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Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble:

for the day of the LORD cometh, for it is nigh at hand, Joel 2:1.

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Saturday, 5 January 2019

Remembering Dr Henry Cooke, Part two - His battle for a truly 'Christian', 'Bible based' education system (Second Part)

Dr Henry Cooke also battled for a thoroughly Christian, Bible based education for the children of Protestants during his ministry.

In 1824 Sir Robert Peel instigated the setting up of a Royal Commission on Education, and the subsequent Select Committees of the Lords and Commons to: inquire into the nature and extent of the instruction afforded by the several institutions established for the purposes of education, and to report as to the measures which can be adopted for extending generally to all classes of the people the benefits of education.

Henry Cooke and the Synod of Ulster opposed the recommendations which came from the Royal Commission. His opposition centred around the exclusion of the Bible from the system of education being proposed.

Cooke's opposition misunderstood but ultimately successful
Unfortunately Cooke's objections were misunderstood by some, and misrepresented by others. He was charged with being a political partizan; with, trying to overthrow a Whig ministry; with attempting to perpetuate Church and State abuses. Some ministers of the Secession Church unhappily joined in the opposition. They passed a series of resolutions branding, not directly, but by implication, the statements of Dr. Cooke, and the overtures of the Synod of Ulster in regard to the Education scheme, as " false and calumnious."

Nevertheless Cooke pressed on and was determined to expose the dishonest attempts of the Board to cloak the real character and tendencies of the Educational scheme

He was opposed; but he was accustomed to opposition. He was misrepresented and vilified; but that mode of controversy was not new to him. He saw the duty he owed to his Church and to his country, and he never swerved from it. 

He was not alone in his opinions. Support came from other external sources. The leading men in the Churches of England and Scotland agreed with him. Dr. Chalmers, in addressing the Presbytery of Edinburgh, said:
The Government had fallen into the error of their predecessors, of making Catholics parties in the
negotiations. Inste
ad of treating with Catholics or Orangemen, they ought to have adopted a plan founded on the principles of truth, and not departed from it to serve either party. His view of what was right was, that a daily Bible class should be made part of the system. 

There ought to be no compulsion in any system of this kind ; and Government, in rectifying one error, had fallen into another, in excluding the Bible-class. They had made a concession which was not necessary—they had made a temporising concession, an unworthy surrender of the moral to the numerical. 

Though Government might find that the multitude was against, they ought to have known that truth was with them; and that though the priests might rebel, the people in the end would find it to be their interest to send their children where they would be educated."

The demand for a free Bible in the National schools, held by Henry Cooke and other within the Synod of Ulster were frequently assailed within the Synod, on various platforms and through the press. His views on this point were often misunderstood or misrepresented by those opposed to him.

At a meeting of the subscribers to the Brown Street School in Belfast, Cooke took the opportunity to explain what he meant by a free and unfettered Bible in the schoolhouse:
In seeking the privilege of the free and unrestricted use of the Scriptures in schools, we have been described, no doubt, as seeking a thing most Utopian and absurd; and, indeed, I confess that, if by free and unrestricted use of the Scriptures I mean constant and uninterrupted, the attempt would be chargeable with all the absurdity alleged. 

The use of my limbs is free and unrestricted. But do I therefore conclude that I may walk into every man's parlour? The use of my voice is free and unrestricted. Do I therefore conclude I may bawl into every man's ear? 

The use of the Bible is free and unrestricted. Do we therefore conclude that any scholar may read it uninterruptedly from morning till night, occupy the whole time of the master, and prevent the other studies of the school? We never dreamt of such a monstrous absurdity. What, then, do we mean by the free and unrestricted use of the Scriptures? 

Tell me what you mean by the free and unrestricted use of 'Gough's Arithmetic'. You mean that a boy may just use it as long as his parent directs, and as often as his teacher can afford to attend to him. I ask no more freedom for the Bible. But while I deny any limit to freedom, do I admit no limit to the use of the Bible? I do. 

I admit the will of parents, who stand in the first place of accountability, to be one limit; and I admit Christian charity, so far as it can act without surrender of any Christian principle, to be another limit. But any such limiting power to kings, parliaments, or boards, clergy, patrons, or committees, I utterly and determinately deny.

Crisis Point Reached
When the unanimous decision of the Synod in 1833 was reported to the Government, it was felt that a crisis point had been reached. The determined stand made by the Synod of Ulster, under the leadership of Dr. Cooke, was felt by the Government.

The Government seemed willing to listen to the objections of the Synod of Ulster as they felt that the consent of the Presbyterians was necessary to the success of any scheme of national education for Ireland.

Discussions opened between the two bodies. In deference to the views of the Synod, certain explanations were published by the Board of Education which, in some degree, removed the objectionable points. However, the Church was still not fully satisfied.

Accordingly, at the meeting of Synod in July, 1832, the Government Committee of Synod were instructed to correspond with the Government upon the subject. A submission was made which demanded, on behalf of the Synod, a right to read the Bible, by such as might desire it, during school hours. This was laid down as the necessary basis of all negotiation.

Should this all important point be granted, the Synod Committee had power to come to agreement regarding other points at issue; should it be declined, the Synod would refuse its sanction to the proposed plan of education.

The views of the Synod had been embodied in seven propositions. The Government initially declined to accede to them; but it became evident from the conversation and correspondence which ensued, that, if the phraseology of the resolutions were changed, and certain modifications introduced, a satisfactory arrangement might be effected.

With this hope Dr. Cooke, on behalf of the Synod's committee, reduced the seven original propositions to three, as follows:
I. That persons of all denominations shall have the right, either jointly or separately, of applying to the Board for aid.
II. That patrons of schools, on making application for aid, shall fix the ordinary period of school hours, and shall have the right of setting apart such portion or portions of said school hours as they may deem sufficient, for reading the Holy Scriptures.
III. That all children, whose parents or guardians may so direct, shall daily read the Holy Scriptures during the time appointed by the patrons ; but that no compulsion whatever be employed to induce others to read, or remain during the reading

These revised propositions were presented to His Majesty's Government in London, in May 1833, by a deputation, of which Dr. Cooke was a leading member. They were again rejected with the Government's Chief Secretary for Ireland stating: It will be impossible for me to recommend to His Majesty's Government any modification of the established system that would strike so entirely at the principle of that system as would the adoption of these propositions.

The board of Education acted with duplicity in dealing with the objections of the Synod of Ulster. The subject was again brought before the Synod at its annual meeting in Derry, in June, 1834. The skilful manoeuvre of the Board had not deceived the entire Synod, but it had won over a party in it. They subsequently moved the following motion:  
That it is the opinion of this Synod, that the ministers and people of our Church, if they see fit, may now make application for aid out of the funds for national education, strictly adhering to the propositions which were agreed upon at last meeting of Synod, and which have been subsequently approved by the Government and the Board of Commissioners.

Dr. Cooke strongly opposed the motion. He criticised with his customary cutting irony the strange and crooked policy of the Commissioners. He showed that they were attempting to gain over the Synod by a trick. He denounced the whole transaction as unworthy of a public body, and deserving the reprobation of the country. He moved, as an amendment, the following resolutions :
1. That ever since the blessed Reformation, in all the common schools of Evangelical Protestants, but especially in the schools of the Church of Scotland, and in those of the Synod of Ulster and other Presbyterian bodies in Ireland, children have enjoyed the free and unrestricted use of the Holy Scriptures, and have been, until lately, generally accustomed, where their parents so directed, to learn to read in the sacred volume.

2. That the authoritative exclusion of the Bible from the National schools during ordinary school hours, seems to have originated, not from any desire of Protestants, but out of deference to the opinions and objections of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, who have always discovered such jealousy and dread of the sacred Scriptures, that wherever they have had the power, they have denied their unrestricted use to the laity in general, and to children in schools in particular; and farther, that experience demonstrates, that, in whatever country the use of the Scriptures has, in any wise, been restricted, the progress of Protestantism has been proportionably retarded, and the domination of the Church of Rome extended and confirmed.

3. That for the above, amongst other reasons, the Synod, as a witness for the Lord Jesus, and the Word of His Truth, did, in the years 1832 and 1833, most explicitly declare their disapprobation of the system of national education, and did earnestly seek to have it reformed; but that, from the correspondence of our committee with the Commissioners, and from their report to the Government, it appears that the original system remains unchanged, and, consequently, the reform sought by the Synod still unattained.
4. That this Synod, therefore, now renews its exhortations to the ministers and elders of this body to refrain from connecting themselves with the Board ; and resolves to continue to employ every means to obtain from His Majesty's Government such a bona fide recognition of our propositions as will enable our people, without surrender of principle, to obtain for their schools a portion of the public funds.
A lengthy debate ensued. It lasted from eleven o'clock on Friday forenoon, till two o'clock on Saturday morning. Cooke was again triumphant. His amendment was carried, though only by a small majority. The Synod broke off all negotiation with the National Board in 1834.
Presbyterian System of Education
The issue of education came before the Synod once again in 1839 at Cooke's instigation. The Synod of Ulster resolved to organise an education scheme of its own. The fundamental principles of the scheme, as contradistinguished from the National Board, were as follows:
The plan of education provides that the Bible shall be free in all the Synod's schools during every school hour. It shall, like the light of heaven, be open for every eye that is not shut against it; and all who attend the schools may read in it as much, and as often during the day, as may be thought consistent with their advantage and the other duties of the school. 

The children of our communion shall daily read such proportion of Scripture, and learn such portion of our Standard Catechisms, as parents, with the concurrence of the Church Session, may advise; but when the children of other communions attend our schools, they shall be at perfect liberty to read the Scriptures or not, as their parents or guardians direct. . . . 

Our system of education will be strictly scriptural, and at the same time catholic, forbearing, and charitable. … It is known that the Synod disapproves of and highly condemns the system that would exclude the Scriptures during school hours, and thus oppose the circulation of God's Word; yet it has been affirmed that our principles merely lead us to introduce the Bible for the use of our own communion, and such others as may demand access to the Word of God. . . . The Directors would beg leave most respectfully to submit that such a principle has never been laid down by this Synod, nor adopted in the practice of our schools.

If it be anti-scriptural to exclude the Word of God from our schools, it is maintained that the Church is ignorant of duty, and lamentably deficient in the service of the Lord, if it content itself with merely making provision for the scriptural instruction of the members of its own communion. 

It is the duty of the Church to bring the Word of God to bear on all who may be ignorant of its blessed tidings. It is bound in the first place to use its energies in removing every obstacle to the circulation of the Scriptures, and then, whenever an opportunity is found, to offer the message of eternal life. 

If it be rejected, the Church has fulfilled a duty; but until the offer has been made, the Church has been negligent of its responsibility to God, and careless respecting the condition and future prospects of immortal souls."

While pleading the cause of the scheme, Dr. Cooke continued, wherever he went, at home and on the British mainland, to expose the false principles and strange acts of the Irish National Board. At meetings held in Liverpool and Manchester Cooke denounced the National system as opposed to the Word of God, and to the fundamental principles of Protestantism.

By now the National scheme of education was in real difficulty. The Synod of Ulster refused to support and Roman Catholic support for it in Ireland was waning.

To address the issue Committees of Inquiry were appointed by both Houses of Parliament in 1837. An immense mass of evidence was collected and printed. Dr. Cooke was examined at great length. His stedfast objection to one of the principles of the Board, which was represented to be fundamental and unalterable.

New Development
In 1839 the Synod instructed the Directors of their schools to apply to Her Majesty's Government for pecuniary aid for their own schools. Revs. Cooke and Stewart were consequently commissioned to proceed to London for that purpose and had interviews with the leading members of the Cabinet.

As a result of these discussions and others an application for funds was drawn up on the 24th January 1840, for Curren school, which was under the patronage of Dr. Stewart. The School constitution read as follows:
The school is under the management of a committee chosen by the parents of the children. 

The times for reading the Scriptures and for catechetical instruction are so arranged as not to interfere with or impede the scientific or secular business of the school; and no child, whose parents or guardians object, is required to be present, or take part in those exercises; and no obstruction shall be offered to the children of such parents receiving such instruction elsewhere, as they may think proper.

The school opens in the summer at half-past nine, a.m., and continues till half-past five, p.m., with the interval of one hour, from one till two, for dinner. In the winter it opens at ten and continues till three. In both summer and winter it is held during six days of the week. 

The school is open upon all days of the week to the public of all denominations, who have liberty to inspect the registry, witness the mode of teaching, and see that the regulations of the school are faithfully observed ; but no persons, except members of the committee, and the officers of the Board, are permitted ex officio to interfere in the business or management of the school. 

The books used, in addition to the Scriptures and the Westminster Catechism, are those sanctioned by the Kildare Place Society.

The application was received by the Board of Education, and its petition immediately granted. The grant was made also with the express, and recorded stipulation, that all similar applications from members of the Synod of Ulster should be granted, so far as the funds of the National Board might allow. 

An official copy of the application was asked by the Board of Education, and was given by the deputation, and it thereafter became the model and the law which regulated the connection between the Board and the Synod. 

A special meeting of the Synod of Ulster was held in Belfast, in April 1840. The deputation presented their report as stated: 
Your deputation have thus the satisfaction of submitting to their brethren that aid has been obtained for their schools, not only without any compromise of principle, but in perfect harmony with the principles on which the schools of the Synod have hitherto been conducted. 

1. Protestants can apply for aid to then schools, without any reference to, or union with, any other denomination. This was not the case in the former rules of the Board ; for though Protestants might have applied by themselves, the Query-sheet afterwards required the reason why reference to others had been omitted.

2. The Query-sheet, of which several of the questions and regulations were exceedingly offensive to Protestants, has been totally withdrawn; and aid for our schools is granted simply on our own statement of their constitution and regulations. 

3. The schools, as Protestant schools have ever been, are open to the public; but none, except the applicants, are recognised as ex officio visitors. This is a valuable improvement upon the former regulation of the Board, which empowered others to be ex officio visitors in every Protestant school, to which regulation every Protestant applicant was required to submit.

4. The Bible is free during school hours, and the extent of its use subject to no control but the will of the parents expressed through committees of their own free choice, and the greatest convenience of the attending scholars. 

5. The Westminster Catechisms are also free during school hours; a privilege not enjoyed even under the Kildare Place Society. 

6. There is no concession of any day in the week for separate religious instruction, as the former regulations of the Board, in every case, required. 

7. No one has a right to demand admission to teach in our school-houses, as the former regulations of the Board required and enforced. 

8. In return for aid to our schools we are neither required to make, nor have we made, to the Board any concession of any Protestant principle or practice. In relation to other denominations we neither recognise, promise, nor guarantee, instruction in their peculiar creeds; we barely stipulate, that, when parents object, we, acting upon the Protestant principle of liberty of conscience, and following the immemorial practice of our schools, will neither require nor compel their children to read our Bibles nor commit our Catechisms; and that if the parents so direct, we will not obstruct their seeking instruction elsewhere. 

9. We have secured to our schools and the children of the Protestant communions, the great principle which our Synod, learning from the Scriptures, so early adopted, and has so faithfully maintained, viz., That religious and secular learning should form the united and inseparable parts of a Christian education. Thus all that the Synod ever asked has been granted, and all the principles of our own system of education have been maintained.

Cooke Triumphant
When the report was read, it was unanimously resolved: 
That the Synod cordially approve of the report and proceedings of the Directors and the Deputation, and return them their marked thanks for the fidelity with which they have executed the important commission entrusted to them, and the success which has attended their efforts.

Henry Cooke was thus at last triumphant after a long and hard struggle. He had won the battle for a Bible based education system. It was stated that:
He had gained every principle for which, from the outset, he contended. He had never yielded one iota either to the entreaties of professed friends, or the assaults of open and determined foes. He had exposed with unsparing severity the false principles hitherto maintained by the National Board, and the crooked policy by which it had attempted to force them upon the acceptance of the Synod of Ulster. He had shown that the changes insisted upon by the Synod, as a basis of connection, were just and scriptural. His conduct from first to last had been open, honest, consistent. To him the Presbyterian Church is indebted for those great advantages she has derived from the National system of education….

A similar battling spirit to Henry Cooke's is needed today for a Bible based education system.

This account has been compiled from various sources, chiefly from 
Dr Josiah Leslie Porter's Life and Times of Dr Henry Cooke and from 
Rev Thomas Hamilton's History of Presbyterianism in Ireland. 

Unless attributed to someone else all the quotations in blue are taken from 
Dr J. L. Porter's Life and Times of Dr Henry Cooke

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