest and enthusiastic than the men.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 5th October 1917.