Americans have a hard time imagining the oppression prevalent in Europe before the Pilgrims sailed. Free speech did not exist. Comments deemed opposing to the church or state often led to punishment. Property was confiscated, violators were imprisoned, maybe tortured or executed, and families exiled.
During the sixteenth century, England began reforming a church corrupted by position and wealth. While the Anglican Church replaced Catholicism, many of its clerics continued the decadent practices of their predecessors. Citizens began calling for greater reforms. Those wanting to purify the church, restoring the pristine beauty that graced it in the days of the apostles, became known as Puritans.
The Puritans wanted simple services adorned, not with elaborate ritual, but with the Holy Spirit. Not only did their call for additional reforms to the church imply that it was still corrupt, but their objection to opulent liturgies insulted the priests performing them. Since the king is head of the church, criticism of the clergy criticized the king. Officials charged the Puritans with heresy, insurrection and, even, treason. Every reformer endured the animosity of the authorities. Their properties were searched without cause. Their personal activities were scrutinized. Their conversations were monitored. They were prohibited from holding their own services and even having religious discussions. Whenever sufficient evidence could be gathered, they were punished.
While devout Christians willingly endure persecutions for their faith, they also investigate avenues of escape. The Pilgrims, who had fled to Holland because it offered them religious freedom, did not improve their lot much. Their lackluster results dampened any hopes Puritans had of leaving England to further the purification of the church. It was not until the Pilgrims successfully colonized Massachusetts that the Puritans viewed America as the place of refuge.
The thought of a country free from the oppressive hand of ecclesiastical and civil powers, where believers could pursue their quest of the original church of Jesus Christ, inspired the Puritans. America offered them an opportunity to carve the kingdom of God out of its wilderness. It was their promised land. They likened themselves to Israel, those ancient believers whom God led to safety in Canaan. Like the Hebrews, God had heard their cries for deliverance. He had opened the way for them to enter a land of liberty.
John Cotton expressed their sentiments in 1629 when he preached the farewell sermon on board the first Puritan ship to leave England for America. He began by reading from 2 Samuel 7: 10. It says, "Moreover, I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as before time." Cotton went on inspire those religious refugees with the thought that they were Gods chosen people, new children of Israel, destined, if they continued in His commandments, to create, populate, and prosper in the western wilderness. They were going to a land free from the power of the enemies of righteousness, a land God would keep free as long as they sought to build up His kingdom in it. He concluded with these words: "What He hath planted, He will maintain. Every plantation His right hand has not planted shall be rooted up, but His own plantation shall prosper and flourish. When he promiseth peace and safety, what enemies shall be able to make the promise of God of none effect? Neglect not walls and bulwarks and fortifications for your own defense, but ever let the name of the Lord be your strong tower, and the word of His promise, the rock of your refuge."
Today, enemies of righteousness have invaded America. They teach that God is dead, that Christian morals are outdated and its principles relative, that man is good and needs no Savior, that freedom is license, and that liberty should protect the wicked. Their doctrines permeate politics, business, and entertainment It is taught in our schools, our courts, and, sometimes our churches. Believers are ridiculed and occasionally denied rights guaranteed in the Constitution. Some people even consider faithful Christians closed-minded, unintelligent, hypocritical, politically incorrect, deranged, and a threat to society. The government in turn has proposed laws and suggested policies limiting or controlling their activities. Like the Puritans in England, the faithful are beginning to feel the animosity of the authorities.
Believing the trend in America is toward religious persecution, some Christians fear future government reprisals. They foresee limited liberties for believers, with no right to guide their children’s religious training, express their devotions, or gather for worship. Some envision confinement in reeducation centers specifically design to eradicate the faith of those incarcerated there. Because no land of refuge remains, they suppose they will be left as prey to their enemies.
The Puritans believed that God not only gave them America as a land of refuge, but that He would protect them there from their enemies. The Bible promises, "They shall dwell in a place of their own and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as beforetime" (2 Sam 7: 10). Cotton responded, "When He promiseth peace and safety, what enemies shall be able to make the promise of God of none effect?” God will defend the faithful in America. He has planted them and will maintain them. Their enemies will not be allowed to afflict and overcome them.
A divine messenger revealed to George Washington when he prayed at Valley Forge that three perils would befall the United States. The first was the Revolutionary War and the second was the Civil War. The third, the most fearful, lies in the future. After showing God's deliverance from all three threats, the angel concluded, "While the stars remain and the heavens send down dew upon the earth, so long shall the Republic last." The angel emphasized the triumph of America. "Taking from his brow the crown on which blazoned the word Union, he placed it upon the standard, while the people, kneeling down, said, ‘Amen’.”
America will not fail, although she many suffer judgment. God will preserve her. She is the land of refuge for Israel. All believers can find shelter under her wings. She will yet complete her purpose. She will house the purified church and deliver the kingdom of God.