BY MARIE TIEMANN
The Lord instructs us to be Thankful. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances. (1 Thess. 5: 16-18)
How did we come to have a national day of Thanksgiving and how and why is it relevant to the church? Why should we be thankful for the founding of this nation that we live in? How do I/we express our gratitude to God surrounding this event? To answer these questions, we’ll step back to the year of 1620, walk through time, and take a look at a couple of significant events and a few of the people God used during those years.
While reading the book EPIC, an Around the World Journey through Christian History, by Tim Challies, I learned about the development of the Bible and that the founding of our nation was very significant for the spread of Christianity and for the preservation of the Bible. Throughout the many years that the Bible was being written, printed, and spoken, many of the governmental leaders in Europe were trying to suppress the Bible and its spreading to the people by imprisoning and killing those who were faithful in exclaiming the gospel message. They became known as religious dissenters and later they left their homes, jobs and communities in order to escape the religious persecution.
On September 6, 1620, William Brewster and his family set sail on the Mayflower with 39 other religious dissenters to flee persecution so that they could worship in peace. The ship anchored near Cape Cod on November 11, 1620. It was a treacherous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean and during the first winter, the new settlers endured much hardship through the harsh climate without sufficient food or shelter. “In the new settlement William Brewster took on the role of the settlers’ pastor and spiritual leader. One of his biographers writes, “He alone held the Pilgrim church together during the early years of settlement, maintaining both its orthodoxy and its willingness to interact with nonseparating Puritans.“1 Brewster was faithful to the word of God and his service, yet he wasn’t aware of how his service would be so important for the future of this nation and to us today who live in a land of freedom where the gospel can continue to be proclaimed. Another important person and leader at the Pilgrim Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts was William Bradford, who was chosen as the first governor. In 1623, he called the Pilgrims to gather for a day of prayer and thanksgiving.
To All Ye Pilgrims- A Thanksgiving Proclamation Attributed to William Bradford, first Governor of the Colonies
“Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, beans, squashes and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our conscience, now, I your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the daytime, on Thursday, November ye 29th of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three, and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor, and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”
The Lord continued to send other pastors and Christian leaders to this land in the years that followed. John and Charles Wesley traveled to America in 1735, followed by George Whitefield who arrived in 1739 and preached to thousands throughout New England. The Wesleys and George Whitefield were instrumental in starting the revival known as the Great Awakening.
On October 3, 1789 George Washington issued the nation’s first presidential proclamation in which he called the nation to set aside a day of thanks. Here is an excerpt of the proclamation:
“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 favor—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 favors of Almighty God especially by affording them and opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th 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 beneficent 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 this kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to becoming a Nation…”
I hope that you will someday have an opportunity to visit Pilgrim Plantation and discovery the Pilgrims’ experience and thank God for their endurance and steadfastness in their faith and bringing the Bible to this land. Maybe you’ll even find yourself becoming very fond of these great men and women, as I have, who endured great hardship and paved the way for us to live freely in this land. William Brewster’s chest is on display at the Pilgrim Hall museum. Another site that I highly recommend visiting is the Museum of the Bible where you’ll learn more of how the Bible was written and delivered throughout the world.
It’s easy to be thankful for the tangible things that I have and my job, friends, family and church, but I am forever grateful for God’s faithfulness to His children by giving us His son who endured the cross for me to live free from the penalty of sin and for His word that endures through all generations. I pray that His beloved church would continue to be faithful to His word and teach the next generations. “Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” Psalm 78: 1-4
I find that this prayer by John & Charles Wesley’s mother expresses my sentiments to my Lord very well. Susanna Wesley had 19 children.
“I thank thee, oh God, for the relief and satisfaction of mind that come with the firm assurance that you govern the world. Even the tumultuous and irregular actions of sinful men are nevertheless under thy direction and thy providence. You who are wise, good and omnipotent and have promised “to make all things work together for thy good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Roman 8:28 Thank you my God & Savior. “ Susanna Wesley (circa 1600’s)
HAVE A HAPPY AND BLESSED THANKSGIVING!
1 Challies, Tim EPIC An Around the World Journey Through Christian History, 2020,pg 83