A Model Of Christian Charity Summary
What is the summary for A Model of Christian Charity?
A Model of Christian Charity by John Winthrop must be understood in context. It was a sermon delivered by Winthrop, the future governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, to his fellow Puritans on the way to Massachusetts.
While not a legal document, it essentially lays out the norms and societal expectations that were to govern the people of the colony, and as such serves as a wonderful primary source for the ideals of its founders. There is a heavy emphasis on charity and especially community, as Winthrop enjoins his listeners to ensure that, in the new society they were striving to create, "every man might have need of others, and from hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the bonds of brotherly affection." The colony was to be a Christian commonwealth, organically united, Winthrop hoped, in Christian love, which he compared to "ligaments." In order to make this happen, each member of the colony had to be willing to subsume his or her private interests (which were nevertheless important) to the public good. Winthrop spoke of a covenant between the Puritans and God, and if the colonists lived up to their end of this agreement, they would not fail to achieve success.
The most famous part of this sermon is at the end, when Winthrop urges his followers to recognize that they can be an example to true Christians around the world. "We must consider," he said, "that we shall be as a city on a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us." This line, a reference drawn from the Sermon on the Mount, has been cited as an early example of American exceptionalism, the belief that the American colonies, and then the United States, were to serve as a beacon of freedom to the rest of the world. This belief remains largely unaccepted by professional historians, but has served as a rhetorical touchstone for American politicians across the political spectrum for more than a century.
Winthrop's sermon is often reduced to only its final page or two, and this ignores his central arguments concerning the importance of love in what will be this new community. He discusses his idea that God makes people different—some are rich, some are poor, some are powerful, some not—and that he does so in order to preserve the whole. It is more glorious to God when we help one another rather than when he helps us. Therefore, if this community wants to serve God, they must love and serve one another.
Winthrop argues that this community of Puritans will need to be generous in order to survive. It is better to give than to keep. When we hoard our riches, it spoils, decays, gets stolen, and corrupts our hearts; therefore, it is better to share it around and take care of each other.
Winthrop describes this community as "one body," just as "true Christians are of one body in Christ." If one member suffers, all suffer. If one is selfish, one lacks God in one's heart, while generosity proves that one has taken God into one's heart.
Finally, he says that all must conform in this way, and that God will not "bear [our] failings" in this. Winthrop claims that they are on a special mission from God, and so they have a greater responsibility to do his will. This is the contract between the Puritan community and God: if they fail to keep him in their hearts, then this will "cause Him to withdraw His present help from [them], [and they] shall be made a story and a by-word through the world." They are to be the "Model of Christian Charity" for all; if they fail, everyone will be watching, and they will be known the world over for their failures.