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A VISIT TO THE GENERAL SYNOD OF ULSTER, AT ITS MEETING IN LONDONDERRY.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ORTHODOX PRESBYTERIAN. SIR,
MINDS differently constituted contemplate the same object with sentiments and feelings widely dissimilar. The tactics of war, which afford some men enthusiastical delight, produce disgust in others; the highest branches of science, whose study puts into enraptured emotion the most gigantic powers, to the untutored peasant do not appear to possess the slightest interest; and to many, the proceedings of a Synod may appear equally uninteresting and insignificant. This, to the majority of your readers, will seem somewhat strange and unaccountable; and it may well strike them with astonishment. The councils of the state excite the most piercing attention, and why should not the assemblies of the church? Surely the things of God, of the immortal soul, and of eternity, which are the appropriate subjects for a Synod's deliberations, ought not to have fewer attractions than the things that have an exclusive respect to man's earthly dignity, his body's comfort, and the world's blandishments.
Constituted, however, as I am, without arrogating to myself either superior discernment or excellence of character, I can truly affirm that the councils of the Christian Church, when met in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and deliberating in a befitting spirit upon measures for the advancement of Jehovah's glory, the church's prosperity, and men's everlasting felicity, uniformly inspire me with purer, more elevated, and refined pleasure than aught else in which I engage in this world of vicissitude and of sin. Having felt, in days gone by, such pleasurable emotions by attending ecclesiastical assemblies in Scotland, I have purposed, for several years past, to visit the Synod of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. By being the minister of a church originally erected by refugees from the north of the sister kingdom,
by having frequent intercourse with persons from that country, and especially in consequence of the interesting information communicated through the medium of the Orthodox Presbyterian, I have had my attention much directed, of late, to the religious affairs of Ireland; and an earnest desire has been thereby produced to be personally acquainted with Christian brethren, whose labours were frequently contributing to my information and comfort. The monthly entertainment thus afforded by your valuable little publication, did certainly lead me to anticipate in the Synod of Ulster a rich display of talent, piety, and well-directed zeal; and, probably, I cannot better express my sentiments of this pious and learned branch of the Presbyterian Church, than by stating, that, high as my expectations were, they were more than gratified,-my most sanguine anticipations were greatly exceeded, throughout the whole proceedings of the Synod.
1. The minute inspection which the Synod exercises over its Presbyteries, formed an interesting feature of the assembly. The Synod cannot act efficiently upon an extensive scale without accurate information, as to the state of religion within its bounds, and as to the wants of the country. As the supreme court of review, the Synod has a right to demand from the inferior judicatories of the church a precise account of each congregation and Presbytery, as well as to judge in complaints and appeals ;-its prerogative authorises an inquiry into special facts; and should any indistinctness or uncertainty rest upon a Presbytery's report, the Synod, in the exercise of its legitimate jurisdiction, sifts thoroughly the matter, and makes appointments for the correction of abuses, and for future usefulness. The reports of Presbyteries and the discussions upon them occupied the Synod at Derry a part of two days. Pleased with the vigilance and anxiety for the church's welfare with which this department of business was conducted, I could not help ruminating, as the proceedings went forward, on the utility and expediency, as well as upon the divine authority of the Presbyterian plan of ecclesiastical government.
2. The ardour with which the Synod pursues missionary. enterprise deserves special attention. This part of the Synod's proceedings occupied that pre-eminence which its importance demands. The third day of the Assembly's sitting-a period when the fullest attendance occurs, when the spirits are most buoyant, and when all the powers are fresh and vigorous— was principally devoted to discussions on this most interesting.
subject. It was a meeting whose transactions, whose fervent piety, whose disinterested benevolence, and whose empassioned addresses would have done honour to any church upon earth. It is quite impossible there could be a soul present in that congregation of ministers and elders, who has known the grace of God in truth, that was not refreshed, led to deeper concern than ever for the salvation of a perishing world, and that was not stirred up to gratitude for the outpouring of his' Spirit upon that Assembly. It was, indeed, a day long to be remembered in the Synod of Ulster. Nor need any wonder at the harmony, the fervour, and the joyous emotion which reigned in the Synod upon this occasion. The spirit of a genuine missionary undertaking descends from the regions of unsullied purity-the conception of converting a world is truly magnificent-the effect contemplated irresistible-and the thought of God's dealings with the soul in its first awakening, in its sanctification, and in its final triumph over sin and hell, is truly transporting.
The Synod very properly arranges its operations of this kind, under the divisions of Home and Foreign missions. And in reference to the former field of operation, who has any acquaintance with Ireland, and does not know something of the wretchedness and spiritual destitution of the people? Think of the multitudes, of whom it would be the grossest misstatement to affirm that they had even the semblance of the Christian religion about them; take into account the millions whose superstition and errors place them under the most debasing spiritual domination; and call to mind the numbers in Ireland, as well as in other countries of Christendom, whose christianity amounts to nothing more than the name. Though making every allowance which charity can demand, the picture must be admitted to be a very appaling one. But when you reflect on the efforts put forth at present by the Synod, in regard to a scriptural education for the whole island, the encouragement given by it to Sabbath Schools, the establishment of evangelical ministers in Munster and Connaught; and when you consider that, for the purpose of keeping the whole machinery in perpetual, as well as active motion, the Presbyterians of the North of Ireland have constituted themselves into a missionary body-that they have appointed the Sessions to be Committees-and the Presbyteries superintending societies for the collection of money in every congregation under their charge, diffusing, at the same time, the holy fervour of missionary zeal throughout every family; you must allow that
Presbyterian Ulster is doing something for the salvation of Ireland.
But the patronage which the Synod has recently given to the circulation of divine truth, through the medium of the Irish language, deserves more than a passing notice. In Ireland there are not fewer than TWO MILLIONS AND A HALF who think and speak in this language; and whose minds and feelings are not so accessible in any other way. The speech of Mr. Winning, in the Synod, carried demonstration along with it-that the native Irish will listen to you in no other tongue; that in the first instance, they will spurn away from them your Bibles which are not printed in their vernacular language; and will positively refuse to hear your ministers who do not address them in their own favourite speech. But what fine specimens did the friend of the native Irish from Kingscourt present of the power of that language,-how its sound arrested the people's ears,-how the ideas communicated by it, with a commanding energy, reached their inmost souls, -and how, by the blessing of heaven, accompanying this method of imparting religious instruction, the stout heart was subdued, the superstitious mind was set at liberty from its fetters, the child of corruption became the habitation of God through the Spirit, and the hater of Gospel ordinances became the teachable disciple of the Lamb. Mr. Winning obtained the thanks of the Synod for his unwearied services in this good cause, and well did he merit them: but he obtained more, he achieved a conquest over very discouraging opposition, and, I doubt not, will live long in the affections of the native Irish, whose cause he has so ably and successfully advocated.
But the benevolence of Presbyterian Ulster does not confine its Christian operations to the Irish population,-the Synod agreed, at its recent meeting, to make Canada the scene of its foreign missions. That country seems to require, in an especial manner, the sympathy and aid of the Presbyterian Church, inasmuch as a great proportion of the emigrants to North America has proceeded from Scotland, and from amongst the Presbyterians of the Emerald Isle. Shall those, then, who are connected with us by the endearing ties of country, of kindred, and of church-membership, be permitted to perish for lack of the life-giving streams of the Gospel? Surely not. The value of one single soul surpasses that of ten thousand worlds; and shall not the cry for spiritual help from those who were once inhabitants of the same neighbourhood, fed,
perhaps, at the same table, and companions to the same temple, come with a peculiarly piercing tenderness to our hearts, and nerve our arm in extending to them the bread of life?
In the Synod, powerful claims were advanced in behalf of the Canadas becoming the field of missionary operation. Exclusive of their former connexion with this country, and the tender relation which many of them still hold to dear friends upon this side of the Atlantic, emigrants have frequently peculiar hardships to encounter in a strange land. In my correspondence with a clerical brother in Upper Canada, I have learned that the scenes of distress are often of a truly heart-rending character. Cast upon a foreign shore, without money, without friends, unable to procure employment, with a wife and helpless children, and surrounded by men whose hearts are made of iron, or whose own individual miseries are such as to preclude the possibility of granting relief, the poor emigrant lies for days and nights together, having no other shelter than a wretched shed, with the hard ground for his bed, and the stones for his pillow. Can you think of a countryman-a friend-a British subject, thus circumstanced; and to crown his misery, no man to care for his soul and the souls of his family?
Appaling, however, as may be the state of a family in such deep temporal affliction, there are thousands abroad whose external circumstances are good, and yet, whose destitution puts forth still more weighty claims upon your Christian generosity and missionary exertions. The man whose outwardly deplorable condition shuts him out from the view of the world's grandeur, from tasting the world's luxuries, and from pocketing the world's riches, may all the while be a man of faith and a man of prayer, who, with a very scanty pittance, may have provision of which the world knows nothing; his trust in Divine Providence, his perusal of the Bible, and his intercourse with heaven, may make his shed for a time a Bethel. But miserable beyond description must that man be, whose God is the mammon of unrighteousness-whose only concern is what he shall eat, and what he shall drink, and wherewithal shall he be clothed. And will the utmost limits of Christian charity allow us to affirm, that the world's gains are at no time the only grounds for emigration? If this should have been the case only in a few instances out of the many, while others have left the land of their fathers from necessity rather than from choice, shall we not in kindness pursue them with the Gospel of peace, before they get engulphed in the abyss of