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Title: The Church Rate - a dialogue between a Churchman and a Dissenter
Author: Richings, Benjamin
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Church Rate - a dialogue between a Churchman and a Dissenter" ***

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Transcribed from the William Edward Painter edition by David Price, email

                       [Picture: Cover of pamphlet]

                               CHURCH RATE

                                A DIALOGUE

                                * * * * *


                                * * * * *

              [_Reprinted from_ “_The Village Churchman_.”]

                                * * * * *

                        LORD’S SAKE.”—1 _Pet._ ii. 13.

                                * * * * *

                   WILLIAM EDWARD PAINTER, 342, STRAND;

                        AND ALL OTHER BOOKSELLERS.

                                * * * * *

           _Price One Penny_, _or Seven Shillings per Hundred_.


THE object of the following Dialogue is to expose, in familiar language,
the absurd arguments by which political Dissenters attempt to justify
their deeds of hatred against the Established Church, and their union
with Papists and Infidels—with every wild boar out of the forest of
irreligion and error—in attempting to root up a vine, under the shadow of
which they have long reposed in security and peace.

Several persons having expressed their approval of this Tract, the writer
has been led to print this second and enlarged edition of it for general
circulation, omitting those local allusions which were introduced to make
the work more interesting in his own neighbourhood, and which succeeded
in rendering its circulation extensive among those for whose information
it was first printed.

He trusts that the plain arguments here brought forward, may tend, in
some small degree, to remove unfounded and ignorant prejudices against
the Established Church, believing it, as he does, to be the bulwark of
our national Christianity, and the fortress of our civil and religious


_Mr. Churchman_.—Neighbour Spinwell, what in the world are you doing?

_Mr. Spinwell_.—I am beating up for recruits to attend the Vestry Meeting
in defence of Dissenting principles, and conscientious scruples; and to
make a stand against Church oppression.

Mr. C.—I respect conscientious scruples; but if Dissent signifies
Religion with _you_, it does not with _me_.

Mr. S.—What!  Do you mean to say that Dissenters have no religion?

Mr. C.—No.  But I say, that what Dissenters have of late years gained by
their noisy and political strife, they have more than lost in real piety,
and in the esteem of the wise and good.

Mr. S.—But how many great and good men have been Dissenters?

Mr. C.—Yes,—men who would not own you.  Do you think that Watts, and
Doddridge, and Matthew Henry would have joined with the noisy, factious
Dissenters of our day?  Would they have given “the right hand of
fellowship” to men, who, in railing against the Church and the State,
expose their own folly and irreligion?

Mr. S.—Be that as it may, I say, that I ought not to support a Church to
which I do not belong.

Mr. C.—And does your saying it make it either law or gospel?

Mr. S.—I say, that oppression is contrary both to the Law, and to the

Mr. C.—And so say I.

Mr. S.—Why, then, do you wonder at my making a stir, when I am an
oppressed and persecuted man?

Mr. C.—Many, who pay _the least_, often complain _the most_; and though
you feel yourself so grievously persecuted, I dare say that your
Church-rate has never been more than two or three shillings a-year.

Mr. S.—I do not care whether I pay two shillings or two pence.  I say,
that I ought not to pay to the Church-rate, and support a religion to
which I do not belong.

Mr. C.—Nothing is more common than to hear a Dissenter say “I ought not
to pay to a religion to which I do not belong.”  It sounds very
plausible, but there is no truth in it.  The fact is, that you do not pay
the Church-rate as a Dissenter, nor do I as a Churchman.

Mr. S.—How do you make that out?

Mr. C.—Ages ago, and long before there was a Dissenter in this or any
other town in England, the property we occupy was made liable to the
various expenses of the Church; and the annual charge is on the property
we occupy, and has therefore nothing to do with the religious opinions of
those who occupy it.

Mr. S.—I should very much like to know, when Church-rates began?

Mr. C.—And so should I; but this tribute has been paid to the Church from
such an early period, that no one can tell when it began.  All I can tell
you, is this, that the first record we have of its being levied, is in
the reign of Edward III., more than five hundred years ago. {6}

Mr. S.—If the payment is so ancient, and a charge on the property we
occupy; having, therefore, nothing to do with the religious opinions of
those who occupy it, how is it, then, that so many persons are opposed to
the Church-rate?

Mr. C.—Men of hasty spirits—little knowledge—and less judgment—are too
often led away by those who ought to teach them better.  Your teachers
know, as well as I do, that the Church-rate being charged on the
property, the payment of it can affect no religious principle.  As I said
before, “it has nothing to do with either your religion or mine;” and if
the churchwardens, in days like the present, had to stop and inquire at
every door, before they knocked, what is this man’s religion?—or, has he
any at all?—they need have nothing else to do.  Nor is that all; a
Protestant Church would be turned into a Popish Inquisition, and
churchwardens into inquisitors!

Mr. S.—But, Mr. Churchman, how should you like to be compelled to pay a
rate every year to our Meeting?  You could not pay to it as a Dissenter,
and you would not like to pay to it as a Churchman.

Mr. C.—If a law should be passed to-morrow, charging my house in common
with those of my neighbours, with the repair, &c., of your meeting, I
should pay the charge, I hope, as a Christian, submitting “to every
ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake” (1 Peter, i. 13).

Mr. S.—But would it not be an act of oppression to levy an annual payment
on property, which had always before been bought or rented free from such
a charge?

Mr. C.—Though I could not but regard it as very different to a
Church-rate, which has existed from time immemorial, and subject to which
all property is purchased or rented; and though I might also consider it
unreasonable to pay to one sect of Dissenters rather than another; yet, I
hope I should be one of the last men in the world to resist a charge made
by the law of the land, though made unjustly, “For this is thankworthy,
if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully” (1
Pet. ii. 19).

Mr. S.—Perhaps such conduct might be a proof of the sincerity of your
Christian principles, though I can hardly admit that it would.

Mr. C.—If it be a part of true religion to tread as far as we can in the
steps of our Divine Redeemer, I would ask, has he not, in this very
particular, set us an example which it is our duty to follow?

Mr. S.—In whatever Christ has set us an example, I admit that we should
follow his steps; but I do not remember the instance to which you allude.

Mr. C.—Do you not recollect that our Saviour, though he had proved that
he and his disciples were “free” from paying the tribute, the Church-rate
{7a} demanded for the support of the Jewish temple, yet wrought a miracle
for the payment of it, lest they should offend by refusing it? (Matt.
xvii. 24, 27).

Mr. S.—What reason have you for calling the tribute paid by our Saviour,
the Church-rate?

Mr. C.—Because, “the tribute demanded was not any civil payment to the
Roman powers—that was strictly exacted by the publicans; but the Church
dues, the half-shekel, about fifteen pence, which was required of _every_
person for the service of the temple, and the defraying of the expenses
of the worship there: and which our Lord paid, notwithstanding his
‘Father’s house was become a house of merchandize, and a den of
thieves.’”—_M. Henry_.

Mr. S.—I own, that if an ancient and annual charge on property was to
change with the religious opinions, first of one occupier, and then of
another, there would be great confusion, and every rogue would cry out “I
am a Dissenter.”  Yet, still, I think, that some respect should be shown
to the principle of Dissent.

Mr. C.—I hardly know what you mean by the principle of Dissent.  It was
said, not long since in the House of Commons, that “Dissenters have
always their Dissenting principles, and their conscientious scruples when
they have money to pay, but none when they have money to receive.” {7b}

Mr. S.—Do you mean to insult me by casting such reflections on the
Dissenting body?

Mr. C.—Certainly not.  You and I are not going to quarrel after having
known each other for more than five and-twenty years.

Mr. S.—I belong to a body of consistent, conscientious Dissenters; and
you can say nothing against them.

Mr. C.—Do not boast too soon.  There are Dissenters here and elsewhere
who call the Church-rate “a dead robbery,” “a scandalous imposition,” “a
vile extortion;” and yet when there is work to be done at the church,
these men, so conscientious—so scrupulous as to where the money is to
come from—are the first to send in their estimates to the churchwardens.
And what would they care if our Church-rate was raised from fivepence to
five shillings in the pound?  We know they have a deal to say when they
have little or nothing to pay, but when there is money to be received,
which has been raised by a Church-rate, then their Dissenting principles,
and their conscientious scruples are lighter than a feather.

Mr. S.—I confess that I cannot defend such persons, for I like
consistency.  But to turn our conversation to another subject.  I am
quite prepared to maintain the excellence of the Voluntary principle.

Mr. C.—I know you Dissenters like to talk about the Voluntary principle.
They are two very fine long words, the use of which is often flattering
to the vanity of ignorant persons.

Mr. S.—And pray, what have you to say against the Voluntary principle?

Mr. C.—I do not wish to say much against it; but I have yet a good deal
to say against the inconsistency of your practice, so directly opposed as
it is to your fine speeches and avowed principles: for I suppose you must
have heard or read something about the Regium Donum.

Mr. S.—Regum Docum!  What is that?

Mr. C.—I did not say Regum Docum, that is your Latin, not mine.  I said
Regium Donum, which means the royal bounty.

Mr. S.—I am glad that we Dissenters have nothing to do with money from
the State.  For “that is a poor religion which cannot support itself.”

Mr. C.—If so, I think I shall prove that your’s is a poor religion.

Mr. S.—But what I say, is, this Regum Dose’em?  Is it a sort of physic?

Mr. C.—It is one of the cordials of Dissent, in the shape of an annual
grant from the State.  It is a Parliamentary grant to the three
denominations of Dissenters of about two thousand pounds a year out of
the public taxes.  Not a twentieth part of the sum is collected from
Dissenters, and yet the whole finds its way into the pockets of those,
who, if they acted according to their professed Voluntary principle, and
conscientious scruples, would honestly refuse it.  So that the Voluntary
principle seems to be one thing, and Dissenting consistency another.

Mr. S.—Do you know when this grant begun?

Mr. C.—It was first given in the reign of George I., as an act of his
royal bounty.  But ever since the year 1803, it has been received from
the State—and it is a fact acknowledged by Dissenters themselves, that
while they are protesting against all STATE grants for religious
Wales have participated in these grants in three years.

Mr. S.—I really wonder how our great and good men can conscientiously
pocket money from the State; and I am surprised that none of them have
had the honesty to refuse it, and resolve to stand or fall on the
Voluntary principle.

Mr. C.—To tell you the truth, it has been objected to; and in the year
1834, at a meeting of the three denominations, a vote was passed
disapproving of the grant from the State, as inconsistent with Dissent,
and contrary to the Voluntary principle.

Mr. S.—Well done!

Mr. C.—It was well said, but there was nothing well done.  There was a
great deal of fine talking, which all ended in nothing, except the
disgrace of continuing to pocket money, after having recorded, “that it
is inconsistent with the principles of Dissent, and contrary to the
Voluntary principle.”

Mr. S.—Well, after all, it is but a trifle!

Mr. C.—I did not know that we were talking about trifles.  But it seems
you can sell your Dissenting principles for a trifle, and give your
conscientious scruples into the bargain.

Mr. S.—There may appear to be some difficulty in reconciling _the
practice_ of receiving money from the State with _the theory_ of the
Voluntary principle.

Mr. C.—Do you not see, then, that if Dissenters can receive from the
State two thousand pounds a year, {9} they might just as consistently
receive two millions; and do you not believe, too, that they would, if
they could get them?—Like the Voluntary principle, I begin to think that
the Church-rate is a subject upon which you have been sadly misled.

Mr. S.—I had always been led to consider the payment of Church-rates as
affecting my religious opinions; whereas, I now see that it is not so;
and as for the Voluntary principle, really it seems to be, like our
independence of the State, all a farce.

Mr. C.—That is my opinion.  Besides your dependence upon the State, for
money, protection, and liberty of conscience, your _Independent_
Ministers are dependent on their congregations; and it is well known that
they prefer a certainty to an uncertainty, and never refuse, from
conscientious scruples, a good legacy, or any other sort of endowment
which they can get.  Indeed, when it is convenient.  Dissenting Ministers
can plead the uncertainty of the Voluntary principle, with all the
eloquence which experience teaches.

Mr. S.—I have long suspected that you had but little respect for Dissent,
and now I find that you have none at all.

Mr. C.—I think I have pretty clearly shown that none is due to it.  If,
however, any proof be required, look at Dissenters walking arm in arm
with Papists to the political meeting, or the parish vestry.  Look at
Protestant Dissenters hugging Popery, that old Demon of idolatry,
superstition, and wickedness—that monster of tyranny and oppression,
which their forefathers utterly abhorred.

Mr. S.—I was for years a soldier in Spain, where Popery only tolerates
her own idolatrous worship, not merely of images, wafers, and saints, but
also those precious relics of superstition, old bones and rotten rags!
and as I know what Popery is where she CAN exercise her tyranny, and that
all her professions of liberalism are nothing but “lies spoken in
hypocrisy,” I must acknowledge that by joining such a companion Dissent
degrades herself in the respect and the esteem of all good men.

Mr. C.—Then I have a question to ask you.  If, when you were beating up
for recruits, the Papists had joined in your opposition to a Protestant
Church, pray how did you mean to act with your new allies?

Mr. S.—I meant that they _should_ march _behind_.

Mr. C.—But suppose they _would_ march _before_, you could find but one
way of getting out of your difficulty, and that is, by walking arm in arm

Mr. S.—It is not unlikely but I might have found myself in some
difficulty; and so, to say no more about it, I will just remark, that
notwithstanding some proof of our connexion with the State, I still think
the Bible requires that the State should have nothing to do with

Mr. C.—I know it to be the argument of _modern_ Dissenters, that “Kings”
are not to be the “nursing fathers,” nor “Queens the nursing mothers” of
the Church; but they learnt that, not from the Bible, but from the
authors of the French Revolution.  We know that Owen, Baxter, Henry,
Watts, and Doddridge, and many other pious Dissenters of former days,
have maintained the direct contrary—they not only held the lawfulness,
but they knew something of the value, yea of the absolute necessity of an
established Church.  “If it comes to this (says Dr. Owen to the rulers of
his day), that you shall say, you have nothing to do with religion as
rulers of the nation, God will quickly manifest that he hath nothing to
do with you as rulers of the nation.”  “The State (says Baxter) cannot
stand secure without the Church.”  “Let us (says Matthew Henry) give God
praise for the national establishment of our religion; that Christianity,
purified by the Reformation, is supported by good and wholesome laws, and
is twisted in with the very constitution of our country.”  Again he
writes, “_It is the duty of rulers to take care of religion_, and to see
that the duties of it be regularly and carefully performed by those under
their charge, _and that nothing be wanting that is requisite thereto_.”
And how can this be done without a national Church, which is responsible
to the nation for that regular observance of public worship to which your
meeting-houses are not?

Mr. S.—But, why will you not show respect to the opinion of _modern_
Dissenters—our ministers of the _present_ day?

Mr. C.—When your anti-corn law divines shall bear comparison with the
pious and learned men I have named, men who “lived in all godly
quietness,” it will _then_ be time enough for me to consider _their_
objections and _yours_ too.

Mr. S.—Notwithstanding, your great names, and your great men, I rest upon
those striking words of our Saviour, “my kingdom is not of this
world.”—John xviii. 30.

Mr. C.—Pray how do you apply them?

Mr. S.—I apply them to the Church as being “of this world,” and to
Dissent as being not “of this world.”

Mr. C.—And pray, what right have you to sit in judgment, and apply in
condemnation of the Church, and in commendation of Dissent, words which
have no application to either?

Mr. S.—I maintain that this text does apply to the subject in hand.

Mr. C.—It is easily proved that it does not.  An accusation was brought
against our Saviour, “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and
forbidding to give tribute to Cæsar, saying that he himself is Christ, a
king.”  Our Lord did not deny that he was a king, but said, that his
kingdom was not of this world—that it was not an earthly sovereignty.
“If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I
should not be delivered to the Jews.”  “But now (as you may see by my
servants not fighting), is my kingdom not from hence,” that is “not of
this world.”—John xviii. 33, 36.

Mr. S.—Well, admitting that you are right, and that my view of the text
is just as ignorant as it is common among Dissenters, would you not
consent to abolish the Church-rate on account of the opposition that is
made to it?

Mr. C.—Most certainly not.  If on that principle the Church-rate is
abolished, on the same _convenient_ principle, you might abolish every
other kind of rate, and at last refuse to pay to the State, as well as
the Church.

Mr. S.—I should now like to hear what you have to say against an annual
subscription, as the best way of raising the money wanted for your

Mr. C.—It _might_ do pretty well if your Voluntary principle could be
relied on.  But how can _we_ rely on that which you are afraid to
trust?—Nothing is more certain than the uncertainty of an annual
subscription; and if our old churches were made to depend on annual
subscriptions to keep them up, my opinion is, they would soon fall into
decay, and this I suspect is the opinion too of you Dissenters.  Many of
your Dissenting meeting-houses have been sold, and not a few of them have
been converted into churches;—and why?  Because they could not stand on
their own Voluntary principle.

Mr. S.—Really, I feel as if you had knocked me and the Voluntary
principle both down together.  But have you any other objections to an
annual subscription besides its uncertainty?

Mr. C.—Yes, annual subscriptions generally fall exclusively upon those
benevolent persons who give to everything; whereas the Church-rate
obliges those selfish persons to bear their part who would not, if they
could help it, do anything for the bodies or souls of their

Mr. S—Then, you would have no annual subscriptions?

Mr. C.—That is not my meaning.  Sunday School, and Religious Societies
may be properly supported by annual subscriptions, or congregational
collections; and what Christian would like to miss such appeals to his

Mr. S.—To tell you the truth, I begin to think that there is some wisdom
in not allowing your venerable old churches to depend on the Voluntary
principle; and that there is no great objection to raise money for the
necessary expenses of the Church by a rate, which divides the burden
among so many, according to the property of each, that it is hardly felt
by any.  Those who, like our Squire and other great men, pay the most,
feel it perhaps the least.  Really, my scruples have almost vanished; I
fear they had but little foundation in religion, reason, or common sense;
and I shall go again to my wheel, and let my neighbours see, for the time
to come, that I have too much good sense to be again made the tool of a

Mr. C.—Mr. Spinwell, {12} let me speak one word to you before we part.
Days and weeks, months and years, like your wheel, go round and round,
with wonderful rapidity, but with this difference, that you can stop your
wheel, whilst neither of us can stay the progress of time.  The thread of
life is far spun both with you and me.  Let me then advise you to leave
the noisy “potsherds of the earth” to “strive together,” how they may
most effectually resist the payment of a few shillings a year, in support
of a Church, which the wisest and best of men have maintained to be so
necessary to our national welfare.—Considering how the world is passing
away with all its transient concerns, let us pray for grace and strength
to “press towards the mark for the prize of our high calling of God in
Christ Jesus,” that so we may meet at last in the paradise of God, there
to dwell in perfect love and everlasting peace.

                                * * * * *

                                * * * * *

          William Edward Painter, 342, Strand, London, Printer.


{6}  Lambert has traced up Church-rates to the laws of King Ina, in the
_seventh_ century.

{7a}  So considered by Dr. Gill, and other Dissenting Expositors.

{7b}  This was said in reference to their receiving the Royal Bounty.

{9}  The whole amount, including the Royal Bounty to the Dissenters of
Ireland, is more than thirty thousand a year.

{12}  Mr. Spinwell is a rope-maker in the writer’s parish.

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