A Model of Christian Charity

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"A Model of Christian Charity" is a 1630 sermon by Puritan layman and leader John Winthrop, who delivered on board the ship Arbella while en route to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It is best known for applying the phrase "City upon a Hill" to the founding of America, subsequently used to describe American exceptionalism. Although known by reputation and preserved in contemporary manuscript copy held by the New-York Historical Society, the sermon was not published until the 1830s.


Winthrop begins his sermon by stating, "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 subjection". Some historians believe that Winthrop, along with other Puritans, were attempting to establish a Puritan refuge built upon the notions of Puritan idealism, while others believe that Winthrop merely sought to establish an egalitarian society which was to be unilaterally utilitarian despite the socioeconomic statuses that its people may pertain to. The notion that Winthrop sought to create a strictly Puritan society whose basis rested upon Puritan idealism is reinforced when he states that people are different in three ways which are ordained by God.

(1) Diversity among people allows for a variety of ways in which God may be honored. (2) 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. (3) Common need among individuals with different qualities is necessary to society.

The third point referring to different people with similar struggles. [1] In his writings, Winthrop argued that the successful manifestation of the ideas conveyed in the Mayflower Compact relied almost solely upon a Puritan congregational unity. He laid out the conditions in which a manifestation of unilateral Puritan love should exist:

First: This love among Christians is a real thing, not imaginary. Secondly: This love is as absolutely necessary to the being of the body of Christ, as the sinews and other ligaments of a natural body are to the being of that body. Thirdly: This love is a divine, spiritual nature free, active, strong, courageous, permanent.... this makes us nearer to resemble the virtues of our Heavenly Father. Fourthly: It rests in the love and welfare of its beloved.

By having met all four requirements of this love, this body of people known as the Puritans would be "knit together by the bond of love". (1 Corinthians:13) Winthrop believed that having this "bond of love" for one another would unite a group of people that would be blessed by God and impact the world (as they knew it) in a positive manner. Despite the diversity of people, having this love could unite people of completely different socioeconomic backgrounds to work together and better the world.

Winthrop told his fellow Puritans that they were going to plant “a City upon a Hill,” drawing on Matthew 5:14. A city upon a hill, like a lamp, cannot be hid. Like the light that is not to be put under a bowl, a city upon a hill is posted in a prominent place for all to see; like salt, it is meant to preserve and season all it comes into contact with. Winthrop was reminding the migrants of Jesus’ call to “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Hence, in Winthrop's view, the New England Puritans were not refugees fleeing to avoid persecution; they were missionaries intent on setting up a light to the nations. The Puritans ventured forth to establish a base for the conversion of the world. Winthrop told them, “The eyes of all people are upon us.” Further, he warned, “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 story and a by-word through the world.” Hence, Winthrop expected a worldwide discrediting of Reformed Christianity upon their failure, and thus also implied a shining testimony to the globe if they succeeded. If they succeed, Winthrop promised, future colonists will say, “the Lord make it like that of New England.”[2]

Structure of Winthrop's sermon[edit]

Text: The structure of this sermon is directed toward the Puritans so they can understand Winthrop's overall message of serving God as a community.

Doctrine: The demonstration of evidence of scripture so that the Puritans can relate to the relevant scripture usages.

Reason: The Puritans - the audience Winthrop is speaking to - are familiar with the question and answer technique that Winthrop uses throughout the sermon. This technique enables the Puritans to understand and interpret the meaning of the scriptures. It gives an explanation of Winthrop's utmost purpose of the sermon and it's specified to the Puritans through a question and answer layout.

Application: Applying the sermon preached to the Puritans' personal lives and to the "divine world" mentioned in his text, meaning the community and surrounding communities as well.


  1. ^ http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/wooda/s149/149syllabus5summary.html
  2. ^ Carpenter, John B. (1999) "Puritan Missions as Globalization", Fides et Historia 31:2, 104.


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