It is evident that John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, never shown any respect and compassion for the tradition of democracy, rather, he hated democracy as well as did not support religious tolerance. A Model of Christian Charity is a short sermon that was written to summarize and arrange the ideas relevant to living in the Puritan colony, which wanted to be successful in the ‘new world’. The sermon began with explaining why God created people of various ranks (rich, powerful, poor, and powerless) because different strengths are needed and because all ranks should have respect for one another (Winthrop 6).
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Winthrop warned the Puritans that they had created an agreement with God and therefore, are forced to show kindness. If they did the opposite, God would punish them. The sermon concluded with the statement that in the ‘new world’ Puritans would create a shining “city upon the hill”, setting an example for everyone how a religious community can be created and sustained. There is a strong idea that aimed to become an example for the rest of the world community which remained an ideal used by many American leaders.
During the voyage to America, Winthrop preached the idea that the Puritans were going to the ‘promised land’ to shield themselves and their future generations from the corruption and other threats that followed them in the old world. The “city upon the hill” idea is nowadays commonly used by conservatives when invoking the “American exceptionalism” notion as well as its superiority of military power and wealth.
In my opinion, such a reference often suggests a national self-congratulation worldview as well as supports an attitude inherent to liberals – the attitude of complacency. However, the modern interpretation of Winthrop’s quote is not at all what was meant originally. Instead of suggesting that the new settlers are superiors to the citizens of the ‘old world’, rather, Winthrop wanted to underline the notoriety of their actions. For Winthrop, the image of the “city upon the hill” related to the concept of “preeminent responsibility” (Signorelli par. 3).
Edwards’ Personal Struggles
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God by Jonathan Edwards represent three major themes: sinners will face punishment, God’s righteous wrath cannot be foreseen, ‘the day of mercy’ can only be extended if the sinners obey. The theme of “city upon the hill” is also reflected in Edwards’ sermon – sinners are described as helpless and precarious human beings corrupted in their nature, so they must be punished. Thus, the shining city will be only available to those living by God’s rules. However, Edwards went to a much further detail when discussing the wrongful versus righteous behavior – he used the metaphors like “grasshoppers” and “worms of the dust” to describe those not obeying God (Edwards 17).
The exploration of religion and sinfulness is also present in Edwards’ Personal Narrative, which is can be regarded as a self-reflection on religion. The negative attitude towards sinners is supported by Edwards’ personal relationship with sin, which he wanted to suppress through maintaining the righteous way of life, which also, subsequently, failed. Despite trying the intellectual approach towards the matters of spiritual life, Edwards was not satisfied with the outcome. The main conclusion drawn from Edwards’ individual experiences is that spiritual righteousness could have only been accessed from the outside of one’s mind.
Sin pulled him down while joy lifted him up. Edwards described his nature as a sinful individual and spoke hyperbolically about his disobedience to God’s word. He called himself wicked since he felt the horror, which his sins caused. The joy was evoked from his love of God, seen in his hatred for himself as a sinner. When analyzing the essay, it is evident that the large portion of the writing was dedicated to the joy in God in order to make up for the sinfulness and self-loathing, getting approval from God. Whatever the purpose of the Personal Narrative was, the outcome related to the emotional rollercoaster that ranged from joy to sin, from ecstasy to horror (Stratford par. 4).
While Edwards used many abstract notions when writing his Personal Narrative, he stated that no words could explain the “inexpressible” experience of God’s presence (Edwards 12). Additionally, Edwards compared God and the wonders of nature through expressing his awe with them at the same time reflecting on the experiences he had as a believer.
Therefore, despite Edwards promoting the sin-free and righteous way of life to become a true citizen of “the city upon the hill”, his personal experience is far less righteous than he, personally, wanted it to be. The obsession with being approved by God in one’s deeds is reflected in the American conservative tradition that dates back to the times of Winthrop. Living righteously is also sometimes regarded as a feature of the American nation’s significance or superiority over others.
Crevecouer’s Exploration of the American Identity
Letter III “What is an American” from the Letters from an American Farmer by Hector St. Jean de Crevecoeur was written from a perspective of a Frenchman that moved to America and settled there. The third letter described the merging of various population groups, which came together to become an American nation together and American citizens individually. Furthermore, the author of the letter analyzed the strong bond that existed between the land and men as well as how this relationship affected human behavior.
Therefore, there are themes of individual spirituality and the bond by land. Because the majority of Europeans came to the promised land in a search for a better life, they all wanted to become new people. This argument is supported by the following statement “We are nothing but what we derive from the air we breathe, the climate we inhabit, the government we obey, the system of religion we profess, and the nature of our employment” (Crevecoeur 56).
As evidenced by the statement above, humans are greatly dependent on what surrounds them; thus, they will change as their surrounding environment changes. The Europeans were trapped in their oppressive surroundings and changed to become completely different people. This relates to the question of who is American. An American, according to the writer, is a person that has found new freedom through living the old way of life behind.
Therefore, the “city upon the hill” is created when the old burdens are disregarded and the new way of life is adopted. In the analysis of the works of Edwards, Winthrop, and Crevecoeur, a conclusion can be made that the American “city upon the hill” was created through the righteous way of living, obeying the rule of God, punishing sinners, and leaving the old burdens behind.
Crevecoeur, Hector St. Jean de. Letters from an American Farmer. Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, 1904. Print.
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Edwards, Jonathan. Personal Narrative. An Electronic Edition. 2002. Web.
Edwards, Jonathan. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. A Sermon Preached at Enfield, 1741. n.d. Web.
Signorelli, Mark. A City Upon a Hill. 2011. Web.
Stratford, Michael. What Is the Theme of “Edwards’ Personal Narrative? n.d. Web.
Winthrop, John. A Model of Christian Charity (1630). A Reader’s Edition. n.d. Web.