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John Winthrop’s Sermon Aboard the Arbella, 1630

2018-04-17T21:25:03+00:00 April 23, 2018|HH 2018|

“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.” — Matthew 5:1

John Winthrop’s Sermon Aboard the Arbella
April 1630


he idea that the United States of America are like a “city set on a hill” for all to see and emulate, originates from the words of Jesus in the well-known Bible verse cited above. Presidents as diverse as John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan used the expression in speeches to assert American “exceptionalism”, one of the most politically incorrect phrases that, today, sends the parvenus of popular culture into paroxysms of horror and malevolence. The actual historical origin of the political use of that metaphor, however, comes from a message entitled “A Modell of Christian Charity”, delivered by John Winthrop aboard the ship Arbella, in 1630, as the great Puritan migration from England to Massachusetts got underway. The quoters and auditors of that expression today might be better served if they would examine the main points of the sermon more closely.

John Winthrop (1587-1649)

Charles I of England (1600-1649)

John Winthrop hailed from the most Puritan area of England. The Protestant Reformation had not only taken root in the Stour Valley, but had persevered through times of persecution and compromise. His father, uncles, and grandfather all held tight to the Reformed faith and envisioned the triumph of Christ’s Kingdom, beginning in England itself. John Winthrop embraced the faith of his Fathers whole-heartedly. When Charles I turned against continued reform, suspended Parliament and seemed to abandon biblical justice, a network of pastors who have been known as “the spiritual brotherhood”, decided to emigrate, with willing members of their congregations, to New England. A number of wealthy investors created the Massachusetts Bay Joint-Stock Company to finance the emigration and they received a charter to do so from King Charles I. A fleet of eleven ships and seven hundred passengers set out to establish a Puritan colony, led by John Winthrop, well-to-do lawyer and CFO of his father’s estate, and newly elected Governor of the future colony.

East Anglia — Stronghold of Puritans

At the beginning of the journey, the Governor preached a sermon that has become one of the seminal documents of early American history, though the original manuscript has never been found. The sermon, if considered at all, is typically redacted by modern historians to include select phrases from the beginning and end of the message. To grasp the significance of this paragon of Puritan prose one must examine the entire text. Winthrop began his encomium regarding the immigrants’ “errand into the wilderness”, using language familiar to Reformed Christians everywhere:

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.

The Arbella, flagship of the Winthrop Fleet, transported English Puritans and the Charter of the Massachusetts Bay Company from England to Salem between April 8 and June 12, 1630.

After establishing why those differences exist and that they are reflections of God’s wisdom, he set out the major theme of his address, that “there are two rules whereby we are to walk one towards another: Justice and Mercy.” The practical application of these principles centered on loving one’s “…neighbor as himself. Upon this ground stands all the precepts of the moral law.” Loving one’s enemies and seeking to relieve the distress of one’s neighbor — showing mercy would be the only way in which a Christian society could be successfully established. Winthrop set out the framework for lending and paying debts. He reminded the immigrants that they as Christians, were all a part of Christ’s body and were responsible for one another’s welfare. His message was suffused with Scripture, which was the sine qua non of all of life, faith and practice. He concluded his peroration with the words which inspired centuries of Americans:

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…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.

Still true.

View the full sermon transcript here.

Bay of Pigs Invasion Routed, 1961

2018-04-16T20:22:21+00:00 April 16, 2018|HH 2018|

“Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this”, does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?” —Proverbs 24:11-12 (ESV)

Bay of Pigs Invasion Routed
April 17, 1961

The United States’ involvement in the island of Cuba has a long and storied history. So much so that one of “America’s Little Wars” was fought there in 1898, and helped vault Theodore Roosevelt from San Juan Hill, near Santiago, Cuba, to the governorship of New York and eventually the Presidency. Sixty-three years later, a brigade of CIA-trained Cuban exiles hit the beaches of Bahía de Cochinos to liberate the island from the communist dictatorship of the lawyer Fidel Castro. He had led a successful revolutionary movement, and was courting Russia for aid. The debacle that ensued embarrassed the Kennedy administration and solidified Castro’s grip on the foreign neighbor only 103 miles from Florida. The failed invasion was based on decisions that were embedded in the larger Cold War between the U.S.A. and Communist Russia.

Fidel Castro (1926-2016)

Fulgencio Batista (1901-1973)

Fulgencia Batista (former elected President of Cuba from 1940-44) led a United States-backed military coup prior to elections in 1952, and established a dictatorship, favorable to large foreign investors and powerful local businessmen, especially in the sugar industry. He also made deals with the American Mafia who controlled gambling, drugs, and other illicit activities. Several opposition groups and parties formed to challenge Batista’s reign, the most successful one led by the Castro brothers and Che Guevara. In the old nationalistic Cuban tradition, guerilla war broke out and the Batista regime used torture, murder, and roundups to break the hold of the communists and others trying to overthrow his government. But overthrown it was, in 1958.

Death squads began operating in earnest as Argentinian Marxist Revolutionary Che Guevara carried out Castro’s orders, rounding up Batista supporters and anyone associated with the repressive activities of the former president. The new government seized private property, nationalized industry, and set up a socialist regime. Thousands of Cubans fled the country, many settling in Florida, an emigration that has never stopped.

The U. S. State Department distanced themselves from Batista and tried to court Castro, who played along at the beginning. Cuba, however, rapidly became a Marxist state and established ties with Russia. The American Central Intelligence Agency was given the go-ahead by President Eisenhower to develop a plan to liberate Cuba. President Kennedy inherited the proposal to use Cuban emigres and CIA operatives in coordination with the Navy and Air Force, to seize a base of operations and overthrow Castro.

Ernesto “Che” Guevara (1928-1967)

On April 17th, 1961 about fourteen hundred Cuban exiles and a few Americans of “Brigade 4056” launched their invasion campaign from Nicaragua and Guatemala and landed from the sea in the “Bay of Pigs”. CIA forces conducted deception operations elsewhere to draw away Cuban military forces, and the Brigade landed with tanks, vehicles and automatic weapons.

Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs), Cuba

Castro — “El Commandante” — led the counter-attack himself, which was conducted from the air and land, using American-made fighter aircraft and other weapons left behind by the departed Batista regime. Castro also deployed the T-34 tanks given him by the Russians. Over the ensuing three days, the battle raged between the exiles and the militias and regular army units. In the end, the invaders ran low on ammunition, were cut off from their objectives and were forced to surrender. Of the 1,400 men who had landed, about 400 were killed or wounded and 1,000 captured. The Cubans had deployed about 225,000 but only about 9,000 armed. Their official losses were about 800 dead and wounded but probably several thousand militia were also killed or injured. An unknown number of Brigade members were rescued by American naval ships, off the beach or in the water trying to escape. Some of the captured were returned to the U.S., a number were executed, others imprisoned long-term.

An American “B-26” Bomber Disguised as a Cuban Model
in Preparation for the Bay of Pigs Invasion

Cuban Commandos and the American CIA Practicing Paradrops
in Preparation for the Bay of Pigs Invasion

The American ambassador denied any American involvement to the United Nations, but everyone knew what had happened. The American foreign policy tactic of trying to create regime change in Cuba was an abject failure, embarrassing the Kennedy administration, solidifying the revolution, and laying the groundwork for the Cuban missile crisis the following year, and perhaps for CIA failures in the future. The almost absolute adversarial relationship between the United States and Cuba, initiated by the invasion, has persisted to recent times and led to many Cuban deaths trying to escape the tyranny of the communist dictatorship — executed, dying in prisons, or drowned in the Atlantic on the way to Miami.

A disconcerting amount of American foreign policy of the 20th Century seems to have been characterized by lies, deception, espionage, invasions, wars in which we were not attacked, overthrowing of foreign rulers and propping up evil regimes — usually in the name of “defending our liberty”. How interesting would a debate be between the Founding Fathers of the Republic and the decision-makers of American foreign policy of the previous and current centuries.

William & Mary Crowned as Joint Sovereigns, 1689

2018-04-09T21:09:02+00:00 April 9, 2018|HH 2018|

“Now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” —Psalm 2: 10-11

William & Mary Crowned as Joint Sovereigns
April 11, 1689

Their accession to the throne was a watershed moment in England’s history, known as “The Glorious Revolution”, or sometimes the “Bloodless Revolution”. The generation of Americans who rebelled against the mother country, many times alluded to that event of eighty-seven years earlier. The Dutch Prince of Orange drove James II from the throne, upon the invitation of seven English nobles and ecclesiastic elements in England, and established a constitutional monarchy which has withstood all the tests of time since then.

James II, the Duke of York, had ascended the throne in 1685 following the death of his childless brother, the wily and undisciplined voluptuary, Charles II. The latter had relentlessly persecuted the Puritans and the Scottish Covenanters for twenty-five years while living a life of entertainment, leisure, and debauchery. His sudden collapse and four days of treatment by physicians probably accelerated his demise.

King Charles II of England (1630-1685)

King Charles II of England (1630-1685)

King James II of England (1633-1701)

King James II of England (1633-1701)

James II embraced the Roman Catholic religion, though it was kept from the English people for several years. Once in power, James used his authority to dissolve the Parliament that had passed the “Test Act”, which forced officers of the realm to take an oath rejecting certain papist doctrines, especially transubstantiation. He declared religious toleration of Catholics and other dissenters (except in Scotland, where he declared the death penalty on anyone attending conventicles), and began filling government posts with Catholics. He had The Archbishop of Canterbury and six bishops arrested for questioning and protesting his religious policies. Several plots to overthrow James had already come to grief, the largest being the rebellion led by the former king’s illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, and the son of the Marquis of Argyll in Scotland, who had been executed for treason by James’s brother, Charles II.

When James’s wife Mary gave birth to a son, thus relegating his two daughters, both Protestant, to second and third place for the succession to the throne, the Protestant nobility of England acted. They approached William, Prince of Orange in the Netherlands, husband of James’s sister Mary, and also nephew of James, offering the throne of England to him, if he would bring his army and oust the autocratic Catholic king. William’s fear of France’s expansionist policies and his desire to maintain Protestant solidarity in Europe helped secure his consent to taking the throne of England.

Joint Coat of Arms of William & MaryJoint Coat of Arms of William & Mary

When the Dutch forces landed, some 35,000 men, English Protestant officers quickly joined the Prince with their own forces. James chose not to oppose them and fled to the protection of his French cousin Louis XIV, one of Europe’s greatest troublemakers. William summoned Parliament and they declared the throne vacant. The House of Commons passed a Bill of Rights which William accepted and he and Mary were both crowned as the Sovereigns of England, with succession of the throne to go to Mary’s sister Anne if she outlived them (which she did).

William III of England (1650-1702)William III of England (1650-1702)

Mary II of England (1662-1694)Mary II of England (1662-1694)

King William III encouraged the Toleration Act which gave religious freedom to all non-conforming Protestants, including the Presbyterian Scots. He also submitted to the Bill of Rights which restricted the former Royal Prerogatives, thus ensuring that the British Monarchy would henceforth be subject to Parliament and the “English Constitution”, which is unwritten but based on precedent. William still had to fight his Uncle James in Ireland, defeating him at the Battle of the Boyne and lifting the Siege of Derry, but his rule of Britain was secure, and the permanence of a Protestant Monarchy assured for centuries.

Battle of the Boyne between James II and William III, July 12, 1690

Birth of Booker T. Washington, 1856

2018-03-30T21:15:38+00:00 April 2, 2018|HH 2018|

“He hath showed thee O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” —Micah 5:8

Birth of Booker T. Washington
April 5, 1856

The 1860 census taker noted that the Burroughs family in Franklin County, Virginia and their fourteen children, also had seven slaves, one of them a boy named Booker, valued at $400.00. Born to Jane, a slave, father unknown but to the mother, Booker’s prospects in life could not have been fewer nor more dismal. In 1865, at the age of nine, however, he and his mother found themselves free and allowed to leave for a different life. She took Booker to West Virginia to reunite with her husband, Washington Ferguson, working in the coalfields. Booker found out his middle name was Talliaferro, which he usually shortened to “T” and adopted Washington as his surname. Providence declared that his life would not be one lived in a colliery.

Booker T. Washington (1856-1915)

Though living in a shantytown hovel, he learned to read and write while attending a “Negro school” taught by a literate black Union veteran. Reading opened the whole world to Booker T. Washington and he gloried in learning. Toiling in the mines, he heard of a college for young men like himself — Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia. Through donations by older black men and through his own savings, he travelled there for a visit. Accepted as a student, Booker had to learn some of the most basic activities of an ordered life and to live by a highly regimented schedule. At Hampton, Booker “drank deeply” from the teachings of the founder, General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, the son of missionaries to Hawaii. The Christian educators of the Institute taught him the Holy Scriptures, self-discipline, and the value of hard work as a God-ordained purpose. Graduating in 1875, Booker T. Washington was ready to put into practice his life principles.

Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, Hampton, Virginia, circa 1896

His speech to the graduating class at Hampton Institute a few years later revealed the philosophy that would guide his teaching and actions on behalf of black Americans for the rest of his life:

“There is a force with which we can labor and succeed and there is a force with which we can labor and fail. It requires not education merely, but also wisdom and common sense, a heart bent on the right and trust in God . . . There is a tide in the affairs of men . . . [quoting Shakespeare] not in planning but in doing, not in talking noble deeds, but in doing noble deeds.”

Tuskegee Institute, circa 1916

Booker T. Washington is remembered for many accomplishments, although two have stood out to historians since that time: his founding of the Tuskeegee Institute and its great success in educating many of the post-slavery generations of black Americans in the South, and his famous speech at the Atlanta Expo in 1895, euphemistically called the Atlanta compromise. Through his eloquence, arguments, and Christian character, Washington was able to acquire funding from a number of philanthropists, who enabled him to fulfill his dream of a college to educate black Americans of the rural South. The instructors at Tuskeegee taught the students how to acquire the critical skills for jobs open to them, and to excel in all they pursued. He thought strategically about how to get along in a culture that still put social, political, and economic barriers in front of black Americans. Washington became the most prominent spokesman for the former slaves and their descendants, by the end of the century.

William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Du Bois (1868-1963)

In the early 20th Century, Dr. W.E.B. Dubois, Massachusetts-born and educated black intellectual, prolific author, socialist leader, historian, civil rights activist, co-founder of the NAACP and leader of the pan-African movement also rose to prominence as a spokesman for black interests. He contended with Washington over the goals and means of elevating the fortunes of black Americans. Washington quietly helped subsidize strategies for voting rights and defeating Jim Crow laws but preached and taught hard work and self-sufficiency at the same time. DuBois publicly attacked the ideas and practices of Capitalism, Colonialism, and racial prejudice wherever he found them, and agitated for radical reform. The solidly Republican Booker Washington, visited the White House of Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft and consulted with the Presidents on race issues. The contrast in message and style between Washington and DuBois has often been remarked upon by historians and has remained contentious since then. Booker T. Washington died at the age of 59 in 1915, his chief rival lived until 1963 and died in Africa at the age of 95. Roosevelt said of Booker T. Washington that he “combined the traits of humility and dignity . . . which were the outward expressions of the spiritual fact that he . . . walked humbly with his God.”

Booker T. Washington and Theodore Roosevelt at Tuskegee Institute, 1905

Jonathan Edwards Sermon, 1742

2018-03-21T02:59:22+00:00 March 26, 2018|HH 2018|

“Their foot shall slide in due time . . . ” —Deuteronomy 32:35

Jonathan Edwards Sermon
March 26, 1742

The impact of itinerant English evangelist George Whitefield’s preaching was felt across New England. Many people were converted to Christ, and Christians were renewed in their faith. Ministers of the region followed up on Whitefield’s success with powerful evangelistic preaching throughout the 1740s. The man whose ministry seemed most blessed in the “Great Awakening” was Jonathan Edwards, a brilliant theologian, philosopher and polymath, as well as a warm-hearted pastor. Among even casual observers of colonial Massachusetts history, one of his sermons (later published) illustrated above all others the power and imagery of Reformed evangelistic preaching of the era. It was addressed to both the hard-hearted and the faint-hearted: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”.

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

New England churches were full of careless and spiritually unconcerned members and attendees. The vitality and power of their Puritan forefathers seemed but a distant relic of the past, as prosperity, diversity of population, and enlightenment philosophy increasingly influenced the popular culture and intellectual climate of the day. In the late 1730s, signs of serious spiritual “awakening” appeared in several towns in Massachusetts and Connecticut. The arrival of the Rev. George Whitefield in the first of three visits to America found the spiritual fields “ripe unto harvest”. As he and other Calvinist preachers presented the Gospel, their efforts were suddenly visited with remarkable results, in what a future historian would term “the Great Awakening”.

Jonathan Edwards — the pastor of the Congregational Church in Northampton, Massachusetts — delivered a sermon in his church in late March of 1742 which he entitled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. Members of the congregation cried out in terror for their own eternal destiny, weeping and calling on God to save them. They were people young and old who had heard the Gospel all their lives. They knew all the major doctrines of the Christian faith yet were unconcerned about their own souls; one visitor said they were “thoughtless and vain and hardly conducted themselves with common decency”. Edwards’s delivery was undramatic and plain-spoken but, as George Marsden has written in his biography of Edwards, “The combination of controlled but transparent emotion, heartfelt sincerity both in admonition and compassion, inexorable logic and biblical themes could draw people into sensing the reality of ideas long familiar”. And what a reality of ideas he presented!

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

Sarah Edwards (1710-1758)

Edwards “employed no less than twenty metaphors or descriptive adjectives to express God’s wrath and hell’s torments”. Virtually everyone already firmly believed in hell as a place just as sure as was London. But many had grown cold to the reality, especially those who did not personally come to Christ for salvation. Edwards used the images of a pit, an oven, a mouth, a sword, a furnace, flames, a serpent, a troubled sea, black clouds approaching, waters dammed by a floodgate, a bow bent with an arrow ready “to be drunk with your blood”, an axe, and a heavy load that cannot be held. He reminded the congregation that they only lived through each night by God’s sovereign pleasure, and that He could justly send them screaming to hell at any moment. The most famous image of the sermon pictured God holding you over the pit of hell as one does a spider over the fire. He could let go at any moment, and you who are unrepentant would fall into the fire, lost forever. “O, sinner, consider the fearful danger you are in . . .”

Monument commemorating Edwards’ famous sermon

Pastor Edwards was unable to finish the sermon, given the outcry and torment of many souls confronted with their sin and its consequences. He closed the sermon and he and other ministers joined with the penitents to instruct them further. Edwards preached the sermon on several occasions in other churches with the same results, but with more sharing of God’s mercy and grace in the end. Though not all the images were specific quotes of Scripture, everything he said was true. The use of vivid metaphor and adjectives brought home to people’s hearts their precarious position before God.

This sermon has been studied and written about by scholars for all sorts of reasons, literary and philosophical. What the historian needs to remember is that it was accompanied by the movement of the Holy Spirit on hearts to bring salvation to lost souls.