The Puritans, Part 4

Phil Jensen


PilgrimsAt the end of part three I introduced John Winthrop’s sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity.”  It was a message that would be as well known among the Puritans as the Gettysburg address has been for us.  I began with Winthrop’s analogy in which God is compared to a great king having many stewards, dispensing gifts to man by man.  This obviously means we are all stewards.  No matter what station in life we have, we have all been given what we have in terms of position and possessions for the purpose of serving God by helping others.

With this in mind, notice the king counts himself more honored if He uses His stewards to dispense gifts to man by man, than if he did by His own immediate hands. This obviously means we are not dispensing gifts on our own.  God is using us.  Since God is using us, the gifts are actually coming from Him, not us. Even though we have different positions in society and have different possessions, we are just acting on the king’s behalf, carrying out the king’s will.

Notice what happens when we do this.  Notice what happens when, acting on God’s behalf, we use our position in society and our possessions to carry out God’s will by helping others?  We “show forth the glory of His wisdom in the variety and difference of His creatures.”  In other words, when people with different stations in life, people who have different resources available to them, use what God has given them, to help each other, it brings glory to God’s wisdom in that He created them with those differences with that in mind.

Rick Kriebel 2016


Let me give you an example.  Queen Victoria’s prime minister, Lord Palmerston was crossing Westminster Bridge one day when a little girl ahead of him dropped a jug of milk.  The jug broke into fragments, and she dissolved into tears.  Palmerston had no money with him, but dried her tears by telling her that if she came to the same spot at the same time the next day, he would pay for both jug and milk.

The following morning he was in a high level cabinet meeting when he remembered his promise to the little girl.  He dashed out and gave the girl the money and returned to the meeting.

Notice here, Lord Palmerston and the little girl surely represented the variety and difference of God creatures, for Lord Palmerston was the prime minister of England, and the little girl was a poor girl for whom the loss of a jug of milk was devastating.  Yet like a great king with many stewards, God was using two of his stewards to dispense gifts to each other. Lord Palmerston gave the girl the money she needed, and the little girl was used by God to give Lord Palmerston the honor of helping a little girl who desperately needed replace a jug of milk.

Woodrow Wilcox


Who arranged for Lord Palmerston to be crossing Westminster Bridge just behind the little girl when she dropped her jug of milk?  The Lord arranged it, for the steps of a man are from the Lord.

Therefore, who gets the glory?  The Lord does.  The Lord is the one who not only was using His wisdom to work through the variety of His creatures, but was also using His power to order what was going on in Lord Palmerston’s life,  and what was going on in the little girl’s life, so that they could be of help to each other.

Since all of us who have put our faith in God’s Son are stewards helping one another, we are all involved in dispensing gifts to man by man.  But as we all seek to help others, we are not just dispensing gifts to man by man for the purpose of helping a little girl with her milk jug.  It goes further than that. God’s concern is not only for our individual needs, but for carrying out the mission of the whole group as they seek to build the kingdom of God on earth. This means God is concerned about the preservation and good of the whole, not just individual parts.

This is why God was concerned with all of the needs of the Pilgrims, and explains why He arranged to have Squanto ready to help the Pilgrims when they arrived at Plymouth.  This is why He was concerned with everything pertaining to the mass migration of the Puritans from England to the Massachusetts bay area. This explains why He arranged to have the charter processed through parliament before King Charles dissolved parliament, and why He was able to get the charter signed by the king without him noticing there was no mention of where the Massachusetts Bay Company’s meetings were to be held, and why He provided the Puritans with men of wealth and leadership like John Winthrop and his partners who could fund such a migration and provide the leadership that was necessary.

Notice to bring about such a great effort involved the coordination of lots of events in the lives of many different people. The ordering of all of those events was something only God could do.  No wonder John Winthrop uses the analogy of a great king with many different stewards, and says that the reason God has given us different stations in life is to show forth “the glory of His power in ordering all these differences for the preservation and good of the whole.”

Now, if we were Puritans listening to Governor Winthrop speak, we would definitely agree with him that if we are a servant of God, then it is one of our duties to help others, and do what we could for the preservation and good of the whole body of Christ.

We would have also known that most of the people in the England we were leaving did not appreciate that teaching.    In England there was no concern for one another.  People only cared about themselves. And so, it was quite apparent, that in England there was no concern for the preservation and good of the whole.

Another thing the Puritans who were listening to John Winthrop would have understood was that when we live in an awareness of our need for each other, it draws us closer to each other and makes us more appreciative of each other.  Therefore, they would have totally understood the intent of the Governor Winthrop’s words when he said:

Thirdly, that every man might have need of others, and from hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the bonds of brotherly affection.[1]

Makes sense, doesn’t it? At least it does when we understand that we didn’t get help simply because some other person chose to help us in our time of need. That person was not operating on his or her own. The Spirit of God was causing that person to bring us help.  Therefore, who gets the glory?  The person who brought you the help?  Or the King who sent that person?  Obviously, when we see each other as simply stewards serving the will of God, the King is the one who gets the glory.  For the King is the one who made sure we got the help that we needed.

Now it must be said that we are all honorable, for we are all stewards of the Living God.  That is an honorable position to have. But none of us is more honorable than another.  Because that is the case, John Winthrop draws the following conclusions:

From hence it appears plainly that no man is made more honorable than another or more wealthy etc., out of any particular and singular respect to himself, but for the glory of his Creator and the common good of the creature, Man. [2]

Notice here, if you are wealthy or of high position in society, God did not give you those things for yourself.  They were to be used for the common good of humanity. In saying this, notice Winthrop is heading towards his main point of being a society where people of different stations cared about each other.  In addition to taking care of our own needs, we are to use our goods to help people in need.

With that in mind, he says, “There are two rules whereby we are to walk one towards another: Justice and mercy.”  Think of that.  Justice and mercy.  These are to be our two main concerns when it comes to how “we are to walk one towards another.”  Winthrop gets that from Micah 6:8:

He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

And with that in mind Winthrop says, sometimes there may be an occasion of showing mercy to a rich man in some sudden danger or distress, and also doing of mere justice to a poor man in regard to some particular contract. [3]

Notice here, Winthrop is using the contrast between the rich and the poor to say that the application of justice and mercy applies to all situations and all people.  Some of us would not normally think of a rich man needing mercy.  We would think of a poor man needing mercy. But he is saying justice and mercy are for everyone. When this happens, when people live by justice and mercy, the life in their society brings glory to God.

[1] John Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity”  The Winthrop Society,

[2]  John Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity”  The Winthrop Society,

[3]  John Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity”  The Winthrop Society,



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Bob Wittstruck was a pastor for 33 years, was the associate director of the Black Hills Creation Science Association, and is a supporter of both Christian schooling and home schooling. His latest book, The Forgotten Factor of History God Rules, is being printed in February or March of 2016. His email address is [email protected]
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