Each one of us has a heritage. One form is our lineage, meaning our ancestors who came before us. Another heritage is the cultural type which is handed down through the generations.
Part of our national heritage is the Thanksgiving holiday we celebrate. The roots of that holiday (originally “holy day”) are important for us all to understand. President Lincoln originally called for a National Day of Thanksgiving in 1863:
“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.”
After recounting many of the blessings the country had enjoyed, even in the midst of the great trauma of Civil War, Lincoln proclaims the following:
“No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
My family and I had an opportunity recently to visit Plymouth, Massachusetts, where my ancestors landed in 1623 after a perilous voyage on the supply ship “Anne.” This was the first ship that came to re-supply the pilgrims who had landed two and a half years earlier. My ancestors, Ralph and Joyce Wallen, were “separatists” – those who sought to exercise their liberty of conscience rather than follow the dictates of the government church.
It’s interesting that most people view the Declaration of Independence as being the birth certificate of our nation. But it really isn’t. The Mayflower Compact is our birth certificate. Our forebears laid out a covenant regarding their purpose in the new world:
Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith, and the honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another; covenant and combine ourselves 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.
From what I can tell, my ancestors were humble people seeking religious freedom in a new land. They had no intention or desire to destroy other cultures, but rather to set free those cultures to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The same should be true for us today. Our culture is not supportive of a Judeo-Christian worldview; in fact, it is hostile to us and our desire to engage in respectful dialogue about truth and the gospel.
Our Lord made it clear that we would face opposition but that he had already addressed that perceived problem: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
This Thanksgiving let us approach the holiday with a great sense of gratitude for what God has done for us personally and for our nation. Unlike any other nation, except Israel (and some include Switzerland), the United States of America was birthed in covenant. This demonstrates God’s great intention toward our people, and places on us, as recipients of that blessing, a duty to discharge to those who came before as well as those who will come after us. Let us have a resident spirit of gratitude to God for the liberty we enjoy.