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Memoir of the Right Reverend John Strachan
Chapter X

The Clergy Reserves Question

THE Clergy Reserves Controversy is a prominent ll i subject in Canadian history; and, from its bearing upon the moral condition and general welfare of the Province, it cannot fail to have a commanding interest, in thoughtful and religious minds, for many generations to come. The subject of this memoir took a leading and active share in this controversy : his position naturally threw him into the forefront of the contest; and a paramount sense of duty, which the din of surrounding warfare could not weaken, constrained him to adhere to his post until nothing was left to contend for.

Reflections of a grave character are forced upon us in contemplation of the issues of that contest. We look back with sensations of deep disappointment and regret; and we look forward with saddening apprehensions for the future of our rising country, as to its moral and religious condition.

Many, from personal observation, are familiar with the moral and religious landscape of England. Those who have traversed its beautiful scenes,—hill and valley, shady groves and green meadows, the noble mansion and the trim cottage, the smooth roads and the bounding hedge rows, its perfection of cultivation, its exhibition of magnificence and wealth,—could not fail to notice, as a feature of singular attraction amidst the exquisite scenery that is on all hands presented, the constant occurrence of the church spire or tower surmounting the sacred edifice of humble and capacious dimensions, with the neat vicarage or rectory beside it. If these tower up as guardians of the land, as monuments at least of its religious civilization, further observation and inquiry will attest that the universal pastoral care which is thus provided, has proved a protection and safeguard of the country better than bristling fortresses and legions of soldiers.

Almost beyond memory or record, England has enjoyed this advantage; and we can now judge fairly whether the grand results have been realized which its parochial system was designed to confer. There have been alternations, doubtless, in the extent of the blessings imparted by the Church of England. Every institution, even the most sacred, will have its period of lassitude and languor; there will, perhaps, be an internal degeneracy, as well as hurtful outward influences; but if the system be a sound one,—its origin holy, its purpose philanthropic, its tendency sanctifying and ennobling,—it will soon recover the vantage-ground it may have temporarily lost. Men, in such ranks and in such a cause, will not all be degenerate; the conscientious renovator, the honest reformer, will from time to time start up, and waken the powers of revival that are inherent in the body. Long wars abroad, protracted civil commotions within the kingdom, enfeebled necessarily the work and influence of the Church; but peace has uniformly brought it all back.

No one of impartial judgment will deny that the preeminence of England amongst the nations of the world, in material power as well as in moral influence, is largely owing to the diffusion of that sober moral tone and healthful spirit of subordination, which a wide-spread religious teaching, provided by her established Church, has steadily maintained. In a country which possesses so much civil liberty as England, and where education is so thorough and so diffused, there will always be an effectual check to anything like a propensity to spiritual despotism; to any attempt at fettering the conscience. The national sanction of the teaching of the Church has never compelled any man to surrender his individual judgment; has never hindered him from adopting any other mode of religious ministrations which his tastes or convictions might prefer. But the Church thus established and sustained has ensured a general and continuous religious instruction to the inhabitants; an instruction which, with all its collateral influences for good, they could not universally and steadily have enjoyed without a public provision for its maintenance. Without this, there would be a supply only where the appetite and the demand existed, and where people, having this desire, possessed the means of gratifying it. A world-wide experience shews that such desire after religious instruction does not universally pervade a people. Many are opposed to the restraints it inculcates; and, in the mass of communities, if it cannot be obtained without individual cost to themselves, it will not be sought after or secured. The nation, then, is bound to provide what individuals will not, or cannot, do for themselves.

It is worth our while, and will not be out of place, to trace up this national duty to its origin. Without referring to the vast extent of inferential proofs, we may confine ourselves to evidences that are direct and positive. When the land of Canaan was so far conquered by the Israelites as to admit of the partition of the country amongst its conquerors, there was, by the Divine direction, an equitable division made; but the exclusion of one tribe from the possession of any property in land, was remarkable. No allotment was made to the tribe of Levi; but, in lieu of this, the other eleven tribes were required to give a tenth of the produce of their lands for the sustenance of that portionless tribe, so as to enable them to devote themselves exclusively to the service of the Lord.

It. would, therefore, in all coming time be felt and recollected, that it was no spontaneous gift on the part of the eleven tribes, when they paid to Levi the tenth of all they earned. Each of those tribes obtained a share of what, in fairness and equity, belonged to Levi; what was taken from Levi added just so much to their own possessions. So, in rendering a support to the priestly tribe on the terms which God exacted, they were making no gratuity; they were giving back, in another shape, what had been annexed, over and above their legitimate share, to their own possessions.

This was a Divine arrangement as equitable as it was wise; and with a pious reverence on the side of Israel, and an undoubting faith on the part of Levi, it came into force without a murmur of discontent. By this wise ordinance, sealed thus, as we may say, with the seal of heaven, the temple-gates were always open; the fires on the altar were never quenched. Sacrifices were never wanting, the daily recurring types of that great offering in which they were at last to merge. Through these symbolic duties, their sins day by day were atoned for, in view of Him who was to make the offering perfect; and never, as ages passed, would there be wanting a man to stand thus before the Lord,— a present mediator between the living and the dead.

But was the provision thus ordained, to have its application to Jews only; or was the obligation to have no weight with the followers of Christ ? No where, in the New Testament, do we find a prohibition of this duty; no where do we discover another rule substituted for that which, in all preceding times, had prevailed for the sustentation of the Church of God. In days when Christians were nearer to the fountain of their privileges, they thought and* acted by that rule. They religiously made these appropriations; believing that they were bound by the obligation, and that the practical reason for them still existed. Under the Saviour’s dispensation, there is an altar to be served, and a priesthood to maintain; and there could be no better mode of sustaining these, than the ordinance which God has left us for the purpose.

We are not to fancy that the provision made for the maintenance of this great blessing in our father-land,— namely, the parochial system, a church and pastor every where,—was originally a compulsory one, that it had its origin in state enactments, or in the arbitrary mandates of kings. This is by no means the truth; but the appropriation of a tenth for the support of the Church, as existing in our mother country, was the voluntary act of her pious sons and daughters centuries ago. They, from a constraining sense of Christian duty, fixed this charge upon their own possessions; and they transmitted them to their posterity with this condition affixed to them for ever. The law of the land so far interposes, as to guard rightful possession where any venture to infringe upon it. It suffers not any selfish holder of the soil to appropriate wholly to % himself what, by a solemn stipulation entailed upon him, he is bound to give a part of to the maintenance of religion.

This, then, is a principle,—this an action, divinely derived. The wisdom of the Almighty devised it; His goodness prompted Him to bring it into exercise. Its object was, the present welfare and everlasting happiness of men. And we cannot wonder that it should have had its weight with the King and Parliament of England, in providing for the welfare of their subjects in the Colonies.

Canada was conquered by Great Britain from the French; and the territory thus acquired was at the disposal of the Crown and Parliament of the Empire.

Just respect was shewn to public and private property in Lower Canada; and this extended even to their religious institutions. There was no disturbance of, no infringement upon, their ecclesiastical possessions. But Upper Canada was, comparatively, -a wilderness; and in disposing of its unappropriated and uncultivated lands at the absolute will of the Government, no private rights or privileges could by possibility be affected. The Government, without injury to any one, could make any disposal, any reservation, of these lands they chose, for political purposes or religious objects.

The principle of an established provision for the support of religion, so long settled and so long acted upon in our mother country, and productive of such wide-spread and priceless benefits, naturally awoke a sense of the obligation to make the same provision, wherever it was practicable, in the Colonies. Accordingly, as early as the fourteenth year of the reign of George III., there was, in the Imperial Act, Cap. 83, a reference to this obligation, in these words, —“It shall be lawful for His Majesty, his heirs and successors, to make such provision for the encouragement of the Protestant Religion, and for the maintenance and support of a Protestant Clergy, as he or they shall from time to time think it necessary and expedient.”—And seventeen years later, in the thirty-first of the reign of that king, when it was determined to form Upper Canada into a separate Province, and supply to its inhabitants an exact transcript of the British Constitution in Church and State, it was expressly provided that one-seventh of all the lands of the Province should be reserved for the support and maintenance of a Protestant Clergy.

There is a vagueness in the expression “Protestant Clergy,” as the term is now understood ; but there was no misunderstanding, here or elsewhere, when the Act containing those words was passed. In no Imperial Statute was the word “Clergy” ever applied to any other than ministers of the established Church of England; and that such was the understanding of the term in this Province, is evident from the following statement in the preamble to an Act of the Legislative Assembly in the year 1821,— “That whereas His Majesty has been graciously pleased to reserve for the support of the Protestant Clergy in this Province, one-seventh of all lands granted therein, doubts have been suggested that the tithe of the produce of the land might still be legally demanded by the incumbent duly instituted, or Rector of any parish, which doubt it is important to the well-doing of the Colony to remove.”—It is obvious that the terms here employed have an exclusive reference to the Church of England, and that the provision which is here deemed a substitute for tithes, was considered to belong to that Church alone.

Such was the universal and uncontradicted impression until the year 1822. Then it was, for the first time, affirmed that, whereas the Church of Scotland is established in a portion of the Empire, the term “Protestant Clergy” should be considered to comprehend the ministers of that communion. This was zealously asserted, and just as zealously opposed. Numerous pamphlets were written on both sides; and amongst the defenders of the claims of the Church of England, was a minister of the British Wesleyan connexion at Kingston. Earl Bathurst, Secretary of State for the Colonies, announced in July, 1825, that His Majesty’s Government could not depart from the natural and constitutional construction of the Act of 1791; and in this Despatch, the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada was directed, with the advice of the Executive Council, to constitute such Rectories as were required, and to appropriate such portions of the Clergy Reserve Lands as were needed for the support of the same. We make some extracts from a report of Council, dated November 21, 1825 :—

"They are convinced of the propriety of dividing the Province into parishes with as little delay as possible, not only because it appears necessary before the new system of land-granting goes into operation, which implies such division to have previously taken place, but as giving a religious character to the country.

“On reference to the Surveyor General it is found that a numerous class of townships are those of nine miles by twelve, containing about 69,000 acres:—one-seventh of which, or about 9,800 acres, is tho appropriation set apart for the maintenance of a Protestant Clergy.

Assuming only two parishes for each of these townships, it is humbly submitted that the appropriation be divided into three parts; and, after forming any such township into two parishes by a division as convenient as circumstances will admit, that three thousand and three hundred acres, or one-third of the appropriation be attached as an endowment to the Parsonage of each, from the Reserves appertaining or belonging to such parish, and a similar proportion be observed in townships of other dimensions.

“That the remaining one-third, consisting of about 3200 acres be reserved in the possession of the Corporation for general purposes ; the same to be sold when it shall be deemed for the interest of the Church, the proceeds of such sale to be funded in the British Stocks, and the interest only to be applied to the support of a Protestant Clergy.

“That a general fund, gradually accumulating as sales of this one-third take place, will be found exceedingly convenient for the support of clergymen in parishes until their respective endowments become available, and likewise to supply salaries to the clergymen established in such towns and villages as may, from time to time, grow up in different parts of the Province, and for which there is no particular provision.

“Such general disposable fund becomes further necessary from this circumstance, that many townships were settled before 1791, and therefore contain no Reserves; others in which the Reserves form a block in the middle, and cannot therefore be productive for a long time,—consequently the clergyman of such must, in the interval, he supported out of the General Fund.”

Such was the Report presented to the Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Peregrine Maitland, about the close of the year 1823, by his constitutional advisers; but His Excellency did not feel that he could just then, take upon himself the responsibility of acting upon it. Delay, as the sequel shewed, rendered such action more difficult; and when the question came under local parliamentary legislation, it became impracticable.

There were thousands outside the pale of the Church of England who believed then, what they will candidly confess now, that the. neglect to act practically upon that recommendation was a public misfortune. They will honestly admit, we are persuaded, that the fixed and permanent establishment in every township of the Province, of one or more clergymen of the Church of England,—of men who would combine with piety and zeal a liberal education and some social refinement, and who, bound by the wholesome restraint of Scriptural articles of faith and a Scriptural form of worship, would present an unvarying front of opposition to erroneous doctrines and the capricious desire of change,—would have proved a large and lasting blessing to the land. Such was the persuasion of him whose eventful life is recorded in these pages. He looked forward with hope to the day when here as in our mother country, we should see the Church-spire mingled every where with thp fair and fertile scenery of the land; the Church on hill and valley; the Church in every hamlet. And with the Church, the settled pastor, pursuing from week to week his round of pious ministration,—the young his anxiety, the poor his care,—every duty urged and practised to draw men to the love of God and- the love of one another. What an exchange would this be for the spiritual barrenness which lies so widely round us,—for the stretch of fertile lands on every side, almost without a token that God is worshipped there, or even recognized!

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