Again, as in the battle for Trinitarianism Henry Cooke stepped forward and led from the front. He believed in the righteousness of his cause and would not accept anything less than that which honoured the Lord, His truth and that which would adequately safeguard the spiritual wellbeing of Protestant children.
As moderator of the Synod, Henry Cooke, expecting to be called before the Royal Commission to give evidence, therefore examined and studied the issue in question. Having instituted a searching inquiry himself, Cooke gleaned information from every available source, and he drew up a valuable Memoir, which was communicated to leading members of the Government interested in the matter.
Cooke's Memoir was dated 29th November 1824. Its graphic sketches were extremely valuable in shedding light upon the state of primary education in Ulster at that time, the nature of the school-houses, the character of the teachers, and the singular class-books used.
Cooke's Memoir helped to open the eyes of the Royal Commissioners to the wants of Ireland in regard to education. It prepared the way for thorough inquiry. The Commissioners spent the greater part of the year 1824 in a personal inspection of Irish schools.
Henry Cooke subsequently appeared twice before the Royal Commission in January 1825 and before select committees of both Houses of Parliament in April 1825.
The Royal Commission having examined upon oath a large number of leading men, supposed to be conversant with the subject of education in Ireland, the report filled more than a thousand pages. However, the recommendations of the Commissioners showed that they did not fully understand the issue.
After a long delay the Governments's proposals for education in Ireland were made known in October 1831. The object of the Government was to surmount the religious objections and bring in a general scheme for the education of the Irish people.
1) Schools would be required to provide academic and moral education four or five days per week. The remaining one or two days would be for religious instruction.
The new scheme would require that: schools should be kept open for a certain number of hours on four or five days of the week, at the discretion of the Commissioners, for moral and literary education only; and that the remaining one or two days should be set apart for giving, separately, such religious education to the children, as may be approved by the clergy of their respective persuasions. They will also permit and encourage the clergy to give religious instruction to the children of their respective persuasions, either before or after the ordinary school hours, on the other days of the week.
2) All children would be integrated for academic instruction but have separate religious instruction.
3) The Education Management Board, which would oversee education in Ireland, would be composed of men of high personal character, including individuals of exalted station in the Church and it was in part to be composed of men professing different religious opinions.
This Board would be required to look favourably upon applications for aid firstly from Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy of the parish acting jointly together; secondly from one of the clergymen, and a number of the parishioners professing the opposite creed and thirdly from Parishioners of both denominations acting together.
4) This Education Management Board would have entire control over all the books used in both areas of instruction. The full Board would oversee the first area; those of same religious views on the Board over the second area.
The recommendations stated with respect to the Management Board: They will exercise the most entire control over all books to be used in the schools, whether in the combined moral and literary or separate religious instruction; none to be employed in the first except under the sanction of the Board, nor in the latter, but with the approbation of those members of the Board who are of the same religious persuasion with those for whose use they are intended.
These two documents did not correspond in all points. In the latter there are some very remarkable and alarming changes and omissions. These changes showed an early determination materially to alter the constitution of the Board and lessen the influence of Churchmen; and wholly to exclude the use of the Bible as a class-book.
On the make up of the Board the original account from the Government's Secretary to Ireland stated: the Board shall be composed of men of high personal character, including individuals of exalted station in the Church; while the alternative version read: It appears essential that a portion of the Board should be composed of men of high personal character, and of exalted station in the Church.
Again on the use of the Bible as a class-book, the original stated: Although it is not designed to exclude from the list of books for the combined instruction such portions of sacred history, or of religious and moral teaching, as may be approved of by the Board, it is to be understood that this is by no means intended to convey a perfect and sufficient religious education, or to supersede the necessity of separate religious instruction on the day set apart for that purpose.
This paragraph was missing altogether in the alternative version published by the new Board.
These were viewed as serious changes, and betrayed a strong desire to modify official documents, and to conform them, as far as possible, to the views of the Romanist party.
Henry Cooke penned his initial thoughts about this newly proposed scheme and they were printed in the The Orthodox Presbyterian magazine: We do not hesitate to denounce the report of the bill as the most cunning, the most daring, and the most specious attempts that have been made against Protestantism since the day when James II. sent his ambassador to Rome to reconcile the nation to the Pope.
Furthermore, the Synod of Ulster was deeply interested in the scheme of education and concerned by these developments. Immediately after the publication of the Government's recommendations a special meeting of Synod was convened. It assembled in Cookstown, on the 11th January 1832.
The first session was spent in private conference and deliberation. On the succeeding morning Henry Cooke moved a series of resolutions, embodying the views of the Synod on elementary education, and their objections to the scheme proposed by the Government's representative. These resolutions were unanimously adopted. Their main points were as follows :
That it is our deliberate opinion and decided conviction that in a Christian country the Bible, unabridged and unmutilated, should form the basis of national education (as we learn from Deuteronomy 6:6,7; Psalm 119:9; John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:14-17); and that, consequently, we never can accede to any system that in the least degree interferes with the unrestricted possession and use of the Scriptures in our schools.
That we have heard, with deep regret, that His Majesty's Government have proceeded to erect a Metropolitan Board of Education, vested with complete control over all schools and teachers receiving public aid, and an entire control over all school-books, whether for literary or religious education.
That such an entire control, as, by the constitution of the Board, the Government have vested in the hands of one member of this body over all school-books employed by ministers in the religious instruction of such children of their congregations as may attend the national schools, cannot, in our opinion, be transferred to, nor be exercised by, any one, without innovating on the constitutional principles of, and creating supremacy over, a Church, the absolute parity of whose ministers is, and ever has been, one of her distinguishing and essential characteristics.
That we cannot contemplate without peculiar disapprobation that part of the proposed system which requires any members of the Synod that may be called to the Board, to 'encourage' religious teachers in the inculcation of doctrines which they must conscientiously believe to be directly opposed to the sacred Scriptures.
It was at this time that Henry Cooke stepped forward as the champion of scriptural education. Cooke announced that he would preach upon the subject on Sunday, 15th January 1832 in his May Street Church.
The building was crowded long before the hour of service. He took as his text the words of Proverbs 23:6: Train up a child in the way he should go ; and when he is old he will not depart from it." The sermon was later published by request and had a stirring impact upon the people.
Cooke in the sermon was said to have enunciated great principles, and exposed the errors of the educational scheme with such clearness and logical force that his words carried conviction.
While losing the power of the oratory the printed version read: The whole subject of education seems reducible to one single question - What is the way in which God has commanded the teacher to train, and the child to go? The prophets of the Old Testament, the apostles of the New, the fathers of the primitive ages, and the heads of the Reformation, the National Churches of Scotland and England, with all the other evangelical Churches of these kingdoms, unite in one reply, - train up a child in the way of all Scripture, which is able to make him wise unto salvation, through faith that is in Christ Jesus.
Henry Cooke went on to state in this influential sermon:
Two objects present themselves before us: first, to ascertain the Scripture principle; second, to examine the Government plan of education. The principle of education we find frequently discussed in the Bible; from which authority it will appear, that the Bible, without mutilation or addition, forms the only divine basis of family or national education.
.... From Bible teaching three principles are clearly deducible: first, that the duty, together with all the privileges and responsibility of teaching, lies with parents; second, that the Holy Scriptures alone have received the authoritative sanction of God for the education of children; third, that all Scripture is alike inspired of God, and is, without deduction or mutilation, to be employed in the training of Christian children, and the perfecting of Christian men.
How far the Government plan of education comes short of these scriptural principles, a brief review will abundantly demonstrate.
To understand the true bearings of the plan, we must go back to some of the fundamental principles of the Reformation, The original difference between the See of Rome and the Protestant Churches commences about the Bible. The Church of Home affirms that the Bible derives all its authority from her; the Protestant Churches affirm that it derives all its authority from God. The Church of Rome affirms that she is the sole depository of the Bible; the Protestant Churches affirm that it is, and ever has been, the Word of the Spirit committed to all the Churches, - nay, to the Churches' enemies, whom it rebukes and condemns. The Church of Rome affirms that she is the sole interpreter of the Bible; the Protestant Churches affirm that the Spirit of God, speaking in the Word, and in the consciences of His people, is the only competent interpreter.
.... The Church of Rome affirms that no man has a right to possess or to read the Scriptures, but under her sanction; the Protestant Churches affirm that all Scripture is the common legacy of Christ to the Churches, and that every man is free to possess, and bound to read, study, and determine, on the ground of his accountability to God. Now, if the Church of Rome be right in all these positions, then the Government plan of National education is right in all its details.
But if the Protestant Churches are right in all their positions, then the Government system is constitutionally and incurably diseased in every member of its body. Lend us your attention while we examine the Government plan, which Infidels admire, Roman Catholics tolerate, and Protestants detest.
The first essential feature is, a supreme, despotic Board. Three parts Protestant Establishment; two parts Roman Catholic; one part Unitarian; one part Church of Scotland.
The Board is vested with complete control over all teachers. By this usurpation it robs every father in the kingdom, who may send a child to one of the Government schools, of all right to choose a schoolmaster for his children.
The Board is invested with entire control over all school-books, whether for literary or religious instruction. That the Bible has ever been the chief Protestant school-book, every child can tell. But here is a Board with entire control over it. . . .
The Board appropriates four days in the week to what is termed literary and moral education; and the two remaining days are set apart, one for religious instruction of Protestants, and the other of Roman Catholics. The plan is illusory, impracticable, unjust, wasteful, and demoralising
Another most unholy portion of the plan enjoins upon Protestants not merely to permit, but absolutely to encourage the teaching of Popery, Unitarianism, and every possible form of apostasy and infidelity. To what the liberalism of this generation will next extend, it is impossible to foretell. But surely it is not presumptuous to say, that when men have come publicly under such an obligation, there is no visible limit to future concessions.
We do not arraign the motives of our rulers. We admit, and we believe, their plan has been intended for the public good. But as all human councils are liable to err, so we believe our rulers have erred. They have regarded the wisdom of men more than the authority of heaven. They have consulted with changing expediency more than with permanent principle.
Their ears have been disturbed by the clamorous demands of Rome, and they would purchase quiet for the land by a great Protestant sacrifice. We must respectfully answer them, - the sacrifice cannot be made. Demand anything but our Protestant principles, and to the utmost of our ability we will render compliance. We will pay our tribute; we will lift up our prayers; we will give our loyalty; but we will retain our Bibles.
Another speech followed on the Tuesday after the delivery of this memorable sermon. It was held in Belfast and again Henry Cooke was a principle speaker. He described the new scheme of education in this way:
The proposition of the Government is this: "We pray you do, for concession's sake, give up your principles; we pray you, do resign your differences with Rome; and, oh! do give up that troublesome thing you call conscience, and just take out of the Bible whatever keeps you in opposition to Popery."
Henry Cooke provided evidence to support his views of the Romanising tendency of this proposed scheme of education. J. L. Porter has the following quotation regarding Cooke's supporting evidence: