Four hundred years ago yesterday, the world changed for the better.
A cross was planted in the ground and a prayer was offered to heaven. The cross was planted literally, but it was also planted spiritually.
The event was the first landing of the Jamestown settlers. One hundred and four of them arrived at Cape Henry on April 26, 1607. We remember the event as the “First Landing,” but it might be better known as “Covenant Day” for America.
The rude wooden cross they stuck in the Virginia ground was more than an ebenezer of thanksgiving to God’s providence. In fact, it was an actual gauntlet thrown in the face of the enemies of Christianity. It was a legal and spiritual challenge to all comers that declared, “This land now belongs to Christ and His people.”
The man who stood with the colonists and directed his men in prayers to the Lord was the Rev. Robert Hunt, a man of impeccable character and heartfelt faith who was described by Capt. John Smith as “that honest, religious, courageous, divine.”
Hunt represented the heart of the mission of the Jamestown colony. The Virginia Charter of 1606 made it clear that while enterprise and prosperity were important goals of the colony, Gospel evangelism was the first mission of the settlers. Through his personal example, winsome dialogue, and spiritual leadership, Rev. Hunt worked to make this purpose for colonization a reality at Jamestown. He would take the message of covenant faithfulness to God, communicated so powerfully at the First Landing, and implement the principles supporting this covenant in the daily life of Jamestown.
When the settlers actually arrived at Jamestown, Rev. Hunt again walked his men to the shore and “gathered his flock around him without delay.” Here again, prayer was the first order of the day. Standing in their midst under the trees, Hunt declared for the first time in the Western world the solemn invocation: ‘The Lord is in His Holy Temple; Let all the earth keep silence before Him” (Habakkuk 2:20).
Each morning and evening, Rev. Hunt lead his people in the following prayer:
Almighty God, … we beseech Thee to bless us and this plantation which we and our nation have begun in Thy fear and for Thy glory … and seeing, Lord, the highest end of our plantation here is to set up the standard and display the banner of Jesus Christ, even here where Satan’s throne is, Lord, let our labour be blessed in labouring for the conversion of the heathen. … Lord, sanctify our spirits and give us holy hearts, that so we may be Thy instruments in this most glorious work.”
The First Landing was a public declaration before the heathens of the land and the angels of Heaven that the only hope for Virginia was in the Cross. The settlers knew that claiming the land and embracing this hope meant more than occupation. It meant Gospel conversions. The first evidence of these conversions came when a young Indian named Navirans embraced the Gospel and became the first Christian convert of Jamestown. Like Pocahontas, and later Chanco, these three former pagans became beloved members of the community and instruments of God for peace.
Without the message of the First Landing, and the principled efforts of Rev. Hunt, this covenant might have been forgotten in the early and tumultuous days of Jamestown. But it was not.
Today, Hunt is remembered as one of America’s true spiritual founding fathers and a heroic figure without whom our first settlement might have perished. He is memorialized at Jamestown Island in a beautiful memorial that carries the following inscription:
He preferred the service of God to every thought of ease at home. He endured every privation, yet none ever heard him repine. … He planted the first Protestant church in America, and laid down his life in the foundation of Virginia.
The wooden cross of Cape Henry is now gone forever – yet another artifact lost to the ravages of time. But the covenant established on that day remains binding. As we remember the 400th anniversary of the First Landing, our people would be well served to acknowledge that once upon a time Americans thought of themselves as a nation committed to the Savior of Rev. Hunt and all of the true believers gathered on that windy beach centuries ago. And as we consider our providential heritage, we would be wise to recall that there is yet hope for our nation if we embrace the principle found in the following Scripture:
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (II Chronicles 7:14)