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Art. VII. 1. A Scripture Help, designed to assist in reading the Bible profitably. By the Rev. Edward Bickersteth. With Three Maps, 12rao. pp. 220. Price 4s. 6d. Seeley. London, 1816.
2. The Same, abridged by the Author. Without Maps, 18mo. pp. 87. Price 6d. or 25 for lis. Fourth Edition. Seeley. London, 1816.
TMIE want of a plain Tract, cheap enough to be easily pro•■■ cured, and yet sufficiently comprehensive to be useful to those who are beginning to read the Bible, induced the Author to undertake the little work now announced to our readers. It does not often fall to our lot, to introduce to their notice books that fully answer the pretensions set forth in their title pages: in the present instance, howev.gr, we are happy to state that Mr. Bickersteth's little work is indeed a Scripture-help, and is perhaps better calculated than any similar tract that has fallen under our notice, to assist the unlearned reader in the profitable study of the Word of Life.
The larger edition comprises fifteen chapters, of which the subjects are—The value of the Bible—The importance of habituaUy studying it—The necessity of Divine assistance to enable us properly to understand it.—General remarks on the whole Bible, and short observations on each book—Practical remarks on various subjects contained in the Bible, and particularly on the Law and the Gospel—*On the Jewish State, including remarks on their feasts, offices, and sacrifices, the seasons in Judea, and the religious sects mentioned in the Scriptures—*An explanation of some expressions peculiar to the Scriptures—On Scripture difficulties—A summary of Divine truth—* Reasons rthy the reading of the Scriptures is frequently attended with little advantage—Practical rules tor daily study—Scripture prayers before and after reading. An address to persons in different stations of life, on this duty—*A chronological table— *General remarks on the history of the world. We have marked with an asterisk the five chapters omitted in the abridgement: in other respects, the contents of the two editions are the same.
As the Author aimed to produce a useful work, rather than to obtain credit for originality, he acknowledges that he has freely borrowed from other writers, whatever appeared likely to promote his object. There are, however, many important and interesting original passages, (especially in those chapters, the subjects of which are given in Italics,) that had we space for them, we should willingly extract. From a conviction, therefore, of its intrinsic value, we cordially recommend the larger edition of Mr. Bickersteth's work to all our readers who can purchase it; and they will render no small service to their poor neighbours, in presenting them the abridgement, which has already had a rapid and extensive sale, upwards of twelve thousand copies having been sold in the course of a few months. It must have afforded the pious Author considerable pleasure that the Religious Tract Society ' have selected those parts of his little work, 'which are best adapted for general utility, and have printed 'them as a tract, intitled, Attention to the Scriptures urged * and directed.'
Art. VIII. Religious Freedom in Dangtir; or the Toleration Act invaded by Parochial Assessments on Placed of Religious Worship ; showing the dangerous and destructive Consequences thereof, as tending to the Ruin of the Religious Privileges so long enjoyed under the Toleration Act. By the Rev. Rowland Hill, A. M. 8vo. pp. 56. price Is. 1816.
\^E regret that there should have arisen any occasion to introduce such a subject as this to the notice of our readers. Sorry are we, not that the spirit of Englishmen rises against every species of oppression, that Dissenters know and feel the value of their rights, that persecution should be driven to assume other names, and to make other professions, than once served its purposes ; but, that in the Nineteenth Century, after all that has been said and written upon the subject, after all the triumphant refutations of intolerance, and all the practical proofs that have been given, that its folly is equal to its wickedness, the Established Church should have pretended friends, who have no other way of manifesting their attachment to its cause, than by persecuting those persons whom conscience compels to differ from it.
As it is quite unnecessary for us, on this occasion, to dilate upon the evils of persecution, we shall proceed at once to state, in very few words, the impolicy, the injustice, and the ruinous consequences, of the present measure.
The Poors'-rates have now existed above two hundred years; the famous Act by which they were established, having passed in the 43d of Elizabeth. That places of worship could not have been in the contemplation of the framers of the Act, appears incontestable, as they were not legally in existence till upwards of eighty years after its enactment. And during all the period which has elapsed since the passing of the Toleration Act, it was never imagined that Dissenting places of worship were fair objects of taxation for the benefit of the poor; till a few angry zealots in our own times, thought the pretence of benefiting the poor, offered a much more plausible and promising scheme for advancing their system of persecution, than could be afforded by the stale cries,—' The church is in danger,'—' The Methodists * will ruin Church and State !' Every place where beneficial interest is enjoyed, is wisely and justly made liable to taxation; because every such building, whether a house, a warehouse, or a manufactory, may be the means of bringing poor upon a parish; but as .fbisjcap never be the case with places of worship, it is •fulfil* that the law never could design that they should be subject to the same taxation as other buildings. In short, as the worshippers must pay this vexatious impost, it may correctly be denominated a tax upon the worship of God. Putting religion •ut of the question, it is undeniably as just to make them pay taxes for the highway upon which they walk to their place of worship.
We have said, the pretence of benefiting the poor, because it is clear that it is only a pretence. They have done without the proposed addition for above two hundred years; and surely no one can exaggerate the number of Meeting-houses, so as to make it credible that any efficient relief will be afforded either to the poor or to other householders.
One, and a very serious evil, that will result from the adoption of the proposed measure, is, the power it will necessarily throw into the hands of the Magistrates. As the assessment will be perfectly novel in its nature, it must rest entirely with the Magistrates to rate places of worship as they please. If they are to be taxed at all, the only equitable mode would be to rate the profit made, after all the necessary disbursement*, viz. the salaries of the minister, the clerk, &c. and the incidental expenses, are discharged. But, as by far the larger proportion of the Meeting-houses would, under this mode of arrangement, appear to be improper objects of taxation, since there would be no surplus to be taxed, it would not suit the ultimate views of the abettors of the measure. Some places, therefore, would be taxed upon the sum they raise for their ministers; others, according to the rent of the houses which might be built upon their site. In case of such iniquitous charges, it will be said, that congregations may appeal. But if our readers will for a moment consider the expenses of appeal, and the poverty of most of our congregations, they will at once see, that in the vast majority of instances, the law will be wholly in the hands of the Magistrates; and of these Magistrates, be it remembered, that in many places the greater part are beneficed clergymen! What sort of justice may be rationally expected under such circumstances, we need not say.
The exposure of all the affairs connected with a place of worship, before a bench of inimical, or at least of interested and prejudiced Magistrates, would be at once painful and degrading. The disclosures of the Income Tax, as being1 less, public, would be much less disgusting and offensive. And this might be expected to recur repeatedly, sitiCe eteVy 'alteration in a place of worship, of how trivial a nature soever, would encourage some vile informer to disturb the'rate, and bring'the hated religionists again before the Magistrates.
Charities, it is agreed on all hands, should be exempted from
all taxation. But is not preaching the Gospel the noblest of charities? And does not every Dissenting place of worship in the kingdom, relieve the parish rates to a large amount? Are religious worshippers those who become chargeable to the parish? Does not religion, by inducing habits of economy, of industry, and sobriety, tend to preserve the lower orders from being burdensome to their parishes? And are not Visiting Societies for the relief of the Sick Poor, Sunday Schools, and other benevolent institutions connected with places of religious worship, the means, directly and indirectly, of saving large sums to the parishes where they are situated?
By some, however, the matter is treated as a mere trifle. These people, they say, are very able to pay, and their resistance springs only from obstinacy. Let it however be recollected, how many hundreds of Dissenting ministers there are, whose stipends do not amount to a hundred a year! And if poor's-rates of ten, or fifteen, or eighteen shillings in the pound, are to be deducted from this pittance, upon what are they and their families to subsist? If this taxation is to be enforced, there is great reason to fear that more than half of the Meetinghouses in the kingdom must be shut up. And though this consequence will be deemed so far from being an argument against the measure by its violent supporters, that it may rather be suspected of offering itself as a principal inducement to the adoption of it; yet, it is a serious question, whether upwards of *• ratthou of persons are to be virtually deprived of the benefits of the Toleration Act, and prevented from worshipping God according to the dictates of their consciences. For to this it must come, and of this they are perfectly conscious.
Our readers are probably aware, that in the last Sessions of Parliament a Bill was brought in by Mr. Vansittart. to exempt places of worship, not being used for any other purpose, except schools for the gratuitous instruction of the poor, from parochial assessment. From the speeches made on the occasion, it would appear that no Bill was ever more strangely misunderstood. Some of the members argued as if the Dissenters were to be freed from taxation of every kind; as if a new land of Goshen were to be formed for them, where the Property tax, ibe A'ssessOd taxes, the Excise and Customs, were never to enter. Others spoke of the Bill as exempting Dissenters from a taxation Ittat'CBdr'chmen were obliged topay: While all seemed to consider it as the introduction of ft 'privilege which had never been enjoyed before. Alarmed by these and similar reasonings, tUe ch»ler of the wuqje High^pliuT-cL -p'arjty 'ify moved, and ou the, third reading of the Bill, the Ministry were left in a minority! t: ■■..-.
The consequence of this has been, a more determined attempt in many parts of the country, to subject Dissenters to the severity of the new construction of the law. Mr. Hill details the distressing case of a congregation at Worcester, where every thing moveable was seized, and sold in the market-place. Similar outrages have been committed in other places. We are glad however to learn, that Mr. II. has successfully resisted no less than five attempts which have been made to tax Surry Chapel. This Chapel, from its being so well known throughout the kingdom, has most probably been purposely selected by the enemies of religious toleration, against which to try their strength; as they seem to have concluded, that if Mr. Hill submitted to the rate, or was defeated at law, every Chapel in the land would lie at their mercy. We are very happy to find, that though other ministers who have been thus attacked, have meanly sacrificed the cause, Mr. H. has pledged himself never to give up a question that so essentially concerns our rights. And we think it a favourable circumstance, that the attack has been pointed against a person as able as he is willing to stand effectually forward in the cause. Mr. H. could, it is true, with the greatest ease, pay the assessment, by a small per centage upon the various benevolent institutions existing at his Chapel; but he is determined not to submit to a taxation, which, how lightly soever it would fall upon him, would ruin hundreds of useful and worthy ministers.
With regard to Surry Chapel, the nefarious attempt is rendered particularly despicable, by the well-known liberality of the congregation, the amount of the sums they raise for benevolent purposes, and their conspicuous zeal on every important occasion. It is evident what regard their adversaries have for the poor, when they harass and attempt to tax a people who voluntarily raise above two thousand pounds a year for charitable purposes. Nor is this sum raised for what would be termed methodistical objects only: much of it is spent directly in relief of the rates. Upwards of 6001. a year is given away by the Benevolent Society for visiting and relieving the sick poor at their own habitations; of which nearly 200/. is distributed in the parish of Christ Church,* where all these attempts have been made! More than 2,000 children are educated in the Sunday School supported by the Chapel, upwards of 800 of whom are in the schools situated in Christ Church; not to
* We ought, perhaps, in justice to the parish of Christ Church, to say, that to the vast majority of its inhabitants, the proposed taxation is extremely odious and offensive. The parish officers have, irt every instance, withstood it; and this perpetual vexation is entirely owing to one or two individuals within the parish, whom we need not decigaate.