The Biblical tradition of Thanksgiving offers to every Christian the opportunity to focus the heart and mind upon Divine blessings. To every American Christian, the Thanksgiving holiday presents a timely reminder of our Pilgrim forefathers and the legacy of faith and principle which provided the foundation for America’s religious and civil liberty.
Governor William Bradford’s journal, Of Plymouth Plantation, provides an authentic account of the stalwart Pilgrim families who planted in New England the tradition of individual and local self government which set the course for our nation.
A great many aspects of the Pilgrim character and principle are worthy of our thoughtful attention. Let us summarize for you just a few which may be helpful to your own individual Thanksgiving celebration.
Their desires were set on the ways of God. In times of difficulty they steadfastly rested on God’s Providence.
The colonists expressly desired to advance the gospel in the New World. Bradford wrote: “A great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way thereunto, for the propagating and advancing the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world; yea, though they should be but even as stepping- stones unto others for the performing of so great a work.”
The colonists were Divinely prepared to exercise local self government in Plymouth after years of exercising individual self government and local church government.
The Pilgrim Thanksgiving directly reflected their heartfelt gratitude to God. In 1623 after two winters of near starvation, the colony discontinued holding “all things in common” and established private enterprise. They looked forward to reaping an adequate harvest. Their hopes faded, however, when a drought, lasting from the third week in May until the middle of July, threatened to destroy their crops.
“Upon which they set apart a solemn day of humiliation, to seek the Lord by humble and fervent prayer, in this great distress. And he was pleased to give them a gracious and speedy answer, both to their own, and the Indian’s admiration, that lived amongst them. For all the morning, and greatest part of the day, it was clear weather and very hot, and not a cloud or any sign of rain to be seen, yet toward evening it began to overcast, and shortly after to rain, with such sweet and gentle showers, as gave them cause of rejoicing, and blessing God. It came, without either wind, or thunder, or any violence, and by degrees in that abundance, as that the earth was thoroughly wet and soaked therewith. Which did so apparently revive and quicken the decayed corn and other fruits, as was wonderful to see, and made the Indians astonished to behold; and afterwards the Lord sent them such seasonable showers, with interchange of fair warm weather, as, through his blessing, caused a fruitful and liberal harvest, to their no small comfort and rejoicing. For which mercy they also set apart a day of thanksgiving.” William Bradford