When the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock almost four centuries ago, Christians laid the foundations for a republic.
Thanksgiving is a traditional American holiday celebrated on the third Thursday in November. The roots of the holiday date back to the early 17th century when a group of Christians made a difficult voyage from Europe to start a colony where they could worship God in freedom. Their first winter in what is now Massachusetts was devastating, and more than half of them died. The harvest later that year was minimal, but in response to their prayers and faith, the Lord miraculously protected them and gave them an abundant harvest the following autumn. In thanks for God’s many miracles that enabled them to survive and prosper, they celebrated with a feast of thanksgiving, which Americans commemorate today.
While not all the first settlers who came to these shores were Christians, the Pilgrims – and the Puritans who followed them – were strong believers in the God of the Bible. Every part of the society that they established, from government to schools to business to law, was firmly founded on God’s Word and His principles.
Although America has strayed far from these ideals, it is good for all of us – Chinese and Americans – to study the lives of these courageous early settlers. The God who helped them 375 years ago is the same God who helps us today. If you need a miracle in your own life, He is the one to ask.
– Wang Jiapu
When Americans look back to their beginnings, they usually point to the little band of sea-weary pioneers that landed in 1620 at Plymouth Rock. Of the more than 100 Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower, the majority were devout Christians. They were Separatists bent on shaking the Church of England and building a new life in an unknown wilderness, where they could worship the Lord in the way they believed the Scriptures taught.
Halfway across the Atlantic, the Mayflower and her crew faced near disaster in a terrific storm that caused one of the main beams to bow and crack. Although the passengers and crew wanted to turn back, Christopher Jones, the ship’s Master, assured all that the vessel was “strong and firm under water.” He ordered the beam to be secured. It was hoisted into place by a great iron screw that, fortunately, the Pilgrims brought out of Holland. Upon raising the beam, they “committed themselves to the will of God and resolved to proceed.”
The battered ship finally came within sight of Cape Cod on November 19, 1620. The Pilgrims scanned the shoreline just to the west of them and described it as “a goodly land wooded to the brink of the sea,” which was true of Cape Cod at that time. But they had no patent to sanction their going ashore at Cape Cod, for their charter had been issued for the Virginia Colony – still to the south. This was “no man’s land.”
The ship moved out into the deep water again while her occupants pondered what to do. Their decision: the Mayflower Compact. It was intended only as a temporary pact to keep the law and order among themselves in a wilderness where there was no law. Yet that historic agreement laid the foundations of law and order and established the first “civil body politic” in America.
At the heart of the compact lay an undisputed conviction that God must be at the center of all law and order and that law without a moral base is really no law at all.
The compact also rested on a “covenant” agreement, and this too would later help lay the foundations of the American republic. All law, they insisted, would rest not upon a monarchy or a dictatorship, but upon “the consent of the governed.” It was a revolutionary concept for its time.
The day the Pilgrims signed the Mayflower Compact, according to their own historian, William Bradford, “They came to an anchor in the Bay, which is a good harbor…compassed about to the very sea with pines, juniper, sassafras and other sweet wood….” And there, said Bradford, recounting the events several years later, they “blessed the God of heaven, who had brought them over the fast and furious ocean…and a sea of troubles before. ‘Let them, therefore, praise the Lord, because He is good and His mercies endure forever.’” (Scripture quoted from the Geneva Bible used by the Pilgrims.)
From The Rebirth of America, by the Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation, © 1986. Used with permission.
The Mayflower Compact
In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, king, defender of the faith, etc.
Having undertaken for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these present solemnly and mutually in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid, and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony: unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James of England, France, and Ireland the eighteenth and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini [the year of our Lord] 1620.