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Sketches of North Carolina
Chapter VIII - Formation of Presbyteries in Ireland


THE first meeting of a regular Presbytery in Ireland took place at Carrickfergus on Friday, June 10th, 1642. Previously to that time the ministers in Ireland, who promoted the Revival, acted on Presbyterial principles, though by law of England under the jurisdiction of Bishops of the Church of England. At the Reformation almost the entire Irish nation were Roman Catholics or Papists; and the majority of the nation are to this day. Henry VIII. of England commenced establishing a Protestant national church, and Elizabeth followed up the design; and James perfected the plan as far as he was able. Bishops were sent over, and the clergy were appointed to parishes and supported by the authority of the state; yet the mass of the people remained Papists, and maintained their own bishops and priests, and received the ordinances at their hands. The Scotch emigrants were divided, in their settlements, into parishes; or rather, the boundaries of the old parishes remained, and clergy were supplied by the state to the inhabitants, of whatever country or religious principles they might chance to be. The parishes occupied the same territory embraced by the Papists in their ecclesiastical divisions; and neither the Scotch emigrants nor the native Irish Papists were permitted by law to enjoy their own clergy, or their own religious ceremonies; and both were sufferers under the severities of Charles I. and Archbishop Laud. The ministers who went over to Ireland to preach to the Scotch, a short account of whom has been given, were presented to parishes and admitted regularly some were ordained by the Bishop, in conjunction with other clergy as a Presbytery, objecting more or less strenuously to his prelatical character.

A convocation of the Irish clergy was summoned in 1613, before any number of ministers from Scotland had visited the island. As the Irish Church had always been independent of that of England, it was thought necessary to declare its faith., and settle its form of government. The only statutes in force in the kingdom respected solely the celebration of public worship, which was made conformable to that of the English churches. The English ritual was followed; but the Irish Church had not adopted a Confession of Faith. Dr. James Usher, Professor of Divinity in the College of Dublin, and afterwards Archbishop, was appointed to draw up a Confession; this task he performed to the approbation of the Convocation and the Parliament, and also to the satisfaction of the King and Council. The Confession was digested into no less than nineteen sections, and one hundred and four propositions; and was as decidedly Calvinistic as that afterwards drawn up by the Westminster Divines. The Pope was pronounced Antichrist; the doctrine of Absolution condemned; the morality of the Sabbath strongly asserted, in opposition to the King's well known sentiments. The reason for this was,—that the intolerance practised in England induced many of the Puritans to emigrate to Ireland and there, the King, glad to have them out of England, gave them preferments. Heylin says:—"They brought with them hither such a stock of Puritanism, such a contempt of bishops, such a neglect of the public Liturgy, and other offices of the Church, that there was nothing less to be found among them than the government and forms of worship established in the Church of England! He was understood also as implying the validity of ordinations out of the English Church as truly as those performed by Diocesan Bishops. His words are:—"And those we ought to judge lawfully called and sent, which be chosen and called to this work, by men, who have public authority given them, in the Church, to call and send ministers into the Lord's vineyard."

ROBERT BLAIR, one of the most eminent of those who went to Ireland, from Scotland, refused to be ordained by the Diocesan Bishop alone, or by hint in conjunction with Presbyters, in any other light than as a Presbyter. With that express understanding, as he asserts, he was ordained by the Bishop and other clergy.

JOHN LIVINGSTON, another laborer of great eminence, objected to ordination by the Bishop of the established church, and, as the Bishop of Down, in which his parish was, had resolved, in obedience to the court of England, to require submission to the rules of the Established Church, heapplied to Knox, Bishop of Raphoe, taking with him letters of introduction from Lord Claneboy, and others. He says Knox received hint kindly, and said he knew his errand, and that he was aware he had scruples against Episcopacy, as Welch and others had, and then proceeded to say, "that if I scrupled to call him my Lord, he cared not much for it; all that he would desire of me was, that I should preach at Ramelton thefirst Sabbath, because they got there but few sermons, and that hewould send for Mr. William Cunningham, and two or three other neighboring ministers to be present, who, after sermon, should give me imposition of hands; but, although they performed the work, he behoved to be present; and although he durst not answer it to the State, he gave inc the book of ordination, and desired that anything I scrupled at, I should draw a line over it on the margin, and that Mr. Cunningham should not react it. But I found that it had been so marked by others before, that I need not mark anything." Thus it appears Presbyterian ordination was introduced before the revival, and was acted on during that great excitement out of which grew the Irish Presbyterian Church.

But the rigor of James, towards the latter part of his life, and the severity of Charles I., and Archbishop Laud, in their endeavors to enforce conformity to the Established Church, had become more and more oppressive, till, after the failure of the attempt at emigration in the EAGLE WING, the Presbyterian clergy left the country in 1637, and retired to Scotland. The congregations to which they had ministered were left without instruction, except what they received from their more eminent laymen, who conducted public worship for the people that would come together; and many were inclined to do this, notwithstanding all the efforts of Lord Stafford, the Deputy in Ireland, to make them conform to the Established Church. By the petition sent by these Presbyterians to the Long Parliament, we learn that after all efforts for their destruction, they continued a numerous people. The revival had subsided, but religion had not died away; and although King Charles had forgotten the obligations of his father to them, they had not forgotten their obligation to the great head of the church, or lost their love for his truth.

The introduction of the Scottish army into Ulster, to quell the rebellion that broke out October 13th, 1641, changed the face of affairs in these congregations, and was the means of forming a presbytery, and restoring pastors to these suffering flocks. The Papists had made insurrection and furious rebellion, with design of cutting off time Protestants, and restoring the ceremonies and worship of the Church of home. Their plans were laid for concerted action, and the energy with which they were carried out may be judged from the fact that iii a few months, at the lowest calculation 40,000, and as some Catholic writers, and some Protestants also, assert, 150,000 persons were brought to an untimely end. These sufferers were Protestants; but a small part only were Presbyterians, for the nobles and clergy of that denomination had fled to Scotland some time before, to escape the persecutions and impositions of the Established Church. This rebellion was at first encouraged by King Charles, as an event that would operate favorably upon his interests; and both he and the Papists agreed in sparing the Scotch Presbyterians,—probably because they had not declared for the parliament against the king. The flight of the Scotch in 1637, and onwards, was pre-eminently their safety; they escaped from the unreasonable Prelates first, and then from the massacre of the Papists. God knows how to deliver his people. The company of emigrants in the Eagle Wing must not reach America, neither must it be cut off in this massacre; it had a great and glorious work to accomplish, and that work was to be done in Ireland, and the bright day of its accomplishment should break after a most tempestuous night.

After many horrible massacres perpetrated during the winter of 1641-2, Major General Monro was sent over from Scotland in the spring, with a force of 2,500 men; with these, in conjunction with the Scotch and other Protestants in Ulster, after many battles and sieges, he succeeded in crushing the rebellion. The Lagan forces (or those from the northern part of Donegal) had signalized themselves before the arrival of the Scotch army, and continued their brave and enterprising efforts after that event, stimulating them by an honorable rivalry, to a speedy accomplishment of their mission, the suppression of the rebellion. The Scotch forces were from seven diferent regiments, each of which had its chaplain. The Rev. Hugh Cunningham was attached to GIencairn's regiment; Rev. 'Thomas Peebles, to Eglenton's; Rev. John Baird, to Argyle's; Rev. James Simpson, to Sinclair's; Rev. John Scott, to Home's; Rev. John Aird, to Lindsay's, or Monro's; and the Rev. John Livingston, who was so much beloved in Ireland, was sent along with the army by the Council. These ministers were active and fervent in their preaching to the army; and in the parishes near the encampment, where their labors were highly appreciated, "as cold waters to a thirsty soul," "and the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." The country was entirely without a Protestant clergy; the Scotch had been driven off before the rebellion, and the Prelates and their clergy fled from the murderous hands of the Papists. After the rebellion was crushed, public attention was turned to procuring pastors and spiritual guides for the vacant parishes; and the inclination of the people was speedily manifested in the efforts to obtain ministers. Those who had been Presbyterians previously, reniained so still; and many others were now inclined to unite with them, very few of the laity being attached to the Prelates or the Established Church. Those who had fled to Scotland during the rebellion returned, and all declared for Presbytery; and many that had been inclined to Episcopacy, were disgusted with the transactions in England, and united with the Presbyterians in settling their church in a formal manner as a distinct church. The plan of Archbishop Usher would probably have been acted out in Ireland, but for the intolerant disposition and principles of Laud and his master, King Charles. Whether under any circumstances it could prosper, can never be satisfactorily determined till a more complete trial be made than the few years of imperfect action during the revival in Ireland.

The chaplains first formed regular churches in four of the regiments,—Argyle's, Eglenton's, Glencairn's and Home's—choosing the most grave and pious men for elders, and setting them apart to their office in due form, according to the Scotch Confession. On the 10th of June, 1642, five ministers, Messrs. Cunningham, Peebles, Baird, Scott and Aird, Messrs. Livingston and Simpson being necessarily absent, with an elder from each of the four sessions, met and constituted a Presbytery in the army. Mr. Baird preached from the latter part of the 51st Psalm—"Do good in thy good pleasure unto Lion; build thou the walls of Jerusalem." Mr. Peebles was chosen stated clerk, and held the office till his death, a period of about thirty years. The ministers produced their acts of admission to their regiments, and the elders their commissions from the Sessions; and the Presbytery was constituted in due form. As the formation of the Presbytery was speedily known in the country, applications poured in from all sides to be received into their connexion, and to obtain the regular ordinances of the gospel; and the ministers proceeding to visit the congregations, in a short time there were sixteen regular sessions formed in important parishes.

By the prudent and zealous efforts of these seven ministers the foundations of the Presbyterian church were relaid in Ulster province, in conformity with the model of the Church of Scotland. From this period the complete organization of the Presbyterian church in Ireland takes its date, and the history of her ministers, her congregations, and her ecclesiastical councils, can be traced in uninterrupted Succession; the principles then adopted, and the form of worship then introduced, continue to this day; and the government and discipline then adopted continue in all essential points unaltered, and all are to be found in the Presbyterian church in the United States, to which they have descended as from parent to child.

The people agreed to petition the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which was to meet in July, for supplies, and various papers were drawn up and signed by the inhabitants of different parishes, requesting that those ministers who had formerly labored among them might be sent back to them, and others along with them, to fill the numerous vacancies in that spiritually desolate province. The Assembly listened kindly to these petitions, and appointed a commission of six ministers to visit Ireland and instruct and regulate congregations, and ordain to the ministry such as might be found properly qualified. The ministers were to go two and two on a tour of four months. Mr. Robert Blair and James Hamilton for the first four months, Robert Ramsay and John McClellan for the next four, and Robert Baillie and John Livingston for the last four. These brethren were everywhere received with joy; congregations were organized on Presbyterian principles, members received into the church, and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's supper administered. Their preachings were incessant, and the congregations large; people renounced prelacy, and those who had taken the Black oath, as it was termed, by which they solemnly engaged not to resist the king, were called to public renunciation and repentance. No person was admitted to the privileges of the church who did not possess a competent degree of knowledge, or who did not fully approve of her constitution and discipline, or was unable to state the grounds of that approbation. The congregations took possession of the parish churches that were standing vacant, and likely to remain so, and many who had been episcopally ordained, came and joined the Presbytery, but were not recognized as members until they had been regularly called and inducted to the charge of some congregation. Thus those ministers who had first been led to go to Ireland because they could not exercise their ministry in Scotland, and after being successful in Ireland were driven back to Scotland, now carne again to Ireland, having been driven back from America by a tempest, and set up the Presbyterian church which has flourished so gloriously, and been the parent church of so many in America, particularly in Pennsylvania, Virginia, North and South Carolina.

During the year 1643, the SOLEMN LEAGUE AND COVENANT was adopted by the Westminster Assembly and the British Parliament on the one side, and the Scottish nation on the other. This League and Covenant was presented to the Presbyterians in Ulster, and during the year 1644 was adopted by great numbers in Down, Derry, Antrim, Donegal, and parts of Tyrone and Fcrmanagh. The English parliament on the 16th of October, 1643, requested the Scotch commissioners to take steps that the Covenant "be taken by all the officers, soldiers, and Protestants of their nation in Ireland." After some correspondence and Various plans, this important business was committed to those ministers who had been appointed by the assembly to visit Ireland, the Rev. Messrs. James Hamilton, John Weir, William Adair, and Hugh Henderson. The civil and ecclesiastical authorities of Edinburgh made choice of the first of these, Mr. Hamilton, minister of Dumfries, to be the bearer of the Covenant; the others were associated for the work of presenting it to the churches. In sending word to the forces in Ireland of their appointment, these ministers say, "As our cause is one, and has common friends and enemies, so we must resolve, with God's assistance, to stand or fall together." They reached Carrickfergus the last of March, and were all present at the Presbytery held there on the 1st of April, 1644. "The Covenant was taken on the 4th of that month, with great solemnity, in the church at Carrickfergus, by Monro and his officers, and in ten days afterwards, by all his soldiers. Major Dalzel (afterwards so well known in the distresses in Scotland) was the only person who refused." It produced the same effects in Ulster it had in other parts of the kingdom, ascertaining and uniting the friends of liberty, and inspiring them with fresh confidence in the arduous struggle in which they were engaged, and diffused through the country a strong attachment to the Presbyterian cause; and what is of higher moment, it revived the cause of true religion, so that from this period is reckoned the second Reformation.

Notwithstanding the difficulties and trials to which the Presbyterians in Ireland were exposed, on one side by time authorities of Icing Charles, and oil the other by the parliament, which ultimately brought the kin" to the block, the church continued to prosper. In the year 1617, there were about tidily ordained Presbyterian ministers in Ulster, besides some chaplains of regiments; on account of some severe laws which drove many to Scotland, there were, in the year 1653, but about twenty-four; and again in the year 1657, by the relaxation of time laws, there were about eighty in the different counties of the province of Ulster.

In the year 1655, it was agreed there should be what is called MEETINGS, in Down, Antrim, and Route with Lagan, consisting of the contiguous brethren who met for consultation, putting over the more important matters that required action, to the regular meeting of the whole Presbytery. Two years after, these meetings were increased to five, Route being separated from Lagan, and Tyrone being added; and in a little time there became five Presbyteries, by dividing the original Presbytery; which number continued till 1702, when four more were added, making the whole number nine. At this present time there are twenty-four in the Synod of Ulster. From the close connection between Synod and Presbytery in Ireland, it probably happened that the first Presbyterian Synod in the United States, made by the division of a large Presbytery, frequently performed acts which are now, by common consent, performed only by the Presbytery or at their order. At the time of the Restoration, in 1660, there were in the province of Ulster not less than seventy regularly settled Presbyterian ministers;—about eighty congregations, comprising not less than one hundred thousand souls. If the statement of one of their enemies be true, the population connected with the Presbyterian ministers must have much exceeded that number; he says—"in the north (of Ireland) the Scotch keep up an interest distinct in garb and all formalities, and are able to raise 40,000 fighting men at any time." This number of fighting men would require a greater population than 100,000. That they would raise an army and fight for their lives, their enemies knew from fatal experience.

From six ministers, in about forty years of constant resistance to oppression, under the two Charleses, and of their predecessor, James I., the congregations had increased to about eighty; and the preachers to nearly the same number, though repeatedly driven off and kept in banishment for years, on every return increasing in numbers and influence. This perseverance of a harassed people impresses the mind with the strong conviction, that they felt in their consciences, that their principles of civil and religious liberty were the truth of God, and imperishable. In 1689, the time the Toleration Act came in force, there were in the five Presbyteries about one hundred congregations, eighty ministers and eleven licentiates. The vine of the Lord's planting grew, though " the boar out of the wood did pluck at her," and they that passed by did trample her down.

The Presbytery of Lagan, embracing the northern part of the county of Donegal, principally that between the Foyle and the Swilly, and containing in the year 1660 thirteen members, all of whom were ejected by Charles II. 1661, is peculiarly full of interest to the American Church, as that body which licensed the Rev. FRANCIS MAKEMIE, and afterwards ordained him, for the purpose of sending him to America, the FIRST PRESBYTERIAN PREACHER that ever visited the western continent. This honor belongs undisputedly to the Church in Ireland, and the Presbytery of Lagan, Those in New England who have been called Presbyterians were not formed into regular Presbyteries as in Scotland and Ireland; but had lay elders and held Presbyterian sentiments. The first preachers and the first regular congregations were from Ireland, which poured forth emigrants in swarms all the early part of the eighteenth century. It may be gratifying to many to know the names of those thirteen ejected ministers of the Lagan, worthy of everlasting remembrance. Kind Charles bean the work of ejectment in Ireland under Jeremy Taylor in 1661, giving the front rank in this ecclesiastical martyrdom to the Presbyterians of Ulster. The Puritans of England were called to the same trial in August, 1662, when about 2,000 ministers were deprived of their parishes; and the same scene of trial and heroic suffering was enacted the following October in Scotland. The ministers of the Presbytery of Lagan were, Robert Wilson, Robert Craighead, Adam White, William Moorcraft, John Wool, William Sample, John Hart, John Adamson, John Crookshanks, Thomas Drummond, Hugh Cunningham, Hugh Peebles, and William Jack. The first three survived the happy revolution of 1688, when William, Prince of Orange, ascended the throne of England; and enjoyed the toleration proclaimed in 1689.

The Rev. Thomas Drummond, of Ramelton in Donegal, introduced Mr. Makemie to the Presbytery as a member of his charge, and worthy of their notice. In the year 1681,—the same year that four of the members of the Presbytery were put in confinement, for keeping a fast, after having been fined £20 each, to be kept in confinement till they should give bonds not to offend again, and after eight months' confinement were released,—he was licensed to preach the gospel. These four ministers were William Trail, James Alexander, Robert Campbell, and John Hart; three of them were members introduced after the ejectment by Jeremy Taylor in 1661. The Church in Ireland was like the Israelites in bondage,—the more it was oppressed, the more it grew. From the minutes of this Presbytery it appears that Capt. Archibald Johnson had, as early as August, 1678, applied for a minister for Barbadoes and in 1680 Col. Stevens of Maryland applied for a minister to settle in that colony; and Mr. Makemie was designated as the man. As the clerk of the Presbytery and three others were imprisoned in 1681, there is a deficiency in the minutes, and the meetings of Presbytery being for some time irregular, no record is preserved of the time or place of his ordination, though in all probability it took place in 1651 or 1682. This fixes the time of his removal to America, whether to Barbadoes first, or to Virginia and Maryland, for he labored in all these places, as is now satisfactorily ascertained. He led the way for Presbyterian ministers to America, and was prominent in forming the first Presbytery, that of Philadelphia, in 1706, a Presbytery which has since spread out into the General Assembly of the United States of America.

No little anxiety has been felt and expressed about the original component parts of this first Presbytery, and what interpretation of the Confession of Faith they may have given. The discussion has been animated, and from the circumstantial evidence collected, the inference general that they did put a strict construction on the Articles of our Faith. The facts just related about Francis Makemie and the Presbytery that ordained him, are sufficient to justify our belief that the man that took the Solemn League and Covenant., as the candidates of the Presbyteries in Ireland then did, put a strict construction on the Articles of the Confession and the following facts, that the year before the Presbytery was formed, he brought over, from a visit to his native land, two ministers from the province of Ulster, John Hampton and George M'Nish, who formed part of the first Presbytery,—men educated as he had been, in trouble, and made to choose Presbytery in the face of great opposition and suffering,—will set the matter at rest. Three other ministers soon followed. It is not likely that such a man as Makemie, with two others of like spirit, would have agreed to form a doubtful Presbytery, to please Mr. Andrew's and the Church in Philadelphia provided they wished such a Presbytery, of which there is no evidence; as there were ministers enough to form a decided and strict one, without going to Philadelphia, the church of which city was weaker than the church at Snow Hill in Maryland.

The solemn League and Covenant first framed by John Craig, and called Craig's Confession, or the first National Covenant of Scotland, and subscribed by the leaders of the people, December 3d, 1557; and subscribed by King James and household, and the nation generally in 1581: enlarged and signed again in 1581: and again in 1638 enlarged, and made to consist of three parts—the first, the old Covenant by Craig,—the second, condemning Popery, by Johnston of Warriston,—third, the application of the whole to the present time, by Alexander Henderson; and signed by the people at large in 1638: and again remodelled by Henderson and adopted in August, 1643: and also by the Westminster Divines and the Parliament of England, September 25th of the same year; and in the spring of 1644 by the Churches of Ireland; and continuing to this day a binding instrument in Scotland, and making a part of their printed Confession and Discipline, and also acknowledged as binding to this day by a large number of the descendants of the Scotch and Irish emigrants to America,—leaves no rational doubt what views of the Confession of Faith those that lived so near the times of the grand national subscription of 1643 and 1644 must have had. In matters of conscience they had been accustomed to resist the king; they bound themselves by this solemn oath to do it; and this solemn League was inseparably connected with their doctrinal creed and form of church government, which were strictly Presbyterian.


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