THE PRIESTS AND THE PURITANS
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
Introduction: God used the Holy Blockade to keep many undesirables out of our nation. But two religious groups were allowed to enter, and both were used of God to bless our land.
I. THE PRIESTS
Early expeditions to our country included among their number monks. These men were mainly Franciscan, Dominican, and Jesuit friars who loved God deeply and totally. They were committed to serving the Lord and spreading His gospel among the natives. By 1630 there were friars in 25 missions serving 90 Indian communities in the southwestern portion of this nation. There the Spanish and Indians lived in simple and peaceful harmony. French priests would later enjoy much the same existence farther east.
These men began orphanages, started schools for the Indians, and established havens for the destitute. The story of mercy is almost forgotten in our secular history books. But it would be wrong of me not to mention them in this series. There were hundreds of these men, but time only allows us to study the lives of two representative priests:
A. BARTOLOME DE LAS CASAS
This priest accompanied Columbus on his third voyage to the New World (1498-1500), and ultimately presevered the explorer’s journal for posterity. He settled in Cuba and began to make a fortune due to Indian laborers who worked for him under a system called serfdom (a nice word for the slavery the Spaniards placed on the natives). Casas initially accepted this cruel system, but soon came to hate it. His conscience was finally stricken. He was horrified at what the system had done to his own attitude.
The priest renounced all connections with such practices and spent the rest of his life combatting it and exposing the true plight of the Indians. God needed someone to tell the story and relieve the conditions of the natives. The dedication of this priest was so strong that he finally persuaded Charles V to pass laws relieving the plight of the Indians.
In 1552 his history of the New World was published. This widely read account of what really happened there made Spain a byword for cruelty throughout Europe. Countless thousands of Indians were helped by Casas, but he paid dearly for his honesty. He was alienated by nearly everyone in Spain. He brought new hope to the Indians of America, but in the process essentially became a man without a country.
B. FATHER BREBEUF
This French Jesuit worked among the Huron Indians for 19 years. In 1640 he saw a vision in the sky of a great cross slowly moving over the wilderness forests in the direction of the treacherous Iroquois Indians. When a companion asked how large the cross was, Brebeauf replied, “Large enough to crucify us all.” He felt that God was preparing him for martyrdom at the hand of the Iroquois.
The painful ordeal arrived nine years later. A war party of Iroquois fell upon the Hurons. the Jesuit was captured and subjected to any torture the Indians could imagine. To mock Christian baptism, they poured boiling water over his naked body. The pain of their victims intoxicated the sadistic Iroquois, but he denied them the pleasure of hearing him cry out. Infuriated, they tied a collar of red-hot metal hatchets around his neck. Again, he disappointed them. They then fastened a belt of birchbark about his waist and set it afire. He still remained silent, his face set like flint.
Finally, he spoke, but not in anger. He called out encouragement to the other captives. The Indians were so enraged they cut off his lips and tongue and rammed a hot iron down his throat to silence him. Then they peeled strips of flesh from his arms and legs and ate them before his eyes. But even as he died, he seemed to gain strength. The Indians sensed he was the real victor. Finally, they cut out his heart and ate it, and also drank of his blood in hopes that they would thus receive the power that had given him more courage than any man they had ever seen.
II. THE PURITANS
In 1628 the Church of England turned its full fury against the Puritans. That year marked the beginning of what’s known as the Great Migration. In the next 16 years, 20,000 Puritans headed for New England, and 45,000 other Englishmen went to different parts of the New World. Such an exodus would be equivalent to 3 million Americans leaving our country today.
In 1628 the first wave of Puritans, numbering 100, settled at Salem, Massachusetts. In 1630, they were joined by 1,000 more under John Winthrop, who became governor of the colony. There were too many settlers for Salem to absorb, so Winthrop led the bulk of the group to a new site, which they named Boston.
Winthrop was the Moses of this Exodus. He was a London lawyer who did not shun common labor. He forced everyone in the Massachusetts colony to work, even the Gentlemen. He is considered by some historians as second only to Washington in importance to our nation among our early colonial fathers.
The Puritans came to America believing that the Church of England could still be purified. But now they believed it would have to be done at a distance of some 3,000 miles. They were convinced that in America they could establish the kind of church life they wanted. This would allow them a chance to prove to everyone that they were right. The results would be so impressive, they felt, that surely the Church of England would be stirred to follow their example. Winthrop wrote, “We must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill.”
America was the right place in their eyes because it was so wild that anyone with selfish motives would not be drawn there. They chose New England in particular because of the encouraging reports coming from Plymouth.
They came to build a New World according to God’s laws. The Lord’s hand was so obviously upon them that one of their historians laid down a challenge for all to judge “whether these poor New England people be not forerunners of Christ’s army, and the marvelous providences which you shall now hear, be not the very finger of God.” His argument was hard to refute, because the finger of God was obvious in their:
At a time when many ships were going down in storms or being taken by pirates, the Puritans were quick to point out that only one of 198 vessels that set sale for New England in the first half of the 17th century was ever lost. They gave God the credit.
The winter of 1630-31 was hard on the Puritans. The food supply ran low, but the Puritans knew where to put their confidence. Winthrop declared that February 6 would be set aside as a day of fasting and prayer.
They expected a miracle from God. They never had to observe the day of fasting, for the miracle came early. On the morning of the 5th, Winthrop was distributing the last handful of meal in the barrel to a poor man at the very instant a ship was spotted on the horizon. The “Miracle” ship was filled with food for the Puritans.
Governor Winthrop reversed his order and made the 6th a day of Thanksgiving rather than one of denial. The people recognized it as a direct miracle from Heaven, and it served as one of their favorite stories for years.
The Puritans came in such large numbers that they left a huge impact upon our nation. Their contributions to our customs, mores, and everyday lives are seemingly innumerable. The Puritans were sinners and committed many atrocious crimes, including religious persecution and the witch trials. However, they also possessed remarkable wisdom and discernment in many ares.
Some of their contributions are especially worthy of notice. Though some of these customs may have pre-dated the Puritans, they were still the main conveyors of these mores to our society. They contributed to our concepts of:
The Puritans taught that children were a trust from the Lord. Hence, they were to be raised in the fear and admonition of the Lord. To the Puritans, that meant discipline. Children were to obey parents, and in turn, transfer this obedience to all elders.
The Puritans also taught that the community was an enlarged family. Hence, authority for parents was to be extended to other adults in the community. Children were taught a catechism on the Ten Commandments that said “Honor thy father and thy mother” referred to all superiors, whether in family, school, church, or nation.
In 1636 Massachusetts charted Harvard College, the first and oldest college in our nation. Puritan pastors were expected to be highly educated. They were usually graduates of Oxford or Cambridge. Their purpose was not only to preach and teach the Scriptures, but also to stay abreast of current events and interpret them in light of the Word of God.
The Puritans were also concerned about their children’s education. In 1642 Massachusetts passed the first law in the English-speaking world to order that children be taught to read. Five years later the state required every town of 50 families to establish an elementary school. These were called “Deluder laws” because the Puritans believed that illiteracy was a tool of the Deluder, Satan, to keep men from a knowledge of the Scriptures.
In 1641 the fundamental laws of the Puritan colony were set down in a document known as the Body of Liberties. This document became a basis for the Bill of Rights.
The Puritans also showed no qualms at attempting to legislate mor-ality. They believed that sin was a poison that robbed a people of God’s blessings. Hence, the government was to punish blatant wrongdoing. Businesses were to be closed in observance of the Lord’s Day. Open drunkenness and profanity were to be punished, as were gambling, sex sins, etc.
The Puritans did not arrange marriages between their children, but they did exercise veto privileges. A parent’s consent had to be sought by potential suitors. Chastity was expected before marriage, and to help promote it, modesty was required in the way people dressed.
The Puritans more than anyone else instilled in our forefathers a strong work ethic: no work, no food. The rich were not even allowed to pay others to do their work. Everyone had to work.
The Puritans had a deep hatred for sin, and were keenly aware of their own sinfulness. Hence, they sensed a need to hear the Word of God often. They felt this would help them in their spiritual struggles. Worshippers gathered for preaching twice on Sunday, and once for teaching during the week. At the Sunday services, the preacher was expected to preach for two hours and then pray another 90 minutes.
The Puritans also gave us our concept of choirs as aids to congregational singing. New England churches had no instruments in them. Hence, choirs were trained to help lead congregational singing. An elder or deacon would say a line, and then the congregation, led by the choir, would repeat it.
The singing was taken mainly from the Psalms. But sometimes the leader would improvise. The choir would put his words to the tune of a common-meter hymn. On at least one occasion this caused a problem. At hymn time the leader could not find his glasses. He stood and solemnly apologized, “My eyes, indeed, are very blind.” The well-trained choir immediately sang his words. The leader tried to clarify himself and said, “I cannot see at all.” The choir obediently sang this line also. The leader then cried out in frustration, “I really believe you are bewitched.” When the choir sang that line, too, the leader sat down in disgust.
Conclusion: God blessed America. He allowed us to have the priests and the Puritans. They taught us much. And most importantly, they taught us the importance of trusting and living for God. They realized that He was the One “from whom all blessings flow.”
Bibliography for this message:
American Folklore and Legend (Reader’s Digest Assoc.).
Breckenkamp, Wanda, “The Mayflower Compact — 362 Years of Neglect” (unpublished essay).
Marshall, Light and Glory (pp. 145-190).
World Book Encyclopedia (related articles).