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.

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