Wednesday, November 15, 2006

of Plymouth Plantation -- a saddening quote from William Bradford

I'm reading Of Plymouth Plantation to help get the right frame of mind for Thanksgiving. William Bradford relates the reasons why, after 12 relatively peaceful years in Leyden, the Pilgrims decided to emigrate to the New World. He enumerated 5 reasons:

1) the hardships of urban life in Holland were such that few would leave England to follow them (though they might seek opportunity in the colonies)

2) old age was wearing down the colonists in the urban envirionment (most of them had been country folk in England, and they longed to be invigorated by the country again)

3) Thinking of the children -- many were wearing out from being forced to work in the urban center -- many others were being lured into temptations by the decadence about them.

4) “Last and not least, they cherished a great hop and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least of making some way towards it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work.” (21, Page citations from the Vision Forum edition)

After spirited debate, they decided to go -- they were looking to build something new and good and Godly. When communicating to their agent in London to help secure a ship, the Pilgrims wrote "We are knit together as a body in a most strict and sacred bond and covenant of the Lord, of the violation whereof we make great conscience, and by virtue whereof we hold ourselves straitly tied to all care of each other’s good.” (28)

And this gets to the sad quote -- The edition I have of this text has a footnote which indicates that Bradford later penned in the margins of his journal this quote:"O sacred bond, -- whilst inviolably preserved! How sweet and precious were its fruits! But when this fidelity decayed, then their ruin approached. Oh that these ancient members had not died (if it had been the will of God); or that this holy care and constant faithfulness had still remained with those that survived. But alas, that still serpent hath slyly wound himself to untwist these sacred bonds and ties. I was happy in my first times to see and enjoy the blessed fruits of that sweet communion; but it is now a part of my misery in old age to feel its decay, and with grief of heart to lament it. For the warning and admonition of others, and our own humiliantion, I here take note of it.” (28)

How sad that such great hope, promise, effort and unity would somehow dissipate. Bradford is very forthright in his work -- not sentimentally indicating that they all had tea and cookies and sailed off to the New World. He unabashedly portrays the tears, difficulties, struggles, fears, and disagreements of his group. Though the quote is saddening, it is heartening to know that these herioc figures were by their own admission, human. Somehow this humanity makes their expression of thanksgiving all the more poignant.

Soli Deo Gloria