THANKSGIVING: Glory to God or Traditions of Men?

Christians by and large are a thankful people, we understand “…that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”  Romans 8:28, and are reminded in Ephesians 5:20, “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of Jesus Christ.”  We thus labor briefly (Job 14) as obedient stewards (Luke 14:42) and faithful children ( II Corinthians 6:17-18) in this present world system  (I John 2:15) knowing full well the vast expanse of eternity (II Corinthians 2:9) lies ahead awaiting all who dwell here (Hebrews 9:27).

     Thankfulness like kindness, humility, modesty, patience, faithfulness and brotherly love are fruits of one’s inner being which manifest themselves in our daily life and we refer to them as virtue. The Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22 calls them fruits of the spirit as evidence of one’s Christianity, Our Lord Jesus Christ makes it very clear in Luke 6:44-45, “ For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, no of a bramble bush gather they grapes. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.”

     On December 19, 1606 three small ships set sail from Blackwell near London, they were the Susan Constance, Goodspeed and Discovery. Their charter was from King James I and the London Company to settle the land called Virginia, which ranged from Cape Fear to Newfoundland, and to   deliver the Gospel of Christ to the savages. On April 25th the small fleet arrived in the Chesapeake Bay and dropped anchor. On April 26th about 30 men rowed ashore, placed a cross into the beach and thanked God for their safe arrival. Next they erected tent shelters and an alter covered with sail fabric attached to four trees. Beneath this alter covering they met twice a day to give thanks for God’s Blessing and to hear the preaching of the Word of God twice on Sunday by Reverend Robert Hunt.

     “Chesapeake” is the savage word for “Mother of Waters” and Captain Newport aboard the Flagship Susan Constance named the southern cape “Henry” and the northern Cape “Charles” after the two sons of King James I. After several days of investigation the small band of settlers decided to navigate up the Powhatan River which they renamed the “James” in order to place themselves beyond the reach of Spanish raiders. They sailed twenty miles up-river until they located a place suitable for a settlement, they called it “Jamestown”.

     Among that small company was an extraordinary young man of barely 28 years of age named Captain John Smith. He was orphaned at an early age and educated himself in the martial arts and the Bible. He enlisted in the King’s Army and was sent to Holland where he continued to hone his skills and learn on his own. After his enlistment he offered his services to the Christian Armies fighting the Saracens (Saracen was the common name given to Arab and Turkish Muslims who warred for control of Europe). Smith, still a boy, made his way east of Austria to enlist in the Christian Army on the front lines in Transylvania. There he acquitted himself with courage and after a successful battle was made Captain of a company of dragoons (cavalry). Not long after the Saracens became surrounded inside a fortress named Regal. It was agreed that each army would provide a champion to settle the siege. Captain John Smith represented the Christians and a large impressively armored Turkish Lord represented the Saracens. Smith dispatched his adversary almost immediately and cut off his head. Raising the severed head into the air he challenged them to avenge their leader. Two successive Saracen champions appeared with the same result and the siege successfully ended. As a result Captain John Smith was Knighted by Grand Duke Sigismund. In a later battle Smith was knocked unconscious, left for dead, and captured by Saracen robbers who sold him as a slave to the Tymor of Nalbritz on the shore of the Sea of Azov. His head was shaved, an iron ring was placed around his neck, he was frequently beaten but determined to escape. After more than a year of slavery he managed to escape and made his precarious journey through the Saracen lines to the safety of a Russian fortress. From there he returned to Austria, France, Spain and finally England. Barely twenty years of age, he found himself not only famous but a hero in his home country. Captain Smith was always careful to give God the Glory; he did not entertain any vice and so the life of a celebrity was not to his liking. When he learned of the three ships intending to sail to Virginia he enlisted immediately.

     Thus God through his infinite providence prepared a man who after he landed in Virginia was perfectly fitted to assume command and assure the successful settlement of Virginia. John Smith endeavored to deal honestly with the native population, to by land from them, to establish the rule of law and to be just in all his dealings and decisions; his was a life of virtue. John Smith went on to map the northern reaches of Virginia and named it, “New England.”  King James was so pleased with John Smith’s endeavors that he promoted him to Admiral with the title: Admiral of New England.

     The first representative legislative body to meet on this continent was the Assembly that met in Jamestown on June 19th 1619. In September of that same year, a group of settlers were dispatched to establish a second settlement at Berkley Hundred, which is up river from Jamestown. They were issued specific instructions from the Assembly “that the day of our ship’s arrival at the place assigned for plantation in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept Holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God”. Key to understanding is that specific instructions were issued by the first legislative body upon this  continent and that the day was to be kept Holy to Almighty God. In December of 1619 this obligation was fulfilled and has annually been observed at Berkley Plantation to this day.

     One hundred and one Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in Northern Virginia on December 22, 1620. They quickly realized the necessity of friendship with the local savages for provisions. This accomplished, they managed through the winter and into spring. It had been agreed that all property would be communal and all would plant and harvest into the communal store. By the fall of 1622 there were few crops to harvest and few provisions in store, famine seemed imminent. It seems that there were some who would not work, as long as they were permitted to eat the fruit of the labor of others. Their friendship with the savages paid off however, as the local tribe with genuine compassion, filled their store and provided sufficient food for a feast. Thus, the birth of the Pilgrim Thanksgiving Day, a day of feasting and celebrating the largesse of others. By 1631, under various charters granted by King James I, and later his son, King Charles I, the Massachusetts Colony was established.

     Let us examine some of the fruits of this Massachusetts Colony who loudly proclaim that they invented the Day of Thanksgiving in America. In 1636 in Marblehead, Massachusetts the first slave ship was built in North America, christened the Desire. Also in 1636, the Baptist Preacher Roger Williams was found guilty of heresy and sedition but made an escape before he could be punished. He went on to found the settlement of Rhode Island. In 1637 they caused to be listed 82 opinions illegal to be held in the Colony. Also in 1637, war erupted with the local indians; but by then wave after wave of fresh emigrants had swelled the population to sufficient size to defeat the tribe, massacre its men and sell its remaining population into West Indies slavery; thus the Pequod Tribe was exterminated. By 1656 Quakers were being put to death or otherwise punished and by 1691 witches were being burned or crushed to death. All the while their prominent men made fortunes in the West Indies slave trade; buying African savages from  savage chiefs for rum traded to West Indies sugar cane plantations who received the slaves and paid in molasses which was returned to New England and sold to the distilleries to purchase rum for the next voyage to the African coast. By 1750 there were 63 commercial distilleries in Massachusetts producing rum for the slave trade, and over 5000 New England men engaged in building slave ships, in Virginia there were none. According to the 1965 Encyclopaedia Britannica, “The harshness of rule, narrow-mindedness and self-satisfaction, which became characteristic of the Massachusetts colony cannot be ascribed wholly to Puritanism. Much of it was motivated by a desire for profit.” And profit they did. In the 19th century New England slave ships carried 4,000,000 Africans into the western hemisphere, most to Brazil and the West Indies. Their desire also caused the decimation of the West African Elephant whose tusks were used in New England piano key manufacturing to the tune of several thousand tons of ivory per year. “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”  So states I Timothy 6:10.

     Alexander H. Stephens (1812-1883) in his 1872 History of the United States says with regard to those Pilgrims: “…persecution [in England] produced its natural effect on them. It found them a sect, it made them a faction. To their hatred of the church was now added hatred of the crown. The two sentiments were intermingled, and each embittered the other…After the fashion of oppressed sects, they mistook their own vindictive feelings for emotions of piety; encouraged in themselves, by reading and meditation, a disposition to brood over their wrongs; and, when they had worked themselves up into hating their enemies, imagined that they were only hating the enemies of heaven.”

     Thus was introduced into the infant American culture the tacit approval of lust, greed, ambition, pleasure and envy, with all their cultural, theological and political ramifications; the process of weaving error into the fabric of a Christian culture was begun. Capitalism is nothing more than the exercise of Free Enterprise minus virtue, and the New England section of America exercised it with abandon. This resulted in the enactment of laws restricting freedom when what was truly needed was virtue. Virginia and the South sought refuge in virtue and virtuous men exercising lawful remedy but to no avail. What is misnamed the “Civil War” engulfed them like a tidal wave.

     Thanksgiving Day in America reflects all the fruit of its inventors and the culture they fostered. Gluttonous amounts of food are consumed by a people relieved to have a week-day away from the stress of work required to pay    tribute to banks and governments; just one day to relax at home with no excuse. Pictures of Pilgrims, turkeys and pumpkins abound celebrating abundant consumption with no reference to their Creator and Provider. Arrogant men proclaim that they and government have the answers, how sad. I am sorry to report that Thanksgiving in America today does not reflect the fruit of a Christian people, rather it confirms the declaration of Hosea 4:6, “My   people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected  knowledge, I will also reject thee…”

     II Corinthians 6:17 is very clear, Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate…”  Let us endeavor to make Thanksgiving Day a Holy Day set apart for our Lord.                                                                 Rex Miller, November 25,2010