Though a plan to publicize flattering falsities about the United States was scrapped several weeks ago, government agencies are still trying to figure out how to make people overseas like us. The War on Terror requires that our international friends far outnumber our enemies, and it would help if potential attackers had a chance to see America as something other than the Great Satan.
John Winthrop (January 12, 1588-April 5, 1649), the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, knew that America would stand forever in the world spotlight. He wanted it that way. A Puritan, he had left England because he was "verily persuaded God [would] bring some heavy affliction on this land." Before leaving, he even helped alter the Massachusetts Bay charter so that the colony would be under local, not English, control. He had a plan to show England, and everyone on the planet, what a truly godly society looked like.
En route to America in 1630, Winthrop preached a famous sermon called "A Modell of Christian Charity." Below are the concluding paragraphs. He describes a place whose image would be wonderfully easy to sell-but, historically, impossible to maintain.
"We are entered into covenant with Him for this work [of establishing the colony]. We have taken out a commission. The Lord hath given us leave to draw our own articles. We have professed to enterprise these and those accounts, upon these and those ends. We have hereupon besought Him of favor 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, and be revenged of such a people, and make us know the price of the breach of such a covenant.
"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 entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others' necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others' conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor 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 …
"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 have 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 going.
"And to shut this discourse with that exhortation of Moses, that faithful servant of the Lord, in his last farewell to Israel, Deut. 30. 'Beloved, there is now set before us life and death, good 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 Commandments 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 other Gods, our pleasure and profits, and serve 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 voice and cleaving to Him, for He is our life and our prosperity."
For more on Winthrop and other American Puritans, see Christian History issue 41.
The full text of "A Modell of Christian Charity" appears here:http://www.winthropsociety.org/charity.htm.
Philip Yancey, a columnist for our sister publication Christianity Today, explored a similar topic (he called it the "Baywatch syndrome") in "Why Do They Hate Us?" atwww.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/004/27.80.html.
Copyright © 2002 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian History magazine.
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