John Winthrop and "A City Upon a Hill"


John Winthrop arrived in Massachusetts in 1630, aboard the “Arabella”. Somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, he wrote and preached a sermon titled, “A Model for Christian Charity”. In it he outlined the purposes of God for New England. He described a harmonious Christian community whose laws and government would logically proceed from a godly and purposeful arrangement. He seemed to recognize the plan that God had for our nation and within this sermon is a passage that historians have titled “A City Upon A Hill”. John Winthrop became governor of Massachusetts.


A City Upon a Hill


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 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, our community 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 and goodness 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 like 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 have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword 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 in to curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land where we are going: And to shut up 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 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 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 where 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 pleasures and profits, and serve them, it is propounded unto us this day, we shall surely perish out of the good land where 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 his is our life, and our prosperity.

Note: This passage has been edited into modern text for easier reading, taking care to only change the spelling to modern form.
Sources:; Hanover Historical Texts Projects

Contributed by Kathryn Currier

Posted May 15, 2009



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