Irish Worthies, edited by Thomas Hamilton, available from Mr A Bonar, 143 Belfast Road, Larne, Co Antrim, BT40 2PN, hardback, 170 pages, £12 incl p &p.
First published in 1875, this book contains brief accounts of 13 of the more prominent ministers in Ireland’s past. Their names will be unknown to most readers of this magazine, except perhaps for that of Henry Cooke, who was for many years the leader of the orthodox party in Ulster Presbyterianism. His greatest contribution was to lead opposition to the Arian party in his Church, who held heretical views on the Person of Christ. The outcome was that the Arians left the Church, which was then free to carry on with the work of preaching a pure gospel.
Presbyterianism in Ireland had its roots in Scotland. And it is good for us to have some knowledge of the men who gave themselves to the work of the ministry across the North Channel. They were men like William Stewart of Downpatrick, who told his congregation shortly before his death, “It has pleased God to lay His afflictive hand upon me for some time past and to deprive me of that health and strength necessary to carry on the honourable work of the ministry. How severe a chastisement it is to one who really delights in His work, to be thus laid aside, you can hardly conceive. But I am fully resigned to His will who doeth all things well.
“One of the blessings arising from my present trial is that it has given me an opportunity . . . to learn how far I can feel confidence in reposing my own hopes upon the statements I have, in the Lord’s name, submitted to you. . . . Yes, beloved, upon the free grace of the Father, flowing through the finished work of His Son Jesus Christ, and received in faith through the operation of the Holy Ghost; even upon this grace alone is founded my every hope, and there I would have each of you to rest also.”
A reference in the account of James Hunter of Coleraine to the godliness of poor people in his congregation is an echo of what might have been said of many parts of the Scottish Highlands in the past: “Their conversation was on experimental religion, the meaning of texts, the varying frames of the divine life within, prayer, and especially about messages from the King which they expected and got and treasured up, and repeated with tears of joy. These messages were always through texts of Scripture that came to them.” It seems that “he had rich men in his flock that were pious, but the flower of it were the godly poor”.
The book gives a useful picture of some of the men God raised up to proclaim His truth in Ireland in earlier days, although sometimes one could wish for more reference to their inward life as well as to their outward activities.