I know it’s all out of style to look back on our history in a respectful way; cynicism is the order of the day, and somewhat understandably so, much as I hate to admit it.
But here is William Bradford, the Pilgrim leader, writing of the early days of the Plymouth colony:
“What could now sustain them but ye spirite of God and his grace? May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: “Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean and were ready to perish in this wilderness; (Deut. 26: 5,7) but they cried unto ye Lord, and he heard their voyce, and looked on their adversitie, etc. Let them therefore praise ye Lord, because he is good, and his mercies endure forever (107 Psalm v. 1,2,4,5,8).” Yea, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord show how he hath delivered them from ye hand of ye oppressour. When they wandered in ye desert wilderness, out of ye way, and found no citie to dwell in, both hungrie and thirstie, their sowle was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before ye Lord his loving kindness and his wonderfull works before ye sons of men…”
Yes, our forefathers, my forefathers, the men who began the colonies, were Englishmen, and Christians. And Puritans — a triple-whammy in today’s culture. All those things, Englishness, Christianity, and Puritanism, are now out of repute. Could these colonists ever have envisioned such a state of things, and could they have imagined their progeny being surrounded by strangers, often hostile strangers, in the country they founded?
It’s a blessing that we can’t see into the future sometimes. I feel certain they might not have bothered, might not have endured the great hardships and dangers: hostile natives, diseases, starvation, climatic extremes, wild animals — just so that the whole experiment would end in failure four centuries later. But what was their alternative? To have stayed at home in England and endured religious persecution and religious warfare? Some of these men and women had recent ancestors who had been killed in the religious wars. They wanted, above all, their freedom to worship as God commanded, without fear of interference by government and the state-sponsored church.
Somehow though I think they would have endured what they did for that very freedom, the freedom to worship God as prescribed by their consciences. If only more of us had the courage of our own convictions. If only more Americans had convictions for which they are willing to take a stand.
And they gave thanks even in the midst of their perils. So should we also. Despite the perils we face, God has blessed us greatly heretofore, and for the blessings we still possess, we have reason to return thanks to our God, and to petition him to deliver us from the oppressors in our time.