The reason early Americans became the most literate people on earth is because of their profound dependence on the principles and laws of the Bible as their guide for building a godly civilization in the North American wilderness. The Pilgrims, also known as Puritan separatists, had emigrated from England to Holland in the desire to be able to practice their religion without persecution. Nathaniel Morton, who wrote the first history of the New England settlement in 1669, narrated how all of this came about:
In the year 1602, divers godly Christians of our English nation, in the North of England, being studious of reformation, and therefore not only witnessing against human inventions, and additions in the worship of God, but minding most the positive and practical part of divine institutions, they entered into covenant to walk with God, and one with another, in the enjoyment of the ordinances of God. But finding by experience they could not peaceably enjoy their own liberty in their native country, without offence to others that were differently minded; they took up thoughts of removing themselves and their families into the Netherlands.
In 1610 they left England and settled in Leyden (also spelled Leiden), where they were “lovingly respected” by the Dutch. Despite their comfort and acceptance by the Dutch, “they took up thoughts of removing themselves into America.... They foresaw that Holland would be no place for their church and posterity to continue.” Their children would eventually speak Dutch instead of English and follow the “great licentiousness of youth in that country.” And an even greater motivation was:
a great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way thereunto, for the propagating and advancement of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world, yea, although they should be but as stepping stones unto others for the performance of so great a work.
And so, after 10 years in Holland, they embarked on that fateful voyage on the Mayflower which was to change the world’s history. Before their departure, their pastor, John Robinson, who remained in Holland, addressed a letter to the Pilgrims in which he said:
Whereas you are to become a body politic, using amongst yourselves civil government, and are not furnished with special eminency above the rest, to be chosen by you into office of Government; let your wisdom and godliness appear not only in choosing such persons as do entirely love, and will promote the common good; but also in yielding unto them all due honour and obedience in their lawful administrations, not beholding in them the ordinariness of their persons, but God’s ordinance for your good; not being like the foolish multitude, who more honour the gay coat, than either the virtuous mind of the man, or the glorious ordinance of the Lord.
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Sam Blumenfeld (photo)