Standing amidst the crowd on that rocky boat, John Winthrop addressed each and every Puritan that stood before him individually. The future colony of Massachusetts Bay, a community sent from England to further Calvinist religion, wondered how they, a group of outcasts who have a habit of quarreling with authority, could construct a strong society without fighting amongst themselves. In 1629, aboard the Arbella, Winthrop addressed their concerns in his sermon A Model of Christian Charity. The structure and language of his oration focuses the audience on John Winthrop’s ultimate purpose.
John Winthrop, in A Model of Christian Charity, proposes that the community should obey the Covenant of God in order to prosper in the perilous lands of the British colonies. Winthrop delineates the concept of adhering to God’s Covenant as “loving one another with a pure heart fervently” and being “knit together” as a united community (223). Winthrop affirms the overall expectation of the colony to be a balance between the government and the Church. In addition, the community should aim to prosper through supporting the public good, as opposed to the interests of individuals, in order to serve as an example to all future communities of New England.
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The overriding purpose of Winthrop’s sermon is enhanced through the structure of his speech. A Model of Christian Charity is traditionally structured and, therefore, familiar to the Puritan audience. Like other traditional sermons, the audience hears a speech divided into three sections: the model, which establishes the background and setting in which the speech is given; the reason, which serves as an analysis of Scripture; and the application, which interprets the Scripture and relates it to the immediate situation of the audience. Since the audience is familiar with the format of the speech, they can easily anticipate Winthrop’s movement within the sermon and follow Winthrop’s main message of serving God as a community.
The audience is also familiar with the question and answer technique used within Winthrop’s sermon. The technique is located within the reason section of the sermon and enables the audience to decipher and comprehend the key points concerning teachings of the Scriptures. In addition to comprehension, the question and answer segment appeases the audience’s reservations of the sermon. For example, by individually explaining the Biblical ideas of giving, lending, and forgiving, Winthrop delineates the audience’s “duty of mercy,” which is a vital action the Massachusetts Bay Colony must take in order to form a perfect community that upholds the highest of Christian standards (216). The concepts of giving, lending, and forgiving are an explanation of Winthrop’s ultimate purpose and are clarified through a question and answer layout familiar to the audience.
Similar to the value of the question and answer segment, the audience’s focus is once again geared by Winthrop’s organizational technique. The audience is supplemented with a list of intricacies that help explain the broad ideas provided throughout the sermon. There are multiple incidents within A Model of Christian Charity when Winthrop introduces complex ideas, such as the initial “application of [the] discourse” (223). The audience is fortunate, however, because Winthrop expounds each complexity through a simplified list that breaks down the greater principle. For example, the “application” is further developed into a list of four elucidating points: the persons, the work, the end, and the means (223). The audience is able to concentrate on Winthrop’s purpose by grasping his ideas in a structural format that clarifies his overall objectives through listing a series of sub points.
Besides the structural format, the audience of A Model of Christian Charity, is able to relate to Winthrop’s purpose through his use of language. Winthrop’s figurative devices are used to focus the audience on his purpose and include repetition, Biblical allusions, and metaphors that are derived from the Bible. Each method of figurative language seeks to relate to the Puritan audience to stress Winthrop’s purpose of outlining the tasks of the Massachusetts Bay Colony that will culminate in “serving the Lord and working out their salvation under the power and purity of His holy ordinances” (223).
The audience uses Winthrop’s repetition as a way of verifying the emphasis on achieving their salvation. For example, when Winthrop notes a community should “rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together,” he allows the audience to identify the stressed points of the sermon (225). In this example, the use of “together” reinforces Winthrop’s emphasis on the unity among the Puritans of the community. The audience is able to use the repetition of the speech to understand Winthrop’s thesis that only a community, working as a whole, can reach salvation.
Alluding to Biblical texts, Winthrop states that men must follow the laws of God, including showing mercy and justice towards others to survive in the colony. The two ways to demonstrate mercy and justice are to “do good to all” and never to deny the poor of the necessary items they need to live (216). The Puritans are so familiar with the words of the Bible and Scriptures that the allusions are easily recognizable. The Bible serves as a point of reference within the sermon for the audience. By encouraging God’s laws, Winthrop exerts a favorable emphasis on working as a community and supporting the public as a whole.
Winthrop also uses metaphors derived from the Bible to emphasize two very important ideas. Through the Bible, Winthrop both reassures the community and forewarns them of the future. The audience is first encouraged to prosper under God’s Covenant when Winthrop expresses the result of “avoiding this shipwreck” (224). However, the Puritans are also warned that they “shall be as a city upon a hill” and serve as a model for all other communities; thus, the community at Massachusetts Bay has the duty of upholding God’s reputation (225). The audience is provided with both positive affirmation and pessimistic threat in Winthrop’s sermon.
After hearing John Winthrop’s discourse, the Puritans must have been filled with a slight uneasiness. While the overall optimistic speech embraces a community living under God, the sermon also serves as a forewarning to the people of Massachusetts Bay Colony. Winthrop’s audience is to engage in the responsibility of creating the perfect Christian community. The audience is advised of the benefits of succeeding as a perfect community. If they were to “keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, the Lord will be [their] God, and delight to dwell among [them] as His own people; and will command a blessing upon [them] in all [their] ways, so that [they] shall see much more of His wisdom, power, goodness and truth, than formerly [they] have been acquainted with.” However, the audience is also warned of the danger that would follow if they were to fail as a colony. Ultimately, the Puritans fear polluting the reputation of God and being “consumed out of the good land” (225). Due to these two overriding points in the sermon, the audience must conclude that Winthrop’s purpose is to instill caution and uneasiness in the audience when they begin building their new society.
Although Winthrop proposed to inspire the Massachusetts Colony to thrive under the ways of God, the audience must necessarily grasp the caution they should take upon the creation of their community. Through a traditional structural format and familiar usage of language, the audience comprehends the key points of Winthrop’s sermon. However, the responsibility that Winthrop places on the community causes uneasiness amongst the crowd. If the overpowering threat of failure were omitted from the speech, it is possible that the audience of his sermon, for years to come, would arrive at a completely different understanding of Winthrop’s message.
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