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THE MAYFLOWER – THE REASONS FOR THE TRIP

September 21st, 2011

Pilgrims Boarding the Mayflower (britannica.com) artist unknown

It is interesting to know the ‘whys’ of those traveling on the Mayflower and its ultimate outcome on the formation of our country. To understand the purposes and motivations, one must consider economics as a driving force to settle in the New World. The Puritans, comprising approximately one-third of the passengers, were motivated by religious freedom and expression of their faith in addition to the economics.

The English surpassed other nations in its business practices. English merchants had eclipsed their Spanish and French rivals in preparing for successful colonization through adoption of the joint-stock company as a form of business.1 Merchants who dissented from the Church of England were also willing investors in New World colonies. There were plenty of Puritans who had the necessary capital, and with the Catholic-leaning Stuart monarchs assuming the throne the Puritans’ motive to move became stronger.

With an excess landless population to serve as workers, and motivated, adventurous, or devout investors, the joint-stock company became the vehicle by which England finally settled the Western Hemisphere.

This starkly contrasted with Spanish and French settlements. New Spain and New France were developed by their kings. The English colonies were developed by their people. Many historians argue that the primary reason the relatively small and late English colonization effort ultimately outlasted its predecessors was because individuals had a true stake in its success.2

Indeed, the English respect for property rights soon eclipsed other factors accounting for England’s New World dominance. Born out of the fierce struggles by English landowners to protect their estates from seizure by the state, by the 1600s, property rights had become so firmly established as a basis for English economic activities that its rules permeated even the lowest classes in society. English colonists found land so abundant that anyone could own it. When combined with freedom from royal retribution in science and technological fields, the right to retain the fruit of one’s labor-even intellectual property-gave England a substantial advantage in the colonization process over rivals that had more than a century’s head start.37 These advantages would be further enhanced by a growing religious toleration brought about by religious dissenters from the Church of England called Puritans38.3

There were two groups of Puritans; one believed they could reform the [Anglican] Church from within, and the second group did not. They second group were called “Separatists.” The Separatists favored leaving England, disobeyed royal decrees and English law that brought persecution and death. That led to 125 of them moving to Holland. Holland, although offering freedom, did not satisfy what the group was looking for. This led to negotiations that gave them the British King’s assurances they could exercise their faith and views freely. With that, they started negotiations with one of the proprietors of the Virginia Company about obtaining a grant in Virginia. They raised capital employing the joint-stock company structure, which brought several non-separatists into the original band of settlers. This led to the journey on the Mayflower, heading for the Hudson River, at that time the most northern tip of the Virginia Company charter territory.

The Mayflower was blown off course and never reached the Hudson. In the next blog, we will continue the story and consider the Mayflower Compact.

FOOTNOTES

1 Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot’s History of the United States, From Columbus’s Great Discovery to the War on Terror; (Sentinel, Published by the Penguin Group, © Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, 2004, All Rights Reserved) p15

2 Britain in the New World, U.S. History, Pre-Columbian to the New Millennium (©2008-2011 ushistory.org Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia, founded 1942); http://www.ushistory.org/us/2b.asp

3 Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot’s History of the United States, From Columbus’s Great Discovery to the War on Terror; (Sentinel, Published by the Penguin Group, © Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, 2004, All Rights Reserved) p16

37 Footnote in quote from above: David S. Lanes, The Unbound Prometheus: Technical and Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present (Cambridge University Press, 1969); Nathan Rosenburg and L.E. Birdsell Jr., How the West Grew Rich: The Economist Transformation of the Industrial World (New York: Basic Books, 1986); and Larry Schweikart, The Entrepreneurial Adventure: A History of Business in the United States (Fort Worth: Harcourt, 2000)

38 Philip F. Gura, A Glimpse of Sion’s Glory: Puritan Radicalism in New England, 1620-1600 (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1984)

 ENDNOTES

Previous blogs on the Mayflower may be found at:

THE MAYFLOWER COMPACT

THE MAYFLOWER FAREWELL LETTER 

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY AND THE FOUNDING OF OUR COUNTRY

September 15th, 2011

Before we continue the history of the Mayflower and the Puritans, let us consider the term “Christian nation.” It originates in the fact that our country was founded by those who believed in God and His sovereign rule over the universe, nations, and humanity.

God’s sovereignty determined our country as a Christian nation. As Creator of the universe, nations and humanity, He administers His grace and mercy over all, believers and non-believers; He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). The Old and New Testaments state that He created the nations; “I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.” (Genesis 17:6) and “From one man he made every nation of the human race to inhabit the entire earth, determining their set times and the fixed limits of the places where they would live” (Acts 17:26).

God’s promise to Abram, “In you all families of the earth will be blessed,” (Genesis 12:1-2; 17:6), was a promise to the world. The promise embraced land, family, social order, government and blessing. The specific reference to “all nations will be blessed” is a pronouncement of future destiny and goodness. More specifically, God’s blessing brings freedom, peace, joy, and prosperity (both spiritually and materially) to people and a nation. A great example of how God blesses a nation was during the reign of the Pharaohs (Genesis 41) in Egypt. A young Israelite, Joseph (read Genesis 39:3, 5), ends up in Egypt and rises to power as Administrator over the entire country. An interpretation of a dream predicted a seven-year famine. He set his hand to prepare for it and as a result saved Egypt and its people. “You have saved our lives,” they said (Genesis 47:25). What is amazing about God’s blessings on this nation was the Egyptian people did not worship or follow God, but were believers in false gods! 1

How did God’s sovereignty lead to America? Norseman reached Iceland in 874 and Greenland a century later. Leif Erickson, around the year 1,000, established a short-lived colony in Vinland (Newfoundland). There is speculation he may have reached the coast of Maine and Massachusetts, but there is no documentation or proof of this. During a stay in Norway, Leif converted to Christianity.2 Interestingly, his visit or visits had no influence on North America other than possibly being the first to discover it.

Christopher Columbus

The next and more important event was Christopher Columbus.  He made four voyages between 1492 and 1504. Columbus was “earnestly desirous of taking Christianity to heathen lands.”3   He declared his purpose was to be led by the Holy Spirit and The Word of God was his foundation, he said. God sent him as a forerunner to prepare the way for those who were to possess the land. He wrote; “No one should be afraid to take on any enterprise in the name of our Savior if it is right and the purpose is purely for His holy service.” (Fols. 4-6 of Book of Prophecies by Christopher Columbus).4   He landed in the Bahamas and then Cuba. Over the course of three more voyages, Columbus visited the Greater and Lesser Antilles, as well as the Caribbean coast of Venezuela and Central America, claiming them for the Spanish Empire.

Columbus’ voyages led to the first lasting European contact with America and inaugurated a period of European exploration and colonization of foreign lands that lasted for several centuries and had, therefore, an enormous impact in the historical development of the modern Western world.5 Columbus himself saw his accomplishments primarily in the light of the spreading of the Christian religion.

What is evident is how God led the discovery of our country. Columbus had opened up the trail for others to follow and Christianity came throughout the settled areas and eventually in the western and southern regions of the United States. Spain, France and England moved to establish their presence from South America to North America and from Canada to Mexico. Even though Christianity came to parts of what was to be our country, it was the English and Puritans that led to establishing our government as a Christian nation. This brings us back to the Mayflower.

Pastor John Robinson’s letter7 to the passengers of the Mayflower spoke clearly about living in peace with all men, living godly lives, and work for the good of all and to establish a civil government promoting the common good based on God’s ordinance for your good. These are Christian principles as taught by God and recorded in the Old and New Testaments of the bible. His instructions reflected their belief in God’s sovereignty and determination of the nations. In other words, he was encouraging those coming to America to obey God, and apply God’s principles in their lives and in establishing a government. He wrote in the conviction that “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD” (Psalm 33:12). His letter was prophetic.

The Mayflower voyage was to settle in Virginia: Before the Pilgrims sailed, they were granted a charter that authorized them to start a settlement in the northern part of the Virginia Colony.”7The

Mayflower

Mayflower never got to Virginia: “However, since they were in Massachusetts instead of Virginia, the charter was no longer considered valid, and leaders worried about a possible mutiny. The Mayflower Document was originally drawn up to be an interim governing document between charters. The Pilgrims eventually requested a new charter, and in 1621, they were granted the Second Peirce Patent. However, the Mayflower Compact remained in effect until 1691.”8

It was clearly an Act of God that the Mayflower never reached the intended destination. Instead, they reached Massachusetts where they settled.  Prior to departing from the Mayflower, the original Charter no longer applied and another Charter (Mayflower Compact)was formed. 9 It was this simple Compact and the lives of the Puritans that led to the foundation of our country as a Christian nation. What is even more interesting is that earlier Christian settlements by the Spanish and French that came out of Christopher Columbus’ voyages did not play a role in the formation of our nation. Most of that land remained under foreign control until the Louisiana Purchase, which took place in 1803.10  What did occur was the Christian influence through all these settlements that added to the transformation of our nation.

1 Sarita D. Gallagher and Steven C. Hawthorne, Blessings as Transformation, Mission Frontiers magazine, September-October 2011, p 10-14

2 Leif Eriksson, Encarta Encyclopedia, Archived 2009-10-31

3 Esmond Wright, The Search for Liberty: From Origins to Independence (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995) 5

4 http://acheritagegroup.org/blog/?p=196

5 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Columbus

6Scholastic Teacher – Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) Teaching Resources, Children’s Book Recommendations, and Student Activities. Milton Meltzer. Author, Columbus and the World Around Him

7 The Mayflower Farewell Letter, ACHG Blog, http://acheritagegroup.org/blog/?p=632 (September 8, 2011)

8 The Mayflower Compact, ACHG Blog, http://acheritagegroup.org/blog/?p=91 (January 19, 2010)

9 IBID.

10 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louisiana_Purchase

THE MAYFLOWER FAREWELL LETTER

September 8th, 2011

A pastoral farewell letter to those sailing on the first Mayflower trip to America reveals how God’s Sovereignty directed the founding of America, its government and social order.

Stone carving of the Mayflower, Elizabethan Garden, Kenilworth Castle, England

The reason for the Mayflower voyage and its small band of Pilgrims is so profound in its meaning that most of us are unaware of how the decisions that were made and the actions taken have chartered a course making the United States of America a Christian nation. Although our economy is in economic distress (as of this writing) and the secularization of our nation is increasing, it is the very founding principles of our country and dependence on God that may keep and deliver us.

Knowing our American Christian heritage is more critical today than ever before. This history reveals God’s Sovereignty and how He guides His people. Charles B. Galloway (1898) points out, as quoted in Christianity and the American Commonwealth, that God’s plan is the salvation of individuals  and to determine the character of our civil institutions and the course of our social progress.1

England was a country of religious intolerance in the early 17th century. Ministers of the gospel were silenced, imprisoned, or exiled2. The Pilgrims were reformers and made efforts to reform the Church of practices that did not conform to the scriptures. They were tolerated at first, but later, and under King James, they were persecuted. This led to separating themselves from the Church and organizing their own congregations. One group, led by Richard Clyfton, John Robinson, and William Brewster, made a decision to flee England and go to Holland, where religious freedom was permitted. Soon after the congregation settled in Leyden, John Robinson was publicly ordained as their new minister. Other English Separatists had already settled in Holland.3 The decision to relocate was made early in 1619, when Deacon John Carver and Robert Cushman, who had business experience, were sent to London to negotiate with the London Company. They carried with them articles of belief, written by Robinson and Brewster, as evidence of their loyalty and orthodoxy.

Only a minority of the congregation (thirty-five members), under William Bradford, sailed on the Mayflower from England to America. They were joined by sixty-six people from Southampton and London who had little or no religious motivation. The majority of the congregation remained in Leyden, and planned to make the voyage at a later date. John Robinson agreed in advance to go with the group that was in the majority, but did not make the great historic trip. Before Brewster and his group left Holland, a solemn service was held, at which Robinson chose Ezra 8:21 as his text:

“Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.”4

Pastor John Robinson wrote a farewell letter to the passengers of the Mayflower. It was read before departure. This letter set the tone of godly character and addressed the establishment of government. Here is his letter:

“Loving Christian friends, I do heartily and in the Lord salute you all, as being they with whom I am present in my best affection, and most earnest longings after you, though I be constrained for a while to be bodily absent from you. I say constrained, God knowing how willingly, and much rather than otherwise, I would have born my part with you in this first brunt, were I not by strong necessity held back for the present. Make account of me in the mean while, as of a man divided in myself with great pain, and as (natural bonds set aside) having my better part with you. And though I doubt not but in your godly wisdoms, you both foresee and resolve upon that which concerns your present state and condition, both severally and jointly, yet have I thought it but my duty to add some further spur of provocation unto them, who run already, if not because you need it, yet because I owe it in love and duty. And first, as we are daily to renew our repentance with our God, especially for our sins known, and generally for our unknown trespasses, so doth the Lord call us in a singular manner upon occasions of such difficulty and danger as lies upon you, to a both more narrow search and careful reformation of your ways in his sight; least he, calling to remembrance our sins forgotten by us or unrepented of, take advantage against us, and in judgment leave us for the same to be swallowed up in one danger or other; whereas, on the contrary, sin being taken away by earnest repentance and the pardon thereof from the Lord sealed up unto a mans conscience by his spirit, great shall be his security and peace in all dangers, sweet his comforts in all distresses, with happy deliverance from all evil, whether in life or in death.

Now next after this heavenly peace with God and our own consciences, we are carefully to provide for peace with all men what in us lies, especially with our associates, and for that watchfulness must be had, that we neither at all in our selves do give, no nor easily take offense being given by others. Woe be unto the world for offenses, for though it be necessary (considering the malice of Satan and man’s corruption) that offenses come, yet woe unto the man or woman either by whom the offense cometh, says Christ (Matt. 18:7). And if offenses in the unseasonable use of things in themselves indifferent, be more to be feared than death itself, as the Apostle teaches (1 Cor. 9:15), how much more in things simply evil, in which neither honor of God nor love of man is thought worthy to be regarded. Neither yet is it sufficient that we keep ourselves by the grace of God from giving offense, except with all we be armed against the taking of them when they be given by others. For how imperfect and lame is the work of grace in that person, who wants charity to cover a multitude of offenses, as the scriptures speak. Neither are you to be exhorted to this grace only upon the common grounds of Christianity, which are, that persons ready to take offense, either want charity, to cover offenses, or wisdom duly to weigh humane frailty; or lastly, are gross, though close hypocrites, as Christ our Lord teaches (Matt. 7:1-3), as indeed in my own experience, few or none have been found which sooner give offense, then such as easily take it; neither have they ever proved sound and profitable members in societies, which have nourished this touchy humor. But besides these, there are diverse motives provoking you above others to great care and conscience this way: As first, you are many of you strangers, as to the persons, so to the infirmities one of another, and so stand in need of more watchfulness this way, least when such things fall out in men and women as you suspected not, you be inordinately affected with them; which does require at your hands much wisdom and charity for the covering and preventing of incident offenses that way. And lastly, your intended course of civil community will minister continual occasion of offense, and will be as fuel for that fire, except you diligently quench it with brotherly forbearance. And if taking of offense causelessly or easily at men’s doings be so carefully to be avoided, how much more heed is to be taken that we take not offense at God himself, which yet we certainly do so often as we do murmur at his providence in our crosses, or bear impatiently such afflictions as wherewith he pleases to visit us. Store up therefore patience against the evil day, without which we take offense at the Lord himself in his holy and just works.

Another thing there is carefully to be provided for, to wit, that with your common employments you join common affections truly bent upon the general good, avoiding as a deadly plague of your both common and special comfort all retiredness of mind for proper advantage, and all singularly affected any manner of way; let every man repress in himself and the whole body in each person, as so many rebels against the common good, all private respects of men’s selves, not sorting with the general convenience. And as men are careful not to have a new house shaken with any violence before it be well settled and the parts firmly knit, so be you, I beseech you, brethren, much more careful, that the house of God which you are, and are to be, be not shaken with unnecessary novelties or other oppositions at the first settling thereof.

Lastly, whereas you are become a body politic, using amongst yourselves civil government, and are not furnished with any persons of special eminence above the rest, to be chosen by you into office of government, let your wisdom and godliness appear, not only in choosing such persons as do entirely love and will promote the common good, but also in yielding unto them all due honor and obedience in their lawful administrations; not beholding in them the ordinariness of their persons, but God’s ordinance for your good, not being like the foolish multitude who more honor the gay coat, than either the virtuous mind of the man, or glorious ordinance of the Lord. But you know better things, and that the image of the Lord’s power and authority which the magistrate bears, is honorable, in howsoever mean persons. And this duty you both may the more willingly and ought the more conscionably to perform, because you are at least for the present to have only them for your ordinary governors, which yourselves shall make choice of for that work.

Sundry other things of importance I could put you in mind of, and of those before mentioned, in more words, but I will not so far wrong your godly minds as to think you heedless of these things, there being also diverse among you so well able to admonish both themselves and others of what concerns them. These few things therefore, and the same in few words, I do earnestly commend unto your care and conscience, joining therewith my daily incessant prayers unto the Lord, that he who hath made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all rivers of waters, and whose providence is over all his works, especially over all his dear children for good, would so guide and guard you in your ways, as inwardly by his Spirit, so outwardly by the hand of his power, as that both you and we also, for and with you, may have after matter of praising his name all the days of your and our lives. Fare you well in him in whom you trust, and in whom I rest.

An unfeigned well-willer of your happy success in this hopeful voyage,

JOHN ROBINSON.”5

Pastor Robinson emphasizes that they must live in godliness. He concludes the letter (second to last paragraph) by clearly giving instruction to forming a political body.  Again, he encourages the character of the government must also be based on godliness.

In the next blog we will re-visit the Mayflower trip and how God’s providence freed the passengers from their original charter.

1 Charles B. Galloway, Christianity and the American Commonwealth, p3 (American Vision, Inc., Powder Springs, Georgia, © 2005, All rights reserved)

2 Gary DeMar, America’s Christian History: The Untold Story, p53 (2nd ed. American Vision, Inc., Powder Springs, GA 30127, © 1993,1995, All rights reserved)

3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Robinson_%28pastor%29#Leaving_the_established_church

4 Ibid.

5 http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-religion/1526201/posts

ENDNOTE:

Reread the original blog on the Mayflower Compact here:

http://acheritagegroup.org/blog/?p=91

A MAN OF INFLUENCE – JOHN COTTON

March 1st, 2010

Reverend John Cotton

One of the very influential forces in the founding of America as a Christian nation were passionate ministers who spoke, preached and wrote clear messages of God’s Divine Providence. These great men we will write about set the standard, principles and call to establish our government and rule on the word of God. John Cotton is one of these key figures and was very influential in the founding and formation of the Massachusetts Colony.

The Reverend John Cotton (December 4, 1585 – December 23, 1652) was a highly regarded principal among the New England Puritan ministers, who also included John Winthrop, Thomas Hooker, Increase Mather (who became his son-in-law), John Davenport, and Thomas Shepard. He was the grandfather of Cotton Mather, who was named after him.

Born in England, he was educated at Derby School, in buildings which are now the Derby Heritage Centre, and attended Cambridge University, where he also taught, and became a long-serving minister in the English town of  Boston, Lincolnshire before his Puritanism and criticism of hierarchy drew the hostile attention of Church of England authorities. In 1633, William Laud was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, and like numerous other Puritan nonconformist figures, Cotton soon came under his close “eye of scrutiny”. In the same year Cotton, his family, and a few local followers sailed for the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The Brownist congregational movement within the Church of England had by this stage, in effect at least, become a separate church. Because of his early views on the primacy of congregational government, his was an important role in Puritan aspirations to become the “city on a hill” which might help reform the English church. He is best known among other things for his initial defense of Anne Hutchinson early in her trials during the Antinomian crisis, during which she mentioned him with respect, though he turned strongly against her with the further course of the trial. He is also remembered for his role in the banishment of Roger Williams regarding the role of democracy and the separation of church and state in the Puritan theonomic society, both of which Williams tended to advocate. Cotton grew still more conservative in his views with the years but always retained the estimation of his community. Cotton’s written legacy includes a body of correspondence, numerous sermons, a catechism, and in 1646 a shorter catechism for children titled Milk for Babes, which is considered the first children’s book by an American and was incorporated into The New England Primer around 1701 and remained a component of that work for over 150 years. His most famous sermon is probably Gods Promise to His Plantation (1630), preached at the departure of John Winthrop’s fleet for New England. [1]

“Now, God makes room for a people three ways: First when He casts out the enemies of a people before them by lawful war with the inhabitants, which God calls them unto, as in Ps. 44:2: “Thou didst drive out the heathen before them.” But this course of warring against others and driving them out without provocation depends upon special commission from God, or else it is not imitable. Second, when He gives a foreign people favor in the eyes of any native people to come and sit down with them, either by way of purchase, as Abraham did obtain the field of Machpelah; or else when they give it in courtesy, as Pharaoh did the land of Goshen unto the sons of Jacob. Third, when He makes a country, though not altogether void of inhabitants, yet void in the place where they reside. Where there is a vacant place, there is liberty for the sons of Adam or Noah to come and inhabit, though they neither buy it nor ask their leaves. So that it is free from that common grant for any to take possession of vacant countries. Indeed, no nation is to drive out another without special commission from Heaven, such as the Israelites had, and will not recompense the wrongs done in a peaceable way. And then they may right themselves by lawful war and subdue the country unto themselves.” [2}

Cotton, explained that “what hee [God] hath planted he will maintain … his owne plantation shall prosper, & flourish.” Cotton urged Puritans to “Have speciall care that you have had the ordinances [of God] planted amongst you,” because “As soon as God’s ordinances cease, yor security ceaseth likewise.” Cotton warned his fellow Puritans that breaking the covenant with God would result in a loss of his protection for his chosen. [3]

Cotton faced more and more pressure in England over his Puritan views and declarations. Though he had friends among the titled gentry, they were no longer able to protect him from the increasing ecclesiastical pressure to conform. He went into hiding in the fall of 1632 and was temporarily separated from his new wife and her ten-year-old daughter, Elizabeth (his first wife passed away from a sickness). Reunited before the end of the year, they were concealed by Puritan friends, including John Dod. Early in 1633 Cotton was cited to appear before the Court of High Commission. During this period, Cotton is said to have converted John Davenport, Thomas Goodwin, Philip Nye, and Henry Whitfield to nonconformity. On 7 May 1633 Cotton resigned his vicarage in Boston, regretting that “neither my bodily health, nor the peace of the church will now stand with my continuance there.” The crucial issue of conformity had been the central factor, as he explained to Bishop Williams: “howsoever I doe highly prize and much prefer other mens judgment and learning, and wisdome, and piety, yet in thinges pertaining to God and his worship, still, I must (as I ought) live by mine own fayth, not theirs.” Along with Puritan ministers Thomas Hooker and Samuel Stone and their families, Cotton sailed for New England on the Griffin on 13 July 1633. During the voyage, Sarah delivered their first child, aptly named Seaborn Cotton. [4]

Cotton was chosen teacher of the first church in Boston, of which John Wilson was already pastor. Cotton thus enjoyed a prominent position in the only church in what was to become the principal town of New England. His reputation for piety, learning, and insight, together with the respect paid to the minister in a community based on a desire to worship “in the purity of the ordinances,” gave him immediate influence.

Cotton was one of the most influential leaders of the Puritan movement in England and in the first generation of New England’s settlement. He brought a scholar’s erudition to his practice as preacher, biblical interpreter, disputant, and analyst of spiritual experience. Cotton is buried in the King’s Chapel Burial Ground in central Boston, MA, in the same grave as John Davenport (d. 1670), John Oxonbridge (d. 1674) and Thomas Bridge (d. 1713).

[1] Monergism, Copyright © 2009 by CPR Foundation. All rights reserved [2] God’s Promise to His Plantation, 1630 Sermon preached at Southampton when John Winthrop and his part departed to America [3] God’s Promise to His Plantation in Settlements to Society, 65-6 [4] American Philosophy, The Puritans, John Cotton

RELIGION AND THE FOUNDING OF AMERICA

February 24th, 2010

PART 1

The colonies that in 1776 became the United States of America were settled by men and women of deep religious convictions who in the seventeenth century crossed the Atlantic Ocean to practice their faith freely. That the religious intensity of the original settlers would diminish to some extent over time was perhaps to be expected, but new waves of eighteenth century immigrants brought their own religious fervor across the Atlantic and the nation’s first major religious revival in the middle of the eighteenth century injected new vigor into American religion. The result was that a religious people rose in rebellion against Great Britain in 1776, and that most American statesmen, when they began to form new governments at the state and national levels, shared the convictions of most of their constituents that religion was, to quote Alexis de Tocqueville’s observation, indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions.

Many of the British North American colonies that eventually formed the United States of America were settled in the seventeenth century by men and women, who, in the face of European persecution, refused to compromise passionately held religious convictions and fled Europe. The New England colonies, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland were conceived and established “as plantations of religion.” Some settlers who arrived in these areas came for secular motives–“to catch fish” as one New Englander put it–but the great majority left Europe to worship God in the way they believed to be correct. They enthusiastically supported the efforts of their leaders to create “a city on a hill” or a “holy experiment,” whose success would prove that God’s plan for his churches could be successfully realized in the American wilderness. Even colonies like Virginia, which were planned as commercial ventures, were led by entrepreneurs who considered themselves “militant Protestants” and who worked diligently to promote the prosperity of the church.

EUROPEAN PERSECUTIONS

The religious persecution that drove settlers from Europe to the British North American colonies sprang from the conviction, held by Protestants and Catholics alike, that uniformity of religion must exist in any given society. This conviction rested on the belief that there was one true religion and that it was the duty of the civil authorities to impose it, forcibly if necessary, in the interest of saving the souls of all citizens. Nonconformists could expect no mercy and might be executed as heretics. The dominance of the concept, denounced by Roger Williams as “inforced uniformity of religion,” meant majority religious groups who controlled political power punished dissenters in their midst. In some areas Catholics persecuted Protestants, in others Protestants persecuted Catholics, and in still others Catholics and Protestants persecuted wayward coreligionists. Although England renounced religious persecution in 1689, it persisted on the European continent. Religious persecution, as observers in every century have commented, is often bloody and implacable and is remembered and resented for generations.

CROSSING THE OCEAN TO KEEP THE FAITH: THE PURITANS

Puritans were English Protestants who wished to reform and purify the Church of England of what they considered to be unacceptable residues of Roman Catholicism. In the 1620s leaders of the English state and church grew increasingly unsympathetic to Puritan demands. They insisted that the Puritans conform to religious practices that they abhorred, removing their ministers from office and threatening them with “extirpation from the earth” if they did not fall in line. Zealous Puritan laymen received savage punishments. For example, in 1630 a man was sentenced to life imprisonment, had his property confiscated, his nose slit, an ear cut off, and his forehead branded “S.S.” (sower of sedition).

Beginning in 1630 as many as 20,000 Puritans emigrated to America from England to gain the liberty to worship God as they chose. Most settled in New England, but some went as far as the West Indies. Theologically, the Puritans were “non-separating Congregationalists.” Unlike the Pilgrims, who came to Massachusetts in 1620, the Puritans believed that the Church of England was a true church, though in need of major reforms. Every New England Congregational church was considered an independent entity, beholden to no hierarchy. The membership was composed, at least initially, of men and women who had undergone a conversion experience and could prove it to other members. Puritan leaders hoped (futilely, as it turned out) that, once their experiment was successful, England would imitate it by instituting a church order modeled after the New England Way. [1]

[1] Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, Library of Congress; Exhibition, America As Refuge, Section 1, Part 1 [edited]

CONNECTICUT FOUNDED ON WORD OF GOD

January 25th, 2010

Part 2

Connecticut became the third established colony to have a constitution and receive a Charter. Prior to the Charter, several Connecticut communities had established constitutions based on the word of God.

Thomas Hooker (1586–1647) founded the Colony of Connecticut after dissenting with Puritan leaders in Massachusetts. He was a prominent Puritan religious and colonial leader, an ordained minister and was a great speaker and a leader of universal Christian suffrage. [1]

Connecticut calls itself the ‘Constitution State’ and there is a good reason for this. The founders of Connecticut created a significant charter for self-government entitled The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. This document became the first complete constitution in the New World. Moreover, it was based on a sermon by their founder, the Reverend Thomas Hooker. [2] In fact, it has also been called, “the first written constitution …in the history of nations.” [3]

Hooker’s sermon on May 31st, 1638 emphasized “the choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by Gods own allowance,” and that “they who have the power to appoint officers and magistrates, it is in their power, also, to set bounds and limitations of the power and place unto which they call them,” because “the foundation of authority is laid, firstly, in the free consent of the people.” [4] His advocacy was to establish a government of law and order by and subject to the will of the people and base it on the word of God. The final constitution was signed on January 14, 1639 and it was the beginning of our Republic and democracy. Thomas Hooker, for this reason, is a founding father to our United States Constitution that was written 150 years later.

Fundamental Orders of 1639

For as much as it hath pleased Almighty God by the wise disposition of his divine providence so to order and dispose of things that we the Inhabitants and Residents of Windsor, Hartford and Wethersfield are now cohabiting and dwelling in and upon the River of Connectecotte and the lands thereunto adjoining; and well knowing where a people are gathered together the word of God requires that to maintain the peace and union of such a people there should be an orderly and decent Government established according to God, to order and dispose of the affairs of the people at all seasons as occasion shall require; do therefore associate and conjoin ourselves to be as one Public State or Commonwealth; and do for ourselves and our successors and such as shall be adjoined to us at any time hereafter, enter into Combination and Confederation together, to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus which we now profess, as also, the discipline of the Churches, which according to the truth of the said Gospel is now practiced amongst us; as also in our civil affairs to be guided and governed according to such Laws, Rules, Orders and Decrees as shall be made, ordered, and decreed as followeth: [5]

This great constitution declares Divine Providence at its core, calls all settlers to be in a covenant “to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” and to be guided and governed according to the constitution based on God’s word.

[1] History of the United States of America, Henry William Elson, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904
[2] The Book That Made America, How the Bible Formed Our Nation, Jerry Newcombe, D.Min., Nordskog Publishing, 2009
[3] History of the first Church in Hartford, George Leon Walker, Brown & Gross, 1894; as quoted in The Christian History of the Constitution: Christian Self-Government, Verna Hall, Page 249
[4] The Founding of New England, James Truslow Adams, The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1921; End Note: The text of the sermon has not survived and notes taken by some hearer are published in G.L. Walker, Thomas Hooker (New York, 1891), Page 125.
[5] Fundamental Orders of 1639, The Avalon Project, Yale Law School, Lillian Goldman Law Library online at: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/order.asp

THE MAYFLOWER COMPACT

January 19th, 2010

There were 104 people that boarded the ship Mayflower to head for the New World. The Mayflower journey is historically very important. It was the beginning of the second Colony, the Plymouth Plantation, and our country’s foundation as a Christian Nation. We will see our form of government taking place here, albeit a seed in the form of a signed agreement called the Mayflower Compact.

The people, known as the Pilgrims (English Separatist) [1], had escaped religious persecution in England. They fled to Holland for religious freedom, but after a while (about 12 years) decided to leave due to ungodly influences on their children. They charted the Mayflower, a cargo ship that sailed between the ports of Europe, to be transported to the Hudson River, what is now New York City. The ship was under the command of Christopher Jones. It was approximately 100 feet in length, and 25 feet in breadth and was a typical vessel of the time. There were about 30 crew members. Another important fact is that not all the 104 passengers were Pilgrims. Some were ‘strangers’ [1], simply meaning they were not English Separatists. What is important about this voyage is the fact the passengers had received permission to set up a colony in Virginia by the London Company. They spent 66 days sailing to reach the New World from the English port. Two people died while on the voyage, one passenger and one crew member, leaving 102 passengers arriving in the New World.

Land was sighted on November 9, 1620. On November 11, 1620, while in the cabin of the Mayflower, in what is now Provincetown Harbor near Cape Cod, The Mayflower Compact was written and signed. Some of the passengers had begun to question the authority of the group’s leaders now that they had arrived in the New World. Before the Pilgrims sailed, they were granted a charter that authorized them to start a settlement in the northern part of the Virginia Colony. However, since they were in Massachusetts instead of Virginia, the charter was no longer considered valid, and leaders worried about a possible mutiny. The Mayflower Document was originally drawn up to be an interim governing document between charters. The Pilgrims eventually requested a new charter, and in 1621 they were granted the Second Peirce Patent. However, the Mayflower Compact remained in effect until 1691. [2]

Governor William Bradford said this about The Mayflower Compact,

“This day, before we came to harbour, observing some not well affected to unity and concord, but gave some appearance of faction, it was thought good there should be an association and agreement, that we should combine together in one body and to submit to such government and governors as we should by common consent agree to make and choose, and set our hands to this that follows, word for word.” [2]

The original Mayflower Compact document has been lost. Governor William Bradford, however, wrote a history of Plymouth Colony, and we have his version of the document. Originally written in King’s English, the version below is from the National Constitution Center website at: http://constitutioncenter.org/ncc_edu_Mayflower_Compact.aspx

Composed by William Bradford
Adopted November 11, 1620

[This Compact, drawn up in the cabin of the Mayflower, was not a constitution, a document defining and limiting the functions of government. It was, however, the germ of popular government in America.

“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 presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God, and one of 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 11 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 1620.” [3]

We’ll follow this accounting with the foundation of the Plymouth Plantation in our next blog.

[1] Bradford, William (1898) [1651]. Hildebrandt, Ted. ed (PDF). Bradford’s History “Of Plimoth Plantation”. Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Co.; Publication is online at:
http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/Ted_Hildebrandt/NEReligiousHistory/Bradford-Plimoth/Bradford-PlymouthPlantation.pdf
[2] Various compiled history accounts
[3] Journal of the Plymouth Plantation, William Bradford, as reprinted in 1864 (The Old English is translated into modern English for this article).