The James Begg Society

The James Begg Society

Publishers of Protestant, Reformed Christian Literature

Free Church Presbyterianism, by Rev. James Begg, D.D.

Second Address:

PRESBYTERIANISM IN IRELAND.


Address to the Deputation from the Presbyterian Church of Ireland.


THE MODERATOR said: —

"Beloved Brethren, — It is my pleasant duty in name of this venerable Assembly to thank you cordially for your appearance amongst us at this time, and for the excellent addresses which you have delivered. Your prosperity as a Church can never cease to be deeply interesting to us.

Planted in Ireland in former times as an offshoot from the Church of Scotland in its purest form you have afforded a striking illustration of the spiritual and social advantages of unshackled Presbyterianism. Your liberties have always been sacredly preserved; and at the Disruption you strongly sympathised with our jealousy in regard to ours. Although you were invaded, like other Churches, at the end of the last century, with a spirit of coldness, which, as usual, lapsed into heresy, God raised you up singularly eloquent and able men, — the leader of whom still adorns your ranks, — by whom the doctrines of Divine truth were powerfully vindicated, and error was, by the blessing of God, expelled from the midst of your Church. For this result special thanks will always be due to Him who walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks.

It is many years since I first visited your Church. I remember well of preaching then for one of your most eminent ministers in a rural district, and of being struck both by the resemblance of the place of worship — in the form of a Greek cross — to some of our older parish churches, but especially by the strong resemblance of the people, — grave and decently attired, with their Bibles and flowers in hand, and streaming in all directions over the hills and along the highways towards the place of worship, — to one of our own best conditioned rural congregations.

I was present at the impressive scene of the union of the Seceders with the old Synod of Ulster. Since then I have been privileged to visit your Assembly frequently. But, above all, I had the great privilege of being present during your late memorable revival, — your "year of grace," as it has been justly called.

How near did eternity seem at that time, and how remarkable was the power of God's Spirit in melting the hardest hearts and in bringing Infidels and Romanists to abandon their errors at once, and to own a willing and rejoicing submission to the authority of Christ! Many instances of such results I could state, which came under my own observation; and I am sure that "the day" alone will declare the full spiritual benefits of that remarkable time.

How earnestly should we long and pray for the perpetual presence of such a blessing in all our Churches! The result of your Scriptural system in the north of Ireland has always afforded an emphatic answer to the arguments of Romanists and secular politicians.

The favourite idea of many is, that the woes of Ireland, splendid country as it is by nature, are traceable only to mis-government. Now, without vindicating much that has been done there in past times, or some things that exist there at present, the broad fact remains, that Ulster is a part of the same island with Leinster, Munster, and Connaught, subject to precisely the same laws, and that Ulster is prosperous and progressive, whilst the other provinces of Ireland are distracted and stationary. Why should the harbour of Galway, for example, so admirable and well situated, have only a few fishing boats in it, whilst the inferior harbour of Belfast is crowded with shipping? Why should the town of Galway be so poor and spiritless, while Belfast, with its vast stores, its mills and busy industry, competes with Glasgow or Liverpool? The great outstanding reason is the Protestantism, I may say especially the Presbyterianism, of the north, and the Popery of the south and west of Ireland. [Applause.]

I may remark here, that I have always admired your zeal for the old ways of our fathers, and your, firmness in maintaining and teaching Presbyterian principles. The plea of "Presbytery" is a standard work; and Dr Killen has lately done noble service in the same cause by his learned and masterly writings.

There is a plan in operation amongst you of vindicating Presbyterian Church government at every ordination, which we might imitate with advantage. I am glad that you are about to open your new Presbyterian College at Derry. It is also a matter of great satisfaction to us that you follow our scattered countrymen amongst the new fields of enterprise which they find in Ireland, and supply them with the gospel according to the simple and Scriptural forms of their native land. In this we cordially bid you God speed, and are most willing to help you. Our missionaries also meet and act together with yours, as we have just heard from our eminent friend Dr Glasgow, in the distant mission fields of India.

God has been pleased during recent years, in his adorable providence, to remove from the midst of you some of your most eminent men. Such men as Dr Stewart, Dr Dobbin, Dr Goudy, Dr Dill, and Mr Allan, would have been ornaments to any Church. But the great Master can raise up others, and He Himself is all-sufficient, and ever lives, — "the same yesterday, today, and for ever." Let us earnestly seek to be faithful to Him and to His truth.

I need not remind you that in Ireland you have a great work to do, a noble testimony to maintain in trying circumstances. You are placed, as it were, in the very front of the battle. Ireland is the headquarters of Romanism in the United Kingdom, and in her is situated that propaganda of Maynooth, the head and front of infatuation on the part of the British Government. [Applause.] Against this whole system you are called upon to bear a decided and constant protest, whilst you earnestly seek to reclaim its votaries. And we may rest assured, that if at any time there is a tendency to falter or abate in that testimony, our moral power will be so far lowered, our people be by so much endangered, and that blessing be by so much withheld, which is the true source of strength and progress in any Church.

Neither will a mere general testimony suffice. An old worthy of our Church tells us that in his day some were fighting at the proper time, but some times in the wrong place. They fought, he tells us, at the west end of the town, when the enemy were coming in at the east. [Laughter.] Our testimony must be for "the present truth," specific and continuous, against the evils around us and at our own door. Popery is undoubtedly your grand leading enemy, as it is ours. It is making great efforts in Ireland, and with some success. Its splendid buildings are rising on every side, its lotteries are deluging the kingdom, its Maynooth priests and ragged multitudes spread over Great Britain and all her colonies; and we are all bound to contend earnestly for the faith, and to keep our Government clear, if we can, of the sin and folly of upholding such a dangerous and unscriptural system.

Nay, Ireland ought to be a great mission field for all the Protestant Churches of Britain. There is no reason in favour of seeking to reclaim idolaters at Calcutta that is not also strong in favour of seeking to reclaim idolaters at Cashel and Clonmel. [Applause.] The poor Irish Papist who manifests such heroic and undying zeal in behalf of his rude superstition, the priest "compassing sea and land to make one proselyte," ought to rebuke our apathy, and teach us a lesson of Christian duty and devotion.

The Celtic language, spoken by so many of the Irish Romanists, and dear to the hearts of the people, ought to be more extensively used in this work of reformation. For this we have the clearest Divine precept and example; whilst, but for this method of procedure, the Highlands of Scotland and the mountains of Wales would still have been as impervious to the gospel as the wilds of Galway and Tipperary. The Christian Church is to be guided by wisdom, as well as animated by zeal and love. The Apostle says, "In malice be ye children, but in understanding be men." Who can tell what enormous evils would be prevented and blessings conferred upon the United Kingdom and the world in connection with an extensive reformation amongst the Romanists of Ireland?

Great Britain and her colonies form evidently at present the great mission field of Rome, worked mainly by means of the Popery of Ireland; and a concentrated home mission operation upon Irish Romanism by the combined Protestantism of Britain would tend to dry up this cause of mischief at its source.

Praying that your Church may be guided into all truth, that you may be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might, for all duty and trial, and that a great and rich blessing may rest upon all your labours in the cause of Christ, I again, in the name of this Assembly, have much pleasure in returning you our cordial thanks for your present welcome visit. [Loud applause.]