I was presenting the "Revive America" seminar at the Abounding Grace Christian Church in Schenectady, New York. As I was preparing the message on the Pilgrims, I had a clear inner sense that I was to have the audience repeat after me the two reasons they gave, in the Mayflower Compact, for coming to the New World.
So, at the appropriate time that evening, I projected the Mayflower Compact on the big screen and asked the audience to repeat after me their two reasons for coming to this land. We all said together, not once, but twice,
“For the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.”
At the end of this presentation a young man came to me with his face aglow and excitement in his voice. He said,
I am attending the community college here and taking a course in early American history. Just this week the professor told us that the Pilgrims did not come for religious reasons but for monetary reasons.
He paused and then exclaimed, “But there it is in their own words!”
This young man’s testimony was another stark example of how America’s history is being revised and the element of faith being removed. This is serious, for as George Orwell said, “Whoever controls the past, controls the future.”
The Reasons They Came
The words we had repeated are part of the opening statement of the Mayflower Compact. 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.”
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 (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 22).
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 (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 31).
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 of 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 missionary vision did not die but is clearly seen in statements by many of the Founding Fathers. Consider the following.
George Washington, in a meeting with chiefs from the Delaware Indian tribe, encouraged them to learn, “above all, the religion of Jesus Christ.” And in a prayer journal he kept while in his twenties, the following prayer is recorded.
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).
Benjamin Franklin, in a 1756 letter to George Whitefield, in which he proposed that they partner together in founding a Christian colony on the Ohio, gave a missionary reason for the project. He said,
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).
John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress and signer of the Declaration of Independence, issued a Prayer Proclamation while serving as governor of Massachusetts. The Proclamation included a call to pray for world evangelism, exhorting the citizens to pray,
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 thatDefined America, 173).
James Madison, chief architect of the Constitution and America’s fourth president, voiced his opposition in 1785 to a bill that he perceived would have the unintended consequence of hindering the spread of the Gospel. He said,
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 (From Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance, 1785).
Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and America’s third president, took money from the federal treasury to send a missionary to the Kaskaskia Indian tribe and to build them a chapel in which to worship. He wrote,
Of all the systems of morality that have come under my observations, none appear to me so pure as that of Jesus. I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus (Hyatt, 1726: The Year that Defined America, 149-50).
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 because of their vision and sacrifice.
The original American vision was that it be a land of individual and religious liberty and 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 is derived from Dr. Eddie Hyatt's book, 1726: The Year that Defined America, available from Amazon and his website at www.eddiehyatt.com. This book documents how the Great Awakening had a direct bearing on both the founding of America and the ending of slavery on this continent. He is the founder/director of the "1726 Project" whose purpose is to educate about the nation's overt Christian birth out of Spiritual Awakening.