During this holiday it is worth reflecting on one of the earliest blessings delivered by John Winthrop. Winthrop was a leading figure in the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the first major settlement in New England after Plymouth Colony.
Winthrop’s City on the Hill sermon was delivered to the Pilgrims with its admonitions is as relevant for America today on Thanksgiving as it was in then in 1630.
City on the Hill is a phrase derived from the metaphor of Salt and Light in the Sermon on the Mount of Jesus given in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew 5:14 states “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” This phrase entered the American lexicon early in its history.
Winthrop advised the Puritan colonists of New England who were to found the Massachusetts Bay Colony that their new community would be a “city upon a hill,” watched by the world:
John Winthrop’s City upon a Hill, 1630: *
“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 our selves 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 goodness and truth then formerly we have been acquainted with, 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 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 Gods sake; we shall shame the faces of many of Gods worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into Curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whether 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 whether we go to possess it: But if our hearts shall turned 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 whether 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.”
We hope these words are an encouragement and blessing to you and your family and wish you a wonderful holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving.
*Please note that while the spelling has been modernized for your convenience in reading, the punctuation has been untouched and punctuation was in its infancy in 1630.