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Thanksgiving Thoughts, William Bradford & The Pilgrims

As part of our thinking about Thanksgiving this year, following a suggestion from Doug Phillips, I read to our older boys chapter 4 from William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation: Bradford’s History of the Plymouth Settlement, 1608-1650. They had read through the book this year, but this gave me an opportunity to emphasize a certain aspect of it. In chapter 4 Bradford tells how the congregation came to the decision to leave Holland for America and explains their reasons. This is especially compelling as it is a firsthand account of the group who came to Plymouth.

This was a moving read for me as a husband, father, and pastor as we observed men wrestling with weighty decisions which they knew were fraught with significance not only for themselves and their children, but for generations to come. They knew- and were reminded by their critics- that lives were resting on their decision, one way or the other. They were wasting away physically and spiritually in Holland. They suffered and labored in hardship, and though willing to endure, they hated to see their children “decrepit” in their youth from the labor. They also worried about the numbers of their children being drawn away to sinful lives. Yet, when they considered the move to America, others pointed out in graphic detail the likelihood of many of their number perishing in the difficult journey oversea, others dying of disease, the hardships of an uncivilized land, and the likelihood (as they understood it) of being tortured and eaten alive by natives.

In the end they, of course, decided to lead their people to America. Bradford first states that this weighty decision was reached:

“Not out of any newfangledness, or other such like giddy humor, by which men are oftentimes transported to their great hurt and danger, but for sundry weighty and solid reasons.”

Indeed. Men of gravitas making the hard decisions, bearing the responsibility. This is something to be thankful for.

There were others around them not willing to face hardship:

“For many, though they desired to enjoy the ordinances of God in their purity, and the liberty of the gospel with them, yet, alas, they admitted of bondage, with danger of conscience, rather than to endure these hardships.”

As they considered oven more hardship in the move to America, they responded in this way:

“It was answered, that all great and honourable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and must be both enterprised and overcome with answerable courages.”

“. . . their condition was not ordinary; their ends were good and honourable; their calling lawful, and urgent; and therefore they might expect the blessing of God in their proceeding. Yea, though they should lose their lives in this action, yet might they have comfort in the same, and their endeavors would be honourable.”

Furthermore, they were thinking of the future, of Gospel advance:

“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 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.”

We are grateful to God for leaders with such gospel-inspired courage, foresight and vision and hope to learn from their example. Our setting encourages thinking only of your own lifetime, rather than seeking to lay a foundation for the future. As we enjoy so many blessings from the labors of those who have gone before us, may we hold fast to the gospel despite the suffering required. May we undertake to advance the gospel, and have in mind not only what we might see in our own lifetime but how we might lay a foundation for generations to come.

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