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pay for what they never use themselves, but the better sort even of these know and allow that the Church of England is a public benefit, for which the community ought to provide without regard to the actual enjoyment of it by every individual contributor to its support : and they only feel the hardship of paying for Church Rates when they seldom or never use the church, as the housekeeping pedestrian feels it a hardship to pay a Highway Rate for the roads which are provided almost entirely for his carriage-keeping or public-vehicle-using neighbours. And the fact is, that the nonchurch-using portion of the public will only have a real claim to object against paying their share of the Church Rate, when they can prove that the Church has ceased to be a real public good, and that a really better substitute offers itself, or is ready to offer itself to the community at large.
As far as our observation goes, we believe there are (generally speaking) only two classes of persons who think more than this about the hardship of Church Rates, and try to extinguish them ; 1. Those who will escape from the payment of any tax, however trifling, if they can; 2. Those who think that the extinction of Church Rates would be a means of crippling the Church. And this opinion is so much supported by the evidence taken before the House of Lords' Committee that we shall be very much surprised if a large number of the readers of that evidence do not arrive at the same conclusion. It remains to be proved whether either class of objectors are such as to meet with the support of a majority of our legislators: or whether the interests of the Church are to be sacrificed to those of persons influenced by such reasons as those which move them in their opposition. Were the rate an imperial tax, swept quarterly into the Exchequer, we should have no misgivings whatever as to its fate. Past, present, and expectant Chancellors of the Exchequer would rise en masse to exclaim against the folly of yielding it up to an opposition so manifestly guided by private interests, and composed of so small a proportion of the public: and the acid sarcasm of the past would ally itself with the eloquent logic of the present in protecting the £350,000 from a confiscation so perfectly indefensible. But as it is a Church tax, and is not therefore at the command of Governments or their Chancellors of the Exchequer, we fear our readers may listen in vain for a hearty defence of it by official lips; and must rather prepare themselves to look for some compromising proposal, by which without absolute and entire confiscation of the Church's fa. bric fund, the noisy tongues of inconvenient agitators may be silenced for the present : a course by which the principle will be sacrificed, and the way opened for serious injury to the Church, merely for the sake of a temporary party security.
A very simple settlement of the whole question would seem to be the exemption of Dissenters altogether from the payment of the rate : and some kind of registration of those who object to such payment on the professed ground of conscience, or more generally because they are Dissenters, has been frequently proposed. To this many Dissenters object, refusing to be “ticketed” (as they have happily nicknamed the registration) as Dissenters, however really they may be so. Dr. Miller, of Birmingham, thinks their objection puerile,” and proposes that every Dissenter should be exempted in the most inoffensive way, upon declaring “I, a Nonconformist, declare that I am not in communion with the Church of England." This naïve proposition that persons should be encouraged to commit a sort of verbal spiritual suicide, cannot but raise a smile: though probably it indicates Dr. Miller's opinion that it is of very little consequence, and a mere matter of circumstance whether a person is in communion with the Church of England or not. For ourselves, we confess to thinking such communion or non-communion a matter of spiritual life or death ; and we prefer tracing the Dissenters' objections to “ticketing,” not to
puerility,” but to an unconscious instinct that it is a serious thing, after all, to make themselves formally separate as individuals from the Church of England. They can view with complacency their informal drifting away from the Church in a multitude; but when it comes to be required of them that each should say definitely and decidedly, "I am separated from the Church,” the proposition and the fact assume a startling aspect; they do not exactly know why. God forbid that the Church should do, or countenance others in doing, anything which should lead any Dissenters into a sort of necessity of sharply defining their position for consistency's sake, or for
like this, which would commit them to so decided a separation from the Church as would probably take them quite beyond the reach of her missionary power. Within the last twenty years a large proportion of the best living Dissenters have been won to the Church, and chiefly through their occasional attendance at the services of the Sunday. Their eyes have been quietly and almost unconsciously opened to the unwisdom and unspirituality of remaining separate; and if they have not done so formally, they have actually abjured the errors of the particular sect to which they had belonged, and have become regular Church people, if not very demonstrative ones. Much of the Church's work in towns consists of this sort of quiet missionary influence : and we cannot but think that influence would be greatly lessened if any such proposition as that of Dr. Miller was carried out. From a mere political point of view, it would certainly not be unfair to the Dissenter to compel him to declare himself so, if he wished to derive certain secular privileges from his dissent: but from the spiritual point of view, and that is the one which alone the Church can take, it would be creating a new stumbling-block for him, and setting a snare into which he would too often fall.
As for the “ Voluntary System,” we do not want confidence in it at all, but we protest altogether against the assertions that are made with respect to the Church's supposed abstinence from any trial of that system. The Church uses the Voluntary System to a greater extent than all the Protestant sects of England put together. The money collected by Church Societies on the
Voluntary System amounts (as Dissenters, who are well-informed on these subjects, are perfectly aware)1 to upwards of £700,000 a year, while the Dissenting Societies do not gather or expend more than two-thirds of that sum annually. There is also a peculiarity about several Church Societies which makes the sum collected and expended by them appear to much less advantage than those of the Dissenters : for the Church Building, the Curates' and Pastoral Aid Society, and the National Society, make their grants only on condition of local contributions being made in a certain proportion. The National School Society, for instance, with its nominal expenditure of from £25,000 to £30,000, draws out local contributions by that expenditure to an annual amount not far short of a quarter of a million. And, considering how much high pressure is used to collect money for Dissenting Societies—as indeed for all in some degree-it may well be concluded that the proportion thus indicated would be confirmed by a similar comparison of voluntary expenditure in other ways than by Societies. Suppose, for example, that a considerable sum is contributed by the various contending sects of Dissenters for the support of their preachers, and for the building and repair of their meeting houses, the Church of England has something to show also for voluntary contributions towards the maintenance of her Clergy, both in the local contributions superadded to those of the two Pastoral Aid Societies, as mentioned above, and also in the actual and entire support of the Clergy in some places, as at S. Barnabas', and several other churches in Lon. don, and in many new churches in the country. And again, let any take a definite extent of town and country, with its churches and its meeting-houses, and let him compare the amount expended on each respectively, and he will soon be convinced that Churchpeople are contributing their thousands (quite independently of Society work) for the erection and repair of churches, where Dis. senters are expending less than hundreds. What has any sect (or what have all the opposing sects put together for the sake of argument) to show at all to be compared with such a “ Voluntary System” work as that of All Saints, Margaret Street, London ; All Souls, Halifax; S. Michael's, Tenbury; the parish churches of Leeds and Doncaster; the restorations of cathedrals and churches all over the country; and, abroad, the Colonial Bishoprics ?
But enormous as the results are which follow upon the Church of England's use of the Voluntary System, and grossly unfair as are the boasts of Dissenters over her in this matter, we cannot for a moment allow that such a successful application of the principle is a reason why it should be substituted for the principle on which Church Rates are founded, that of a legal obligation. Who would be so rash, or so unjust, as to deprive Greenwich or Chelsea Hospitals of their share of the Public Taxes because the Patriotic Fund mounted up to hundreds of thousands ? And yet it would be equally rash and equally unjust to deprive the Church of her £350,000 Church Rate because she can collect and employ her annual million on works to which the Church Rate is not applicable. It would be a strange way of rewarding a man's past industry and stimulating him for the future to confiscate any property he might have in the funds on the plea that his neighbours were offended because he was a fundholder !
1 Vide“ Christian Times" for 1854.
Moreover, vast as is the sum realised by the Church on the voluntary system, it is very inadequate to the work which she is doing, and her bands are always crippled for want of more money. The range of her operations is so immense, that, while her large endowments would provide only enough for a very scanty maintenance for all her clergy if equally divided among them, her enormous voluntary contributions are still less sufficient to provide for the work which is being continually done within her pale. Endowments, tithes, voluntary offerings, and Church Rates also, are all necessary for the continuance of such work. It is not, as vulgar politicians of the Tom Paine school are so fond of representing, that the Clergy are avaricious and grasping, for they often bring far more money to the work of the Church, out of their private incomes, than they receive from her endowments. Nor is it that her funds are prodigally wasted—for, as a rule, Church work is done with economy, from necessity; but it is that large results cannot be accomplished without large expenditure, and that large expenditure cannot be ventured on without a large income. If, therefore, the Church fairly spends all the money she at present receives, on her work, it will be gross injustice to take away £350,000 of her annual income, without first inquiring whether her work is useful and good, or not. It may be open to question, whether her labours are really advantageous to the Christian world — let them be criticised, let them be overhauled as you will, by any lawful tribunal—but while she is saying, day after day,
My income is already much too little for the work I am doing," what a gross piece of injustice it is to answer her by cutting off a very important portion of that income, without examining whether the expenditure of it is wise and profitable or no.
In spite, however, of all the injustice that would be involved in the extinction of the Church Rate, it is plain that there is at present, a great objection in many places to the continuance of the tax. Among Dissenters this objection has been aroused, for the most part, by that skilful and unceasing irritation of a grievance,
or a supposed grievance, in which Dissenting leaders are such adepts. Among Church people it is mostly the expression of a desire to get rid of a thing that has become disagreeable, for the sake of peace and quietness, without looking much to results. We believe the true remedies for this state of things are more easily within reach than is commonly supposed, if only a Government could be found strong enough to carry laws for the public good, and not for party purposes. And with great deference to the opinions of those who have fairly and fully investigated the subject, we venture to suggest the following as the basis of a plan on which the Church Rate question might be settled.
Retaining the Common-Law principle that every parishioner is bound to contribute to the maintenance of his parish church in good repair, and also to the provision of necessaries for Divine worship, the law should be amended, and anomalies which have arisen through change of circumstances done away with.
1. This principle should be re-asserted by statute, and the law of Church Rates made more stringent and definite than it is at present; especially with reference to their recovery, which should be so arranged as to be neither more invidious nor more troublesome than the recovery of ordinary taxes. We are convinced that a great cause of agitation is the weakness of the law. To make a law weak, or to allow it to grow so in practice, is to tempt men to assail it and to evade it. There is, comparatively speaking, no grumbling about the heaviest and most tyrannical and vexatious tax that ever was invented, the Income Tax, and no resistance against its collection, because it is felt that such resistance would be worse than useless. If Church Rates were at once petrified into a Queen's tax (not that we wish to see it done) martyrs to the
cause' would be as scarce as swallows in January. It is not for us to point out how a more definite and stringent character could be given to Church Rate law, so that this tax should be placed on a level in authority with others, but we have little doubt lawyers could devise and statesmen carry a measure for the purpose, if they chose. But we conceive such a change might be much facilitated by,
2. Altogether doing away with the unfair system under which subordinate parishes practically unconnected with the mother church and parish, have to pay rates to it as if they had no church of their own to claim support.
3. And, thirdly, by making much more definite and practical the jurisdiction of the Archdeacon or the Rural Dean with reference to the repair of churches. For, a large proportion of the bitter disputes which arise in vestries and parishes, arise from the want of some one possessing and exercising authority in the matter of repairs : able to point out what is really wanting, and able to say that what is wanting must be done.
In conclusion we beg to impress upon our readers the necessity