NONCONFORMISTS AND DISESTABLISHMENT. [To THE EDITOR Of THE "SPECTATOR." J
Sin,—Can you give me space for a few words on the position of Nonconformists in relation to the Established Church? They are suggested by letters and editorial notes recently published in the Spectator.
The great distinction between Nonconformists and all merely political parties is that with most of them their Nonconformity is a matter of conscience and part of their religion. It is a thing so sacred, that they feel bound by Divine authority to dis- sent; and in that respect it differs from that dislike of all forms of authority and tradition which you describe as the tendency of political Radicalism.
Of course, Nonconformists do not all feel the same difficulties. There are Catholics and Protestants, Presbyterians and Episco- palians, Baptists and Anti-Baptists, advocates of a pure and simple Evangelism, and advocates of the various grades of High Churchism. There are advocates of a State Church who want comprehension, and opponents who think the very principle of a State Church unscriptural and mischievous, injurious to the Church which it secularises and degrades, injurious to the State which it divides and weakens, and injurious to true godliness both in Church and in State. All these parties who widely differ, agree in representing conscientious convictions, and they hold that the opinions they each repudiate are condemned by Divine authority. Many of them think that if their principles require them to form distinct Churches, they require them to oppose the national support of a Church which they think the New Testa- ment condemns. Some of them, like Dr. Carey, make Dis- establishment the subject of daily or of frequent prayer.
There are other advocates of the separation of Church and State who take different ground. They, some of them, care little for the questions which divide Christians ; but they feel strongly the injustice of the present system. They look simply at the fact that Christians differ. They note how all the funds given of old for the religious instruction of the nation, and all the influence which a national Establishment confers, are restricted to one class, and that class not always the most numerous, or the most needy, or the most deserving. They are struck with the social injustice, the endless heart-burnings and divisions, created thereby,—created, moreover, in matters in no way essential to our national existence or to good government. And they call for "a free Church in a free State." They call for it in the interest of fairness and of the unity of our national life, which is paralysed and divided by distinctions based on ques- tions that belong only to conscience and to God. This is the statesman's view. And most Nonconformists accept it as one of their reasons for Disestablishment.
That there are unbelievers and doubters who hold one or both
of these views is probable enough. That some Dissenters are too anxious to have their support is possible, as it is possible that some Dissenters are too scrupulous to accept it when offered. But these are small questions. Unbelievers have their rights, as well as believers. Nothing is gained for truth by forcing men to support it who do not believe. And it may be fairly pre- sumed that the unity and good feeling of our national life, which are fearfully marred by our present system, are as dear to them as to ourselves. That Nonconformists seek their support to promote irreligion is absurd,—partly because religion is as dear to Nonconformists as to Churchmen ; and partly because they believe that religion, and not irreligion, will be promoted by Dis3stab!ishment. Anyhow, while the sympathies of Nonconformists are with Disestablishmeut, chiefly on religious and spiritual grounds, and partly on grounds affecting human rights and social life, Nonconformists feel that the question belongs to all Englishmen, and that it is at once the right and the duty of Englishmen to form an opinion upon it, and to try and give effect to the opinion they form.—I am, Sir, &c.,