The Importance of Remembering Our Godly Heritage
God reminds us over and over again in the Bible, ‘to remember’. Why? Because as our Creator, He knows we are a people prone to forget His faithfulness; prone to wander from Him; and prone to forget when we get off course our need to return to Him, Who is ‘The Way, the Truth, and the Life’. As we consider our annual Thanksgiving celebration, the admonishment ‘to remember’ God’s past faithfulness is certainly apropos for our nation which seems to have forgotten— and even disavows— our godly heritage.
Many Americans, especially ‘baby boomers’, are unaware that children in today’s government– and even many private secular—schools are not being taught the truth of our nation’s godly past. I remember well in 2010 leading a group of young married adults who were well-educated according to the world’s standards, who were shocked to learn the words of the original Mayflower Compact. They knew about the Mayflower Compact, but every reference to faith had been ‘scrubbed’ out of what they were taught in school. Why? Due to the false belief that anything (at least anything positive!) that has to do with our Christian heritage has to be removed from the classroom because of the incorrect interpretation of what is commonly referred to as the ‘separation of church and state’ clause. Interestingly and importantly, the words ‘separation of church and state’ do not appear anywhere in our Constitution or Bill of Rights.* (See footnote below) So these young adults were astonished to learn, for example, that the Mayflower Compact contains the following words:
“In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereigne Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britaine, France, and Ireland king, defender of the faith, etc., having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honour of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northerne parts of Virginia, doe, by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politick,…” Mayflower Compact November 11, 1620 (Note: Highlights added for emphasis)
If We Don’t Know the Truth, We’ll Be Susceptible to Lies
When we choose to erase the truth of our godly heritage from our education, we do so at our peril. We have raised a generation—and even generations—who are ignorant of the truth, and instead have been taught half-truths or even lies. In lieu of being taught the reality of our Christian past, some students have been taught, for example, that the first Thanksgiving feast was held to thank the Indians for their help, or even worse, to thank ‘Mother Earth’! Some students have even said they’d learned that the Pilgrims slaughtered the Indians who’d come to share in the feast. As God has stated in His Word, ‘my people perish for lack of knowledge’, and the removal of our Christian heritage from our history lessons has impacted our knowledge of and beliefs regarding our Founding Fathers and the origin of our nation; of Christianity and its vital role in the development of our Constitution and Bill of Rights; as well as the public education and character of the citizens of our nation. (Hosea 4:6)
So what are we to do? God’s Word also tells us that the truth is what sets us free from the bondage to lies (John 8:32). We are called to know the truth, and also to share the truth. Certainly of the gospel which alone has the power to transform and save souls! And we must also know and share the truth of our Christian heritage! If we don’t, how can we know ‘from where we have fallen’ and the need for us ‘to repent and return to God’ Who established this nation, the One to whom we owe thanks for the abundant provision and myriad of blessings He has bestowed upon us. (Revelation 2:5)
What is the Truth Regarding the First Thanksgiving?
It all really began when Separatists—later to be referred to as Pilgrims—left England in 1608 due to the religious persecution they were experiencing from the Church of England. They fled to Leyden, Holland, where they had religious freedom, but experienced poverty, grueling work, and other harsh conditions. They were especially concerned about the impact the secular environment would have upon their children and families. So in 1620 they sold everything they had and willingly indentured themselves for seven years to an English company so they could make the journey to America. There were a total of 102 passengers, not all were pilgrims, in fact most weren’t. Only 41 of the 102 were Pilgrims, and the pilgrims called the other travelers “Strangers”. The Strangers had been recruited to help make the venture successful, and were craftsmen, merchants, and other workers. These passengers along with 25 crew members were packed in a boat no larger than a yacht to make the the 9 week difficult voyage, and due to stormy conditions, they spent much of the time below deck. Although it was their intent to go to Virginia, the stormy seas took them off-course and they landed instead at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts. Since they didn’t end up in Virginia where they would’ve been under the King’s Charter, they had to write up their own set of rules—America’s first document for civil and self- government, called the Mayflower Compact. They first prayed, then they wrote the document, and agreed upon it before even leaving the ship. Important to note, our Founders credited the Mayflower Compact as being the inspiration for the Constitution.
According to Governor William Bradford, upon landing, they held a prayer service. He wrote: “Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven, who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the rim and stable earth, their proper element.”
Their arrival was in late November, and they hastily built temporary shelters. However, by springtime, their number was reduced by almost half due to harsh weather conditions, a scarcity of food, and much sickness. The major causes of death were scurvy, pneumonia, and a virulent form of tuberculosis. The deaths included their first Governor, John Carver, and only three of the 18 married women survived. Despite the enormous hardships they faced, not one of the Pilgrims chose to return to England the next spring.
In April, the Pilgrims were surprised when a nearly naked, tall Indian warrior named Samoset walked into their village and greeted them by saying, ‘Welcome’ in English. He later introduced them to Massasoit, Chief of the Wampanoag tribe, and also to Squanto, who’d been kidnapped and taken to England where he’d learned English and had become a Christian. It was Squanto who taught the Pilgrims what they would need to survive. He taught them how to plant corn, fertilize the land, stalk deer, and fish. Again, according to Governor Bradford’s writing, Squanto was ’a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectations’. He didn’t thank Squanto for his goodness, or Mother Earth—the Pilgrims realized that it was God Who had provided for them through the knowledge, wisdom, generosity and kindness of Squanto.
The first harvest was bountiful, and Governor Bradford made it a priority to set aside time in that first year after their arrival to give thanks to God and to celebrate with their Indian friends. Pilgrim Edward Winslow described the three-day event in a letter written on December 12, 1621:
Our corn did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown, they came up very well, and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom; our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.’ (Highlight added)
The Second Thanksgiving
In 1623, from May through July, the colonists experienced a severe and devastating drought that threatened their food supply. They turned to God and beseeched Him with prayer and fasting to end the drought. This is a segment from Governor Bradford’s account of God’s response to their fervent prayers:
“…And He was pleased to give them a gracious and speedy answer, both to their own and the Indians’ admiration that lived amongst them. For all the morning, and the 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 and 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, in time convenient, they also set apart a day of thanksgiving. ( William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation. Samuel Eliot Morison, ed. New York, 1959), pp.131-132) Highlights added
Not long after their day of prayer and the subsequent rain, Captain Miles Standish arrived with staples and brought news that a Dutch supply ship was on its way. Governor Bradford declared a formal day of Thanksgiving in response to God’s gracious answer to their prayers.
“Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.”Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the daytime, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”
Ye Governor of Ye Colony
First National Thanksgiving
The first national Thanksgiving was declared by the Continental Congress on November 1, 1777 following the surrender of British Major General John Burgoyne, whose troops had been soundly defeated a few months earlier at Saratoga by colonial troops under the leadership of General Benedict Arnold. The surrender had both shocked England and lifted the spirits of the Americans.
Thanksgiving Proclamation 1777 by the Continental Congress
The First National Thanksgiving Proclamation
FORASMUCH as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence; but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defense and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased, in so great a Measure, to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops, and to crown our Arms with most signal success:
It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth Day of December next, for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please GOD through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole: To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty GOD, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE: That it may please him, to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People, and the Labor of the Husbandman, that our Land may yield its Increase: To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth “in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost.”
And it is further recommended, That servile Labor, and such Recreation, as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion. (This is the text of the Continental Congress’ November 1, 1777 national Thanksgiving Day Proclamation; as printed in the Journals of Congress.)
How can anyone read the above declaration made by our Continental Congress and deny our Christian heritage?
George Washington’s First Thanksgiving Proclamation
And for further evidence of the godly legacy given to us by our Founding Fathers, please read our first President’s Thanksgiving Proclamation below:
Thanksgiving Proclamation (made on October 3, 1789)
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and Whereas both Houses of Congress have their Joint Committee requested me “to recommend the the People of the United States a day of plumb thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a for of government for their safety and happiness.”
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th of November next to be devoted but eh People of these States to the service of that great and glider Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their beaconing a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, an particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually—to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed—to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue and the increase of science among them and Us—and generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
Abraham Lincoln and Sarah Josepha Hale Credited with Establishment of Our Annual Thanksgiving Day Celebration
Although it was President Lincoln who made Thanksgiving a national holiday, credit for the establishment of an annual Thanksgiving holiday is often given to Sarah Josepha Hale who for 36 years advocated for such a day. She was the editor of Ladies Magazine and Godly’s Lady’s Book and she began her crusade in 1827 by printing articles in magazines, publishing many stories and recipes, and writing a multitude of letters to governors, senators and presidents—including Lincoln— campaigning for a national day to be set aside for praise and thanksgiving. She accomplished her goal when President Lincoln declared on October 3, 1863, that Thanksgiving would be celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday of November.
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
Congress permanently established the fourth Thursday of each November as a national holiday in 1941.
Do Not Doubt Our Christian Heritage: Remember It, Share It!
The reason the wording from the original letters and the entire Thanksgiving proclamations have been included is to ensure that you know the actual verbiage used, not just a summation of the wording. Each one of them gives recognition and honor to God. As is evidenced by their writings, anyone who says that we were not founded by Christians or that we were not a nation based upon Christian principles is either ignorant of the truth, or intentionally lying to keep others from knowledge of that truth. Our Founding Fathers thought the freedoms that we are guaranteed in our Constitution and Bill of Rights were worth giving their reputations, their homes, their livelihoods, their safety, and even their very lives in order for us to enjoy them. And of course the very first amendment was their priority, which states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…” They knew the importance of religious liberty, as well as the Source of their liberties. As you consider the blessings He has given to you this Thanksgiving, please give thanks for our nation’s godly heritage. Thank Him for the courageous Pilgrims who were resolute and reliant upon God, and who have given us the concept of self-government, our Judeo-Christian work ethic, and an example of devout Christian faith. Pray that we as a nation will once again remember the God Who is behind the establishment of this great nation, seek after Him, repent of our sins against Him, and return to Him with hearts wholly devoted to living for His pleasure and His glory, as did the Pilgrims who celebrated the first Thanksgiving. And pray that we will not allow our Christian heritage to be forgotten, but instead that we will be faithful to pass it down to the generations to come!
May you and your family and friends have a blessed thanksgiving celebration that is focused upon celebrating and giving thanks to Almighty God Who is the Giver of every good and perfect gift! (James 1:17) We are thankful for you each and every day of the year, and for the support you give to True View Ministries!
*The words ‘separation of church and state’ were used in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury, Connecticut, Baptist Association in which he described the First Amendment as erecting a “wall of separation between church and state’. Those words do not appear anywhere in our original founding documents, but they have been stated so often that many people ignorantly believe they do and are unaware of the truth. What was intended was that the Government would not interfere with the exercise of a person’s freedom of religion, as had been the case in England where there was a state run church, the Church of England.