Thanksgiving is a time to thank God for His many blessings, our Christian heritage and the freedoms we enjoy. Our amazing Pilgrim forefathers celebrated their first harvest in the New World by thanking God. Only 51 of the 110 who disembarked the Mayflower in 1620 survived that first winter. Then, just in time for the planting season, God sent the weary Pilgrims a miracle – two English-speaking Indians, Samoset and Squanto. Squanto had providentially learned near-perfect English and was able to teach the Pilgrims how to plant, fish and survive. Ninety Indian braves, Squanto, Samoset and the powerful Indian Chief Massasoit joined 21 Pilgrim men, 4 women, 5 teenaged girls, 8 teenaged boys and 13 young children for a Thanksgiving feast. Miracles have occurred throughout American history to keep the Pilgrim’s vision alive. The ideas contributed to the constitutional civil government, under God, that we enjoy today. They birthed a nation to glorify God and advance the gospel. How we have been blessed!
The Mayflower Compact
In the name of God, Amen. We… Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and Country… solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed…the eleventh of November… Anno Dom. 1620.
Many Thanksgiving Days
Since 1621, our national, state and local leaders have proclaimed many hundreds, perhaps thousands of fasts, days of prayer and thanksgiving. Our colonial governors issued frequent calls to prayer. The Continental Congress did likewise, all preserved for us to read. They were deeply Christian in faith, substantive in content and detailed in their expectation. They called not only for thanksgiving and prayer, but repentance for sin, a word seemingly unmentionable today. Until the 20th Century, most Americans believed ours to be Christian nation; that God’s blessing was dependent upon our faithfulness to Him; that “Righteousness exalts a nation” (Pr 14:34). Thus early Thanksgiving proclamations almost always included a call to confession of sin and repentance.
Recent Thanksgiving proclamations have been watered down to serve a more secular nation. But we who cling to Scripture and the values of our founding era, may wish to refer to these earlier proclamations to guide our Thanksgiving prayers. In many ways our generation parallels the Declaration era. Like our forefathers who sacrificed to gain their freedom under God, we must sacrifice to keep our national liberty, our individual liberty and our Christian liberty. Otherwise, future generations of Americans will never know the true blessings of God.
The following are excerpts. Their full texts, each worth reading, can be found here. They will substitute for our regular Prayer Targets for Thnksgiving Week (see 1 Tim 2:1ff).
Thanksgiving Proclamations of the Continental Congress
Thanksgiving 1777 – Thursday, December 1 – “…That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may…consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please GOD through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing… cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth “in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost.”
Thanksgiving 1778 – Thursday, December 30 – “[I]t is further recommended, that, together with devout thanksgiving, may be joined a penitent confession of our sins, and humble supplication for pardon, through the merits of our Savior; so that, under the smiles of Heaven… the hearts of all [may be] impressed with undissembled piety, with benevolence and zeal for the public good…”
Thanksgiving 1779 – Thursday, December 9 – “Whereas it becomes us humbly to approach the throne of Almighty God, with gratitude and praise… that He would grant to his church the plentiful effusions of divine grace, and pour out His Holy Spirit on all ministers of the gospel…spread the light of Christian knowledge through the remotest corners of the earth; that he would smile upon the labors of his people…and finally, that he would establish the independence of these United States upon the basis of religion and virtue, and support and protect them in the enjoyment of peace, liberty and safety as long as the sun and moon shall endure, until time shall be no more.”
Thanksgiving 1780 – Thursday, December 7 – “to celebrate the praises of our Divine Benefactor; to confess our unworthiness of the least of his favors, and to offer our fervent supplications to the God of all grace; that it may please him to pardon our heinous transgressions and incline our hearts for the future to keep all his laws that it may please him still to afford us the blessing… build up his churches in their most holy faith and to cause the knowledge of Christianity to spread over all the earth.”
Thanksgiving 1781 – Thursday, December 13 – “[That] the influence of divine Providence may be clearly perceived in many signal instances… in their own religious manner] observe and acknowledge…the goodness of God [an elaborate explanation of the troubles and victories of war]…that all the people may assemble…with grateful hearts, to celebrate the praises of our gracious Benefactor; to confess our manifold sins; to offer up our most fervent supplications to the God of all grace, that it may please Him to pardon our offenses, and incline our hearts for the future to keep all his laws… and cause the knowledge of God to cover the earth, as the waters cover the seas.”
Thanksgiving 1782 -Thursday, November 28 – “It being the indispensable duty of all nations, not only to offer up their supplications to Almighty God…but also in a solemn and public manner to give him praise for his goodness in general, and especially for great and signal interpositions of his Providence in their behalf… to testify their gratitude to God for his goodness, by a cheerful obedience to his laws, and by promoting, each in his station, and by his influence, the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness. “
Thanksgiving 1783 – 2nd Thursday – “Whereas it hath pleased the Supreme Ruler of all human events… the interposition of Divine Providence in our favor hath been most abundantly and most graciously manifested… Impressed,
therefore, with an exalted sense of the magnitude of the blessings by which we are surrounded, and of our entire dependence on that Almighty Being, from whose goodness and bounty they are derived… while our hearts overflow with gratitude, and our lips set forth the praises of our great Creator, that we also offer up fervent supplications, that it may please him to pardon all our offenses, to give wisdom and unanimity to our public councils, to cement all our citizens in the bonds of affection, and to inspire them with an earnest regard for the national honor and interest, to enable them to improve the days of prosperity by every good work, and to be lovers of peace and tranquility…”
Thanksgiving 1784 – Thursday, October 19 – “[Dependent] at all times, on his power and mercy as the only source from which so great benefits can be derived…And above all, that he hath been pleased to continue to us the light of gospel truths, and secured to us, in the fullest manner, the rights of conscience in faith and worship…[May we] also offer up our joint and fervent supplications, that it may please him of his infinite goodness and mercy, to pardon all our sins and offenses… to raise up from among our youth, men eminent for virtue, learning and piety, to his service in church and state; to cause virtue and true religion to flourish… to fill the world with his glory.
Thanksgiving 1789 – Thursday, November 28 – George Washington issued the first presidential Thanksgiving proclamation – calling Americans to “unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions…”
It was not until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving an annual national holiday.
Our forefathers believed in the separation between Church and state, but not God and government. They understood that the success of our government was dependent upon the mercy of God, vigorous churches, healthy families and virtuous citizens. And so it is today.