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A Model of Christian Charity by Governor John Winthrop

A Model of Christian Charity by Governor John Winthrop


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Short Nonfiction Collection Vol. 024
by Various

A collection of short nonfiction works in the public domain. The selections included in this collection were independently chosen by the readers, and the topics encompass gardening, military history, humor, climate change, travel and religion.


A Model of Christian Charity by Governor John Winthrop - History

God has made people to occupy different social positions - some rich, some poor, some as rulers, and some to serve. This also means that people depend upon one another in society and, therefore, should be united in “bonds of brotherly affection.” People should uphold justice (God’s law as found in the Bible) and also be merciful toward one another, helping one another in times of hardship. People should be motivated by genuine love of one another, not just a desire to do their duty in giving to each other and in forgiving mistakes, as all are members of the community, which is the body of Christ. Winthrop argues that the good of the public/community must be placed above personal considerations and that those given a special commission from God have a great responsibility not to err: “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. . Beloved, there is now set before us life and good, death and evil, in that we are commanded this day to love the Lord our God, and to love one another, to walk in his ways and keep his Commandments and his Ordinance and his laws.”

Really interesting passage about love that first seems very heteronormative (Adam & Eve are meant for each other because they are complementary) but then lauds the love between David & Jonathan and Ruth & Naomi:

Demonstrates that laws about sex and gender in the MA Bay Colony will be based on Biblical law, which reflects the social customs and situation of the Hebrew people over 2,500 years before. I think the passage about love quoted above is interesting because it shows that homosexuality is historical - this is clearly not about same-sex sex (homosexuality), but it expresses same-sex affection very comfortably, in a way that might seem “suspicious” today but was clearly completely unproblematic at the time.


America's Forgotten Founding Father

The year is 1630, and a bearded man in dark clothing sits aboard the Arbella, a vessel bound for the shores of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He is studiously penning a sermon which he has entitled &ldquoA Model of Christian Charity&rdquo. This man and his sermon will go on to define the United States as we know it today, shaping the very soul of the nation for centuries to come. The author, however, will go on to fade into relative obscurity.

His name is John Winthrop. And he is America&rsquos forgotten founding father.

This is an excerpt from his sermon.

&ldquoWe shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies when He shall make us a praise and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, "may the Lord make it like that of New England." For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.&rdquo

The &ldquoCity Upon a Hill&rdquo section of Winthrop&rsquos speech is familiar to most Americans&mdashit was famously quoted by John F. Kennedy in 1961, and again by Ronald Reagan in 1980, and was continually alluded to, in various ways, by American presidents thereafter.

This founding image of America as a shining example, as a lighthouse for a world wracked by storm, is deeply embedded into the American psyche. It gave rise to American exceptionalism&mdashthe belief that America is inherently different from other nations, and that it has a unique mission to transform the world. It is a mindset that can be seen at work throughout American history, including through today.

But who was this man who founded not only the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but also the soul of a nation?

The Puritan

John Winthrop was born in 1588, the same year that the British Royal Navy devastated the Spanish Armada, effectively ending the reign of Catholic Spain and raising Protestant Britain up as the ruling European power.

Winthrop grew up in prosperous times as the son of a well-to-do land owner, and as a young man, he began to feel that England was in spiritual trouble&mdashits inhabitants were pursuing wealth at the cost of their holiness, the church was corrupt, and Puritans, like the intensely religious Winthrop, were being persecuted.

The Puritans&mdashwho called themselves &ldquothe Godly&rdquo at the time&mdashwere a group of religious reformers who intended to &ldquopurify&rdquo the Church of England of its Catholic practices.

One of the biggest differences between Puritans and the Church of England was that Puritans believed that everyone should be literate and able to read scripture for themselves. The Church of England used intermediaries, usually priests, between man and God.

Puritans also felt that the Church of England was far too ostentatious. The rich decorations, art, elaborate ceremonies, and music were all distractions that the Puritans felt encouraged materialism and worldliness.

But the Puritans were violently blocked from changing the Church of England from within, and were increasingly restricted by English law controlling the practice of religion. Because of all this, they sought to establish new religious settlements elsewhere where they could practice their own vision of Christianity in peace.

And in 1629, John Winthrop, now an attorney, agreed to lead them to America.

The Governor

On April 8 th of 1630, 11 ships left the English Isle of Wight, carrying Winthrop, around a thousand Puritans, and provisions for all. It was during this voyage that Winthrop wrote and presented his all-important &ldquoA Model of Christian Charity&rdquo.

Soon after landing in Salem, then-governor John Endicott handed over the governance of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to Winthrop.

From this point on, Winthrop was the shaping force of the colony, and despite an initially difficult winter that took the lives of over 200 colonists, he successfully laid the foundations for a flourishing colony. He had begun to create his &ldquoCity on a Hill," quickly becoming a father figure for the burgeoning colony.

Much of the success of the colony rested on Winthrop&rsquos temperate attitude&mdashhe understood that some disagreement amongst the colonists was inevitable, especially in religious matters. His inclination toward compromise helped to maintain social order in the colony.

But his influence didn&rsquot stop there. Because of Winthrop&rsquos Puritan belief in literacy, the Massachusetts Bay Colony enjoyed unprecedented educational opportunities, and because of his religious belief in the sanctity of discipline and hard work, the colony had no shortage of helping hands. In fact, Winthrop&rsquos idea that everything a person does, including business, is to be done for God, and to the best of one&rsquos ability, largely created what we know as the modern American work ethic.

Winthrop would go on to be elected governor several times between the years 1630 and 1648, each time striving toward what he saw as a better world, and a better way of life&mdashone radically different than that of England&rsquos. But even with this grand vision with its radical goal, Winthrop worked within traditional means in order to protect his colony from the dangers of extremism.

His was a vision that reached the heavens, but that was grounded in the earth&mdashjust what was needed for a successful colony in a harsh land.

The Legacy

Winthrop&rsquos &ldquoChristian Charity&rdquo message&mdashone that encouraged the colonists to &ldquolove one another with a pure heart, fervently&rdquo so that they could &ldquodelight in each other, mourn together, and suffer together&rdquo&mdashcreated an utterly unique sense of community that persists unto today.

That, together with Winthrop&rsquos idea of America as a chosen nation, bound by God to be excellent in all of its doings, made the nation what it is today. Although his influence has now been largely secularized, you can still see his fingerprints wherever you turn, and his enduring metaphor for America continues to guide and shape our nation.

&ldquoI think I can see the whole destiny of America contained in the first Puritan who landed on those shores.&rdquo


“Was America Born Capitalist?”: On John Winthrop’s “A Model of Christian Charity”


WAS AMERICA BORN capitalist? it is often asked. Ever since Max Weber proposed a causal relationship between early Protestants’ longing for order and rational control and the spirit of modern capitalism, the question has consumed the attention of generations of sociologists and historians. Weber’s ideal types were too abstract, it is now clear. The careful accounting and control of the self that the Puritans so conspicuously valued was only one of the cultural traits on which capitalist economies have thrived. Others, like the risk-taking and labor exploitation on which the tobacco and slave economy of early Virginia was founded, could be successfully capital-generative as well. Capitalism’s identifying features lie as much in its institutions of trade, property law, and labor as in the inner ethos that captured Weber’s imagination.

Measured in these ways, there can be no doubt that Puritan New England was a by-product of capitalism in its expansive, early modern phase. John Winthrop’s settlement arose within one of the great commercial empires of the early modern world. Unlike the Spanish conquest a century earlier, in which arms, expropriation of easily obtained wealth, and missionary zeal took the vanguard roles, the English colonization of the Americas was a merchants’ endeavor. Trading corporations — the Virginia Company, the Massachusetts Bay Company, the Providence Island Company, the Plymouth Company — undertook the work of settlement throughout British America, capitalized by investors’ purchase of their joint stock.

Economic transactions saturated the daily life of Winthrop’s New England as well. Private property in land was relatively easily sold and purchased. Production was primarily for markets: local markets for most New England farmers, long-distance markets in timber, fish, and grain for others. Debt, too, left its mark all across these money-scarce economies. Debt cases pervade the early records of the Massachusetts General Court, just as they saturated early modern English society, etching the economy with complex lines of trust, reputation, and obligation. The rules of lending, repayment, and loan forgiveness that Winthrop outlined in the long second section of his “A Model of Christian Charity” were, in the context of New England’s everyday economic life, anything but abstract.

Finally, the world the New England Puritans made was not only a world of trade and commerce but a world in which wealth was a sign of value. Wealthier men like Winthrop played a vastly outsized role in public affairs in the Massachusetts colony. Land distribution was sharply skewed in favor of the wealthy as well. A society without ranks and order, as the “Model” made clear, was no dream of the New England Puritans.

And yet, deep as their immersion in market institutions and presumptions was, early New England Puritans did not accept market morals whole. “A Model of Christian Charity” itself was born at a moment of high tension between commercial interests and social ends, when an investors’ quarrel over risk and lending had threatened to undo the Massachusetts settlement project before it had truly begun. Disputes over buying and selling erupted aboard the ships during the ocean voyage, and they did not go away thereafter. The concerns with self-love that Winthrop poured into his model of charity spilled over into every aspect of colonial New England life. To the extent that the “Model” stands at one of the foundation points of the American story, Winthrop’s concern to establish the proper place of markets within the moral imperatives of charity must be recognized to stand there, just as prominently, too.

Matters of price and commerce weighed heavily on John Winthrop in the winter and spring of 1629–’30 as many of the key phrases that he would rework in “A Model of Christian Charity” began to crystallize in his mind. Recruited as the Massachusetts Bay Company’s governor in late October as the head of a yet-unfunded expedition scheduled to sail on the first of March, he was immediately sucked into a whirlwind of business concerns. There were emigrants to be recruited if the project was to realize its envisioned scale. There were ministers who had to be persuaded to leave their settled parishes for a church order that was, as yet, anything but clearly defined. Artisans of many different sorts were needed. There were persons of wealth to recruit as well. There were ships to be hired and stocked with the beer, water, biscuits, and dried meat that the ocean voyage would require. Arrangements for the sale of his own lands had to be made.

“Our business comes so fast upon us here” in London, Winthrop found himself apologizing to his wife Margaret all through the winter, that he could scarcely predict when the occasions for the trips home that he longed for would arise. “In regard of business, which so take up my time and thoughts,” he wrote, he could not express his love “so largely to thee as I was wont to do.” He had six more letters to write that evening, he apologized to his “most sweet wife” on another occasion.

The most pressing point of business was the challenge of finding adequate capital for the enterprise. Like all the other English colonization ventures in the Americas, the Massachusetts Bay Company was organized as an investment corporation. Merchants with wealth and a special degree of tolerance for risk, both for God’s sake and for their own, had invested sums on which they anticipated return. For the first two years after its organization in 1628, the company had managed the work of a small community of settlers at Salem, supplying them with clothing, tools, provisions, arms, and the services of a resident governor, minister, and doctor, in expectation that trade in fish, timber, and beaver skins would repay their investments and allow the settlement to prosper.

But the first two years’ trial had not been a success. By the time that serious consideration began of reorganizing the company as a self-governing colony in New England, managed by its emigrants rather than its London-based investors, its capital stock was deeply in debt. Some of the supplies and cattle sent over had miscarried. Many of the servants (transported at extraordinary charge, a company report complained) had not proved as useful as expected. Trade had not been as profitable as expected. Not all those who had pledged to participate in the share offerings had actually done so. Altogether, an accounting in late 1629 concluded, fully one-third of the initial capital had been lost. The company’s governor alone was owed 1,200 pounds other primary investors were in similar straits. Before the seat of the company’s government could move to New England, separating its English investors from the management of their investments, some sort of reckoning would have to be made.

To read the minutes of the company’s meetings through the fall and winter of 1629–’30 is to find oneself tugged into a deeply contentious debate over what the initial investors were owed and how those debts might be made whole. A “labyrinth,” Winthrop would call it, that “infolded” them all. “The further we waded, the more difficulties we encountered.” Committees appointed to represent the interest of the company’s initial investors and the interest of those intending to emigrate wrote up position papers and debated at length. Tickets were sent to those who had fallen behind in their stock subscriptions imploring them to send their payments in. Panels of ministers were recruited as arbiters.

Finally, with the matter at a standstill, three options were placed before the company’s members. The first was that every shareholder agree to double his original investment — a fantastical scheme, given the risks, that was quickly rejected. The second was that the company fold up its affairs, selling off all its property, distributing what it could realize among its shareholders, and essentially abandoning the colony project. The third proposal was more realistic than the other two, but to many individual investors it was much more painful. It proposed that the capital stock of the company be reorganized, that the value of all existing shares be written down by two-thirds, and that a smaller group of undertakers assume control, pledging to pay the original shareholders back on their now sharply reduced value at the end of seven years. Without that debt forgiveness, without some act of self-sacrifice, the settlement venture would not move forward.

The matter was judged too weighty for an immediate decision. Three trusted ministers were summoned to the next meeting to help bring clarity to the deliberations. Finally on December 1, after “long debate,” the write-down of the shareholders’ stock values was approved. There would be more contentions and modifications before the fleet sailed in March. Land grants were authorized to help defray some of the losses of the original investors wrangles over the claims of particularly aggrieved shareholders were given over to arbitration after yet another “large discussion” in the company as a whole. But the agreement of December 1 was the turning point, when the investors agreed to forgive a significant part of the sums they had pledged for the sake of the larger good.

It fell to Winthrop, as the company’s new governor, to introduce the compromise proposal and, with it, the key phrases he would use again at the core of “A Model of Christian Charity.” He knew the debt-satisfaction proposal would “startle” some of those present, as Moses himself (Winthrop said) had sometimes been startled by things proposed to him. But he urged the reluctant investors that in sacrificing their claims to full repayment they would reenact, in modern time, the part that God himself had taken when he had fed and clothed the people of Israel as they journeyed into Canaan. You are the “root” of this project, the “family” from which it was derived, Winthrop urged. You are “the City, the greatest Church, etc.” The emigrants were only a “hopeful plantation.” But with this sacrifice on the investors’ part, the two would be “knit together in a most firm bond of love” and “affection.”

You have already given your money to God, Winthrop counseled the company’s members in his December 1 address. Of what advantage would it be to haggle over 100 pence or 50 pounds? For the sake of God’s glory and the plantation’s welfare, you should be ready “not only [to] lend it, but lose it.” And then came the line that Winthrop would rework just after the “city upon a hill” sentence in “A Model of Christian Charity”: “Consider your reputation, the eyes of all the godly are upon you, what can you do more honorable for this City, and the Gospel which you profess, than to deny your own profit, that we may say Londoners can be willing to lose that the Gospel etc.” This pattern of reuses from Winthrop’s appeal to the colony’s investors gives no clear-cut answer as to when Winthrop found the time for the “Model’s” final composition, but it leaves no doubt about the moral issue that initially stood at its center. Whatever else the “Model” would become, its initial occasion was commerce and, more pointedly, the pyramids of debt and obligation that a market economy opened up. Triggered by a deeply fraught meeting in London, its subject was the labyrinth where commerce and morality cut across, blurred, and confronted each another.

Winthrop’s fellow voyagers carried all these concerns with markets and morals, self-interest and the public good, directly into their new settlement. They absorbed the energy of the colony from the beginning. The prices men began to ask for labor were a particularly tender issue. From the beginning, the colony’s governing bodies followed their fluctuations with concern. Alarmed that carpenters, sawyers, bricklayers, and thatchers were taking advantage of the first summer’s building boom by inflating their wage expectations, the colony’s General Court ordered a ceiling on house builders’ charges in August 1630 it set them free again the next March, only to reimpose a maximum price per board on sawyers again in September. When wages surged once more in the fall of 1633, the General Court imposed a general scale of wages on artisans, agricultural workers, and common laborers before letting this, too, lapse when the demand for labor subsided.

Unexpected fluctuations in the prices of goods brought a similar response. Price legislation was a repeated reaction to sharp swings from the norm. Corn and beer were subject to price controls from time to time. In 1638 a committee of 29 of the colony’s leading figures was tasked with sorting out the general problem of “oppression” in wages and prices, though it failed to bring in the report it had been mandated to make. A more pointed order in 1640, when the emigration stream from England suddenly came to a halt and cash dried up in response, decreed that corn, wheat, and rye might pass as money at specified rates until accustomed conditions returned. In the meantime, when debts were to be satisfied, their no longer realistic nominal values would be subject to third-party arbitration, lest “a great part of the people in the country be undone.”

The arrival of ships with goods to sell, like the arrival of new emigrants with shelter and goods to contract for, added to the economic instability. In the general clamor of purchasers, prices inevitably shot far beyond their norms. At one point the General Court proposed that ship masters be required to lie at anchor until their goods were inspected and put up for sale to the local authorities as they were “judged to be useful for the country” before the rest were offered to the public. At yet another point, one of the colony’s prominent ministers raised the capital to purchase the entire provision load of an incoming ship for resale to the towns and thereby circumvent excessive profit-taking. John White, the prominent Puritan minister at Dorchester, urged Winthrop to make the practice general. Even though resistance from the merchants and ship masters frustrated most of these proposals, public concern with unfairly inflated prices persisted.

The notion that each good had a “just price” — a value divorced from the commercial relations in which it was embedded — was rarely enunciated in these debates. Even John Cotton, the most prominent of the early settlement’s clergy, thought the issue was not the abstract value of the thing but the sale of a good “above the current price, i.e. such price as is usual in the time and place.” But distortion of the customary price by uneven market power or distress posed a deep and pressing concern. A General Court decision on the proper rules for appraising cattle in 1641 made it clear that value was not to be judged by the “market price” by “which some are forced by urgent necessity to sell a beast for.” The source of a cow’s value lay in the expected return from the milk or calves she might produce minus the cost of hay “etc.” To charge more than that in the face of one party’s necessity or weaker market power, as we might now put it, was not exchange but “oppression” and “extortion.” “Covetousness” and “self-love,” Winthrop fumed in his journal, were being allowed to rule the terms of trade.

Buying, selling, and lending that trespassed into self-love were hardly distant matters for Winthrop. The second year of settlement was not over before Winthrop accused his deputy governor, Thomas Dudley, of “oppressing usury” by selling seven and a half bushels of corn to some of his poorer co-settlers in exchange for 10 bushels to be received after the fall harvest. Three years later, Winthrop himself was accused of mixing up his own goods and profits with the commodities he had received as governor from the common stock. Winthrop successfully defended his accounts, but in 1638 the General Court was still lamenting “novelties, oppression, atheism, excess, superfluity, idleness, contempt of authority, and troubles in other parts to be remembered.”

The most celebrated case of commercial oppression in the early years of the Puritan colony was that of Robert Keayne. A London merchant tailor who had settled in the new colony as a general trader in 1635, Keayne was not a man whom many of his Boston neighbors liked. He was a prodigiously pious Puritan. At his death he left behind not only the copious records of a lifetime of sermon note-taking but also his own four “great writing books” intended as an exposition of the whole of the Bible and its prophecies. He also left behind a considerable fortune, made in commercial trades of all sorts that many thought skirted the edge of oppression.

Indeed in 1639 Keayne was formally charged in court with over-pricing, taking a 50 percent markup on one sale and a 75 percent markup on another. He had not done more than others, Keayne protested. He had never forced a purchaser to pay more than she or he agreed to. If he had sometimes set off losses he faced on some trades by higher margins on others, if he had bought the button or bridle in question himself for far less than he sold it for, was that not the custom of trade? Was selling six penny nails for eight pennies a pound “such a crying and oppressing sin” that he should have been censored by the Boston church and fined the stupendous sum of 200 pounds by the General Court?

Winthrop took the side of leniency toward Keayne. Because some others had done as much as he did and because, “though much labor had been bestowed upon it,” the General Court had not been able to construct a clear and certain rule on the matter, an admonition against covetousness would have been the wiser course, Winthrop thought. But Winthrop meticulously recorded the rules of commerce that John Cotton laid out in the public sermon that Cotton preached in the immediate aftermath of Keayne’s trial. A person must not sell above the customary price that is, “such a price as is usual in the time and place,” Cotton admonished. If there were no specific regulation against it, merchants could raise their prices in the face of scarcity, Cotton admitted, for scarcity must necessarily come from the providence of God. But if a merchant faced losses due to his own clumsiness in trade, or because he had not turned a profit on other transactions, he could not charge beyond an item’s current worth without stepping over the line from a shrewd bargain into usury. That “a man might sell as dear as he can, and buy as cheap as he can” — the maxim that would become fixed centuries later in the idea of efficient, self-balancing markets — was a “false principle.” Adam’s sin, his temptation “to love and seek himself only,” as Winthrop put it in “A Model of Christian Charity,” cast its shadow all across the Puritans’ efforts to deal with the practical ethics of their economic life.

Facilitated by men like Robert Keayne, commercial exchange formed a vital part of early New England economic life. Buying, selling, and lending were everyday actions. Puritans did not resist these. But deep as their immersion in market institutions and presumptions was, they did not accept market morals whole. They refused to accept that trade should run along any natural course it took, that voluntary exchange was always an ethical act regardless of the power relations that stood behind it. By fixing prices and then, when the results disappointed, setting them free again by looking to custom to unknot questions of price and excessive profit-taking by exhorting their fellows against usury and oppression and by scapegoating an unpopular trader like Keayne, they kept up a running quarrel with the market relations in which they lived.

Over the course of the 17th century, these efforts to set moral bounds on economic relations weakened. Suits against economic oppression grew rarer in New England courts in the second half of that century. Looking farther outward for markets, Boston’s merchants immersed themselves more and more deeply in the Atlantic economy. Many proved highly successful overseas traders, whose ships fanned out across the North American coast, the Caribbean Islands, Africa, and Europe carrying goods and, in time, highly profitable cargos of human slaves. Boston’s learned ministers gradually softened their censorship of money lent purely for a contracted amount of interest without any productive object at its base. By the 19th century, to those outside New England, the term “Yankee” was more likely to denote an especially shrewd and clever trader than an honest and socially minded one.

But, attenuated though they were, the injunctions against covetousness and economic oppression did not wholly disappear. Nor, hemmed in and qualified though they became, did the demands of charity that had preoccupied Winthrop in 1630. To read “A Model of Christian Charity” seriously is to see it as rooted in an effort to enlist the power of capital in a venture for which profit, alone, was not incentive enough. It is to find self-interest in constant tension with the demands of the larger social good. It is to find oneself in a culture in which market relations, though they impinged on every aspect of life, were not to be fully trusted. Finally, it is to see within the lines of Winthrop’s “Model” not only early New England’s familiar characters, its merchants and farmers, ministers and church members, but others: the poor who lived among them.


What is the purpose of a model of Christian charity?

As the title of the speech suggests, "A Model of Christian Charity" deals primarily with the idea of giving to others in need. According to Winthrop, this is a cornerstone of the new community he and the other Puritans hope to build. For the wealthy colonists, charity is also a measure of their service to God.

Similarly, what is Winthrop's overall message in this sermon? The overall theme of the sermon is unity. The colonists are traveling to an untamed wilderness to create an entirely new society, so Winthrop stresses cooperation, as well as the virtues of faith in God's providence, mercy, and justice as necessary to success.

Similarly, what is the purpose of John Winthrop's sermon A Model of Christian Charity?

On board the ship Arabella, Winthrop delivered the following sermon, called &ldquoA Model of Christian Charity,&rdquo as a final dedication for the Puritans and their cause in the New World. Notice how Winthrop portrays their purpose in America as a divine mandate to serve as an example for the rest of the world.

When was a model of Christian charity published?

"A Model of Christian Charity" is a sermon by Puritan leader John Winthrop, delivered on board the ship Arbella on April 8, 1630 while en route to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, although it might have been preached at the Holyrood Church in Southampton before the colonists embarked in the Winthrop Fleet.


John Winthrop's A Model Of Christian Charity

English attorney John Winthrop represented the new gentry that had flourished under the Tudor regime, but despite his privileged position Winthrop became increasingly disenchanted with the oppressive and corrupt Stuart monarchy. A time when Charles I, a true believer of the divine right of kings, decided to rule without parliamentary consent, and imprison Puritan parliamentary leaders in 1629. Winthrop penned A Model of Christian Charity in response to his disillusionment on his way to New England on the Arbella in 1630, joining the first large contingent of Puritans who left England in order to establish the godly commonwealth. Leaving behind his lay life as a modest gentleman, ahead lay the wilderness and a vision that English circumstances had frustrated.It can be read, as can so many Puritan statements as "restorationist," that is envisioning a social order in New England that would recapture the serenity of a imagined English past of a well-defined place for all, with clearly understood and easily fulfilled obligations within the social hierarchy. It laid out the model for transition as Winthrop saw it, seeking.

There is only one brief reference to the Model of Christian Charity that has survived from the seventeenth-century occurring in a request by the Reverent Henry Jacie. In a letter written about February 1634 where he asks John Winthrop Jr. to obtain the Model of Charity, among other things. Subsequently there is no clear mention for two centuries, and no reference to anyone having heard it. Even so it was likely the Sermon was likely performed onboard the Arbella, facilitated by the close quarters. If they were educated men they may have understood that they were hearing a succinct statement on Protestant, and more particularly, Puritan teaching on the state and on man’s relationship to.


A Model of Christian Charity by Governor John Winthrop - History

Winthrop, J. (1630/1838). A modell [sic] of Christian charity. Collections of the Massachusetts historical society, 3rd series 7:31-48. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society.

John Winthrop's Model of Christian Charity - delivered on board the Arbella as members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony sailed toward the New World - describes the struggle of Puritans and their "errand into the wilderness." Their struggle? How can a group of outcasts who have a habit of quarreling with authority construct a strong society without fighting amongst themselves? As we will discover, public life in the Puritan era depended upon the manner through which contradictions in a "community of perills" are sustained through the use of the American Jeremiad.

Winthrop's sermon makes for difficult reading, but it's worth the effort. As Sacvan Bercovitch writes, "Winthrop's address comes down to us as a cultural artifact, an integral part of our national legacy, and the city it envisions at its climax is a key to the social-symbolic game through which the United States has perpetuated itself as America" (n.p.). Following a brief background discussion of John Winthrop, I will outline three paradoxes illustrated by the sermon to sustain Puritan public life: (1) a body politic must maintain difference among its members to ensure community, (2) worldly activities such as the acquisition of money can serve spiritual ends, and (3) stable public life depends upon some exterior threat to its existence.

John Winthrop (1588-1649) was governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony - a group of entrepreneurs who left Europe in search of trade opportunities in the New World. Like most members of the Colony, Winthrop was a Puritan. This group claimed that the Church of England was corrupted by selfish leaders and petty squabbles. In contrast, Puritans envisioned an idealized community in which all citizens would focus their lives on the word of God. Ironically, the Puritans' almost single-minded pursuit of a perfected society based on biblical teachings resulted in impressive success in secular affairs.

This success is often explained by the so-called "Puritan Work Ethic" - the ability to sacrifice personal ambitions for larger goals. Puritans also believed that they could be a blessed people - chosen by God to set an example for others. As a corollary, they preached that God's wrath would fall swiftly upon a people who strayed from His divine path. In this case, Puritan society must be unified - public life and all its manifestations must act as a single individual seeking God. This religious approach is quite different than the one described by More's Utopia, marked by its religious tolerance. As you read the sermon and this summary material, consider the rhetorical strategies employed to construct a community in which oppositional forces - individualism and community - must be balanced.

Difference within the Body Politic

Winthrop's sermon begins with a seemingly innocuous question: why are some people rich while others are poor? Many readers assume that the Puritans were simply another group of rich white men trying to form a powerful central government. However, some respondents propose that theirs was a radical notion of public life where faith, not social ranking, could unify an entire people. As usual, one should recall that even the Puritans made a habit of dispatching individuals who, despite their faith, challenged the new state. Similarly, the presence of servants among the mostly well-to-do Puritans indicates some distinction among persons, even in this idealized community. Winthrop states that difference among people (wealth being merely one unit of distinction) is ordained by God for three reasons.

  • Diversity among people allows for a variety of ways in which God may be honored.
  • Acts of kindness by the rich toward the poor - and a spirit of obedience by the poor toward the rich - further manifest the spirit of ideal public life.
  • Common need among individuals with different qualities - shared struggles from different stations in life - is necessary to society.

A key implication of this third statement is that all people should view their life's circumstances as the product of God's will. Thus no one should take excessive pride or distress in their identity it is part of a larger plan than could possibly be designed by human hands: "noe man is made more honourable than another or more wealthy &c., out of any particular and singular respect to himselfe, but for the glory of his creator and the common good of the creature, man" (p. 1). Perhaps, from this perspective, the worldly acquisition of higher station is acceptable in Puritan life - as long as this self-improvement is defined as a manifestation of God's will.

Wealth in a spiritual society

The role of the individual in relation to the state continues to guide Winthrop's sermon as he anticipates another problem: what is the extent of our duty to others, both within and beyond our community? Do we have a spiritual obligation to serve the poor - even if that results in our becoming poor? Certainly, he sympathizes with the objection that one must first serve the needs of one's family before helping others. In this way (and in many others), Winthrop offers a different philosophy than Plato who, in Book Five of The Republic, displaces the family from his communist public life. Ultimately, however, Winthrop concludes that excessive wealth leads our hearts away from God and toward the sin of pride and its social ramification, disregard for social needs.

Is wealth, therefore, a bad thing? Certainly not, according to Winthrop. He has already established that some wealth can reflect the glory of God and that it should be maintained to help one's family. He also expands the role of wealth to its potential use for the good of the religious state: "the Lord lookes that when hee is pleased to call for his right in any thing wee haue, our owne interest we haue, must stand aside till his turne be served" (p. 2). Finally, he concludes, that one must share one's wealth with others - even if they cannot repay their debts to you. Note the paradox: a religious community seeking wealth in the New World must justify its actions somehow. If a person's individual wealth is redefined as part of a symbolic storehouse for the common good, then personal profit might be acceptable in the Puritan society. Public life must therefore be strong to accommodate and justify the original motives that led many to the New World.

This public life rests upon an interesting relationship between wealth and love. Members of the Puritan society must love one another, turn to each other, and be willing to give freely of their gathered riches. This love is not manifested by ideals alone mere warm feelings are not enough. One must manifest love toward community through works and sacrifice. To the contemporary reader, this notion of love may seem quaint, an emotional fancy. However, Winthrop claims that emotions, not logic alone, are necessary for this ideal community:

However, this notion of love serves more of a public role than that "love" celebrated in contemporary society. Love, according to Winthrop, unites the body politic as ligaments unify the human body:

Members of this society united by love (which to Winthrop is the ever-present deity) must be willing to sacrifice for each other - even if that sacrifice must include their wealth or their lives. But how might individuals practice this supreme sort of love? Winthrop notes that Adam, after all, left God's presence for his selfish transgression. All individuals since his Fall manifest the same sin. Yet, they may be redeemed if, despite their material differences, they manifest the same spirit. Winthrop illustrates this notion by describing the love of a mother for her child. The infant, a separate individual, is recognized as being of the same flesh as the mother. So are all people the same spirit in Puritan public life. The rewards of this love far outweigh any economic price that must be paid to maintain this community.

Risk and the stable society

The discussion of money may have seemed strange to his audience who, despite their relative wealth, faced a seemingly uncivilized land where wilderness must be cleared, homes must be built, and fortifications (against the aboriginal inhabitants of this "New World") must be secured. Indeed, the bulk of Winthrop's sermon concerns a community in almost perpetual danger - natural and human threats from outside and an admittedly sinful and fractious group within. Toward the end of his sermon, Winthrop attempts to relate his teachings to those practical concerns: a group of people brought together for various reasons hopes to profit from the New World and seeks to escape religious persecution in Europe. They must cling together in a time of troubles.

To foster the unifying love necessary for this public life, a government that addresses both the secular and spiritual sides to this community must be formed. This government, like those of Plato and More, must have certain powers over its citizens, since "care of the publique must oversway all private respects, by which, not only conscience, but meare civill pollicy, dothe binde us" (p. 5). Such a public life cannot be manifested in symbolic acts such as weekly church attendance it must be witnessed in everyday life. Like a contract, this social covenant cannot be broken without risking the wrath of God. Failure to build this ideal community would be a shipwreck - a powerful metaphor, given the location of this address.

Winthrop contrasts that shipwreck with his vision of public life that has woven itself into the discourse of America: "wee must consider that wee shall be as a citty upon a hill" (p. 6). This holy city, this New Jerusalem, restates Christ's statement in Matthew 5, verse 14: "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid." Like all public ideals, this new Boston does not exist and can never be realized. It is a contradiction of opposites whose tension both sustains and justifies Puritan society. Bercovitch explains:


CRITICISM

Rick Kennedy

In the following excerpt, Kennedy explores the broad and lasting resonance of Winthrop's "A Model of Christian Charity" speech.

In the spring of 1630, John Winthrop composed and delivered one of the most famous speeches in American history, "A Model of Christian Charity." Winthrop was the head of the Massachusetts Bay Company, a corporation that organized a crossing of the Atlantic to establish an English colony. His goal, at its core, was simple. He wanted to create a society out of towns that were economically, politically, and religiously prosperous thereby, being a model to the world. Adopting an image used by Jesus, his colony was to be a "City upon a Hill" where "the eyes of all people are upon us." Although initially delivered as a speech, "A Model of Christian Charity" was subsequently printed as an essay and widely distributed.

The idea of a watching world may seem a bit egomaniacal however, a bigger world than Winthrop ever imagined has continued to watch for 370 years. Popular histories of Winthrop's company began to be written within a half century. Within another century, English Whigs and American revolutionaries were regularly referring to the motives and actions of the Puritan migration as they questioned the relationship between England and her colonies. In the nineteenth century, the world really was watching America, and Winthrop's speech came to be thought of as prophecy. In the early twentieth century, Puritan studies became a major cottage industry at American universities, and interest in Puritan society and culture has continued throughout the century. Ronald Reagan, in his first inaugural address as president, quoted Winthrop's famous sentence: "For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us."

The Puritans of Massachusetts Bay, next to our national Founding Fathers, are probably the most highly studied and talked about group of people in American history. If we consider this, Winthrop and his Puritans are more a city on a hill now than they were then. In this light, it behooves us to look at the "Model of Christian Charity" and see what is in it and in the Massachusetts Bay Company's implementation of it that has such lasting power.

In 1629, Winthrop sold his village and joined with a network of Puritan friends, many of them connected through Cambridge University, in purchasing stock in the Massachusetts Bay Company. Winthrop set sail aboard the Arbella and reached Salem in June 1630. As the stockholders of a company to set up a community in America, Winthrop and his friends regained an extensive amount of economic, political, and religious independence.

The stockholders elected the forty-one-year-old Winthrop their governor. Hundreds of farmers and trades people joined the expedition as workers—many of them people who had previously rented from or worked for the stockholders. At this time Winthrop composed his "Model of Christian Charity." Although much would later be said about the motivation for religious freedom that spurred the Puritans to this moment, the essay itself is just as much about politics, economics, and specifically the need to reclaim local autonomy and responsibility against the centralizing tendency of the king.

The greatness of Winthrop's essay, and the Puritan migration in general, is that, though Winthrop and the Puritans sought to regain lost freedom, they succeeded in doing so much more with the freedom they gained than they ever would have been able to do in England even if they had never lost their Elizabethan freedom. The call of Winthrop's words and the actions he led in Massachusetts far exceeded any selfish attempt of a threatened owner of a village to gain control of a new village.

The conclusion of "A Model of Christian Charity" is the most important part of Winthrop's essay. "It rests now to make some application," he declared. First, those who claim to be Christians should be "knit together" in a "bond of Love." Second, church and town governments must work together and the public good must "oversway all private respects." Third, the goal is "to improve our lives, to do more service to the Lord." Fourth, and most significantly, "Whatsoever we did or ought to have done when we lived in England, the same must we do and more also where we go."

Winthrop declared a contract between the Puritans and God. God has "ratified" the contract and further commissioned the Puritans to get to work. God, Winthrop threatened, "will expect strict performance." Given this threat, there is only one way to success: "to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God."

It is in this context that Winthrop then closes with the "city upon a hill" line. But note that the line is in the context of failure not success:

For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be a by-word through the world.

With such a speech about such a contract and such a commission, how could anyone expect Winthrop and the Puritans to succeed? In fact, they did not succeed—in the long run. In his own diary, Winthrop reported the frustrations and failures. "As the people increased," he wrote twelve years after arriving in New England, "so sin abounded."

But early on, Winthrop and his company made an heroic effort to succeed. The story of the initial implementation of Winthrop's speech makes it amazing that he did succeed. Winthrop turned his directorship into an annually elected position. Voting was extended more widely among the people than ever before in England. Renters became landowners. Rich people took less than what they could have demanded. Local government was given autonomy. Ministers restrained their political power. Public education was ensured to all children. Virtuous economics was encouraged and price-gouging punished. Surely anyone watching had to admit that the Puritans used their increased freedom to do more political, economic, and religious good in America than was ever possible in England.

We must understand that Winthrop and the Puritans were not egalitarian, but they did believe in community responsibility. Winthrop's "Model of Christian Charity" begins with the simple distinction that there are two ranks of people: the rich and the poor. When giving out land, the Puritans tended to give the people who had been richer in England a little more than the formerly landless. The Puritans did not want to undermine social distinctions. Responsibility was what they were after, not equality. In his speech, Winthrop offered several biblical precedents for "enlargement towards others, and less respect towards our selves and our own right."

Here again, we must see the reality behind the rhetoric of Winthrop's call to do "whatsoever we did or ought to have done when we lived in England, the same must we do and more also where we go." Only this way could the Puritans "improve our lives, to do more service to the Lord." Winthrop wanted everyone in Massachusetts to start "rich" and not "poor." Being "rich" he defined not by estate and servants, rather by the ability "to live comfortably by their own means." The Puritan contract with God needed everyone to have such basic comfort so that they could be "knit together" and spend their days improving Massachusetts instead of worrying about subsistence.

The city on a hill as preached in "A Model of Christian Charity" was not a utopia. Utopias usually depend on the behalf that human nature is good and that a bad environment is what keeps most societies from attaining purity. The Puritan city on a hill was a republic of Christian voters gathered in towns and churches where individual sinfulness could be inhibited by peer pressure. Puritans believed in the inherent sinful-ness of individuals and had no illusions about their colony attaining purity.

Using the language of later founding fathers, Winthrop wanted to create a "more perfect" society. As he said in the speech, he wanted to take the politics, religion, and economics of village life in England and make it better. The end product would be a model to the world.

An often-stated irony about the Puritans is that they wanted religious toleration for themselves but refused to extend it to others. While this is superficially true, we should recognize that Winthrop's speech never said anything about religious liberty or toleration. Winthrop's speech was about knitting together people into a web of politics, religion, and economics with underlying assumptions about education. The Puritan creation of a loose republic rooted in independent towns and churches established the web. Those who refused to fully participate in the web were punished in much the same way English towns punished those unwilling to abide by the social contract.

In 1680, more than a half-century after the founding of the colony, England imposed religious toleration on Massachusetts and demanded that voting no longer be restricted to church members. But the loose town and church structure of the commonwealth was becoming too loose anyway. Success was killing them. As Winthrop noted early: "As people increased, so sin abounded." Too many people wanted to come to the city upon a hill, thus turning it into nothing more than a dynamic English colony. When English imperial policy demanded a break between church membership and the right to vote, the key innovation of the city upon a hill was destroyed. What was left was just the shell of Winthop's model.

But even the shell of the plan has long been influential. By the time of Samuel and John Adams in the 1770s, towns remained the most powerful force in Massachusetts politics. Calling a "town meeting" is still a catch-phrase of participatory democracy. A good case could be made today that it is not Winthrop's speech that is important in American history rather, it is simply the line about being a city upon a hill. That our town-based, participatory democracy should be exported to the rest of the world.

On the other hand, the deep ideas contained in the "Model of Christian Charity" and their implementation in colonial Massachusetts are inspiring. John Winthrop and his fellow stockholders led one of the greatest events in American history. A small band of rich Protestant men voluntarily diminished their own power in order to launch a social experiment they hoped would inspire the world.

Source: Rick Kennedy, "Building a City on a Hill," in Events that Changed America Through the Seventeenth Century, edited by John Findling and Frank Thackeray, Greenwood Press, 2000, pp. 59-69.


Winthrop Summary Christian Charity

A Model of Christian Charity is a sermon by John Winthrop. He gives this sermon aboard the Arbella in 1630. John Winthrop began his and his Christian's journey with words for guidance and inspiration. He starts his sermon by stating that God created the rich and the poor. He created them for different reasons, in order to manifest his exertion in the areas of mercy, love, gentleness, faith, patience and obedience. Religion is used as a way of connecting with the Puritans. He also uses references from the bible to prove his points. He talks about how God has created the three laws, and how if you follow them you will be a good Christian. He also talks about why justice and mercy are important in a high-quality society. He talks about the laws, including the law of nature, the law of grace, and law of gospel. In this sermon Winthrop tells us how to create a Christian society with love and guidance.

He tells us the three laws. In the first law he wanted to show variety, so that God can be honored and praised by different people in different ways. He can distribute his gifts to variety of people in diverse ways. Second, the rich and the poor help each other. The rich won’t mistreat the poor in that case the poor won’t rebel. With the riches and the poor in one society there will be diversity. His third reason was that people need each other to create unity and peace. Winthrop wants the Puritans to love each other, and help each other. With each other’s help they can get through anything. God created these social classes so that they can all help each other in need, and become a better society.

There are two rules he states which are Justice and Mercy. He states that mercy is for the rich if in any suffering, or if they need any aid. Justice to the poor for any contract or treaty. John Winthrop asks what the puritans.


A Model of Christian Charity by Governor John Winthrop - History

by Daniel T. Rodgers (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018)

&ldquoAs a City on a Hill.&rdquo Depending on your temperament you find the phrase inspirational or empty. Either way you know it because it is so familiar, as woven into the very fabric of the American idea as &ldquowe the people&rdquo and &ldquoall men are created equal.&rdquo

The story goes like this: In 1630, as a brave and beleaguered collection of English Puritans ventured to their destiny on the tiny ship Arbella, their leader John Winthrop delivered a soul-stirring sermon in which he invoked that biblical vision to steel his shipmates and give the whole enterprise a providential purpose. That scene is part of the American origin story, central to our national creed.

Except that it isn&rsquot. As Daniel Rodgers summarizes: &ldquoMost of this is a modern invention and much of it is wrong.&rdquo

With that shot across the bow, Rodgers proceeds in a series of short but masterful chapters to trace the history of the phrase&mdashand &ldquoA Model of Christian Charity,&rdquo the larger &ldquosermon&rdquo from which it came&mdashin American culture from the 17th century to the present.

Without being glib about it, much of what he finds is not very much. &ldquoA Model of Christian Charity&rdquo was written as part of the political and religious debates swirling in the world of Reformation England. It doesn&rsquot really envision a future utopian experiment across the Atlantic. Further, there is actually no evidence that Winthrop&rsquos fellow passengers heard (or read) the essay as they made their way across the ocean. For his part, Winthrop never used the phrase &ldquocity on a hill&rdquo again.

Besides, divine purpose was not the exclusive domain of the Puritans. Lots of other settlers across the North American continent in the 17th and 18th centuries saw themselves as &ldquoChosen People&rdquo too, enacting their own holy experiments. Perhaps foremost among those, if we are looking for American origin stories, was William Penn&rsquos Philadelphia. Quaker Philadelphia, it has always seemed to me, foreshadows what the United States would become more than the Puritan outpost of Boston. After all, Thomas Jefferson called Penn &ldquothe greatest law-giver the world has produced.&rdquo He never mentioned Winthrop.

Jefferson was not alone among the Founders who ignored, or simply did not know, Winthrop&rsquos &ldquoModel of Christian Charity.&rdquo The essay&mdashI call it that because as Rodgers notes applying the term &ldquosermon&rdquo is problematic&mdashdid not circulate, was not re-printed, and seems not to have influenced the debates over independence or the Constitution. Whatever else they thought they were creating when the Founders shaped a constitutional republic, it was not a city on a hill.

Ditto across the 19th century, even as Americans shaped and re-shaped the meaning of the nation. In a particularly splendid chapter, Rodgers describes the single instance when the phrase &ldquocity on a hill&rdquo had real resonance and ironically, it was back across the Atlantic. The former slaves who founded the nation of Liberia invoked the phrase &ldquowith particular exuberance.&rdquo In fact, Rodgers has discovered, &ldquofor three centuries after its writing. . .&lsquoA Model of Christian Charity&rsquo lay out of sight, virtually invisible as a cultural reference point.&rdquo

Add 300 to 1630 and we arrive in the 1930s. At that point, &ldquoA Model of Christian Charity&rdquo began to escape the history books. It wasn&rsquot until after the Second World War that the essay, and New England more broadly, was moved from the periphery of the American story and toward its center.

The key figure here is Harvard professor Perry Miller. In his magisterial work The New England Mind, Miller took Puritanism seriously as a set of ideas&mdashcomplicated, complex, and in many ways distant from us today&mdashbut worth reckoning with nonetheless. As part of that project, Miller brought &ldquoA Model of Christian Charity&rdquo out of obscurity and into the scholarly conversation.

From Miller to University of Chicago historian Daniel Boorstin and Yale historian Edmund Morgan to President John F. Kennedy, Winthrop&rsquos &ldquoA Model of Christian Charity&rdquo found a new life in Cold War America. And with Kennedy, the &ldquocity on a hill&rdquo metaphor jumped from the academic world into the political discourse. Once the phrase became part of the civil religion, no one made more use of it than Ronald Reagan.

Reagan first invoked the &ldquocity&rdquo as governor of California in 1969-70 and once he started using the phrase he couldn&rsquot stop, first on the campaign trail and then as president, even if his speech writer Anthony Dolan confused John Winthrop with Joseph Warren, who then became &ldquoJoseph&rdquo Winthrop.

Today, of course, you can&rsquot run for any office without working the &ldquocity on a hill&rdquo into a stump speech. If it has started to feel a bit clichéd, then Rodgers adroitly demonstrates that in moving into popular usage the &ldquocity on a hill&rdquo and &ldquoA Model of Christian Charity&rdquo have been extraordinarily simplified.

Beyond the now-remote theology in the essay, much of it&mdashas its very title suggests&mdashis about the necessity of mutual obligation. &ldquoWe must love brotherly without dissimulation,&rdquo Winthrop wrote, &ldquoWe must not look on our own things, but also on the things of our brethren.&rdquo That bit has been forgotten by those who have tossed Winthrop&rsquos memory around so loosely.

Simplified and clichéd, Winthrop&rsquos phrase has become central to a certain conception of American &ldquoexceptionalism,&rdquo a vague and vaporous idea that the United States has pursued a divine errand into the wilderness and thus occupies a singular place among nations.

In his delightful As a City on a Hill, Rodgers has demonstrated that Winthrop&rsquos words simply do not and cannot bear the ponderous weight they have been asked to bear. Here&rsquos hoping that some of those exceptionalists will read this book and let Winthrop rest in peace.


Watch the video: John Winthrop - A Modell of Christian Charity (October 2022).

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