An Act of the General Assembly
Of the Reforming Church of Scotland
Against the Observation of
Christmas or Yule-day.
To which are added
Excerpts from the Sermons of a Scotsman and a Cappadocian
To warn believers against being
Spotted with the World’s Vanities.
TrueCovenanter.com Editor’s Introduction.
During the period of the first reformation in Scotland, the Presbyterian Church set itself definitively in opposition to the celebration of human holy days such as Christmas and Easter. The First Book of Discipline, and various Acts of the General Assembly made this opposition clear, both suggesting civil penalties, and instituting ecclesiastical censures for those indulging in these superstitions. When a period of disorder and spiritual decline prevailed in the Church’s subsequent history, holy days were reinstituted and their observation became increasingly common. But a second period of Reformation came to Scotland in 1637, and the Scottish Reformers again expressed their opposition to holy days in a variety of ways.
One of their expressions of opposition came in the official review of the decision that had been made to re-institute holy days. Those who would like a list of several of the Church’s early rulings against the institution, should consult the Acts of Assembly from 1638, where the General Assembly cited its former decisions to make clear whether it was the reforming Presbyterians, or the ritualizing Episcopalians who were imposing innovations on the Church. The Act which follows, came a few years later, and provides another sample to demonstrate how strong this opposition was, and what reforming Presbyterians have found necessary in the past to bring the Church’s worship, and the Christian’s personal piety into agreement with the rule of Holy Scripture.
13. Februar. 1645. Poſtmeridiem.
Act for cenſuring the Obſervers of Yule-day,
and other ſuperſtitious dayes, eſpecially
if they be Schollars.
THe Generall Aſſembly taking to their consideration, The manifold Abuses, Profanity, and Superstitions, committed on Yule-day, and some other superstitious days following, Have unanimously concluded, and hereby Ordains, That whatsoever Person or Persons hereafter shall be found guilty of keeping of the foresaid superstitious days, shall be proceeded against by Kirk-Censures, and shall make their publick Repentance therefore in the face of the Congregation where the offence is committed: And that Presbyteries and Provincial Synods Take particular notice how Ministers try and censure Delinquents of this kind, within the several Parochines [Parishes]. And because Scholars and Students give great scandal and offence in this, That they (being found guilty) be severely disciplined and chastised therefore by their Masters: And in case the Masters of Schools or Colleges be accessory to the said superstitious profanity, by their connivance, granting of liberty of Vacance [Vacation] to their Scholars at that time, or any time thereafter, in compensation thereof, That the Masters be summoned by the Ministers of the Place to compear before the next ensuing General Assembly, there to be censured according to their trespass: And if Scholars (being guilty) refuse to subject themselves to Corrections, or be Fugitives from Discipline, That they be not received in any other School or College within the Kingdom.
A Warning Against Uncovenanted Spots.
The following is an excerpt from a sermon preached at Glasgow by Andrew Cant in 1638, immediately after the renovation of the National Covenant. One reason why our fore-runners in the cause of Reformation made so much more progress than we do, is the fact that they knew that the Gospel obliged them to be different from the world. They did not assume this difference was mere talk, nor flatter themselves with the idea that the difference was a matter of either inward convictions without outward demonstration, or outward customs without inward principles. They were earnest that the true Christian’s life must be different than both that of the world, and that of mere nominal Christianity; and it must even look different. Andrew Cant concludes his observations about the Christian’s “Wedding Garment” with the following paragraphs:
A garment is for distinction. There must be a distinction among you, between you and the wicked world, because ye have renewed your covenant with God: and this distinction must not only be outwardly (for an hypocrite may seem indeed very fair) but it must be by inward application. I desire you all that are hearing me, not only to put it on, but to hold it on: put it on, and hold it on; for it is not like another garment, neither in matter, nor shape, nor in use, nor in durance. I may not insist to handle it, but it is not like other garments, especially it is not like a bridegroom’s garment, which he has on to-day, and off to-morrow. Therefore I charge you all your days, to hold it on. Ay, that which ye had on upon Sabbath last, and yesterday, and which you have on this day, see that ye cast it not off to-morrow. What heard you cried on Sabbath last, and yesterday, and this day? Hosanna, hosanna. And wherefore cried ye yesterday and this day, Hosanna, hosanna? Look that when we are away, and your ministers not preaching to you, that ye cry not, “Crucify Him, crucify Him.” I fear that many who last Sabbath, yesterday and this day, have been crying Hosanna, hosanna, shall, long ere the next Sabbath, cry, “Crucify Him, and hang Him up.” But I charge you, O sons of Zion, and ye daughters of Jerusalem, that your tongues never cease in crying, Hosanna, till Christ come and dwell in your soul.
Ye that are masters of this college, if ye count me worthy to speak to you, I would have you keep your garments clean, and take heed that ye be not spotted with uncovenanted spots. Ye that are scholars, take heed what sort of learning and traditions ye drink in, and hold your garments clean. We hear of too many colleges in the land, that are spotted; but we hope in God that ye are yet clean: and young and old of you, take all heed to your garments, that they be white, and clean, and beautiful.
For the Lord’s sake, all ye that are hearing me, take heed to your garments, but especially ye that have subscribed your covenant, take heed to your garments; for blyth [happy] will your adversaries be, to see any spot on them. And therefore, for the Lord’s sake, study to be holy; otherwise papists will rejoice at it, and the weak will stumble at it: and so ye will wound and bore the sweet side of Christ. And therefore put on your wedding garment, hold it on, and hold it clean; walk wisely and before the world.
Now I commend you to Him Who is able to strengthen, stablish, and settle you: to Him be glory, honour and dominion, for ever and ever. Amen.
A Word for the Advocates of Semi-Ancient Tradition.
A frequent answer given in favor of holy days, and pleaded as a reason to tolerate or excuse the practices of those who observe these traditions, is the possibility of observing them in a Christian manner, or redeeming them as an institution that Christians are able to observe as part of their holy practice and an important message to the world. To condemn them wholesale is seen as too severely implicating Reformed churches and believers of even the best times of Reformation, and an extreme disconnect from ancient Christian tradition. The simple facts, however, are that (1st) we must always favor further steps of reformation and ecclesiastical sanctification, without allowing worthily admired men and churches of lesser reformation to hinder what is best; and (2nd) the most ancient traditions of Holy Scripture are always to be favored over the semi-ancient traditions of church history. Reformed Christians will not find unity otherwise. What unity do we have now, when tradition and liberty serve as the pretence for some to keep Christ-mass in the congregation, yet seeking to abstain from worldly festivities and superstitions at home, while others are particular to keep an unscriptural holy-day out of the Lord’s holy worship in the congregation, yet seeking to exercise a liberty about harmless superstition in home and society? Is this the unity of those who “speak the same thing” and “have no divisions among them,” and are “joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment?” (1 Cor. 1.10.) Is it not in direct opposition to the most-ancient tradition which we ought to be following from Galatians 4.9-12?
Granting the possibility of keeping a holy day in remembrance of the birth of our Savior, we should ask a fair question: Does the contemporary Christian celebration pleaded for in our time bear the name, or have the appearance, of that which either sort of traditionalist now urges? Must the Messiah’s name be joined with the name of the idolatrous Mass? Or would not serious Christians prefer a name more fitting? What role would festivity and decoration actually have? The following reminder from history is offered to the half-traditionalist-half-Christians who are willing to consider again what really directs their conduct in this matter, and how it would be best revised. The paragraphs are taken from an oration of Gregory Nazianzen on “The Theophany, or Birthday of Christ” and were preached about the year A.D. 380. They are presented here, not as encouragement to keep up a bad practice in a corrected form, but as a gauge by which to measure how much of modern practice, justified in the name of Christian tradition, really exhibits the spirit or intention of those who in honest simplicity first set those bad examples which developed into what is more properly called Semi-Ancient Tradition. Is this really the spirit of your traditional Christianity?
The Festival is the Theophany or Birth-day, for it is called both, two titles being given to the one thing. For God was manifested to man by birth. On the one hand Being, and eternally Being, of the Eternal Being, above cause and word, for there was no word before The Word; and on the other hand for our sakes also Becoming, that He Who gives us our being might also give us our Well-being, or rather might restore us by His Incarnation, when we had by wickedness fallen from wellbeing. The name Theophany is given to it in reference to the Manifestation, and that of Birthday in respect of His Birth.
This is our present Festival; it is this which we are celebrating today, the Coming of God to Man, that we might go forth, or rather (for this is the more proper expression) that we might go back to God—that putting off the old man, we might put on the New; and that as we died in Adam, so we might live in Christ, being born with Christ and crucified with Him and buried with Him and rising with Him. For I must undergo the beautiful conversion, and as the painful succeeded the more blissful, so must the more blissful come out of the painful. For where sin abounded Grace did much more abound; and if a taste condemned us, how much more doth the Passion of Christ justify us? Therefore let us keep the Feast, not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own, but as belonging to Him Who is ours, or rather as our Master’s; not as of weakness but as of healing; not as of creation but of re-creation.
And how shall this be? Let us not adorn our porches, nor arrange dances, nor decorate the streets; let us not feast the eye, nor enchant the ear with music, nor enervate the nostrils with perfume, nor prostitute the taste, nor indulge the touch, those roads that are so prone to evil and entrances for sin; let us not be effeminate in clothing soft and flowing, whose beauty consists in its uselessness, nor with the glittering of gems or the sheen of gold or the tricks of colour, belying the beauty of nature, and invented to do despite unto the image of God; Not in rioting and drunkenness, with which are mingled, I know well, chambering and wantonness, since the lessons which evil teachers give are evil; or rather the harvests of worthless seeds are worthless. Let us not set up high beds of leaves, making tabernacles for the belly of what belongs to debauchery. Let us not appraise the bouquet of wines, the kickshaws of cooks, the great expense of unguents. Let not sea and land bring us as a gift their precious dung, for it is thus that I have learnt to estimate luxury; and let us not strive to outdo each other in intemperance (for to my mind every superfluity is intemperance, and all which is beyond absolute need),—and this while others are hungry and in want, who are made of the same clay and in the same manner.
Let us leave all these to the Greeks and to the pomps and festivals of the Greeks, who call by the name of gods beings who rejoice in the reek of sacrifices, and who consistently worship with their belly; evil inventors and worshippers of evil demons. But we, the Object of whose adoration is the Word, if we must in some way have luxury, let us seek it in word, and in the Divine Law, and in histories; especially such as are the origin of this Feast; that our luxury may be akin to and not far removed from Him Who hath called us together. &c. &c.