The month of Thanksgiving means we are obligated to think about the Plymouth Pilgrims. But instead of reflecting on the First Thanksgiving, let’s remember the wise words from the first pastor of the Scrooby congregation.
When the Pilgrims decided to leave Holland for the New World, more than half the congregation stayed in the Netherlands, including their pastor, John Robinson. This prompted the beloved pastor to write a departing letter filled with six admonitions for the saints traveling to New England. It’s remarkable how applicable Pastor Robinson’s words are even 400 years later.
- “Daily renew … repentance with our God, especially for our sins known, and generally for our unknown trespasses.”
- “We are carefully to provide for peace with all men so far as in us lieth, especially with our associates.”
- “We must be watchful that we ourselves neither give, nor easily take, offense.”
- “And if taking offence causelessly or easily at men’s doing should be so carefully avoided, how much more is it to be heeded lest we take offence at God himself,—which we do so often as we murmur at his providence.”
- “Join affections truly bent upon the general good, avoiding, as a deadly plague of your comfort, all retiredness of mind for selfish advantage.”
- “Whereas … you will elect some to the office of government, let your wisdom and godliness appear, not only in choosing such persons as will entirely love and promote the common good, but also in yielding them all due honour and obedience in their lawful administrations … of … God’s ordinance for your good.”*
This letter is full of wisdom for those settling a new colony. It’s also full of wisdom for us who live in the nation since formed. The temptations of God’s people who tamed a wilderness and those who live in the tamed wilderness are remarkably similar.
They were prone to neglect daily repentance. So are we.
They were tempted to discord rather than peace. So are we.
They were liable to give and receive easy offense. So are we.
They were enticed to blame the hard providence of God for life’s difficulties. So are we.
They were inclined to consider their selfish ends over the good of others. So are we.
They were subject to the situation of choosing and then submitting to their leaders. So are we.
Their temptations to sin are cheek by jowl with our own. If the Pilgrim’s had heeded Pastor Robinson’s warnings more closely, the colony’s crooked path to the future may have been straightened. If we heed the warnings, especially the wise words about avoiding the deadly plague of selfish advantage, the church’s problems caused by sin might be avoided.
*William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation 1608-1650 (San Antonio TX; The Vision Forum, 1998), 54-55.
Jason Cherry is an elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as a teacher and lecturer of literature, American history, and economics at Providence Classical School in Huntsville. He graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary with an MA in Religion and is the author of the book The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call, now available on Amazon.