Prior To The Mayflower Voyage
By faith, the Pilgrim congregation had dared to separate from the Church of England and meet secretly in Scrooby, Holland. They sold their farms and left their jobs and homes in the fall of 1607 to escape to religious liberty in Holland. In route, miraculously, surviving the storm of all storms in the North Sea, the little congregation settled in Leiden, Holland where they started their lives over again in 1609, learning new trades, a new language, and culture.
While in Leiden they nurtured the seeds of their understanding from the God’s Word, especially regarding the idea of self-government. The opportunity to experience religious freedom and extend the Good News of the Kingdom of God without the censorship of the tyrant, King James.
They set up a printing press in William Brewster’s home and began to distribute religious materials to England and Scotland. Their over-arching goal was to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. They published religious materials and produced a religious tract critical of the English king. As a result, King James ordered Brewster’s arrest and the king’s agents discovered and seized the printing press. Brewster escaped and went into hiding for over a year.
This event was one of the sparks that caused the Pilgrim’s pastor, Rev. John Robinson, to consider relocating the congregation to America. Besides, Holland’s truce with Spain would be running out by 1621 and soon all of the Dutch, as well as the immigrants, would be subscripted into the army to fight the Spaniards. With the likelihood of war looming, the printing press shut down, Brewster in hiding, and King James’s arm able to reach across the channel to harass them. Their day in Leiden appeared to be coming to a close. “The great hope of propagating the Gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world compelled the Pilgrims to seek a new place.”
The statement in quotes was taken from William Bradford of Plymouth, ed. Ted Hilderbrant (Boston:Wright &Potter Printing Co. 1898), Book 1, Chapter 4).
The Government of Christ
“Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;” — Philippians 1:27 KJV
The Greek word for “conversation” is “poletyuomai,” which is where we derive our word “politic” defined also as “being a citizen” or “citizenship.” The word includes the practice of administering civil affairs or managing the state. It stresses that one ought to help form the laws of the society, avail one’s self to the laws of a country, and obey its instructions.
This is rather profound because Rev. John Robinson (the pastor of the Pilgrim body of Believers), understood the Scriptures and its holistic teachings. The Pilgrims, under the tutelage of Robinson, searched the Bible and discovered a new and better way to live. They believed the government of Christ began in the heart of the individual. True religious liberty could only be built upon the genuine practice of self-government. The reason is simple: self-government by its very nature, yields peace, with “every man under his vine and his fig tree” (1 Kings 4:25). He not only prepared his congregation to live holy lives individually, but also instructed them with a “politic” in public society; how they ought to operate from a biblical perspective.
A Time For Separation
The Rev. John Robinson has been rightfully called the Founding Shepherd of America. Unwilling to deny his own conscience in obedience to God’s Word, the increasing tyranny being imposed by the State Church of England forced him to reluctantly choose a path of separation. There clearly is a time, (even today) to separate. For example, when oppression is overwhelming, when those opposing the gospel become violent, or when false teachers are proclaiming doctrinal error and heresy
“Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the LORD. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you” — 2 Corinthians 6:17 NLT
“Rev. John Robinson was trained to love the Word of God from a young age, given the best possible education, and was transformed though the teachings of the Protestant Reformation while at Cambridge University. From the early days of forming the Scrooby Covenant, where the Pilgrim church joined together as free men, their faithful shepherd John Robinson inspired his fellow congregants to touch the heart of God, trained them to think the thoughts of God, and helped them practice the government of God in their homes, churches, and civil compacts. He trained them so that they did not need him when they arrived in the new world to set up how they would govern themselves.” (The Founders’ Bible, (How Then Shall We Live), page 182)
Robinson taught them that truth was to be practiced, lived out in everyday life, and applied to society around them, especially the biblical role of civil government and the God-ordained jurisdictions placed upon it. The enduring legacy of Christian self-government would become the distinguishing mark of the Pilgrim church and the seeds of religious liberty they would carry with them.
They had no idea at the time that they would need to write what became, The Mayflower Compact, which was the foundational principles upon which a great nation was to be formed.
The Voyage to the New World
On September 6, 1620, 102 Pilgrims and “strangers” (the name the Pilgrims gave to those not part of their congregation) set sail for the new world on the wine ship, the Mayflower. Despite King James’s warrant for his arrest, William Brewster came out of hiding and assumed his leadership position of the group heading for America.
After sixty-six storm-tossed days, rather than the usual three-week journey crossing the wintry Atlantic Ocean, they sighted land on November 9, 1620, and William Brewster led them in Psalm 100 as a prayer of thanksgiving.
On the Mayflower, they survived sea-sickness, vomiting, no place to relieve themselves, and a ship that needed crucial repairs. All the while, living in a space of slightly less than the size of a standard single bed for each person. After 2,750 miles, traveling at an average speed of just under two miles per hour, the voyage was nearly over. It was confirmed that they had been blown off course to the area of Cape Cod. It was late and winter was upon them. They concluded, whether this was plan A or plan B, perhaps the Providence of God led them here and this is where they were meant to settle.
Together, the Pilgrims and the strangers had a patent and a charter that gave them legal permission to go to what is now Manhattan, which was called, “Northern Virginia” at the time. In terms of business arrangements, there were investors from the Plymouth Council for New England, who turned every person into a share commodity. Each male was financed for a certain value and the women and children were financed for another v value. They put an investment in every colonist, expecting an eventual return. Technically speaking, the Pilgrims didn’t have a debt; the investors were taking the financial risk, and the colonists were risking their lives.
As they sat offshore in the Mayflower, they had one major problem—they needed to clearly establish who they were and agree upon some rules by which they were going to live. With no options and no one else to consult, the Pilgrims did the only thing they knew to do—with the principles of self-government firmly in hand, they wrote their own governing document. Just as they had done under the leadership of John Robinson when they wrote up their church covenant in 1606 at Scrooby Manor, the Pilgrims drew up a charter known as the “Mayflower Compact” to give themselves authority to establish a government there until an official patent could be obtained. What they had done for their church covenant, they now did for their civil body politic. The interesting difference is that this civic covenant was for Christians and non-Christians.
Their pastor’s teaching from the Bible was the basis upon which they wrote the Mayflower Compact. His lasting influence in the lives of the Pilgrims undeniably makes him “the Founding Shepherd of America.”
Perhaps you might consider reading this article around your Thanksgiving dinner table this year.
Remembering the Past Helps to
Remind us of How to live in the Present
Which helps Prepare Us for the Future
Much love in Christ,