A Model of Christian Charity

A sermon given by John Winthrop on board the Arbella

(as edited, from http://www.libertynet.org/edcivic/winthrop.html, spelling modernized)


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 mane and in subjection.


1. Reason: First, to hold conformity with the rest of his works being delighted to show forth the glory of his wisdom in the variety and difference of the Creatures and the glory of his power in ordering all these differences for the preservation and good of the whole; and the glory of his greatness that as it is the glory of princes to have many officers, so this great King will have many Stewards, counting himself more honored in dispensing his gifts to man by man, than if tree did it by his own immediate hand.

2. Reason: Secondly, That he might have the more occasion to manifest the work of his Spirit: first, upon the wicked in moderating and restraining them: so that the riche and mighty should not eat up the poor, nor the poor and despised rise up against their superiors and shake off their yoke; secondly in the regenerate in exercising his graces in them, as in the great ones, their love, mercy, gentleness, temperance, etc., in the poor and inferior sort, their faith, patience, obedience, etc.

3. Reason: Thirdly, That every man might have need of other, and from hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the Bond of brotherly affection: from hence it appears plainly that no man is made more honorable than another or more wealthy etc., out of any particular and singular respect to himself but for the glory of his Creator and the Common good of the Creature, Man, Therefore God still reserves the property of these gifts to himself as Ezek: 16.17. he there calls wealth his gold and his silver, etc. Proverbs 3.9 he claims their service as his due honor the Lord with thy riches, etc. All men being thus (by divine providence) ranked into two sorts, riche and poor; under the first, are comprehended all such as are able to live comfortably by their own means duly improved; and all others are poor according to the former distribution. There are two rules whereby we are to walk one towards another: JUSTICE and MERCY. These are always distinguished in their Act and in their object, yet may they both concur in the same Subject in each respect; as sometimes there may be an occasion of showing mercy to a rich man, in some sudden danger of distress, and also doing of mere Justice to a poor man in regard of some particular contract, etc. There is likewise a double Law by which we are regulated in our conversation one towards another: in both the former respects, the law of nature and the law of grace, or the moral law or the law of the gospel!, to omit the rule of Justice as not properly belonging to this purpose otherwise than it may fall into consideration in some particular Cases: By the first of these laws man as he was enabled so withal [is] commanded to love his neighbor as himself. Upon this ground stand all the precepts of the moral law, which concerns our dealings with men. To apply this to the works of mercy this law requires two things: first, that every man afford his help to another in every want or distress. Secondly, That he performer this out of the same affection which makes him careful! of his own good according to that of our Savior, Math: [7.12] Whatsoever ye would that men should doe to you. This was practiced by Abraham and Lott in entertaining the Angels and the old man of Gibea.

The Law of Grace or the Gospel hath some difference from the former as in these respects: first, the law of nature was given to man in the estate of innocence; this of the gospel in the estate of regeneracy. Secondly, the former propounds one man to another, as the same flesh and Image of god; this as a brother in Christ also, and in the Communion of the same spirit and so teaches us to put a difference betwen Christians and others. Doe good to all, especially to the household of faith; upon this ground the Israelites were to putt a difference betwen the brethren of such as were strangers though not of the Canaanites. Thirdly, the Law of nature could give no rules for dealing with enemies, for all are to be considered as friends in the estate of innocence, but the Gospel commands love to an enemy. Proof: If your Enemy hunger feed him; Love your Enemies, doe good to them that hate you Math: 5.44.

This Law of the Gospel propounds likewise a difference of seasons and occasions. There is a time when a Christian must sell all and give to the poor, as they did in the Apostles times. There is a time also when a Christian (though they give not all yet) must give beyond their ability, as they of Macedonia. Corinthians 2.6. Likewise community of perils calls for extraordinary liberality and so cloth Community in some special! service for the Church. Lastly, when there is no other means whereby our Christian brother may be relieved in this distress, we must help him beyond our ability, rather than tempt God, in putting him upon help by miraculous or extraordinary meanest.

It rests now to make some application of this discourse by the present design which gave the occasion of writing of in Herein are four things to be propounded: first, the persons; secondly, the work; thirdly, the end; fourthly, the meanest

1. For the persons, we are a Company professing our selves fellow members of Christ, in which respect only though we were absent from each other many miles, and had our employments as far distant, yet we ought to account our selves knits together by this bond of love, and live in the exercise of it, if we would have comfort of our being in Christ. This was notorious in the practice of the Christians in former times, as is testified of the Waldenses from the mouth of one of the adversaries Aeneas Sylvius, mutuo [solent amare] pene antequam norint. They use to love any of their own religion even before they were acquainted with them.

2. For the work we have in hand, it is by a mutual consent through a special overruling providence, and a more than an ordinary approbation of the Churches of Christ to seek out a place of Cohabitation and Consort ship under a due form of Government both civil and ecclesiastical!. In such cases as this the care of the public must over sway all private respects, by which not only conscience, but mere Civil policy cloth bind us; for it is a true rule that particular estates cannot subsist in the ruin of the public.

3. The end is to improve our lives, to doe more service to the Lord, the comfort and increase of the body of Christ whereof we are members, that our selves and posterity may be the better preserved from the Common corruptions of this evil world, to serve the Lord and work out our Salvation under the power and purity of his holy Ordinances.

4. For the means whereby this must bee effected, they are twofold, a Conformity with the work and end we aim at; these we see are extraordinary, therefore we must not content our selves with usual ordinary meanest Whatsoever we did or ought to have done when we lived in England, the same must we doe and more also where we go: That which the most in their Churches maintain as a truth in profession only, we must bring into familiar and constant practice, as in this duty of love we must love brotherly without dissimulation, we must love one another with a pure hearse fervently, we must bear one anotherís burdens, we must not look only on our own things but also on the things of our brethren, neither must we think that the lord will bear with such failings at our hands as tree clothe from those among whom we have lived.

Thus stands the cause betwen God and us. We are entered into Covenant with him for this work, we have taken out a Commission the Lord hath given us leave to draw our own Articles, we have professed to enterprise these Actions upon these and these 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 tree 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 grease things for our selves and our posterity, the Lord will surely break out in wrath against us, be revenged of such a perjured 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 doe 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 than 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 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 whither 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 whither we go to possess it: But if our hearses 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 whither we pass over this vast Sea to possess it;

Therefore let us choose life,
that we, and our Seed,
live; by obeying his
voice, and cleaving to him,
for he is our life, and
our prosperity.