Second Congregation of Protestant Dissenters, Belfast

[1]

Chap. II. -- MINISTERIAL SKETCHES.

 

JAMES KIRKPATRICK, D.D., M.D. (1708-1743).

JAMES KIRKPATRICK, D.D., M.D.

"Brotherly Love and Meekness, the Essential Ingredients of true Religion, have so much of the Temper of Heaven in 'em, that they wou'd soon make us all easy. Charity wou'd put the best Construction upon the Principles and Practices of one another. It wou'd not strain Consequences, nor infuse groundless Jealousies, nor wilfully misrepresent Matters of Fact, nor use bitter Scurrilous Expressions to alienate the Affections of Protestants and keep 'em at a distance from one another It wou'd make all good Men Honour Men of Worth and real Goodness, tho' of a different Persuasion from themselves, much more than the Debauchees of their own Persuasion In a Word, it wou'd make us all abandon every base Party Interest; it wou'd cure Bigotry on all sides, and keep Men from running Matters to Extremes." -- Preface to Presbyterian Loyalty, by James Kirkpatrick, D.D.

The creation of the Second Congregation was due to a letter of the Rev. John M'Bride to the First Congregation on the 18th June, 1706, in which he stated that if there be 3,000 persons in the Belfast Congregation there must be two meeting-houses and two distinct congregations. The building, which was of a cruciform shape, was erected during 1707, and on 2nd March, 1708, the Belfast Presbytery "ascertained" Mr. Kirkpatrick to the new meeting-house. In the following month (12th April) the Presbytery granted a petition "for erecting a new congregation in Belfast to meet and be under the particular pastoral charge of Mr. James Kirkpatrick." The separation of the two congregations being amicable, the stipend, amounting to 160 14s 3d, was equally divided, and the Communion Plate became, and still continues to be, joint property.

Mr. Kirkpatrick was an original member of the Belfast Society, founded in 1705, when the Synod of Ulster first imposed a subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith.[2] Here it was that he championed the cause of liberty, although his efforts in this respect were not confined to the Society. He was indefatigable in resisting every attempt to place a Popish Prince on the Throne. The liberties which the Revolution of 1688 had established in England seemed to be more and more threatened as Queen Anne neared the end of her reign. She was childless, and the only heir to the Throne was James Edward, son of James II., whose claim was being advocated by those who wished to undo the work of the Revolution. At such a time the Protestant Dissenters were attacked, and every means adopted to hold them up to ridicule and scorn. Chief among the assailers was Dr. William Tisdall, Vicar of Belfast, who published in 1709 "A Sample of True Blue Presbyterianism in all Changes and Turns of Government," and three years later he published "The Conduct of the Dissenters of Ireland with respect both to Church and State."

In 1709 the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (Earl of Wharton) had stated that it was --

"Her Majesty's Royal will and intention that Dissenters shall not be persecuted or molested in the exercise of their religion."

Notwithstanding this statement from the Queen's representative, Kirkpatrick, who was Moderator of the General Synod in 1712, felt the smart of Dr. Tisdall's attack on the loyalty of the Dissenters, and immediately drew swords with his assailers. In 1713 he published "An Historical Essay upon the Loyalty of Presbyterians in Great Britain and Ireland, from the Reformation to the present year, 1713."

This publication was undoubtedly the greatest work of Kirkpatrick, and is much more than a bare answer to Tisdall's two papers. Those who were accusing the Dissenters with disloyalty were serving the interest of the Pretender, and thus endangering the welfare of the State. It was of the utmost importance at such a time to show the faithful adherence of the Presbyterians to the great principles of the Revolution, and to assert their determination to uphold the House of Hanover in the interests of civil and religious liberty. As an acknowledgment of the services of Presbyterians in Ireland in support of the Protestant succession in the illustrious House of Hanover, George I., after his accession to the throne, granted them the sum of 800.[3]

Shortly after the appearance of this publication its author, together with Rev. John Abernethy, of Antrim, and Rev. Francis Iredell, of Dublin, urged upon the Lord Lieutenant (Duke of Shrewsbury) the necessity of repealing the imposition of the Sacramental test, on the ground that --

"The melancholy apprehensions of these things have put several of us upon thoughts of transplanting ourselves into America, that we may there in a wilderness enjoy, by the blessing of God, that ease and quiet to our consciences, persons, and families which is denied us in our native country."

This petition seemed to have had some effect on the Duke of Shrewsbury, as we find that he voted in the minority against the Schism Act (1714), which enacted that no person should keep a public or private school, or act as tutor, unless a member of the Church of England, and licensed by his Bishop. Nothing, however, was done by Parliament towards redressing the grievances of Dissenters until 1719, when the Toleration Act received the Royal Assent (2nd November).

No sooner had the Toleration Act come into operation than the General Synod passed the Pacific Act (21st June, 1720), enforcing a subscription to the substance of the doctrine contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith. The members of the Belfast Society, who had protested against such subscription as inconsistent with Christian liberty, issued a circular vindicating their principles on 7th December, 1720.

In the following year Kirkpatrick voted against the motion --

"That all the members of this Synod who are willing to subscribe the Westminster Confession of Faith, according to the terms of the Pacific Act, may be allowed by this Synod to do it."

In the same year (1721) he published his "Vindication," under the nom de plume of "A Sincere Lover of Truth and Peace," in which he advocated the cause of non-subscription as "A plain principle of Christianity, and one of the best means for preserving religion in its primitive, uncorrupted purity." This publication seemed to rankle in the breasts of the subscribers, and accordingly the non-subscribers had to stand a trial for their principles, the accusation being fixed against four ministers who had undertaken the defence of the "Vindication."

While the non-subscribers were undergoing their trial, an incident occurred which shows to what extent their opponents were actuated by charity. The Third Congregation held their first Communion on 23rd February, 1724, and they absolutely refused

"To join in Communion with these ministers, who, in their judgments, are against subscribing to the Westminster Confession of Faith as a test of orthodoxy."[4]

Both Kirkpatrick and Haliday belonged at this time to the Synod of Ulster, and it was not until the following year (1725) that the non-subscribers were put together into the Presbytery of Antrim.

After the decision of the Third Congregation to refuse the admittance of non-subscribing ministers to the participation of the Lord's Supper, Kirkpatrick published his "Scripture Plea," in which he showed, on Scriptural grounds, their want of Christian charity. No further argument should have been required to convince impartial minds of the ridiculous position in which the Third Congregation had placed themselves than the text which appeared on the front page of the pamphlet, "Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us, to the glory of God."

In 1726 the dispute came to a crisis, when the Presbytery of Antrim laid before the General Synod a healing paper, called "Expedients for Peace among the Protestant Dissenters in the North of Ireland."

"Our first expedient for peace, and which we look upon as the foundation of all the rest, is that our reverend subscribing brethren would be pleased seriously to consider the many clear Gospel precepts, which settle the terms of religious communion, and enjoyn Christian forbearance, notwithstanding of differences in judgment and practice in lesser matters."

Kirkpatrick was the author, and to him was it entrusted to introduce the "Expedients for Peace," and "no sooner was that paper read and delivered to the clerk than it was called a declaration of war."[5] The new terms of peace were rejected, and the Presbytery of Antrim were henceforth excluded from ministerial communion with their brethren in Church judicatories.

In his old age Dr. Kirkpatrick found himself ruthlessly expelled from the Synod to which his father had belonged, but he never swerved from the principles which he had so ably advocated in his youth. Freedom was his watchword, and, like the faithful soldier who remained at his post while the burning lava engulfed him in its deadly grasp, Kirkpatrick died while engaged in writing "The Defence of Christian Liberty." Little is known of his death,[6] or where his remains are interred, but the text of his posthumous work is a more fitting epitaph than the pen of man could devise:--

"Stand fast, therefore, in the Liberty wherewith
Christ hath made us free."

 

PUBLISHED WORKS OF THE REV. JAMES KIRKPATRICK, D.D.
1708-1743.

1. An Historical Essay upon the LOYALTY OF PRESBYTERIANS in Great Britain and Ireland from the Reformation to this present year, 1713, wherein their steady adherence to the Protestant interest, our happy civil constitution, the succession of Protestant princes, the just prerogatives of the Crown, and the liberties of the people, is demonstrated from public records, the best approved histories, the confession of their adversaries, and divers valuable original papers well attested and never before published. And an answer given to the calumnies of their accusers, and particularly to two late pamphlets -- viz., 1. A Sample of True Blue Presbyterian Loyalty, etc.; 2. The Conduct of Dissenters in Ireland, etc., in three parts, with a prefatory Address to all Her Majesty's Protestant subjects of all persuasions in Great Britain and Ireland, against the Pretender, on behalf of the Protestant religion, the Queen, the House of Hanover, and our liberties. 4to. pp.564. Belfast, 1713.

2. GOD'S DOMINION OVER KINGS and other Magistrates; a Thanksgiving Sermon preached in Belfast, October 20th, 1714, being the happy day of the Coronation of His Most Excellent Majesty King George. 4to. pp.28. Belfast, 1714.

3. A VINDICATION of the Presbyterian Ministers in the North of Ireland, Subscribers and non-Subscribers, from many gross and groundless aspersions cast upon them in a late scandalous libel, entitled, "An Account of the Mind of the Synod, etc." pp.82. Belfast, 1721.

4. A SCRIPTURE PLEA against a fatal rupture and breach of Christian communion against Presbyterians in the North of Ireland, pp.12 and 91. Belfast, 1724.

5. AN ESSAY upon the important question whether there is a legislative proper authority in the Church, and whether Christian discipline, truth, peace, and good order may not be maintained without it. With a refutation of some principles advanced in a late pamphlet, entitled, "A Brief Review of a Paper, etc., by some non-subscribing Ministers in the North of Ireland, pp.100. 12mo. Belfast, 1731.

6. Conclusion of the Appendix to Duchal's Sermon on the Death of Abernethy. 1741.

7. A DEFENCE OF CHRISTIAN LIBERTY in a letter to the anonymous author of a late pamphlet, entitled, "A New Creed considered on the principles of the Belfast Society alias the Presbytery of Antrim, lately published by the Rev. Dr. James Kirkpatrick, briefly examined. By a Member of the General Synod, pp.102. Belfast, 1743.

 

GILBERT KENNEDY, M.A., 1744-1773.

GILBERTUS KENNEDY
GILBERTUS KENNEDY, AM.
V. D. M.

Qui Ilominis et Crers Officia et varia Pasts Evant munra.
Apud LISBURN ann. I., apud KILLYLEAGH Annos XI.
Apud BELFAST Annos XXIX.
Summa Prudentia et Integritate absolvrt moribusq.
Puris ornavit ex hae vita decessit maii 12uno 1773.
AEtatis sua 67.

Published after his death.

"What is life without liberty? Death to every person that has the least manliness and generosity of heart is more eligible than life in slavery. Love of liberty is a principle implanted and as deeply rooted in human nature as the love of life.

By Truth is to be understood true and pure religion; the belief and worship of the only living and true God, in opposition to idolatry and every species of false religion

Truth never will flourish in the world till every degree of spiritual tyranny and domination over conscience be set aside, and men, delivered from the shackles and fetters of authority, be permitted without running any hazard freely to use their own reason and understanding in religious matters. Nor without this can there be a thorough revival of practical religion. For what influence can that faith be supposed to have which stands only in the wisdom of men, and is not the result of impartial inquiry and rational conviction." -- "Peace and Truth," by Rev. G. Kennedy, M.A., p.24.

The Rev. Gilbert Kennedy proved himself, during the 29 years of ministry to the Second Congregation, to be a worthy successor to the great champion of non-subscription. Unlike his father, who had upheld the principle of subscription by publishing a defence of the conduct of the Synod of Ulster, he had enlarged and generous notions as to the rights and liberties of mankind. He belonged to the Presbytery of Killyleagh, and did not sever his connection with the Synod of Ulster; yet he never hesitated for a moment to boldly assert that all impositions upon conscience were deleterious to the progress of truth.

The political history of our country during the ministry of Mr. Kennedy was one calculated to put to the severest test the principles of liberty. The claims of a banished heir of the house of Stuart brought two hostile armies into battle array against each other, until the victory of Culloden annihilated for ever the Jacobite party. No sooner had we been delivered from the throes of a civil war, the last which deluged the soil with English blood, than England threw in her lot with the claims of Maria Teresa in the war of the Austrian Succession, which was ultimately brought to a close by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748. By this Treaty France agreed to abandon the cause of the Stuarts, and expel the Pretender from her soil. The peace thus brought about was only a temporary cessation from warfare, for the rise of Pitt saw English arms once more in the field. The year 1759 was one of the most glorious in the military annals of England, and as Walpole remarked, "it was necessary to ask every morning what new victory there was, for fear of missing one."

During the time that our country was passing through this terrible crisis in its history, the Government had appointed one day for a general fast (18th December, 1745), and two for public thanksgiving (25th April, 1749, and 29th November, 1759). On each of those occasions Mr. Kennedy preached a sermon, and as those three sermons were printed at the request of the congregation, we can judge of their author's views on the great political questions of that time.

"What is life without liberty?" asked he, after France had agreed to abandon the cause of the House of Stuart; and from the question can be gathered the value he set upon liberty. Civil and religious liberty was the foundation on which the House of Hanover stood, and he was prepared to risk everything rather than submit to the mischiefs of absolute arbitrary power. The same principle that actuated him in resisting the right of any ecclesiastical body domineering over him in his search after truth, guided him in political matters, as it is impossible for a man to emancipate himself from ecclesiastical tyranny without in some degree embracing principles favourable to general freedom.

In 1763 he was chosen Moderator of the Synod of Ulster, and at their annual meeting in June of the following year he preached from the text, "Or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ."-- Gal. i. 10.

Imagine a Moderator of the General Assembly of the present time saying that it is " unbecoming to be dogmatical in disputable matters." What a shout of disapproval would be raised, as the cry of Infidel -- Arian -- re-echoed from pulpit to pulpit throughout the land. Yet here was a Moderator receiving "the unanimous thanks of the house for his very acceptable sermon" -- a sermon which contained the following passage: --

"It were much for the honour of Christianity, and the interest of truth, if every discouragement to rational and free enquiry were removed out of the Churches." -- p.41.

Mr. Kennedy was "requested to print it for public edification," a request which he subsequently performed, and thereby preserved a monument of honest and manly courage.[7]

It was during Mr. Kennedy's ministry- that the Second Congregation received the lease of the ground on which the Meeting-house stood. On the 31st August, 1767, Arthur, Earl of Donegall. granted unto Thomas Greg, George Ferguson, and Waddell Cunningham, trustees of the Second Congregation of Protestant Dissenters in the town of Belfast, the premises on the north side of Rosemary Lane, to hold unto the Trustees and their successors for ever, for the public worship of Almighty God.

He died on the 12th May, 1773, and his funeral sermon was preached in the Meeting-house of the Second Congregation by the Rev. James MacKay, minister of the First Congregation, on the 23rd May. The subject chosen was "The Character and Future Reward of the Wise, and of those who turn many to Righteousness," in the course of which Mr. MacKay spoke as follows:--

"As a preacher, his talents and abilities were universally acknowledged. Having an early taste for literature, a strong desire for improvement, and being naturally studious and contemplative, he acquired a considerable stock of knowledge, especially in those branches which related more immediately to his own profession. That branch of knowledge, the most important of all others to a divine -- I mean that which treats of human nature and the evidences of revealed religion -- he had carefully studied, and was well acquainted with the best writers on these subjects, ancient and modem. The sacred writings, the sources of religious knowledge, he read with particular care and attention. As he made these, and not the creeds and systems of fallible men, the rule and standard of his faith, with candour and impartiality he inquired into their true sense and meaning, and in the course of preaching and expounding, explained them with critical skill and judgment."

"Though few understood the many subjects of controversy among divines better, yet he seldom or never brought them into the pulpit. According to the Apostle's excellent advice, he carefully 'avoided those foolish and unprofitable questions which only gender strife and contention,' furnish matter for idle disputation, and 'serve not to the use of edifying.' What he strenuously endeavoured to inculcate were those plain and practical duties of religion which are of eternal and immutable obligation; that piety and love to God, that universal charity and good will to men, that purity and righteousness of life, which are the sum and substance of all religion."

"I shall only add one thing more to his honour, that from his youth he entertained enlarged and generous notions of the rights and liberties of mankind, civil and religious. In matters of religion he looked upon all claims of human authority, all impositions upon conscience, not only as injurious to and destructive of the rights and liberties we are justly entitled to as men and Christians, but as greatly obstructing the progress of truth and religious knowledge, and the unhappy source of many other evils. Upon this footing and upon these principles only he knew a dissent from the Established Church can be justified, the reformation from Popery, and Christianity itself defended."

 

PUBLISHED WORKS OF REV. GILBERT KENNEDY. M.A.
1744-1773

1. THE WICKED RULER; or, the mischiefs of absolute arbitrary power. A Sermon preached in the Second Presbyterian Congregation of Belfast, December 18, 1745, being the day of the General Fast appointed by Government. Belfast, 1745.

2. The Great Blessing of PEACE AND TRUTH in our day. A Sermon preached at Belfast on Tuesday, April 25th, 1749, being the day of Public Thanksgiving for the Peace. Belfast, 1749.

3. The AMBITIOUS DESIGNS of wicked men under the restraint of Divine Providence. A Sermon preached at Belfast on Thursday, November 29th, 1759, being a day of Public Thanksgiving appointed by authority for the success of the preceding campaign. Belfast, 1759.

4. The CHARACTER AND CONDUCT OF ST. PAUL, recommended as a pattern to all who devote themselves to the Christian Ministry, A Sermon preached at Lurgan, June 26th, 1764. at a General Synod of Protestant Dissenting Ministers of the Presbyterian persuasion in Ulster, and published at their desire. Belfast, 1764.

 

JAMES BRYSON, M.A., 1773-1791.


From an oil painting in possession of Mr. Samuel Bryson, Holywood.

"Let us support the love of truth, entire and uncorrupted, and commit ourselves to God, who judgeth righteous judgment. From this principle Abraham forsook his country and his friends rather than worship gods in whom he did not believe, or offer divine honours where he thought they were not due. This was that spirit of integrity and honesty towards God which animated the apostles and the early preachers and professors of our holy religion to endure all hardships and encounter every opposition. This sacred love of truth, this loyalty to God, supported the illustrious army of saints and martyrs, gave nerves and vigour to the understandings and the virtue of our great reformers, and enabled them to receive immortal honours by their unshaken steadfastness and patient sufferings in the cause of truth and Christian liberty." -- Sermons on several Important Subjects by James Bryson, A.M., p.81. Belfast, 1778.

Although James Bryson, like his predecessor Gilbert Kennedy, belonged to the Synod of Ulster, it must be noted that his subscription was in these words: "I believe the Westminster Confession of Faith, as to all the important articles of religion, to be founded upon and agreeable to the Holy Scriptures, and, as such, I subscribe it as the confession of my faith." He had the utmost respect for those who stood up "in defence of the religious rights of men and Christians," and did not hesitate to side with the great political movement which had for its object the enfranchisement of all classes of the community. His one distinguishing characteristic was liberality. He became a Mason in 1782, when he joined the Orange Lodge No. 257"[8] (the Warrant of this Lodge was issued on 6th June, 1755), and he subsequently preached to large congregations on the duties of Masonry. But his brotherly love was not confined to the members of any particular order. "All the children of God are our brethren," said he, and his life-work was in accordance with the precept. He recognised in the despised Papist a brother as much to be respected as the most favoured hireling of the Established Church, and was not afraid to side with the down- trodden and oppressed.

That disastrous war which arose out of the iniquitous policy of forcing taxation without representation, and which resulted in the American colonies forming themselves into an independent confederation of States, had drained the North of Ireland of almost all military protection against the encroachments of the enemies of England. At such a time Volunteer companies began to be formed, and ere long an extensive military organisation was established in Ulster. They became not only the guardians of Ireland against an invading army, but their outspoken advocacy of the redress of their country's wrongs has won for them the universal admiration of succeeding generations. As an instance of their liberal principles, two resolutions were passed at Dungannon on 15th day of February, 1782, at a meeting of the Ulster Volunteers --

"That we hold the right of private judgment in matters of religion to be equally sacred in others as in ourselves."

"That as men, and as Irishmen and Christians, and as Protestants, we rejoice in the relaxation of the penal laws against our Roman Catholic fellow-subjects, and that we conceive the measure to be fraught with the happiest consequences to the union and prosperity of the inhabitants of Ireland."

Mr. Bryson took a very active part in the Volunteer movement. On the 22nd November, 1778, he preached to the Belfast Union Volunteers, on which occasion he lauded their efforts on behalf of liberty, in the following words: --

"The military associations of this town do honour to the place and kingdom, and you particularly, my present auditors of that class, deserve the warmest thanks and gratitude of all your fellow-citizens throughout the empire. Every good man will applaud your undertaking, every lover of his country will wish you success, honour, and prosperity. I shall only add that I hope and pray that the other parts of your character may be answerable to this -- that no regard to military objects or to military honours may abate your piety, slacken your industry, or lead you astray from pure and sober manners. The name of Irishman is but another name for courage. There is so much of the real man implied in the military character as should lay a restraint on all your actions; and to render it acceptable to God or useful to your country, it ought to be so intermixed with all the principles of the Christian life as to render you not only brave, but truly good."

He was an eloquent preacher, and his volume of sermons, which was published in 1778, is full of Unitarian principles. Not once in that volume does he speak of God as other than the Father of mankind, and nowhere does he speak of Jesus but as the Son of God. This is the more remarkable because he was elected that year as Moderator of the General Synod, which subsequently became merged in the General Assembly of Ireland. On the 29th June, 1779, he preached before the Synod of Ulster as their Moderator, when he chose as his text, "Search the Scriptures." This sermon has two points of interest. In the first place, the text chosen was based on the principle which formed the constitution of the Remonstrant Synod when they separated from the General Synod in 1830, viz.:--

I. That the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the only infallible rule of faith and duty, and contain all knowledge necessary to salvation.

II. That it is the inalienable right of every Christian to search these records of Divine Truth for his own instruction and guidance.

In the second place, it has a melancholy interest, in the fact that it was preached on July 31, 1787, at the ordination of the Rev. James Porter, of Greyabbey, who was so cruelly murdered on July 2, 1798, for being supposed to have written the political pamphlet Billy Bluff.

The following is an extract from the sermon in question: --

"Indeed, if we may trust the Scriptures themselves, they were intended to make us wise unto salvation. But what has salvation to do with nine-tenths of all those controversies which have broken the Church into innumerable divisions, embroiled the world with the most bloody conflicts, and blown up the angry passions of furious men into ten-fold rage? . . . With regard to the useful searching of the Scriptures, I shall only add, in the words of a very celebrated writer, 'That a man should firmly resolve with himself never to be deluded into the persuasion of anything contrary to plain and evident reason, which is the truth of God's creation; contrary to the human attributes of God, which are the truth of the Divine nature; or contrary to the moral and eternal differences. Good and Evil, which are the truth and foundation of all religion in general, and are in Scripture constantly represented as such.' This rule is of the very utmost importance; and, though the neglect of it hath given rise to nine-tenths of the absurdities that have ever been imposed on the world under the name of Scriptural doctrine, is yet founded on the strongest and most convincing reasons."

In 1789 the new meeting-house was built in Rosemary Street, but as the Congregational Minutes for this period are missing, we have no direct information as to the circumstances under which it was built. Two of the spout heads on the front of the building bore this date, and these, through the foresight of the late Mr. John Ritchie, were recently removed to All Souls' Church, where they are now carefully preserved.[9] The exact date of the opening of the new meeting-house is not known, but Mr. Bryson has a note to one of his manuscript sermons, dated 22nd August, 1790, stating this was the "first time of celebrating the Lord's Supper in the N.M."

Shortly afterwards, Mr. Bryson severed his connection with the Second Congregation and became the first minister of the Fourth Congregation in Donegall Street.

 

PUBLISHED WORKS OF REV. JAMES BRYSON, MA.
1773-1791.

SERMONS on Several Important Subjects. 8vo. pp.478. Belfast, 1778.

THE DUTIES OF MASONRY briefly stated. A sermon delivered before the Orange Lodge of Belfast, No. 257, on 24th June, 1782. 8vo. pp.27. Belfast, 1782.

 

PATRICK VANCE. 1791-1800.

When Patrick Vance became minister of the Second Congregation in 1791, Belfast was stirred to its very centre with the principles of the French Revolution. The abolition of every kind of religious disqualification, which was a leading principle of the Revolution, had a peculiar significance for the Presbyterians of Belfast. They who in 1782 advocated "the right of private judgment in matters of religion to be equally sacred in others as in ourselves," hailed with delight the fall of the Bastille; and two years later, on 14th July, 1791, Belfast re-echoed with the enthusiastic celebrations of the anniversary of the Revolution.

Mr. Vance threw in his lot with those who sought the equal representation of the people in Parliament, and at a general meeting of the inhabitants on the 26th December, 1792, he was appointed on a committee of twenty-one to further this desirable object. Their efforts, however, were temporarily frustrated by the more impending danger of war, as England had drawn the sword against France, and thereby had roused the indignation of Belfast. When men take up an adverse position to any public policy, they are not always represented in the proper light, and truth is to a large extent disregarded by their opponents. The dissenting ministers of Belfast found it to be so when they met on the 11th day of March, 1793, and agreed that the following declaration should be published, and a copy of it transmitted to the Lord Chancellor: --

"Having seen in the report of the Lords' Committees, dated 7th March, 1793, the following words, viz. -- 'Prayers have been offered up at Belfast, from the pulpit, for the success of their arms' -- meaning the arms of the French -- 'in the presence of military associations which have been newly levied and arrayed in that town.'

"We, whose names are hereunto annexed, stated ministers of distinct Protestant Dissenting Congregations in the town of Belfast, do hereby solemnly declare, each of us for himself, that the information given to their Lordships of the Committees upon this subject is, so far as concerns us, totally groundless.

                                      "JAMES BRYSON.
                                      PATRICK VANCE.
                                      WM. BRUCE, D.D."

The "unfounded imputations of disloyalty" roused the indignation of the people, and a numerously-signed petition was presented to the Sovereign of Belfast for a general illumination on his Majesty's birthday, 4th June, "in order that the town may have an opportunity of testifying that its love of liberty is perfectly compatible with its attachment to the King." But there was soon to be a more important opportunity of displaying their fidelity to the Crown, when the insurgents broke into rebellion and took up arms against his Majesty's troops. The battle of Antrim was fought on the 7th June, 1798, and on the following day Mr. Vance was one of those who felt themselves called upon "as loyal subjects at this momentous crisis to stand forward in defence of our King and country," and enrolled themselves as a supplementary division of the corps of yeomen infantry "to clothe ourselves and serve without pay."

Mr. Vance's ministry in Belfast is chiefly noted for the return of the Second Congregation to the Presbytery of Antrim, from which they had been severed since 1744.[10] As the Congregational Minutes for this period are missing, little information can he gathered as to his ministerial work, and, so far as I can discover, he published no works. He died on 2nd January, 1800, in the 44th year of his age; and on the 12th January the Rev. Dr. Bruce preached his funeral sermon, in the course of which he said: --

"Since his settlement in this Congregation you all know how well he supported that character which he uniformly maintained. As a private man he was distinguished for firmness, independence and liberality; in his friendships he was warm and faithful; and he was exemplary in that line of duty in which he had the greatest number of competitors and coadjutors -- attention to the charitable institutions of this town. In these generous and useful occupations he spent a great portion of his time, and by his exertions in them he lost his life . . . His disease was caught in perambulating one of the districts of this town, and distributing tickets to the poor, to entitle them to soup and bread in proportion to their circumstances. The infection lurked some days in his veins, was fomented by a subsequent attendance at the public kitchen, and then broke out into a malignant fever. From his skill in physic, or a sensation attendant on the disease, he early foresaw that he was to die, and determined to fulfil the duties imposed upon him by that awful warning . . . When it was hinted that his apprehension of the fatal termination of his disease might have a tendency to hasten it, he answered in the characteristic words: 'Who told you that I was afraid of death? I have taught men how to live, and I will teach them how to die.' . . . Such was the use which he made of the short return of reason that he enjoyed before his dissolution. This was an afflicting event to the whole town, but more especially to his friends, to the poor, and, above all, to his congregation who enjoyed the benefit of his ministry, and were so much indebted for their present respectability to his indefatigable exertions."

 

WILLIAM HAMILTON DRUMMOND, D.D., 1800-1815.

William Hamilton Drummond
From an oil painting by Mr. Thomas Robinson, in possession of Rev, R. B. Drummond, Edinburgh

"Mine be the man of God, whose visual ray
By no cold mist of bigotry obscured,
In God beholds the parent of mankind,
And in mankind, his brethren."
                                      -- The Christian Preacher.

As soon as William Hamilton Drummond was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Antrim, he accepted a call from the Second Congregation. He was ordained on the 26th August, 1800, on which occasion Dr. Bruce preached, Mr. Bryson, of Antrim, ordained, and Mr. Taggart, of Dunmurry, delivered a charge to the minister and people.

At the time of his ordination, the Second Congregation was "one of the most numerous, enlightened, and influential among the liberal Dissenters in the North of Ireland."[11] During his fifteen years of ministry in this Congregation, he was engaged, not with controversy, but in advocating the cause of civil and religious liberty, and in rousing the public spirit of his people to the liberal support of the benevolent institutions then in existence in the town. Almost his last sermon preached as our minister was a charity sermon, and his eloquence on that occasion resulted in a request of the Committee to have it printed for the use of the families under his charge.

But his influence in Belfast was not confined to his pulpit, or to the members of his congregation. He was one of the original members, of whom he was the last survivor, of the Belfast Literary Society, which was founded on the 23rd October, 1801.[12] He was a warm supporter of the Belfast Academical Institution, and it was due to his Thoughts on the Study of Natural History," an address to the proprietors of that Institution, that our Museum owes its existence. His school at Mount Collier awakened the young minds of his pupils to all the various branches of knowledge. He delivered a course of lectures and experiments on Natural Philosophy, and had as one of his pupils Thomas Romney Robinson (afterwards Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, and Astronomer to the Armagh Observatory), to whom he wrote a Valedictory Poem, on the 20th December, 1805.

"Since partial Nature fondly smiled
On Fancy's nursling, Wisdom's child,
Haste to complete the glorious plan,
Nor let the boy surpass the man;
To nobler triumphs now aspire,
Than ever graced thy infant lyre;
Let Emulation's purest flame
Incite thy ardent soul to fame.
And realise each prospect fair
Of Percy's hope and Bruce's care."[13]

He was ever a lover of Nature, and it is no wonder that he worshipped at her shrine, when we remember that his early youth was spent amid the romantic glens of Antrim, which are unrivalled for their natural beauty.[14] His "Giant's Causeway," which was dedicated to his old schoolmaster and lifelong friend, William Bruce, D.D., as a testimonial of gratitude and esteem, abounds in passages of such loveliness that I cannot refrain from here quoting some of them.

"Great fane of God! where Nature sits enshrined,
Pouring her inspiration o'er the mind."

And again,

"How sweet to wander here when orient day
Tinges with roseate hue the milky spray."

But apart from the mere beauty of expression, his poem was the outcome of a richly-stored mind, and his theory of the volcanic formation of the Causeway brought him into close correspondence with all the leading geologists of his day. Nothing escapes his attention. Amidst the loveliness of Nature's handiwork, he beholds the ruins of Dunluce Castle, "proud throne of feudal state," and he is at once back in the age of feuds and strife, and conjures up the armed forces of the M'Quillans and the MacDonnells in their struggle for supremacy.

His patriotic spirit is everywhere manifesting itself. As early as 1797 he fearlessly asserted that Ireland was labouring under desperate misgovernment.[15] Whether his statement was true can be judged by the light of subsequent events. His object in rousing the "feeling of oppression's wrong" was that his fellow-countrymen might become more useful citizens by uniting "the love of man with God's." Recent legislation has been of a more conciliatory tone than in the early days of Drummond, and many of the changes which he so much desired have been effected within living memory. What could be grander than those words of advice, which appeared in 1822 when his poem "Clontarf" was published, at a time when he saw the great bulk of his fellow-countrymen in a state of serfdom?

"Ye statesmen, peers, and great ones of the land,
Think kindly of the worth of Erin's sons.
With all their claims of nature, country, blood,
Upon your patriot love. Around them pour
The light of truth divine; dissolve the chains
That cramp their spirit; new incentives give
To industry; inspire the virtuous love
Of independence, and on home bestow
Your hearts and minds, your love and energy,
But ill bestowed on thankless alien lands."

But his patriotism must not be confounded with that narrow form which wishes to see our country rise out of the ashes of England's greatness. "The virtuous love of independence" led him to side with England against the encroachments of Napoleon on the liberties of Europe, and his prayer for the triumph of the British at Trafalgar was actuated by his love for "the ennobling cause of liberty."

His poems abound with passages of much local interest, and deserve a more universal recognition of their intrinsic merit. His statement that

"Genius here may droop
And die and rot, ere ye would stretch a hand
To save him from despair "

seems to be exemplified in his own case. How many can recall to mind his "Address to the Lagan"? Yet here we have the poet pouring forth his soul to the dearest spot on earth, by whose crystalline waters

"My bosom learned to prove
The joys of friendship and the bliss of love."

His ode to Adair, who fell on the eve of victory at Trafalgar, in the cause of his country's liberty, should be treasured by all who admire Irish courage and valour; while his "Prayer for Triumph" should place him among the foremost poets of his country.

During his ministry in Belfast, Drummond was not a controversialist. He is said to have preached only one controversial sermon, and that was at the request of a member of his congregation. In how far he became a controversialist after his departure to Dublin it is not for me to record. He was a sound scholar, and his theological ability was rewarded by the Marischal College, Aberdeen, conferring upon him the degree, honoris causa, of Doctor of Divinity, on 29th January, 1810.

Towards the end of 1815 he received a call from Dublin, which he accepted, and prior to his removal the congregation presented him with an address declaratory of the high sense they entertained of his exemplary discharge of the duties as pastor, and of their deep regret at his intended removal.

THE CHRISTIAN PREACHER.

"Ay, there's a preacher! No disclaimer he
With noise and start, and wild theatric stare,
With chill conception, sanctimonious cant,
And marrowless verbiage of a yeasty brain,
Dishonouring sacred texts; and for the bread
Of life, dispensing to the hungry flock
Unhallowed garbage. No polemic he,
Roaring defiance from the throne of peace;
Nor holy gladiator, whom the hope
Of lawn and mitre fires with godless zeal.
Though strong as truth, and matchless in the game
Of warring arguments, he wields his powers
With such a graceful gentleness as shows
The Christian temper."[16]

 

WILLIAM D. H. M'EWEN, M.A. 1817-1828.

William D. H. M'Ewen
From an oil painting in possession of Miss M'Ewen.

"Religion, mild and unpersecuting religion, is not the engine of a sect or party. The truly religious teacher of every communion has one object in view; he 'watches to save his own soul and the souls of his people.' No word should pass our lips which might abridge each other's usefulness. The wordy war of polemical divinity is nearly past. Those abstruse speculations which, to the prejudice of Christianity, usurped the name and place of religion, are sinking into oblivion, unknown as the head that gave them birth, and forgotten as those who were once their advocates. From their peaceful retreat we are not obliged to drag them again into notice."[17]

On the 6th of April, 1817, the Congregation unanimously decided to send the following letter of call to the Rev. Mr. M'Ewen, of Killyleagh: --

"We, the Members of the Second Congregation of Belfast, being deprived of the stated administrations of the Word and ordinances by the removal of our late worthy Pastor, the Rev. W. H. Drummond, D.D., and convinced of your abilities and qualifications for discharging the duties of the ministerial office, have agreed to invite you to the pastoral care of us, for our edification in the Lord; and we do hereby, through the Reverend Presbytery of Antrim, invite and call upon you to become our Minister, and to discharge among us the various duties of the ministerial office, according to the laws of the Gospel.

"And, to encourage you to accept of this our call, and to enable you to attend upon the ministrations of the Gospel, without disquiet from worldly affairs, we hereby promise to have and honour you for your work's sake, to afford you all due respect and comfort in your office; and in particular, we engage to pay you, so long as you shall continue our stated Pastor, an annual stipend of 200 sterling.

"In testimony of all which we have publicly subscribed these presents in our Meeting-house in Belfast, this 6th day of April, 1817.

(Signed)

He was installed on the 27th May, and an installation dinner was subsequently held. Immediately after his installation, the Congregation voted the sum of 20 guineas to the Treasurer of the Belfast Academical Institution to "constitute our Minister a proprietor thereof." He was subsequently appointed Professor of Elocution in the Institution, where he won the esteem and respect of all his pupils.

Nothing in particular distinguishes the times in which Mr. M'Ewen ministered in Belfast. The Battle of Waterloo had brought about the peace of Europe, through the overthrow of the despotic Napoleon, about a year before Mr. M'Ewen received a call to the Second Congregation, and he was removed by the hand of death shortly before the British Legislature conceded the Catholic Emancipation. Free from the political excitement of warfare, turmoil, and strife, he directed his sole attention to his pastoral duties, and he was the first minister to establish a Course of Sunday Evening Lectures at six o'clock. As the Meeting-house was not fitted with artificial light, the evening lectures were held only during the summer months. After several years the question of lighting the house was considered, but nothing further was done in that respect.

It is interesting to note that Dr. Montgomery owed his election to the Belfast Academical Institution largely to the efforts of his "highly gifted and affectionate friend, M'Ewen;" and his subsequent opponent, Dr. Cooke, was also under a sense of indebtedness to the same gentleman. After Mr. M'Ewen left Killyleagh for Belfast, he wrote a letter to Mr. John Carr, Killyleagh, recommending Rev. Henry Cooke as his successor, on the grounds that "he is by no means bigoted in his opinions, and has too much good sense not to be charitable towards those who differ from him in sentiment." In how far this estimate of Dr. Cooke was correct as to his actions in later life can be judged by his speeches in the Academical Institution in 1841, when he denied the Unitarians equal privileges with the Presbyterians. In the course of one of his speeches he spoke as follows: --

"You now tell me, and the Orthodox Christians of the Empire, that you would appoint a Romish Professor to preside over and direct the studies of Presbyterian youth -- to arrange their examinations, distribute their premiums -- to sign their certificates with their Papal digits."[18]

An incident in the life of Mr. M'Ewen recalls the memory of one who was truly persecuted for "conscience' sake." Dr. William Steele Dickson, of Portaferry, was a staunch supporter of the claims of the Roman Catholics to the franchise, and in the troublous times of the Rebellion of 1798 was arrested on the suspicion of being a rebel. Detained in prison for close on four years, he found himself, when liberated, ostracised from the mansions where formerly he had been an honoured guest. He ultimately became a recipient of charity, and the Members of the Second Congregation were not behind in extending to him a "weekly allowance." He died on the 27th December, 1824, and his remains were deposited in a pauper's grave, where not even a stone marks his last resting-place. Mr. M'Ewen, in the presence of only some eight or ten individuals, officiated at the grave, and in pathetic terms referred to the memory of the departed.

He died at the age of 40, on the 15th July, 1828, and in consequence of his death there was no service held on the following Sunday. His funeral was very large, including the ministers of the Presbytery of Antrim, the ministers of other denominations, the Professors, Managers, and Visitors of the Academical Institution, in front of whom were the Rev. Dr. Hanna and the Rev. Dr. Edgar, and the Members of the Second Congregation. The procession formed in front of the Institution, and proceeded by Donegall Place, High Street, Prince's Street, and over the Long Bridge to Killyleagh, where the remains of the deceased were interred in the family burying-ground.

On the following Sunday the Rev. Mr. Carley, who took "the sense of the meeting" on the 6th June, 1817, previous to his call, delivered an eloquent and affecting funeral sermon.

"I wished," said his amiable and venerable mother, who survived him, "to make him a minister; for I thought him a clever creature -- the most clever of the family -- and I wished to devote the most perfect to the peculiar service of God."

"There are times and occasions when the ordinary calamities of human life fix themselves with more than common tenacity on our feelings and affections; and never did we feel the truth of this more forcibly than at the present moment, when the melancholy task is imposed on us of announcing the death of Rev. W. D. H. M'Ewen. In the prime of life, in the vigour of manhood, and with more than a proportionate share of literary eminence, he has been prematurely removed from a scene of great usefulness, and from a circle of society which he at once instructed and adorned . . . Mr. M'Ewen was eminently distinguished as a pulpit orator. He was well versed in controversial theology; and yet, though never backward fearlessly to maintain his own views when brought into the field of disputation, he did so in the spirit of his Divine Master . . . As a man and member of society, he stood equally pre-eminent. His attachment to the principles of Civil and Religious Liberty was uniform and unchanging. His deportment towards those who differed from him in religious opinions was marked by that charity and courtesy which should always distinguish a Christian minister."

-- Northern Whig, 17th July, 1828.

Shortly before his death Mr. M'Ewen published the following poem, entitled "Changes,'' descriptive of his life: --

From scene to scene the Minstrel ranged,
His views, but not his duties changed,
Amidst a dull and thankless crowd
Too cold to feel -- to learn, too proud;
The muse alone dispelled the gloom
That darkened o'er youth's buried bloom.
Yet Hope the veil o'er sorrow threw
And sketched the future to his view --
And friends were there, whose social smile
Dispelled the wanderer's cares the while,
And rescued from the zealot's strife
One green spot on the map of life.

Years rolled away -- he bore his share
In scenes of bliss, and hours of care;
And left the city's vapid train,
For rural life and peace again;
Forswore the truant wish to roam,
And met the stranger's welcome home.
And there was one[19] whose master mind
Each feeling of his heart refined;
When flashed his eye, 'twas sweet to trace
The eagle-daring of his race!
And he who wakes the minstrel shell
His virtues knew and loved them well;
A mind with classic lore imbued,
A heart that prized his country's good,
The first to raise the patriot band
When rose the valiant of the land.
Fair freedom traced his name on history's page,
Her bravest knight in youth, her steadiest friend in age.
Years rolled away -- the Minstrel found
The dulness of his natal ground;
Left woodland, lake, and moory glen,
For active busy life again.
How shall he sketch the passing scene,
In brumal hue, or vernal green?
Even now he thinks on prospects changed,
On bypast times, and friends estranged.
The thrill of youth is past and gone,
His feelings take a sterner tone.
Not his the flash of fancy's play
That charmed life's boyish years away;
Yet Memory's lunar lamp hath cast
A silvery radiance o'er the past,
And given again the scenes to view
He trod -- when life was young, and truant hope was new.

 

JOHN PORTER. 1829-1870.

JOHN PORTER
From an oil painting in Vestry, by Mr. Thomas Hooke.

"The three great principles of Protestantism are --
1. The rejection of human authority in matters of religion.
2. The sufficiency of Scripture as a rule of faith and duty.
3. The right of private judgment in determining the meaning of Scripture.

These propositions, simple in their nature, comprehensive in their meaning, and easily apprehended, constitute its very soul and essence."[20]

The genial presence and the quiet unassuming manner of the Rev. John Porter, who was Minister for forty-one years, are still fresh in the minds of many members of the Second Congregation. The year which witnessed his call from Liverpool to Belfast was memorable for the passing of that great legislative enactment which liberated Roman Catholics from the bonds of civil disabilities, and the year in which, owing to his advanced age, he tendered his resignation saw the abolition of a State Church in Ireland. He preached on trial during the month of May, 1829, and on the 7th June the Rev. Mr. Johnston of Holywood, on behalf of the Presbytery of Antrim, declared that the choice of the seat-holders had fallen on the Rev. John Porter, "to whom he should forthwith moderate a call."

Mr. Porter was ordained on the 6th August, 1829, when the Rev. William Bruce opened with prayer, the Rev. J. A. Johnston, of Holywood, preached, and the Rev. Dr. Bruce delivered an address. An installation dinner was given in the evening of the same day, when Mr. John S. Ferguson occupied the chair. Various toasts were proposed, but one stands out pre-eminent, and shows the liberality of the Congregation at the time: -- "The Right Rev. Dr. Crolly, and our brethren of the Roman Catholic persuasion." The Roman Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor replied, and his action in sinking mere theological differences to hold out the right hand of fellowship in "the dearest and best interests of human nature" will ever cast lustre on the memory of Dr. Crolly, afterwards Lord Primate of Ireland.

"Dr. Crolly rose, greatly affected, and said -- "Mr. Chairman, I beg to offer you my best thanks for the kind manner in which you -- and this liberal and enlightened assembly -- have been pleased to drink my health. The people to whom I belong are deeply indebted, in various ways, to the members of the Second Presbyterian Congregation. I enjoyed intimately the acquaintance and friendship of your late pastor, and I am most anxious to cultivate and secure a similar feeling towards his talented and esteemed successor. Mr. Porter and I differ on points of speculative belief; but he and I shall never disagree on the more benevolent parts of the Christian doctrine. (Loud cheers.) I wish him joy of his new appointment; and I hope he may maintain the high character he at present possesses. He is at the head of a body of the most enlightened Presbyterians in the United Kingdom; he stands high in literary acquirements; and these can only be eclipsed by the goodness of his heart. I here offer Mr. Porter a tender of my confidence and friendship, and an anxious willingness to co-operate with him in every work that can serve society or benefit the dearest and best interests of human nature." (Loud cheers.) -- Northern Whig of 10th August, 1829.

Shortly after his coming to Belfast Mr. Porter formed an idea of establishing a Circulating Theological Library, and at the Annual Meeting held on 30th January, 1831, the members highly approved of the formation of such Library. No sooner had he this scheme set on foot than he proposed a course of Evening Lectures during the summer months of 1832. The success of these services led Mr. Porter to request the use of the house for similar services during the winter months of 1834. In order to meet this request, the Committee resolved "to have the necessary arrangements made to light the house with candles for this season, and that the members of the Congregation be apprised thereof by circular, and cautioned to provide for the safety of their books." One of the results of these services was the attendance of the working classes, and immediately Mr. Porter suggested that accommodation should be provided for them at a lower rate. It was decided (22nd August, 1836) "that seats be made in the three windows of the west gallery as an experiment," and these were reserved for the working classes at 1/3 per month. These seats were immediately filled, and early in the following year it was decided to construct three corresponding seats in the east gallery to be appropriated to the same purposes.

At the Annual Meeting held on 24th February, 1833, it was resolved "that it is the opinion of this meeting that it would be highly desirable to establish a Place of Worship where those professing the Unitarian faith might have an opportunity of attending Divine Service, which is now denied them by want of accommodation in the present houses." The co-operation of the First Congregation was requested to carry this object into effect, but they did not deem such an object to be then expedient. The refusal of the First Congregation to co-operate stimulated the Second Congregation, and at the Annual Meeting of 1834 it was decided to proceed with the matter themselves. Subscription lists were opened "for the erection of a new Unitarian Meeting-house." At length (in December, 1838) it was decided to purchase a Meeting-house in York Street, known as "Beth Birei" (i.e. "House of my Creator"), for the sum of 250, including all the fixtures; which amount, with two exceptions, was subscribed by the members of the Congregation. The new Church, after undergoing some repair and painting, was opened on the 5th January, 1840, on which occasion Rev. Dr. Montgomery preached at both the morning and evening services. The Presbyteries of Antrim and Bangor agreed to send supplies for the first three months, and on the 15th day of December, 1840, the Rev. W. J. Blakely was ordained as the first Minister of York Street Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Congregation.

While the movement to build a new Meeting-house was receiving the attention of the Congregation, Mr. Porter had in view the establishment of a day school in connection with the Congregation, and early in the year 1839 he moved that the proposal "be speedily acted upon, and, if possible, that it be connected with the National System of Education." Negotiations were set on foot, and on the 3rd March, 1839, a sub-committee was appointed to secure an eligible place for a Sunday and Day School. Immediately a house was taken in Castle Street, lately in the occupation of Mr. Robert Hart, at the yearly rent of 29. A Sunday School was opened with an attendance of 150, and the success of this attempt led to a recommendation "that immediate arrangements be made for establishing a day school, so as to secure the proper working and efficiency of both."

Mr. Porter secured the services of Miss Anderson, formerly Assistant to Mr. Dunning, of the Lancasterian Schools, and under her superintendence the School was opened on Monday, 2nd September, 1839, with an attendance of forty scholars. The School continued to prosper, and soon the house in Castle Street became inadequate to the requirements, as the average attendance for the year 1842 was -- Sunday School, 129, and Day School, 84.

It was now decided to open a subscription list for the purpose of building new schools. Various sites were inspected, but none was found to be suitable. At last the Congregation purchased from Mr. S. Sparling a building in Fountain Street, known as the "Gymnasium," with all the fixtures, for the price of 336. The School was transferred to the new premises, and continued to thrive under Miss Anderson, who instructed the scholars in reading, writing, grammar, arithmetic, geography, and natural philosophy.

In 1848 the Committee approached the Belfast Charitable Society for an extension of the lease, but this they were unable to obtain, as the lessors were bound to put up the premises for public competition on the expiration of the then existing lease. Unable to secure an extension of the lease, and the School having ceased to be a Congregational School, it was decided on 6th May, 1855, to dispose of the premises for the remainder of the lease (eleven years) and apply the proceeds to the payment of the Church repairs. Nothing, however, was done until the termination of the lease (1st Nov., 1866), when the premises were surrendered to the lessors, and the Commissioners of National Education struck the School off their rolls.

Mr. Porter continued his lectures "as a means for the dissemination and proper explanation of our much misunderstood and misrepresented religious views." The Congregation increased so that our pastor gave up his seat for the accommodation of his people, and a vote of thanks was accorded to him for his generous action. On the 8th July, 1838, the pastor reported that there were 200 families, and 1,000 individuals of all ages, connected with the Congregation, and that there were 290 communicants at the last celebration of the Lord's Supper. The number of stipend-payers was 125, amounting to 367, which, in addition to the rents annually received, made a yearly income of 416. In recognition of Mr. Porter's assiduous efforts in the cause of Unitarianism, the Congregation presented him with a salver and a purse of 325 on the 2nd June, 1839.

On the 29th September, 1839, it was resolved "that this house be fitted with gas," and, in accordance with the resolution, Messrs. Patterson were appointed to erect gas-fittings at a cost of 102 12S 6d.

In the year 1842 a case was tried before the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, the decision of which affected the interests of our Congregation in a very material way. The result of this case, and of a similar case decided before the House of Lords in England, led to a movement for wresting from the Congregation their Meeting-house. On the 25th December, 1842, it was resolved "that under the present threats held out of process to deprive the members of this Congregation of their Meeting-house, the Committee nominate Messrs. John Campbell, John Gray, and Michael Andrews a sub-committee to watch the interests of this Congregation, with full and unlimited powers."[21]

Early in the year 1844 a joint deputation from the First and Second Congregations co-operated in applying for an Act of Parliament for the protection of the Congregational properties. A joint committee of the First and Second Congregations was appointed for the purpose of collecting subscriptions from the congregations for the defraying of the expenses in connection with the Dissenters' Chapels Bill. The sum of 298 15s 0d was subscribed, and in the meantime the Bill received the Royal Assent. A sum of 50 was voted to the English Presbyterian Committee as a contribution from the Unitarians of Ireland towards the defrayment of the expenses incurred by them in the prosecution of the Bill, which they generously declined. A resolution was moved by the Joint Committee -- "That we feel it our duty to place on record our deep sense of their generosity on this occasion, and to renew our expression of thanks for their cordial and efficient services throughout the whole of the recent proceedings."

Mr. Porter was indefatigable in his exertions to procure the passing of the Bill, and spent a considerable time in London during the discussion of the Bill in Parliament. In recognition of his zealous services on that occasion, the Joint Committee presented him with a purse of twenty guineas. They also presented to Mr. F. D. Finlay, the proprietor of the Northern Whig, a salver and dinner service; to Mr. Simms, the editor of that paper, a salver and tea service; and to Mr. W. J. C. Allen a salver.[22]

In 1849 Mr. Porter was appointed Dean of Residence in the Queen's College, Belfast, where the Non-Subscribing students had the advantage of his scholarly advice.

In 1868 a question came before Parliament which roused the energies of Mr. Porter. The State support of the Church in Ireland, the principles of which were in direct opposition to the religious views of the majority of the people, had grown to be an intolerable evil. Mr. Gladstone, himself an ardent Churchman, proposed to discontinue the State support, and make it self-supporting. The proposal received Mr. Porter's heartiest sympathy, and he at once approached the Committee, to whom he submitted a petition to Parliament, embodying the views of the Congregation.[23] They did not allow any selfish motives to actuate them, but, acknowledging that the measure would seriously affect them by a probable withdrawal of the Regium Donum from the Non-Subscribing Churches, amounting to 2,980 per annum, they unhesitatingly asserted that justice demanded the abolition of the State Church.

As soon as the Irish Church Bill received the Royal Assent, Mr. Porter felt that advancing age was fast approaching, and on the 13th November, 1869, he asked to have a successor and assistant appointed. As he said in his letter to the Committee: "I feel that I no longer possess the health and energy necessary for an efficient discharge of the duties that will henceforth devolve on your minister." This request was conceded, and Mr. Porter was voted a retiring allowance of 100 per annum, as and from 1st May, 1870.

Mr. Porter's last public appearance was on the occasion of a Unitarian Conversazione in the Ulster Hall to welcome the Rev. J. C. Street on the 13th January, 1871. The resolution which fell to his lot to propose was --

"That at this assembly of the Second Presbyterian Congregation and their friends, the Unitarians of Belfast and Ulster offer to the Rev. Mr. Street a glad and cordial welcome to his new pastoral charge, and heartily rejoice in the settlement amongst them of one who has proved himself so earnest a champion of religious truth and freedom, and so worthy a labourer in the cause of social reformation."

At the annual meeting of 1873 it was unanimously decided to present Mrs. Porter with an oil painting of her venerable husband, "as a mark of affection and esteem," and to have a duplicate hung in the vestry of the Meeting-house. Mr. Porter's health did not admit of his sitting to an artist, and on the suggestion of Mrs. Porter the picture was painted from an earlier likeness.

Mr. Porter died on 12th February, 1874, in his 73rd year, and his remains were interred in the family burying-ground, Shankill Graveyard. His funeral sermon was preached by the Rev. J. C. Street on the 22nd February, taking as his text "I am the Good Shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine."

"Mr. Porter's career, as a Unitarian minister, was less that of a controversialist than of a man seeking to assert quietly broad and unassailable principles of truth, based on a liberal interpretation of the teachings deducible from Christ and His apostles. In his prime of life and vigour, he was always ready to assert and preach these candidly and with considerable power. In his private walk of life, his geniality of disposition, his tender consideration for the young, and his general kindness of heart, have written his name upon the hearts of the present generation in more glowing and softened characters than those attained by authors of many scholastic and erudite works.

"Mr. Porter was always a zealous supporter of the General Hospital, that charity, in its all-embracing character, being one which peculiarly commended itself to his mind. For many years he collected regularly for this institution, and to the last year of his life took a deep interest in its welfare.

"He was one of the best known men of a generation now passing away from us, and we cannot but feel a deep sorrow in chronicling the decease of a kindly-hearted and worthy Christian minister, whose presence will be much missed amongst us, but the memory of whose geniality of character we trust will long survive." -- Northern Whig, 14th February, 1874.

 

PUBLIC UTTERANCES AND RESOLUTIONS PROPOSED BY MR. PORTER.

10th April, 1831. -- Unitarian Society for the Diffusion of Christian Knowledge, held in the Second Presbyterian Congregation, Belfast.

"That this Society, though holding itself independent, shall correspond with the Irish, the London, and Boston Unitarian Associations, and all others having in view the extension of rational Christianity."

2 Feb., 1832. -- INSTALLATION DINNER TO REV. J. SCOTT PORTER.

"The health of the Rev. John Porter and our Brethren of the Second Presbyterian Congregation."

Mr. Porter said, in reply, "he could truly say that the welfare of the First Congregation was to his people a subject of the liveliest interest. The number of that Society then present for the purpose of welcoming the arrival of the young minister to his native shores, of extending to him the rites of hospitality and the hand of friendship, were a sufficient proof of this assertion. Looking back to the First Congregation, as the parent hive out of whose overflowing members their own was first embodied, it would have been unnatural did they not desire its welfare. And even if they should in the ordinary days of the week forget that claim upon their sympathy, the Sabbath morning, as it called them to the house of prayer, would have reminded them of their sworn brotherhood, when they looked up and beheld their two temples rearing their venerable walls within the same enclosure, unseparated even by a fence. When the hand of an irresistible, but an all-wise and benevolent Providence, deprived the First Congregation of the services of its venerable pastor, who is the pride and the ornament of the Presbyterian name, it was the prayer of the Second Congregation that in his successor a worthy representative might be found, and that the mantle of the prophet might descend on proper shoulders. Their prayer, they believe, has been heard, and their hope ratified. Hitherto it had been his happiness to have lived in the bonds of unity with the ministers of the First Congregation. Hereafter it would be his endeavour to preserve that unity unbroken. He rejoiced at the inviolability of the sacred principles they upheld, but rejoiced more at the contemplation of a more tolerant spirit, which, in despite of interested men, was beginning to display itself among all classes of the community."

10th May, 1832. -- At the annual meeting of the Unitarian Society for the Diffusion of Christian Knowledge, held in the Second Meeting-house.

"That, while we are sensible of the many impediments which yet oppose the general recognition of the great principles for the promotion of which we are associated, we cannot but acknowledge, with thankfulness to Divine Providence, that some which formerly existed have been removed, and that the signs of the times encourage us to look forward to the future with hope."

19th July, 1836. -- Remonstrant Synod at First Presbyterian Congregation, Dromore.

"That we discern in the free exercise of individual judgment in matters of religion, the only sure and sinless mode of developing Christian truth, of promoting just views of the character of God, and of the nature, duties, and destiny of man."

In speaking to this resolution, Mr. Porter said -- "Before the Reformation the human mind was bound in the fetters of Papal tyranny, and when Martin Luther burst those fetters, and asserted in principle the freedom of human thought, he was a stranger to it in practice. Though a Protestant in his contests with the Court of Rome, yet towards those Protestants who differed from himself he was essentially a Papist; and Calvin, who rocked the cradle of Presbyterianism in Geneva -- Calvin, who nobly resisted every attempt to lord it over his own mind, brought to the stake the mild, pious, learned Servetus, because he would not bow down before the idol creed which he had set up. But while Christian freedom, nominally advocated by the Reformers of old, had been hitherto but partially acted on, the principle had been avowed, and it must continue to spread and operate till the great work of human redemption be accomplished, and the spirit of liberty pervade the world."

6th October, 1839. -- Annual meeting of the Unitarian Society, Belfast, held in the Commercial Buildings.

"The progress of Christian Unitarianism, may it be rapid and extensive, breaking down the barriers of intolerance, dispelling the gloom of ignorance and the mists of superstition, and diffusing over the nations of the earth the light and warmth of the Sun of righteousness."

5th September, 1839. -- ORDINATION DINNER OF REV. JOHN HALL AT BALLYCLARE.

"Civil and Religious Liberty, may its principles be understood and appreciated by every human being."

In the course of his speech Mr. Porter said -- "There was no other theme to which his heart felt so warm as to this. From his infancy he had cherished a love of liberty. That love had been strengthened by education and experience, and the circumstances in which he had been placed had tended to increase it . . . Religious liberty is yet only in its infancy. One Church calls itself infallible, and other Churches, while they call themselves Protestants, act as if they were infallible, and thus belie the principles they profess. It was in the true spirit of freedom that their fathers of this Presbytery had acted when they resisted the dictation of the Synod of Ulster. That Synod presented a book to them -- the Westminster Confession of Faith -- requiring that they should sign it. They inquired what kind of book it was -- did it contain anything more than the Bible? If so, they would have nothing to do with it. Did it contain less? Then they did not want it. Did it contain just what the Bible contained? Then they had no occasion for it; they preferred the Bible. And thus they resisted the Synod, and rested on the Bible as their sole and sufficient rule of faith. He rejoiced to say that this spirit was increasing in the world. They were stronger by a hundred fold than when first the battle was begun. Their principles were spreading over France and Germany, and Geneva, where Calvinism once was predominant -- Geneva was now foremost in the maintenance of religious freedom; and if they pass over the broad Atlantic, to the land of Washington, and Franklin, and Channing, in its populous cities and in its far-stretching valleys the banner of liberty floats."

25th May, 1841. -- Remonstrant Synod of Ulster at Belfast

"Whereas, a petition to the House of Commons, agreed to at the late meeting at Dr. Hanna's, on the motion of the Rev. James Morgan, contains, among others, the following statements, viz.: -- 'That two professors of Arianism were recently intruded into the institution'; that 'they are invested with authority over the entire course of study'; and that this proceeding destroys all the practical sureties against the teaching of Arianism furnished in the original constitution of the Faculty. Resolved -- That these allegations of the petition are utterly unfounded, and evidently designed to mislead the House of Commons, as the resolutions were calculated to deceive the public; and consequently that a petition to the House of Commons, signed by the Chairman, be forwarded from this meeting, placing the whole case fairly before them, and joining in the prayer for a Parliamentary investigation that the Belfast Institution may be placed on such a foundation as that it may be a useful seminary for the impartial education for the ministry for all the Presbyterian and other Christian Churches in Ireland."

Speaking to this resolution, Mr. Porter said -- "Act honestly, like those Catholics whom you despise; build your own colleges; put your hands into your own pockets instead of ours, and then you will have some claim to the righteousness of which you so greatly boast, and no doubt be as happy in your honest independence as the proprietors of the Institution by your absence from its precincts. Yet, after all your threatening, you will not, it is to be apprehended, act upon this upright and legal principle, and you will not erect a college for yourselves, as you argue the students of the Unitarian bodies are not nearly so numerous as yours. The Unitarian proprietors, you admit, are many, but their students are few, whilst yours are numerous, and that, therefore, you will take from the weak and give to the strong. Amiable and upright, truly Christian men! Sir, this is the grand climax of their arguments, of their self-styled righteousness, and of their petition. With this most conclusive reasoning they have appeared before their countrymen; with this they are not ashamed to appear before the Government. Give the Institution (say they) to us, who have contributed little to its erection, because our students are numerous. Take it away from those who were its principal founders, because theirs are few. Bury under the odium of heresy men who are ornaments to literature and beloved in their churches. Heed not justice, heed not reputation, heed not chartered rights, only let orthodoxy be triumphant, and the end proposed will be an ample atonement for the means adopted. Sir, no Parliament of Britain can ever countenance such a preposterous, illegal, and infamous proposition."

 

JAMES CHRISTOPHER STREET. 1871-1890.

James C. Street

"The function of the religious teacher is such that he must teach and exemplify a life which will, in the sharpest way, contrast with the imperfect life about him. He must be a living gospel and epistle, to be seen and read of all men; and he must stand absolutely free of all fear of men, whether in or out of the Church. A minister who draws his inspiration and collects his principles from, and modifies his life by, the wishes of his people, is unfit for his lofty function. The pulpit must be the throne of the religious teacher. He is not to be a dogmatist, or a bigot, or a pope; but on the grand truths of religion and morality he must speak with a clearness and a fearlessness which will absolutely command respect."[24]

James C. Street was the first Englishman appointed to the ministry of the Second Congregation. He came from Newcastle-on-Tyne, as the result of a deputation, consisting of Messrs. F. D. Finlay, W. B. Ritchie, M.D.; Edward Porter Cowan, J.P., and John Davidson, J.P., who waited on him, and got his consent to become the assistant and successor to the Rev. John Porter.

Previous to his arrival in Belfast, the Meeting-house under-went a thorough overhauling, and several important alterations and improvements were effected at a cost of 990. The old pulpit was removed and replaced by a beautiful platform pulpit, and the sounding-board -- a common feature in old Meeting-houses -- was removed from its former position above the pulpit, and converted into a table, which was placed in front of the pulpit.[25] Two stained glass windows were erected at the rere of the pulpit, and the old-fashioned box pews were converted into the more modern pews without doors.

On the 13th January, 1871, a conversazione was held in the Ulster Hall, on which occasion one of the largest Unitarian meetings ever held in Belfast extended an Irish welcome to the newly-appointed minister. Some 1,400 Unitarians assembled, and the chair was occupied by Mr. F. D. Finlay. The Rev. S. C. Nelson, the senior Non-subscribing minister present, said, in the course of his speech, "In the name of every Non-subscribing minister, not only in Ulster, but in Ireland, I bid a hearty welcome to our new friend, Mr. Street." The venerable champion of Unitarianism, John Scott Porter, offered his congratulations to "my respected and, allow me to say, my beloved brother, Mr. Street." This was a welcome of which any minister should have been proud, and Mr. Street was not unappreciative of the kindly expression of sympathy. The ladies of the Congregation presented him with a gown, and the Congregation with an address, to which he replied in suitable terms. Mr. Street occupied his new pulpit for the first time on the 15th January, 1871, when he preached to large and appreciative audiences.

Before Mr. Street was many months in Belfast, he formed a scheme of erecting schools alongside the Meeting-house, where he might conduct a Sunday School and hold congregational meetings. The scheme met with the hearty approval of the members, and on the 24th July, 1872, the foundation-stone was laid by Mrs. Dr. Ritchie, of The Grove. In addition to the schools was erected a sexton's house. The entire cost was about 1,400.

In November, 1872, while the schools were being erected, Mr. Street founded the Rosemary Street Mutual Improvement Association, which was the earliest of its kind in Belfast. Its objects were --

1st. The Intellectual and Moral Advancement of its Members.

2nd. The furtherance of Fellowship and Acquaintance among them.

A reading-room was established, and weekly meetings were held on Monday evenings during the winter months, when essays were submitted for discussion by the members and friends.

Mr. Street was elected President, which position he occupied until his removal from Belfast in 1890. The success of the Association was due entirely to the unremitting efforts of its President, whose clear business-like habits and ready powers of debate proved him to be an ideal chairman. Scarcely, if ever, was he absent from his post, and his punctuality in commencing the proceedings was not without its good effect upon the members. His kindly assistance was extended to all, and many a young man who rose for the first time to hear his own voice in public, was encouraged to persevere, until he could express his thoughts without fear of sinking into the nearest chair.

The subjects chosen for debate were as varied as the religious and political views of the members. There was a free platform for all; Jew and Christian, Agnostic and Orthodox were alike accorded a welcome, and to none were the doors of the Association closed. Some of the discussions at times were heated, but the concluding remarks of the chairman always resulted in pouring oil on troubled waters, and no member ever doubted the ruling of the chair.

The members all respected their President, and on his retirement from the position, owing to his departure from Belfast, Mr. Street was the recipient of an Address, wishing him God-speed. Several years after, in 1896, when the Association had ceased to exist, about one hundred old members assembled in the Lecture Hall, at a conversazione, "to meet the Father of the Rosemary Street Mutual Improvement Association and Mrs. Street." Old acquaintances were renewed, and Mr. Street, in a happy speech, expressed his great delight at seeing before him so many familiar faces, and referred in felicitous terms to the pleasant and profitable evenings he had spent among the members.

Mr. Street was a fearless exponent of what he believed to be the essence of Christianity -- the greater happiness of mankind. Anything that tended to retard its attainment was the object of his fiercest attack. Intemperance, in all its forms, he openly denounced. Dogmatism, fanaticism, and intolerance he despised as the great retarding elements to the progress and enlightenment of the world. But in his denunciation of tyranny he drew down upon his head a shower of abuse.

While Mr. Street was engaged in assailing old exploded doctrines, there occurred an event which roused the righteous indignation of Orthodoxy. In 1874 the British Association met in Belfast, when Professor Tyndall delivered his Presidential Address, in which he described "the impregnable position of science" in the words: "We claim, and we shall wrest, from theology the entire domain of cosmological theory." Speaking of religion, he said: --

"There is also that deep-set feeling which, since the earliest dawn of history, and probably for ages prior to all history, incorporated itself in the religions of the world. You who have escaped from these religions into the high-and-dry light of the intellect may deride them; but, in so doing, you deride accidents of form merely, and fail to touch the immovable basis of the religious sentiment in the nature of man. To yield this sentiment reasonable satisfaction is the problem of problems at the present hour. And grotesque in relation to scientific culture as many of the religions of the world have been and are -- dangerous, nay, destructive, to the dearest privileges of freemen as some of them have undoubtedly been, and would, if they could, be again -- it will be wise to recognise them as the forms of a force, mischievous, if permitted to intrude on the region of objective knowledge, over which it holds no command, but capable of adding, in the region of poetry and emotion, inward completeness and dignity to man."

Dr. Watts, Professor of Theology in Assembly's College, immediately applied to the Section of Biology to read before them "A Plea for Peace and Co-operation between Science and Theology," and on his being refused permission, he read his paper in two of the leading Presbyterian Meeting-houses.

Mr. Street established the Floral Service, to which the children of Hopeton Street, Mountpottinger, and Moneyreagh Sunday Schools were generally invited. The following is a description which appeared in a local paper in 1882: --

"The floral service has become a kind of institution in the place, and is looked forward to, not only by the scholars, but by 'children of larger growth,' with eager anticipation. The idea which gives rise to a periodical feast of flowers is, in itself, a pretty one. There is -- what one might be pardoned for admiring -- a pagan freshness about it, combined with a purity of religion that is not pagan. The adorned pulpit and the festooned and garlanded pillars, with the heavy scent of the beautiful deserters from the garden, seem to call up the days when every grove had its nymph, every fount and stream its naiad; yet the eager young faces and the solemn service, the undimmed atmosphere, through which rolls no cloud of sacrificial smoke, speak eloquently of a new and bloodless dispensation, under which the knife of the high priest is no longer the necessary prelude of worship. Sunday's service was in some sort sui generis. The church was beautifully, profusely, and yet tastefully decorated. In the porch were floral trophies and green garlands. Round the interior of the building festoons of moss and green leaves joined pillar with pillar, while pendent from the festoons at regular intervals were miniature gardens. The pulpit was beautifully decked with flowers, the porch-like interstices of the facade being bright with tiny bouquets. Behind the pulpit rose an arch, eighteen feet high, the spandrel of which was composed of rich moss, bearing the words, wrought in white flowers, 'God is Love.' Four green arches spanned the aisles, two on each side, and in the recesses of the windows were laid baskets of flowers peeping out from amid couches of soft moss and glossy laurel. The centre of the church, the parterre, was filled with the little flowers of humanity for whose special behoof the service was intended, while the other parts of the edifice were crowded by members of the congregation and visitors. Few, indeed, were they who did not boast in dress or button-hole some flowers, and as the congregation rose to join in the opening hymn, the rich perfume, the varied hues, and the bright costumes of the fairer portion of those present, all lit up by the horizontal rays of the declining sun, made up a picture in strangely fitting accord with the consecration of the service to the edification of the young." -- Morning News.

Meeting House, Rosemary Street

In the winter of 1874 Mr. Street fell into bad health, and the Congregation presented him with a cheque and leave of absence, so as to seek a warmer climate in which to recuperate his health. After a four months' tour in the Mediterranean, he returned much invigorated and strengthened, and delivered a series of lectures on his travels, which was subsequently published as "Winter Travels in Sunny Climes." Mr. Street presented to the Committee a few pictures, to be hung on the walls of the vestry, as a slight memorial of his journey, "and of the affectionate kindness of my people which made such a journey possible."

Mr. Street took a particular delight in works of charity. He identified himself closely with the work of the Royal Hospital, of which Institution he was a Life Governor. Hospital work had a peculiar charm for him, especially when the relief afforded to sufferers was free from any taint of sectarianism. This has ever been the characteristic of the Royal Hospital, and the sole object of the efficient medical staff has been to alleviate suffering regardless of the religious views of the inmates. The members of his congregation heartily approved of Mr. Street devoting so much time to the Hospital, and generously contributed to its support. Even now, when he is removed from our midst, he takes the liveliest interest in the Royal Victoria Hospital, and it is a source of great satisfaction to Mr. Street that the success of the new Hospital is due to the untiring energy of a former member of his congregation.

His charity knew no bounds. Wherever distress or destitution showed itself his assistance was readily given. As soon as the cold weather set in, he was among the first to suggest that a Coal Fund should be started, and many a poor home was made bright by the timely distribution of fuel. But perhaps no year during his residence in Belfast was his assistance more keenly felt than in the memorable winter of 1879. The Arctic severity of the frost during that winter temporarily checked many employments, and hundreds of families were thrown into a state of destitution through no fault of those on whom they were dependent. Relief works were started in the Ormeau Park, where those who sought employment were enabled to avoid the degrading step of entering the Union.

Every morning during that long frost, when the busy merchant was proceeding to his warehouse wrapped up in all the warm and luxurious clothing which wealth can command, might be seen the slim figure of a man of medium height hurrying along in the direction of the Park. Clad in the simplest of clothing -- a thin overcoat, a white muffler, and a soft hat -- he scampered along, unmindful of those whom he passed, for he was intently reading the morning paper. This was Mr. Street -- fired with the glow of enthusiasm -- proceeding to join Mr. Vere Foster at the relief works, where day after day these two old friends personally superintended the distribution of soup to the hungry workmen, while rejoicing in the privilege of assisting their humbler fellow-man.

Towards the end of 1889 Mr. Street received a pressing invitation from Northampton, which he decided to accept, and thus, after a ministry of 19 years in Belfast, he severed his connection with the Second Congregation. On his departure he carried with him the earnest wish of the congregation for his future welfare; and that Mr. Street reciprocated the kindly feeling can be seen from the following letter which he wrote to Mr. Ritchie on the stone-laying of All Souls' Church: --

"I am deeply interested in the occasion which will bring both old and new friends together, who are warmly attached to the great privileges of freedom, truth, and righteousness which have for many generations been represented by the Second Congregation of Belfast. I bid you God speed, and pray that you may have not only a happy and successful day on your stone-laying, but that the future may have in store for you the richest blessings of our Heavenly Father. 'A cloud of witnesses' encompass you, and earnest prayers to God will rise to heaven on your behalf, and I wish you to feel assured that among those whose deepest feelings will be enlisted in your great work will be those of your former minister and friend."

 

PUBLISHED WORKS OF REV. JAMES C. STREET.
1871-1890.

WINTER TRAVELS IN SUNNY CLIMES. Seven Lectures by James C. Street. 8vo, pp.374. Belfast, 1875.

In addition to the above, Mr. Street published many Sermons.

 

EDGAR INNES FRIPP, B.A. 1891-1900.

Edgar Innes Fripp

"We have reason to be proud of those men who in 1830 founded 'The Remonstrant Synod,' stating in their remonstrance that 'human tests and confessions have in all ages tended to encourage hypocrisy, to restrict the right of private judgment, and to prevent that free inquiry and discussion which are essential to the extension of religious knowledge, and of which truth need not be afraid.' This was a noble, prophetic utterance . . . It is a grand principle, and must inevitably some day prevail in theology as it now does in other sciences. A fixed theology is inconsistent with a progressive society. The law of development belongs to theology as to every branch of knowledge. Any creed, however enlightened at the time of its formulation, must necessarily become inadequate with the progress of thought. Fixity of doctrine is impossible in a universe for ever expanding and deepening before the opening mind of man. Fixity -- which is only another name for orthodoxy -- is impossible in any branch of knowledge, except on the assumption that the world is one vast Chinese empire!" -- A Forward Movement, by the Rev. E. I. Fripp.

Edgar I. Fripp accepted the call to become the minister of the Second Congregation on 1st December, 1890. An induction service was held in the meeting-house on Thursday, 26th February, 1891, at which Rev. C. C. Coe, F.R.G.S., delivered the charge to the minister, and Rev. T. Dunkerley, B.A., delivered the charge to the Congregation. In the evening a conversazione was held in the Exhibition Hall to welcome the new minister, when Mr. Herbert Darbishire occupied the chair. One of the most pleasing incidents of the day was the presence of Professor Henry Morley, who expressed his great delight at seeing his son-in-law settled in the Second Congregation. In the course of his speech, he said: --

"I ought not to praise birds of my own nest, but I know the kindly fellowship that is about Mr. Fripp, and seeing the gathering that was around him that morning -- the gathering of brother ministers who warmly shook hands with him -- and hearing from the pulpit those two admirable addresses, the one to the minister the other to the Congregation, but both so full of the deepest spiritual life that was to be kept alive in that Second Congregation, I could not but be pleased at seeing his settlement here."

Shortly after his arrival in Belfast, Mr. Fripp started the Kalendar, with the object of recording the educational and religious work of the Congregation. For five years it appeared as a monthly pamphlet of four pages, dealing exclusively with Church news. In October, 1896, it appeared in a new and enlarged form, under the name of The Seed Sower and All Souls' Church Kalendar.

In September, 1892, Mr. Fripp appealed to the Congregation to make a change in the Service Book. The Ten Services, as compiled by Dr. Martineau, had been adopted by the Congregation at the Annual Meeting held on 19th January, 1868, and since then it had continued to be regularly used. The change had not been effected in a hurry. Mr. Porter had suggested the change on 4th February, 1866, and although the Committee on the same day recognized "the importance of the suggested alteration in form of Public Worship in this Church," yet it was not until close on two years that the Ten Services were finally adopted. At first Mr. Fripp suggested that the Service Book recently compiled by Rev. Stopford Brooke should be adopted, but on second thoughts he decided to compile one himself, and submit it to the Congregation with a view to its adoption. When the book was in the hands of the printer, it was thus described in the Kalendar: --

"It consists of Two Services. These are the same as the First and Second of the (old) Ten Services, except for the omission of some orthodox phrases, and the addition of a prayer and some responses (in all, prayer and responses together, about forty lines), and some slight alterations.

"To lend variety to these Two Services I have added, for use on alternative days, the Litany (slightly altered) from the (old) Seventh Service, the Commandments from the Fourth Service, the Beatitudes from the Sixth Service, and the Responses from the Fifth Service -- all of our present Book.

"I have also added a Psalter, omitting many psalms and verses I disapprove of, and putting in their place the chants and canticles from our present Ten Services; and a list of Collects I have revised from those now in use.

"In this way I have endeavoured both to simplify and beautify our services, and to retain in a new and brighter form what we love in our present book of prayer."

The new Service Book was placed in the hands of the Congregation towards the end of 1892, and after being used for several Sundays, it was unanimously resolved, at the Annual Meeting held on 25th January, 1893, to adopt it in lieu of the Ten Services.

The year 1893 is a memorable one in the history, not only of the Second Congregation, but of Unitarianism itself. In that year one of the oldest Universities in England allowed the Manchester College to be opened at Oxford, where theology could be imparted without insisting on the adoption of particular doctrines. Mr. Fripp attended the opening of the new buildings on 18th October, 1893, and on his arrival in Belfast he delivered a course of sermons entitled, "A Forward Movement for the Second Congregation" advocating the removal from Rosemary Street in the interests of Unitarianism. As he said: --

"If we are to have a new lease of life, if we are to be anything more than a slowly dwindling congregation, and if we are to do our part in the formation of a more united and more vigorous Unitarianism in Belfast, we must leave Rosemary Street and strike root in some more favourable soil. Let us dispose of our decaying property here, through the assistance, if necessary, of the Charity Commissioners, as our Unitarian friends have done in London, in Manchester, in Liverpool, and in Birmingham, and with the proceeds of the sale or letting, and with what we can obtain by a subscription among ourselves, and an appeal to the Unitarian public in Ireland and England, build a new church . . . If we could accomplish that, it would be one of the best things that the Unitarians of Belfast ever did."

The suggestion was promptly acted on, and after the due formalities were gone through, the building of the new church was begun. Difficulties of the most serious nature were encountered, but these disappeared before the enthusiastic spirit of every member of the Congregation -- an enthusiasm which guaranteed success from its very inception. The church, as it now stands in Elmwood, is a lasting monument to the energy of Mr. Fripp. When the suggestion was mentioned he said, "It is an undertaking which, if you embark upon it, will require much energy and self-sacrifice." Mr. Fripp's energy can only be known to those who worked with him. The position of fighting against what seemed to be overwhelming odds was one from which less enthusiastic men would have shrunk. But it seemed to make him work the harder, and apparent bankruptcy vanished under his determination to grapple with the difficulty. The building account, including the architect's charges, amounted to 14,000, of which sum the Congregation have raised by subscriptions 5,000. The Rosemary Street property was sold for 6,400, but owing to the delay in arranging a division of the joint property and its subsequent disposal, a large sum of interest had accumulated on the builder's account, which had to be paid. But after all the accounts have been paid, there is at present a debt on the Church of close on 3,000.

Mr. Fripp was an earnest student of literature, and his literary lectures were largely attended. He took a deep interest in the University Extension Lectures, and his classes, under their auspices, were the most successful of the series, from a financial point of view. He formed a Shakspeare Class among the younger members of the Congregation, and his scholarly interpretation of the plays of the great dramatist assisted the members in their studies. Again and again he sounded the praises of the educational and religious function of the Drama, and zealously encouraged the production of Shakspeare in the theatre.

During the summer months the members of the Shakspeare class rambled on foot and cycle to places of interest in the neighbourhood. Under the new name of the "Reading and Rambling Club," it supplies a means of fellowship among the younger members of the Congregation.

In 1897 the members of the Shakspeare class gave a production, for the first time in Ireland, of Marlowe's great religious tragedy of "Doctor Faustus," with special costumes, scenery, and music, which was preceded by a short comment on the play by Mr. Fripp. They also gave, during the same week, a production of Goldsmith's "She Stoops to Conquer." The net result of the week's performances was 51, which was handed towards the building fund.

Mr. Fripp's Sunday evening lectures were largely attended by the general public, and his scholarly research can be seen from the following course of lectures, which he delivered during his ministry in Belfast: --

1891."Bible Views of Creation." -- 7 sermons.
"Religious Teachings of Browning." -- 6.
"Revelation." -- 9.
1892."Sermons from Homer." -- 4.
"Tennyson's Idylls of the King." -- 3.
1893."Wordsworth's Prelude."
"The Beatitudes."-- 5.
1894."Dante's Divine Comedy." -- 5.
"Noble Women." -- 5.
"Development of Unitarian Theology." -- 4.
1895."Great Puritans." -- 6.
"English Christianity from the Earliest Times to Wyclif." -- 6.
1896."The Things that raise the Worth of Life."-- 4.
1898."Evenings with Tennyson." -- 3.
1899."The Spirit of Jesus." -- 4.
"Thoughts from Italy." -- 4.
"Old Truths in New Light."-- 6.

In 1899 Mr. Fripp took a holiday in Florence, and on his return, in addition to his "Thoughts from Italy," he delivered six lectures in the Central Hall, Rosemary Street, on "Florence and Florentine Art," which were largely attended. I. "Rise of Gothic in Florence." II. "Development of Gothic." III. "Revival of the Classical." IV. "Rapid Growth of the Classical." V. "Supremacy of the Classical." VI. "Tyranny of the Classical."

Early in the year 1900 Mr. Fripp tendered his resignation to the Congregation, owing to a call from Mansfield, where he had formerly ministered. Previous to leaving Belfast, Mr. and Mrs. Fripp were the recipients of several presents as a slight token of the great esteem in which they were held by the members, and on the 24th May a farewell soiree was held in the Central Hall, when Mr. Fripp, in the course of his address, said -- " If All Souls' Church had been in England I never could have left you; it would have been impossible." His deep interest in the welfare of All Souls' did not cease with his resignation, as he subsequently handed a cheque for 2'^o towards the extinguishment of the debt on the Church.

 

PUBLISHED WORKS OF REV. EDGAR I. FRIPP, B.A.
1891-1900.

"THE COMPOSITION OF THE BOOK OF GENESIS: Being an Analysis of the Book of Genesis into its Component Documents, with full Explanatory Introduction and Commentary, and Maps Illustrating the Historical Relationships Reflected in the Patriarchal Stories," by Edgar I. Fripp, B.A. (David Nutt, 270 Strand, London. 1892.)

TWO OPPOSING TENDENCIES: a Consideration of the Disintegrating Influences at Work in our Free Churches, and a Plea for Reconstruction, by the Rev. Edgar I. Fripp, B.A.; with a Preface containing Extracts from two Letters from the Rev. Dr. Martineau. 47 pp. Belfast, 1898.

In addition to the above, Mr. Fripp published many Sermons in the Enquirer and Kalendar.

 

WILLIAM HAMILTON DRUMMOND, B.A. 1900.

William Hamilton Drummond

"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity were the watchwords of the French Revolution, but in a deeper sense they are the watchwords of the Christian Church. To struggle for a liberty, which shall never sink into licence, for ourselves and for all men; to realise the equality of all souls before God, sharers in one spiritual nature and the same divine love; to draw closer the bonds of fraternity through the sharing of material blessings, and, still more, in the partnership of common purposes and a common love of truth and justice -- this is all involved in any true following of Jesus Christ, in any intelligent acceptance of His teaching about God and man." -- The Christian Message of Liberty, by Rev. W. H. Drummond, B.A.

W. Hamilton Drummond, of Cairo Street Chapel, Warrington, was unanimously chosen at a meeting of the Congregation, held on 1st July, 1900, to receive a call to become the minister of All Souls' Church. A deputation accordingly waited on Mr. Drummond, and in the course of a fortnight later, the Secretary of the Congregation received the following letter: --

"After full consideration I have decided to accept the call given to me in such a cordial and unanimous spirit. I thank everybody concerned for the way in which the invitation has been given, and I look upon it as a happy augury for what I trust may be a long and helpful ministry in your midst."

An Induction Service was held in All Souls' Church, on Thursday, 11th October, 1900, when the following ministers took part: -- Rev. Henry Gow, B.A., Leicester; Rev. D. Walmsley, B.A., Belfast; Rev. T. Dunkerley, B.A., Comber; Rev. S. H. Mellone, M.A., D.Sc, Holywood; Rev. M. S. Dunbar, M.A., Downpatrick, President of the Non-Subscribing Association. Mr. Walmsley delivered the charge to the minister, and Mr. Gow delivered the charge to the Congregation. On the invitation of Mr. Dunkerley, all the ministers present, about twenty-five, proceeded to the chancel, and held out the right hand of fellowship to the newly-appointed minister.

A luncheon was subsequently held in Ye Olde Castle Restaurant, after which the following toasts were duly honoured: -- "The Queen," "Our Friends, Lay and Clerical," and " Prosperity to the Second Congregation and their Newly-appointed Minister." In the evening a social meeting was held in the Central Hall, Rosemary Street, to welcome Mr. and Mrs. Drummond, on the occasion of their settlement in Belfast, when Joseph Nelson, Esq., M.D., occupied the chair. There was a large attendance, including many members of the First Presbyterian Congregation.

 

 

Notes:

  1. The times are changed, and we are changed with them.
  2. The Protestant Dissenters of Ireland never required of their candidates for the holy ministry subscription to the Westminster Confession, or any other confession or book whatsoever, until the year 1705, though it had obtained for some years before as a custom among the Dissenters in the North for candidates to profess their assent to it at their ordination, but even that custom was introduced without any act of any of their ecclesiastical assemblies, there being no act for making it a term of Communion before the year 1705. -- Vindication, p.18.
  3. See debate in Irish House of Commons, 11th February, 1792.
  4. The following are the letters that passed between Dr. Kirkpatrick and Rev. Samuel Haliday and Rev. Charles Mastertown: --
                       19th February, 1723-24.
    "We intend (God Willing) to joyn in Communion with you next Lord's Day in the Participation of the Lord's Supper in your Congregation; that being one Bread and one Body we may not only cherish Brotherly Love, but attain to all the other blessed Ends of that Holy Ordinance."
                                          JAMES KIRKPATRICK.
                                          SAMUEL HALIDAY.
                       22nd February, 1723-34.
    "As to your communicating with us yourselves it is our humble advice that you should not partake with us at this time," because it might give offence to those "who think that they have good reason not to joyn in Communion with those Ministers who in their judgments are against Subscribing to the Westminster Confession of Faith as a test of Orthodoxy."
                                          SAMUEL CHALMERS (in the name of the Third Congregation).
                       22nd February, 1723-24.
    "We know no Church which has made Subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith . . . a term of Christian fellowship in the Lord's Supper.
    We demand it as our right to be admitted; yet if your Session signify to us by a line this night that they are determined to exclude us, in that case we will desist at this time, and then the blame will not be chargeable on us."
                                          JAMES KIRKPATRICK.
                                          SAMUEL HALIDAY.
    To Rev. Charles Mastertown.
                       23rd February, 1723-24.
    "We are still of the same opinion with our first Letter, and do insist on it."
                                          SAMUEL CHALMERS (in the name of the Third Congregation).
  5. Seven General Synods, p.168.
  6. Professor Witherow, in his "Memorials of Presbyterianism in Ireland," records his death as having occurred in 1744. This seems to be erroneous, as "The Defence of Christian Liberty" was published in 1743, and the printer, James Blow, says at the end of the work, "Thus far the rev. author had gone in his manuscript, and no farther than p.89, when death deprived us of many blessings in his valuable life."
    It might be added that his will was proved by his wife on 15th July, 1743.
  7. Speaking of this discourse, Dr. Killen says in Reid's Presbyterian History:-- "In a merely literary point of view, it is by no means discreditable to the author; but, as a specimen of the species of theology which the Synod was now disposed to patronize, it proves to what extent the largest section of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland had departed from its original principles." -- Vol III p 436.
  8. When the White Linen Hall was removed for the erection of the new City Hall in 1898, the foundation-stone was discovered, across which lay a copperplate, eight inches long by five inches broad, and bearing on the obverse side the following inscription:-- "The first stone of the White Linen Hall was laid the 28th of April, A.D. 1783, in the year of Masonry 5783, by John Brown. Esq., Worshipful Master of the Orange Lodge of Belfast, No. 257, High Sheriff of the County of Antrim, and Major of the Belfast Battalion of Volunteers, assisted by the Wardens and Brethren of the said Lodge, and accompanied by the Members of the other Lodges, the Sovereign, Burgesses, and Principal Inhabitants of the Town. In aid of which Building the Orange Lodge presented the Managers with the sum of 100."
    On the same occasion Joseph Clotworthy, High Priest of Lodge 272 (an old man who had attended every public matter of the port for upwards of 60 years) dropped dead just behind the Deacons of the Orange Lodge. He was buried 30th April, 1783, by the Orange Lodge and the rest of the Brethren with all Masonic honours. -- News-Letter of 2nd May, 1783.
  9. See Title Page.
  10. It should be noted that although Gilbert Kennedy still adhered to the Synod of Ulster, the Congregation never sent an elder to represent them after 1726, when the Non-Subscribers were excluded. The minutes of the General Synod record the attendance of an elder from the Congregation for each year from 1708 to 1726. For the first seven years after Mr. Kennedy was appointed to the Congregation he was absent from the Synod, and was among those who "were not excused."
  11. Rev. J. Scott Porter: "Memoirs."
  12. Dr. Drummond contributed the following papers to the Belfast Literary Society: --
    17th May, 1802.-- Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful in Scripture.
    14th January, 1S05. -- Account of the Fisheries of Antrim.
    3rd March, 1806. -- Trafalgar: A Poem.
    2nd March, 1S07. -- The Giant's Causeway: A Poem.
    7th March, 1808. -- Poetical Translation of First Book of Lucretius,
    10th April, 1809 -- Topographical Observations on the Coast of Antrim.
    2nd April, 1810. -- Essay on History of Painting.
    5th May, 1811. -- Essay on History of Ireland.
    4th January. 1813 -- Contemplation: A Poem.
    5th December, 1814. -- Account of Life and Writings of Lycophron.
    The Belfast Literary Society is still in existence, and meets monthly during the winter in the house of the President.
  13. For the complete Poem, see the Preface to "Juvenile Poems of Thomas Romney Robinson," published in 1806, when the author was only twelve years of age.
  14. In an Essay on the "Life and Writings of Oppian," published in 1820, Dr. Drummond says: -- "The geographical features of the country from which the first impressions are taken have commonly a lasting influence on the poet's genius. They are sometimes its exciting cause, and the true source of its inspirations. The scenes which delighted in childhood store his mind with images, and become the original of his poetic descriptions."
  15. In 1797, Drummond, when he was only 19 years old, published his poem "The Man of Age." The scene is laid in the North of Ireland, and the poem depicts an old man obliged to leave his homestead and sail for other lands across the sea. After the battle of Antrim in 1798, young Drummond met the Royalist troops in Larne, when one of the cavalry officers presented a pistol at him and exclaimed -- "You young villain, it is you and the like of you that have brought this upon us, with your infernal poetry." See Memoirs by Rev. J. Scott Porter.
  16. This is a description by Dr. Drummond of his old friend, Rev. Dr Bruce, Minister of the First Congregation, Belfast, and was published in 1822, in Dublin, at the end of his poem, Clontarf.
  17. Sermon preached by Rev. W. D. H. M'Ewen, MA., on the ordination of Rev. John Baird, at Stratford-on-Slaney, on the 24th September, 1811.
  18. The times are changed The majority of the young Irish Presbyterian clergymen are Graduates of the Royal University of Ireland, notwithstanding the presence of Romish Professors and the signature of certificates with Papal digits.
  19. Archibald Hamilton Rowan, Esq., of Killyleagh Castle.
  20. "What is Protestantism?" by the Rev. John Porter. Sermon preached on 26th December, 1S58; afterwards published by request of Committee of Second Congregation.
  21. On the 1st March, 1843, the Synod of Ulster passed the following resolution: -- "The Committee declare, in their deliberate judgment, it is competent for all congregations of individuals so spoliated to take the necessary legal steps for the recovery of all such property as can be evidentially traced to Trinitarian origin,"
  22. Rev. Mr, Gordon, in his "Historical Memorials of the First Presbyterian Congregation of Belfast" (p.121), says that these presentations were made by that Congregation. The presentation was from the First and Second Congregations. (See Northern Whig of the 1st April, 1845.)
  23. See Appendix C.
  24. Sermon preached in Rosemary Street by Rev. J. C. Street on 15th January, 1871.
  25. This table is now in the Vestry of All Souls.

 

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