Archive for November, 2013
In a blog to Christian parents, Mike McHugh shares Mr. F.W. Greenwood’s nineteenth century text and encourages families to take the time to come together, in spite of their busy schedules, to sing praises to the God of their fathers and to talk of the ways in which the Lord has blessed and moved in the past. If you are determined to make this Thanksgiving season one of genuine spiritual significance, then by all means take the time to sing praises to the God of all grace and read portions of the Holy Scripture to your family. In addition, set aside time to share readings with your children like the one listed below, so they will learn more about the faith of their pilgrim and puritan forefathers …the ones who originally established the thanksgiving tradition.
One of the most prominent characteristics that distinguished the founders of New England, was their determined resistance to oppression. They seemed born and brought up for the high and special purpose of showing to the world that the civil and religious rights of man — the rights of self-government, conscience, and independent thought — are not merely things to be talked about and woven into theories, but were intended by the Creator to be adopted with the whole strength and ardor of the mind. Their laws and covenants recognized the liberty of the individual under God’s law, in a time when few societies did so. For them, true liberty was not the power to live as one pleased, but the freedom to live as God required.
Liberty, with them, was an object too valuable to be personified, allegorized, or enshrined. They made no goddess of it, as the ancients did; they had no time, nor inclination for such trifling. They felt that liberty was the simple birthright of every creature created in the image of God. They called it so; they claimed it as such. The Puritan Fathers of New England reverenced liberty, and held it fast as the unalienable gift of the Creator, which must never be surrendered to any power of man, nor sold for wages. It was theirs, as men; without it, they did not esteem themselves men. More than any other privilege or possession, liberty was essential to their happiness, for it was essential to their original nature. They, therefore, preferred it above wealth, and ease, and country; and, that they might enjoy and exercise it fully, they forsook houses, lands, kindred, their native soil, and their fathers’ graves.
The Pilgrim and Puritan fathers left all these; they left England, which, whatever it might have been called, was not to them a land of freedom. They launched forth on the pathless ocean, the wide, fathomless ocean, soiled not by the earth beneath, and bounded, all round and above, only by heaven. It seemed to them like that better and sweeter freedom, which their native country knew so little of, but of which they had the conception and image in their hearts. After a toilsome and painful voyage, they came to a hard wintry coast, unfruitful and desolate, but unguarded and boundless. The calm silence that met them in their new homeland interrupted not the ascent of their prayers; it had no sheriff or government official to spy on them, no ears to hearken, no tongues to report them. It was in this strange new land where these pilgrims found an answer to their prayers for religious liberty. They recognized at once that the gift of freedom that they now enjoyed came from the hand of God. These happy pilgrims were satisfied, and gave thanks; they saw that they were free, and their souls smiled.
I am telling an old tale; but it is one that must be told when we speak of the founders of New England. It should be added, that they transmitted the principles of virtuous liberty to their children, so that, trained by such a race, their country was always free. So long as its inhabitants were unmolested by the mother country in the exercise of their important rights, they submitted to the form of English government; but when those rights were invaded, they spurned even the form away. For them, rebellion against tyrants, was obedience to God.
It should be understood that the principles that drove the American struggle for independence were not the suddenly acquired property of a few bosoms. These biblical principles had been abroad in the land ever since the landing of the Pilgrim and Puritan fathers. The truths that had established freedom in the land, which grew out of a study of the Holy Scriptures, descended from father to son, down from those primitive days, when the pilgrim, established in his simple dwelling, and seated near his blazing fire, piled high from the forest which shaded his door, repeated to his listening children the story of past persecutions and his resistance. These children learned that they had a duty to resist ungodly men’s oppression, and that they had nothing to fear if they walked in the fear of the Lord.
This was the true beginning of America’s quest for liberty and independence. Every settler’s hearth was a school of independence; the scholars were apt, and the lessons sunk deeply; and so it was that America would eventually become more and more free; it could not be other than free.
As deeply seated as was the principle of liberty and resistance to arbitrary power in the breasts of the Puritans, it was not more so than their piety and sense of religious obligation. They were emphatically a people whose God was the Lord. Their form of government was as strictly theocratic, if direct communication be excepted, as was that of the ancient Hebrews; insomuch that it would be difficult to say that there was any civil authority among them entirely distinct from ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
Whenever a few of them settled a town, they immediately gathered themselves into a church; and they made their elders magistrates, and their code of laws was the Pentateuch. These were forms, it is true, but forms which faithfully indicated principles and feeling; for no people could have adopted such forms, who were not thoroughly imbued with the spirit, and bent on the practice of biblical Christianity.
God was their King, and they regarded Him as truly and literally so, as if He had dwelt in a visible palace in the midst of their state. They were His devoted, resolute, and humble subjects. They undertook nothing that they did not beg Him to prosper. They accomplished nothing without rendering to Him the praise. These devote people suffered nothing without carrying their sorrow to His throne. They ate nothing which they did not implore Him to bless.
Their piety was not merely external; it was sincere. It had the proof of the good tree in bearing good fruit; it produced and sustained a strict morality. Their tenacious purity of manners and speech obtained for them in the mother country their name of Puritans, which though given in derision, was as honorable a title as was ever bestowed on men by men.
That there were hypocrites among them is not to be doubted; but they were rare. The men who voluntarily exiled themselves to an unknown coast, and endured there every toil and hardship for conscience’ sake, so that they might serve God as the Bible commands, were not likely to set conscience at defiance, and make the service of God a mockery. They were not likely to be, neither were they, hypocrites. I do not know that it would be an exaggeration to say that, on the extended surface of the globe, there was not a single community of men to be compared with them. They had a deep and genuine commitment to the Christian faith, and this fact drove them to take seriously their duty to pursue biblical morality and justice. It was for this reason, that the Puritan fathers were just the sort of people that God could safely use to build a house of liberty.
F. W. Greenwood