Samuel Miller's Letter on Christmas Observance
By Samuel Miller, D.D.
Copyright 1999 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett
The following letter written by Dr. Samuel Miller was first reprinted in The Blue Banner, 2.11, November 1993. It had not been republished since it first appeared in 1825.

Samuel Miller, D.D. (1769-1850) was Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Church Government at Princeton. The following letter appeared in the Commercial Advertiser, New York, NY. December 29, 1825. It is listed in the bibliography compiled by his granddaughter, Margaret Miller, published in The Princeton Theological Review, Vol. IX, No. 4, October 1911, entitled, “A List of the Writings of Samuel Miller, D.D., LL.D., 1769-1850, Second Professor in Princeton Theological Seminary 1813-1850.” With much searching a copy of this article was finally obtained from the holdings of the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. It is reproduced here with some minor editing and spelling changes to conform to contemporary American usage.
In this letter, Dr. Miller follows a similar form of argumentation to that in his book, Presbyterianism the truly primitive and Apostolical Constitution of the Church of Christ.[1] As might be expected, he is more thorough in his book. Also, since his audience is the Presbyterian Church, as opposed to the secular and pluralistic audience of the Commercial Advertiser, his denunciations of the practice are stronger.

For the Commercial Advertiser
 Messrs. Editors:
As you have, in your paper of yesterday, availed yourself of your editorial privilege, to plead in behalf of the religious observance of Christmas, and undertaken, moreover, to “condemn the error” of the Puritans in refusing to observe this festival themselves (for in no other sense, that I know of did they ever “prohibit” the observance of it),* will you allow a subscriber to your paper, and one of the descendants of those venerable men, to say a word in their vindication? No controversy on this subject is intended; and if I know how to pen these few lines in such a manner as to preclude the possibility of any further discussion, I should be glad to do it. I assure you, sir, it makes no part of my present plan to “condemn,” or even to find the least fault with, those who think it their duty to observe Christmas, and other holy days. “Let every one be fully persuaded in his own mind.” I venerate and love many who are of that opinion, though I cannot think with them. But you, surely, will not deny me the privilege of saying a word, the only object of which is to alleviate, if not to advert, the sentence which you have passed against a body of men “of whom the world was not worthy,” and whose example I wish many were as willing to follow as to praise.
The “Pilgrims,” then, for themselves only, refused to observe Christmas, and other holy days, for the following reasons.
I. They thought that no warrant for any such observance was to be found in Scripture. They believed that every institution of this nature, pertaining to the Old Testament economy, was abolished at the coming of Christ; that no similar days were appointed in their place; that neither the Savior nor his inspired Apostles gave the least countenance, either by precept or example, to the sanctification of any other day than the Sabbath.
II. They considered the Bible as the only infallible rule of faith and practice. They denied that the Church, or any member of it had a right to institute new rites or ceremonies. They were persuaded that the Lord Jesus Christ alone was the Supreme Head and King of the Church; and had no doubt that He, and those Apostles whom He inspired by his own Spirit, were as competent judges of what was proper, and for the edification of the Church, as any individual or body of individuals have been since; and, of course, that for uninspired, and therefore fallible men, to undertake to add to the number of Christ's appointments, is a measure, to say the least, of very questionable propriety.
III. They were confident that, for a long time after the death of the Apostles, no stated festival or Fast Days whatever were observed in the Church. Justin Martyr, who wrote a little after the middle of the second century, and who gives a particular account of the institutions and habits of the Christians, gives no hint of any day being kept holy, excepting the first day of the week, or the Christian Sabbath. Before the time of Origen, who flourished about the middle of the third century, the Christians had introduced several holy-days, partly to gratify the converts from Paganism; who, on coming into the Church, wished to have some substitute for the Pagan festivals which which [sic] they had abandoned. But even at this time, the observance of Christmas was unknown. — Origen give [sic] a list of the holy-days observed at the time in which he wrote; but says nothing about a festival for Christ's nativity; from which Lord Chancellor King, in his “inquiry into the Primitive Church within the first three hundred years after Christ,” confidently infers that no such festival was observed till after the time of Origen. Indeed the Christians during the first three centuries, differed so widely concerning the month and day of the Savior's birth; some placing it in April, others in May, etc. that there is an utter improbability, on this ground alone, that they commemorated the event by an ecclesiastical festival.
IV. The Puritans attached no little importance to another consideration. Supposing, (what they could not admit) that the church possesses the power to institute observances, which Christ and his Apostles never knew: supposing that [“]teaching for doctrines the commandments of men,” or in other words, adopting “human inventions in the worship of God,” could be justified; what limit they asked, could be set to this power? How far may it be carried? When the door to uncommanded observances is once opened, by whom or when will it be effectually closed? You, and a few others, Mr. Editor, might think two or three will-adjusted church festivals, besides fifty-two Sundays in the year quite sufficient. The Protestant Episcopal Church, however, in this country, has appointed about thirty stated festivals, besides a still larger number of Fast-days. The Church of England has a greater number, it is believed, both of fasts and festivals. The Church of Rome, from whom the Church of England selected her list, observes a far greater number than either. In favor of every one of these days, serious, respectable men have something very plausible to say; and have actually uttered very contemptuous, and even indignant things against plain, simple-minded Protestants, who could not easily allow such a mass of superstition. Is it any wonder, then, that the Puritans, perceiving the tendency in all churches to go to extremes in multiplying such observances, whenever they began to be introduced; and knowing that there was no way to prevent this, but by shutting them out altogether: deliberately preferred the latter as the safer course? — and truly, if there be no Bible warrant for festivals; — no solid warrant for them in the practice of the Christian Church for the first 300 years, and, above all, none for Christmas; if the whole business of bringing institutions into the Church for which there is no Divine authority, be unlawful and of dangerous tendency; and if, whenever the practice has been admitted, it has been almost always abused, that is, carried much further than it ought to have been, I cannot help thinking that the Puritans had at least plausible, if not conclusive, reasons for taking the course which they did.
I must again protest, Mr. Editor, that I have no desire to shake the faith, or alter the practice, of those who differ from the Puritans on this subject. But I could not, for my life, help doubting, whether, when you “condemned” those venerable men, as in “error” as to this point, you were really acquainted with ALL the reasons which led to their decision. I make a much more favorable estimate than is correct, both of your intelligence and candor, if you do not think the few of their reasons which have been stated worthy of some regard.
Your's, Biblicus [Samuel Miller].
 *The respected author of this communication here labours under an error, as will be seen by the following quotation from the Essay on “the first settlement of our Country,” in the last number of the Boston Monthly Magazine. “In Massachusetts, anything which belonged to the Episcopal Church was treated as anti-christian, and carried the mark of the beast. CHRISTMAS HOLYDAYS WERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.” **** “While a law imposing five shillings fine for observing a Christmas holiday in Massachusetts was in force, Virginia gave full scope to all the festivities usual on such occasions in the mother country. The social and convivial feelings of men, could not, with alacrity, forego all pastime, and be resigned to abject sobriety in the form of religion. Our ancestors well knew this, and set apart one day in the year, previous to Christmas as a day of public thanksgiving and praise to our heavenly Father, for the mercies and favors of the past year. But in this there should be no resemblance of an Episcopal Christmas.” — Com. Adv.

[1] Samuel Miller, D. D., Presbyterianism the truly primitive and Apostolical Constitution of the Church of Christ (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1835) 73-78. Miller is discussing “The Worship of the Presbyterian Church," contending that Presbyterians Do Not Observe Holy-Days.