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The Lasting Spiritual Contribution of Pilgrim Robert Cushman

In December of 1621 Deacon Robert Cushman, the business agent for the Plymouth Colony, arrived in America on the Fortune. He had been on the Mayflower, but when the Speedwell was found unseaworthy he stayed in England. Even though he didn’t arrive on the Mayflower the Pilgrims demonstrated his importance by giving him an allotment of land with those who did.

Robert Cushman Monument - first printed sermon in America
Although Robert Cushman was buried in England, in 1858 a 25 foot granite memorial column was erected in his family’s honor on Burial Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

The Fortune arrived with some supplies but there were also more Pilgrims. Although they were welcomed, it put an immediate strain on the limited resources of the settlement. Cushman discovered what we all know, that the first year was one of hardship and tragedy. Although only two passengers died on the voyage to America, more than half of the adults died the first winter. In addition, some had left the colony and traveled to Virginia.

He brought sober news that those who financed the voyage were displeased and required the Pilgrims to sign an amended contract. Cushman convinced them to sign it and filled the Fortune with wood and furs to take back to England as an initial payment. He left his son Thomas with Elder Brewster, planning to return and settle there. The goods never made it as French pirates captured the Fortune and the passengers before they arrived in England. Cushman was taken prisoner but made it back to England with the signed documents a few months later. The amended contract greatly benefitted the Pilgrims with additional support from their financiers. He continued to represent the Pilgrims while preparing his return. He never made it back. He died in England in 1625 probably of the plague.

Cushman played a vital role in the business affairs of the Pilgrims in Leiden Holland as well as in England. During his short visit to America he would make a unique contribution of a spiritual nature. He was called upon to preach a sermon. Cushman was committed to the freedom of religion the Pilgrims’ espoused. In fact, he spent time in prison in England for his separatist religious beliefs. In 1619 he wrote a book about his experience called “The Cry of a Stone” which was critical of the Church of England.

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The title of his sermon is “The Sin and Danger of Self-Love Described in a Sermon.” Although Cushman did not have a formal education it’s clear that he was an educated man and knew the scriptures well. Although it is somewhat difficult to read for us today, it’s an excellent sermon with teaching and exhortation as to the danger of selfishness and how to live a godly, unselfish life. The sermon was first printed in England and later in America. Historians agree it is the first printed sermon in America.

The first sermon printed in America

I’ve copied the beginning of the sermon below. If you’d like to read the sermon in its entirety, you can find it here.  It is well worth the effort of working your way through it.

I am so delighted that I have a connection to Robert Cushman, my grandfather 13 generations back, who preached and lived a life of faith.

Robert Cushmans’ Sermon

1 CORINTHIANS, 10. 24.

The occasion of these words of the Apostle Paul, was because of the abuses which were in the Church of Corinth. Which abuses arose chiefly through swelling pride, self-love and conceitedness, for although this church was planted by Paul and watered by Apollos, and much increased by the Lord ; yet the sower of tares was not wanting to stir up evil workers and fleshly minded hypocrites, under a shew of godliness, and with angel-like holiness in appearance, to creep in amongst them to disturb their peace, try their soundness, and prove their constancy.

And this the Apostle complains of very often : as first, in their carnal divisions, chap. 1. then in their extolling their eloquent teachers, and despising Paul, chap. 4. Then in their offensive going to Law, before the heathen judges, chap. 6. Then in eating things offered to idols, to the destroying of the tender consciences of their brethren, chap. 8.

Then in their insatiable love feasts, in the time and place of their church meetings, the rich which could together feed to fulness, despising and contemning the poor, that had not to lay it on as they had, chap. 11. Finally in both the epistles, he very often nippeth them in their pride, and self-love, straitness and censoriousness, so that in the last chapter he willeth them again and again to prove, try and examine themselves, to see whether Christ were in them or not, for howsoever many of them seemeth, as thousands do at this day to soar aloft, and go with full sail to Heaven : yet as men that row in boats, set their faces one way, when yet their whole body goeth apace another way : so there are many which set such a face upon religion, and have their mouth full of great swelling words, as if they would even blow open the doors of heaven, despising all humble minded and broken-hearted people, as weak, simple, sottish, &c. -when yet notwithstanding, these blusterers, which seem to go so fast, and leave all others behind them, if like these glosing Corinthians, they carry affectedly their Own glory with them, and seem thus to stand for the glory of God. What do they else but join flesh to spirit, serving not God for nought, but for wages, and so serving their bellies, whose end will be damnation, except a speedy and sound remedy be thought of, which remedy is even that which our Saviour teacheth the rich young gallant, and which Paul here prescribeth, in willing them not to seek their own, but every man another’s wealth, which physic is as terrible to carnal professors, as abstinence from drink is to a man that hath the dropsy ; and it is a sure note, that a man is sick of this disease of self-love, if this be grievous to him, as appeareth in the man whom Christ bid sell that he had, and he went away very sorrowful, yet surely this vein must be pricked, and this humor let out, else it will spoil all, it will infect both soul and body, yea, and the contagion of it is such (as we shall see anon) as will even hazard the welfare of that society where self seekers and self-lovers are.

As God then did direct this Apostle to lay down this brief direction as a remedy for that evil in Corinth, so you may think it is by God’s special providence that I am now to speak unto you from this text : and say in your hearts, surely something is amiss this way : let us know it and amend it.

The parts of this text are two. 1. A Dehortation. 2. An Exhoxtation. The Dehortation, Let no man seek his own. Thev Exhortation, But every man another’s wealth.

In handling of which, I will first, open the words. Secondly, gather the doctrine. Thirdly, illustrate the doctrine by scriptures, experience and reasons. Fourthly, apply the same, to every one his portion.

The proper drift of the Apostle here is not to tax the Corinthians, for seeking their own evil ends in evil actions, but for aiming at themselves, and their own benefits in actions lawful, and that appeareth in the former verse, where he saith. All things are lawful, tf-c. viz. all such things as now we speak of, to eat any of God’s creatures, offered to idols or not, to feast and be merry together, to shew love and kindness to this or that person, &c. but when by such means we seek ourselves, and have not a charitable, loving and reverent regard of others, then they are unexpedient, unprofitable, yea unlawful, and must be forborne, and he that hath not learned to deny himself even the very use of lawful things, when it tendeth to the contempt, reproach, grief, offence and shame of his other brethren and associates, hatli learned nothing aright, but is, apparently, a man that seeks himself, and against -whom the Apostle here dealeth most properly…..

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Ward Cushman

My journey of faith started when I was nine years old when I realized that Jesus died and rose again to pay for my sins. At the age of thirteen I felt the call of God on my life for ministry.

I have been fortunate to work in the marketplace for over ten years and in full-time Christian ministry for over thirty years.

My passion is to teach God's Word in such a way that it is easy to understand and so that God uses it to bring about life change in those who hear it.

It is my greatest joy to see God work through me to produce fruit for His glory!