Dateline: Dec. 21, 1620, The New World
Several men have just landed onto a thickly wooded shore line. The wintry air is cold and blowing, but certainly less in this sheltered bay than the howling winds of the open sea that had recently blown them off course. All that they cherished in family and material goods lies bobbing up and down in a vessel a mile off the coast.
While the thick woods in front of them appear to be a formidable wall protecting an unknown world, nonetheless it appears to be a welcoming obstruction in comparison to the 13 years of man-made roadblocks thrust upon this group of people who are fleeing the religious strife of their native homeland.
As they prepare to disembark, there is no dock to nuzzle up to, no rope to catch to pull them in, no dockhand to greet them. There is no quaint New England inn to lodge them and offer them a bowl of steaming soup, warm crusty bread and a good hot cup of coffee. There is nothing. They are alone. They are first. They are the Pilgrims.
Often, people who make history don’t even know they are doing it at the time. They don’t even realize they are the news event of the day or a historical benchmark for future generations, because no one else is around. Well, ultimately the footsteps of these brave men and women, self-described as “the Saints,” would walk into our history books and their example still rings loud and clear if we allow it to do so.
This coming Thanksgiving in America, the exploits of the Pilgrims and the lessons of pilgrimage can be lost in the holiday shuffle of preparing a fancy turkey dinner, watching a football game and catching up with friends and relatives.
What can we as Christians learn from the lives of these brave and unique people with their black and white garb, broad-brimmed hats, buckled shoes and wide-rimmed muskets? What were the underpinnings that lined their spiritual and emotional wardrobe?
Why should we devote space in the pages of World News and Prophecy to names like Carver, Bradford, Brewster and Alden? Why should the lives of eight families consisting of 50 people dominate our thinking for the next few minutes? Let’s come to understand that the term and lifestyle of what we have come to call a “pilgrim” cannot simply be relegated to the distant woods of New England, but will yet forge an indelible impression on future world events and future prophecies that lie ahead.
But before we look ahead, let’s go back for a moment and explore the singular nature of this “band of Saints.”
“Yet Lord, Thou canst save”
Before the men had ever touched shore, they and their families had already endured 66 days at sea in a 128-foot craft named the Mayflower . Those whom we now call Pilgrims shared the ship with seafarers and mercenaries they called “the Strangers.” The eight families of Pilgrims found it impractical to change clothes in such tight quarters. They survived on a rationed diet of salted meat, hard biscuits, fried peas and preserves. On the rough and bumpy waters of the North Atlantic, “the Strangers” could often hear the voices below raised in chorus, “Yet, Lord Thou canst save!” as the Mayflower was tossed to and fro by the ocean waves.
They sought relief from a world that had grown foreign and perverted to them. The year 1620 found much of Europe embroiled in late Reformation and Counter-Reformation antagonisms. “The Saints” desired a new world where their religious ways would not be lost upon their children, as they had fled from England to the Netherlands and back again to England.
“It is not with us as other men”
So important was their religious way of life that they indentured themselves as bondservants to go forth and create a “particular plantation.” In seeking a sponsor, they advertised, “It is not with us as other men, whom small things can discourage, or small discontentments cause to wish themselves at home again.” Good thing, for they would have to prove their boast all along the way.
These people were as poorly equipped in everything but courage as any group that ever landed in America. They had guns but knew little about shooting. They planned to become fishermen but knew little about fishing. They expected to settle in Virginia, but landed in New England. In their first year of building Plymouth Plantation the community of “Saints and Strangers” would lose 15 of 18 wives, 5 of 28 children, 50 percent of the sailors, and only five of the eight families of “the Saints” would survive the rigors of the New England winter.
In April of 1621, with winter now past, the Mayflower set sail for England. It was then that Elder Brewster would say, “We are now well-weaned from the delicate milk of our mother country.” There was no going back, but only forward to the goal yet ahead.
They made it through the coming year and when autumn came, they had a feast of Thanksgiving with Native Americans who had initiated them to the ways of wilderness survival. They feasted for three days on deer, geese, wild turkey and berries. They thanked God for their deliverance. In the course of time, “the Saints” would become known as the “old comers” and later would be called “the forefathers.” Today we commonly call them simply, “Pilgrims.”
Dateline: November 2003—Your World Today
As Christians from all nations, we have a fascinating linkage to these early Americans. Leaving old worlds behind and stepping onto new shores are steps of the heart not lost to history, but renewed and rekindled every day. The apostle Peter in 1 Peter 2:11 1 Peter 2:11Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;
American King James Version×addressed the community of faith in his time, and for that matter, all times, as “sojourners and pilgrims.”
These terms are predicated upon Peter’s description that the people of God are a “chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10 1 Peter 2:9-10 9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light;
10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.
American King James Version×).
But just what is a pilgrim? Webster’s Dictionary defines a pilgrim as, “a wanderer, sojourner, a person who travels to a shrine or holy place (i.e.—a destination).” Roget’s Thesaurus describes a pilgrim as one who is “a wayfarer, traveler, migrant, settler, pioneer, newcomer, and devotee.” Webster’s defines a sojourner as one who “lives somewhere temporarily as on a visit.” We come to a key observation that a pilgrim or sojourner is an individual who does not have a permanent residence. These people do not put down roots in some location of their own choosing. Why? They are on a quest towards a destination. As soon as they put down roots in some location of their own choosing, they are no longer pilgrims!
“Now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country”
The faithful people of God have never placed their roots in this world alone. They have always recognized that the kingdoms of this age are but pale comparisons to the fullness of the ageless Kingdom. Let’s notice how the term pilgrim again echoes out of Hebrews 11, as its author offers some of the outstanding attributes of a Christian pilgrim.
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16 Hebrews 11:13-16 13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
15 And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from where they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.
16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: why God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he has prepared for them a city.
American King James Version×).
Such spiritual pilgrims have a four-fold quality about them.
Number One: They are people of vision, for their “heart steps” take them beyond what their eyes can plainly see for the moment. They have not received the promises, “but having seen them afar off,” they are keenly aware of the goal and don’t settle for temporary imitations that promise much, but give little.
Number Two: They are people of faith, for they believe the promises of which they “were assured.” Like the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony, they claim God’s promises even when their human premises look bleak.
Just like the “Saints” on board the Mayflower , they raise their voice in assurance of “yet Lord, Thou canst save,” as seemingly overwhelming conditions batter their finite world.
Number Three: They are people who “embrace” the reality that their spirit must be far different from the prevailing spirit of this age, in order to maintain the integrity of their calling to pilgrimage. They echo the sentiments of Elder Brewster: “We are now well-weaned from the delicate milk of our mother country.”
Number Four: They are people with astounding resolve who “confess” by what they say and do that there is no return to the former world from which God has called them. Just like the Pilgrim fathers of old, their life is mirrored in the daily reality that “it is not with us as other men, whom small things can discourage, or small discontentments cause to wish themselves at home again.”
“Come out of her my people”
The call to spiritual pilgrimage of “pulling up stakes” from a familiar society and following the voice of God in your time and your place and becoming a part of a bigger story, the story of the ages, is as old as Abraham and as new as tomorrow. The prophetic call to the spiritual pilgrim resonates from Revelation 18:4 Revelation 18:4And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that you be not partakers of her sins, and that you receive not of her plagues.
American King James Version×: “And I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.’”
As with every generation of spiritual pilgrims, God has never promised it would be easy, but He did promise it would be worth it.
The pages of World News and Prophecy are designed to vividly illustrate the contrast between the old world of man’s ways and the new world that God is preparing. Its articles are dedicated to encouraging you forward into the new spiritual frontier to which your God has summoned you.
The timeless adage of Isaiah 30:21 Isaiah 30:21And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, This is the way, walk you in it, when you turn to the right hand, and when you turn to the left.
American King James Version×, “This is the way, walk in it,” is best given renewed voice and purpose in the words of the Pilgrims from England as they confidently proclaimed, “It is not with us as other men, whom small things can discourage, or small discontentments cause to wish themselves at home again.”
Yes, as 21st-century pilgrims, it’s time for us to step onto the sure shore of God’s promises that will guide our “heart steps” through the challenges yet ahead in securing the promise of a brand-new world. —WNP