American Heritage: Not what was expectedPublished 11:04pm Wednesday, April 4, 2012
“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” — 2 Chronicles 7:14
Why begin this article with this verse? Because the Puritans were human beings. As all people before them and all after them, there were times when they forgot the commitments and the covenants that they had made. They forgot the reason for their being where they were. And they would have to look at the promise of the verse that I have used to begin this article.
When we left John Winthrop in our last article, he was weighing the pros and cons of going to the new land of promise. He had drawn up a list of the pros. Now it is time to look at his “cons.”
His first con was that the previous plantations were not very successful. Did that mean that this one would be the same?
In contemplating this negative, he came up with the following: “None of the former sustained any great damage but Virginia, which happened through their own sloth…There were great and fundamental errors in the former which are like to be avoided in this, for their main end was carnal (the idea of being concerned with one’s own fleshly desires) and not religious; they used unfit instruments, a multitude of rude and misgoverned persons, the very scum of the land; and they did not establish a right form of government.”
The next con centered around the realization that there would be many great difficulties that they would have to face. Answer to this problem?
“So is every good action … The way of God’s Kingdom, which is the best way in the world, is accompanied with the most difficulties.” In looking at this objection, it is probable that he was considering the Apostle Paul’s answer to a problem that he had faced. As Paul faced his problem, he said that the Lord revealed the following to him. He records in 2 Corinthians 12:9 the words of the Lord to him, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect (complete) in weakness.” John realized that when people come face to face with the fact that they can’t do something on their own, that is when they can draw on the power of their God. It is at that time that people can realize just how powerful and loving their God really is.
Though his decision was made by considering the pros and cons, he also had other things to consider. On the side of not going, a man by the name of Robert Ryece came to him. He told John that he was greatly needed right here in England. If the Church of England was going to be reformed, she needed a man like John to lead them to reformation. The Church needed him more than any remote settlement in a “so-called” promised land. On the other side of going was the threat that if he did not go as the leader of the people, the trip would be off and all plans for establishing a settlement to represent their God in the new land would be destroyed and would fail before it even got off the ground. His decision? He would go with his people. He stated, “I have assurance that my charge is of the Lord, and that He hath called me to this work.”
On Oct. 20, 1629, John Winthrop was unanimously elected as the governor of the group by the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Co. Winthrop went right to work getting things ready to go. He had everything ready on schedule, including the ships that would carry them to America.
Everything being ready, John Cotton, the Puritan minister, preached the farewell sermon. He used 2 Samuel 2:10 for his text: “Moreover I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as beforetime.” In his sermon he told them that when they get to their new home, they should not forget their covenant with God and fall into the same evils that the nation of Israel had done when God had given them their promised land.
John had set sail with a bit of emptiness in his heart. He had to leave his pregnant wife in Groton, England. She was too close to her due date, which was in April. So she stayed behind with John Jr., one of their sons, taking care of closing out their affairs. They believed it was God’s will for John to go and that she should wait for him to send for her later. One thing they agreed on, however, was that on every Monday and Friday, from 5 to 6 p.m. they would pray for one another. With his other son, Henry, the trip was begun.
On June 8, 1630, John Winthrop would be standing at the rail of the ship that took him on his journey, the Arbella. As he looked out from the rail, he got his first glimpse of the new land. He saw the coastal area of Maine. It was a beautiful sight. It was even more beautiful than he had imagined.
It was on June 11 that he was told that he would arrive in Salem on the next morning. And so it was, after 72 days they had reached their destination. But, there was a problem. Salem was not what they had expected. The people who met them as they came on shore, were extremely thin and boney. They were showing that they were suffering from extreme hunger. They were dressed in ragged clothing. They were listless and apathetic. They seemed to have lost their life.
Governor Winthrop had requested a meeting with the acting governor, John Endecott. He was a brash, quick-tempered soldier who had filled in for Winthrop until he arrived. Out of the sixty-six people who had come over with him in 1628 and the 200 who had come with Higginson and Skelton in 1629, only 85 remained. More than 80 had died during that time. Everyone else just gave up and returned to their homeland. Food for the remaining was almost non-existent.
Now the governor wondered if he had misinterpreted God’s message after all. He would spend a long night on board the Arbella, considering what his next move would be. How would he deal with this situation that he found himself in.
Finally he decided that he would have to set up a form of government that would incorporate the things that were decided upon by the Pilgrims when they wrote the Mayflower Compact with some things that he felt would be necessary in order to make this settlement a success. The Pilgrims had laid out the plan that they would establish a government of equal members, gathered by God to live for him and to be governed by their mutual consent. However, one thing that had been noted about the Pilgrims was that they did not go far enough.
Winthrop decided to take it another step forward. His equivalent of the Mayflower Compact would be “A Model Of Christian Charity.” His settlement would center on the fact that each person of the community should love his or her neighbor, which is what God had commanded.
People would covenant together to look out for one another and work hard in doing so. He wrote:
“This love among Christians is … as absolutely necessary to the being of the Body of Christ, as the sinews and other ligaments of a natural body are to the being of that body … We are a company, professing ourselves fellow members of Christ, we ought to account ourselves knit together by this bond of love … Thus stands the cause between 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.” He went on to describe the “whys” and “wherefores” of his covenant.
s time went on, many trials would stand before this people. They would soon learn the reason why they needed to understand the verse with which I started this article. Failures to uphold this covenant of loving your neighbor would bring many sad results.
We will look at some of these failures in our next article.