Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Christmas 1917

The bells of Christmas sweetly ring,
Glad tidings of great joy they bring;
On this bright and happy morn,
Unto you a Saviour’s born;
Pealing over hill and plain
Comes once more the glad refrain;
It echoes through the lonely-glen,
“Peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

Peace on earth, when war is rife
And nations meet in deadly strife,
When sorrow surges all around,
And pain and suffering abound.
O Christmas bells, on this glad day,
We yearn for loved ones far away;
For round the hearth a vacant chair
Tells of a loved one wanting there.

And memory brings again to view
Happier days that once we knew,
Days when we welcomed in the birth
Of Christ the Lord, with peace on earth.
O Christinas bells, ring out old strife,
Ring in a purer, holier life,
When war for evermore shall cease,
And man with man shall dwell in peace.


Poem from The Witness, 21st December 1917
Image Top:  A card made in 1917 by the 46th (North Midland) Division showing soldiers crossing no-man’s land, illuminated by a flare or shell.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

The Presbyterian Church Instrumental Music Controversy pt 7


Those of us who remember the instrumental music controversy, and not least I, myself, can never forget the excitement which this controversy continued to create in the Church, and the utmost apprehension with which each new meeting of the Assembly was regarded. Each Assembly was preceded with letters on both sides, and there was much discussion in congregations, and sometimes in Presbyteries, on the subject. The Assembly of 1879 was a great year for memorials. There were forty-seven memorials in all – some from sessions and committees, some from congregations. The majority of these memorials were from anti-instrumentalists. Eight demanded immediate compliance with the deliverance of 1873, and four recommended the cutting-off of recalcitrant congregations, or rather suggesting that by their own voluntary act these congregations had cut themselves off. The most numerously signed memorial was from the Instrumental Party, and had 1,879 signatures — one for each year since the Christian era — and it prayed for the suspension of all action with regard to the congregations under surveillance.

At this meeting the vote took place on the Moderatorship – a rare incident nowadays. Fifteen Presbyteries nominated the Rev. Professor Watts, and twelve had nominated the Rev. Jackson Smyth, and as no other arrangement could be made a call of the roll was demanded, and the Rev. Professor Watts Vas elected by a majority of fifty-two. Mr. Smyth afterwards known as Rev. Dr. Jackson Smyth, was a highly respected and honoured member of the Church, whose claims to the Moderatorship were many. He was a brother of the Rev. Professor Dr. Richard Smyth, Member of Parliament, and one of the most honoured of ministers and members of Parliament, who had died during the year, and his family as well as personal associations were many and distinguished. But for that year, at all events, the Assembly, preferred the Belfast professor, who had rendered great service to the Church as a professor and as a defender of sound Church theology known all over the Presbyterian world. Mr. Jackson Smyth, however, had not long to wait for the Moderatorial honours, as he was elected Moderator the following year. There was one additional incident of this Assembly worth mentioning. Mr. John Brown, who was a most loyal Presbyterian, was Mayor of the town for the year, and on the opening evening he attended and invited the members of Assembly to a conversazione, which was afterwards given in the Ulster Hall, and was a most pleasant and agreeable function. Similar or corresponding functions have been frequent since, but this, I think, was the beginning of them, so far as my memory goes.

The report of the Committee on Instrumental Music presented at the Assembly by the Rev. John Macnaughton was that matters remained substantially as they were, but in the case of Queenstown and Enniskillen the committee had received such statements from the ministers and congregations declining to fall in with the deliverance that they had not attended. Mr. Simpson, of Queenstown, wrote that if the Assembly would remove instruments from all Sabbath-schools he would remove his from the church. In the report the committee detailed all the circumstances, but while regretting the non-compliance of the recalcitrant congregations with the deliverance of the Assembly, they, stated that inasmuch as the use of instruments was not in itself sinful, they did not propose to exercise discipline on ministers or congregations who on their own responsibility had introduced instruments into churches, prayer-meetings, and Sabbath-schools. The Rev. Mr. Petticrew brought forward his amendment, demanding compliance with the deliverance of 1873, and instructing Presbyteries to see that it was carried out. This amendment was seconded by the Rev. Archibald Robinson.

The battle began, as usual, on Friday, and continued during the forenoon sederunt, when an adjournment took place in the evening. The real interest centred in the evening meeting, as it had been arranged that representatives of the memorials on both sides of the question should be heard. The gentlemen chosen to speak were Messrs. Robert MacGeagh and Josias Cunningham, on behalf of the “Liberty” or Lay-men’s memorial; and the Rev. N. M. Brown and Mr. J. D. Boyd, both of Limavady, which was almost as distinctive as Glendermott in this fight, were selected to speak on the part of the anti-instrumental. The excitement as well as the attendance at this meeting exceeded if possible any of the previous ones. It was with the greatest difficulty it was possible to keep the doors and passages clear, and the police had to be called in to the aid of the very civil ecclesiastical authorities to restrain the crushing crowds. I remember many wonderful sights and scenes in May Street during Assembly times, but this was one of the most remarkable, arising chiefly from the introduction of these lay memorials and their representatives. In fact there were almost as many people outside the building as in it, and as a matter of fact, when the time for voting came a number of ministers, including the Rev. Dr. Magill, of Cork, and Rev. Dr. Kirkpatrick, of Dublin, had found it impossible to get into the church, and their votes were lost.

I can recall to this hour the excitement and the enthusiasm manifested by the instrumentalists, as the large deputation of the memorialists filed up to the platform. Those who knew Mr. MacGeagh expected a rich treat, and they were not disappointed. Under the signature "Nec Tamen Consumebator” he had contributed a series of articles to “The Witness” on the question, which were characterised by that great incisiveness and force both of argument and of humour of which he was such a master. Neither was lacking in his speech. I remember his introduction of the old story about Daniel O’Connell and the fish, which Mr. MacGeagh told with all humour and point. As he told it it is worth repeating — it was told apropos of the point that while the Purity party dwelt so much on the question of conscience, they ignored the fact that the Liberty party had consciences too. This is the story — “It is a story,” said Mr. MacGeagh, “of the late Daniel O’Connell when on one of his frequent trips from Dublin to London. He was crossing on the Holyhead steamer, and settling down in the cabin to dinner he found on the dish before him a very good salmon trout. The day being Friday and the air keen and Dan being sharp-set he coolly transferred the entire delicacy to his own plate, apologetically remarking with a comical glance at his fellow-passengers, ‘Gentlemen, you will excuse me, but this is a fast day in my Church.’ A stalwart cattle-dealer seated opposite, who had been covetously eyeing the dainty, too modest to ask for a portion, was dumbfounded for a moment by the coolness of the procedure, but recovering his wits he seized knife and fork, stretched over the table, severed the trout in two, and bearing off the larger part, exclaimed reproachfully to O'Connell, ‘Bad manners to ye, do ye think nobody has a sowl to be saved but yourself?’ So I may ask these gentlemen,” continued Mr. MacGeagh, “Do you think nobody has a conscience to protect but yourselves?”

Mr. Josias Cunningham, the other representative of the laymen, a gentleman well known at the time, and remembered still, being represented by a fine family who are a credit to the Church, country, and to philanthropy also, in the course of an able and original speech indulged in a joke that created much amusement at the time. It had a point; at anyrate it had teeth in it. “Sometimes,” he said, “they were told not to use instruments in praise, and what were they to use? A poor fellow once who was a singer in the church lost his teeth so that he could not sing, and he was told to go to a dentist. On going back to the church with his false teeth there was a theological row, and he was told that he was using an instrument, and could not sing there any more.” It is, perhaps, because these lighter things of the speeches remained longest on my memory that I reproduce them, and I think they are worth repeating, for their humour at any rate. The Rev. Mr. Brown and Mr. Boyd, of Limavady, followed on the other side with vigorous and telling speeches, the latter rousing the ire of some of the instrumentalists by some reference he made which created a bit of stir, during which the Moderator asked as a favour if they would have mercy on him. The vote was afterwards taken, the Rev. George Magill, the Rev. William Irwin (Castlerock), and the Rev. William Park being the tellers. Rev. Dr. Magill and the Rev. Dr. Park, as both are now entitled to be called, are still with us, with a marvellous buoyancy for their years. Dr. Magill has travelled further on the road of life than Dr. Park, and has retired from active service. I talked with him only the other day, and he still retains much of his old keenness of intellect, quickness of wit, and readiness of anecdote. Dr. Park is still almost as fresh as, if he had only put on his armour.

The call of the roll, which occupied well on to the usual hour, and took place shortly before midnight, resulted in a vote of 313 for the amendment and 278 against — a majority of 35 for the opponents of the instruments. This ended the great debate of 1879. I may be slow in coming to an end, but it must be remembered, that the controversy lasted over a decade and a half, and this was the eleventh year. I am dealing with it year by year rather than in a general summary, as there were special incidents each year recalled as I look up the files. Indeed, these would, have tempted me into further excursions, but I must have respect for space and the patience of the readers.

From The Witness, 14th December 1917.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The Presbyterian Church Instrumental Music Controversy pt 6


History that is exciting in the making may become cold and tame in the recording. We have now in our running record reached the end of the ten years’ conflict over the instrumental music question. But I am afraid the chronicle gives but a poor idea of the feeling and the Spirit of the excitement of the time. Then the story of the “Ten Years’ Conflict” that ended in the severance of the union of the Established Church of Scotland and in the formation of the Free Church was familiar from its freshness, and pointed a moral. In some respects the union of the Irish Presbyterian Church was at stake in this conflict, and in the tenth year the question had approached, if it had not reached, a critical stage. While the issues and the principles at stake were not as momentous as those which had disturbed and divided the Mother Church, they were sufficiently great to affect the life and harmony, if not the unity of the Irish Presbyterian Church. There were some among its members who feared that the controversy might end in disruption, and were continually praying and pleading that it might be avoided. But there were others who had greater faith in Irish Presbyterian faith and loyalty than to anticipate such a division. As events proved they were in the right. Loyalty to Church and Empire and Presbyterianism go hand-in-hand, and in Church and State where Presbyterianism prevails loyalty and duty and union are certain to prevail. It prevailed in Church forty years ago, and would prevail in the State if its people and its principles held free sway.

In 1878 it was becoming apparent that while in some cases in which ministers and congregations could be peacefully persuaded into compliance with the decrees of the Assembly, there were others that were hopelessly and persistently recalcitrant, for reasons which no doubt satisfied themselves, but did not commend themselves even to those sections of the instrumentalists who put loyalty to the Church before any consideration of party and policy. It was becoming apparent that only by the exercise of discipline that authority could be enforced, and this was an idea repellant, I may say, to both sides. The Instrumentalists did not relish the application of coercion to brethren with whose principles they were in sympathy while disapproving of their policy, and the Purity party did not relish its application, realising the difficulty and danger of enforcing it, yet hesitated to insist upon its application. But at the same time from this forward the question of “discipline” or “no discipline” became the issue, and it was round this the controversy mainly raged.

In 1877, on the suggestion and appeal of the Rev. John Macnaughten, who was one of the commanding figures of the Assembly, and a leader of the instrumental party, the Assembly decided to appoint a committee, composed chiefly if not altogether of instrumental members, to confer with the ministers and congregations that had not fallen in with the resolution of the body. On the fighting day of the Assembly, the first Friday of its meeting, Mr. Macnaughten reported the result of the labours of the committee. He said that practically only two congregations held out — Queenstown and Enniskillen — and one (Enniskillen) had one leg in, as it had decided, that it would give up the instrument if the Assembly would require the removal of musical instruments from all Sabbath-schools. He thought that if the Queenstown members of congregation had not refused permission to the commission to visit them they might have been able to influence them in harmony with the Assembly’s decision. But they refused. He declared, however, that if the Assembly would insist upon discipline, and which would involve the cutting off of these congregations, the voluntary agreement would go to the winds, and he for his part would take no further action. He made no suggestion, but left the matter in the hands of the Assembly, contenting himself with moving the report. The Rev. Mr. Elliott, Armagh, suggested, and the Rev. A. Patton, then of Ballymoney, afterwards of Bangor, supported a motion that a committee should be appointed to confer with the two ministers. But the Rev. Mr. Simpson, who had mounted the platform, took off his coat, and laying a bundle of papers on the table, insisted upon being heard. The Assembly complied, for apart from his apparent dourness in the matter of the instrument, Mr. Simpson had the saving grace of humour developed in a high degree, and his appearances were always welcome on that account.

It is wonderful how the passing of time affects both rhetoric and humour. I have read over again many of the speeches that stirred me to the depths at the time, and yet I read them to-day with the blood cold, and as if the interest was as dead as Queen Ann. I read carefully the speech of Mr. Simpson, which many a time and oft kept myself and the House in a roar of rapturous laughter, and I almost wonder how it ever stirred me. Not that the humour was not bubbling and his anecdotes and allusions apposite and pointed. But the spirit and the personalities have all largely disappeared, and the associations faded. I quote a couple of his anecdotes by way of illustration, though they may appear flat and laboured at the present time. One of Mr. Simpson’s points was that the Assembly allowed musical instruments in Sabbath-schools and objected to them in the church:—

The conduct of his opponents reminded him of a story he had heard of a Scotch divine who was sent some centuries ago to rebuke a Royal prince because he had been seen kissing a young lady at the window of the palace. (Laughter.) The officer asked innocently. “Is it a sin, doctor, to kiss a pretty girl if she makes no objection?” “Certainly not,” said the venerable divine, “but surely you could keep away from the window,” (Great laughter.) It would seem as if it was no harm to use the instrument if they kept away from the window, (Hear, hear.) On the point of the threat of discipline he related the following anecdote – Some years ago a fine old Irishman, Barney Brohan, was arraigned before a bench of magistrates for breaking the skull of an old friend of his called Joseph Gimlett. After the facts had been deposed to, he said, “Your worships, the fact is that my Ebenezer happened to fall on his hat a little more heavily than I intended.” (Laughter.) “Oh, Mr. Brohan,” said the chairman, “that is what is alleged against you. We want to know if you have any defence.” “Well, then, your worships,” said he, “I was trying to inspire him with some blessed truths that should warm the heart of any Christian that had a soul in his body, and instead of listening he kept on crying, ‘Prove it, prove it.’ ‘Indeed,’ said I, ‘I have plenty of proof,’ so I lifted my Ebenezer and let it fall on his ridge board, and it settled the whole question and satisfied his mind completely, and from that hour to this he had heard no more of ‘prove it.' ” (Great laughter.) There were several Barney Brohans in that Assembly. (Laughter.) His worthy friend, Mr. Robinson, of Broughshane, was a Barney Brohan – (great laughter) — and Mr. Petticrew was another. He (Mr. Simpson) wanted Scriptural proof that he should give up instruments, and they said. “We will settle the question by a crack of the ecclesiastical cudgel.”  (Great laughter and applause.) Here was his principle in the worship of God — the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible (Loud applause.) (Would they vote for it? (Laughter and applause) Would they vote for the Bible of Barney Brohan? (More laughter.)

At the close of the speech the Moderator (Rev. Professor Witherow) said he had allowed Mr. Simpson, as he was on his defensive, a latitude he would not have allowed to any member of the Assembly, but reminded the House of the question that was immediately before them – namely, whether or not, they is should appoint the committee. The Rev. F. Petticrew replied, needless to say, in a more grave and reverent style than Mr. Simpson, but what his speech lacked in humour it supplied in gravity, earnestness, and the force which was the outcome alike of his ability and earnestness. An amendment to the motion appointing the committee to retire was moved, adopting the report and re-appointing the committee with some additional names to deal with the ministers and congregations, and report to next Assembly. Thus time was marked from year to year.

From The Witness, 30th November 1917.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The Presbyterian Church Instrumental Music Controversy pt 5


The Assembly of 1875 was held in Derry, the Rev. Professor J. L. Porter, LL.D., D.D., being Moderator in every sense of the word, being dignified both in person and in office. The instrumental music question, of course, came up, but it was not the real exciting question of the Assembly. What was then called the Bible wine controversy was at its height, and the debate on the subject taking the form of the question whether the wine used at Communion should be fermented or unfermented, lasted until two o'clock in the morning. The Rev. Wm. Johnston’s report of the work of the committee for the year did not suggest that much progress had been made by the committee in getting the instruments taken out. In fact, he admitted that the committee had failed, and proposed a renewal of the resolution of last Assembly, with an earnest appeal to have the compact carried out fairly and honourably. Rev. Dr. Watts seconded that resolution, which was warmly supported by Mr. Thomas Sinclair, Rev. F. Petticrew, and Rev. A. Robinson. The general feeling of the Assembly seemed to be that the Presbyteries should get another try. And they got it.

They seemed to have been more successful the next year, 1876. In all cases, except Enniskillen and Queenstown, the Presbyteries had succeeded in securing, under promise of assistance in precentorship or otherwise, compliance with the finding of 1875. There was some discussion and separate division in regard to the action of the Presbyteries and the congregations in some of the cases, the principal of which related to the action of the Presbytery of Cork in not insisting upon holding a visitation in Clonmel, the congregation having written that they would close the harmonium when the Assembly obtained and paid a precentor. Rev. J. M. Rogers, Derry, moved, and the Rev. J. Macnaughtan seconded, a resolution that the Presbytery had discharged its duty faithfully; but the Rev. F. Petticrew did not think so, and moved an amendment declaring that the Assembly do not approve. On a show of hands the amendment was lost, 202 voting in favour of it and 240 against it. After the Assembly had disposed of the action of the Presbyteries, finding that they had faithfully discharged their duty, the Rev. Mr. Johnston, after the Rev. Dr. Kirkpatrick had engaged in prayer at the request of the Moderator, opened up the discussion on the main question by some severe strictures on the recalcitrant congregations, and moving a series of resolutions reiterating the finding of 1873, and expressing disapproval of the action of the ministers and congregations of Enniskillen and Queenstown, and leaving to the Presbyteries to look after the subject and the congregations during the year. He expressed the hope that these two congregations would not continue to place themselves in conflict with the Church. The Rev. W. Fleming Stevenson seconded this resolution, appealing on the one hand for forbearance; but, at the same time, insisting that the authority of the Church should be maintained.

The Rev. Mr. Simpson, of Queenstown, resented the resolution and the attack. He was a man of strong individuality and gifted with a great sense of humour, and his speeches on this and other occasions, however much in their spirit they may have been defiant, were so brimful of humour that they gave a delightful variety to the debates. He declared there was no law forbidding him from doing what he did. There was only a deliverance, and he did not see why he should be badgered. He was met with cries of “Order,” and he said, “We’re punished or threatened with punishment.” The Assembly, he said, could not make a law. Rev. A. Robinson here cried “Order,” and Mr. Simpson said if they did not hear him he would go out of the Assembly and disobey it. (“Oh.”) Rev. Mr. Robinson demanded that the Clerk should take down that threat of disobedience. The Moderator asked Mr. Simpson — “Did you not at your ordination agree to obey the Church?” Mr. Simpson — “I did; but not out of the Lord. Another reason against the resolution is that I have your own authority for using the instruments. (“Oh, oh,” and laughter.) You have authorised the metrical version of the Psalms, and the Psalms authorise the instruments. (Laughter.) If I thought there was no Scriptural authority for the instrument, I would kick it out. (Laughter.) I will now define my Scriptural position.” The Moderator, who was this year the Rev. John Meneely, ruled this put of order, and Mr. Simpson retired. The Rev. John Macnaughtan suggested that one of the resolutions, which seemed to hold out a threat to the two congregations, should be modified, but Mr. Robinson protested, and claimed that they were entitled to take up the full position of the previous year. He said that Mr. Macnaughtan had described a suggestion of Mr. A. C. Murphy as milk-and-water; but his own were precisely similar, and it would be a long time before a person of any degree of healthy constitution would be benefited by Mr. Macnaughtan’s milk. Ultimately the resolutions as proposed, with a modification on the lines suggested by Mr. Macnaughtan, were adopted. So one sederunt disposed of the question this year — 1876 — in the Assembly.

That the question had been stirring certain sections of the Church during the year was proved at the Assembly of 1877, with eight memorials chiefly directed against the use of instruments (and some including uninspired hymns). It seemed that while the use of the harmonium had been discontinued in Ennis, and that in Tullamore the minister had stated that they would give up the harmonium if the Assembly would pay £30 a year for a precentor, the congregations of Enniskillen, Queenstown, Clonmel, Carlow, and Mountmellick continued to use it. Rev. Wm. Johnston moved a resolution expressing satisfaction with the congregation of Ennis, regretting that, notwithstanding their professed willingness, the congregations of Tullamore, Mountmellick, Carlow, and Clonmel were yet in a position of at least apparent opposition to the Assembly; expressing strong condemnation of the minister and congregations of Enniskillen and Queenstown in still resisting the Assembly, renewing their offer of aid, and renewing also the append to congregations to comply with the law. Rev. John Meneely seconded the resolution and Rev. John Macnaughtan said before he would move an amendment he would like to hear Mr. Maclatchy (Enniskillen), who set out by describing the resolution as the resolution of Mr. Johnston and not of the Assembly, which statement was protested against; but Mr. Maclatchy said he would not have been there if he did not believe it. He subsequently withdrew the statement, and concluded a speech, which met with much interruption by asking them to pass a law against the organ, and not endeavour to get rid of it by a side wind. Rev. Mr. Macnaughtan followed with an amendment, which modified the expression of “strong condemnation” to one of disappointment, and asking the Presbyteries to continue to deal with these congregations, and to try to get them to comply with the law. Rev. Mr. Robinson thought Mr. Johnston's resolutions were as moderate as the circumstance demanded, and said there seemed to be on one side of the House a disposition to connive at the obstinacy and contumacy of certain congregations. The debate was adjourned to the evening sederunt — as usual, it took place on a Friday — in order that the deputation of the Free Church of Scotland might be heard. Mr. Wm. Shaw (elder), in the evening, said he did not see what good Mr. Johnston’s resolution would do unless they were prepared to say next year that they would discipline the congregation that refused to comply with the order. Mr. N. M. Brown (Limavady) would let the matter remain for another year, and exhaust forbearance, keeping in remembrance that thorough conformity and obedience should be insisted on. Mr. Johnston said he would propose a last trial of the principle of love, and, therefore he would withdraw his resolution in favour of Mr. Macnaughtan’s amendment. Mr. Macnaughtan said he had all along been indisposed to resort to the force of law, and if the House would permit he would undertake the duty of making the law of love to operate. Both Professor Rogers and Mr. Robinson attempted to address the House; but it seemed determined to have the matter ended there and then, and so they had to desist, and Mr. Macnaughtan’s resolution was declared carried by an overwhelming majority. Revs. L. E. Berkeley, W. C. M‘Cullough, C. L. Morrell, and Dr. Watts, all strong advocates of “liberty,” were appointed as a committee to carry out the resolution.

It was at this Assembly that the question of discipline, or possible discipline, of recalcitrant congregations appeared prominently on the horizon. It seemed as if the leading spirits of the “Purity” party were contemplating discipline as a painful, but inevitable development; but that did not become a direct issue for a year or two afterwards. Neither party regarded the exercise of discipline with favour; but it was becoming evident that the anti-instrumentalists were reaching a stage at which it would become necessary if the authority of the Assembly and the principles were to be maintained. On the other hand, the leaders of the Instrumentalists were earnestly working to get the order of the Assembly carried out so as to “relieve them from the difficulty of discipline and the danger of a definite decision against instruments, which looked not improbable, with the feeling and constitution of the Assembly at the time.

From The Witness, 23rd November 1917.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The Presbyterian Church Instrumental Music Controversy pt 4


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

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

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

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

From The Witness, 9th November 1917.

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.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017


Tho’ I’m sitting here in Ireland,
   My mind is travelling far,
To a place that’s known as “Somewhere,”
   In the language of the war;
Where the sons of dear old Ulster
   Their spurs of honour won,
And were crowned with fame immortal
   For their deeds of valour done.
            Brave sons of Ulster!
               Heroes every one!
            Fighting for your country
               Till the vict’ry’s won.

And ever o’er the ocean wide
   Our thoughts to “Somewhere” roam,
To where the brave lads nobly fight
   Far away from home, sweet home.
They heard the clarion call of war,
   They went to stand or fall;
For heroes Ulster’s brave sons are,
   God bless them, one and all.
            God bless our soldiers
               As they bravely fight
            For the cause of freedom,
               Gird them with Thy might.

There are sacred spots in “Somewhere,”
   Where the dear ones softly sleep,
And until their Captain calls them
   There the angels vigil keep;
Not a strain of strife disturbs them
   Tho’ the guns fire thund’ring near;
There they sleep until the morning
   When their Captain’s voice they hear.
            All their toil is o’er,
               Now they softly sleep;
            And the angels o’er them
               Still their vigil keep.

Margaret S. Quigg

Poem: The Witness, 17th August 1917

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Blarney Castle (1832)

There is not one of our readers who has not heard of
"The groves of Blarney,
  They are so charming."
and the subject of our wood-cut might naturally tempt us to be mirthful and extravagant. But despite of Milliken’s excellent song — we are not in the vein, and feel more disposed to melancholy than gaiety at sight of a noble castle, the seat of one of the most ancient, and most unfortunate princely families of Ireland — the Mac Cartys of Desmond.

The castle of Blarney was founded about the middle of the fifteenth century by Cormac Mac Carty, or Carthy, surnamed Laider, or the strong, descended from the hereditary kings of South-Munster. He was also founder of the beautiful abbey and castle of Kilcrea, the nunnery of Ballyvacadine, and many other religious houses, in the former of which he was buried, and in which his tomb was till within a few years to be seen, bearing the following inscription:—
"Hic. Jacet. Cormacus. fil. Thadii. fil. Cormaci. fil. Dermitii. magni. Mc. Carthy, Dnus. de. Muscraigh. Flayn, ac. istius. conventus. Primus. Fundator. An. Dorn. 1494."
The castle remained in possession of his descendants till forfeited with the extensive estates belonging to the lord Muskerry and Clancarthy, in the war of 1689, after which it came into the possession of the Jeffrey's family, to whom it still belongs. A pension of three hundred a year was however allowed to this unfortunate nobleman, on condition of his leaving the kingdom. "With this," says Smith, "he retired to Hamburgh on the Elbe, and purchased a little island in the mouth of that river, from the citizens of Altona, which went by his name." He died here October 22, 1734, aged 64, leaving two sons, Robert, a captain in the English navy, commonly called Lord Muskerry, and Justin Mac Carthy, Esq. Lord Muskerry having fallen under suspicions of being attached to the house of Stewart, "which had on a former occasion," remarks Charnock, in his Biographia Navalis, "proved the ruin of his father, was ordered to be struck off the list of naval officers, on the 16th July, 1749. He afterwards entered into foreign services."

The military and historic recollections connected with Blarney are doubtless of sufficient importance to give an interest to the place: but to a curious superstition it is perhaps more indebted for celebrity. A stone in the highest part of the castle wall is pointed out to visitors, which is supposed to give to whoever kisses it the peculiar privilege of deviating from veracity with unblushing countenance whenever it may be convenient — hence the well-known phrase of "Blarney." The grounds attached to the castle, as I before observed, though so little attended to, are still beautiful. Walks, which a few years since were neat and trim, are now so overrun with brambles and wild flowers as to be passed with difficulty. Much wood has also been cut down, and the statues, so ridiculously enumerated in a popular song, removed. A picturesque bridge too, which led to the castle, has been swept away by the wintry floods, and, with the exception of a small dell called the Rock Close, every thing seems changed for the worse. In this romantic spot nature and art (a combination rather uncommon in pleasure grounds) have gone hand in hand. Advantage has been taken of accidental circumstances to form tasteful and characteristic combinations; and it is really a matter of difficulty at first to determine what is primitive, and what the produce of design. The delusion is even heightened by the present total neglect. You come most unexpectedly into this little shaded nook, and stand upon a natural terrace above the river, which glides as calmly as possible beneath. Here, if you feel inclined for contemplation, a rustic couch of rock, all festooned with moss and ivy, is at your service; but if adventurous feelings urge you to explore farther, a discovery is made of an almost concealed, irregularly excavated passage through the solid rock, which is descended by a rude flight of stone steps, called the "Witches' Stairs," and you emerge sul margine d'un rio, over which depend some light and graceful trees. It is indeed a fairy scene, and I know of no place where I could sooner imagine these little elves holding their moon-light revelry.

From The Dublin Penny Journal, 8th September 1832.

Friday, 14 July 2017

A Case of Local History

Neill's Hill Station and surrounding area. OSNI Historic Third Edition Map 1900-1907.

When looking into the history of a local area information can be found in some unexpected places.

As an example I present the case of Boyd v. Keenan in 1908.

This case, covered in the court reports of the major newspapers, was a suit for the recovery of moneys relating to the maintenance of a road, but in doing so, however, it gives some insight into the area around Neill's Hill and the transcript below is that from the Irish News, 20th May 1908.

Neill's Hill was a railway halt on the Belfast and Co. Down Railway which ran from Comber to Belfast. Situated in the townland of Ballycloghan it served the nearby village of Ballyhackamore.

The contemporary map above shows the station and surrounding area, and would indicate that the sandpits mentioned were situated between the station and the Knock River at Clara Park. The area now known as Sandhill Gardens and Sandhill Parade.


This was a civil bill action in which Henry Boyd, William Sinclair Boyd, and Robert Boyd, of 93 Ann Street, agents, sued Jacob Walter Keenan, 36 Corporation Street, shipbroker, to recover the sum of £45 9s 6d, money paid, laid out, and expended by the plaintiffs for the use of the defendant, at the request of the defendant, under an agreement dated 16th February, 1897. The case was tried before a jury.

Mr. T. J. Campbell (instructed by Messrs. Joseph Donnelly & Co.) was for the plaintiffs, and Mr. A. J. Lewis defended.

Mr. Campbell said they sought to recover £45 9s 6d, money actually paid for the benefit of the defendant under an agreement dated February 16th, 1897, and under which agreement plaintiffs were bound to keep a road in proper repair. The road was used by defendant in connection with an excavation of sand near Neill’s Hill Station. Defendant, who was a shipbroker, started business in the sand line in 1905, and he used the road to cart the sand from the place where it was procured. In the year 1897 the road in question was merely a private way, but since defendant began to dig and cart sand it had been used more than formerly. Heavy loads of sand were daily carted over the road, which was in constant need of repair. These repairs had been done by the plaintiffs, who now sought to recover for work extending over a period of twenty months.

Mr. Henry Seaver. C. E., deposed that the road was a little over three hundred yards in length, and led from Neill's Hill Station to some villas. Witness also deposed to the contract which was entered into in 1897 relative to the repair of the road being carried out by plaintiffs, and added that in 1905 defendant developed some sand pits which led to heavier traffic passing over the road than previously. The plaintiffs did not use the road themselves. Witness described the effect of heavy traffic passing over the road, and said more frequent repairs were necessitated. He supervised the work, which was done at the lowest possible cost.

Cross-examined by Mr. Lewis, witness said the cost of repair was not excessive, considering the amount of traffic passing over the road, which was constructed in the first instance for light traffic. He admitted the centre of the road was higher than the footpaths on either side.

Evidence was also given by Mr. Francis Quinn, who made the road, to the effect that the expenditure on the road was fair and reasonable. He also deposed to the agreement between Mr. Thomas Tier, who formerly owned the road, and plaintiffs.

James Shaw was also examined, and this closed plaintiffs' case.


Mr. Lewis, opening the case for the defence, said he and others were growing old in this litigation, about which there was one peculiar circumstance. It was that at no time had they seen any of the plaintiffs in the witness-box. Keenan was a man who began as a common soldier. He saved sufficient money to buy a little property, and he had his little all in that property at Neill's Hill. Originally the lease was granted by the representatives of Sir Thomas M'Clure to a man named Tier, who was bound by covenant to erect certain houses on the land. The ground, however, turned out to be of such formation that it was necessary to level it, and finally he sold to Keenan for £2,000. Keenan developed the property more rapidly than his predecessor, and began to export sand, which evidently the plaintiffs did not like. Continuing, Mr. Lewis said the matter would turn upon the construction of an agreement entered into between Tier and the plaintiffs, and he submitted that the proper interpretation of that agreement was that the plaintiffs should provide the materials necessary for the repair of the road, and that Tier or Tier's successors should provide the necessary labour. Mr. Lewis then read numerous correspondence bearing on the subject, and, continuing, said the case was like the story of the boy and the frog — it was fun to Boyds, but death to Keenan, and he submitted that there was not fair dealing.

Defendant, examined, said in 1905 he purchased Tier's interests in the estate. He developed sandpits in order to prepare the land for buildings, and plaintiffs also had sandpits in the neighbourhood. He alleged the plaintiffs first resisted his right to the road. In the terms of the agreement referred to, he applied to plaintiffs to supply him with gravel for repairs to the road, and they wrote telling him to take what gravel he required. He added that he was always anxious for an amicable settlement, and was still willing to pay his proportionate share of the cost of repair.

Cross-examined, witness said the plaintiffs wrote him to the effect that gravel was too soft, and that macadam should be used for repairs. He admitted his liability to pay a fair and reasonable price for the maintenance of the road, but he contended the account rendered was excessive.

Mr. Allan B. Stokes, C.E., was also examined. He was of opinion the road was not being kept in proper condition. The gravel to be found on the estate was suitable for repair work.

Mr. Robert A. Boyd corroborated the last witness as to the view that the road was not kept in proper repair. A sum of £10 8s would keep the road in repair for a year.

Benjamin Stafford, contractor, estimated bis price for adequate repairs for a year at £14.

His Honour having summed up, the jury retired to consider their verdict.

The jury found for plaintiffs in the sum of £31 1s, and His Honour granted a decree accordingly.

Irish News, 20th May 1908

Griffith's Valuation map
In this earlier map created for the Griffiths Valuation, Neill's Hill Station is indicated as a crossing although not named (the station being erected and opened in March 1890). The land there being leased from the Belfast and Co. Down Railway by Robert Boyd – although one would suspect it was not the same Robert Boyd named in the suit. The area at that time being largely undeveloped and Cadgers Loaney which became the Sandown Road.

Robert is also recorded as the leaser of section 6 in the adjacent townland of Ballyhackamore through which the railway continued.