• Joe Carr

Pilgrims' Progress

This past weekend, our family took advantage of the beautiful weather and the close proximity of historical locales all around to visit Plimoth Plantation: a living museum and recreation of the 17th century village of the Pilgrims. Just to the south of the actual town of Plymouth, this park provides a perfect port back into the days of these early American settlers and their neighbors, the Wampanoag. Among the view is a recreated Wampanoag homesite showcasing the ingenious lifestyle and survival techniques of the native people long before European intrusions. We found it to be a moving and sobering reminder of the beauty of simplicity and the paradise that was lost for the sake of progress and modernization.

Just down the path from here is the recreated 1627 fort and home of these settlers and surviving passengers of the fated Mayflower. The picture I’ve included is a view from the second story of the fort/meeting house overlooking the village and Cape Cod and on to the seemingly never ending Atlantic Ocean: a humbling reminder of that difficult and deadly voyage. Each home on the path is labeled with the last name of some of those survivors and inhabitants, including Bradford, Hopkins, and Allerton. Inside each one-room home is simple furniture, some made and others transported from Europe, and clues to how these early settlers made their way.

My favorite stop was into the “home” of William Brewster. Here I found an open Bible on the table. The Bible was open to the Psalms and it took me a minute to decipher exactly which one I was looking at. For those wondering: yes, I can read. Ha! You also would have given pause to a passage obviously in old English (the 1611 King James’ translation, I’m assuming) and using unfamiliar characters (“f” in place of “s” and “v” where “u” should be), and marked with Roman numerals. Slowly but surely, I realized I was looking at Psalm 91. I found this immediately significant, as the first two verses of that Psalm are words I include every morning in prayer: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘[You are] My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust’” (Psalm 91:1-2, ESV).

How in the world could a people risk so much, leaving behind all they had ever known, traveling over treacherous ocean, with little to no idea of what lay in store for their future, all for the sake of religious conviction?

Isn’t it obvious? They were seeking to dwell not in the security of their own making, nor of human politic, but in the shadow and shelter of God. He would be their refuge and fortress.

It stirs me to think that I am reading and praying the same texts as those who have sacrificed and endured more for the Gospel. These pilgrims are just one of many such Christ-followers to garner inspiration. As I recite these words in my modern context and comforts, I also must resolve not to trust in a security of my own making or that of my country or some technical advances. In light of those religious sojourners, I am challenged to examine my willingness to stretch my trust for God and move consistently toward the increase of what I am able to sacrifice.

Now it is totally possible that this particular passage may not have held the significance I am feeling to Brewster, his home, or his church. In fact, I know this Bible was probably placed by a museum curator and may have even been flipped to this passage by another visitor earlier that day. However, I do know that William Brewster was the elected governing elder of this people searching for a return to simplicity and a desire to focus solely on the scriptures and the life of Jesus. The pastor of that separatist church, John Robinson, stayed behind in Holland to shepherd the remaining flock who were not yet ready to travel. In his absence, the 35 members and passengers on the Mayflower chose Brewster as their spiritual leader who had already contributed significantly to the development of the upstart church: hosting meetings at his home, teaching latin and english, and preaching. Then on American soil, he was one of the six or seven able-bodied adults at a time who helped build shelters, gather supplies, and cared for the sick and dying in the winter of 1620. Then as the community of survivors began to finally flourish and make a new life for themselves over the next few years, Brewster preached and led the simple worship of his church, converting even some of those non-believing travelers to this pure faith.

William Bradford was moved by Brewster’s faith and practice to which he eulogized his friend on the occasion of his death:

"About the 18th of April died their Reverend Elder and my dear and loving friend Mr. William Brewster, a man that had done and suffered much for the Lord Jesus and the gospel's sake, and had borne his part in weal and woe with this poor persecuted church above 36 years in England, Holland and in this wilderness, and done the Lord and them faithful service in his place and calling...He did much good in the country where he lived in promoting and furthering religion, not only by his practice and example, and provoking and encouraging of others, but by procuring of good preachers to the places thereabout and drawing on of others to assist and help forward in such a work. He himself most commonly deepest in the charge, and sometimes above his ability. And in this state he continued many years, doing the best good he could and walking according to the light he saw, till the Lord revealed further unto him…Yet when the church had no other minister, he taught twice every Sabbath, and that both powerfully and profitably, to the great contentment of the hearers and their comfortable edification; yea, many were brought to God by his ministry. He did more in this behalf in a year than many that have their hundreds a year do in all their lives.”

--William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation

I would only hope to be connected in some way, albeit in “random” scripture, to this man who took his conviction, calling, and lot in stride in furthering the cause of the Gospel and the encouragement of others. May we find our dwelling not in homes of mud and thatched roofs, nor in homes of brick and air conditioning, but in the shelter of our God.

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