Wednesday, 7 March 2018

The Presbyterian Church Instrumental Music Controversy pt 13


The year 1885 was a memorable year not only in the history of the country, but in the history of the Church so far as the instrumental music question is concerned. Mr. Gladstone, by his surrender to the Nationalists and the introduction of his Home Rule Bill, had sowed the seeds of a movement for the disintegration of this country as well as of the United Kingdom, whose bitter harvest we are still reaping after forty years. The country and the Church were perturbed as they had not been for generations. A new element of division and cleavage, of which we had enough in the country, was introduced, and the great issue involved swallowed up all other issues save those affecting the spiritual life, of the Church, which was maintained in the old form, and spirit. The very night on which the Assembly met in 1886 was the night on which the division on the second reading of the first Home Rule Bill was taken, and while the Assembly was holding its opening session the Parliament was holding its closing Home Rule session. I hope many in the Assembly who, like myself, were, I fear, thinking more of the State than the Church during the meeting, have already been forgiven. At any rate, for myself as I waited for the fateful result of the division, I am afraid my thoughts wandered from the Church, and when the news came that the first Home Rule Bill had been defeated by thirty votes I am afraid that even the instrumental music controversy fell into a subordinate place.

But not only was the general aspect of this question both in the Church and country great, but locally its effect was felt. On the eve of the meeting of the Assembly riots broke out in Belfast, and did not conclude for some months, leaving behind them memories of sacrifice of order and life and character, which were not soon forgotten. It will be obvious that the Assembly meeting at such a time was impressed with the momentous gravity of the stale of the country, and with a desire for avoiding, as far as possible, any controversy in the Church. And one happy incident prepared the members hopefully in this direction. “The Witness” of Tuesday morning, the special issue on the morrow of the opening meeting, contained a telegram from Cork announcing that the congregation of Queen Street, Cork, at the earnest solicitation of their pastor, the Rev. Matthew Kerr, one of the most interesting and earnest ministers of the Church, had unanimously consented to discontinue the use of instrumental music an public worship. “The members for the most part” — the telegram added — “felt strongly that in doing this they were making a great sacrifice, which may seriously interfere with the interests of the congregation; but in view of the interests of the Church at large they were willing to sacrifice their own interests, holding, however, that whilst doing so, they had an undoubted Scriptural right to use instrumental music in public worship.” The outgoing Moderator that year was the Rev. J. W, Whigham (afterwards D.D.), of Ballinasloe, one of the ablest and staunchest of the upholders of the standard of the Church in the West, a man who was beloved and honoured in his own part of the country as over the whole Church. The new Moderator was the Rev. Dr. Robert Ross, of Derry, a minister of the highest culture and character, at once eloquent and earnest, and who, while a staunch and consistent supporter of instrumental music by voice and pen, was a man of the gentlest disposition and of the kindliest Christian spirit.

It was with no surprise that while the order of business, with its provision for the consideration of the burning question for Friday, the Rev. Dr. C. L. Morrell got up, and in his suave and happy way suggested that with the necessity of unity so clamantly demanded in the interests of the country, there should be even no appearance of division in the Church; and with that view he suggested the postponement of the entire subject, to which the Rev. Dr. Petticrew said he would consent if Dr. Morrell’s friends would agree to abandon the use of instruments in the meantime. Dr. Morrell did not think that would be fair, whereupon the Rev. Dr. T. Y. Killen moved the appointment of a committee representing both sides to see if an amicable conclusion could be arrived at. This proposal was ultimately agreed to, and such was the spirit of the time that on the evening of Thursday, the day before that fixed for receiving the report, the Moderator was able to make the gratifying announcement that a unanimous finding had been arrived at. So that we had the assurance in advance that, for the first time for years, there would be no “fighting Friday," but a pacific Friday in the Assembly.

On the Friday Dr. Killen brought forward the unanimous decision of the committee, which, in substance, was that for five years the instrumental music question should not be reopened; that a committee (composed of leading instrumentalists) should be appointed to use their utmost endeavour to induce ministers and congregations using instruments to discontinue their use; that in the event of failure those opposed to the use of instruments would not reopen the question for at least three years, the resolution of inaction for five years would cease to be binding, they in the meantime using their efforts to dissolve associations against instrumental music; and expressing satisfaction with those ministers and congregations that had given up the instruments, and hoping that other brethren would follow their example.

The Rev. Dr. Morrell moved the adoption ot these resolutions, and congratulated the Assembly on their unanimous acceptance by the committee. He hoped he was bidding farewell, and farewell for ever, to an “old friend of seventeen years’ standing.” Referring to the pledge of the Purity party about using their best exertions to bring about the dissolution of their association, he said “the best endeavours of Dr. Petticrew, Mr. Robinson, and Dr. Corkey meant that they would accomplish their object. They were really omnipotent. ‘When the great Ajax lifts his spear the trembling hosts obey.’” This good-humoured sally, which was in harmony with the feeling and spirit of the leaders on both sides was only a pleasant retort to the statement of Rev. Archibald Robinson in the earlier part of the discussion, that “if Dr. Wilson, Dr. Killen, and Dr. Morrell would only bring to bear that electricity of theirs on the minds and consciences of the brethren using instruments they might have the whole matter disposed of in a year or so.”

Mr. Robinson seconded the resolution, remarking inter alia that he was sick, sore, and tired of the whole controversy, and that if it had been a friend to Dr. Morrell for seventeen years it had been, no friend to him. The Rev. Wm. Simpson and the Rev. R. Workman asked leave to dissent. Mr. Workman said he could not conscientiously be a party to the carrying of the report unanimously, and he hoped it would be understood that it would only be moral influence that would be brought to bear. Rev. A. Robinson said that from what he knew of the moral character of the committee he was sure they would not do anything immoral. Still good humour and native humour as well, as the reader will see.

The resolutions were carried with three dissentients. — Revs. Messrs. Workman, Simpson, and J. G. Kirkpatrick (Dunluce). In declaring the resolutions passed, the Moderator said he did So with a feeling of heartfelt gratitude such as never existed in his heart before. At the request of the Moderator, the Rev. Dr. Wilson, Limerick, led the Assembly in prayer. There were a large number of memorials on the subject; but they were all held in retentis. Thus happily and hopefully the Assembly passed from the instrumental music question in 1866.

From The Witness, 8th March 1918.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

My Home Beyond the Sea

Beyond the dark and rolling tide,
     Beyond the deep blue sea,
There is a lowly mountain cot,
     Earth’s dearest place to me.

My youthful vision first beheld
     In it the light of day.
And, Oh, it is the loveliest spot
     To me on life’s rough way.

In dreams I see its snow-white walls,
     Bedecked with roses rare;
The honeysuckle and the vine
     Entwine their branches there.

The earliest beams, of God’s great sun
     Light up each nook and dell;
And chase the dewdrops from each flower
     And path I love so well.

The sparrow and the swallow flit
     Around those whitewashed walls;
But dearer is that spot to me
     Than all earth’s lordly halls.

I love to think when sets the sun,
     Of that dear home afar;
Upon whose roof at close of day
     Beams down my polar star.

And though my eyes may never see
     That humble cot again.
The vision of its loveliness
     With me will still remain.

New York City.

Poem from The Witness, 1st March 1918.
Image: Granny's Irish Cottage, an oil painting by Norma Wilson.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

The Presbyterian Church Instrumental Music Controversy pt 12


We took leave last week of the Assembly of 1885 in the midst of one of the most grave end critical developments of its life within, at least, my memory. The word secession has ominous significance in Church or State, and while at the time few of us imagined that there would be secession — we regarded the friends who had temporarily retired, either from pique or principle, too good and loyal Presbyterians for that — still, the situation was critical, and many great secessions have sprung from similar outbursts of feelings or determination. I well remember the excitement that was created when the Rev. Mr. Jeffrey entered the excited Assembly, and himself in rather an excited state, and announced that the withdrawn brethren were holding a meeting in the schoolroom below the church. It was evident before the withdrawal that there was a strong spirit of determination on the part of a large section of the Assembly, perhaps assisted by those in the gallery, that a vote should be taken at once. No doubt they felt that after seventeen years of debate and determination little could be added to the light on the question, or to the influence of even one voter. On the other hand that hope that springs eternal in the human breast had a strong hold on Dr. Petticrew and has very earnest followers, and they felt that they were entitled to a further hearing. Their departure certainly filled the Assembly with a desire to hear them further, and the statements of one or two strong Liberty men that they had heard enough did not meet with a general response, though many extremists on that side cheered it.

At all events, the Assembly adjourned in the afternoon with feelings of excitement and apprehension seldom paralleled in my experience. All that was known was that a certain number of the brethren had gone out, and whether, when, or under what circumstances they would come back was a matter of speculation, though they would come back was a matter of strong hope. On the Assembly resuming in the evening the attendance was vast, and excitement intense. It transpired that simultaneously with the meeting of the Assembly the withdrawn brethren were holding a meeting in the Assembly Hall, The feeling in the Assembly was one of constraint as well as restraint. The rights and dignity of the Assembly had to be considered, as well as the rights and dignity of the party that had withdrawn.

At the opening the Rev. Dr. Gray said that a decision by vote there would create a painful impression, and suggested a policy of conciliation. In reply to a suggestion of the Rev. Mr. Boyd, of Ramoan, that the amendment should be withdrawn, Dr. H. B. Wilson said he would withdraw the amendment if the motion was also withdrawn. Rev. Dr. T. Y. Killen stated that he, with Drs. Morrell, Johnston, and Rodgers, had waited on the brethren, and found them exasperated at the way they had been treated, and the right of freedom of discussion destroyed. He moved that Drs. Wilson (Limerick), N. M. Brown, and himself, with the Rev. Oliver Leitch (Letterkenny) and Sir David Taylor should wait on the brethren. Dr. Brown declined to act, but the other members departed, the Assembly meanwhile being led in prayer by Rev. Dr. Jackson Smyth. After some time Dr. Killen returned, and said they had been most respectfully received, but that the only terms on which they would come back would be that the motion and amendment should be withdrawn, and that Dr. Petticrew's notice of motion should lie on the books for another year. Dr. Killen said there were at least 400 people at the meeting though he rather startled the Assembly by first stating that there were 400 ministers and elders. Rev. Dr. Wilson stated that the brethren had asked the deputation the following question — “Is the General Assembly prepared to act on the suggestion that the motion and amendment be withdrawn, and that Dr. Petticrew’s notice of motion lie on the books for the year?” Rev. Dr. Fleming Stevenson asked if that was done would the agitation cease during the year? and Dr. Wilson said he had asked that, but could get no answer. It was then moved by Mr. M‘Elderry, Ballymoney, and seconded by Rev. Dr. Morrell that the proposal should be accepted; but Dr. Stevenson moved, and Rev. A. Patton seconded, an amendment that it z should only be accepted on the condition that agitation would cease during the year. Dr. Johnston said one of the brethren had told him, “We did not go out on a point of order; we went out to resent the organised tyranny behind it.” It was felt that the condition imposed by the amendment would militate against a settlement; and it was withdrawn, and the motion adopted. Thereupon a message was dispatched to the Assembly Hall, and in a few minutes the deputation, sent out like the dove from the ark, returned with the ministers and elders who had gone out. This was one of the most dramatic scenes I have ever witnessed in any Assembly. In some respects the deputation was tragic in its suddenness and in its suggestiveness. But this was purely dramatic in its characteristics and in its happy ending. It was said of someone that nothing in his life became him like his leaving of it. Of this moving column of men it might be said that nothing became them better than their returning. We all felt, as we felt this week when we heard that Sir Wm. Robertson had accepted the Eastern Command, that the ministerial (and elder) crisis was over, and we rejoiced accordingly and exceedingly. There was great cheering, the cheering of relief and satisfaction.

I do not suggest that there ever was serious danger of secession for the reason I have stated; but there had been separation, and the Rev. A. Robinson said afterwards that they were sorry at the departure and sorry that there had been a separation for a moment. The returning members brought with them a protest, which Mr. Robinson said had been agreed to before the offer had come from the Assembly; but the Clerk and others thought as there had up till then been no record there could be nothing to protest against, and it was arranged that the protest should lie on the table till the following morning, when it could come up in the minutes. Accordingly, on the Saturday morning the minutes were read, and some alterations or emundation made, after which the protest was read, and a committee appointed to answer it. The protest, which was signed by 200 names, stated that after the motion and amendment had been moved and seconded the advocates of the introduction of instruments, apparently by consent, refused to allow any discussion whatever on their own amendment, and by persistent clamour and turbulence utterly unbecoming a Court of Christ carried a demand for an immediate vote, not a single word of discussion on it from their opponents being heard. The answer to the protest, which was a long one, was brought up on the following Tuesday. In reference to the allegation in the sentences quoted, the “Answer” denied that there was any concert, and that  the  clamour’ and turbulence referred to consisted in the persistent and general cry of ‘Vote.’ The Assembly’s own minutes accepted by the protesters testified that ‘a loud and general demand arose for an immediate vote, and the Moderator declared this to be, in his opinion, the manifest sense of the House.’ . . . Certainly the Assembly in its action had no desire to interfere with the freedom of debate, and had no wish to hurt the feelings of any members of the Court or any section of our people.” Dr. Petticrew and some of his friends took exception to some of the statements in the answer to the protest, and a vote was taken as to its reception, when 105 voted in its favour and 55 against it. And the “Answer” passed into the “Minutes” and history.

A report of the proceedings of the “Anti-instrumentalists” was published in the Press at the time. The Rev. Archibald Robinson, however, had not concluded his opening speech until first the informal and afterwards, the formal deputation from the Assembly arrived. He complained that the memorials, with 16,000 signatures, had been practically ignored by the Assembly, and that the convictions of the Presbyterian people had been misrepresented and their rights trampled on. They were not going to secede from the Presbyterian Church, but all he would advise would be that they should keep their tempers cool and organise themselves for the maintenance of Scriptural worship. After the Assembly resolution was read, and each of the members had addressed the meeting in a conciliatory spirit, and inviting them to return to the Assembly. Dr. Petticrew said there had been no premeditation about their action, and then made the suggestion as stated above of the condition on which they would return, namely, the withdrawal of both motion and amendment. Mr. Robinson wished to impress on the deputation that they had not seceded from the Church. When the deputation who had conveyed their condition to the Assembly returned with the announcement of their acceptance, devotional exercises were engaged in, and the members who had signed the protest returned bodily to May Street Church as stated above. Thus ended happily and calmly what on the surface suggested storm and tempest if not division.

From The Witness, 22nd February 1918.

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.