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Old Church Life in Scotland
Appendix B.—Fast Days and Days of Atonement

How Fast-days were meant to be observed in the Church of Scotland may be gathered from the following sentences in the Westminster Assembly's Directory for Public Worship:—

"A religious fast requires total abstinence, not only from all food, but also from all worldly labour, discourses, and thoughts, and from all bodily delights (although at other times lawful), rich apparel, ornaments, and such like, during the fast, and much more from whatever is in the nature or use scandalous and offensive, as gaudish attire, lascivious habits and gestures, and other vanities of either sex."

"Before the public meeting, each family and person apart are privately to use all religious care to prepare their hearts to such a solemn work, and to be early at the congregation."

"Before the close of the public duties, the minister is, in his own name and the people's names, to engage his and their hearts to be the Lord's, with professed purpose and resolution to reform whatever is amiss in them, and more particularly such sins as they have been more remarkably guilty of."

How scandalously at variance with these directions Fast-day services have in recent years become in large cities, and even in rural parishes traversed by railways, the following paragraph, which appeared in the newspapers about two years ago, will show :—

Glasgow — The Fast-day and its Effects.— Following the Glasgow Fast, yesterday was exceptionally busy at the City Police Court, there being no less than 319 cases, as compared with 248 on the same day last year. There were 90 cases of drunkenness, being an increase of 36.

On the other hand, that it may be seen how Fasts were appointed and held by good and godly people long ago, I subjoin here from Brodie's Diary an account of what is termed a day of humiliation and atonement. The occasion of the solemnity was a raid committed in the North by Glencairn's soldiery in 1654:—

"1654, January 20th.—Glencairn burnt the corns and houses of Leathin. O Lord, sanctify and help us to understand and be humbled under this hand of thine. 24th. This day I went to Leathin and determined to give a stack of oats and straw to his poor people because of his freedom and their safety, both in duty of love and obedience and in sign of thankfulness, for his safety was from Thee. We appointed a day of search, and a day of humiliation and atonement" (the word is italicised in the printed copy of the Diary) "and of supplication, on the 30th and 31st of January. . . January 31st, 1654, was the solemn humiliation at Leathin for the causes and reasons contained in the paper which is in my Latron.

"After Leathin and Francis did, with some measure of tenderness, confess and bewail their particular guilt of covetousness, passion, pride, unrighteous dealing, worldly mindedness, youthful lusts of un-cleanness, and promise-breaking to God of many duties which they had bound themselves unto, we were all affected with the work of God on their spirits, and besought the Lord on their behalf that He would not let the wound close till it were thoroughly healed. After some measure of assistance and countenance on the day, Mr. Joseph preached on John xxii. 20, 21, etc., Mr. John on Joel ii. We closed the exercise with a solemn engagement of ourselves to God, and did come under a new, firm, inviolable covenant with God, that we should be His and He should be ours. We gave up and surrendered our soul; body, estates, lands, rents, houses, families, wives, children, servants, wit, parts, endowments, friends, wealth, and all that we had or ever should have or attain unto in this world, to be the Lord's for ever, that He might call for, make use, and dispose of it and mark it as his own. We besought the Lord to accept the free-will offering of our lips and of our hearts, and not to permit us to depart from Him.

"Mr. John acknowledged his predominant sins of worldliness, passion, pride, and unfaithfulness in his calling, and entered his soul bound to endeavour to mortify these sins, and every sin, and to labour for more fidelity in his ministerial calling than ever, but, renouncing himself, desired to believe in the grace of God through Christ for this effect.

"Mr. Joseph acknowledged and bewailed the same sins, unconscionableness in his calling, and doing duty for some outward respect of credit or honesty, and not from pure love to God in Christ, and now desired to give up himself to the Lord.

"Old Leathin renewed his acknowledgments, and prayed the Lord for a willing, honest heart, to make good what was in his heart.

"Young Leathin professed his willingness to consecrate him and his to God, and that as long as he had a house or family it should be the Lord's. He alone should be worshipped in it; he should have no God but him.

"Old Francis renewed his confession, with tears, confessing the Lord to be just in casting him out of his family and making it desolate, for he had polluted his body with unclean lusts, &c, &c, and therefore the Lord was just in burning up his house and substance.

"Young Francis desired to consent and to subscribe his name to the Lord for ever, and sought their prayers that were present that he might never fall back.

"Joseph, David and Mr. James each confessed his shortcomings, and prayed for strength.

"Janet expressed meikle distrust of herself, but desired to come under a new bond for the Lord.

"The Lady Leathin dared promise little of herself, but professed that of all there she was most bound, both to take with guilt and the cause of his anger above any others, although they had taken it on themselves : and now that none had so great cause to engage their hearts to the Lord as she had, therefore in the faith of the Lord Jesus and his might, she did and would give up herself to the Lord, and all hers.

"John Brodie, Woodhead, acknowledged much guilt, and great need of this day's work. He was lying under some bonds to God already, and this should add to the former bonds.

"John of Main engaged for an humble and unfeigned endeavour, as to honour God in his own spirit so to be an instrument to God-ward for his wife, children and family, that they also and he might be the Lord's.

"Mr. Robert Donaldson desired of God to discover if there were any iniquity in his way or in his heart, for which he was spared while others were smitten.

"Katherine, his wife, burst forth in the complaint of her woful, sad, deserted case, but if he would accept, there was not anything in all the earth which should so content and satisfy her as that the Lord would condescend to that bargain to become her God, and to take her and accept of her as his for ever. It was replied the bargain was sure enough, if she were willing for her part.

"Jean Symington, albeit a stranger among us, yet desired to be upholden by his grace.

"John Brodie, my boy, professed an unfeigned desire to know the Lord more, and to cleave to him more, and to be for him and to his glory all his days.

"John Tweedie absent at the time.

"All of us for ourselves, and for our little ones, and for our wives that have them, and families and interests, do stand before the Lord this day, making supplication and confession on their and our behalfs, and do take burden on us, according to our several stations and callings as aforesaid, that the Lord shall be our God, and we shall be his people, on the bare condition of his new covenant, that he will give us another heart and write his law within us.

"On the 1st of February this was written, and letters of exhortation to every one of them for putting them in remembrance.

"My soul this morning desired for its own part to rejoice before the Lord in trembling, and to consent unto this new oblation and covenant, and besought his majesty for a blessing on it, and on all their souls who had consented to or were concerned in it."

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