James Gilfillan, Holidays

James Gilfillan

Holidays1

Copyright © 1997 Naphtali Press

From an early time piety and zeal, by adding to the institutions of Heaven, began, unwittingly, to prepare the way for further errors and future strife. In these feelings originated the appointment of stated days for the commemoration of particular events in the history of the Savior. The same feelings produced another class of sacred seasons. The day of martyrdom was regarded as “the day of birth to a happy life for ever,” and, therefore, worthy of grateful celebration. Such days were called Natalitia. To ceremonies without Divine rule there was no limit. The saints entitled to the honor of commemoration amounted, in the course of some centuries, to a multitude for each day of the year, [Note: “Except the first day of January, when the Gentiles had been so intent upon their own riots as to have no leisure for martyring the Christians” (Durandus, Ration. Off., lib. vii. fol. 242). Durandus, alleging Eusebius as his authority, gives the number of martyrs at 5000 a day. The Editor of Cosin’s Works (v. 23, notes) alleges another authority than Eusebius, and reduces the number to 500!] and the annual holidays of man became more numerous than the Sabbath-days of God. Self-righteousness soon converted the invention and observance of new ceremonies into the price of salvation. Ambition saw in these things the means of promoting its objects; and the more surely to compass them, gradually withdrew the light of knowledge, while it ministered fresh fuel to the flame of superstition and fanaticism. Rome, holding in words the supremacy of the Lord’s Day, indirectly impaired its authority and influence by ranking it with her own holidays, and by imposing on her votaries both classes of institutions under the same temporal penalties, and as alike necessary to salvation. The authority of the Church was sufficient to turn the scale in favor of those Sabbath days on which the anniversaries of her own appointment fell, and in process of time human holidays were practically preferred to the day which Christ had consecrated for His worship. So multitudinous had sacred days and their assigned engagements become, that not only was a large amount of productive labor lost to society, but intellectual power was uselessly expended in framing and interpreting the rules of a prodigious system of fooleries, and conscience was perplexed as well as the spirit borne down by the endless “commandments of men.” “All Christianity,” says the Confession of Augsburg, “was placed in the observation of certain festivals, rites, fasts, and forms of apparel.” “Daily, new ceremonies, new orders, new holidays, new fasts, were appointed; and the teachers in the churches did exact these works at the people’s hands as a service necessary to deserve justification, and they did greatly terrify their consciences if aught were omitted.” “The doctrine of the gospel,” it is further observed, “is hereby obscured, which teacheth that sins are forgiven freely by Christ — this benefit of Christ is transferred unto the work of man.” [Note: Hall’s Harmony of Confessions (1842), pp. 391, 397.] And thus, also, was the law of morality made void as well as the law of faith. Oppression tends to madness and anarchy; the over-tasked will seek relief in licentious liberty; holidays were turned into seasons for vice and riot; and, unprofitable for religious ends, they became auxiliaries of impiety and demoralization.

The growing evil met, for many centuries, with little resistance. The later Fathers were strangely betrayed into the encouragement of the system, notwithstanding its attendant mischiefs which they observed and deplored. Not only were particular feast-days made by them the subjects of homilies and extravagant encomiums, but Basil [Note: Orat. on the Forty Martyrs.] and Chrysostom [Note: Hom. 70, to the people of Antioch.] congratulated their hearers on having the martyrs as the safeguards of their country and cities against all enemies. Yet there were individuals who were not entirely carried away by the prevailing delusion. Ærius, presbyter of Sabacte in Armenia, of the fourth century, may be regarded as one of these, in so far as he contended strenuously against stated days for fasting, and the perpetuation under Christianity of Jewish feast-days. Of this individual, who also advocated the equality of bishops and presbyters, an interesting account is given by Neander. [Note: Gen. Hist., iii., pp. 461, 462.] While Augustine was engaged in seeking support for the existing holidays in the authority of the apostles and councils, and Chrysostom, in lauding the pre-eminent virtues of Easter, the historian Socrates was preparing to strike a heavy blow at their doctrine in the avowal that neither the Savior nor the apostles enjoined by any law the observance of that leading feast, which had crept in and was kept not from canon but from custom; and in censuring those who contended for holidays as for life itself, while they regarded licentiousness as a matter of indifference, thus despising the commands of God, and making canons of their own. [Note: Hist. Eccl. lib. v. c. 21, 22.] About the same time Vigilantius, a presbyter of Barcelona, denounced, along with other corruptions, the abuses connected with vigils and festivals. His treatise on the subject was assailed with much asperity by Jerome. [Note: Bruce, Annus Secularis, p. 199. Neander, Gen. Hist., iii. p. 456.] After an interval of four centuries, Claudius, bishop of Turin (fl. 817), appears on the arena as a combatant of dominant evils. “In the abolition of all saints’ days, as in other things” — opposition to the worship of images, and the veneration of relics and crosses — “he preceded the Calvinists.” [Note: Gretserus, in Calderwood’s Altare Damascenum, p. 490.] He was followed by the Waldenses, of whom Reinerus Sacco, an apostate from themselves, and a Jacobin inquisitor, thus wrote about A.D. 1254 — “They hold that all customs of the Church, except those which are to be found in the gospel, are to be contemned; for example, the feast of light, and of palms, and the feast of Pasch, of Christ, and of the saints. They work on feast-days: they disregard the fasts of the Church, dedications, and the benedictions.” [Note: Blair’s Hist. of the Wald., i., p. 408.]

Another writer informs us, that they rejected not only holidays in memory of saints, but all others whatsoever, as having been introduced without proper warrant, and kept no day holy except the Lord’s Day. [Note: Leger, Hist. Gen. des Eglis. Vaudois, i., p. 123.] It appears that in his views on this, as on other subjects, Wycliffe anticipated the reformers, and that there were many in his time who held the same opinions. He says, that “many were inclined to be of opinion, that all saints’ days ought to be abolished in order to celebrate none but the festival of Jesus Christ, because then the memory of Jesus Christ would always be recent, and devotion of the people would not be parcelled out between Jesus Christ and his members.” [Note: Burce, ibid, p. 20.] So intolerable was the evil of multiplied holidays felt to be by thoughtful men in the following century as to produce a loud call for redress. The cardinal of Cambray brought the matter before the Council of Constance (A.D. 1414). [Note: Heylyn’s Hist. of the Sab., part 2, p. 168.] He also pleaded for the rectification of this and of some other disorders, in his Treatise on Reformation, holding, “that excepting Sundays and the great festivals instituted by the Church, people ought to be allowed to work on holidays after Divine service, as well on account of the debaucheries and enormities in which the generality of people indulge themselves on these days, as out of regard to laboring men who have need of all the time they breathe in to get their livelihood.” [Note: Bruce, ibid, p. 162. Gerson, in a sermon before the Council of the Nativity of the Virgin, expressed similar sentiments, but in the same breath proposed that a new festival should be instituted in honor of Joseph’s virginity.] The subject called forth the eloquent and impassioned expostulations of Nicholas de Clemangis, who describes holidays as seasons distinguished alike by the abominable obscenities of Bacchus and Venus, and by the bloody rites of Mars and Bellona, — inquires what noble or great man would not revolt at the celebration of his birthday with such villanies — and whether any handiwork on the solemnities of the saints would not be infinitely preferable to so horrible practices, — and observes, “If a man oppressed with penury, be found to have labored in his field or vineyard, he is cited and severely punished, but he who is guilty of these worse things shall want both punishment and an accuser.” [Note: Tractat. de Nov. Celebrit. non instit.] The council did adopt some measures of reformation. The Popes, however, disregarded all complaints, and not only retained the days already established, but added others daily as they saw occasion. [Note: Heylyn’s Hist. of the Sab., part 2, p. 168.]

If the reformers had been able to accomplish it, the evil would have been swept away. Luther repeatedly declared his disapproval of holidays, and his desire that they were abolished. [Note: Consultum esse ut omnia festa aboleantur, solo Dominico Die retento. Lib. ad Nobil. German. Utinam apud Christianos nullum esset festum, nisi dies Dominicus. De Bon Oper.] “I would to God,” says Bucer, “that every holy day whatsoever, beside the Lord’s Day, were abolished. That zeal, which brought them first in, was without all warrant or example of the Scripture, and only followed natural reason, driving out the holy days of the Pagans, as one nail is driven out with another. These holy days have been defiled with so gross superstition, that I marvel if there be any Christian who does not shake at their very names.” [Note: Bucer on Matt. 10:11.] Farel and Viret achieved their removal from Geneva. On coming to reside there, Calvin acquiesced in the received custom. His refusal, and that of his colleagues, Farel and Couralt, to approve of the restoration of the former practice at the dictation of the Bernese, were among the reasons of their banishment from that city. On their departure, the holidays, as observed in Berne, with certain accompanying rites, were re-established, which, however, were again, after years of controversy, abolished by the people. Calvin declared that he had no hand in this, though he was not much displeased that it had so happened; and that had he been consulted, he would not have given his opinion in favor of such a measure. [Note: For these facts, see Calvin, Epist. ad Haller et ad Min. Bur. and Bonnet’s Letters of Calvin, i. 40, 46, notes.] “Nor is this,” he elsewhere states, “the only church which retained no solemnities but those of the seventh day; the same custom had already been introduced into Strasburg.”

In no case was the dismissal of such observances more thorough and permanent than in Scotland. The First Book of Discipline declares, that “the holidays invented by men, such as Christmas, Circumcision, Epiphany, Purification, and other fond feasts of our Lady, with the feasts of the apostles, martyrs, and virgins, with others, we judge utterly to be abolished forth of this realm, because they have no assurance in God’s Word.” When, in 1566, the Helvetic Confession, a copy of which was sent to this country, was approved by a number of the superintendents, with some of the most learned ministers, and afterwards by the General Assembly, the part that sanctioned holy days, of which the Church of Scotland rejected all but the Sabbath-day, was in both cases excepted from the favorable verdict. In the General assembly, held August 6, 1575, it was enacted, “That all days which heretofore have been kept holy, besides the Sabbath-days, such as Yule day, saints’ days, and such others, may be abolished, and a civil penalty (be appointed) against the keepers thereof by ceremonies, banqueting, fasting, and such other vanities.” [Note: Book of the Universal Kirk of Scotland (1839), p. 151.] Hence the boast of King James VI, so much in contrast with his subsequent proceedings towards his native land — when, in addressing the Assembly of 1590, he praised God that he was born in such a time as in the time of the light of the Gospel, and in such a place as to be King in such a Kirk, the sincerest kirk in the world: “The Kirk of Geneva,” he proceeded, “keepeth Pasch and Yule. [Note: Easter and Christmas.] What have they for them? They have no institution. As for our neighbor Kirk in England, their service is an evil-said mass in English: they want nothing of the mass but the liftings.” [Note: Calderwood’s History (1678 edition), p. 286.]

In other instances the success of the Reformers in this matter did not come up to their wishes. We learn from a letter of Bullinger to Calvin, written in 1551, that the Church of Zurich had recovered her tranquillity after no small discord produced by her having discarded twelve feast-days of Rome. It appears from the Acts of Synod held at Dort in 1574, that the Belgic Churches had agreed to be content with the observance of the Sabbath. [Note: Kerkelyk Hantboekje (1738), Art. 53.] But the magistrates interfered to maintain some of the old holidays, so that the Synod held at the same place in 1578 adopted a modified resolution, to the effect, that it were to be wished that the liberty allowed by God of working six days in the week were retained in the churches, and the Lord’s Day alone devoted to rest; but since by the authority of the magistrates some other holidays are observed, Christmas etc., the ministers of the Word shall labor by their preaching to turn the useless and hurtful practice of holiday-keeping, or idleness, into the occasion of holy and profitable employment, and shall do the same in cities where more festivals are kept by the authority of the magistrates; and that the churches shall endeavor, as far as possible, to have the stated observance of every feast, except Christmas, Easter, Ascension-day, and Whitsunday, abolished with all due speed. [Note: Ibid., Art. 75. Voet. Disput. Select. iii., 1309.] The French Protestants entertained the same views, [Note: Voet., ibid.] only being compelled by the Edict of Nantes to abstain from working on the holidays of the Roman Catholic Church, they agreed to congregate on these days either for hearing the word preached, or for prayer, as the consistories might find convenient, that the time might not be spent in idleness or vice. [Note: Order of Synod at Vitre, Bruce, An. Sec., p. 206.] In England, for upwards of a century after holiday abuses had been canvassed in the Council of Constance, nothing was done by the authorities in the shape of remedy beyond a few attempts to secure the better observance of the existing days. In 1523, six years after Luther had begun his career of reform, Cuthbert, bishop of London, reduced the many anniversaries of church dedications in his diocese to one annual celebration, “in order,” as he said, ” to diminish the number of holidays which encouraged the people to indulge in riotous excesses.” [Note: Wilk. Concil., iii. 701.] But the most effectual assault on the evil was that of Henry VIII, who, having broken with the Pope, and set himself to dissolve the monasteries, authorized Cromwell, his vicar-general, to declare in the famous convocation of June 1536, “that it was his Majesty’s pleasure that the rites and ceremonies of the Church should be reformed by the rules of Scripture, and that nothing should be maintained which did not rest on that authority;” following up the intimation of this noble principle with an order for the abolition, as demanded by the moral and social interests of the community, of “feasts of the patron of every Church, and all those feasts which fall either in harvest-time (July 1 to Sept. 29) or in term-time at Westminster, except the feasts of the Apostles, of our blessed Lady, and of St. George, and those holidays on which the judges were not wont to sit in judgment.” This order distinguishes “the Sabbath day” from holidays “instituted by man.” The fickle monarch, by an ordinance of 1541, restored the feasts of St. Luke, St. Mark, and St. Mary Magdalene, “their names being often and many times mentioned in plain and manifest Scripture,” but the feasts of the Invention, Exaltation of Holy Cross, and St. Lawrence, were abolished. “Divers superstitions and childish observances” were also placed under ban. And thus was fixed, except that the feast of St. Mary Magdalene was excluded in 1552, the precise number of holidays which is still to be found in the Prayer-book.

The conflict of the Reformers with the Church of Rome on the subject before us was soon ended. That Church was true to her motto, “Always the same.” After the Reformers had labored for years to correct abuses of every kind, these were all stereotyped by the Council of Trent. Rome even asserted more daringly an authority over times and seasons; and so late as 1549, consigned to the flames a poor man who ventured to maintain his right to work on one of her festival days that he might not starve. [Note: Fox’s Acts and Monuments. Table of French Martyrs, K. Hen. VIII.] On the other hand, the Reformed Churches generally settled down in the observances which they were able to secure. Although most of their leaders failed to attain in this respect all that they desired, much nevertheless was gained. Happy had it been, as events have shown, for the peace and prosperity of all the Churches, if they had adopted the principle, that the Lord’s Day is the only stated holy day appointed by Christ, who has, however, given to his followers the right of appropriating occasional seasons for public worship as circumstances may require. But the popular prejudice operated so strongly in various parts of Europe, as to prevent so desirable a consummation. There were many, however, in England who were not satisfied with this state of things, and hence a contest, earnest and prolonged, on the subject of rites and ceremonies among the Protestants of that country, which resulted in the expatriation of many of her best people, and in the disruption of the Church.

In this contest, as in others already noticed, there was on the one side power, the power of the oppressor. In the reign of Elizabeth, valuable though the services rendered to the Reformation were, acts were passed and measures employed, in not a few instances through the active influence of the Queen, which grieved the hearts of good men, and excluded from their churches, reduced to poverty, consigned to prison, or forced into banishment, thousands of ministers — a third, says Hume, [Note: History (1805), vol. v. p. 463.] of all the ecclesiastics in the kingdom, many of them learned and excellent men — because they could not conscientiously submit to unnecessary compliances, which no earthly power had the right to exact. The consequent results to the nation were, that great numbers of churches were without ministers, and that three thousand others were supplied with mere readers who could not preach at all, to the promotion everywhere of Popery, ungodliness, and immorality. [Note: Brook’s Puritans, vol. i., pp. 60.]

It was expected that on the accession of James to the throne of England, a prince who had avowed his attachment to “the sincerest kirk in the world,” and his abhorrence of every vestige of Popery, would do justice to the persecuted and their cause. A deputation of the Puritans, accordingly, presented to his Majesty during his progress to London, the celebrated Millenary address, entitled “humble Petition of the Ministers of the Church of England, desiring reformation of certain ceremonies and abuses of the Church,” in which they say, “that being more than a thousand minsters groaning under the burden of human rites and ceremonies, they with one consent threw themselves at his royal feet, for a reformation in the Church service, ministry, livings, and discipline,” praying “that the Lord’s Day be not profaned, and the rest upon holidays not so strictly urged.” The petitioners had their fears as well as hopes, but they were not kept in suspense. The king soon after declared at the Hampton Conference, that “he would compel them to conform, or `harrie’ them out of the land, or else do worse;” and in his first Parliament avowed, that while he was content to meet “our Mother-Church,” the Church of Rome, half way, the Puritans were insufferable in any well-regulated state. Accordingly, four hundred of his petitioners were in the course of a few years cast into prison, or driven from their country. These doings were followed by the introduction into Scotland of Prelacy, and four holidays against “the sense of the Kirk and nation,” and with consequences the most disastrous to both. Measures more atrocious were employed against the Nonconformist in England and the Presbyterians in Scotland, by Charles I, till both parts of the kingdom were roused to arms, and Laud, the chief instigator of persecution, and the King himself, perished on the scaffold. Under the remarkable rule which succeeded, and which, absolute though it was, granted full toleration to all professing Christians, the Parliament passed an ordinance, setting aside all festivals, commonly called holidays, and appointing the second Tuesday in each month to be a day of recreation “for all scholars, apprentices, and other servants, the leave and approbation of their masters being first had and obtained.” The restored monarchy and ecclesiastical system brought with them the increased oppression of the Puritans, of which the crowning instance in the time of Charles II was the passing in 1662, of the “Act of Uniformity,” requiring every one to conform to the Prayer-book, rites and ceremonies of the Church, and causing the deprivation of nearly two thousand five hundred ministers, the death of three thousand nonconformists, and the ruin of sixty thousand families. The undiminished severity of the following reign is clearly indicated, when to the mention of the name of Jeffreys, it is added, that no dissenting minister could appear in public, or travel, except in disguise, and that fourteen hundred and sixty Quakers were in prison, not for crime, but for nonconformity.

There is no satisfaction in recalling these depraved exhibitions of our common nature, except with the view of serving the ends of utility and truth. And it is pleasant to turn from them to the succession of noble-minded men who sympathized with the victims of wrong, [Note: The Earls of Bedford and Warwick, Lord Rich, Sir Francis Knollys, Sir William Cecil, Beza, the General Assembly, the Parliament at various times, Mr. Attorney Morrice, Archbishops Grindal and Abbot (repeatedly), Bishops Rudd and Williams, etc. Grindal for his favor to the Puritans was under censure for some years, and Williams for saying that “they were the King’s best subjects, and he was sure they would carry all at last,” was fined £11,000, and committed to the Tower, his library and goods being sold to pay the fine, to which was added a fine of £8,000 on the discovery among his papers of two letters addressed to him, and containing certain dark expressions.] and to the salutary effects of measures which, though they set at nought the claims of justice and humanity, expatriated some thirty thousand citizens, and drained the country of so much of its wealth and moral worth, were, under Providence, the occasion of establishing our rights at the Revolution, of training a race of men who have made America and England what they are, and of sounding in the ears of oppressors notes of warning which can never die away.

From the circumstances of the Puritans, it might be presumed that there could be little intellectual controversy on questions which were summarily disposed of by authority. When, as in the days of Elizabeth, a person for saying, “that to keep the Queen’s birthday as a holy day was to make her an idol,” might be committed to the Fleet, and another for vindicating him, might be sent to the Marshelsea, — when, as at the Hampton Court Conference, and on many other occasions, the Puritans were subjected to browbeating and abuse, — and when, as afterwards, a physician, for denying the Divine right of bishops above presbyters, a barrister for writing against plays, and two ministers for publishing pamphlets against recent innovations and prelacy respectively, were degraded, imprisoned, fined, and, in two of the cases, barbarously maimed in their persons, it may be conceived, that the prosecutors had no need, and the sufferers small encouragement, to enter the arena of disputation. Yet the former did sometimes descend from their vantage ground, and the latter, under all their disabilities, ventured to encounter them, or even to be the assailants. Howe has condensed the history of the conflict before his time in his letter to Bishop Barlow: “Few metaphysical questions are disputed with nicer subtlety than the matter of the ceremonies has been by Archbishop Whitgift, Cartwright, Hooker, Parker,[Note: Robert Parker, a rector of the Church, author of De Politica Ecclesiastica, an able treatise.] Dr. Burgess, Dr. Ames, Gillespy, Jeanes, [Note: Henry Jeanes, also a rector, and according to Wood, “a noted and ready disputant, a noted metaphysician.” He is the author of controversial publications against Goodwin, Milton, Drs. Hammond and Jeremy Taylor, of a subtlety quite according to sir W. Hamilton’s own heart; and, also, of several excellent sermons.] Calderwood, Dr. Owen, Baxter, etc. [Note: Works (1836), p. 23.]

The subject had, indeed, been canvassed in the days of Edward VI, when Hooper and others, supported by a majority of the reforming clergy, contended against the vestments and other relics of Popery, and again during the earlier years of Elizabeth’s reign, particularly in the Convocation of 1562, at which the petition for the removal of the rites and ceremonies was rejected by a single proxy vote. But Howe has accurately commenced his list with the names of Whitgift and Cartwright, since it was not till these learned men — professors of Divinity in the University of Cambridge — wrote, that the points of difference received a full and formal discussion. They published each two works, in the course of the years 1572-77, which nearly exhausted the question. How Cartwright acquitted himself on the occasion may be conceived from Beza’s recommendation of him to Queen Elizabeth, as a person far better qualified to refute “the Rhemish New Testament” than he himself was; and from the words upon another occasion of the same reformer when writing to a friend in England he said, “Here is now with us your countryman, Thomas Cartwright, than whom, I think, the sun doth not see a more learned man.”[Note: Clark’s Lives, pp. 18, 19.] Whitgift’s part in the controversy has been pronounced learned, and, in some instances, eloquent. But it lay open to this cutting remark of Ballard, a Popish priest, “I would desire no better books to prove my doctrine of Popery than Whitgift’s against Cartwright, and his injunctions set forth in her Majesty’s name.” [Note: Strype’s Whitgift, p. 285.] Within a few years there followed a discussion between Hooker and Travers, when both were lecturers at the Temple. Travers was silenced by authority. Declining an invitation to a professorship in the University of St. Andrews, he accepted the provostship of Trinity College, Dublin, where he had Ussher as a pupil. He had a principal share in the composition of the Book of Discipline, afterwards the ecclesiastical directory of the Commonwealth. The dispute brought out the remarkable sentence from Hooker, “Schisms and disturbances will arise in the Church, if all men may be tolerated to think as they please, and publicly speak what they think.” But its chief result was, that by means of it he was induced to prepare his great work, for which purpose he withdrew to a more retired situation. The Ecclesiastical Polity has received even from the most unfriendly to its views the praise of extraordinary erudition, research, eloquence, and moderation; and of having superseded all other defenses of the Church of England. But it has been too truly said, if written in support of the Popish hierarchy and ritual, the greater part of it would have required little alteration.

The name of Dr. Ames, or Amesius, has given importance and fame to a contest between him and Bishop Morton, with Dr. Burgess, on whom the bishop devolved the task of defending his work on The Innocence of the Three Ceremonies. Dr. Ames had suffered for his nonconformity, having been obliged to retire to Holland, whither he was pursued by the hostile influence even of Archbishop Abbot, who procured his removal from the English Church at the Hague, of which he had been chosen minister, and prevented his appointment to a chair in the University of Leyden. He was for twelve years the admired professor of divinity at Franeker. His third work in the controversy, A Fresh Suit against Human Ceremonies in God’s Worship, which was published in 1633, after the death of its author, and was the means of converting Baxter to nonconformity on several points, is, says Orme, “one of the most able works of the period, on the subject on which it treats. Its author was a man of profound learning, great acuteness, and eminent piety . . . . Though not professedly an answer to Hooker’s Ecclesiastical Polity, it embraces everything of importance in that noted work. [Note: Life and Times of Richard Baxter, p. 19.]

The imposition of Prelacy, and the Five Articles of Perth, on the people of Scotland, extended the controversy to that country, where men of no ordinary endowments were found prepared to defend their religious polity. Henderson stood forward in the Assembly of 1618, to oppose the innovations, and was, along with Calderwood and others, author of a book (1619) proving the nullity of that Assembly. The Course of Conformity (1622) seems to have been the production of William Scot, minister of Cupar-Fife. [Note: Scott’s Narration, Preface p. vi, note (Wodrow Society Works).] Mr. John Murray, minister of Leith, and afterwards of Dunfermline, was the author of A Dialogue, etc. (1620), on the recent innovations. In a memoir of this individual, Dr. M`Crie remarks, “As Christian experience and practical godliness have been so often pressed to the disparagement of all contendings about the external form and discipline of the Church, it may be observed, that in this eminent person they were closely united, as they have been in `a great cloud of witnesses with which we are compassed about.'” [Note: Miscell. Writings (1841), p. 152.] It may be added, that even were the latter class of subjects admitted to be on some accounts less important than the other, it is “the least in the kingdom of heaven who breaks or teaches men to break one of these least commandments,” and “the great” in that kingdom who “do and teach these commandments.” The Nonconformists both in England and Scotland were religiously and morally, as well as intellectually, the élite of the community. It was not among them that the profane, the dishonest, the dissolute, and the ignorant were to be found. Circumstances sometimes required them, as in the case of Calderwood, to devote their energies to the defense of points connected with ecclesiastical government and discipline. But it will generally be found that their writers were still more prolific on subjects of doctrine and personal piety, and that they were the contributors of our best works in both these departments. Jeanes, Ames, Owen, and Baxter, are a few out of many instances. The spirit of Adam Gib has been common among such men. “I have used,” he says, “my best endeavors all along,” for forty-five years, “through `evil report and good report,’ to maintain the cause of the Secession testimony which I profess, on behalf of the Reformation principles of the Church of Scotland, against the manifold errors and corruptions of the present age. But I have very seldom entertained my hearers from the pulpit with any peculiarities of that cause. It has always been my principal, and almost only business there, to explain and enforce those doctrines and duties which are accounted of among Christians of all denominations, so far as they take the substance of their Christianity from the Bible. And I have a particular satisfaction in this providential ordering, that my former appearances before the world, in favor of the special testimony which I have espoused, are succeeded by the present appearance on behalf of the common interests of Christianity.” [Note: Sacred Contemplations, preface. A work which discovers a profound acquaintance with Divine truth, and powers of vigorous thinking and writing, even when its author was in his seventy-third year.]

A work of Gillespie, under the title, The English Popish Ceremonies obtruded upon the Church of Scotland (1637), though the production of a mere youth, was deemed worthy of being “discharged by a proclamation.” Baillie extols it as a marvellous composition, and “far above such an age.” [Note: Stevenson’s History, ii, p. 217. Baillie, Letters, vol. i., pp. 67, 68.] But the most voluminous writer on the subject was Calderwood, author of the True History of the Church of Scotland (1678), who, besides replies to Dr. Morton maintaining his `innocent’ to be `nocent’ ceremonies (1623), a Re-examination of the Five Articles enacted at Perth, etc. (1636), with other books and tracts, published in 1623 the Altare Damascenum, “beyond comparison the most learned and elaborate work ever written on the subject, embracing the whole controversy between the English and Scottish Churches as to government, discipline, and worship. It was never answered, nor is it easy to see how it could be answered. It was held in high estimation by foreign divines, having been printed more than once on the Continent.” [Note: M`Crie’s Miscell. Writings (1841), words of the editor, p. 78. In an advertisement to the reader, prefixed to the Leyden edition (1708) of the Altare Damascenum, we have the now well-known remark of James I, the implacable enemy of Calderwood, that the work was unanswerable, as there was nothing in it but Scripture, reason, and the Fathers. In his Appendix to his History, Spotswood, another enemy, is constrained to acknowledge its consummate erudition. It is mentioned by Orme as one of the means by which Baxter was brought to “the full conviction that the English Episcopacy is a totally different thing from the primitive, that it had corrupted the churches and the ministry, and destroyed all Christian discipline.” Life of Baxter, pp. 22, 33.]

It would be unnecessary to dwell on the writings of the decided Owen, or of the more moderate Baxter, in this controversy, or to recall the lucubrations of Bancroft and Durell, with those of their respective opponents, Bradshaw and Hickman. And it is sufficient to do little more than name the remaining principal writers on our subject, Nicholls and Pierce, who present the substance of the controversy between the Church and the Nonconformists; Calamy and Bishop Hoadly, whose writings have been said to give the fullest view of the points of difference between these parties to be found in our language; and, in reference to holidays in particular, Wheatly, who has done justice to the arguments for such seasons, [Note: In Rational Illustration, etc. ch. v, Of Sundays and Holydays.] with Professor Bruce of Whitburn, who applied his remarkable powers and acquirements to a work in which he endeavors to prove that holidays are contrary to Scripture, and fraught with injury to the best interests of society. [Note: Annus Secularis, or the British Jubilee, etc. (1788).]

We may add, that it fitly devolved on the intimate friend of Bruce, Dr. M`Crie, to appear in defense of the principles of the Scottish Reformation, when, in 1817, the Court papers announced that the churches throughout the country were to be opened for divine service on the day appointed for the funeral of the Princess Charlotte. The late Dr. Andrew Thomson positively refused to comply with the order. A discussion ensued, which, after several pamphlets had appeared on both sides, was terminated by a publication from the pen of Dr. M`Crie [Note: Free Thoughts on the late Religious Celebration of the Funeral of her Royal Highness the Princess Charlotte of Wales; and on the Discussion to which it has given rise in Edinburgh. Miscell. Writings, pp. 356-357.] under the name of Scoto-Britannus, a brochure not discreditable to the philosophy and genius of the distinguished author.

As to the question of the propriety of those measures which were employed to compel compliance with the rites and ceremonies of the dominant Church, we believe that the progress of knowledge has left, in the minds of all enlightened Protestants, no doubt that such measures were inexpedient, incompetent, and unjust. On the question, however, of the appointment of stated days for the commemoration of good men, or of some remarkable particulars in the life of Christ, there is still a difference of opinion. Wheatly thus defends the practice as regards “the remembrance of some special acts and passages of our Lord in the redemption of mankind.” “That the observation of such days is requisite, is evident from the practice both of Jews and Gentiles. Nature taught the one, and God the other, that the celebration of solemn festivals was a part of the public exercise of religion. Besides the feasts of the Passover, of Weeks, and of Tabernacles, which were all of Divine appointment, the Jews celebrated some of their own institution, viz. the feast of Purim, and the Dedication of the Temple, the latter of which even our blessed Savior himself honored with his presence. As to the celebration of Christian festivals, the first Christians thought themselves as much obliged to observe them as the Jews were to observe theirs. They had received greater benefits, and therefore it would have been the highest degree of ingratitude to have been less zealous in commemorating them. And, accordingly, we find that in the very infancy of Christianity, some certain days were yearly set apart to commemorate the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, the coming of the Holy Ghost, etc., and to glorify God by a humble and grateful acknowledgment of these mercies granted to them at those times. Which laudable and religious custom so soon prevailed over the universal Church, that in five hundred years after our Savior, we meet with them distinguished by the same names we now call them by; such a Epiphany, Ascension-day, Whitsunday, etc., and appointed to be observed on those days on which the Church of England now observes them.”[Note: Rational Illustration, etc. Of the Sundays and Holydays, ch. v. Introduction.] In the absence of a summary by any eminent writer of the argument on the other side, we present two or three brief extracts from the writings of Amesius and Owen. The former, in the preface to his Fresh Suit, says:

“The state of this war is this; we, as it becometh Christians, stand upon the sufficiency of Christ’s institutions for all kind of worship. The Word, say we, and nothing but the Word, in matters of religious worship. The prelates rise up on the other side, and will needs have us allow and use certain human ceremonies in our Christian worship. We desire to be excused as holding them unlawful. Christ we know, and all that cometh from Him we are ready to embrace; but these human ceremonies we know not, nor can have anything to do with them. Upon this they make fierce war upon us; and yet lay all the fault of this war, and the mischiefs of it, on our backs.”

In his Truth and Innocence Vindicated, Dr. Owen shows that all worship under the Mosiac dispensation was to be exclusively of Divine appointment (Ex 20:4, 5; Deut. 4:2; 12:32; 1 Kings 12:33; Prov. 30:6; Mal. 4:4); that every human addition to it was rejected in that word of the blessed Holy One, “In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men;” that the churches of the New Testament had their foundation laid in the command of our Savior, “Go ye, and disciple all nations, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you;” that his presence was promised, “Lo, I am with you always;” to accompany the teaching and observance of His own ordinances, not of any human super-additions; and that in no one instance did the apostles impose anything on the practice of the churches in the worship of God, to be necessarily or for a continuance observed among them, but what had the express warrant and authority of Christ. [Note: Works (1826), vol 21, pp. 336, 337.] “I shall take leave to say,” are his words in his treatise on Communion with God, “what is on my heart, and what (the Lord assisting) I shall willingly make good against all the world, namely, that that principle, that the Church hath power to institute and appoint any thing or ceremony belonging to the worship of God, either as to matter or to manner, beyond the orderly observance of such circumstances as necessarily attend such ordinances as Christ himself hath instituted, lies at the bottom of all the horrible superstition and idolatry, of all the confusion, blood, persecution, and wars, that have for so long a season spread themselves over the Christian world; and that it is the design of a great part of the revelation to make a discovery of this truth.” [Note: Ibid, vol. 10, pp. 184, 185.]

It is more probable, that, when men of the greatest learning, wisdom, and piety, engage earnestly in a controversy, persevere in it, and “suffer the loss of all things,” rather than abandon the principles which they conceive it to involve, the matter in dispute is no trifle. What must raise this probability as to the case before us into certainty, are the two considerations; first, that such questions had to be settled as Whether Christ be the sole lawgiver in his Church? and Whether the Scriptures be a sufficient rule of worship? And second, that history has proved the opinions on one side to have been productive of great good, and, on the other, of incalculable evil. And if we bear in mind the superior intelligence and morals of the Puritans as a body to those of their neighbors — the impossibility of vindicating the ceremonies without striking at the above-mentioned scriptural principles, and at Protestantism generally — with the results of the systems, written, respectively, in the blessings of knowledge, religion, and prosperity, and in the reverse, we seem to have the means of determining, along with the value of the contest, the side on which the truth lay; in other words, that the one class of opinions were importantly right, and the other gravely wrong. How happy for the Church of England were she warned by her own history, and the recent mutinies in her camp, yet to fulfil the desires of her early reformers by purging away her remaining Popery! And how sad for the churches of Scotland, should they, instead of holding fast and making real progress, come to weary of their simple religious forms, and yield to the insidious attempts of recreant sons to secularize a system of polity and worship which has been the glory and blessing of their country! On this subject let us employ the weighty words of a distinguished Scottish writer: “This thorough reform” — the “abolishing at the Reformation of holidays, and a multitude of other ceremonies” says M`Crie, “constitutes the high distinction of Scotland among the Protestant Churches. Its beneficial influence has extended to all departments of society; it has improved our temporal as well as our spiritual welfare; it has freed us from many galling impositions which diminish the comforts and fret the spirits of other nations. It may be seen in the superior information of our people, in their freedom from childish fears and vulgar prejudices, in the purity of their morals, and in that practical regard which, unconstrained by forms, and unattracted by show, they voluntarily pay to the ordinances of religion. One of the worst symptoms of our state, and which may justly occasion foreboding apprehensions, is, that we are not duly sensible of our privileges, nor aware of the cause to which, under Providence, we are principally to ascribe them; and that there are many among us whose conduct gives too much ground to suspect that they would be ready to part at a very cheap rate with those privileges which their fathers so dearly won. `O fortunatos nimium sua si bona norint.’

“. . . If ever the time come when the attachment of the people of Scotland to Presbytery shall be loosened and give way, its effects will not be confined to religion. To this attachment — to the unfettered genius of our worship — to our exemption from the benumbing bondage of recurring holidays, political or religious, and from forms of prayer dictated on particular occasions by the Court, and to the freedom of discussion yet retained in our ecclesiastical assemblies, we hesitate not to ascribe, more than to any other cause, the preservation of public spirit and independence, which many things in our political situation and local circumstances have a powerful tendency to weaken and to crush. Those who view every expression of these feelings with jealousy, will, of course, encourage or connive at whatever is calculated to blunt them. But all who wish well to the public spirit of Scotland, as well as to her religious purity, are called upon to deprecate and resist such acts of conformity. And this resistance cannot be opposed to the evil at too early a stage.

`Principiis obsta; sero medicina paratur,
Cum mala per longas invaluere moras.'” [Note: Miscell. Writings, pp. 574, 585.]

 

  1. From James Gilfillan, Sketches of Sabbath Literature (Anthology Of Presbyterian & Reformed Literature, volume 5). []