On this day, April 29, in 1607, a world missionary vision for American was birthed by the Jamestown settlers after stepping ashore at Cape Henry, Virginia. Upon disembarking, they gathered around a 7-foot oak cross they had brought from England. As they prayed and dedicated the land of their new home to God, their chaplain, Rev. Robert Hunt, declared, “From these very shores the Gospel shall go forth to not only to this New World but to the entire world” (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 37).
It is, therefore, no fluke or coincidence that millions of missionaries have gone out from this land, taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth. It is also no fluke that just a short distance from where they made this declaration stands the Christian Broadcasting Network (home of the 700 Club) that has spread the Gospel around the world.
America’s Missionary Roots.
The Jamestown settlers came to America under the auspices of the Virginia Company and a charter that expressed a missionary purpose for the settling of Virginia. The Charter recognized “the Providence of Almighty and God” and stated that a purpose of the colony was “to propagate the Christian religion to such people as yet live in darkness and miserable ignorance of the true knowledge and worship of God” (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that DefinedAmerica, 37).
Thirteen years later, in 1620, off the coast of New England, the Pilgrims drew up the Mayflower Compact in which they declared their 2-fold purpose in coming to the New World: (1) for the glory of God and (2) for the advancement of the Christian faith.
Thirteen years later, after a massive wave of immigration, the United Colonies of New England was formed in 1643. The opening statement of its constitution reveals that the many thousands now living in New England shared the same missionary vision as their predecessors. It reads,
Whereas we all came into these parts of America with one and the same end and aim, namely to advance the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ and to enjoy the Liberties of the Gospel in purity with peace (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 31).
It is, therefore, no coincidence that the first Bible printed in America was printed for missionary purposes. In 1649 John Eliot (1604-1690) founded the first missionary society in America. He called it “The Company for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England and Parts Adjacent in North America.” One of their first projects was the translation and publication of the Bible into the Massachusetts language.
America’s Founders Shared the Missionary Vision
This missionary vision of America’s earliest immigrants had a far-reaching impact, even influencing America’s Founding Fathers.
In a prayer journal that George Washington kept while in his twenties, this prayer entry was found. “Bless, O Lord, the whole race of mankind, and let the world be filled with the knowledge of Thee and Thy Son, Jesus Christ” (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 132).
In a meeting with Chiefs of the Delaware Indian Tribe, Washington encouraged them to learn “above all the religion of Jesus Christ.” The Chiefs had come to meet with Congress, and they brought with them three of their youth, asking that they be educated in American schools. Washington addressed them as “Brothers” and said to them,
You do well to wish to learn our arts and our ways of life and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. Congress will do everything they can to assist you in this wise intention (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 172).
John Hancock served as president of the Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence. His signature is the largest and most obvious on that document. While serving as governor of Massachusetts, he proclaimed a Day Prayer in 1793 in which he exhorted the people,
That with true contrition of heart we may confess our sins, resolve to forsake them, and implore the Divine forgiveness through the merits and mediation of JESUS CHRIST our Savior . . . and finally, to overrule all the commotion in the world, to the spreading of the true religion of our LORD JESUS CHRIST, in its purity and power, among all the people of the earth (Hyatt, 1726:The Year that Defined America, 173).
Samuel Adams has been called “The Father of the American Revolution.” He was a member of the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. While serving as governor of Massachusetts, he declared April 2, 1795 as a Day of Fasting and Prayer for both Massachusetts and America. He said,
I do hereby appoint Thursday, the Second Day of April next, to be observed as a Day of Public Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer throughout this Commonwealth: Calling upon the Ministers of the Gospel, of every Denomination, with their respective Congregations, to assemble on that Day, and devoutly implore the Divine forgiveness of our Sins, To pray that the Light of the Gospel, and the rights of Conscience, may be continued to the people of United America; and that his Holy Word may be improved by them, so that the name of God may be exalted, and their own Liberty and Happiness secured (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 104).
Benjamin Franklin is often pointed to as one of America’s nonreligious founders; yet, he too shared in this missionary vision of early America. This was made clear in a 1756 letter he wrote to George Whitefield, the most famous preacher of the Great Awakening. In this letter, Franklin proposed that they partner together in founding a new Christian colony on the Ohio frontier.
Franklin, who had developed a close friendship with Whitefield, said they would populate the proposed colony with a religious [Christian] and industrious people. He also presented a missionary motive for the new colony, saying,
Might it not greatly facilitate the introduction of pure religion among the heathen, if we could, by such a colony, show them a better sample of Christians than they commonly see (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 137).
Since he is writing to Whitefield, there can be no question that the “pure religion” Franklin wants to share with the “heathen” is the evangelical, Christ-centered faith that was preached by Whitefield.
The missionary vision of early America also impacted Thomas Jefferson. For example, as President, he negotiated a federal treaty with the Kaskaskia Indian Tribe, a treaty that, among other things, stipulated that federal funds be made available to pay for a Christian missionary to work with this tribe and for the building of a Christian church in which they could worship.
Jefferson, America’s third president and author of the Declaration of Independence, demonstrated his high regard for Jesus Christ by the manner in which he closed all presidential documents: “In the year of our Lord Christ.” Also significant is his remark: “Of all the systems of morality that have come under my observations, none appear to me so pure as that of Jesus” (Hyatt, 1726: The Year thatDefined America, 150).
The United States Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this missionary character of the nation in an 1892 ruling in the case of, “Church of the Holy Trinity vs the United States.” In this ruling, the nation’s highest court referenced the multitude of documents affirming America’s Christian origins and then said,
They affirm and reaffirm that this is a religious nation . . .. The churches and church organizations which abound in every city, town, and hamlet; the multitude of charitable organizations existing everywhere under Christian auspices; the gigantic missionary associations, with general support, and aiming to establish Christian missions in every quarter of the globe (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 170).
No Real Liberty Without the Gospel
America’s Founders believed so strongly in the Gospel as the basis of human freedom that they unashamedly prayed and publicly expressed their desire to see it spread throughout the earth.
Recent presidents have sought to export American style democracy to other nations apart from the Gospel of Christ. Indeed, the entire Western world is seeking to secularize liberty and remove it from any association with faith.
America’s Founders would say that such efforts are futile since true liberty cannot be had apart from the Gospel of Christ. They would all agree with Benjamin Rush, a Philadelphia physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence, who declared,
The only foundation for a republic is to be laid in Religion [Christianity]. Without this there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments (Hyatt, 1726: The Yearthat Defined America, 163).
Yes, the original American vision was for a land of individual and religious liberty from which the Gospel would spread to the ends of the earth. Modern secularists have robbed the American populace of this vision by rewriting America’s history and turning the First Amendment on its head.
It is Time to Recover the Vision
In his classic book, 1984, George Orwell said, “Whoever controls the past controls the future.” And Karl Marx once said, “People without a heritage are easily persuaded.” It is time for Christians in America to take back our nation’s original vision, which I have documented in my latest book, 1726: The Year that Defined America.
As we recover the truth of this nation’s origins, we can then pray with faith that God will visit us once again with “power from on high’ in the form of a national, spiritual awakening. It is time!
This article is derived from Eddie Hyatt’s book, 1726: The Year that Defined America, available from Amazon and his website, www.eddiehyatt.com. He is also the founder of the “1726 Project” which you can read about on his website at www.eddiehyatt.com.