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The Glorious Twelfth


The Twelfth of July is upon us again. Today in Belfast and all across Northern Ireland hundreds of thousands of men women and children will rise early, dress respectfully in suits and sashes and unfurl their banners depicting churches, stalwarts of faith and society, and of course, that famous image of Prince William of Orange on a white horse. Accompanied by bands, they will March to demonstration fields, throughout the province, where they will join in a service of worship and thanksgiving, singing hymns and joining in prayer, and hear a sermon, which is usually evangelistic and biblical in content. In response they will pass resolutions to live peacefully with all men, to honour the Queen and their neighbours and to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

Hundreds of thousands more will line the routes – wee children will sing and dance and clap with the music, people will applaud the bands, families will spread blankets on the ground and have picnics together. Along the way will be open-air meetings, and people witnessing, – men and women giving out gospel tracts. Thousands of items of gospel literature will be distributed today.

But what’s it all about? The images that get beamed across the world and the commentary that accompanies them is not the image we have known and loved for years, images of a happy family day with a strong emphasis on the Christian faith. In those media images we see so called ‘flashpoints’ – where the ‘sectarian marchers’ are unwelcome and the angry ‘residents’ are so incensed that they have attacked the parade and the police and worked the media and whipped up a frenzy of unbalanced reporting, and eventually to prevent future riots the Parades Commission bans or re-routes that parade and anger the spills over in the other community, and so the tensions escalate to a higher level, – which is just exactly what some people want – to show that Northern Ireland is an unstable society.

But aren’t the Twelfth celebrations sectarian? The answer is a resounding NO. They are PROTESTANT, because they are celebrating a pivotal moment in British history, when evangelical, Protestant people were released from under a great yoke of bondage, but they are NOT ANTI-CATHOLIC. In fact the Qualifications of an Orangeman state clearly that while an Orangeman is to strenuously oppose the fatal errors and doctrines of Rome, and all other non-Reformed religions, ‘he is ever abstaining from all uncharitable words, actions, or sentiments towards all those who do not practice the Reformed and Christian Faith.’

To help explain this, let’s go back to the seventeenth century. That tragic century began with the arrival in London of King James the Sixth of Scotland, to become King James the First of England. James (he commissioned the translation of the King James Bible) was no mean theologian, who championed a doctrine called ‘the Divine Right of Kings’. To put it simply, he believed that God had ordained him to be King (which in itself would be a fair expression of God’s providence), but he went further, and believed that in order for him to assert his kingly rule, he must not only be the king in a secular sense, but that he should also be the supreme head of the church. To enforce his rule in the church, (again simply put) he believed that the episcopal system of church government was necessary. It was a hierarchical system, with the King at its head, and its multiple tiers of bishops and clergy would ensure that his diktats were enforced right down the line to the people in the pews. A national church with no hierarchy would be a serious threat to the monarchy.

But a unified church government requires also a common unified expression of worship, to ensure that those bishops have control at parish level. Archbishop William Laud was Archbishop of Canterbury, and he tried to enforce the Book of Common Prayer right across the British Isles. In Scotland he arrived at St Giles Church in Edinburgh, and with great pomp, dressed in his clerical robes, he entered the building with his clergy attendants and the liturgy began. It was Sunday 23 July 1637, and Rev James Hannay, Dean of the Cathedral was reading the Prayer Book, when Jenny Geddis, a market trader, rose to her feet, threw her stool at Laud and shouted ‘Deil colic the wame o ye… Ye’ll no say mass at ma lug’ (The devil give you bellyache, – you’ll not same mass in my hearing). A riot erupted and Laud beat a hasty retreat.

So began a long period of persecution for the Presbyterians in Scotland and the Puritans in England. Resisting the right of the king to interfere in church matters, the Scottish Covenanters raised the blue flag, of Christ’s Crown and Covenant, declared that Christ, and He alone is King over his church, and demanded the right to worship without state interference. Thousands of these brave men and women died rather than betray Christ.

In England a bloody civil war was fought, which resulted in a ten year gap in the monarchy, when Oliver Cromwell (a Congregationalist) became The Lord Protector of England – and King Charles the First, son of James was executed. With Cromwell’s death the monarchy was restored, and Charles the Second became King. He quickly returned to his father’s ways and in 1662 came the Great Ejection, when all dissenting non-conformist ministers were ejected from their pulpits and replaced with conformists and compromises. The persecution against the Covenanters raged even fiercer than before. The 1680’s became known as ‘the Killing Times’ as troops of Dragoons hunted down Presbyterians and Dissenters, slaughtering them mercilessly, arresting and imprisoning them, shipping them abroad to foreign lands. Those who stood trial were brought before courts with little sense of fairness, and condemn to death, often to hang in the Grassmarket in Edinburgh. Many of them died a martyr’s death, vowing to faithfully serve and love Christ, and praying for their persecutors. Men, woman and children died rather than betray King Jesus. The whole of the British Isles groaned under the merciless, ruthless rule of the Stuart Kings

It was in 1988 that Prince William of Orange landed in Devon, with an army of men ready to relive England and Scotland from the reign of tyranny under the Stuart Kings. By this time James the Second was on the Throne. His father Charles II had, allegedly converted to Catholicism on his deathbed, and James a committed Roman Catholic. Williams advance through England was largely bloodless, – hence we speak of ‘The Glorious Revolution.’ James fled to Ireland, where there was some sympathy for him among the native Irish, and, pursued by William the two armies met at the River Boyne on 1st July 1690. William was victorious, took the English Crown, and James fled to France.

The result of the defeat of James was that the yoke of oppression was lifted from the oppressed Presbyterian and Non-Conformist churches. William was no Presbyterian. His wife Mary was a Roman Catholic, but his victory changed the religious landscape in the British Isles. Freedom of worship, freedom to worship God according to one’s conscience was declared to be everyone’s right. No more would the state have the right to order the churches how to worship, and that declaration of CIVIL AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY FOR ALL extended to everyone, to Anglicans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, – yes and even to Roman Catholics.

Today, in Northern Ireland, (where the majority of the population are of Scottish Presbyterian descent) are towns and cities have churches of every denomination, all of them worshipping God in different liturgies, forms and services, just as they determine is right, – we may not agree with how they interpret the Scriptures, we may profoundly disagree on doctrine, but all of them have the right to gather in peace and without fear of persecution, and without the interference of the state. All of them owe that right to the victory of William of Orange in 1690. William was not perfect, he was a sinner with many faults, and he was not a saint – no-one pretends that he was, but as God can raise up all manner of men to accomplish His sovereign purpose, so he raised up William to be our temporal deliverer from bondage at that time.

As we celebrate the Twelfth of July in Northern Ireland today, we are taking part in a festival of thanksgiving, a festival not dissimilar to the great Covenant Renewal Ceremony at Shechem, when the tribes of Israel having been released from the slavery of Egypt, and having finally settled in the promised land, gathered before Joshua to renew their pledge to serve The Lord, and him alone. Joshua recited the history of redemption and deliverance of God’s people from oppression, and reminded them that all of the great acts of past deliverance are the works of God’s almighty hand, and he challenged them:-

Joshua 24:14 Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD. 15And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

Some may understand the spiritual significance of this more than others. Some will see only the bands and the colours and the culture. Some will only see ‘sectarianism’ because that’s what they have been conditioned by the media and the loud voices in secular society to see. Remember that our liberal secular press and government what to elevate man’s successes and so called achievements and hates anything that attributes goodness and order to the God who loves us and gives his common grace to all mankind.

At least for those gathered around those platforms at the demonstration fields, hopefully they will be returning heartfelt thanks to Almighty God, in whose providence, a deliverer was raised up, a man fondly referred to as ‘King Billy’ who lifted the yoke of oppression off Christ’s persecuted church and proclaimed our freedom and our religious liberty. It is a day of national thanksgiving and rededication to our heritage.

To one and all, to everyone who values civil and religious liberty to all,


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William of Orange


From → Editorial

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