The A to Z of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism: Bible

In this service we look at some Bibles that also give us a hint of the historical identity of Non-Subscribing Presbyterians.

All Souls’ Church, Belfast possesses a number of very interesting Bibles, including one printed by the printer James Blow in Belfast in the early eighteenth cnetury. We look at the Clough Bible of 1793 as well as Bibles that belonged to Rev Alexander Gordon and Rev James Martineau.

The Clough Bible, dated 1793

Clough’s old Bible was presented to the church by the first minister in the new meeting- house of 1837, some 44 years after it was printed in Edinburgh. The inscription, which is shown in today’s video, emphasises the Rev David Watson’s belief that the Non-Subscribing church represented contuity with the original congregation or, as he styled them, ‘the Members of the New Presbyterian House of Worship in Clough’.

We also look at a Bible that once belonged to the Rev Alexander Gordon. You can discover more about him in this video. But this Bible stands out because it is the Revised Version of 1881-1885 (the New Testament was brought out first in 1881) ‘Newly Edited by the American Revision Committee’ in 1901 and published in New York.

Alexander Gordon’s signature on the title page

Another Bible is one that once belonged to Rev James Martineau when he was minister of Eustace Street in Dublin from 1828 to 1832. There is some information about James Martineau on this blog here. He left Eustace Street after only a short ministry but judging by the date of this Bible, 1818, and the fact that it was discovered in Ireland, it seems likely that it was one he used in this ministry in Dublin. All this and more can be found in today’s service.

Click on the video to see the service (after 9.45 am on Sunday, 4th July)

Filmed in Ballee, Downpatrick and Clough Ballee organist John Strain plays the hymns I am not worthy Holy Lord (Irish Presbyterian Hymn Book 384) and Just as I am (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 268). The reading is from Acts ch.8 v.26-40. The service is conducted by Rev Dr David Steers.

The A to Z of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism: Abernethy

This week we begin a new series of videos. The A to Z of Non-Subscribing Presbyterianism will be an alphabetical exploration of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland, looking at its identity and ethos through items and ideas possessed by its churches.

John Abernethy

I say at the start that this will not be a succession of biographical accounts of outstanding individuals – and I will stick to that. However, that is exactly where I have to start with John Abernethy (1680-1740). It is hard to avoid him and would be a mistake to do so, he is such a remarkable and crucial figure. Among other things he was minister at Antrim (see picture at the top of this page).

Click on the above video to join in the service (after 9.45 am on Sunday, 27th June)

The service is filmed in Ballee where John Strain plays the church’s Carnegie organ and features the hymns When morning gilds the skies (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 26) and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 158). The reading is Romans ch.14 v.5-9 which is the passage that inspired Abernethy’s famous sermon of 1719 on Religious Obedience Founded on Personal Persuasion.

The title page of Abernethy’s published sermon of 1719

Rev William Hamilton Drummond

Today’s worship, from Ballee, incorporates the second in our series that looks at significant Non-Subscribing Presbyterians in history. Today’s subject is William Hamilton Drummond who was born in Larne in 1778 and died in Dublin in 1865.

Drummond had a long and multi-faceted career. As a young man he supported the 1798 Rebellion and as a student at Glasgow University first turned his hand to verse, producing poems that supported the aims of the United Irishman. Leaving Glasgow without a degree he nevertheless progressed towards the ministry and was called to Belfast’s Second Congregation (see picture above) in 1800. In Belfast, as a minister, he was at the heart of the city’s educational, commercial, cultural and religious life. He produced a number of epic poems. Many of these now extolled the virtues of the Union of 1801 with Great Britain whilst the most famous of all was The Giant’s Causeway, published in 1811.

William Hamilton Drummond

In 1815 he was a candidate for the Chair of Logic and Belles Lettres at the Belfast Academical Institution. When he was unsuccessful, because so many of the electors were members of his own congregation who did not wish to see him leave, he left Belfast for Dublin instead, where he commenced a ministry of fifty years in which he achieved further notability as a theological controversialist, a biographer and a supporter of the rights of animals.

Sunday Worship, Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. Click on the video above after 9.45 am on Sunday, 13th June 2021

The service comes from Ballee. The reading is from Psalm 8 and is given by Mary Stewart at Downpatrick. Church organist John Strain plays the hymns Come sing praises to the Lord (Irish Presbyterian Hymnbook 113), Lord the light of your love is shining (Irish Presbyterian Hymnbook 621). Also played is Father I place into your hands.

The Rights of Animals. Published in London 1838.

Flow, LAGAN flow – though close thy banks of green,

Though in the picture of the world unseen…

Flow on fair stream – thy gathering waves expand,

And greet with joy the Athens of the land;

Through groves of masts thick crowding o’er thy tide,

A new Ilissus, roll in classic pride.

From The Giant’s Causeway, A Poem 1811

Rev Alexander Gordon

Our worship today comes from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and is the first in a new series considering significant Non-Subscribers from history.

Alexander Gordon was born in Coventry on 9th June 1841 and died in Belfast on 21st February 1931. A self-styled Englishman by birth, Scotsman by education and an Irishman by inclination Alexander Gordon was the foremost historian of religious dissent in the British Isles whose influence is still recognized today.

Alexander Gordon arriving at Dunmurry, 18th January 1931

I’ve mentioned before the above photograph of Alexander Gordon, (click here to see the original post) the last known picture of him, arriving at Dunmurry to take the service in 1931 and this and many other images are used in the video for today’s service.

Click on the video to see the latest service (from 9.45 am on Sunday, 16th May 2021)

The service is recorded in Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and is conducted by the minister. The reader is Carol Nixon who reads Psalm 100 and the organist is John Strain who plays the hymns Spirit of God, unseen as the wind (Irish Presbyterian Hymn Book 478) and Fairest Lord Jesus (Irish Presbyterian Hymn Book 19). Also played at the beginning and end of the service are As the deer pants and Who is on the Lord’s side.

As well as the images connected with Alexander Gordon the film includes video of the eighteenth-century roof beams of Ballee Church constructed from Memel pine.

Memorial in First Presbyterian Church, Rosemary Street, Belfast

Over the course of a long career Gordon was minister of a number of congregations in England and Ireland and was Principal of the Unitarian College, Manchester and lecturer in Ecclesiastical History at the University of Manchester, in what was then the first free faculty of Theology in Britain. He was also a renowned historian who travelled all over Europe in the course of his work. He regularly travelled between England and Ireland, even throughout the First World War, and always travelled from wherever he was to Dunmurry in order to attend the twice yearly communion services there. He also travelled across Europe visiting record offices and archives – most notably in Poland, Hungary and Transylvania – at a time when such visits were rare and logistically difficult. This is referenced in the service. His researches, whose subject matter stretched over centuries and many areas of religious life, link us with the past and with his life. They set us in context and in time.

Time

Time is the feather’d thing,
And, whilst I praise
The sparklings of thy looks and call them rays,
Takes wing,
Leaving behind him as he flies
An unperceived dimness in thine eyes.
His minutes, whilst they’re told,
Do make us old;
And every sand of his fleet glass,
Increasing age as it doth pass,
Insensibly sows wrinkles there
Where flowers and roses do appear.
Whilst we do speak, our fire
Doth into ice expire,
Flames turn to frost;
And ere we can
Know how our crow turns swan,
Or how a silver snow
Springs there where jet did grow,
Our fading spring is in dull winter lost.
Since then the Night hath hurl’d
Darkness, Love’s shade,
Over its enemy the Day, and made
The world
Just such a blind and shapeless thing
As ’twas before light did from darkness spring,
Let us employ its treasure
And make shade pleasure:
Let ‘s number out the hours by blisses,
And count the minutes by our kisses;
Let the heavens new motions feel
And by our embraces wheel;
And whilst we try the way
By which Love doth convey
Soul unto soul,
And mingling so
Makes them such raptures know
As makes them entranced lie
In mutual ecstasy,
Let the harmonious spheres in music roll!


Jasper Mayne (1604-1672)

Tercentenary of Ballee

For three hundred years our congregation at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church has been worshipping in its T-shaped meeting-house of 1721. It couldn’t be described as entirely unchanged since that year – originally the building would have been thatched and at some point later in the eighteenth century it had a new roof built of Memel pine, later still the old box pews were removed and used to fit out new rooms in the church. But still the walls are the same walls that have stood as silent witness to our faith for three hundred years.

To join the service click on the video after 9.45 am on Sunday, 18th April 2021

The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers, and the reading is from John ch.4 v.31-38. The church’s organist, John Strain, plays the hymns Lord of all Hopefulness (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 257) and Sent forth by God’s blessing (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 443). At the start and end of the service John also plays Thine be the glory (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 288).

The video includes many of the special features of this historic church and explores the history of the congregation.

In the Ordnance Survey Memoir for this part of County Down in 1835 it notes that the Presbyterians:

have a house of worship at Ballee bridge, and at the late schism of the Synod of Ulster, the congregation departed from the body and joined the Remonstrants. The minister of the congregation receives 50 pounds a year stipend from his hearers and 75 pounds a year regium donum….

The regium donum was a government grant paid to ministers. But the Ordnance Survey also reports, under a section entitled Habits of the People:

A more intelligent or industrious population is rarely to be found, being punctually honest in their dealings and generally attached to the form of religious worship they profess without being intolerant.

The History of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland – part two

In our service this morning, from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, we continue to look at the early history of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian denomination and in this address ask questions about the meaning of ‘heresy and orthodoxy’ and look at the role of Thomas Emlyn in sparking the first subscription controversy when the Synod of Ulster introduced compulsory subscription to the Westminster Confession following his imprisonment in Dublin in 1703.

Click on the above video to see today’s service featuring the second part of the History of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland (available from 9.45 am on Sunday, 28th February 2021)

The service comes from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church and is conducted by the minister. The reading is from Romans ch.14 v.1-9 and is read by Sue Steers. Church organist John Strain plays the hymns Who is on the Lord’s side (Thanks and Praise 164) and Wisdom Divine, bright shining, never fading (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 55) on the church’s Carnegie organ.

Also this week we have uploaded to the Downpatrick, Ballee & Clough NSP Churches YouTube channel a service that was originally broadcast from All Souls’ Church, Belfast on BBC Radio Ulster in 1995:

Click on the above video to see the service

Converted from a cassette tape to mp3 format the service was recorded live from the radio in October 1995. The service is conducted by the minister at the time, Rev David Steers. The readers are Barbara Moneypenny (Psalm 46) and Jim Jackson (Luke ch.6 v.12-31). Muriel Singleton leads the prayers. The church organist is Albert McCartney who plays on the church’s Compton organ the hymns Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation; Just as I am, thine own to be; Dear Lord and Father of mankind; Immortal, invisible, God only wise and leads the Church Choir in the singing of Lead me Lord (music S.S. Wesley, words Psalm 5) and Grant us Thy Peace (music Timothy Troman, words D. Bruce-Payne).

Search me, O God, and know my heart

Our service for this Sunday comes from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church which this year celebrates its tercentenary.

The service is conducted by the minister, Rev Dr David Steers, and John Strain, the church organist, plays the hymns ‘O Love that wilt not let me go’ (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 276) and ‘Spirit of the living God’ (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 178) as well as ‘How deep the Father’s Love for us’ (Irish Church Hymnal 224) which is played at the beginning and end of the service. The reading is Psalm 139 v.1-12, 23-24.

Click on the video to join in our service
Ballee NSP Church, built 1721

We are all the work of thy hand

Yet, O Lord, thou art our Father;
    we are the clay, and thou art our potter;
    we are all the work of thy hand.

Isaiah ch.64 v.8

Our service for the Second Sunday in Advent comes from First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Downpatrick and has as its reading Isaiah ch.64 v.1-9. In that passage God is likened to a potter and through interaction with our Creator we can be remade. This image of the potter at work at the wheel is a very powerful one in the Bible, it is suggestive of the ongoing process of creation of which we are a part.

The video can be seen here:

The organist is John Strain, playing the organ at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, who plays Lo! He comes with clouds descending (Mission Praise 424) and Hark the glad sound! The saviour comes (Hymns of Faith and Freedom 107).

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope

Our service for the first Sunday in Advent comes from Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church. Advent begins this year with Northern Ireland once again back in lockdown, this time for two weeks. As before we are not allowed to have public worship in our churches, but as we have done throughout the pandemic we have an online service on our YouTube channel every Sunday.

The service for Advent can be seen here:

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.

Isaiah ch.9 v.2

Today’s reading is from Jeremiah ch.33 v.14-16 and is read by Haydn Howell. Church organist John Strain plays the hymns Come, thou long-expected Jesus (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 110) and How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him (‘Hymns of Faith and Freedom’ 111). John also plays Promised Lord and Christ is he and Make way, make way.

The closing scenes of the video includes film of some Whooper Swans in a field in the shadow of the Mountains of Mourne. Newly arrived from Iceland they spend the winter here and currently share their field with some Greylag Geese:

We thank Thee for the stars wherewith Thou hast spangled the raiment of darkness, giving beauty to the world when the sun withdraws its light. All this magnificence is but a little sparklet that has fallen from Thy presence, Thou Central Fire and Radiant Light of all! These are but reflections of Thy wisdom, Thy power, and Thy glory!

A prayer by Theodore Parker (1810-1860)

Celebrating Harvest

This Sunday’s worship again reflects on the importance of the harvest in our lives, both spiritually and temporally. Our reading is given for us by Dillon Howell and the hymns and harvest music is played by John Strain on the organ at Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church.

The video both begins and ends with images from harvest services in our churches over recent years. They are always such uplifting occasions and a great deal of thought goes into making the churches look so attractive. It is nice to be reminded of some of the imaginative and creative displays that we always see in our churches. Click on the above video to see the service.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is gracious,

for his steadfast love endures for ever.

Psalm 107.1