While conducting a Revive America event at Abounding Grace Church in Schenectady, NY, I heard the Holy Spirit instruct me to have the audience repeat after me the two reasons the Pilgrims gave for coming to the New World. I did so, and one could sense the life and energy of the Holy Spirit as we all repeated their own words for why they had come to America.
After the meeting, a young man came up to me very excited. He explained that he was attending the community college in that area and taking a course on American history. “Just this week,” he said, “The professor told us that the Pilgrims did not come here for religious reasons but for monetary reasons.” With his face glowing, he exclaimed, “But there it is in their own words.”
The Reasons They Came
The words we had repeated are part of the opening statement of the Mayflower Compact, which had been projected on the large screen. It reads, “Having undertaken for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith . . . a voyage to plant the first colony in northern Virginia.” They came to America, they said, for two reasons: (1) for the glory of God and (2) for the advancement of the Christian faith.
William Bradford, who served as governor of Plymouth for over thirty years, stated this same vision in his memoirs written later in life. He shares this as part of his explanation as to why they decided to leave Holland and come to the New World.
First of all, he tells how they were not satisfied with their lot as foreigners and second-class citizens in Holland. They were also concerned that many of their children were being led astray by undesirable influences in the Dutch culture. He then said,
Lastly (and which was not least), a great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way thereunto, for the propagating and advancing of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world; yea though they should be but even as stepping-stones unto others for the performing of so great a work.
Although we have often heard that the Pilgrims came to escape religious persecution in the Old World, that is only part of the story. The rest of the story is that they were drawn here by a proactive missionary vision to take the gospel where it had not been heard.
Others Came for the Same Reason
The thousands of Puritans that followed the Pilgrims to New England over the next twenty years came with a similar vision. This is obvious from the constitution of the United Colonies of New England formed in 1643 to arbitrate land disputes and provide a system of mutual defense for the many towns that were springing up. The opening statement of the constitution 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 enjoy the Liberties of the Gospel in purity and peace.
These New England Puritans had a similar missionary vision as the Anglicans who first settled Virginia. On April 29, 1607, the Jamestown settlers disembarked at Cape Henry, near modern day Virginia Beach, and erected a seven-foot cross they had brought from England.
They then gathered around the cross for a prayer service in which they dedicated the land of their new home to God. In his dedicatory prayer, their chaplain, Rev. Robert Hunt, declared, “From these very shores the gospel shall go forth, not only to this New World, but to all the world.”
Original Vision in the Founding Fathers
It is clear that the earliest immigrants to America came with a vision for a land of liberty from which the gospel would be taken to the ends of the earth. That vision did not die but is clearly seen in statements by many of the Founding Fathers. Consider the following.
“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.”
Benjamin Franklin in a 1756 letter to George Whitefield, the most famous preacher of the Great Awakening, in which Franklin proposed that they partner together in founding a Christian colony on the Ohio frontier.
“Pray that the peaceful and glorious reign of our Divine Redeemer may be known throughout the whole family of mankind.”
Samuel Adams, Founding Father and Governor of Massachusetts. This call to prayer was part of a proclamation for a Day of Prayer that he issued as Governor of MA in 1795.
“Pray that all nations may bow to the scepter of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and that the whole earth may be filled with his glory.”
John Hancock, Founding Father, President of the Continental Congress and Governor of Massachusetts. This statement was part of a call for prayer he issued while Governor.
“The policy of the bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity. The first wish of those who enjoy this precious gift ought to be that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind.”
James Madison, chief architect of the Constitution and America’s fourth president, voicing his opposition in 1785 to a bill that he perceived would have the unintended consequence of hindering the spread of the Gospel.
“The philosophy of Jesus is the most sublime and benevolent code of morals ever offered man. A more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen.”
Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of Independence and America’s third president, who took money from the federal treasury to send missionaries to an American Indian tribe and to build them a chapel in which to worship.
“Bless, O Lord, the whole race of mankind, and let the world be filled with the knowledge of Thee and Thy Son, Jesus Christ.”
From a public prayer prayed by George Washington, America's first president.
May the Vision to be Restored
This Thanksgiving we can be thankful for the vision and sacrifice of those early pilgrims and patriots. We are enjoying liberties and blessings today because of their utter commitment to a Christian vision.
Yes, the original American vision was that it be a land of individual and religious liberty and a place where the gospel would have free course and would spread from here to the ends of the earth. This Thanksgiving let’s pray for that Original American Vision to be restored.
This article by Dr. Eddie Hyatt was derived from his book, Pilgrims and Patriots, available from Amazon and his website at www.eddiehyatt.com