The Puritans, Part 8

Phil Jensen


Pilgrim_landingIn part seven I covered some of the troubles that came upon the Puritans after arriving in the New  World.  It was certainly a time of trial.  However, in February of 1631 there was a marvelous manifestation of God’s grace:

Roger Clap writes thus of the famine:  “Bread was so very scarce, that sometimes I thought the very crusts of my father’s table would have been very sweet unto. And when I could have meal and water and salt boiled together it was so good, who could wish better? It was to such straits they had come by midwinter, and these trials moved them to appoint a day of fasting and prayer.  The exact day set we do not know, but we conjecture that it was during the second week of February.

It was on the 5th day of February, probably a few days before the intended fast, that relief came. According to Mather, it was when Winthrop was distributing the last handful of meal in the barrel unto a poor man distressed by the wolf at the door, at that instant they spied a ship arrived at the harbour’s mouth, laden with provisions for them all.

Rick Kriebel 2016


The ship was the Lyon , which Winthrop had dispatched for relief. Her cargo consisted principally of wheat, meal, peas, oatmeal, beef and pork, cheese, butter and suet, and, what was of greatest importance to the sick, supplies of lemon juice, a cure for the scurvy.

Circumstances no longer being appropriate for a fast, the governor and the town council ordered a thanksgiving for the 22nd of February.

And such was the deliverance which made a profound impression upon the minds of that distressed people.

Woodrow Wilcox


It was recognized as a signal providence of God. About their firesides its story was told by fathers to their children for many a day in praise of the goodness of God and His guardianship over the colony. [1]

It was certainly a time of celebration.  However, a number of the settlers had had enough of New England.  When Master Peirce prepared to return to England, he had eighty some passengers who were ready to go. According to what Morgan says, another two hundred left in the spring.

Morgan describes what happened as “a crude winnowing.”  I would certainly agree that it was a winnowing, but I don’t like his description of it as a crude winnowing.

Why?  Because they were going to be a city on a hill, giving light to the world.  You can’t do that unless you have been through the refining process that comes with trials.

For in Isaiah 48:10, the Lord says, “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.”

Notice the assumption here.  We have impurities in our soul.  If we are going to be used for some great purpose in life, such as being a light to the world, those impurities would have to be removed, just like if silver or gold is going to be really good, the impurities in the silver or gold would have to come out. This is why Job says, “But He knows the way that I take; When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.” [2]

The book of James identifies two qualities that are very important when we are tested.  One is faith, which should come as no surprise.  When bad things happen, we need to hold on to our faith.  The second is patience.

Why is patience so important?  Hebrews 6:12 tells us to “imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”  Think of how these two words relate to each other.  If we have faith that something in our favor is going to happen, we will patiently wait for it.  We will not be afraid of what is happening to us now. We will not see our present circumstances as something that is going to keep us from getting what we know is coming, for we have the faith that it is going to happen.  Faith enables us to be patient.  We can see this patience in Winthrop:

I thank God. I like so well to be here, as I do not repent of my coming.  And if I were to come again, I would not have altered my course, though I had foreseen all these afflictions; I never fared better in my life, never slept better, never had more content  of mind. [3]

When Winthrop says he never had more “content of mind,” I believe what he meant by that was what we would call today  contentedness of mind. You cannot be contented and sleep well if you are impatient and worried about what is going to happen.  Notice, in spite of all the troubles, he says he likes being there, does not repent of his coming and would not have altered his course, if he were to do it all again.  Those are the words of a man who is patiently waiting for the good days to come.

Now let me ask you, “What was the difference between the people like John Winthrop who stayed in Massachusetts Bay colony, and the people who gave up and returned to England?” Did the people who returned to England have any faith in the ultimate success of the colony?  Were they willing to live in a work that was under construction?  Were they willing, for the sake of the cause, to endure anything that came?  After all, after seeing the corruption in England, just how important was it to them to have this Christian commonwealth?  Or in the end, were they more concerned with their own physical survival than the survival and success of this colony where they would be able to worship God in a way that was not possible in England?  What was more important—the success of this mission intended to honor God, a mission which would take time and cause them to face many obstacles, or looking out just for themselves?

Apparently, this was a winnowing time designed to see just how much people were willing to commit themselves to this righteous endeavor, for after the people who wanted to go back to England left in the spring of 1631, things changed.

Actually there was never again a starving time in New England like that first winter.  As soon as spring came the colonists began planting the champion ground in and around their settlements. Winthrop carved out a farm of six hundred acres on the fat land that had pleased him up the Mystic River and set his large family of servants to cultivating it and building him a stone house. [4]

Things were beginning to change for the better. In the fall of 1631, Winthrop’s wife Margaret and the rest of the family arrived.

As Margaret came ashore with volleys of shot, people from all over the colony came to welcome her, and for days, in gratitude and respect for her husband, they sent gifts of “fat hogs, kids, venison, poultry, geese, partridges, etc.,

It was a great marvel, that so much people and such store of provisions could be gathered together at so few hours warning.” [5]

Morgan closes the chapter mentioning Margaret’s arrival with what I think is a very appropriate comment:

It was a great marvel truly enough.  It was also a great personal triumph for Winthrop.  Under his guidance these people had left starvation behind.

The Lord had pleased to give them all full bellies and a roof against the rain.  The Lord had pleased to place Margaret once more by his side.

Who could ask for greater proof that the Lord was pleased with His servant and with the people who had entered this wilderness to worship Him?  It was up to them all now to justify His pleasure? [6]

I decided to end the chapter here because I like happy endings.  Of course, there would be more challenges ahead.  We all know as long as life goes on, we will face challenges of one kind or another.

One thing we learn from John Winthrop and those who stayed is first we have to take the time to know for sure what God has called us to do with our life.  Secondly, once we know, we have to be determined that, no matter what happens, we will continue, believing that the good days are coming.  We may not be experiencing them now, but they are coming.

When they come, by the grace of God, not only will we have survived what we have gone through, but we will have been refined, and be people of faith and character, people worthy of respect and appreciation.  We will also be people God is using, to give gifts to man by man.

[1] William Deloss Love, The Fast and Thanksgiving Days of New England (Miami, FL: Hardpress Publishing, 1895), p. 104-106.

[2]  Job 23:10

[3]  MORGAN, EDMUND S., THE PURITAN DILEMMA; THE STORY OF JOHN WINTHROP, 3rd Ed., © 2007.  Reprinted by permission of Pearson Education, Inc., New York, New York, p. 56.

[4] MORGAN, EDMUND S., THE PURITAN DILEMMA; THE STORY OF JOHN WINTHROP, 3rd Ed., © 2007.  Reprinted by permission of Pearson Education, Inc., New York, New York,   p. 59.

[5]  Ibid. , p. 61-62.

[6] Ibid.



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Bob Wittstruck was a pastor for 33 years, was the associate director of the Black Hills Creation Science Association, and is a supporter of both Christian schooling and home schooling. His latest book, The Forgotten Factor of History God Rules, is being printed in February or March of 2016. His email address is [email protected]
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