Disendowment - Disestablishment:

A word to the Protestants of Ireland, in a letter to the Ven. Archdeacon Stopford

J. N. Darby.

<20021E> 288

Barbados, February 20, 1869.

Dear Mr Archdeacon,

I regret the marks of discouragement which are in your letter. It is not the time for it. That we are in full revolution everyone sees, and the vain and weak tool of it, Mr. Gladstone, knows no more where he is leading the country than the princes of Zoan, when God took away the boasted wisdom of Egypt. But there is One whose power is above all revolutions, and who turns the hearts of men what way He will.

I belong to no external church; I own that only which Christ builds. I am, as we are all, responsible for the ruined state of what God set up at the beginning, and I profit by the privileges scripture affords for the state we are in. I look to the effect on the country of the measure which is before us all. It is very likely the measure of disendowment may succeed: but that is far better than compromise with popery. I left the Establishment more than forty years ago, because I did not think it the church of God. I am confirmed in that conviction; but I am not going to cast an Edomite stone at it in the day of its calamity, but the contrary. Jeremiah could testify against Jerusalem, be an iron pillar against the whole land, and weep over her calamities with unfeigned sorrow. Without being a prophet, I may judge the evil, and mourn, as I do, over your calamities. An Edomite was glad of the downfall of Jerusalem, because he hated the place and testimony. The prophet could judge the evil, and mourn the departure, and the judgment of God on the people that had failed. Be assured of my sympathy.

But to return. At the time I refer to, Roman Catholics were passing over to Protestantism many hundreds in the week. The Archbishop of Dublin insisted that the Protestant Establishment suited the State, made them take the oaths of abjuration and supremacy, and the work stopped. You are now reaping the fruit of that connection, and your dependence on civil power, when what rules the State is become semi-Papist or semi-infidel.

289 As to the Dissenters, they have forfeited their claim to be accounted a religious body. Political power they have attained in a considerable degree. The wealth and population of the towns have largely passed into their hands, and political power has passed in large excess into the hands of the towns. But they have sold the pass to the devil for political objects. As a religious body, I judge them extinct. They are drifting, to keep up with the spirit of the age, into infidelity, and are already, in the most servile way, pandering to infidels to gain their favour. They look to set aside the Protestant Establishment, having joined Papists and infidels for the purpose. When they find the height to which Popery will pretend, they will set themselves against it, but on infidel grounds. Indeed some, two or three years back, avowed this to me in conversation, that they would join the Roman Catholics in pulling down the Establishment and then fight it out with popery. But they have joined the latter and the infidels to begin with, and forfeited their title to be reckoned as standing on Christian ground. The word of God has lost its power over them. That is not - was not when I knew it - the case with the Protestants of Ireland. Let them trust God now. If disendowed and disestablished, let them be wholly, absolutely separate from the State - at all cost. If the State take everything from them, they will have taken no true power, but I believe, increased, if God be trusted, the power of the body as such. I am looking at their place in the country. Nobody will or can hold their place there. The Roman Catholic clergy are not and never will be gentlemen. I do not speak of this as a religious motive, but simply as a social fact. Their political influence may be increased, though it has been long paramount; but a moral, social, intellectual position, such as the Protestants', they never will - never can have. They must be servile and ecclesiastical. It is the power of their system, but it keeps them there. It is so in every country. Nor is it even otherwise with Dissenters. It is a common remark among themselves in England: the carriage of a man who has made his fortune is seen at the Dissenting chapel door, but, as a rule, that of his son never. No growth of democracy will change this. It is the case in the United States. The upper orders go to the Episcopalians, besides some poor. As a rule, the poor are never found in any churches in America (in Roman Catholic ones, they must go to get the sacraments). They have what are called mission-churches for them. But socially, what are called the respectable classes in towns are Episcopalians. It suits their taste and habits better, and as others advance in position, they gradually slip in there: though of course there are wealthy people elsewhere.

290 If the Protestants trust God, this will remain their position. Let them, because of the word of God, and in honouring it and what is called Protestantism, as owning it cordially, coalesce with the Presbyterians, as you have noticed they did in the best times under Bramhall.* I believe even politically - I speak as a looker-on, for I never meddle in politics in any way - that, entirely separated from the State, they will have more political power than now. At the heels of a Conservative minister levelling-up popery, or receiving heavy blows and discouragement from a Liberal minister, they had no voice or influence of their own; if they are independent and hold together as such, they will. Only be yourselves, and trust God. Have done with the State and reject it, making no terms for a little money and much subjection; if you do, you are lost. There is wealth enough to carry on your needed plans if they take everything. See America; see the Free Presbyterians of Scotland. And surely England would largely help. If trust in God is there, money will not be wanting. Only be independent of a semi-infidel semi-popish State. If this measure leads to the rising up of Roman Catholics against connection with England, as is possible if it suits them, and the voice of the people is to govern (the power of the crown is too much weakened to be a bond), you will be no worse off than before. The influence will be American or French, and you as free or freer than before. England will be dependent on France when she has a separated Ireland at her side, and then, "See to your own house, David."

{*Originally all such Protestant bodies were owned, and it is said by your best liturgists that the form of the article was worded on purpose to own them.}

The hand of God is upon you in chastisement. Bow to it, but turn to Him. Trust Him. You have leaned on Pharaoh, that broken reed: it has pierced your hand. Acknowledge your failures, and God will be with you. Care for the poor; they are often more true to their convictions than many of the rich. Seek them out when they are scattered. I do not belong to your system, and could not. The power of popery and infidelity I have expected more than forty years to be thus rampant. It is this aspect of it which makes me speak. No mere political measure would open my mouth. But we are in the last days, and it is well to notice the working of the power of evil, and where the refuge is. Forty years ago I was overwhelmed with the prospect of the dominancy of popery and accompanying infidelity. Now one can look out of it, sorrowful as it is, to a brighter hope beyond. But the question is there: Is the word of God paramount, having direct authority from God over every Christian; or is the church so-called, above it and to accredit it, and to rule over men's consciences in a way superior to the direct authority of the word? That is the question. Has God's word direct authority over the conscience of man, or has man, calling himself the church, control over it and his conscience?

291 This is not the place to speak of what I may think in the Establishment inconsistent with the word. But it was (in the main external character of its testimony in Ireland) the maintainer of the authority of the word of God against the church claims of men, of which the priests were the representatives. If you hold this ground, God will be with you in spite of defects. If not, the priests will do apostate church-work more thoroughly, and Christians must take their own place by the word under Christ - you will have none. My own path is in peace, far from all these things. But I feel for many an honest and perhaps troubled heart, as a Christian looking on at what is passing. My portion is out of this world. We have, when all is shaken, a kingdom which cannot be moved.

I have ventured this testimony, believing we are in the last days, when the word of God is the revealed resource of faith; 2 Tim. 3.

Yours faithfully in the Lord,


At this distance from Ireland much may have passed already of which I am ignorant; but this would not alter the principles of my letter.