As a City on a Hill

One of the great privileges that I have is teaching dual enrollment U.S. History and U.S. government to some of the juniors and seniors at Sunshine Bible Academy. This privilege is two-fold. On the one hand, it is just plain fun for me. I love American history–especially early American history–and I love studying and teaching about U.S. government. On the other hand, I have the opportunity to teach these subjects in a Christian school, meaning that I have the opportunity to explicitly teach the Christian elements of American history that are not always explored in sufficient detail in the sterile, politically-correct classrooms of most public schools.

Today was one of those days when I was reminded particularly of the latter. As I taught my U.S. History students about the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony I was able to go much further than just a passing mention of the motivations of John Winthrop and company when they founded the colony, and much further than a glossing over when discussing the establishment of Harvard College (now Harvard University), the first institution of higher learning in America, and much further in explaining the Ole’ Deluder Satan Act beyond simply stating that it created the first public school system in America. Why do these things matter? For one, because they allow for a complete and accurate understanding of history, which also means that, two, the realities of the Christian influence in America’s founding can be presented.

I am not going to suggest that John Winthrop or the Massachusetts Bay Colony were perfect. Their complete lack of toleration of those that did not agree completely with their understanding of the Bible is not something I would like to see repeated today, for example, but they got a lot of things right, too.

For example, in 1630, while still aboard the Arbella en route to the New World, Winthrop wrote “A Model of Christian Charity,” and then delivered it orally to those aboard the ship. A few snippets of that address make it into many history books–specifically, his statement that the Massachusetts Bay Colony would be “as a city upon a hill.” That’s an important part of the address, but unless the full context of the thesis is understood, it lacks the power behind it. Throughout his address Winthrop expounded on the responsibilities of Christians toward each other and toward their neighbors. We went so far as to point out that there were no rules for dealing with enemies, since “all are to be considered as friends in the state of innocence, but the Gospel commands love to an enemy. Proof: If thine enemy hunger, feed him; ‘Love your enemies… Do good to them that hate you’ (Matt. 5:44).” Winthrop was preparing his fellow passengers for the challenges and responsibilities of creating a brand new society in a completely unknown environment–something we will likely have the opportunity to do–and his instruction bears remembering.

His address is filled with Scripture references, and reminders that each person has a part to play, and is an integral part of the whole. Winthrop was quite serious about the weight of that responsibility. Toward the end of the address, he said, “…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.”

And what exactly was the context when Winthrop said the colony would be like a city on a hill? Here is what he said immediately thereafter: “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.” An excellent reminder for anyone who claims the name of Christ, and the responsibilities that come along with representing Him, and a good reminder for America as a nation.

And by the way, why was Harvard founded? To make sure that when the founding generation had passed away, that the next generation was prepared, equipped with a knowledge of the Lord and ready to carry on. And what about the Ole’ Deluder Satan Act–why did the Massachusetts Bay Colony require each town with 50 families to hire a teacher to teach children to read and write, and each town with 100 families to build a grammar school? To make sure that every person could read, and thereby be able to read the Bible for him- or herself, and thus defeat Satan and his attempt “to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures.” If only our public schools today had such a focus….

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