Sunday, November 21, 2010

Separatists, Pilgrims and Thanksgiving

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means today to be considered a "Separatist" or a "revolutionary." Who are the revolutionaries today?  Who are those who seek freedom and are willing to die for it?  Who will live their religion at all costs, counting all things but dross for the excellency of the knowledge of the Lord?  I'm wondering if America in its latest attempt to redefine itself in this bi-annual renewal of national elections granted to us by our founders isn't just a way of hearkening back to our origins a little bit. If the pushback we've been observing in the recent election results is any indication, maybe it's a sign we're reaching back to our roots for a bit of the revolutionary spirit left within us.

In America we apply the term "Pilgrim" to those who first settled at Plymouth, Massachusetts, on the 9th day of November 1620.  The Pilgrims who landed on that bleak New England shore at Cape Cod were "Separatists."  They were not the Puritans — they settled in Massachusetts.  But the Separatists settled at Plymouth.

Governor William Bradford
Thanksgiving Day originated one year later in 1621.  Imagine landing on these shores as religious people with little more than the clothes on your back and having to eke out an existence from nothing but abundant but untamed natural resources all around as winter is fast approaching.  It's a stunning tale of survival in hostile surroundings.  Governor William Bradford appointed the day for public praise and prayer after the first harvest.  This is what one account gives of that first thanksgiving:

"In the fall of 1621 the first harvest of the colonists was gathered. The `corn' yielded well, and the `barley' was `indifferently good,' but the peas were a failure, owing to drought and late spring. Encouraged with the harvest of their fruits, but needing more eatables for feasting, the leaders sent four huntsmen for food of the forest, and at their return, `after a special manner,' the Pilgrims rejoiced together, feasting King Massasoit and ninety men for three days, and partaking of venison, wild turkeys, water fowl, and other delicacies for which New England was then famous."

The first Thanksgiving was but a formal manifestation of the spirit of praise and thanksgiving that actuated the hearts of the pilgrims during that first terrible winter in the new country.  One wonders if the infamous "nor'easter" storms were discovered and named during that first winter. 

We are informed by historical accounts that of 102 immigrants who landed on the bleak rocky coast of Cape Cod in the winter of 1620, nearly half died before the following winter had begun.  In December six died; January, eight; February, seventeen; March, thirteen — a total of 44 in four months!  Even despite the ravages many are suffering in the wake of this protracted recession recovery, we are by contrast in our comfortable homes surrounded with peace and plenty.  Awakening this morning to a 20 degree temperature in Pine Valley reminds me it is well for us to pause and try to imagine the suffering of the survivors mid-winter, both from their destitution and inclement weather. 

These earliest American refugees were not all of hearty stock.  Among them were delicately nurtured and refined men and women.  They hastily laid out two rows of huts for nineteen families in that first colony to protect themselves from the ravages of the oncoming winter.  In the first year they had to make seven times more graves for the dead than houses for the living.  Despite their grieving for the loss of their dead relatives, these survivors were to become the progenitors of a great and glorious nation.  They still felt inclined to be thankful for all their blessings and appointed "an especial day on which to give special thanks for all their mercies."

It is instructive for us during this Thanksgiving season to recall it was the Indians who kept the Pilgrims from starving that first winter.  The Pilgrims had insufficient food.  They saw some mounds into which they dug and found corn, and they appropriated it to their own use.  They reported it, however, to King Massasoit, and told him that as soon as they learned to whom the corn belonged, they would recompense them for it.

I have always retained a deep sense of gratitude for the integrity, fortitude, and faith of the Pilgrims.

I am grateful for their strength of character and for the attributes of true greatness which they exemplified. They chose the right with invincible resolution.  They resisted the sorest temptations from within and from without.  They bore the heaviest of burdens cheerfully.  They were most fearless under threat of constant menace and frowns, and their reliance upon God and truth was most unfailing.  In this day when so many are willing and eager to rewrite our history or to ignore it, consulting the original documents will yield the truth of our origins anchored in Divine Providence and the deep faith of our forefathers upon this continent.

Governor Bradford, on the day after they landed, gave an address to that little company aboard the Mayflower.  It is useful to observe they drew up a plan for their fledgling government and set forth their principles for government.  Here's the final paragraph:

"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 adversities."

Their faith in God was real to them.  You can rewrite history if you choose, but we are informed by their accounts that their foundation was pure and holy to these refugees.

Fast forward to President George Washington, "the father of our country," when he signed the official proclamation of a Thanksgiving Day in America.  Note, here again, how the element of divine faith is underscored:

Whereas, it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God, to obey his Will, to be grateful for his Benefits, and humbly to implore his Protection and Favour; and whereas both houses of Congress have by their joint Committee, requested me "To recommend to the People of the United States, a Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful Hearts the many Signal Favours of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a Form of Government for their safety and Happiness."

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday and the twenty-sixth Day of November, next, to be devoted by the People of these States, to the Service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficient Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be: That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks for his kind Care and Protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation; — for the signal and manifold Mercies and the favourable Interpositions of his Providence in the Course and Conclusion of the late War; — for the great Degree of Tranquility, Union, and Plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational Manner in which we have been enabled to establish Constitutions of Government for our Safety and Happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; — for the civil and religious Liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; — and in general, for all the great and various Favours which he hath been pleased to confer upon us. And Also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our Prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech him to pardon our National and other Transgressions; — to enable us all whether in public or private Stations, to perform our several and relative Duties properly and punctually; — to render our national Government a Blessing to all the people, by constantly being a government of wise, just, and Constitutional Laws, directly and faithfully obeyed; — to protect and guide all Sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us) and to bless them with good Government, Peace, and concord; — to promote the Knowledge and practice of true Religion, and Virtue, and the increase of Science among them and us; — and generally to grant unto all mankind such a Degree of temporal Prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York, the third Day of October, in the Year of our Lord, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Eighty nine.

Flashback to Father Lehi:  "Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring.  And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity; if so, it shall be because of iniquity; for if iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever.  Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves.  And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever." 

With such a promise, however, also comes the attendant warning:

"But behold, when the time cometh that they shall dwindle in unbelief, after they have received so great blessings from the hand of the Lord — having a knowledge of the creation of the earth, and all men, knowing the great and marvelous works of the Lord from the creation of the world; having power given them to do all things by faith; having all the commandments from the beginning, and having been brought by his infinite goodness into this precious land of promise — behold, I say, if the day shall come that they will reject the Holy One of Israel, the true Messiah, their Redeemer and their God, behold, the judgments of him that is just shall rest upon them." (2 Nephi 1:7-10).

The very foundations and the ongoing perpetuity of this nation depend upon faith.  I raise my voice on this page to make the obvious assertion:  There is an influence undermining the very basic structure of this great nation.

Atheism, the very well-spring of the spirit of the anti-Christ, has spread its tentacles throughout America.  You can label any way you wish -- "secular humanism" is but one manifestation.  These proponents are seeking to eradicate from their minds at the earliest ages of our children the naturally occurring and deeply religious inclinations we share from our common heritage, as illustrated in our most formative written expressions as a foundering nation.  These enemies would destroy if they could all belief in God, all interest in Church or its activities, all hope, aspiration, and faith outside the political doctrine of a few who have seized the national power.

With the dominant trait of our pilgrim fathers, faith in God, however, we can correctly govern ourselves.  We must continue to love the stars and stripes, and accept, defend and promote the Constitution of these United States as divine.  We must never hesitate to choose the right path, as our Pilgrim forefathers did.  It is fashionable to disavow those divine inspirations, but the founders attributed their success to the Divine.

Love of freedom is deeply innate within each of us.  It comes to us as a pre-existent condition we valued and championed before we ever came to live upon this earth.  When we see these traits exhibited in the earliest documents of our tradition, it is easy to understand how they came to their conclusions so readily.

In 1604-5-6, Shakespeare was writing his plays. Four "classes" or "parties" in England dominated the scene.  The Catholics remained true to Rome; members of the English Church (later they formed The Church of England) had drawn away from the Catholics; the Puritans would become the founders of the Massachusetts Colony; and the Separatists later became the founders of the Plymouth Colonies. 

The Puritans and Separatists withdrew from the English Church, because they thought the English Church had not separated themselves far enough from the Catholic Church.  The persecution of these sects or groups was very intense, particularly under James the First who is described as "the greatest pedant that ever sat upon the English throne."  He was "arbitrary, capricious, tyrannical, and unprincipled, he trampled upon the most solemn oaths, and seemed never better pleased than when torturing or anathematizing the victims of his vengeance.  Hence at Hampton Court Conference, at the close of the second day, speaking of the Puritans, he said: `I shall make them conform themselves, or I will harry them out of the land, or else do worse.'"

That statement alone would qualify for the founders' collective statements about "tyranny" they would one day write into the Declaration of Independence describing King George III!

Finally he issued a proclamation, July 16, 1604, ordering the Puritan Clergy to conform before the last of November, or to dispose of themselves and families in some other way, as "unfit for their obstinacy and contempt to occupy places."

The Separatists waited awhile, and finally one group under a man by the name of Robinson took a boat to Holland where they might worship free of this autocracy.  Those who remained in England received the promised treatment from the clergy -- they were "harried," persecuted, imprisoned and driven out for their religious beliefs.

Once they determined to leave England, the King said they couldn't leave.  "It is conformity we demand."  It got worse.  After extensive preparations to leave England in the middle of the night one night bound for the Netherlands, they were finally taken on board in the darkness only to learn they had been betrayed.  Governor Bradford in his account says:  "But when he had them and their goods aboard, he betrayed them, having beforehand plotted with the searchers and other officers so to do who took them, and put them into open boats, and there rifled and ransacked them, searching them to their shirts for money, yea even the women further than became modesty; and then carried them back into the town and made them a spectacle and wonder to the multitude, which came flocking on all sides to behold them."

Their plight of three hundred years ago remains a cautionary tale for all who love freedom.

Finally, Governor Bradford is able to report:  "The Dutchman seeing this, swore his country's oath, `sacramente,' and having the wind fair," sailed away with the husbands aboard, and the women and children left stranded.  Imagine their extremity.  They had nothing with them but the shirts on their backs, their wives and children left helpless.  They should have made the trip in seven days, but they were out fourteen days because of a terrible storm which threatened to engulf them.  Governor Bradford then reports:  "But when man's hope and help wholly failed, the Lord's power and mercy appeared in their recovery; for the ship rose again, and gave the mariners courage again to manage her.  And if modesty would suffer me, I might declare with what fervent prayers they cried unto the Lord in this great distress, (especially some of them), even without any great distraction, when the water ran in their mouths and ears; and the mariners cried out We sinke, we sinke; they cried (if not with miraculous, yet with a great height or degree of divine faith), Yet Lord thou canst save, yet Lord thou canst save; with such other expressions as I will forbear. Upon which the ship did not only recover, but shortly after the violence of the storm began to abate, and the Lord filled their afflicted minds with such comforts as every one cannot understand, and in the end brought them to their desired Haven, where the people came flocking admiring their deliverance, the storm having been so long and sore, in which much hurt had been done, as yet masters friends related unto him in their congratulations."

Remember, these are religious people fleeing persecution.  It was not unlike a voyage undertaken by the Apostle Paul on his way to Rome.

What I've outlined here is only a brief summary of what our Pilgrim forefathers suffered and endured for the love of freedom.  Their heroism in defense of freedom is well-documented, and ironically lays the predicate for what came later in their intolerance of the Indians who occupied the New World.  But none of it alters their persuasions and inclinations toward God's will for them.

So tell me, fair citizens of America in 2010, is there an enemy today in our country that threatens our freedom?  There are those who cry out, "Rescue the Constitution from what?"  I am persuaded the leaders of our country do not want more war with any more foreign enemies than those with whom we currently contend.  No, our most determined enemies lie within America's borders, not those we seem so inept at keeping out.

There is a desperate debate and a growing conflict between freedom and government-mandated entitlement programs that would rob us of our freedoms in the name of "spreading the wealth around."  There is a growing and swelling tide of the attitude, "Do as little as you can and get as much as you can."  And that is wrong.

In my view the antidote to recapturing the spirit of freedom and independence exhibited by our Pilgrim ancestors is faith — faith in God our Heavenly Father, in the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  A love of freedom embodies the innate desire to worship, to work, to think and to live.  To feel a sense of earning what we receive, free from an invasive autocracy or government that will dictate what we pay to them and what we will buy from them as the purveyors and masters of all the elements of production.

In spite of it all, I remain thankful.  I'm thankful for our country, for those who live under its heavenly banner of freedom.  I am even grateful for the federal government and its leaders for whom I pray constantly, while wishing it were smaller and they were less intrusive.  I am grateful for the Church, thankful for living prophets who live among us to guide us, comfort us and give us hope for a future when Zion will be established and Babylon will be thrown down.  That day cannot be far distant at the speed we are travelling.  I am grateful for family, for children and grandchildren, for true friends to love (who love me), and for trustworthy men and women whom we can trust this Thanksgiving Day.  Among those who are not trustworthy and for whom I am not grateful this year are certain employees of the Bank of America.  But I digress.

We thank Thee, O Father, for all that is bright —
The gleam of the day and the stars of the night,
The flowers of our youth and the fruits of our prime,
And the blessings that march down the pathway of time.

We thank Thee, O Father, for all that is drear —
The sob of the tempest, the flow of the tear;
For never in blindness, and never in vain,
Thy mercy permitted a sorrow or pain.

We thank Thee, O Father of all, for the power
Of aiding each other in life's darkest hour;
The generous heart and the bountiful hand
And all the soul-help that sad souls understand.

We thank thee, O Father, for days yet to be;
For hopes that our future will call us to Thee.
Let all our eternity form, through Thy love
A heart of Thanksgiving in the mansions above.

-- Will Carleton

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