The one side [the Reformers] laboured to have ye right worship of God & discipline of Christ established in ye church, according to ye simplicitie of ye gospell, without the mixture of mens inventions, and to have & to be ruled by ye laws of Gods word, dispensed in those offices, & by those officers of Pastors, Teachers, & Elders, &c. according to ye Scripturs. The other partie [the Church of England], though under many colours & pretences, endevored to have ye episcopall dignitie (affter ye popish maner) with their large power & jurisdiction still retained; with all those courts, cannons, & ceremonies, togeather with all such livings, revenues, & subordinate officers, with other such means as formerly upheld their antichristian greatnes, and enabled them with lordly & tyranous power to persecute ye poore servants of God.
These were radical words when written in the early part of the seventeenth century. They described a movement whose members were known as “Separatists.” To be a Separatist in King James I’s England was punishable by imprisonment or even death.
On the run, the author and the others who yearned to worship God according to the Scriptures fled England to the more tolerant Netherlands. Here they remained for 12 years, enjoying their freedom granted by the Lord.
Being thus settled (after many difficulties) they continued many years in a comfortable condition, injoying much sweete & delightefull societies & spirituall comforte togeather in ye wayes of God . . . So as they grew in knowledge & other gifts & graces of ye spirite of God, & lived togeather in peace, & love, and holiness; and many came unto them from diverse parts of England, so as they grew a great congregation.
A Change in the Winds
But times changed. As war with Catholic Spain loomed on the horizon, England pressured its Dutch ally to drive out the Separatists. But where could they go that they could preserve their English heritage and language, be able to remain the king’s subjects, and still worship according to their conscience? There was an answer, but one that would be accompanied by great peril.
all great & honourable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and must be both enterprised and overcome with answerable courages. It was granted ye dangers were great, but not desperate; the difficulties were many, but not invincible . . . Yea, though they should loose their lives in this action, yet might they have comforte in the same, and their endeavors would be honourable. They lived hear but as men in exile, & in a poore condition; and as great miseries might possibly befale them in this place, for ye 12. years of truce [the truce between Holland and Spain] were now out, & ther was nothing but beating of drumes, and preparing for warr, the events wherof are allway uncertaine.
So it was, after many more hardships and trials, that the author of these journal entries, William Bradford, and 101 other Separatists set sail for America.
On this Day of Thanksgiving, may we not forget the gratitude we owe these Pilgrims, and to the gracious God who established this nation upon the principles of freedom, justice, and liberty. May God continue to sustain this nation, and may He bless and keep His people all over the world.