Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.
Psalm 136:26 (ESV)
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! I love this holiday. If we look around we will see just how much we have to be thankful for. God has been so good to us. Americans really have been blessed like no other nation on earth. The way of life we enjoy now did not come easy. It started with the Pilgrims that came to the New World in 1620. Back in September, Beth and I watched Kirk Cameron’s new documentary called Monumental: In Search of America’s National Treasure. Cameron wanted to research what had made our nation great, so he went over to England to learn from some Pilgrim experts. What I learned from this was fascinating. I will never eat a Thanksgiving meal with a casual attitude again.
The Church of England held sway over the people. To be British was to be a member of the Church of England. The Puritan movement was an effort to purify the Church of England of the abuses of the bishops. Like the Roman Church, they wanted to keep the people in darkness. The Church did not want them to have the Scriptures in English. The Puritans were people of the Book. They were staunchly reformed in their doctrine and were serious about glorifying God in all of life. There is no group of believers that has documented their spiritual journeys and sermons and writings like the Puritans. (We should all read them!) As these believers grew in their understanding of the Scripture, they realized that the Monarch had no say over the Church. One was not a Christian by virtue of being born in England; rather one became a Christian only through faith in Jesus Christ.
With this understanding, these Puritans were being persecuted by the British authorities. So they separated from the Church of England. (It is from these Separatists from which our heritage as Baptists draws its connection.) So the Pilgrims, this Separatist congregation, led by Pastor John Robinson, planned to make an escape. But not an escape to nothing: they had a 500 year plan of how to build a democratic republic and to evangelize the world.
To leave the Church of England meant treason to the King. For four years this congregation met in an underground church in Scrooby. If they were caught meeting unlawfully, they would be taken to prison. The leaders of the Pilgrims met a Dutch sea captain who agreed to take them to Holland. What they did not know was that this captain had also made an agreement with the British authorities to turn the Pilgrims over when they got on the boat. So that’s what happened. They got caught and were put in prison. Upon release a year later, they planned another escape. This one would almost leave them with no more hope.
The men separated from the women and children because they would draw more attention from the British authorities. The women and children were sent down a stream to go to the shore to get on a boat, and they were to meet up with the men. The women and children got there a day early and became sea sick. They got caught and did not make it to the boat! The men got on board hoping to see them. The boat was put out to sea when a 2 week violent storm struck the sea. Over hundred ships sank in the sea during the storm and the men Pilgrims thought it was over for them. They cried out to their sovereign God, “Even now, You can save us!” The storm ceased! That boat carrying the male Pilgrims was the only boat still floating on the sea! The men made it to Amsterdam, but it took a year to get the women and children there. Remember, they were doing this for religious freedom. They believed in educating their own children and proclaiming the Gospel wherever they went. They loved England and they wanted to go back to England to set the people free from the tyranny of the King.
The Pilgrims would be in Amsterdam for 12 years! While there, they met a British publisher named William Brewster. They published 15 books and sent them throughout England. Well, this upset the British authorities, who came to Amsterdam, found them, destroyed the publishing house and brought them back to England.
So, now they were back in England. They hired two ships that would carry them to the new world, the Mayflower and the Speedwell. The Speedwell was not well! It sprung a leak and so those Pilgrims had to get off. The Mayflower was not big enough to carry all of them, so their Pastor John Robinson would stay in England with half of his congregation and send the rest with William Bradford to the New World. The journey lasted 66 days in the cold North Atlantic. It was a brutal trip. Before they got off the boat, the Mayflower Compact was drawn up. This was a democratic document guiding the Pilgrims and other settlers in self-government.
Well, that first winter was terrible. Forty seven died. There was a time when only six or seven were even strong enough to stand. The women would sleep on their children to keep them warm. Most that perished were women. The children survived with about 20 adults. They buried the dead in a common grave.
The captain of the Mayflower said he would take them back in the spring of 1621, but none went back. Things began to improve for the struggling settlers. They found favor with the Indians because they noticed that the Pilgrims brought their families with them. They did not come to pillage them and steal from them. The Indians helped them greatly that first summer, but their desire to start a new society came at a great price.
Today, in a suburb of Plymouth, MA is a monument erected in the 1800’s outlining exactly how these Pilgrims designed our Republic. The monument was paid for by the US congress and the State Legislature of Massachusetts. The statue is named Faith. There is a Geneva Bible opened pointing to faith in our Triune God. We are given wisdom through His Word. Then there is character and morality. It points to the heart transformation that only comes through the Gospel. There is a picture of an evangelist with the Bible open sharing the good news. In the New Covenant, the Law of God is now written on the heart. True liberty and a just society can only come as those in it have been born again. Then it moves to civil law, with God’s standards as the foundation. There is a standard of justice, but there is also a picture of mercy to those who are lawbreakers. Then there is education. The Pilgrims knew that this was the key. Education of children was to be done at home with responsibility given to the parents to educate their kids. The Bible was the curriculum! There is a picture of a woman sitting with her child representing the victory and joy of raising children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Finally, there is liberty! A man pictured conquering tyranny!
Let me tell you: these Pilgrims were not wimps!! They endured extreme hardships for years to pursue the plan of a just and godly society. This is the heritage of our nation. Watching Monumental made me want to go to New England and see all the monuments and graves. “There is nothing like bones to remind you of your heritage,” one of the historians said.
So, as you sit down to eat today, remember your heritage. Remember those who have gone before you and have sacrificed so much for your freedoms. Pray for our troops, pray for our leaders and pray that God would restore our nation. Pray that the Church of Jesus Christ would stand for truth. Pray that His Church would be built and that all nations would be glad in our great God!
I am thankful for each of you. We at RBC have had many hardships in planting a Reformed Baptist church in the mountains of Georgia. I will not quit the fight. God is doing great things among us. Keep a close watch on your heart and let us keep our marriages and families strong. Let us remember God’s covenant, steadfast love for us and let us be truly thankful.