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IRELAND AS THE SCHOOL OF THE WEST.
MORE than a thousand years ago the Church of Ireland was the burning and shining light of the Western World. Her Candlestick was seen from afar, diffusing its rays like the luminous beacon of some lofty lighthouse, planted on a rock amid the foaming surge of the ocean, and casting its light over the dark sea to guide the mariner in his course. Such was the Church of Ireland then. Such she was specially to us. We, we of this land, must not endeavor to conceal our obligations to her., We must not be ashamed to confess, that with regard to learning—and especially with regard to sacred learning-Ireland was in advance of England at that time. The sons of our nobles and gentry were sent for education thither. Ireland was the University of the West. She was rich in libraries, colleges, and schools. She was famous, as now, for hospitality. She received those who came to her with affectionate generosity, and provided them with books and instructors. She trained them in sound learning, especially in the Word of God.
Nor is this all. We, my brethren, are bound to remember that the Christianity of England and of Scotland was, in a great measure, reflected upon them from the West, by the instrumentality of Irish missionaries, especially of those who came from the Scriptural School of Iona. That school was founded in the sixth century by St. Columba. He came from Ireland. He was from her ancient line of kings. He is justly regarded as the Apostle of the Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland. He preached the Gospel there thirty years before St. Austin landed in England.
Many, doubtless, who are here present, have stood on the sea-girt cliff of Iona, and have viewed with religious interest and veneration the mouldering remains of ancient Christianity which still survive on its solitary shore. The name of Iona has been coupled with that of Marathon by one of our most celebrated writers, in a passage familiar to all ;* and they who are versed in the history of Christianity in their own land (and who ought not to study it?), will gladly and gratefully confess, that the peaceful conquests achieved in our country by the saintly armies of Iona, were far
* “Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland,” by Dr. Samuel Johnson, p. 261. Edinburgh, 1798.
more beneficent and glorious than any that were ever gained on fields like that of Marathon; for
l the names of those who fought for these victories of the Gospel are inscribed - not in perishable records, but in the pages of the Book of Life.
Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the Doves to their windows ? Surely the Isles shall wait for Me."
May we not be permitted to apply this prophetic language to them? The Hebrew word here used for Island is I, and is cognate with that by which Iona was first known. It was originally called Hii. The Hebrew word here used for Dove is Yona. And the name of St. Columba signifies Dove. Hence it was that the Island to which we now refer was called l-ona, or the Island of St. Columba, or of the Dove. And it was also, and is still, called by a word bearing the same sense, I-Colm-Kill, i. e., the Island of Columba, the founder of Churches; for Kill, it is well known, signifies Church. When, therefore, we bear in mind these circumstances ; when we recollect that the Dove is the scriptural emblem of the Christian soul; and when we remember that Iona, in those days, was a central church, a sacred school of the West, a refuge for the weary soul, to which many flocked from afarmay we not say that it was like a Christian Colum
barium, where the doves found a house, and a nest where they might lay their young-even the altar of the Lord of Hosts? And may we not here exclaim, “ Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the Doves to their windows? Surely the Isles shall wait for Me."
St. Columba, having founded the missionary Church of Iona, and having preached the Gospel in Scotland and the Isles, fell asleep in Christ, in a good old age, at the end of the sixth century (A.D. 597).
But he being dead yet speaketh. *
Before the middle of the following century—the seventh century (A.D. 635)—the King of Northumberland, Oswald, who had been educated in the Irish Church, sent to it for Christian teachers, that they might convert his subjects from Paganism. Accordingly, Aidan, an Irish bishop, and other Irish missionaries, went forth from the school of Columba, and were settled by the king in Lindisfarne, and preached the Gospel in Northumberland, and planted the Church there.
The happy effects of this mission from Iona were felt throughout England, from the river Humber to the Thames. Churches were built; the people flocked with joy to hear the Word of God. The Heavenly Dove—the Holy Spirit of God—brooded invisibly over the heads of thousands baptized by these Irish missionaries in the faith of Christ in our own land. Multitudes, wearied by the storm, and finding no rest for the sole of their feet on the wilderness of the waters of this life, took refuge in the Ark of the Church.
* Heb. xi. 4.