History Book – Pilgrims prepare for the New World

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, July 20th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: The WORLD History Book.

Today, just one story—the anniversary of a farewell address from a well-loved pastor to his persecuted congregation. Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: We begin today in Holland. A group of separatists who fled England 11 years earlier, are about to return to their native land—not to live, but to catch a ship, the Mayflower.

FOSTER: When he left them at Delfshaven in Holland, in July of 1620, with his Geneva Bible open he declared he was sending them out as the army of God. 

Marshall Foster is the founder of the World History Institute. He’s talking about the farewell sermon from the pilgrim’s pastor, John Robinson—delivered 400 years ago this week. 

FOSTER: He said, as they torture us, we will overcome them with our weapon, which is dying. As they continue to persecute, we will persevere…

Robinson isn’t going with them. He is staying behind in Leyden, Holland, with the rest of his congregation. Reminiscent of Paul’s final words to the Ephesian elders in Acts chapter 20, pastor John Robinson tearfully commissions his followers as he says goodbye. No transcript exists of his sermon, but pilgrim Edward Winslow later published summary notes of Robinson’s address. 

SERMON: As we part, only the Lord knows whether we will see each other’s faces again. 

David Perizenski with a recreation inspired by Winslow’s notes.

SERMON: Only follow me as much as I’ve followed Christ. And if God should reveal to you any truth beyond what I have given you, be ready to receive it, for the Lord has more light to break forth from His word than I can know. 

JEHLE: His teachings is a bit unique… 

Paul Jehle is an author and pastor in Plymouth, Massachusetts. 

JEHLE: In fact, one of the most dramatic statements by Robinson was that you should not get stunted in your growth by following Christ, only as far as your reformer.

SERMON: We are in a period of religion that refuses to go further than the instruments of our reformation. The Lutherans can not be drawn to go beyond what Luther saw. The Calvinists stick where he left them. A misery much to be lamented. It is not possible for the Christian world so lately come out of such thick anti-Christian darkness, to attain full perfection of knowledge all at once. 

JEHLE: John Robinson told the Pilgrims, unquestionably, they don’t wear a label. They didn’t bear the label of Calvinists, they wore the label of Christians…

That doesn’t keep others from labelling them. Some label the Pilgrims as “Brownists.” That’s because when the pilgrims first fled England for Holland in 1607, they joined a group of separatists in Amsterdam led by Robert Browne. But after a year, the pilgrims and John Robinson left for the nearby town Leyden as quarrels within the Brownist congregation were splitting the church. Robinson never forgot that experience. 

ROBINSON: Also, by all means, avoid and shake off the name ‘Brownist.’ It is nothing more than a nickname—a brand to make religion odious…

And despite being separatists, Robinson was known to work with Puritans and Presbyterians in his later years. As the pilgrims boarded the ship for England, he pleaded with them to follow his example.

SERMON: When you arrive at your destination, endeavour to be at peace with all. Align with the godly party of the kingdom of England. Strive more for union than division. 

Again, Marshall Foster.  

FOSTER: And he ended his speech with this powerful message about how the gates of hell shall not prevail against my church. I send you out under the banner of the Lord Jesus Christ…

John Robinson never saw his friends again. He died five years later. But the pilgrims who survived and the latter arrivals eventually paid to bring Robinson’s widow and son to the colony. 

JEHLE: I believe John Robinson is the founding pastoral shepherd of this nation. 

FOSTER: He is the forgotten founder of America. He’s the founding father, of the founding fathers. 

And the church that the Pilgrims founded here based on Robinson’s instruction would eventually spread across the country becoming the Congregational Church movement in America.

That’s this week’s WORLD History Book. I’m Paul Butler.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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