November 11, 2020, marks 400 years since the Pilgrims landed on the eastern shores of America, following a grueling 66-day voyage from England. The christianity.com website tells us something of the man named William Bradford, who became their main leader. As a boy, William had been sent to live with an uncle. He began reading the whole Bible and attending evangelical meetings at age 12, after being struck with a serious illness. At 18, his involvement in a group that desired to withdraw from the Church of England landed him in prison. At 20, he left England with some Separatists and settled in the Netherlands. About 12 years later, he and his wife left the difficult conditions in the Netherlands and made the treacherous journey across the Atlantic with the Pilgrims, leaving a three-year-old son with grandparents. Upon landing at Cape Cod, Bradford’s wife fell overboard. There is some speculation that it may have been a suicide. In 1621 the appointed governor of Plymouth, John Carver, fell ill and died a few days later. A couple weeks later, at age 32, Bradford was unanimously elected to take his place.  [The Puritans were English Protestants who believed the Church of England needed to be reformed. The Separatists were a branch of the Puritans that believed it was necessary to separate from the Church of England. They were also called Pilgrims when they made the “pilgrimage” to America’s shore.]


William Bradford’s famous writings about the life of the Pilgrims, which he called Of Plymouth Plantation [“Plimouth” in the original spelling], give insight into the Pilgrims’ life at Plymouth. When the Pilgrims arrived safely at Cape Cod, they dropped to their knees to thank God. Within two or three months, about half of the 102 settlers had succumbed to the harsh winter, disease, and lack of adequate shelter. Six or seven strong settlers faithfully and lovingly tended to the sick, making fires for them, feeding them, and doing the not-so-pleasant task of keeping them cleaned up. Before a year was up, the settlers had a good harvest of corn, a variety of fish, and an abundance of turkeys and other fowl. Thus they had their first Thanksgiving.

In an article called “Faith of the Pilgrims,” on the plimouth.com website, I found more information about the Pilgrims’ devotion to God. They held Sabbath services twice on Sundays. They often had sermons on Thursdays or on special occasions. There were proclamations of “Days of Thanksgiving” or “Days of Fasting and Humiliation,” in gratitude for God’s Providence. The Days of Thanksgiving and Days of Fasting and Humiliation had morning and afternoon services, from about 9 AM to noon and 2 PM to 5 PM. Prayer was extemporaneous, rather than liturgical. Their music consisted of Psalms set to music.


I ordered a DVD entitled The Great Awakening—Spiritual Revival in Colonial America, a well-constructed 35-minute documentary. You may want to see it for yourself. It was a good source of information for what happened in the years following those first years after the Pilgrims settled in America. When the civil wars in Britain were over, there was a period of political and religious peace. The reason for the Pilgrims’ departure from England was to have the liberty to worship God in their own way. But over the hundred years that followed, their spirit of Thanksgiving declined. The Puritan zeal for the gospel turned to zeal for worldly prosperity.

The Puritan churches came to be called “Congregational” churches. They had a policy of requiring a profession of faith in Christ in order to be a member. They began losing numbers and influence.  But in 1662 they developed what critics called “The Halfway Covenant,” wherein children of members could become partial members, in anticipation of one day following Christ and becoming full members. By 1677 most churches didn’t bother to make a distinction between full and partial members. There was an increasing number of people in their churches with no real profession of faith in Christ.

Then along came “The Age of Reason.” The truth of the Bible began to be discounted.  In 1670, a colonist named Samuel Danforth wrote: “Pride, worldliness, drunkenness, and uncleanness break in like a flood upon us, and good men grow cold in their love to God and one another.” In 1700, Samuel Willard wrote: “It has been a frequent observation that if one Generation begins to decline, the next that followeth usually grows worse, and so on, till God poureth out his Spirit again upon them.”


By the early 1700s, with fertile soil and successful businesses, the economy was thriving. Ministers began to scatter seeds of The Word. A circuit-riding preacher in New Jersey rode to four different churches. He preached the lost message of personal faith in Christ and began having success. Many had become clergymen merely as a professional choice, but the message of The Great Awakening was “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” [Acts 16:31]

A seminary with the new outlook on salvation was established in Pennsylvania. It was called the “Log College.” They needed preachers who had experienced genuine salvation for themselves. The seminary had evangelical and revival themes. Then other schools sprang up. Interest in the Bible and the Church began to grow. Jonathan Edwards was an intellectual preacher. He was ordained in 1727 and studied 13 hours a day. He created stricter membership rules and reached out to sinners to repent. Many have heard of his famous sermon called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

Around that time the Methodist movement was forming in England, as a result of dissatisfaction with the Church of England. George Whitfield [sometimes spelled Whitefield] and John and Charles Wesley began having open air preaching, although John Wesley did not have the liberating experience of salvation by God’s grace until later. In 1740 George Whitfield began to minister in the American colonies and was having a big effect. Whitfield travelled through New England. He sometimes spoke to a handful and once to 20,000. He spoke extemporaneously and dramatically out in the fields.


Congregational churches were resistant to the “New Light” churches that had sprung up. The resistant criticized the emotion of the new movement. Churches split into denominations, but the gospel united people and churches. Printed materials were also distributed. Benjamin Franklin and George Whitfield had a civil friendship, and Franklin printed materials for profit.

In the south, people outside the Anglican Church were called “Dissenters.” Churches other than Anglican Churches were required to get a license. Dissenter Samuel Morris of Virginia began inviting people to his home to hear readings of books by Martin Luther and sermons by George Whitfield. Many people were converted by God’s power. They had to build a meeting house to accommodate the people. Samuel Davies arrived in 1747 to serve as pastor for the Virginia Dissenters. He was a talented orator who was also good with people. Davies expanded his ministry to include slaves and Native Americans.  A man by the name of Shubal Stearns transported The Great Awakening from the north to the south. The “Sandy Creek Awakening” in North Carolina spread through the south. There was freedom to choose between denominations and unity between the denominations.


I believe we should be very grateful that The Great Awakening occurred before the founding of the American government. Without it, we may not have had such godly men among our founding fathers.

In my little book called If My People—A Prayer Guide for Our Nation, there is an undated prayer from George Washington’s Prayer Journal.  The prayer includes these words: “O eternal and everlasting God, . . . increase my faith in the sweet promises of the gospel; give me repentance from dead works; pardon my wandering, and direct my thoughts unto thyself, the God of my salvation; . . .”

A record in Benjamin Franklin’s own handwriting recounts a speech he gave in the Constitutional Convention of 1787: “The small progress we have made after 4 or 5 weeks . . . is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of Human Understanding . . . how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate our understandings? . . . In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection . . . And have we now forgotten that powerful friend?”  You can find the entire beautiful speech on the wallbuilders.com website, under the title “Franklin’s Appeal for Prayer at the Constitutional Convention.” Though many have labeled Franklin a “Deist,” he obviously couldn’t be a Deist as it is defined today. Today’s definition states that a Deist rejects knowledge of God by means of revelation (as in the Bible) and relies on reason and nature. In Franklin’s speech appealing for prayer at the Constitutional Convention, he quoted “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it” from Psalm 127:1 and referred to God’s watchful eye on the sparrow that falls to the ground, found in Matthew 10:29.


On March 6, 1789, John Adams proclaimed a national day of prayer and fasting to “call to mind our numerous offenses against the most high God, confess them before Him with the sincerest penitence, imploring His pardoning mercy, through the Great Mediator and Redeemer . . . “


Since The Great Awakening of the mid-1700s there have been other spiritual renewals in America. It appears that the last one was the Jesus Revolution of the 60s and 70s. At this Thanksgiving time in 2020, we again need to see a move toward God in our country. Though we are experiencing a pandemic and serious political unrest, as yet our nation has not returned to God, although some say they have seen the beginnings of it. It’s encouraging to see that the great harvest of The Great Awakening was apparently started by God using seed planters such as the circuit-riding preacher who rode to four New Jersey churches, preaching salvation by faith in Christ. God used a variety of avenues and a variety of personalities.


I thought about why we continually fall away and need to be called back to God. We see that cycle over and over in the Old Testament. One article I read said that God allows it so that we will call on Him for power. I don’t think I can buy that explanation. Every time the people of Israel wandered away from God, it made Him angry.

We have seen that before The Great Awakening of the 1700s the colonists had begun experiencing economic success. Life became easier, and instead of thanking God and acknowledging Him as the source of all things, they forgot God and began seeking possessions and pleasures. This is not surprising. In Deuteronomy 8:10-18 God warned us to praise Him for our blessings and be careful not to forget Him. We are to remember when God brought us through the difficult times. This passage reminds us that we can easily forget that it is God who gives us our abilities and provides the materials we need to succeed.

Another reason spiritual renewals can become necessary is that the older generation may fail to teach the younger generation about God. In Judges 2:10-13 we find that when the older generation died, the younger generation did not know God and knew nothing about what God had done in the past. Consequently, the new generation followed the culture around them and worshipped other gods. If our children are not taught to serve God, there are many “false gods” they can turn to in our culture today. There are “gods” of movies, sports, technology, music, etc. All these things can be used in the right way and kept in balance when serving God. But when we aren’t serving God, they can be used in the wrong way and “turn into gods.”


Deuteronomy 11:18-20 emphasizes the diligence parents are to have in teaching their children about God. It says: “Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul. You shall bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall write them on the door posts of your house and on your gates.” [World English Bible] How can we translate those mandates into modern-day terms? (According to the Oxford Dictionary, a “frontlet” is “a decorative band or ornament worn on the forehead.”) We can faithfully read the Bible and pray ourselves. Maybe we can use Scripture flash cards to memorize. Perhaps we can wear baseball caps with Christian sayings. We can do our best to provide Bible story books, devotionals, and children’s Bibles appropriate for our children’s age levels. (Or we might choose to relate the stories from the Bible to them ourselves, in a way they can understand and apply.) When we’re out walking with our children, we can talk about the evidence of God’s hand in the amazing creations we see in nature.  We can teach our children to pray at bedtime and in the morning and teach them to thank God at mealtime. We can place Scripture plaques on our doorposts and gates. In other words, the Bible is saying that we should find ways to make ourselves and our children mindful of God and His ways day and night. If we could teach our children to follow God and teach them to teach their children, perhaps we would not need spiritual awakenings.

That’s not to say that all children whose parents do their best to teach them God’s ways will choose the “narrow road that leads to life” rather than “the broad road that leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13). I don’t believe that God will take away anyone’s free will and put it in the hands of their parents. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” [World English Bible] I believe this means he will never be able to forget it. He will have to fight against the things he has been taught in order to turn from God. Although some believe you can “claim your child’s salvation,” again I don’t think God will remove your child’s free will. I certainly believe your prayers can cause God to move in their life to encourage them toward salvation.

I’m very thankful for parents who took us to church every week, always prayed at the dinner table, and lived according to the teachings of the Bible every day. I remember that whenever we left on a road trip, they paused and asked God for His protection. We could not forget God in our home.

Let us never forget to be grateful to God as the source of everything we are and everything we have. Below is a video of the well-known hymn “This Is My Father’s World,” made by the talented students of Fountain View Academy. It was made in a peaceful natural setting.

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