Dr. S.B. Cooke, a native of Belfast was converted to Christ at the age of twenty. Almost immediately he sensed the call of God into the Christian ministry. He joined the newly formed Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster and entered its Theological Hall. On completion of his studies he ministered in Mount Merrion (Belfast) and Rasharkin before moving to the Catherdral City of Armagh.
Dr. Cooke has also served as the deputy Moderator and has given invaluable guidance and instruction as the Professor of Homiletics and Pastoral Theology in the Whitefield College of the Bible. He has often been asked to preach on the subject: Free Presbyterianism Why?
The delivery of this message has been used of God to stir hearts and lead many to an understanding of the great issues that faced Ulster Presbyterians in the 20th Century. Indeed, the issues of those years still exist today. This is a thrilling sermon which is reproduced in this page almost exactly as it was preached and therefore contains something of the preacher’s own distinct pulpit style.
“And David said, what have I now done? Is there not a cause?” (1 Samuel 17:29)
David spoke these words when the armies of Israel were threatened by the armies of the Philistines in general and by Goliath, their great champion, in particular. The shepherd boy was visiting his brethren on the battle field when the armies were arrayed, army against army. He heard the challenge of Goliath and the jeers of this gigantic warrior, not only against the armies of Israel, but against the God of Israel. David’s young heart was filled with righteous indignation and he demanded to know what Israel was going to do. He said, who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” However, the moment he spoke he was immediately criticized. His motives were questioned. Even some in his own household rebuked him. They accused him of pride, naughtiness of heart and hypocrisy – so much so that the young shepherd boy asked these questions, “What have I now done? Is there not a cause?”
The Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster was founded on March 17th 1951 at Crossgar. Ever since its inception it has been bitterly criticized by many. Its policies and actions have been scrutinized and criticized. Its ministers have been scorned and despised. Its members also have been persecuted and mocked. In the midst of it all we have to re-echo the words of the shepherd boy, of so long ago, in that we have to say, “What have we now done? Is there not a cause?”
When the Bible speaks of the last days prior to the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, it warns in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 ‘let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first. We are living unquestionably in a day when there is a falling away from the truth of God, from the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and from the fundamentals of the faith. We live in a time when the forces of apostasy are striding across the province, yea we could say right across the world, like Goliath of old. We live in a time when the enemies of God have not only abandoned the truth of God, but have united together to oppose those who are seeking to stand, up hold, promote and advance the truth as it is revealed for us in the Bible itself. In the vanguard of ecclesiastical life right across the world there is the Church of Rome. That system has played a leading part in giving religious leadership to what is commonly known as Christendom. The Church of Rome is being placed into that position of leadership because of the apostasy, declension and rejection by the so-called Protestant churches of their articles of faith and their confessions. I want to put the spotlight on this province in general and on the Irish Presbyterian Church in particular. All of the main line Protestant churches in this province are ecumenically minded: the Church of Ireland. the Methodist and, of course, the Irish Presbyterian Church. Therefore it is important to ask and seek to answer the question: Free Presbyterianism why? Why has God seen fit in His own divine wisdom to permit this church of ours to become to a great degree established, and we hope as the years go by to become even more established? We want to answer the question: why is there another Presbyterian church in Ulster? Why is there an alternative Presbyterian church in this province?
There is a Free Presbyterian Church because the Irish Presbyterian Church has departed from the faith and is unsound in the proclamation of the gospel.
Unquestionably there are men who are saved by God’s grace occupying some pulpits within the Irish Presbyterian Church. There are elders in that denomination who are unquestionably born again by the Spirit of God. However, on a whole, as a denomination, the Irish Presbyterian Church is ecumenically minded. It has departed from the faith. It is unsound in the proclamation of the gospel. Let me give you something of church history.
Dr. Henry Cooke
Over 130 years ago there was a great revival in the north of Ireland. The 1859 revival was an outpouring of the Spirit of God, the like of which had not been seen for generations and alas has not been seen since. In 1859 100,000 people in Ulster were saved by the grace of God. It was through that revival that the Irish Presbyterian Church became the major denomination in this province. It was through that revival that its membership was strengthened and it became a bulwark for truth and righteousness. However before that re-vival took place, certain momentous and far-reaching decisions had to be taken by the Presbyterians of Ulster. Under the ministry of Dr. Henry Cooke the Irish Presbyterian Church became doctrinally sound. God does not bless apostasy. God does not bless false teaching and God does not bless another gospel. When Henry Cooke came into the ministry of the Irish Presbyterian Church as a young man he discovered that some of the ministers in the denomination were Arians or Unitarians. They did not believe in the deity of Christ. They did not believe in the blood atonement. They rejected the fundamentals of the faith. They did not subscribe to the fundamentals of the faith as they are enshrined in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Alongside them there were other men who were Trinitarians. Men who were saved and who were seeking to uphold the truth. Henry Cooke fought for many, many years to separate the Trinitarians from the Arians or the Unitarians because he felt that both could not be in the same denomination. He put his position in these words, “If you can convince me from Scripture that Trinitarians and Arians and Socinians can form a scriptural church and cordially unite in licensing and ordaining one another, I shall resign my present views and unite with you in preserving our present constitution.” That was a challenge that Henry Cooke uttered years ago and that challenge is the same today. I put that challenge to any evangelical in the Irish Presbyterian Church whether he is a member, elder or minister.
I remember years ago, (I always relate this story when I am dealing with this subject because it has a great bearing on it), I was a second year student and I was in a second hand bookshop in Smithfield market. (Long since destroyed by terrorist activity), when I met this other young man whom I knew. He was studying for the Irish Presbyterian ministry. He had been saved through Dr. Paisley, but had decided to go to the Irish Presbyterian ministry. When we met up, we began to talk together and he said to me, “Are you still with Paisley?”
I said, “Yes, lam still a student going on for the Free Presbyterian ministry.”
He replied, “You know when you hear Paisley talking about the professors in Assemblies College you would think they were men who ran about with horns sticking out of their ears.”
I said, “Mr. Paisley is not talking about their personalities, Mr. Paisley is talking about what they teach.” I added, “R—– ,don ‘t tell me that you don ‘t hear teaching that is contrary to the Word of God in Assemblies College and don ‘t tell me that there are no liberals or modernists or apostates in your denomination.” (Of course he didn’t take up on that challenge!).
I further said to him, “You are in a Presbyterian governed church. When you get ordained, you will be come a member of a Presbytery. In that Presbytery you will have to participate in the licensing, ordaining and installing of men. Suppose there comes a time, when a noted liberal, modernist or apostate, or what ever you like to call him, but the fact is he doesn‘t believe nor would he subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the fundamentals of the faith, suppose you have to participate in his ordination or installation, or licensing, what are you going to do? Are you going to get up in front of a congregation and tell the people to support this man, to listen to what he says, to give of their tithes, their influence and their finance to his ministry?”
I never forget what he said — he said, “I would turn a blind eye to all of that for all of the great advantages that I would get.” He continued, “I belong to the largest Protestant denomination in the north of Ire land. Who knows when I get a call, I could go to a congregation of two thousand families. I will be able to exercise a great influence amongst those families. and amongst those people, whereas, you – you ‘re with no bodies. You will probably end up in some back street, preaching to twos and threes all the days of your life.” I said to him,
R ______, I don‘t know what God has for me as far as my ministry is concerned, but even if I have to speak to the twos or threes all the days of my life, I will not be party to any licensing, any ordination, any installation of any man, that I do not know is a born again believer and will preach the truth. I will have no part in it. I will not be a partaker of his evil deeds for any other advantage that may come my way!” We parted. He went into the Irish Presbyterian ministry. Years later when he heard Dr. Paisley preaching, he came and talked to him. He seemed to put a question mark over the fact whether hell would be eternal or not. He finally left the ministry, emigrated to Canada and began teaching in a school.
There are certain principles, certain things that cannot be bartered or sold. Henry Cooke fought in the spiritual battle. He fought at a terrible price and he achieved the victory. It was a tremendous victory because the non-subscribers, the Unitarians, left and formed their own church. Nicholson called them the ‘unbloody Unitarians’- and it withered away. The Trinitarians formed what was to become the Irish Presbyterian Church, founded upon the truth of God and upon doctrines in keeping with the revelation of Scripture. It was that church that God blessed in the 1859 revival. It was that church that was helped and strengthened until it became a great force for God in this province.
However, the battle for truth must be fought in every generation. The revival generation passed away. It’s sad to think that some sixty-seven years later the Irish Presbyterian Church made a calamitous decision. A decision, which I know, God will not forget and I believe with all my heart God will not forgive. In 1926, by seven hundred and seven votes to eighty three, they voted to uphold the teachings of Professor Davey. Professor Davey, in scholastic terms, was a brilliant student. He moved straight from being a student to being a professor. He taught all his life. For 40 years he influenced every minister that was in the Irish Presbyterian Church. However, some students put charges against him because of what he was teaching. They believed that he taught heresy. Notwithstanding, instead of examining the Professor the church went against the students. They upheld the Professor. They exonerated him and most of those in the Irish Presbyterian Church voted to uphold professor Davey’s interpretation of the atonement and his teaching in general.
What did Professor Davey teach? (Some people say, “Judge not That ye be not judged.” I subscribe to that totally. That is Biblical language. But the same Book states, “By thy words thou shalt be just and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” You can judge me as to what I say, Because I am the person who is saying it. If a man makes a statement and 1 take his statement to the Word of God and the Word of God agrees with the statement then I will exonerate that man and agree with him. If a man makes a statement, no matter whom he is, and I take the statement to the Word of God. and lo and behold the Word of God is against the statement of that man, 1 have every right to condemn him because in actual fact I am not condemning, I am not judging, God is judging him. Therefore it is important to examine his words). What did Professor Davey say about the deity of Christ? I’m quoting from a little, well-worn book. It is an old book called “Presbyterianism on its trial” by the Rev. James Edgar. Mr. Edgar was a contemporary of Professor Davey. He was a minister in the Irish Presbyterian Church when he wrote this book. He was one of the eighty three who voted against Professor Davey and Edgar, in his book, records what Davey said. What did Davey think about the deity of Christ? I quote, “There is no omnipotent or omniscient and independent Chris! in John (speaking of John’s gospel) any more than in any other gospel. “If that is not a denial of the Lord Jesus Christ’s deity then words really have no meaning. He went on to say, “And today we are in a providential reaction against a wrong headed idealisation, of Christ as a kind of God or demigod ( the God-man) stalking through life clothed with all the infinite attributes of the Godhead in eternity and living on a d plane from us. “ He says there is a reaction against that.
What did Davey say about the gospel? He rejected the blood atonement. He rejected it totally. He went on to state that, “Sin could never be transferred. “He added that, “Guilt is something that takes place in the consciousness of a man, by which he fulfils the will of God or rejects ii . . .1 that guilt consciousness that is within a person being can never be transferred to anywhere else.” He went on to say, “Protestantism has unwittingly, done exactly the same thing. The centre of its orthodox system, is a doctrine of atonement resting on the theory of imputation which is only an other form of transubstantiation. “What does he mean? He means that it is just as silly for Roman Catholics to believe that in the mass, the bread becomes the body of Christ and the wine becomes the blood of Christ, as to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ took away our sins by his death upon the cross.” Again he said, “Paul’s philosophy of sin is different from ours (Think about what this man is saying. He is stating that he doesn’t agree with the apostle Paul. We all have a problem here: either we believe the apostle Paul who stated very clearly that he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost himself, the third Person of the glorious trinity, or else we believe Professor Davey, the man with the great intellect, who tells us that he knows
more about these spiritual matters than the apostle. I have no problem as to where my sympathies lie!). Davey continued, “Paul’s philosophy of sin is d from ours – physical lain! – an impersonal thing which can be transferred – can be lifted off- an impossible thing. Treats it as impersonal and transferable. Sin cannot betray “ What does the Bible say? The Bible says, He bore in his own body our sins to the tree. Isaiah prophesied concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned even’ one to his own way: and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” If you are ever to be saved. If you are ever to be born again. If you are ever to walk the golden streets of heaven, your sins, your iniquities and your transgressions need to be taken from you. They need to be borne away by the Lord Jesus Christ. They need to be washed in His precious blood because only Christ can save and He saves by removing and bearing in His body our sins to the tree.
Word of God
I could speak of his statements on the word of God, how he rejects the inspiration of the Bible. For example Davey stated, “Without hesitation I should say that there are literally hundreds of similar discrepancies or direct contradictions in Old and New Testaments.” This is the man that was upheld by the Irish Presbyterian Church. This is the man they voted for. This is the man whose teachings they extolled and magnified.
When that church did that as a body, (they never rescinded it), in my judgment Ichabod is written over them the glory has departed. In 1948 they joined the World Council of Churches. (They afterwards left the World Council of Churches, but they left it on social issues, not on doctrinal truth). In 1953 they made Professor Davey their Moderator and bestowed upon him the highest honour the church could confer. The following year, 1954 Dr. Knowles who succeeded him as Moderator made an amazing and alarming statement. He declared that there were liars and perjurers in the church. He was referring to the evangelicals who disagreed with Professor Davey’s interpretation of the atonement. It seemed that they were in danger of being ejected from the denomination. However, eventually a compromise was reached so that when an Irish Presbyterian minister signs the Westminster Confession of Faith he can have his own interpretation of the gospel doctrines, especially that of the atonement. This evil compromise remains to this day and I defy anyone to prove otherwise. Just look at their choice of Moderators from year to year. One Moderator will come forth and not want any fellowship with the Church of Rome. He will distance himself from ecumenical activity. He will talk about the serious theological differences between his church and the Church of Rome and then the next year another Moderator will come from the same church. He will have the same ministerial standing and he will be ecumenically minded. He will see no problem in having fellowship with the priests of Rome. How can this be? How can it be that there are two men from the same denomination, from the same church, yet one preaches one gospel and one preaches a different gospel? It is due to the fact that, we are back to the days when Henry Cooke entered the Irish Presbyterian Church so long ago, when Trinitarians and Arians are mixing together. Consequently there is no real proclamation of the one gospel. There is only one gospel and the Bible says in Galatians 1:9 “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.”
There is a Free Presbyterian Church in this province because I believe eventually; God will bring down the Irish Presbyterian Church.
Not very long ago the Irish Presbyterian Church confessed to losing over twenty five thousand members over a period of time. Its influence in the country is weakening year by year. There is an attribute of God that some people don’t appreciate or perhaps they overlook it. That attribute is mentioned in Exodus 34:14 “For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” God will not give the glory of His name or the glory of His person to another. He is no respecter of denominations, or places, or churches that outlive their usefulness. if they turn from Him, no matter what their history may have been, He will turn from them.
The record of the brazen serpent is most interesting. Because of Israel’s sin God sent a plague of fiery serpents, whose bite was fatal into their midst. In desperation they pleaded with Moses to pray and inter cede for them before the Lord. God’s remedy was to put a serpent, a brazen serpent, upon a pole. Brass in the Bible speaks of judgment whereas the serpent speaks of sin. The symbol is simple: judgment upon sin — (the Lord Jesus likened himself to that. He said in John 3 “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness even so must the son of man be lifted up. “The Lord Jesus Christ was judged upon the cross for our sins). When they looked to the brazen serpent they were healed because the power of God, was flowing through it. Years later the children of Israel wandered away from God and they took the brazen serpent and began to worship it. They burnt incense to it. They made it out as an idol. However, when Hezekiah came to the throne, he brought about a great reformation. The Bible states in 2 Kings 18:4 that he, “…removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made:
for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushian.” Once the power of God had flowed through it in a most marvellous and majestic fashion, but when the people turned away and the brazen serpent was put to a wrong use then God destroyed it.
Disowned by God
The record of Bethel is similar. Bethel in the Old Testament was one of the most sacred sites amongst the patriarchs. Jacob when he spoke of Bethel, said, “It is none other than the house of God and the very gate of heaven.” It was a sacred place where God met with his people. However as time went on the children of Israel departed from the Lord and they brought the golden calf into Bethel, into the very place where once God’s presence had been outpoured. They idolised the place and built an altar in it. When Amos came he had a message for the children of Israel, Amos 5:5 “But seek not Bethel, nor enter into Gilgal, and pass not to Beersheba: for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, and Bethel shall come to nought.” God would bring Bethel down. It did not matter about its history. it did not matter about its past. It did not matter how much God had poured out of His presence, in that sacred place, once it was put to a wrong use God disowned it and turned away from it. The Irish Presbyterian Church has disowned the Lord. They turned away from Him in 1926 and down through the years God will continue to disown it and turn from it.
There is a Free Presbyterian Church because God will not leave Himself without a witness.
God will build His church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. In every Dark Age God will get to Himself a people who will stand for Him, suffer for him, and witness for him. The great question is: are you among them? Are you prepared to take your stand as a believer for the Lord Jesus Christ, against the apostasy of this day, against the ecumenical movement, against the modernism that is emanating from many pulpits? The Lord Jesus said in 1 Timothy 6:3 “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud. This is what God thinks of people like Professor Davey, the man who thought he knew more than the apostle Paul, the man who rejected the authority of scripture, the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ and poured scorn upon the blood atonement. This is what God really thinks of these people. “…knowing nothing” – Show me a man who turns from this Book — and I don’t care how many letters he has after his name, you are looking at a man and spiritually speaking, regarding the highest wisdom of all, he knows nothing about it! “… Knowing nothing but doting…” We always use that term about people in their second childhood, where they don’t know up from down, we say they are doting. That is what God thinks about these so called professors who believe they know more than He does. “… but doting about questions and strife’s of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself”
That is a message from God to God’s people. You are not to give your money, your influence, your membership, to a denomination that has basically at its foundation rejected the truth of God, as it is revealed for us in the scriptures. Some may ask, why does church fight against church? Why this continual struggle? The reason is: we are seeking to preserve the one gospel, because there is only one message that can save sinners and that is Christ and him crucified, and Jesus, said, “l am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.