Devotion for Week of June 7, 2010 - Government by the Gospel Plymouth, Massachusetts Spring 1623

Government by the Gospel
Plymouth, Massachusetts
Spring 1623

II Thessalonians 3:10, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”

Susanna Winslow, walking down the dirt road that served as the main street in Plymouth, Massachusetts, was lost in thought. Walking toward the common cornfield, she thought of the past winter, when food was in such short supply that the Pilgrims had been reduced to a daily ration of five kernels of corn apiece.

“Lord, I’m still amazed that we made it through that winter. How could we have lived on five grains of corn a day? Yet not one of us died. You, Lord, are a great miracle-worker!”

Even though it was still spring, Susanna was concerned that the coming winter of 1624 would be a repeat of that time of hunger. With the additional settlers who had come, she knew they would need at least twice the harvest. She had noticed that the new settlers, sent as replacements by the trading company, were not hard workers like the Pilgrims. In fact, many had been shipped off to the colony fresh from the debtors’ prisons of England.

Most of the time, the newcomers sat and grumbled – they wanted more privileges, more food, and less work. Their complaining was taking its toll on the morale of the entire colony, so much so that even the hard working Pilgrims seemed less energetic.

“Lord, please help us. I know you have the answer!” Susanna continued to pray the whole morning as she removed weeds from among the corn plants.

Meanwhile, as was his custom every morning, young William Bradford, Plymouth’s new governor, was reading his Bible. He too, was worried about the colony. He knew that even with every man, woman and child carrying their own weight, there would be little surplus this winter. But with the newcomers doing little more than lying around and eating up the meager reserves, the whole group could easily starve in the harsh New England winter. He also knew that the compassionate Pilgrims would want to give food to the lazy ones – even if it worked against their very survival.

Fortunately, Governor Bradford was convinced that the answer to every problem facing mankind was to be found in the word of god. “The Bible is a book about government,” he would often say. “When we don’t know what to do, we should look in its pages.” That morning as he read the Bible he was looking for answers. And he was not disappointed – there, in the Scriptures, was the perfect solution! Taking a pen and paper, he carefully wrote a verse that would be the basis of a new policy – a policy that would have a profound effect on the colony and ultimately on the nation.

Walking outside, he shouted for the Pilgrims and the newcomers to meet him at the meeting hall. Once the crowd assembled, Governor Bradford read his verse: “…if any would not work, neither should he eat.” - The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Thessalonians, chapter three, verse ten.

The he continued, “This is a command in the Word of God. From now on, this will be the rule of our community. Those who believe in the Holy Scriptures are bound to obey its teachings. Those who do not are to be bound by its consequences.”

Governor Bradford assigned the single men in the colony to live with Pilgrim families. Then he temporarily divided the common cornfield into small tracts, giving a tract to each family. Corn grown on each family’s tract would be for that family’s private use.

At first the sluggards tested the Pilgrims – would they really let them go hungry if they didn’t work? They soon found that the Pilgrim families were resolved to obey the Word of God and refused to let them eat if they did not work. After experiencing several days of hunger, even the laziest among them began to pull his own weight.

Bradford’s new policy was a success. He later wrote in his journal, “Any general want or suffering hath not been among them since this day.”

The next year Bradford divided the land permanently and told the families they could keep all they produced, except for the tenth they would pay to the trading company. The opportunity to own their own land was beyond their wildest dreams in England. The colonists worked even harder, the colony prospered, and government according to the Scriptures was established as a principle.


“Indeed, it is an indisputable fact that all the complex and horrendous questions confronting us at home and worldwide have there answers in the Bible.”

Taken from “Under God” by Toby Mac and Michael Tait

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