As I thought about praying for today’s hearing on marriage, I remembered William Bradford’s words of gratitude for the Pilgrims’ arrival in Massachusetts.
May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say:
Our faithers were Englishmen which come over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this willdernes; but they cried unto the Lord, and he heard their voyce, and looked on their adversitie, etc. Let them therfore praise the Lord, because he is good, and his mercies endure for ever. Yea, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord, shew how he hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressour. When they wandered in the deserte willdernes out of the way, and found no citie to dwell in, both hungrie, and thirstie, their sowle was overwhelmed in them. Let them confes before the Lord his loving kindnes, and his wonderfull works before the sons of men.
William Bradford, Of plimouth plantation, 1620
Our nation has a long history of crying out to God in our distress and recognition of His providential hand of blessing, yet recent national calls for prayer have changed. Several years ago I came across an article by Dr. John S. Uebersax, National Days of Prayer: A Historical Comparison, in which he made this significant observation:
Since 1952, the President of the United States has, by law, annually issued a proclamation recommending a National Day of Prayer. This seeks to revive a similar practice that emerged in Revolutionary times, and again in the Civil War. The modern proclamations, however, differ in important ways from the earlier ones. The main difference is evident in the change of titles — from the earlier ‘Day of Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer’ to the modern ‘National Day of Prayer.’ The earlier proclamations emphasized humiliation — understood as including a deep conviction of God’s Providential sovereignty in all things, recognition that calamities may express God’s chastisements, expression of guilt, sorrow for sins, and earnest pledge for reformation.
The first thanksgiving of the Pilgrim Fathers followed a day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer. Both days were appointed and set, not by the church, but by their governor. How much more than they, do we as a nation need to turn to God in humiliation and petition. We have grievously sinned against Him.
Look at the Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day signed by Abraham Lincoln on March 30, 1863:
And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!
It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.
This morning I also remembered John Winthrop’s vision for our country and his warning.
…For we must Consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world…
I shall shut up this discourse with that exhortation of Moses, that faithful servant of the Lord, in his last farewell to Israel, Deut. 30. Beloved there is now set before us life and good, Death and evil, in that wee are commanded this day to love the Lord our God, and to love one another, to walk in his ways and to keep his Commandments and his Ordinance and his laws, and the articles of our Covenant with him, that we may live and be multiplied, and that the Lord our God may bless us in the land whither we go to possess it. But if our hearts shall turn away, so that wee will not obey, but shall be seduced, and worship and serve other Gods, our pleasure and profits, and serve them; it is propounded unto us this day, wee shall surely perish out of the good land whither we passe over this vast sea to possess it;Therefore let us choose lifethat wee, and our seedmay live, by obeying Hisvoice and cleaving to Him,for He is our life andour prosperity.–John Winthrop, A Model of Christian Charity, 1630
The monument at the grave of William Bradford has one inscription in Hebrew:
Jehovah is our help
Another in Latin:
What our fathers with so much difficulty secured,
do not basely relinquish
The streets of our City darken. As we pray today for marriage, may we pray in humiliation—with “a deep conviction of God’s Providential sovereignty in all things, recognition that calamities may express God’s chastisements, expression of guilt, sorrow for sins, and earnest pledge for reformation.”
Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor, William Halsall: PD-US.