An essay by Gavin Finley MD
JOHN WINTHROP AND THE PURITAN DREAM OF A
SHINING 'CITY UPON A HILL'. THIS VISION OF A
JUST AND PIOUS 'NATION UNDER GOD' IS STILL
A MAJOR DRIVING SPIRIT IN AMERICA TODAY.
Whether we like it or not, the fact is that God is an important part of American life. This has been the case since the nation's early beginnings. As we proceed in this study it will become clear that there is a good historical reason for this. The Anglo-American Puritans, along with their separatist friends, the Pilgrims, have had a profound influence on America in times past.
The thesis of this series of articles is that in a spiritual sense the Puritans, (and the Pilgrims as well), are still around. In fact today's Puritans continue to be a major driving force in American society. Nowadays they go by another name. We call them the 'Christian Right'.
The Puritan heart desire, mindset and motivation is not hard to understand. The dream and vision is for a just and godly nation. This same heart desire, idea and motivation has been seen repeatedly in American politics. The Puritan voices we hear in America today come from activists still voicing their concerns from church pulpits, Christian media, and the halls of government.
Many American Christians, particularly the evangelicals and fundamentalists, are very concerned about the moral decline in America today. They are vexed about the clear facts that the nation seems to be drifting into paganism and 'secular humanism'.
We have heard these same concerns expressed before. These same dreams for a godly society, and a prosperous and successful one, were in evidence 400 years ago. They were voiced by the English and American Puritans of centuries past.
John Winthrop was a prominent early Puritan minister. He was one of 20,000 who came to America between 1620 and 1640. He clearly laid out the Puritan agenda in his memorable exhortation to the Puritans in 1630. As they prepared to sail out on their voyage to the New World he charged the early colonists with these words,
"....we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill,This "City upon a hill" was not the 'Holy City' the Children of Abraham and those friends of the Puritans, the Pilgrims, were seeking. It was not the future New Jerusalem John saw coming down from heaven and fully revealed in its ultimate glory. (Rev.21) But the American Dream was certainly tapping into the energy of that sublime vision of a perfect society. The shining city they saw was nothing less than a reflection and an image of the Holy City of God.
(and that) the eyes of all people are upon us.."
John Winthrop (1606-1676) was one of those early English Puritans who set sail for the New World. He was a wealthy landowner who provided valuable leadership in the early days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He served as governor for much of its early history.
Unlike the Pilgrims, Winthrop and the other Puritans who traveled to Massachusetts were not separatists. The Puritan heart back in those former times 400 years ago, as today, was to stay with the system, to work with it, and and change it from within. Rather than trying to flee the corruptions of a wicked world the Puritans had another plan for the English colonies in the New World. They hoped to establish in New England a pure church that would offer a model for the churches in England. This, they believed, would redeem and reform their English society on both continents, and turn things around for the better. In this selection we see below, John Winthrop offers religious and economic arguments in support of moving to New England.
As we weigh the words spoken by this early Puritan leader we can readily perceive that these people were not merely a company of demoralized refugees exiting from the harsh politico-religious realities of Europe. To be sure these were people in deep spiritual agony of soul. But out of this 'angst' would come a new chapter in history. It would be a new manifestation of Israel's 'Church in the Wilderness' (Acts 7:38). And out of that travail a new nation would be born.
The New World would become more than just a Puritan retreat or stronghold. This was an entirely new land. And it was situated an ocean away from their former miseries. Their new congregational church would be the life spring of a new English colonial society. The English colonies in the new World would then provide comfort and many new opportunities for other settlers who were now beginning to arrive. Their new Christian society would also provide a wonderful way station for their fellow Christians, the Pilgrims. And those other fellow travelers, yes even the 'strangers', those godless freethinkers, would be blessed as well. Secular humanists would have more wealth and freedom to please themselves living in a society alongside Biblical Christians than they would in a nation given to state ordained secularism such as France. A comparitive study of the French Revolution vs. American Revolution makes that fact abundantly clear.
The Puritans would be blessed in America. Their new nation would become established. And it would grow. Eventually, during the latter half of the 20th Century, it would become the lone superpower . As such it would become the strong voice and long arm of Western Christendom at the end of the age.
Those friends of the Puritans, the Pilgrim separatists, would be greatly blessed by their association with the Puritans. The Pilgrims would be greatly assisted in America in their evangelistic work. The Puritans and the Pilgrims would join together in a common cause. The Gospel would be preached, God's Word would be taught, and Christian missionaries would be sent out to the ends of the earth.
But there is more to this story than we know. At the climax of the age future Pilgrims will be shown great lovingkindness. They will be given inestimable assistance by America when the trials come at the end of this age. (Rev.12:14)
Nearly 400 years have now passed since the Puritans and Pilgrims set sail for the New World. Here in this passage below John Winthrop gives the reasons and the purpose for their epic and historic migration.
'REASONS FOR THE PURITAN MIGRATION' 1. It will be a service to the Church of great consequence to carry the Gospel into those parts of the world...& to raise a Bulwark against the kingdom of AntiChrist w[hi]ch the Jesuits labour to reare up in those parts.
BY JOHN WINTHROP (1606-1676)
2. All other churches of Europe are brought to desolation, & o[u]r sins, for w[hi]ch the Lord begins already to frown upon us & to cut us short, do threaten evil times to be coming upon us, & who knows, but that God hath provided this place to be a refuge for many whom he means to save out of the general calamity, & seeing the Church hath no place left to fly into but the wilderness, what better work can there be, then to go & provide tabernacles & food for her against she comes thither:
3. This Land grows weary of her Inhabitants, so as man, who is the most precious of all creatures, is here more vile & base then the earth we tread upon, & of less price among us then an horse or a sheep: masters are forced by authority to entertain servants, parents to maintain there own children, all towns complain of the burthen of their poore, though we have taken up many unnecessary yea unlawful trades to maintain them, & we use the authority of the Law to hinder the increase of o[u]r people....
4. The whole earth is the Lords garden & he hath given it to the Sons of men w[i]th a gen[era]l Commission: Gen: 1:28: increase & multiply, & replenish the earth & subdue it,...why then should we stand striving here for places of habitation...& in the meane time suffer a whole Continent as fruitful & convenient for the use of man to lie waste w[i]thout any improvement?
5...all arts & Trades are carried in that deceitful & unrighteous course, as it is almost impossible for a good & upright man to maintain his charge & live comfortably in any of them.
6. The fountaine of Learning & Religion are so corrupted as...most children (even the best wittes & of fairest hopes) are perverted, corrupted, & utterly overthrown by the multitude of evil examples....
R.C. Winthrop, Life and Letters of John Winthrop (Boston, 1864), I, 309-311
Here below is a YouTube video with some more modern perspectives on the dream of a "City upon a hill".
Here is the NEXT ARTICLE.
John Winthrop's City upon a Hill, 1630
Now the onely way to avoyde this shipwracke and to provide for our posterity is to followe the Counsell of Micah, to doe Justly, to love mercy, to walke humbly with our God, for this end, wee must be knitt together in this worke as one man, wee must entertaine each other in brotherly Affeccion, wee must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities, for the supply of others necessities, wee must uphold a familiar Commerce together in all meekenes, gentlenes, patience and liberallity, wee must delight in eache other, make others Condicions our owne rejoyce together, mourne together, labour, and suffer together, allwayes haveing before our eyes our Commission and Community in the worke, our Community as members of the same body, soe shall wee keepe the unitie of the spirit in the bond of peace, the Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us, as his owne people and will commaund a blessing upon us in all our wayes, soe that wee shall see much more of his wisdome power goodnes and truthe then formerly wee have beene acquainted with, wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us, when tenn of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when hee shall make us a prayse and glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantacions: the lord make it like that of New England: for wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us; soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our god in this worke wee have undertaken and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a byword through the world, wee shall open the mouthes of enemies to speake evill of the wayes of god and all professours for Gods sake; wee shall shame the faces of many of gods worthy servants, and cause theire prayers to be turned into Cursses upon us till wee be consumed out of the good land whether wee are going: And to shutt upp this discourse with that exhortacion of Moses that faithfull servant of the Lord in his last farewell to Israell Deut. 30. Beloved there is now sett before us life, and good, deathe and evill in that wee are Commaunded this day to love the Lord our God, and to love one another to walke in his wayes and to keepe his Commaundements and his Ordinance, and his lawes, and the Articles of our Covenant with him that wee may live and be multiplyed, and that the Lord our God may blesse us in the land whether wee goe to possesse it: But if our heartes shall turne away soe that wee will not obey, but shall be seduced and worshipp other Gods our pleasures, and proffitts, and serve them, it is propounded unto us this day, wee shall surely perishe out of the good Land whether wee passe over this vast Sea to possesse it;
Therefore lett us choose life,
that wee, and our Seede,
may live; by obeyeing his
voyce, and cleaveing to him,
for hee is our life, and
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