The Puritans, Part 5

Phil Jensen


Pilgrim_exiles,_Plymouth,_Mass_(76419)In part four I addressed the introductory main points of Winthrop’s sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity,” which were to provide the vision for Puritan society. At the end of part four, I mentioned the two rules Winthrop proclaimed which were to govern the way people lived out their live toward one another: justice and mercy.

Winthrop goes on to speak of the need for people to love their neighbor as they love themselves. And then, in applying that principle, he goes on to say,

Upon this ground stands all the precepts of the moral law, which concerns our dealings with men.  To apply this to the works of mercy, this law requires two things. First, that every man afford his help to another in every want or distress.

Rick Kriebel 2016


Secondly, that he perform this out of the same affection which makes him careful of his own goods, according to the words of our Savior), “whatsoever ye would that men should do to you.” [1]

Winthrop then goes on from there, drawing from scripture after scripture after scripture to show that the Lord clearly intends for us to help those in need.  Indeed, he makes the case that this is a main theme of the Christian life, one we should in no way marginalize.

This means God has given us what we have, be it property or position, not only to provide our own needs, but to help others.  Why?  We are to be a society “all knit more nearly together in the bonds of brotherly affection.”

Woodrow Wilcox


We are not to be a society where drunkenness is respectable, where there are ladies of the evening in low cut gowns calling invitingly from convenient doorways, and where the morals of leaders are appalling because we would care too much to let things get that far. We would have the discernment and the love to see when someone is even beginning to head in the wrong direction with their life.

Truly, Winthrop is right.  If the whole society is built on a loving concern for one another, like a rising tide lifting all boats, that Christian love we would have for each other would cause us to help those in need. I would say that if you think Winthrop was not serious about this, you need to pull his sermon up on the internet and read the whole thing, for he spends most of the sermon given to those heading for New England to start that Christian commonwealth going into extensive detail on what it means to love your neighbor.

What would we be if we became that kind of a society?  Governor Winthrop said, we would be “as a city upon a hill.” [2]  And with that in mind he says, “The eyes of all people are upon us.” [3]

Now, think of these words in light of what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount.  When Winthrop spoke of being “a city upon a hill,” all of his listeners knew their Bible well enough to know he was quoting from part of the Sermon on the Mount.  Here is the passage where Jesus is speaking:

You are the light of the world.  A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lamp stand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.—Matthew 5:14-16

Notice the passion of John Winthrop.  He wanted them to be the light of the world shining forth the light of Christ in a dark world.

To give you an idea what is meant by this light, let me tell you a story.  An artist was painting a winter scene.  Snow blanketed the ground and a forest of pine trees stood on both sides. Black clouds floated overhead. Night was falling, and the landscape was enveloped in darkness.

What appeared to be an uninhabited rickety log cabin was barely visible in the shadows. And in the foreground stood a shivering, unaccompanied child looking for shelter. To the child the whole scene was one of gloom.

Then the artist put some smoke coming from the chimney of the cabin and used some yellow tints to put the cheerful glow of a lamp in one of the cabin’s windows. That light, its golden rays reflecting on the snow, completely transformed the impression given by the painting. In contrast to the cold darkness of the surrounding forest, that light in the cabin’s window created the impression of a place of refuge, a place of warmth, a place of security and hope in a dark world. That is the difference Jesus makes. He can give us a place of refuge, a place of warmth a place of security and hope in a dark world.

That is the difference Christians can make when they shine forth the light of Christ.  Otherwise why would Jesus say, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” [4]  Notice here, what Jesus says people will see.  They will see our good works. And it is our goodness to them and others that causes them to realize we belong to the Father in heaven.

This is what Governor John Winthrop wanted for his people. They were not going to New England to make a lot of money.  Neither were they were going just to get away from the persecution they had been receiving in England.  They were going with a mission from God.  That mission was to be that city on a hill giving light to the world.

Notice, what John Winthrop was doing in this speech.  He was not only calling them to be the light, as if it were an option, but rather to understand that this was the reason they were going. This was the reason God was working on their behalf, providing them with everything they needed.  This was why God was ordering events to bring this mission to pass. They were being sent by God to be the light.

Now, of course, when people are given a great mission from God, it means they are also going to face great obstacles.  The devil was going to do everything he could to stop them from becoming that city on a hill.  While they were heading for Massachusetts Bay to start a new life, they were also heading for trouble.  Their faith was going to be tested like they had never seen it tested before.


[1]  Ibid.

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

[3]  Ibid.

[4]  Matthew 5:16



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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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