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Lessons from the Past

History always teaches God’s children many important lessons. For this reason, God gives us the Old Testament. Its history is interwoven with the mystery of the Gospel of redemption.

Schools require its students to study history in order to acquaint them with the background of the world in which they live, and to give the students a perspective of human society.

But history will only have meaning when the child of God sees history as the unfolding of God’s counsel concerning His church. All other history – that of nations, peoples, and institutions – serves this purpose. The world, of course, does not so view history, and is thus the poorer.

This month, in America, a day is set aside to remember an institution, Thanksgiving Day, inaugurated by what is, perhaps, the most well-known small group in America – called the Pilgrims. Out of their history, we may learn many things for which we may be thankful, as young people. Their history revolved around the church, which is as it should be. So our history does, as young people of God. Let the church – our churches – be the center of our life.

The coming of the Pilgrims to the American shore grows out of the history of the church in England, and continental Europe, after the Protestant Reformation. The culmination of that history finds the Pilgrim fleeing from England, to Holland, and then to America, for the right to worship God as they desired.

Of all the lessons that the Pilgrim history teaches us, we select this one: they lived in the consciousness of God, and of His Truth. That the people of our churches so live is indeed a cause for solemn thanksgiving. Let it always be our firm resolve, that we, too, by God’s grace, will so live. Especially when as young people we take our places in the midst of the flock to which God associates us. When the Plymouth colony, also called, variously, “New Plimouth,” “New Canaan,” or “Plimouth Plantation,” was about to be established, one of the Plymouth company of “Ye Saints,” Deacon Robert Cushman wrote: “Friend, if ever we make a plantation, God works a mirakle…”

On another occasion, after the “Mayflower” had crossed the Atlantic, sailing the high seas for almost two months, and had put in the harbor before the famed Plymouth Rock, the company on board “called on God for direction,” before going ashore. Next, they adopted this resolution: “to goe presently ashore againe,” for a look at a place where they intended to settle. In their deliberations about where to found the colony, they desired heavenly wisdom.

Not the least interesting part of the life of the Pilgrims was their public worship of God. In this, they were sincere and devoted, and, as they liked to say of themselves, “answerable.” Their custom was – as they had always worshipped, while they sojourned in Holland – to meet early on the Sabbath to enjoy the first of two extended exercises: “the publick ordinances of praying and preaching,” as they were called. Assembling early on the Sabbath, at least by eight o’clock, the men took their seats to one side, and the women sat apart, across the aisle, while the children were placed off by themselves, under the stern and restless eye of the deacons. This custom was called “dignifying the meeting,” and persisted for generations at Plymouth, in New England.

In the service, the Saints first prayed, while standing, for the long prayer, which lasted almost an hour. After the prayer, the Pastor took up his huge Geneva Bible and read aloud, a passage from the Scriptures, adding his comment and exposition. Next, a Psalm was sung, without instrumental music of any kind. As an aid to singing, the congregation had no musical notation of any kind. All tunes were sung from memory. A deacon, or member, would set the pitch, and all raised their voices together, with the men taking the lead in song, which was sung as a simple melody.

After song came the sermon, which ordinarily lasted several hours. It was preached, not from a pulpit, but from a low dais supporting a simple wooden table. Here, in black clothes and black gloves, the Pastor expounded his text.

When the sermon was completely preached, the congregation sang again, and on special occasions, the sacraments were administered. The deacons received the offerings of the worshippers, and the morning service of worship of God, and devotion, ended about noon, with the benediction.

The second service in the afternoon was less formal. It was called “prophecying.” After the opening prayer, the pastor, or the ruling elder, chose a text, spoke on it briefly, and then opened the meeting for general discussion, with only the men speaking, for the women had no voice in the church, in accord with the prohibition laid down by Paul the Apostle (I Cor. 14:34). Perhaps it was this meeting that took the place of the organic life of the church as it is expressed in our society life.

The congregation also met on Thursday evenings for a lecture, or other form of spiritual public exercise. In this way, they “grew in knowledge and other gifts and graces of ye Spirit of God, and lived together, in peace, and love, and holiness.”

In their devotion to the church, they were excellent examples to us. As we detect this devotion in our churches, let us be thankful. Where it is not found, let us be alarmed.

A year after the colony had been established, the Pilgrim Company crowded into the “Common House” to hear Deacon Cushman expound “The Dangers of Self-Love.” To direct their life and thoughts to godliness and a holy walk, the good deacon pointed out: “Why wouldest thou have thy particular portion? Because thou thinkest to live better than thy neighbor and scornest to live as meanly as he? But who, I pray, brought this particularizing into the world? Did not Satan, who was not content to keep that equall state with his fellows, but would set his throne above the stars?”

From these examples of love and devotion to God’s cause, let each one take heart. This is not to say that in all things, the Pilgrim Church was exemplary. On the contrary, there was much to be desired, especially in church government. But this fact is clear: they were children of the Reformation, one of the most profound movements in human history.

Let Thanksgiving direct our hearts to the faith of the fathers, for which they lived and died. For it means to us that the truth that God has given to us to see and love deserves our continued devotion. May it be worthy of fighting a constant warfare, to maintain the Truth, all through our earthly sojourn.