The cold, rough sea carelessly tossed the little shallop as it slowly wound its way up the British coast to a remote location between Grimsby and Hull on that day so long ago. A rough sea is no respecter of persons, and as the boatload of Separatist women and their children waited at the designated spot for their husbands to arrive by land, and for the Dutch ship to arrive and carry them safely to their new home in Holland on that cold day in 1608, they begged the seamen to be taken closer to shore, to calmer water.
The Dutch ship was late by a full day, and by the time it arrived, the little shallop, settled into the calmer water at the mouth of a small river, was stuck fast as the tide had receded. By then, the men had safely arrived on foot, so they wasted no time in loading the men and supplies into the ship while they waited until noon when the tide would flow in sufficiently to release the boatload of women and children.
They worked feverishly, yet after the first boatload of men settled onto the Dutch ship, the shipmaster suddenly looked up and saw in the distance a company of men both on horse and foot, with guns and weapons, coming to arrest these “rebels.” Terrified, the shipmaster immediately weighed anchor, hoisted the sails, and sailed away– taking the group of distressed Separatist men who begged him to go back, and abandoning the weeping boatload of penniless women and children.
Yet this was not the first, and certainly not the last, trial of adversity that this band of Separatists–later referred to by their Governor William Bradford as “Pilgrims”– endured in their persistent pursuit of the freedom to worship God. As this chapter of their story went on, the men who were stuck on the Dutch ship without their families endured the intense misery of a severe storm at sea in which even the seasoned sailors themselves cried out for mercy, while the women and children were dragged from magistrate to magistrate, with no one knowing what to do with them, until they were finally released–with no homes to go back to. Eventually, all of them were reunited in Holland, with what Gov. Bradford called “no small rejoicing!”
As Bradford wrote in his journal, “So many, therefore…whose hearts the Lord had touched with heavenly zeal for His truth, shook off this yoke of antichristian bondage, and as the Lord’s free people joined themselves (by a covenant of the Lord)…to walk in all His ways made known…whatever it should cost them.
“…Being thus constrained to leave their native soil and country, their lands and livings, and all their friends and familiar acquaintance, it was much and thought marvelous by many… But these things did not dismay them, though they did sometimes trouble them, for their desires were set on the ways of God and to enjoy His ordinances. They rested on His providence, and knew Whom they had believed.”
There are many, many lessons we can learn from the heroic story of the Pilgrims as they came to America, but perhaps the greatest of all is the wonderful testimony of their courage and strength to persevere, even in the face of severe adversity, in order that God would be glorified, honored and worshipped above all else.
In America today, we need this story of our heritage more than ever before, and we need to tell it to our children more than ever before. Christianity in America today has by and large become far too complacent and comfortable. In the last couple of years, America’s “comfort zone” has been challenged by the affects of a collapsing economy, job losses, rising food costs, plummeting real estate– besides the collapse of morality and a once God-fearing, God-honoring nation. Honoring God in our actions and practices is not be very popular in our current culture.
Today, our nation is rife with unhappy, frustrated, uncomfortable people. Sadly, the evangelical church in America, by and large, has lost the character to sustain itself through difficult economic times. For too long, we’ve become too adept at dodging adversity and suffering, and at “compromising” with the godless, too fearful of offending man, yet not fearful enough of offending the God we say we love. Consequently, we don’t know how to handle adversity well when it hits, as it inevitably will at times.
We need to do better teaching our children God-honoring priorities, and prepare them to be the God-honoring beacon on a hill that encourages others in their faith, even if it means being uncomfortable sometimes. We need to provide them with the hope and strength that will sustain them long after we are gone. The wonderful story of the perseverance of the Pilgrims ought to be told and retold to our children. They are truly a living and godly example in our history of what 1 Peter 1 speaks of: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
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