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Memoir of the Right Reverend John Strachan
Chapter XIV

The Clergy Reserves Controversy.—Speech in the Legislative Council in defence of his conduct upon this Question.

ON THE occasion of the death of the Bishop of Quebec, l related in the last chapter, Dr. Strachan, as would have been expected, preached a funeral sermon. In this was a very pleasing portrait of the departed prelate, and an allusion to other members of his family which we cannot refrain from repeating:—

“The Churches, thinly scattered over this vast country, bear a striking resemblance to the small congregations of primitive Christians in the days of the Apostles; but it is to be hoped that, through the blessing of God, the intervening space will soon l>e adorned with new Congregations, till the whole population shall become united in one holy communion. And when this happy period shall arrive, how many pleasing associations will be coupled in their minds with the recollections of the first Bishop of the Diocese, who gave life and order to that religious establishment which guides them to salvation ; impressing, as he did in his different charges, on the attention of his Clergy,—the duty of preaching redemption, the doctrine of the atonement, the satisfaction made for sinners by the blood of Christ; the corruption of human nature, the insufficiency of man unassisted by Divine grace; the efficacy of the prayer of faith; and the purifying, directing, sustaining, and sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit. Now that he hath departed, let us have these things in remembrance.

“As a preacher of the Gospel, our late venerable Bishop must have been heard, to form an adequate conception of his superior excellence and commanding eloquence. The dignity of his appearance, the chaste propriety of his action, the clearness of his voice and rich melodies of his tones, the earnestness of his manner, added to the sublimity of the truths he delivered in the most pure aud perspicuous language, were never to be forgotten, and never failed to make a deep impression on his audience. In England, he was considered one of the most impressive and eloquent preachers that the Church could boast; and was earnestly solicited, when last in London, by the managers of charitable institutions, notwithstanding his advanced age, to preach their anniversary sermons. With the requests of some he complied; and he has published a discourse, delivered before the Society for Recovering Drowned Persons, which may be justly pronounced one of the mast beautiful and interesting sermons in the English language.

In his social and domestic intercourse, the Bishop’s manners were particularly pleasing; uniting with great affability and cheerfulness of disposition, those qualities which command respect and secure esteem. All found themselves at ease in his presence; for so far was he from being a restraint on the young and lively, that his occasional playfulness encouraged their openness and gaiety, while the dignity of his general deportment prevented the innocent delights of the social circle from degenerating into levity.

“His Lordship was singularly happy in his domestic relations. Mrs. Mountain, in every respect worthy of such a husband, is in her manners amiable and engaging; in her religion sincere, active, and cheerful; in charity unbounded, without regard to sect or nation; exhibiting in her whole conduct Christian love as it were embodied. Who, that has lived in Quebec for the last thirty years, can hesitate in bearing testimony to the unwearied goodness of her heart, and the sweetness of her temper; and who that approached her, did not feel the influence of her Christian purity and incessant benevolence, stealing upon the heart, and inspiring him with similar sentiments and dispositions 1 Every day was an encomium on her character, as it never passed without acts of charity and parental affection. It was her piety, uniform and cheerful,—her meekness of disposition and anxiety to do good,—which endeared her to all her friends, and gave her husband and her children so raauy years of the most refined domestic felicity.

“Nor was the late Bishop less blessed in his children, consisting of four sons and two daughters. Of the former, three have followed their father’s profession; the fourth, who has chosen a military life, 1 resembles the late Bishop more than any of the rest, not only in exterior form, but in the qualities of the heart and understanding. The writer of this was so forcibly struck with his noble bearing at a very early age, as to entertain the most promising hopes of Jus future eminence,—hopes, that he will not fail to be greatly distinguished, should opportunities for the exertion of his talents ever be presented.”

In this Sermon is given a brief sketch of his Lordships labours in his vast Diocese, with a statement of the satisfactory progress of the Church, notwithstanding the great difficulties and discouragements which any Bishop, in those days, would be compelled to encounter. The Clergy were few in number, and scattered over a range of 1200 miles; and getting from place to place was difficult and precarious,—the conveyance by land being in heavy open waggons, and by water generally in birch canoes. The population, too, was scant and scattered; and few had the means of contributing anything to the support of a clergyman. The Reserves were wholly unproductive, and the Societies at home were comparatively feeble in resources. All these were obstacles to the energy and effect of a Bishop's duties, which can hardly be understood in the present days of the country’s great advancement.

Connected with this succinct account of the episcopal work of the first Bishop of Quebec, a Table or Chart was published, exhibiting the number of the Clergy of the Church of England,—with a statement of their increase from the date of the Bishop’s arrival in Canada to the time of his death; and the names of the Clergy of the Kirk of Scotland ministering in this Province. The substance of this chart was republished in England, as a guide to the actual religious condition of the country, now that public attention was so energetically invoked to the subject there; and when members of the House of Commons were demanding that inquiry into the subject, in view of the Clergy Reserves property, should be rigorously made.

Great exception was taken to this Ecclesiastical Chart, and its facts were most unceremoniously impugned, not only in Canada but in England. Dr. Lee, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland, was amongst the most violent of its assailants in the mother country, and he went so far as to pronounce it a tissue of misrepresentations. That the grounds of his statements were most unsatisfactory, and the sources of his information most un-trustworthy, may be inferred from his assertion, in a Memorial to the Colonial Secretary, that all the communicants of the several congregations of the Church of England in Upper Canada, amounted to only 118; in answer to which Archdeacon Strachan affirmed that at his last celebration of the holy communion in York alone, their number was 108! This was followed up by a declaration of Mr. Hume, that out of forty-four members of the House of Assembly in Upper Canada, only two belonged to the Church of England; whereas eighteen at the least professed to belong to that Church.

But the attacks upon the Chart, and its author, within the two Provinces, were much more numerous and far more violent. We do not by any means affirm that these were entirely unprovoked. Principles and feelings, based upon truth and prompted by honesty, are often expressed with a freedom and plainness which cannot fail to be offensive to those to whom, or of whom, they are spoken. Nor is it always possible to avoid some exaggeration when, in pleading zealously a good cause, facts and incidents are adduced to strengthen argument and maintain a position. The Ecclesiastical Chart, its author himself admitted, shewed some inaccuracies; and while the best was made of the case of the Church of England, in representing her condition in Canada, there was, it can hardly be denied, some lowering and disparagement of the status of other bodies of Christians.

One of the first who publicly assailed the Sermon and the Chart within the Province, was a gentleman who subscribed himself a "Methodist Preacher.” His Review of those publications was marked by no inconsiderable ability; yet characterized by a warmth and irreverence of expression which a maturer experience would doubtless have corrected. This was replied to by a young clergyman who signed himself a "Member of the Church of England;” and in the Kingston newspapers,—in the Chronicle on the one side, and the Herald on the other,—the warfare betwixt those two champions of opposite causes was, for long months, vigorously carried on. It was from no lack of zeal and industry on their part, if the Church on the one side did not come out triumphant, or anti-prelacy on the other. They applied themselves earnestly and intelligently to their work; they were necessarily stimulated, on each side, to much research ; authorities and arguments multiplied as they advanced; and if, in their communications, there was a large sprinkling of not inapt Latin quotations, the public mind was accustomed to this in the parliamentary speeches of a Canning, a Brougham, and a Peel!

This particular controversy,—bearing chiefly upon the questions of Episcopacy and Church Establishments,—had pretty well spent its force before the return of Archdeacon Strachan to Canada; but his arrival was the signal for more direct and personal attacks. These thickened and increased in vehemence as time advanced; and now, in the fury of the onslaught, the lead was taken by members of the Kirk of Scotland. The storm was one of unprecedented fierceness; but its character, and the way in which it was borne, will be best described in Archdeacon Strachan’s own words, in a letter to a friend in Scotland dated 12th April,1828

“Having gotten into an interminable paper war, I have abstained for some time from corresponding, in the hope of its being brought to a close. This war was chiefly produced by a parcel of questions sent out by Dr. Lee to this country, to be answered. Some of these were proposed by the Commission of the General Assembly, and some by Dr. Lee himself. Among the latter was one in which niy name was mentioned, and which appeared to imply doubt as to the correctness of the statement I had made to the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. This roused the fury of the whole Presbyterian body,—who, in an evil hour for themselves, commenced the controversy about the Clergy Reserves,—and they were joined by all denominations. The position I occupy in the Colony, and my uncompromising spirit, naturally pointed me out as the chief object of attack. For many years I have excited the jealousy of the opponents of the Government, and not a little of their hatred. These passions were not diminished by the successful issue of my last journey to England,—having obtained all the objects for which I had gone home. The flood-gates of a most licentious press were opened upon me; newspapers in both Provinces, day after day and week after week, poured out the most rancorous calumnies and abuse against me. Having very good nerves, I permitted them to rail on; and, conscious of my integrity, I maintained an invariable silence. I am, indeed, so situated, that I cannot, with propriety, enter into a newspaper controversy; nor can I descend to the language made use of in such publications. I was likewise disposed to give my enemies time, that I might see how far their passions would carry them; and I looked for a reaction in my favour from the efforts of my numerous friends in different parts of the Province. For a time, however, the clamour and falsehoods and abuse were issued with so much violence, that I verily believe my friends and well-wishers were frightened, and dreaded to euter the lists, or make any attempt to resist the torrent. Meanwhile I continued silent; no clamour, no falsehood could alter my plan. Persons, who had been under the greatest obligations to me, wrote violently against me,—exposing private letters and communications; but I remained silent. At length some papers appeared on my side their number increased; and having the better of the argument, they gradually drove our enemies from the field.

“But although I considered that I could not, with dignity, enter into a newspaper war, yet so many things had been said against me that I felt it dutiful at last to break my silence, by giving, in my place in the Legislative Council, a full reply to all that had been asserted against me. The Speech which I delivered upon that occasion, is considered a most triumphant refutation of the calumnies of my enemies.”

The Speech here referred to was delivered on 6th of March, 1828. It comprehends a general defence of the statements contained in the Ecclesiastical Chart, with the admission of a few inaccuracies. It exhibits, in .calm language, what he had endeavoured conscientiously to effect in England for the permanent welfare of the Church, and the establishment of a University on principles as liberal as the British Government felt themselves justified in sanctioning.

In the course of the Speech is adduced the opinion of an able and rising lawyer in England,—who afterwards became a Judge,—on the Clergy Reserves Question; and this, as a singularly able justification of the views of those who maintained the exclusive right of the Church to that property, our readers will not regret our adducing:—

“I am of opinion that the provisions of 31 Geo. III. are applicable only to the Clergy of the Church of England. Whatever might have been the original meaning of the expression, "A Protestant Clergy," it appears to me that the subsequent instructions and message of His Majesty, recited in 31 Geo., together with the provisions of that Act, (and especially that which speaks of institution and of the spiritual jurisdiction of the Bishop) plainly point out that the expression is to be understood as referring to the Clergy of the Church of England only. ‘A Protestant Clergy ’ evidently means one single and entire body of persons: now, the Clergy of the Church of England, and those of the Kirk of Scotland can never form one body. If, therefore, the Clergy of the Kirk of Scotland be let in, there is no reason why any other denomination of Dissenters should not also be admitted; and the words ‘A Protestant Clergy’ must then be taken to mean Protestant ministers, or teachers,—which appears to me to be absurd. The expression was used in contradistinction to the Romish Clergy; and although I am not prepared to say that an establishment, similar to the Kirk of Scotland, might not have satisfied the words of 14 Geo. III., yet I am quite convinced that it would not have satisfied those of the 31 Geo. III. Being of opinion, therefore, that the Acts contemplate one single body of Protestant Clergy I have no doubt that the Clergy of the Church of England are that body; and the erecting the Provinces into a Bishopric, and everything done since, plainly shews that such is the right interpretation. I am also of opinion, that the Governors of the Provinces, acting under His Majesty’s direction, cannot legally make any appropriation to the ministers of other Churches. I think that nothing short of an Act of the Legislature, confirmed in England, can authorize them to do so. The Charter of April, 1819, would create a difficulty in the passing of any such Act; and without a new Act, that Charter alone would almost decide the question.”—(Signed) John Patteson. Temple, May 20, 1824.

There is a touching reference in the Speech to the acrimonious personalities in which many writers indulged, and the severance of old friendships to which this unhappy controversy gave rise. The impression it made, both upon the House and throughout the country, was very favourable. Public opinion underwent a decided improvement; and, in the Legislative Council, a Resolution was passed, without a dissentient voice, declaring that, “in relation to a certain Letter and Ecclesiastical Chart, said to have been addressed by Archdeacon Strachan to the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, and in his agency in procuring the Charter for the University of King’s College, he hath explained his conduct, in relation to the same, to the satisfaction of this House.”

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