John Winthrop (1588-1649)
A Model of Christian Charity

Excerpts from the Original Electronic Text at the web site the Hanover Historical Texts Project.

John Winthrop was the leader of the Puritan immigrants to America. A small landowner and minor government official in England, Winthrop was elected governor of the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1629 and set sail for the New World in 1630 together with about 1,000 companions. A Model of Christian Charity was the speech Winthrop delivered to his fellow travelers on board the Arbella . Winthrop reminded his companions of their shared Christian mission and exhorted them to fulfill their divine obligation to become a beacon of godliness for all of humanity, "a city upon the hill."

1. How does Winthrop define "love" and "charity"? What is the "double law"?
2. According to Winthrop, why did he and his fellow Christians come to the New World?
3. What was the theological foundation for their mission? What was the "covenant"?

[1] 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.

[2] The Reason hereof.

[3] 1 Reas. First to hold conformity with the rest of his world, being delighted 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 whole; and the glory of his greatness, that as it is the glory of princes to have many officers, so this great king will haue many stewards, counting himself more honoured in dispensing his gifts to man by man, than if he did it by his own immediate hands.

[4] 2 Reas. Secondly that he might haue the more occasion to manifest the work of his Spirit:

[5] first upon the wicked in moderating and restraining them: so that the rich and mighty should not eat up the poor nor the poor and dispised rise up against and shake off their yoke.

[6] 2ly In the regenerate, in exercising his graces in them, as in the great ones, their love, mercy, gentleness, temperance &c., in the poor and inferior sort, their faith, patience, obedience &c.

[7] 3 Reas. Thirdly, that every man might have need of others, and from hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the Bonds of brotherly affection.

[8] From hence it appears plainly that no man is made more honourable than another or more wealthy &c., out of any particular and singular respect to himself, but for the glory of his creator and the common good of the creature, man. Therefore God still reserves the property of these gifts to himself as Ezek. 16. 17. he there calls wealth, his gold and his silver, and Prov. 3. 9. he claims their service as his due, honor the Lord with thy riches &c.--All men being thus (by divine providence) ranked into two sorts, rich and poor; under the first are comprehended all such as are able to live comfortably by their own means duly improved; and all others are poor according to the former distribution.

[9] There are two rules whereby we are to walk one towards another: Justice and Mercy. These are always distinguished in their act and in their object, yet may they both concur in the same subject in each respect; as sometimes there may be an occasion of showing mercy to a rich man in some sudden danger or distress, and also doing of mere justice to a poor man in regard of some particular contract &c.

[10] There is likewise a double Law by which we are regulated in our conversation [behavior] towards another; in both the former respects, the law of nature and the law of grace, or the moral law or the law of the gospel, to omit the rule of justice as not properly belonging to this purpose otherwise than it may fall into consideration in some particular cases.

[11] By the first of these laws man as he was enabled so withal is commanded to love his neighbour as himself. Upon this ground stands all the precepts of the moral law, which concernes 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. Secondly, that he perform this out of the same affection which makes him careful of his own goods, according to that of our Savior, (Math.) Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you. This was practised by Abraham and Lot in entertaining the angels and the old man of Gibea.

[12] The law of Grace or of the Gospel hath some difference from the former; as in these respects, First the law of nature was given to man in the estate of innocency; this of the Gospel in the estate of regeneracy. 2ly, the former propounds one man to another, as the same flesh and image of God; this as a brother in Christ also, and in the communion of the same Spirit, and so teacheth to put a difference between christians and others. Do good to all, especially to the household of faith; upon this ground the Israelites were to put a difference between the brethren of such as were strangers though not of the Canaanites. 3ly. The Law of nature would give no rules for dealing with enemies, for all are to be considered as friends in the state of innocency, but the Gospel commands love to an enemy. . . .

[13] The definition which the Scripture giues us of love is this. Love is the bond of perfection, first it is a bond or ligament. 2ly it makes the work perfect. There is no body but consists of parts and that which knits these parts together, gives the body its perfection, because it makes each part so contiguous to others as thereby they do mutually participate with each other, both in strength and infirmity, in pleasure and pain. . . .

[14] The next consideration is how this love comes to be wrought. Adam in his first estate was a perfect model of mankind in all their generations, and in him this love was perfected in regard of the habit. But Adam, rent himself from his Creator, rent all his posterity also one from another; whence it comes that every man is born with this principle in him to love and seek himself only, and thus a man continueth till Christ comes and takes possession of the soul and infuseth another principle, loue to God and our brother, and this latter having continual supply from Christ, as the head and root by which he is united, gets the predomining in the soul, so by little and little expells the former. 1 John 4. 7. love cometh of God and every one that loveth is born of God, soe that this love is the fruit of the new birth, and none can have it but the new creature. Now when this quality is thus formed in the souls of men, it works like the Spirit upon the dry bones. Ezek. 39. bone came to bone. It gathers together the scattered bones, or perfect old man Adam, and knits them into one body again in Christ, whereby a man is become again a living soul. . . .

[15] From the former Considerations arise these Conclusions.--1. First, This love among Christians is a real thing, not imaginary. 2ly. 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. 3ly. This love is a divine, spiritual, nature; free, active, strong, couragious, permanent; undervaluing all things beneath its proper object and of all the graces, this makes us nearer to resemble the virtues of our heavenly father. 4thly It rests in the loue and welfare of its beloved. For the full certain knowledge of those truths concerning the nature, use, and excellency of this grace, that which the holy ghost hath left recorded, 1 Cor. 13, may give full satisfaction, which is needful for every true member of this lovely body of the Lord Jesus, to work upon their hearts by prayer, meditation continual exercise at least of the special [influence] of this grace, till Christ be formed in them and they in him, all in each other, knit together by this bond of love.

[16] It rests now to make some application of this discourse, by the present design, which gave the occasion of writing of it. Herein are 4 things to he propounded; first the persons, 2ly the work, 3ly the end, 4thly the means.

[17] 1. For the persons. We are a company professing ourselves fellow members of Christ, in which respect only though we were absent from each other many miles, and had our employments as far distant, yet we ought to account ourselves knit together by this bond of love, and, live in the exercise of it, if we would have comfort of our being in Christ. . . .

[18] 2nly for the work we have in hand. It is by a mutual consent, through a special overvaluing providence and a more than an ordinary approbation of the Churches of Christ, to seek out a place of cohabitation and Consortship under a due form of Government both ciuil and ecclesiastical. In such cases as this, the care of the public must oversway all private respects, by which, not only conscience, but mere civil policy, doth bind us. For it is a true rule that particular Estates cannot subsist in the ruin of the public.

[19] 3ly The end is to improve our lives to do more service to the Lord; the comfort and increase of the body of Christ, whereof we are members; that ourselves and posterity may be the better preserved from the common corruptions of this evil world, to serve the Lord and work out our Salvation under the power and purity of his holy ordinances.

[20] 4thly for the means whereby this must be effected. They are twofold, a conformity with the work and end we aim at. These we see are extraordinary, therefore we must not content ourselves with usual ordinary means. Whatsoever we did, or ought to have, done, when we lived in England, the same must we do, and more also, where we go. That which the most in their churches maintain as truth in profession only, we must bring into familiar and constant practise; as in this duty of love, we must love brotherly without dissimulation, we must love one another with a pure heart fervently. We must bear one anothers burthens. We must not look only on our own things, but also on the things of our brethren.

[21] Neither must we think that the Lord will bear with such failings at our hands as he doth from those among whom we have lived; and that for these 3 Reasons;

[22] 1. In regard of the more near bond of marriage between him and us, wherein he hath taken us to be his, after a most strict and peculiar manner, which will make them the more jealous of our love and obedience. So he tells the people of Israell, you only have I known of all the families of the Earth, therefore will I punish you for your Transgressions.

[23] 2ly, because the Lord will be sanctified in them that come near him. We know that there were many that corrupted the service of the Lord; some setting up altars before his own; others offering both strange fire and strange sacrifices also; yet there came no fire from heaven, or other sudden judgement upon them, as did upon Nadab and Abihu, who yet we may think did not sin presumptuously.

[24] 31y When God gives a special commission he looks to have it strictly observed in every article; When he gave Saul a commission to destroy Amalek, He indented with him upon certain articles, and because he failed in one of the least, and that upon a fair pretense, it lost him the kingdom, which should have been his reward, if he had observed his commission.

[25] Thus stands the cause between God and us. We are entered into Covenant with Him for this work. We haue taken out a commission. The Lord hath given us leave to draw our own articles. We haue professed to enterprise these and those accounts, upon these and those ends. We have hereupon besought Him of favour and blessing. Now if the Lord shall please to hear us, and bring us in peace to the place we desire, then hath he ratified this covenant and sealed our Commission, and will expect a strict performance of the articles contained in it; but if we shall neglect the observation of these articles which are the ends we have propounded, and, dissembling with our God, shall fall to embrace this present world and prosecute our carnal intentions, seeking great things for ourselves and our posterity, the Lord will surely break out in wrath against us; be revenged of such a [sinful] people and make us know the price of the breach of such a covenant.

[26] Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck, and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertaine each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of other's necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make other's conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labour and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as his own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways. So that we shall see much more of his wisdom, power, goodness and truth, than formerly we haue been acquainted with.

[27] We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when he shall make us a praise and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, "the Lord make it likely that of New England." For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we haue undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God's sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are a going.

[28] I shall shut up this discourse with that exhortation of Moses, that faithfull servant of the Lord, in his last farewell to Israel, Deut. 30. Beloved there is now set before us life and good, Death and evil, in that we are commanded this day to love the Lord our God, and to love one another, to walk in his ways and to keep his Commandements and his Ordinance and his laws, and the articles of our Covenant with him, that we may live and be multiplied, and that the Lord our God may bless us in the land whither we go to possess it. But if our hearts shall turn away, so that we will not obey, but shall be seduced, and worship and serve other Gods, our pleasure and profits, and serue them; it is propounded unto us this day, we shall surely perish out of the good land whither we pass over this vast sea to possess it;

Therefore let us choose life
that we, and our seed
may live, by obeying His
voyce and cleaving to Him,
for He is our life and
our prosperity.

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