It should be evident from the foregoing study of God's judgement upon sin in history that Biblical principles have been in effect, not just during the time that the Bible was written, but at all times. Further evidence of this is available in any study of the providence of God in history.
Some of the most astonishing examples that can be provided of the operation of God's providence have to do with the early exploration and settlement of America. One of many such incidents took place in 1493, when Christopher Columbus and his crew were first exploring the New World. When they departed from C diz and sailed down to the Canaries, they had an incredible landfall at Dominica, which became the navigating target which mariners would recommend for the next four centuries. To aim north meant the possibility of missing the strong trade winds, while to aim south was to risk hitting dangerous reefs.1
The location of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia can be cited as another example, either of incredible coincidence, or of divine providence. In spring of 1607, Captain Newport and the colonists with him sailed through the West Indies up the coast of America, and into the Chesapeake Bay. On May 14, after sailing about forty miles up the James River, they landed. Supplies were very, very scarce, and, in the beginning, there was only a 10% survival rate. John Smith, one of the members of the original seven-man council that governed the colony, was very provocative in his treatment of the Indians, whom he looked upon as savages. In disobedience to the directives of the other council members, he continually provoked the Indians. In view of these factors, it is surprising that the colony survived at all.
In the providence of God, however, the neighboring Powhatan Indians dealt very kindly in spite of Smith's hostility. Concerning the location of the Jamestown settlement, Peter Marshall and David Manuel have written:
Was it chance that guided the first settlers to Powhatan's domain on Chesapeake Bay? The East Coast was populated by some of the most hostile Indian tribes in all America. We have already seen the ferocity of the Seminoles, who kept the Spanish from any significant colonization of Florida. And inland to the north, the diabolical Iroquois precluded any thought of French or English settlement for many years. On Massachusetts Bay, the Massachusetts Indians were sufficiently warlike to discourage all but the most foolhardy, and south of them, the Narragansetts were equally fearsome. Seen from this vantage point, the entire East Coast of America seemed fairly to bristle with arrows and tomahawks. Any one of these tribes would have annihilated the little colony without any provocation whatever, let alone the outrages that Smith was routinely perpetrating.
Or was it the hand of a merciful God that had led them to perhaps the only place on the Atlantic seaboard at that particular time where there was any real possibility of their putting down roots? Powhatan may have been the only chief on the continent who would have put up with Smith's behavior, let alone shared his people's precious corn.2
Another miracle of divine providence took place in May of 1610, when there were only sixty starving settlers at Jamestown out of 480 who had been there the previous August. Thomas Gates and George Somers and their men arrived after being shipwrecked in Bermuda, but when they saw the terrible condition of the colony, they began to leave rather than use up their own provisions on these starving people. As they were leaving, however, Lord De La Warr arrived in a very large ship. At his command, everyone turned around and headed back to the settlement. According to Marshall and Manuel, "As soon as he set foot on that desolate, hated piece of land, he knelt and gave thanks to God for bringing them safely there and causing them to arrive in time to save all lives. . . . The extraordinary coincidence of timing was counted by the whole world as an act of Divine Providence."3 William Crashaw wrote of this incident:
If God had not sent Sir Thomas Gates from the Bermudas, within four days they had all been famished. If God had not directed the heart of that worthy Knight to save the fort from fire . . . If they had set sail sooner . . . Brachium Domini: this was the arm of the Lord of Hosts.4
New England was settled a few years later by both the Pilgrims, who were Separatists, and by Puritans. In Britain, the Puritans had wanted to see the Church of England purified much more thoroughly than it had been by the Elizabethan Settlement of 1563. They wanted a spiritually minded pastor in each parish who was able to preach, and end to clerical dress and an end to kneeling at the Lord's supper. For each parish, they wanted elders chosen to exercise discipline, and they wanted the ministers to be chosen by the people, rather than by a bishop. In fact, they wanted to abolish the office of bishop.
The Separatists had the same concerns, but they disagreed with the Puritans about reforming from within. They therefore separated from the Church of England, believing that each local church is self-sufficient.
The Pilgrims who established the Plymouth Colony in 1620 were Separatists. In 1628, non-Separatist Puritans founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony at Salem.
King James I of England had stated that he would force the Puritans to conform to the rules of the Church of England or he would "harry them out of the land." He made things so unpleasant that a congregation in Scrooby, England, south refuge in Leyden, in the Netherlands, in 1609. However, they did not feel at home there, and they found it hard to make a living in a foreign country. They saw their children "being drawn away by evil examples into extravagant and dangerous courses," so they decided to seek a new home in the New World. They sailed to Plymouth, England, and from there they sailed in the Mayflower to Cape Cod, where they arrived at Plymouth Rock toward the end of 1620.
These Pilgrims had a very strong faith in God, and believed that He was leading them to America so that they could practice purity in life and faith. They went through many very serious struggles, but their lives were also ordered by a series of very unusual coincidences which they recognized as the hand of God.
After the Mayflower arrived at Cape Cod, a sailing shallop was assembled for use to explore the inner coast of the bay and to find the right place for settlement. Those who went on the expedition had a skirmish with the Indians, but escaped harm:
Yet by the special providence of God, none of [the arrows] either hit or hurt us, though many came close by us on every side of us, and some coasts which were hung up in our barricado were shot through and through. So, after we had given God thanks for our deliverance . . . we went on our journey and called this place "The First Encounter."5
After a few days of exploration, there was a remarkable series of coincidences:
This was to be a day of discoveries, each more amazing than the one before. The first was that the little island they were on was in the middle of a perfect natural harbor, almost completely enclosed. The next was that the harbor was deep enough to take ships of twice the draft of the Mayflower.
They rowed the shallop across to the mainland, and their discoveries came in quick succession. The soil was rich and fertile. There was a gentle open slope that rose up from the water's edge which would afford an ideal place to settle, with excellent drainage and an open field of fire for muskets and cannon, in case they had to defend it. There were not one but four spring-fed creeks close at hand, with the sweetest water any of them had ever tasted. . . . On the hill a good twenty acres of ground had already been cleared and were ready to plant, though there were signs indicating that for some reason no planting had been done for several years.6
The Pilgrims later discovered that this area had been the territory of the Patuxets, a large, hostile tribe that had barbarously murdered every white man who had landed on their shores. However, four years before the arrival of the Pilgrims, a mysterious plague had broken out among them, and killed every one of them. The devastation had been so complete that neighboring tribes feared the area. The cleared land which the Pilgrims found therefore literally belonged to no one. Their nearest neighbors were the Wampanoags, fifty miles to the southwest. Their chief, Massasoit, had such wisdom that he ruled over several other small tribes in that area.
It happened that, just when they were needed, two English- speaking Indians, at separate times, came into contact with the Pilgrims. Samoset, a chief of the Algoniquins in Maine, had learned English from various fishing captains who had been exploring the coast of Maine. Squanto, another English-speaking Indian, had actually spent several years in Europe. A Patuxet, he found his way back to his native land only to find that his entire tribe had died of disease.
Because these Indians could act as interpreters, facilitating communication, a peace treaty was concluded with Massasoit, pledging mutual aid and assistance, which lasted for forty years and became a model for many that were made thereafter. Marshall and Manuel wrote:
Massasoit was a remarkable example of God's providential care for His Pilgrims. He was probably the only other chief on the northeast coast of America who (like Powhatan to the south) would have welcomed the white man as a friend. And the Pilgrims took great pains not to abuse his acceptance of them. On the contrary, the record of their relations with him and his people is a strong testimony to the love of Christ that was in them.7
Because Squanto formerly lived as a member of the Patuxet tribe where the Pilgrims settled, and because he had spent many years in Europe, he went to live with the Pilgrims. He once again found a purpose for life, after losing his entire family and tribe: he would teach the Pilgrims how to survive in the wilderness. According to William Bradford, Squanto was "a special instrument sent of God for their good, beyond expectation."8
Another example of the operation of God's sovereignty can be seen in the circumstances surrounding the reorganization of the New England Company into the Massachusetts Bay Company. The Puritans believed that the Kingdom of God could actually be built on earth, in their lifetimes. While they knew they were sinners, they were dedicated to living together in obedience to God's laws under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. All that was needed, they felt, was the right time, the right place, and the right people, provided they were willing to commit themselves totally.
In 1628, under King Charles I, William Laud became bishop of London and began persecuting English clergy who were Puritans. This brought about the Great Migration, and many Puritans decided to go to America. They wanted to remain loyal to the Crown and to the Church of England, but they wanted to be able to live in true obedience to God, and this was an opportunity to do so. Therefore, they arranged to reorganize the New England Company as the Massachusetts Bay Company. Marshall and Manuel wrote:
A new, enlarged charter was routinely processed through Parliament and presented for His Majesty's signature. But the King failed to notice that there was no mention of where the Company's meetings were to be held. He signed it and forgot about it. The wondrous timing of God can further be seen in the fact that, less than a week later, the King dissolved Parliament and took the reins of the country entirely into his own hands, thereafter jealously scrutinizing every document to ensure that his authority was in no way diminished!
The Bay Company's partners were privately jubilant. There was now nothing binding them to England, nothing to prevent them from moving to New England themselves--and taking their charter with them. Once removed from the suspicious eyes of Church and Crown, the Company could become a self-governing commonwealth with the charter as its carte blanche. Only now, they would be governed by the laws of God, not merely the laws of men.9
1 Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1942), pp. 404-405. 2 Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Light and the Glory (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1977), p. 95.
3 Ibid., p. 101.
4 George F. Willison, Behold Virginia (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1952), p. 120.
5 William Bradford and Edward Winslow, Morte's Relation, as quoted by Alexander Young, Chronicles of the Pilgrims Fathers (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1841), pp. 158-159.
6 Marshall and Manuel, p. 125.
7 Ibid., p. 132.
8 William Bradford, History of the Plymouth Plantation 1606-1646, ed. William T. Davis (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1908), p. 111.
9 Marshall and Manuel, pp. 154-155.