The American Pilgrimage 400by Paul Jehle on April 21, 2018
The American Pilgrimage 400
Dr. Paul Jehle – Executive Director, Plymouth Rock Foundation
Senior Pastor, The New Testament Church, Plymouth, Massachusetts
When Jesus began his ministry, it is recorded that the theme of his message was quite simple: repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17). It was a personal message, beginning with the individual. Each of us are to respond with individual repentance for our sins – sins of commission known to us, and sins of omission that may not be known. However, the message quickly turned corporate, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. In other words, individual repentance leaves in its wake a river of revival that is destined to touch the church and even the culture surrounding it. Jesus’ message never ended with the individual, though it started there. It always ended with the main goal – the advance of His Kingdom, which is larger than any individual, church or nation.
I am reminded of Matthew 13:31-33 where the Kingdom of God is likened by Jesus to a mustard tree. Beginning with a small seed, it is destined to shade the fowls of the air. When we are converted, it is the seed of the Kingdom, an incorruptible seed (1st Peter 1:23), that grows within our spirit. However, the Lordship of Christ is destined to renew our minds and straighten out our behavior so that our character (or conduct) is both salt and light to the culture surrounding us (see Matthew 5:13-16). As the people of God, we are called to bring shade to others, even those outside the church and not converted. Having a vision of the manifestation of the Kingdom puts everything else in perspective for we are to seek first the Kingdom and then all things fall into place for our provision!
This year I have been captivated by the meaning of the number 400 in the Bible as I prepare to lead the largest event I have ever led – the American Pilgrimage 400 in honor of the arrival of a remnant church in 1620 that planted the seeds of what would become the United States of America. Consider this, a small remnant church plant of about 75 was sent out from a congregation of 350 into the wilderness to live out their faith without knowing that the Kingdom of God, manifested in their midst, would influence the formation of a new nation! Though never perfect (what group of people has ever been perfect?) their legacy continues to bless us today. After all, how many of us will participate in the 400th anniversary of anything else in our lifetimes?
All who come to Plymouth, Massachusetts June 29 to July 3, 2020 can experience the providential significance of the four hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrims who brought their Biblical faith at the peak of the revival known as the Great Reformation. Sponsored by the Plymouth Rock Foundation, started in 1970 after the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrims arrival, the event will feature dramatic re-enactments, patriotic music, and costumed guides re-telling the history of Plymouth, Cape Cod and Boston. In addition, since Billy Graham, whose funeral we just witnessed, was the keynote speaker in 1970, it is only fitting that we invite Franklin Graham to come in 2020. This historic week will feature a three-dimensional look at the faith, drawn from the Bible, that motivated these pilgrims to venture across the Atlantic as families and church members at a time when only individuals, primarily males, did such exploring. So what might the number 400 mean?
The children of Israel were in bondage in Egypt from about 1900 to 1500 B.C., about 400 years. God raised up Moses after ten generations had become desperate for liberty. Then, from about 1450 to 1050 B.C. the nation of Israel became the freest nation on earth at the time, under the rule of God’s law, with the only alphabetic language on earth, derived from God’s writing of the Law on two tables of stone. The result was that literacy was the highest among the Israelites, with education the most universal among its population. This “Hebrew Republic” as it was called became the model for the nations of the world, and aspects of its culture were borrowed by the Phoenicians, Greeks and others. Eventually, the clergy who preached for 150 years prior to the American Revolution continually referred to this time period as the model form of government in the protection of religious and civil liberty.
The ancient Israelites, however, rejected the responsibility necessary to maintain liberty because the only way it could continue was through the practice of self-government. The book of Judges chronicles the fact that the people used the liberty they had to “do what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6) rather than do what was right in God’s eyes. The result was predictable, for after ten generations they asked Samuel for a King like all the other nations, even though it would mean a top-down centralized government with a military draft and high taxes that would equal if not exceed the tithe (1stSamuel 8). They thus went into bondage and captivity to Assyria and Babylon.
These two examples help us to understand the meaning of 400 years. It is a kingdom number. It is multi-generational and reveals the consistent result of revival or the lack of it. It demonstrates the fruit of God’s law and life in the individual believer to affect the culture or be captured by it. Interestingly, there were 400 years between the Old and New Testaments, yielding the truth that 400 years in God’s sight builds expectation for deliverance in the manifestation of Christ!
As I ponder the fact that in the year 2020 our nation will have a chance to honor the modern example of a remnant church of faithful believers who sowed the seed of His Kingdom in a wilderness, it brings me great expectations for what God may have in store on our horizon. I am fully aware of the problems we face in our culture and the downward trends within the Church in America and the fact that like the Israelites, we have not demonstrated a desire to accept the responsibility of governing ourselves and are thus poised to throw off the freedom and liberty we have enjoyed all these years, entering into a bondage and captivity we have not known for more than ten generations.
However, I am also reminded that Jeremiah prophesied (29:11) to the Israelites in their captivity “for I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Thus, I am calling the church at large, starting with New England but extending to all the United States, England and Holland; to come to Plymouth, Massachusetts June 29-July 3, 2020 to help us honor the tiny seed that came to these shores in 1620, and rejoice in the promise of what is to come! Consider for a moment the year 1820, at the two hundredth anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrim church. Daniel Webster came to Plymouth, Massachusetts and said:
“Let us not forget the religious character of our origin. Our fathers were brought hither by their high veneration for the Christian religion. They journeyed by its light and labored in its hope. They sought to incorporate its principles with the elements of their society and to diffuse its influence through all their institutions, civil, political, or literary.”
If Americans needed to be reminded of the Christian and Biblical roots after two hundred years, how much more might they need to be reminded after four hundred years? Of all people, believers in New England ought to appreciate the fact that this small remnant church, against all odds and persecution, chose to live out their faith. As William Bradford, Plymouth’s Governor and historian wrote, “When as by the travail and diligence of some godly and zealous preachers, and God’s blessing on their labors… many became enlightened by the Word of God and had their ignorance and sins discovered unto them, and began by His grace to reform their lives an make conscience of their ways…”
The Bible the Pilgrims read was the Geneva edition of 1560. It was the first Bible in modern history small enough to carry, cheap enough to own, divided into chapters and verses with study notes in its margins. Where the did the reformation begin in England? The first manifestation of the revived heart of the individual appeared in the home for it was known as the revival of “hearth and home” where it was read to children by fathers. The children who heard such stories in the 1560’s, 70’s and 80’s became the leaders of the remnant church movement that would birth America.
Peggy Baker, Director Emeritus of the Pilgrim Society and longtime friend, said in 2008: “Family is at the heart of the Pilgrim story….that makes Plymouth Colony unique amid a sea of other settlements - English, Dutch, French, and Spanish alike - that were almost exclusively masculine… The Separatist movement, from its earliest beginnings, was built around strong and dedicated families.”She is not only correct historically, she reveals a unique fact that ought to be attractive to believers who wish to honor the faith that motivated the Pilgrims to come here in the first place. Once the individual is converted and revived, it is the home that must next be reformed!
John Robinson, who would become the pastor of the Pilgrim Church in exile that had separated from the Church of England, meeting in secret, was raised in such a home where the Geneva Bible was read. The family at the time, across England and in his hometown of Sturton Le Steeple, became known as a “little church and commonwealth.” He was trained at Cambridge, where the seeds of reformation thought were cultivated. He married Bridget White and had become a rector of St. Andrews – an established church. But soon he realized that the Church of England at the time was married more to the civil government than to Christ. He thus resigned and helped to form a church covenant among a remnant group later to be known as Separatists. This concept of covenant, drawn from the Bible, became the basis of their church, and eventually would become the basis of their civil government as well.
As Bradford would later relate, “so many… whose hearts the Lord had touched with heavenly zeal… shook off this yoke of antichristian bondage, and as the Lord’s free people joined themselves (by a covenant of the Lord) into a church estate; in the fellowship of the gospel, to walk in all His ways made known, or to be made known unto them, according to their best endeavors, whatsoever it should cost them” It did cost them plenty, for the leaders were captured trying to escape and put in jail. Having sold their lands and homes, they final escaped to Holland where they had to learn a new trade and fully take care of their own so they would not be a burden on Dutch society or take away any jobs from those citizens native to their nation.
Robinson, however, soon became known as a pastor who taught the Scriptures from the pulpit and applied these truths to every area of life. As Bradford would related it, “besides his singular abilities in divine things (wherein he excelled) he was also very able to give directions in civil affairs, and to foresee dangers, and inconveniences; by which means he was very helpful to their outward estates, and so was every way as a common father unto them.”
Soon the growing church in Leyden, Holland had a choice to make. The truce with Spain would soon end, and they would either get drawn into Dutch ways, leaving their Christian heritage behind, or leave in order to preserve it. A remnant chose to leave. They further distanced themselves from some of the dominant State churches which had adopted an oppressive method for “sharing” the gospel – namely, enslaving their potential converts. Instead, Bradford describes their motive for coming at a time when few people, especially families and churches, ever ventured on the seas and traveled abroad.
“A great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation, or at least to make a 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.” Thus, this small group ventured forth in the summer of 1620. Having to sell the only ship they owned, the Speedwell, when it proved leaky, twenty returned, and a smaller remnant began their journey toward America in one ship called the Mayflower. Bradford said it this way: “thus, like Gideon’s army, this small number was divided, as if the Lord by this work of His providence though these few too many for the great work He had to do.”
In what is now Provincetown harbor, another decision faced these believers. They had been blown off course, north of where their patent had given them permission to land. After trying to sail south toward what is now Manhattan, they faced the dangerous shoals on the outer Cape, and returned to anchor inside Cape Cod. Those who had been hired or had joined the group, but where not a part of the Church at Leyden, began to grumble and complain, saying they might go off on their own. They may have thought that these believers would oppress them as others had done, forcing them to join their church or be ruled by the church in their new commonwealth. But this remnant had been taught well and wrote the Mayflower Compact, a civil compact that gave every man an equal vote, regardless of church affiliation. This was way ahead of its time but sowed the seeds of true Kingdom liberty.
As the Compact stated in part, “In the Name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James… having undertaken, for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honor of our King and Country… do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves into a Civil Body Politic.” Extending the concept of Biblical covenant to civil rule where each individual was under the same rule of law was a step ahead in the saga of civil liberty.
It was on a cold Monday, December the 11th, 1620, that a group of 18 men stepped on a rock jutting out from the coast of what would become New Plymouth. The day became known as Forefathers Day, first celebrated in 1769. As Bradford related it later, “what could now sustain them but the Spirit of God and His grace? May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: ‘Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity,’ etc., ‘Let them therefore praise the Lord, because He is good, and His mercies endure forever.’ ‘Yea, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord, show how He hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor. When they wandered in the desert wilderness out of the way, and found no city to dwell in, both hungry and thirsty, their soul was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before the Lord His lovingkindness and His wonderful works before the sons of men.’”
The native Wampanoags had been mistreated by Europeans and some taken as slaves prior to the arrival of these Pilgrims. Many were dominated “in the name of Christ.” The natives had every reason to attack these newcomers out of self-defense for previous wrongs done to them. It would take real character to change the reputation attributed to those who called themselves “Christian” but had utilized methods of oppression. It would also take character and integrity for Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoags, to trust these Englishmen. To the credit of both, they made peace with each other in March of 1621 that lasted more than 50 years. Other such treaties with Native Americans in our history have not lasted nearly as long, often being broken by the white man.
Having taken corn buried in the sand at Cape Cod from the Nauset tribe and having been attacked by them as well, they were anxious to meet to pay them back for the corn they had taken and set things right. When one of the Pilgrim boys strayed too far from the Plantation and was taken by this tribe, their opportunity came in August of 1621. Once meeting, and hearing of the oppression these natives had previously experienced with Thomas Hunt, the Pilgrims declared: “We told them we were sorry that any Englishman should give them that offense, that Hunt was a bad man, and that all the English that heard of it condemned him for the same; but for us, we would not offer them any such injury.”
The small settlement at Plymouth, where only 51 survived that first winter, was never large, never wealthy or dominating. However, they were influential, and their example speaks to those who cherish the Christian faith today. The subsequent arrival of the Puritans ten years later, Governor Winthrop’s sermon echoed the sentiments already laid by these Pilgrims ten years earlier.
"We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when He shall make us a praise and glory, that men shall say of succeeding (generations); the Lord make it like that of New England. For we must consider that we shall be a City set upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us... so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world… Beloved, there is now set before us life and good, death and evil... Therefore let us choose life, that we, and our seed, may live... for He is our life, and our prosperity."
Though the Puritans set a standard for applying God’s law in a just way, even condemning slavery in 1641, they did not properly punish the first slaver who arrived in Boston in 1645. Subsequent generations did not honor the covenants with Native Americans either, for those who professed Christ mistreated and killed other Natives, even their own brothers and sisters in the faith. We need a time to publicly repent for these sins in 2020 that we might move forward as believers and as a nation.
So why should believers consider investing in and attending this American Pilgrimage 400 in 2020? First, it is imperative that we know our history and honor the work of Christ through remnants of believers who paid a dear price to practice it. Second, we need to understand the godly motives for which these Pilgrims crossed the ocean so that we can honor God’s providential timing in bringing Christianity to these shores and planting local self-government. Third, it is time that we leave a legacy for our children and grandchildren “that we might have hope” as Psalm 78 declares. This means recognizing the failures of the past while at the same time elevating our testimony for the future.
There will be a national and international stage during 2020 that will allow the faith of the Pilgrims to be shared. We are challenging at least 750 churches and Christian ministries to invest $400 in this endeavor. We are challenging at least 7,500 individuals to invest $40. You can get a brochure by contacting the Plymouth Rock Foundation; (800-210-1620); firstname.lastname@example.org or 48 Summer Street, Plymouth, MA 02360 (www.plymrock.org.) This is the year we must raise the appropriate funds in order to successfully celebrate the faith that brought these people to America. Please help us by watching the two links at the bottom of this email of live presentations as well as perusing the attached brochure of the events coming in 2020 and then spreading them to all those you know.
Governor Samuel Adams’ prayer proclamation of 1795 is applicable for us to echo in both prayer and involvement as we look forward to 2020: "I conceive we cannot better express ourselves than by humbly supplicating the Supreme Ruler of the world... that the confusions that are and have been among the nations may be overruled by the promoting and speedily bringing in the holy and happy period when the kingdoms of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may be everywhere established, and the people willingly bow to the sceptre of Him, who is the Prince of Peace.”
Video link of the March 16 message on the American Pilgrimage by Dr. Paul Jehle - https://youtu.be/WI0SAty6VHI
Video link from March 23 message on Pastor John Robinson: https://www.frc.org/events/pastor-john-robinson-shepherd-of-america