The first settlers in this country came primarily to find a place where they could experience the freedom of religious expression. On May 14, 1607 a group of pilgrims landed at Jamestown and established the colony of Virginia.
Another group came on the ship Mayflower and sited land in Massachusetts on November 9, 1620. William Brewster led the group in reciting Psalm 100 as a prayer of thanksgiving. While on board the Mayflower, all the men signed the Mayflower Compact. This document begins “In the name of God.” It then states that the colony was being established “for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith,” and then proceeds with the covenant that the people made.
This document was similar to the one adopted by the Jamestown settlers. Both documents indicate that these colonies were being established to the glory of God and for the spreading of the Christian faith.
The first public building they erected was a place to worship. It became a gathering point to thank God for His blessings and to ask for His continued help. When they were successful with their harvest, they gathered at the church to give thanks.
My young friend, Steven Gregg, who is Pastor of the Trinity United Methodist Church in Phenix City, AL, preached a sermon July 7, 2013 in which he shared these interesting lessons. Faith was central to the culture and life of the early settlers. In 1643 they wrote a constitution which began with these words, “We all came into these parts with one and the same end and aim, namely to advance the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to enjoy the liberties of the Gospel in purity and peace.”
God blessed them abundantly. They experienced growth in all areas of life. They enjoyed successes.
But then our early history was much like the history of the people in Bible. When God blessed, they became successful, but began to drift away from God. They became more interested in gaining wealth than in being true to the reasons for their coming.
Here are a few examples of the drifting. The King of England gave tracks of land in the new world to his special friends and he sent prisoners as “indentured servants” to this land. The colonists saw an opportunity for cheap labor, and thus the concept of slavery was inaugurated. People strayed in their religious thinking as they began to follow false teachers. People began to believe in witch tales and black magic. In the 1690’s our country experienced the Salem witch trials. By the year 1730, only about ten percent of the people attended church. America was slowly outgrowing its need for God.
Then God raised up some people to call America back to God – men like George Whitfield, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley and others. A huge revival took place. American history named it “the Great Awakening.” Tens of thousands of people were converted.
The Great Awakening set the stage for the American Revolution and our Declaration of Independence. The Great Awakening profoundly influenced Benjamin Franklin. He wrote, “It was wonderful to see the changes soon made in the manners of our inhabitants from being thoughtless or indifferent about religion. It seemed as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk through the town in an evening without hearing Psalms sung in different families of every street.”
George Washington penned a note that is on display in Washington in his own handwriting. “Let my heart, gracious God, be so affected with Your glory and majesty that I may…discharge those weighty duties which Thou requirest of me…again, I have called on Thee for pardon and forgiveness of sins…for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for me thou gavest Thy Son to die for me; and hast given me assurance my of salvation.”
Is it time for a new “Great Awakening?