That this westerne discoverie will be greatly for thine enlargemente of the Gospell of Christe, whereunto the principals of the refourmed Relligion are Chefely bounde, amongt whom her [Majesty] principall. – Richard Hakluyt
As we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the American people, it is important to remember that behind great national movements in history there is often found the sword, the purse, pulpit and the pen.
The sword is the guardian and the final resort of free people against tyranny from within or oppression from without. The purse represents the financiers who subsidize the work of liberty. The pulpit proclaims the theological mandate for the mission. And the pen is the voice of influence and reason poised to rally men to noble action.
During the War for American Independence, the sword was courageously carried by George Washington, the purse was generously offered by John Hancock, the pulpit was militantly occupied by clergymen like John Witherspoon, and the pen of influence was artfully wielded by Thomas Jefferson.
In the case of the founding of America at Jamestown, all four of these roles were filled by unlikely, but remarkable individuals each united by a common vision to see America become a bulwark of reformation Christianity and a beachhead for Gospel evangelism.
John Smith was the sword. Rev. Robert Hunt was the pulpit. The men of the Virginia Company formed the purse. And an ordained Gospel minister, cartographer and prolific author named Richard Hakluyt was the pen.
Of the above individuals, no man had more influence on the founding of America as a distinctively Christian and English nation than Richard Hakluyt.
The great historian Samuel Eliot Morison observed that Hakluyt “did more than any other man of his generation to invigorate the efforts which eventually bore fruit in Virginia and New England.”
In his unique biography “Hakluyt’s Promise,” author Peter Mancall sums up the life mission of this relatively unknown but profoundly influential Founding Father of America by explaining that his purpose in life was “to advance the cause of reformed religion and enrich the realm and encourage colonization.”
Hakluyt’s writings reached the most influential leaders of his day with the urgent call that “the people of America crye out unto us their nexte neighboures to come and to helpe them, and bringe unto them the gladd tidinges of the gospell.”
It was Hakluyt who in 1584 presented his “Discourse on Western Planting” to Queen Elizabeth. There he argued that the principal reason for colonization in Virginia was the Great Commission of Holy Scripture:
Wee shall by plantinge there inlarge the glory of the gospell, and from England plante sincere relligion, and provide a safe and a sure place to receave people from all partes of the worlds that are forced to flee for the truthe of Gods worde.
As a keen observer of the history of exploration and overseas missions, Hakluyt noted that several efforts at colonization had failed precisely because they were not about God’s business. He argued that successful colonization presupposed that the advance of the Christian faith be a primary consideration. Hakluyt wrote that:
[I]f past attempts had not been led with a preposterous desire of seeking rather gaine than God’s glorie, I assure myself that our labours had taken farre better effecte. But wee forgotte, that Godliness is great riches, and that if we first seeke the kingdome of God, al other thinges will be given unto us, and that as the light accompanieth the Sunne and the heate the fire, so lasting riches do wait upon them that are jealous for the advancement of the Kingdome of Christ, and the enlargement of his glorious Gospell: as it is sayd, I will honour them that honour mee. I trust that now being taught by their manifold losses, our men will take a more godly course, and use some part of their goodes to his glory: if not, he will turn ther covetousnes to serve him, as he hath done the pride and avarice of the Spaniards & Portingales, who pretending in glorious words that they made their discoveries chiefly to convert infidelles to our most holy faith (as they say) in deed and truth sought not them, but their good and riches.
Hakluyt’s argument won the day. Jamestown would be a colony dedicated to the primary objective of Gospel evangelism.
Once authorized by the Crown to settle Jamestown, the Virginia Company adopted a charter in 1606 that would serve as the mission statement for the fledgling colony as well as the rule of law under God for the people. As a member of the body that would draft the Virginia Charter of 1606, Hakluyt’s dream became a reality as the following words became the law of the land:
We greatly commending, and graciously accepting of, their Desires for the Furtherence of so noble a Work, which may, by the Provience of Almighty God, hereafter tend to the Glory of his Divine Majesty, propogating of Christian Religion to such People, as yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God, and may in time bring the Infidels and Savages, living in those parts, to human Civility, and to a settled and quiet Government. …
Much has been said about the motivation for settlement at Jamestown, but the written record is the final arbiter of the truth. That record speaks with boldness and clarity. Herb Titus, former dean of Regent Law School puts it this way: “So, the express purpose and the only one written in the Charter, was to establish colonies in the new world as a Christian evangelical witness to the native peoples.”
And so it was that a simple scholar and preacher who would never see the soil of Virginia became the principal visionary behind the founding of America at Jamestown. This Founding Father should be remembered as “the pen” behind the birth of this nation in 1607.
Author Bill Potter sums up the story nicely:
Hakluyt believed that books could sway the English people to support colonization. To that end, he dedicated his life to that form of communication and prayed that God would use his words to expand His kingdom to the New World and beyond. He was a scholar par excellence who left the adventures to hardy, fearless and sometimes feckless souls who in the end got all the press and whose images adorn the history texts. Nonetheless, without the gifted and motivated translator and writer, the USA might stand for United Spanish America.
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