Tomorrow we celebrate what I sincerely regard as one of our most Christian holidays: Thanksgiving. The Puritans were a group of zealous, committed Christians who sought to make the church what the Bible said it should be; and they gave us Thanksgiving.
The first group of Puritans, a group of non-conformist we now call the Pilgrims, landed on Cape Cod in the late Fall in the year 1620. They came ashore in an area of native Americans that had just recently been nearly wiped out by disease, which meant for these newly arrived pioneers that there were cultivated fields and cleared land just sitting there ready for them to move into. They, of course, saw the hand of God in that.
Of the few remaining natives was a man named Squanto. Squanto had earlier been picked up by English explorers and taken to England. He finally made it back to Plymouth, just before the Pilgrims arrived so he helped them learn how to grow native crops and better survive in the harsh North American environment. They would see the provision of God in that, too. Despite all of Squanto’s help, the first year was very difficult with many of them dying of diseases. But when they had survived, they felt they were established; they thought that was an occasion to thank God for sustaining them. That was their great celebration, their holiday – and holy day. And it wasn’t, as many people today imagine, that after a great feast, they said, “This was fun, let’s do it again next year,” and so a tradition was born. No. They had Thanksgivings as an expression of what they believed.
They believed that there were basically three special days during the year, it may seem odd to us but they didn’t celebrate Christmas or Easter but they kept the weekly Sabbath, meeting for worship on the first day of the week, and then Fast Days and Thanksgiving days. But neither were on set dates in the calendar. They were dynamic and spontaneous.
If events showed that God was displeased with them, they would call a day of fasting and humiliation. If there were droughts, or ship-wrecks, or severe Indian attacks, they saw those events as whips in God’s hands to discipline them. They believed all those things were under the control of God, that nothing was outside of His control. So they would call a day for repentance. They also would call a fast day over trouble in the church or society: if heresies arose, or contention and divisions in the church, or there was a neglect of family order and worship, or immorality broke out among the youth. They knew that God was afflicting them by allowing these things and would afflict them more if they didn’t turn from them. So they would call a special day, a day of humiliation. Each family was supposed to prepare their hearts, to arrive early at church, to dress simply. Then they would spend the day listening to preaching, singing psalms, and particularly in prayer. The purpose was to afflict the soul, say “woe is me,” and seek God’s mercy. A Puritan pastor in New England defined the day of fasting like this:
An extraordinary part or act of Gospel worship wherein for a convenient season we abstain from the comforts of this life, and upon due examination of our ways towards God, and consideration of God’s ways toward us, we make a solemn and real profession that we justify God and judge ourselves.
To be truly thankful, to be able to have true days of Thanksgiving, we need days of repentance and self-affliction. We need some “dark nights of the soul”, to taste the bitter before we can appreciate the sweet, desperately seeking the God we know we have offended and who we know is in control of all the adversities that have come upon us.
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Source: Christian Post