While working in our local Family History Center this week, I encountered an old book on their shelves that I have checked out and truly enjoy: Saints and Strangers by George F. Willison (New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1945, 512 pages). The book is about the origins and lives of the Pilgrims, that small band of Separatists in England who were harassed by Anglican authorities and sought religious liberty in Holland and eventually the New World. The opening pages review the history of religious oppression in England from the time of Henry VIII onward. England, the country that long prided itself on its civility and advanced principles, offered little freedom for nonconformists. Kings and queens seemed to understand that if men were allowed to criticize the state religion and choose another, they might turn such freedom to criticize their rulers and even wish to choose another. When I read of the power of Anglican bishops to throw people into jail for years without trial, or to even have people tortured or killed in barbaric manners, and when I ponder the struggles of those who sought to practice their own separate faith, I am filled with pain at the abuses rising from concentrated power in the past, and filled with gratitude for the many freedoms we still have left, in spite of the increasing tendency for government to become ever more powerful and concentrated in our era.
How rare and precious religious liberty has been in the history of this world. How grateful we should be for what we have. How diligent we should be to preserve our freedoms, and stand fast in the liberty wherein Christ has made us free indeed.
May we, like the Pilgrims (in spite of their faults), seek to be separate from the world, and seek to establish liberty in whatever lands we are in.
By the way, for those interested in the genealogy associated with the Mayflower, a useful resource is MayflowerHistory.com, which includes information about a recent discovery involving Peter Browne, many genealogy resources, and primary text sources.