Are You a Pilgrim?

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Nov 21, 2012 No Comments ›› John Eidsmoe Bradford-statue

Are You a Pilgrim?

Before returning from our annual Board meeting of the Plymouth Rock Foundation (http://www NULL.plymrock NULL.org/) last weekend, I visited the Old Burial Hill and stood at the grave of Governor William Bradford (http://www NULL.findagrave NULL.com/cgi-bin/fg NULL.cgi?page=gr&GRid=124) (1590 – 1657), the quintessential pilgrim.  At the top of his gravestone is the Hebrew inscription “Jehovah Is My Help.”

In a sense, Bradford was a pilgrim all his life.  Orphaned at seven, raised by his grandfather and two uncles, he immersed himself in the Bible and Puritan preaching, and he determined that the Church of England had become corrupt, lax, and heretical.

He was not alone in this conclusion.  Some, called Puritans, wanted to purify the Church from heresy and immorality.  But others believed that was impossible, and they wanted to separate from the Church of England and establish a church of their own.  As a young man, Bradford took his place among these Separatists — and shared in their persecution.

With these Separatists, Bradford journeyed to the Netherlands, where they dwelt in Leyden. But although they found toleration in the Netherlands, they were concerned about immoral influence on their children, so they journeyed to America instead.  There they faced hardship, deprivation, sickness, and death, but they clung to their faith in Jesus Christ and His Word.  Bradford served as Governor of the colony from 1621 to 1657, except for a brief interval, and his History of Plimoth Plantation (http://xroads NULL.virginia NULL.edu/~DRBR/bradford NULL.html) gives us a rare and graphic account of the earliest stages of this new nation.  More than any other person, Bradford shaped the development of Plymouth Colony, enabled its survival, kept it on a prudent and righteous course, and shared its story with us.  We thus call him the quintessential pilgrim.

But what is a pilgrim?  Dictionaries offer a host of definitions: a traveler, one who journeys to a sacred place, one who embarks on a quest for something sacred.  But dictionaries can define a word; to probe its true meaning one must look more deeply.  John Bunyan’s 1678 classic Pilgrim’s Progress (http://www NULL.ccel NULL.org/ccel/bunyan/pilgrim NULL.html) paints a vivid picture of the pilgrims Christian and Faithful as they journey from the City of Destruction through the City of Vanity with all its temptations and oppositions, until they reach their final destination and true home, the Celestial City on Mt. Zion.

I Peter 2:11 admonishes us that, as “strangers and pilgrims,” we must “abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.”  Hebrews 11:13 reminds us that the Old Testament saints “all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them,  and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”  Among these pilgrims was Abraham, who “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10).

Consider those Separatists who came to the New World on the Mayflower in 1620.  In the eyes of the world, they were pilgrims because they left their home in England.  In God’s eyes, they were pilgrims because they recognized their true citizenship in heaven.

Are you a pilgrim?  You can be a pilgrim even if you’ve never left your home state or your home county.  A true pilgrim, regardless of where he lives or travels, owns his true allegiance to the Lord who bought his salvation with His blood, and to His heavenly kingdom.

Just as those pilgrims tamed the wilderness and evangelized the natives, so Christian pilgrims today can be involved in the world.  As Jeremiah exhorted his fellow Jews who were captives in Babylon,

4 Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon;

5 Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them;

6 Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished.

7 And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace. (Jeremiah 29:4-7)

Christians are in the world but not of the world, and we have both a right and a duty to be involved in the world in which we live. As Luther said, God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does; and while we are not saved by good works, good works are the result of our salvation and one of the ways we share Christ with others.  Good works include not only helping others by acts of kindness and generosity, but also getting into the public arena to fight against wrongs and injustices.

But that is not our ultimate goal.  As Christians we can enjoy the world and use the world; but we love the Lord and His kingdom.

In a year that has been laced with great victories and great defeats, we can look that band of pilgrims that landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, endured unimaginable hardships, but ultimately triumphed and became a model for America and the Western world.  As Bradford wrote,

“Thus out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing and gives being to all things that are; and as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many, yea in some sort to our whole nation; let the glorious name of Jehovah have all praise.”

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