2. Reasons for such days
Antiquities of the Christian Church
XXII. Sacred Seasons of the Puritans
2. Reasons for such days
As well known to those who have investigated the history of the planters at Plymouth, they had reasons for preferring these days to similar ones of the Episcopal order. They discountenanced the rubric, clerical robes and bands, marriage with a ring, baptism by the sign of a cross, and such particulars – enjoined by canonical rules of England – because adopted from the Papal forms, and fitted to turn back the liberty of Protestantism to the bondage of Romish hierarchy. So, for a like cause, they cast off the confinement of holy seasons except sabbath, to particular days and months of each successive year. Their arguments for such an alteration had much force to their perception, when they saw how much the high church party, in their native land, leaned towards Papacy, and how bitter were their prejudices against those who were non-conformists, bitt who earnestly sought for greater purity in doctrine and more simplicity in ceremonies. As an additional weight in the scale of their judgment, they had not forgotten, that adherence to Romish rules was one of the chief means, under the reign of Mary, which contributed to the relapse of Protestantism to Papacy. They were not so far unacquainted with human nature, as to be ignorant, that it possessed a principle which is wrought on by the association of appearances, and which, when having repudiated error, and still retaining its forms, is far more likely to fall back upon it, than if having altogether renounced both one and the other. Their reason for deviation from established custom, as now in view, was much stronger in their time than it was subsequently, when Congregationalism had risen from its infancy and numerous depressions to the stature and energy of manhood, so as to have little fear of an inroad upon its privileges. They well knew, that the fasts and thanksgivings of the conformists were designed, like their own, to improve the moral affections and keep man within the salutary restraints of duty; and that the effects of these seasons, when properly observed by any sect, were of so desirable a kind. – Hence it was that serious Episcopalians considered the distinction which the Puritans made, relative to this subject, as more the result of needless fear than of real cause.
Thomas Lechford, a respectable lawyer, who resided several years in Massachusetts and returned to England in 1651, – made the subsequent remark on our ecclesiastical usages. "There are dayes of fasting, thanksgiving and prayers upon occasions, but no holy dayes, except Sunday. And why not set fasting dayes and times, and set feasts, – as well as set Synods in the Reformed churches ) And why not holy dayes as well as the fifth of November, and dayes of Purim among the Jews?" This author hereby seems to imply, that there could be no more harm in complying with the prescribed religious seasons of Episcopacy, – than there was in keeping similar days, appointed by Presbyterian synods, as those of Geneva, – or in the Jewish observance of the stated Feast of Lots, or in obedience to the law of king James, which required every fifth of November to be spent, as a national thanksgiving for the discovery of the gunpowder plot. But had the primitive settlers of our soil met this argument, they would probably have replied in the following train of thought: We have no serious objections to these occasions. The synods of Reformers were calculated to keep them from papal hierarchy. The commemoration of deliverance from the powder plot was fitted for a like effect. The celebration of the Jews, being preserved from the machinations of Haman, guarded them against idolatry. The fixedness of these seasons was suited to produce opposite results from the fixedness which belongs to most of the holy days kept by the established church; – and, therefore, we do not reject the former as exerting a bad influence, – while we do the latter for such a tendency.
News from New England in 3d Ser. Vol. 111. p. 79 of Mass. Hist. Coll.
Lechford here appears to mean those holy days, that were kept in the established church. The Puritans so far held their fasts and thanksgivings holy, as to require, by penal enactments, that they should be spent with the sacredness of the sabbath.