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The History of Ulster
"New Presbyter" and "Old Priest"


The Presbyterians in Ireland a Powerful Body - Their Hopes from Charles's Dunfermline Declaration dashed to the Ground - A Meeting of Presbyterians held at Ballymena - They send a Deputation to Dublin - Orrery's Account of their Visit - Adair's Account of Interview granted to Presbyterian Ministers by Jeremy Taylor, the Bishop of Down and Connor - The Covenant ordered to be burnt by the Public Executioner as "schismatical, seditious, and treasonable".

During the Protectorate, when dissent was encouraged, the Presbyterians in Ireland had become a powerful body, and although their stronghold was in Ulster, where the Scots were numerous, they had spread over a considerable portion of the country. At the Restoration they were bitterly disappointed at the sudden and absolute re-establishment of the Episcopal Church, and all the more so in that they had relied on Charles's declaration at Dunfermline in favour of the Covenant, and the services they had rendered him in conjunction with the Cavaliers. In January, 1661, a consecration of twelve Bishops had been conducted in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, with such pomp that it was looked upon as a public triumph of the Episcopal over the Presbyterian party; and this, added to the expressions of "the unspeakable joy " of the Commons at their first meeting, over the revival of "the true worship of God" among them, nettled the Presbyterians, and once more made the unhappy land a shuttlecock for creeds.

A proclamation was issued forbidding all unlawful assemblies, and directing sheriffs and other officers to prevent or disperse them. The congregation of Presbyterians, as disallowed by the new church establishment, was understood to be included amongst those proscribed by proclamation, and in alarm the Presbyterians summoned a meeting to be held in the month of March at Ballymena to consult on the course which, as a body, they should take. At the meeting they resolved to send to Dublin four of their number as representatives of the several Presbyteries in Ulster to expostulate with the Lords Justices on the Proclamation which forbade them to assemble, and. to petition that in their several parishes they might be "free from the yoke of Prelacy". They based their demands on the King's promises, and referred to their constant loyalty, their sufferings, and their resolution to live as peaceful and law-abiding subjects. Information having been conveyed to the Government that such a meeting was about to be held, a troop of horse was sent to disperse those attending it; but the troopers arrived long after the meeting had been held and those present had departed.

The representatives of Presbyterian ism were but coldly received by the Government in Dublin, and the Episcopal party in general seem to have treated them much in the same spirit as that which Milton was wont to exhibit towards "shallow Edwards and Scotch what d'ye call". In dealing with such individuals the ex-Latin Secretary did not spare invective, calling them '* new apostate scarecrows, who, under shew of giving counsel, send out their barking monitories and mementoes, empty of aught else but the spleen of a frustrated faction".

The Earl of Orrery, then a Lord Justice, has left us an account of the interview with the four Presbyterian agents, enclosed in a letter to the Duke of Ormonde, which is interesting as an expression of the private sentiments of the ruler of Ireland at the time: "We have had", he writes, "these two days four ministers before us, which were sent from the several Presbyteries in Ulster to the Lords Justices and Council, desiring liberty to exercise their ministry in their respective parishes, according to the way they have hitherto exercised it in; and expressing their great sorrow to find themselves numbered with Papists and fanatics in our late Proclamation, which prohibited unlawful assemblies.

"After many debates upon several proposals how to answer them, we resolved on this answer That we neither could nor would allow any discipline to be exercised in church affairs but what was warranted and commanded by the laws of the land. That they were punishable for having exercised any other. That we would not take any advantage against them for what was past, if they would comport themselves conformably for the time to come. That if they were dispensed withal, by pleading a submission thereunto was against their consciences, Papists and fanatics would expect the like indulgence from the like plea, which we knew their own practice as well as judgments led them to disallow of. That we took it very ill, divers of those which had sent them had not observed the time set apart for humbling themselves for the barbarous murder of his late Majesty, a sin which no honest man could avoid being sorry for. That some of their number had preached seditiously, in crying up the Covenant, (the seeds of all our miseries), in lamenting His Majesty's breach of it, as getting up Episcopacy as introductory to Popery, which they had not punished in exercising any of their pretended discipline over such notorious offenders. And, lastly, that if they conformed themselves to the discipline of this church, they should want no fitting countenance and encouragement in carrying on their ministry; so if they continued refractory, they must expect the penalties the law did prescribe.

"To all which they answered: That as far as their consciences would permit them, they would comply, and what it would not, they would patiently suffer. That it was their religion to obey a lawful authority, (and such they owned His Majesty was), either actively or passively. That if any of their judgment had preached sedition, they left them to themselves and disowned them; and if they had the exercising of their discipline, they would punish severely all such. That many of them had according to the Proclamation, kept the fast for the King's murder, which they heartily detested, and for the doing thereof in the usurper's government many of them had been imprisoned and sequestered; and that to the last of their lives they would continue loyal to His Majesty.

"And lest they might offend against our Proclamation, they desired to know what was meant by unlawful assemblies, because some were so severe as to interpret their meetings to pray and preach on the Lord's day to come under that head. To which we told them, that by unlawful meetings was only meant such assemblies as were to exercise any ecclesiastical jurisdictions, which were not warranted by the laws of the kingdom, and not to hinder their meetings in performing parochial duties in those benefices of which they were possessed legally or illegally.

"They seemed much comforted with the last assurance; so that having again exhorted them to conformity, and promised them therein all encouragement, we dismissed them to try what this usage and the admonition will produce. I have had several private discourses with them, and I leave no honest means unessayed to gain them."

To the modern sceptic the object for which this journey was undertaken by these four worthy ministers to the life spiritual may possibly appear to be "much ado about nothing", but the honest endeavours of Orrery to get these, in his eyes, benighted Presbyterians, to see the error of their ways, proves how vital a thing religion was in a day when the greatest writer of his time deemed he could not employ his pen in worthier work than in an endeavour to " justify the ways of God to men ". Englishmen had not yet begun to believe that forms of faith were unimportant, and that "his can't be wrong whose life is in the right", and so these nameless representatives of -

Gordon,

Colkitto, or Macdonald, or Galasp,

wended their way homeward, "much comforted" in the belief that they had done something to win freedom of thought and liberty of speech for those who like themselves

The faith and morals [held] which Milton held.

The Presbyterians were now left entirely to the mercy of the Bishops in their several dioceses, and were treated with more or less rigour according to the degree of liberality of those spiritual superiors. Among the foremost in persecution was the celebrated Jeremy Taylor, who had been appointed to the Bishopric of Down. Patrick Adair, one of seven Presbyterian ministers in the district, has left us an account of these transactions. It was proposed in 1650 to transplant the Presbyterians of Antrim and Down. Parties of soldiers were sent by the Commissioners, and one of these seized all Adair's papers indiscriminately, "there being none among sixteen soldiers and a sergeant who could read". The more important papers were restored to Adair by a maid-servant, who stole them while the sergeant was asleep. None of the seven clergymen would take the engagement of 1650, which bound men to support a Government without King or House of Lords, and they had much support among the people. As already stated, the orders for this transplantation were given, but not carried into effect.

"The Bishop of Down", writes Adair, "coming to his diocese at the time when the brethren were in Dublin, had intelligence of them and their errand, and so had an envious eye upon them. However, he forbeared his first visitation till they returned, and, finding they had obtained no encouragement, he immediately summoned them all to his visitation. They could not then have a general meeting to consult; but Providence so ordered it that, a few days before the summons came which they were expecting, most of them were called to the burial of a honourable and truly religious lady, the lady Clotworthy, the mother of the now Lord Massarene. There they had occasion to advise together, and were not all of one mind as to their going to Lisnegarvy [Lisburn]. However most part met in Belfast a day before the visitation, and from thence went to Lisnegarvy.

"The Bishop being then at his house in Hillsborough, the brethren sent three of their number to the Bishop the day before the appointed visitation. Their errand was to tell him that whereas they had received summonses to appear before his visitation, they could not appear in answer to that summons, neither as submitting themselves to episcopal jurisdiction, nor at all in the public visitation. Yet they were willing to confer with him in private, that he might know they were men that walked by principle, and held not groundless opinions; and that though they were dissenters from the present church-government and modes of worship, yet they were the King's true subjects. He desired they would give him in on paper what they had to say. This they declined, on consideration that many of their brethren were not present. He told them he would receive nothing from them as a body, nor look on them in that light They told him, whatever they were, or whatever way he looked on them, they behoved to advise with one another in matters of that concernment; as their relations as ministers, their former correspondence in all such matters, and their Christian prudence called for.

"Seeing they would give him no paper, he questioned them whether they held Presbyterial government to be jure DivinO) and desired they would give him a positive answer. They readily answered they did. To this the Bishop replied, that they needed no farther discourse of the matter of accommodation, if they held to that. They said it was a truth whereof they were persuaded in their conscience, and could not relinquish it, but must profess it as they were called; therefore if answers of that nature would but irritate at the public visitation, they judged it better not to appear, but to confer with him freely in private. He answered, if they should make profession contrary to law in the visitation, they would smart for it. Therefore seeing our foot in a snare, he desired them rather not to appear, and that as their friend. They thanked him, and withal said, they conceived they might hold Presbyterial government to be jure Divino and yet not transgress the law of the land, since they were not exercising that government, for they knew that affirmative precepts bound not ad semper. He answered that was true, yet that they were not subject to another government was contrary to law; and he said though the King's late declaration in matters of religion were extended to Ireland, it would do them no good. They returned, that there were many in England who held Presbyterial government to be jure Divino, yet at present enjoyed the benefit of the King's declaration. He replied, he saw not how that could consist."

The author of Holy Living then questioned the ministers regarding the oath of supremacy, and offended them much by comparing them to Papists; on which they returned to their brethren at Lisburn, and the latter "saw themselves in a hard taking, yet encouraged one another to fidelity and steadfastness".

"The next day", continues Adair, "was the Bishop's visitation in Lisnegarvy, where he himself preached, but none of the brethren except two went to hear him. Thereafter in his visitation all were called and none appeared; yet he did nothing farther that day." Later "two of the former four and another brother were sent to him to see if he would call all the brethren together to his chamber to confer with him, which they apprehended he had proposed at Hillsborough; especially from his saying it was not fit for them to appear in public. When accordingly they went, and proposed this to him, he wholly waived to answer their question, and fell angrily on reflections on Presbyterial government; having nothing to reflect on any particular brother, or on the particular actings of the Presbytery in this country, though fain he would if he could; and withal proposing arguments for conformity, which engaged the brethren in some discourse of that nature.

"Notwithstanding his own expressions the day before respecting their not appearing at the visitation, yet he now alleged it was contempt made the brethren not appear on that occasion. One said it was the awe of God and conscience that made them not appear. He replied a Jew or a Quaker would say so much for their opinions, and everybody would use that argument for the vindication of their erroneous courses. There were also some few of the brethren whom he called to him to engage them to conformity, and gave them great offers of kindness and preferment; but he obtained not his purpose."

Adair's narrative has been thus long dwelt upon because it proves the spirit which the Bishops, now restored, carried with them into Ireland. As far as is shown in the accounts of both parties, the behaviour of the Presbyterians was moderate and forbearing, and they showed no inclination to resist the will of the civil government. The visitation at Lisburn was followed by the simultaneous expulsion of all the Presbyterian ministers in Jeremy Taylor's diocese of Down of Connor, from their pulpits and livings, the example of the English Chrysostom being followed in other dioceses.

The expelled ministers were at once deprived of all support which they had derived from their parishes, turned upon the world to seek a living on their own resources, and, what to them was the greatest punishment of all, forbidden to preach or exercise their calling in public.

On the 27th of May an order of Parliament was passed condemning the Covenant as "schismatical, seditious, and treasonable", ordering it to be burnt in all cities and towns by the common executioner, and requiring the chief magistrate of the place to be present and see the order executed on the next market-day after its receipt. It was further declared that "whosoever shall, by word or deed, by sign or writing, go about to defend or justify the said treasonable covenant, shall be accounted and esteemed as an enemy to His Sacred Majesty and to the public peace and tranquility of His church and kingdom".


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