Religion in the U.S.
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.”
John Winthrop: “In seventeenth-century England, there was no such thing as freedom of religion. Sincere Christians had only two choices: either work to reform the Church from within, or break off from the Church and reject its authority. Those who wanted to break off from the Church were known as Separatists; the Puritans were not Separatists. We believed that breaking off was a very serious matter, and should only be considered as a last alternative. We did not want to be disloyal to the Crown. But as the Church grew more hostile towards our Puritan ideas, it became clear to me that I could do nothing to reform the Church from within. At the age of forty-two, after a very painful struggle, I decided that the only real choice was to take my family and move away from England.
“I sold all of my possessions and arranged to move my entire family to the dangerous and rugged New World. On April 7, 1630, I left my wife and eldest son behind because she was expecting another child. It was painful to separate, but I had no choice. While aboard the Arabella, I kept a diary of events and thoughts. I dreamt of America, this wonderful new land, to become a city on a hill as Jesus described to his apostles in the Holy Gospel.
“The first year of our settlement in New England was one of misery. I kept the firm belief in the guiding hand of the Lord, despite the death of three of my children and the near failure of the colony. I reflected on the words I had spoke to nearly five thousand passengers aboard the Arabella:
‘. . .the eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we deal
falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, we
shall be made a story throughout the world; we shall shame
the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned to curses upon us, until we are consumed
out of the good land to which we are going. . .’
“The religious tradition of the Puritans was my life; it consumed my life and filled every aspect of my career both in my mother country and in my home in the New World. The teachings and philosophies of John Calvin stood at the base of what we, as Puritans, believed. As our name indicates, our sole mission was to purify the Church; to return to the primitive Church that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ instituted. We dedicated our lives to the works of the Lord, and made every attempt to keep in accordance with the teachings of the Bible. Our services were simple, for prayer and faith needs no decoration. It is our belief in God that is the most glorious.
“Of course, there was a very clear hierarchy that served the congregation. Our most faithful and well-established men served these positions. As our colony progressed, a need for a government grew, and so I took part in the governmental procedures.I served as governor of our colony called Massachusetts; however, long before I took that role in colony life, I had a deep understanding of God’s divine purposes for the colony. Boston’s center of life was the church during the years I lived there. While on my journey to America, I wrote a sermon called “A Model of Christian Charity”, in which I outlined the purposes of God for New England. I described my vision of a harmonious Christian community whose laws and government would logically proceed from a godly and intentional arrangement.
“I also envisioned God’s plan for the whole nation that would arise out of the colonies. Our citizens would be free to act and choose according to free will, and yet still remain dedicated to a lawful social order. Liberty was a very important issue to me; my yearning for religious freedom inspired me to start anew in the colonies. My ideals about the New World helped to set the foundation for a land that would eventually gain great power. I was part of the initial movement that created an influx of many others seeking that same religious freedom.
“The Puritans were not influenced by American culture; instead, we created American culture.The ethics and ideas put forth by our simple and faithful society stood as the basis for the government and operations of American society. As I look back on the history of this country, I still see the influence of our modest community in lawmaking and moral issues.
“As the founder of the Puritan movement in the New World, I envisioned a near utopia for those who sought to make the Church a clean and holy institution. I thought that the legacy of the Puritans would be long-lasting and prosperous. Although our society blended among others that came to the colonies, our ideas and morals have survived throughout the years.
“A negative light has been attached to the Puritan standards of living in modern-day American society.Today, Americans only grasp that Puritans were overworked, stern, negative individuals. They do not remember that we were filled with an intense love of God, so powerful that we bravely ventured into the wilderness and risked all of our earthly possessions as well as our lives. It is because of our spirit that Americans have a place they can call home today, filled with freedoms that my fellow colonists and I had only dreamed of.
“Perhaps in this new millenium there will be a newfound respect for the ideals and beliefs that we held so dear. Americans might realize once again their purpose: to be that city on a hill. God has called us to be a light, and we are still His light. That mission will follow us for all of eternity. For it is written; we must heed His call to be the New Israel.
“God has provided the Way for us; He has never faltered. It is our society that has fallen away from the path of righteousness and truth. America is called to be an example to all other nations. I will close with a passage from my diary that I kept while aboard the Arabella, for I believe it explains the most important task we face as the people of God:
‘For this end we must be knit together. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to give up our superfluities to supply others’ necessities. . .we must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together; labour and suffer together. . .so shall we keep the unity of spirit in the bond of peace. The Lord will be our God, and make us a praise and a glory, that men shall say of later plantations, “may the Lord make it like that of New England”‘
Hudson, Winthrop S. ; Corrigan, John. Religion In America. Prentice Hall,
Upper Saddle River, NJ: 1999.
Morgan, Edmund S. The Puritan Dillema: The Story of John Winthrop. Little,
Brown, ; Co., Boston, MA: 1958.
Twichell, J. H. John Winthrop: First Governor of the Massachusetts Colony.
Dodd, Mead, ; Co., New York, NY: 1981.
Winthrop, Robert. The Life and Letters of John Winthrop. Ticknor ; Fields,
Boston, MA: 1926.