The Puritans, Part 3

Phil Jensen


Pilgrim_landingGod definitely had a plan to use the Puritans to help found the United States.  As I made clear in part two, the events which brought their colony into existence were not luck. God was bringing the necessary events to pass.

Soon after the Massachusetts Bay Company had received its new charter, two ships filled with Puritans headed for New England.  That group was led by Reverend Francis Higginson. However, he would just be the leader of that trip. John Endecott, who had gone over in 1628, would remain the governor until the Massachusetts Bay Company sent his successor.  The company did have someone else in mind to replace Endecott.  That man was John Winthrop, for he was the man with the ability to organize the massive migration and deal with all the problems that would come up.

On April 8, 1630 Governor John Winthrop departed on the Arbella with three other ships carrying four hundred people, which according to the passenger lists included three of Winthrop’s sons, Samuel, Stephen and Henry. His wife Margaret was pregnant and very close to her due date.  Therefore she would come later.

Rick Kriebel 2016


Seven more ships, bringing six hundred Puritans, would come three weeks later. [1] The eleven ships brought livestock and a year’s food supply. The families that sailed on these ships represented all manner of skilled labor, and were recruited with that in mind, to ensure a robust colony.[2]

As they headed for New England, what was their hope?  Did they think they were going to become rich? Did they see the Massachusetts Bay area as a place to acquire that wealth? Is that why such careful planning went into the trip?  No, John Winthrop was already rich, as were others. They didn’t need to make more money. However, they did want a successful colony. This is why they brought everything they needed for a good start. This is why they brought families representing all manner of skilled labor. But all the families they brought were Puritan families.  The reason they were all Puritans was because the overriding concern was:

to establish a model Christian commonwealth they hoped would serve as an example that England and all of Europe would one day emulate [3]

Woodrow Wilcox


In other words, they weren’t joking when they said “the Church could still be reformed from within—but from a nine hundred league remove.  It could be done in America.” [4]

When I first read this statement, it did not make sense.  How do you reform the Church of England from 900 leagues (3,000 miles) away?  The answer is given in the indented quote. You establish a world wide reputation of being a success as a Christian commonwealth.  You have a society that is really working.  When people of other places hear it is working and come and see it working, the Christian commonwealth does become something leaders in other places want to emulate.  It is a nice thought.  Now, I don’t know enough to say whether that actually happened.  But I do know the Puritans had a tremendous impact on future generations of Americans.

Now, of course, there are many people today who ridicule the Puritans. Every society including the Puritans does have some bad apples, but the Puritans were people who were concerned about being faithful to God and honoring God with their lives.  And that, in my book, makes them better than a lot of people today.

What was meant by a Christian commonwealth?   It meant a community where the people lived out what Winthrop would call the law of the gospel.  It would be a community then in which people would seek to glorify God by living the righteous life and showing brotherly love towards one another, where you loved your neighbor as yourself.

No doubt, with this in mind, no one knows when, but either before they left the port of Southhampton or sometime during the voyage, Winthrop wrote a sermon called “A Model of Christian Charity,” and delivered it to the people who were going with him.  In that sermon, he developed the theme of the life they should strive to live.

If we had been there, and were among those listening to Winthrop speak, we would have seen a stark contrast between the life Governor Winthrop was presenting and the everyday life we had seen so much in England.  For in London, “Men and woman were regularly hanged for stealing as little as a loaf of bread”[5] It was also a life where “Drunkenness was so common…it was almost respectable,” and where “Ladies of the evening, wearing gowns cut low enough to make imagination superfluous, called invitingly from convenient doorways.”[6]  It was also a life where “the manners and morals of the court were appalling.” [7]

Those of us who were listening to John Winthrop, were only too well aware that this was the case.  The society in England, then, was not a society that honored the Lord. It was not a society that we wanted to continue to be a part of.  We wanted something better.  For we knew that “England had become a nation without a soul.” [8]  As we were there listening to Governor Winthrop, we would know that it was our goal to not only move far away from the land of England, but far away from the spiritually bankrupt life that was being lived by many in England. Keep in mind, this desire would be one that was shared by all the people who were going, no matter whether they were rich or poor, high in society or a tradesman. With that understanding in mind, consider the message John Winthrop presented.  Winthrop begins:

God Almighty in His most holy and wise providence, hath so disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity; others mean and in submission. [9]

I can imagine the reaction at this point of those who are not aware of the social historical context in which Winthrop was speaking, and who don’t have a clue where he is heading with his sermon.  The truth is if you stop at this point and jump to conclusions, you will have no idea what Winthrop is going to say.

Therefore, let us seek to understand what Winthrop has in mind.  Winthrop begins by acknowledging the obvious, that God has given us different stations in life. He acknowledges that God had reasons for doing this.

What are the reasons?  Did he do it in order to give glory to the rich and the high, the eminent in power, and with no concern for those who were poor and in submission? No.  It was not to give glory to the rich and the powerful and it was not done with a lack of concern for those who were poor and in submission. God had three reasons, and Winthrop mentions all three.  In dealing with them, I  am going to first give them to you as Winthrop gave them to his listeners. Then I am going to explain what Winthrop meant by them.  For they are reasons which might cause you to say, “What does he mean by that?”

The reasons Winthrop says God gave us different stations in life are as follows:

to show forth the glory of His wisdom in the variety and difference of the creatures, and the glory of His power in ordering all these differences for the preservation and good of the wholeand the glory of His greatness, that as it is the glory of princes to have many officers, so this great king will have many stewards, counting himself more honored in dispensing his gifts to man by man, than if he did by his own immediate hands. [10]

Now there is a lot here to understand.  Let us begin with the 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.  And 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.  I will continue to explore this theme in part four.


[1] “Winthrop Fleet” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia foundation, Inc.

[2] Ibid.

[3] God in America People & Ideas, John Winthrop, PBS internet article

[4]  Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Light and the Glory, (Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 1977), p. 152. Used by permission.

[5]  Thomas J. Fleming, One Small Candle The Pilgrims’ First Year in America (W.W. Norton and Company, Inc. 1963, 1964) p. 12.

[6]  Ibid. p. 22

[7] Ibid., page 11.

[8]  Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Light and the Glory, (Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 1977), p. 148. Used by permission.

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

[10]  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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