The Pilgrims when they came to America saw themselves as the planting of a Christian people in a new land that would thereby influence that land for good. John Robinson was the pastor of the Pilgrim congregation before they embarked for America. The congregation having left England to find more freedom of worship had gone to Leyden, Holland and settled there but even there they found restrictions on their desire to spread the kingdom of God. David Fountain in his book The Mayflower Pilgrims and their Pastor writes, “Robinson’s sphere of ministry in Leyden was restricted to the people of his charge, so that there was no opportunity for evangelism. This was not only because of the language barrier but because of the attitude of the authorities. They did not mind him preaching to his own people, but would not allow any efforts to win over others to their cause. This limitation was one of the main reasons for their moving away from Holland. Robinson and his ruling elder, Brewster, had a strong desire to spread their principles and enlarge the Kingdom of Christ. They were convinced that the cause they had taken up was the cause of truth and righteousness, and that its extension would be for the good of mankind, so that they wanted more scope for their zeal and energies. Bradford puts it simply: ‘They had a great hope and inward zeal of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way thereunto, for the propagating and advancing of the gospel of the Kingdom of Christ in these remote parts of the world, though they should be but as stepping-stones unto others for performing of so great a work.’” (p. 33)
Before landing at Plymouth in the new land of America, the Pilgrims as leaders of their group on the Mayflower drew up what is now called the Mayflower Compact which they all agreed to. Among other things this Compact says, “….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 of one another, covenant and combine ourselves into a civil body politic…..” (Of Plymouth Plantation, p. 76) In coming to America the Pilgrims saw themselves as the agents of God in a new land to advance the Kingdom of God. They did this by coming as Christian families to plant themselves in the new land, raise their children in the Christian faith who would then pass along to future generations that same faith. They also intended to befriend the Indians and share the gospel with them that they might come to know the Lord Jesus Christ. Although they were not completely successful in winning the Indians to Christ, they did make friends among them and they and others who came after them did win many of the Indians to the Christian faith.
The Pilgrims, then, came to America as agents of the Lord Jesus Christ to plant a settlement that would advance the Kingdom of God on earth. They saw themselves as not only a small community of people in a vast new land but as the beginning of something greater. William Bradford wrote in this light when he said, “Thus out of small beginnings greater things have grown by His hand who made all things out of nothing, and gives being to all things that are; and as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light enkindled here has shone to many, yea, in a sense, to our whole nation; let the glorious name of Jehovah have all the praise.” (Of Plymouth Plantation, p. 226)
The Pilgrims are our roots. We, as a nation, need to look back to them and learn from them. We were not meant to be a totally secular nation as some insist on today. Our roots are in that group of people planted here by God for a purpose. Their purpose was to plant the Kingdom of God in this land. Their vision was for a nation that would acknowledge God and live by His precepts. In this time of moral and spiritual decline, we need to catch that Pilgrim vision once again.
The Pilgrims went through many difficulties in planting the Kingdom of God in this land. There were difficulties before they made their voyage to America and there were many trials in coming and settling here not the least of which was that half of their number died the first winter after they arrived but they kept on and did not give up. Bradford wrote, “What, then, could now sustain them but the spirit of God, and His grace? Ought not the children of their fathers rightly to say: Our fathers were Englishmen who came over the 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….Let them therefore praise the Lord, because he is good, and His mercies endure forever.” (Of Plymouth Plantation, p. 66)
After the sufferings of the first winter, the Pilgrims wrote, “Above all, there was freedom to worship God, that dearest of blessings. Only half of our company had died. The rest were getting well. God was nearer to us than he ever had been in dear old England. He had planted His vine in the wilderness, and the vine of His planting would grow. What more could we ask.” (The Mayflower Pilgrims and their Pastor, p. 52) Did they plant that vine in vain or will we carry on their heritage in this great land? They came here on a mission and we must carry that mission forward into our generation.
Bradford, William. Of Plymouth Plantation. The Vision Forum, Inc. and Mantle Ministries, San Antonio, TX and Bulverde, TX, 1998-2007.
Fountain, David. The Mayflower Pilgrims and their Pastor. Henry E. Walter LTD, Worthing, England, 1970.