A Model of Christian Charity
"A Model of Christian Charity" is a 1630 sermon by Puritan layman and leader John Winthrop, who delivered it on board the ship Arbella while en route to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It is also known as "City upon a Hill" and denotes the notion of American exceptionalism. The sermon was known by reputation and preserved in contemporary manuscript copy held by the New-York Historical Society, but it was not published until the 1830s.
John 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". He then states three reasons why God made people have different positions from one another:
- To show conformity with the differences in the natural world. He explains how God wants to have his men give gifts to his other men, instead of giving gifts himself. Winthrop talks about how the rich help the poor, instead of God directly, and therefore the rich demonstrate their work to God and feel more honor.
- 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. The rich show their love and mercy to the poor while the poor show their gratitude to them by patience and obedience.
- To bring people of the community closer together, “every man might have need of others, and from hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the bonds of brotherly affection."
Winthrop then moves on to talk about how the people who are able to help others that are in need, should. He argues that people should give away what they do not need in their family, yet they should still save for emergencies. He says that a man who gives what he does not need will be taken care of by God when he needs. Winthrop also mentions how physical wealth can hinder serving God, and if one does not look out for others, God will not help the person later when he needs help.
Winthrop explains how people within the community should live with one another. He compares an individual as one part of a body, serving God. He compares the bond between Christians to the love of a mother and child; loving without expecting anything in return. He writes, “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". 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. He moves on to emphasize the importance of the community’s needs over the individual’s needs, in order for the community to grow and ensure a better future for the individuals. He closes with how in America life will be harder and God has a covenant with them, so they have to work together and succeed or they will be punished by God. He says that the world is watching them like “a city upon a hill” and if they do not succeed, people will think of them and, more importantly, God in vain... He ends with a warning of what would happen if they stray from their original goals.
Structure of Winthrop's sermon
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.
- American Exceptionalism: Winthrop explains how God chose the few people on the boats to go to America in order to carry out their mission. He also mentions how the rest of the world will watch them. This elevates the importance of America and the people going to America.
- Charity: Giving to others who need help will help not only the poor, but also the community, and the giver when he needs help, by God or another person.
- Communalism: Winthrop believed that communalism reflected the Puritan ideals of “love, unity, and charity.” He mentions that people have different things to offer each other, and this induces a need for each other, helping the community. He says in times where the community needs help, people should strive towards "more enlargement towards others and less respect towards ourselves and our own right."
- Unity: Different types of people were on the ship during the sermon, but had the same goal of serving God. This was also represented with people being different parts of one body.
- Hacht, Anne, ed. (2007). Literary Themes for Students: The American Dream. Detroit: Gale. pp. 359–370.
- Baldwin, Neil (2005). The American Revelation. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 7–21.
- Baym, N. (2012). The Norton Anthology American Literature, Beginnings to 1820. 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110-0017: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
- Carpenter, John B. "Puritan Missions as Globalization." Fides et Historia. 31:2, 1999.
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- First published version: Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society (Boston, 1838), 3rd series 7:31-48.
- Full sermon at the Winthrop Society