In Search of the City on a Hill: The Making and Unmaking of an American Myth is written by Richard M. Gamble, Hillsdale College professor and Ruling Elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. In the coming weeks we’ll look at some excerpts.
In his second chapter, The Good Land, Gamble takes a close look at Winthrop’s A Model of Christian Charity, the source of the oft-quoted “city on hill” passage. He gives a detailed description of its contents and reviews prior interpretations of Matthew 5:14-15 going back to the fourth century. He looks at correspondence between Winthrop and Lord Saye, who argued against Winthrop for:
“assuming…that there is the like call from God for your going to that part of America and fixing there, that there was for the Israelites going to the land of promise and fixing there.”…the planters of the Bay Colony had to exercise their reason and weigh “possibilities” and “probabilities.”
Especially telling is a page on which Gamble sets Deuteronomy 30 above the Model’s revision of that passage. I have highlighted key differences between the two.
Geneva Bible (1560)
Beholde, I have set before thee this day life & good, death and euil. In that I commande thee this day, to loue the Lord thy God, to walke in his wayes, & to kepe his commandments & his ordinances,& his laws that thou maiest liue and be multiplied, and that the Lord thy God may blesse thee in the land, whether thou goest to possesse it. But if thine heart turne away, so that thou wilt not obey, but shall be seduced & worship other gods, and serue them, I pronounce vnto you this day that ye shall surely perish, ye shall not prolong your days in the land whether thou passest ouer Jorden to possesse it. I call heauen and earth to recorde this day against you, that I haue set before you life and death, blessing and cursing, therefore chose life, that both thou & thy sede may liue, By louing the Lorde they God, by obeying his voice, & by cleauing vnto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy dayes:
John Winthrop (1630)
Beloued there is no sett before vs life, and good, death and euill in that wee are Commaunded this day to loue the Lord our God, and to loue one another to walke in his wayes and to keepe his Commaundments and his Ordinance, & his lawes, and the Articles of our Covenant with him that wee may liue and be multiplied, and that the Lord our God, may blesse vs in the land whether wee goe to possesse it: But if our heartes shall turne away soe that wee will not obey, but shall be seduced and worhipp other Gods our pleasures, and proffitts, and serue them; it is propounded vnto vs this day, wee shall surely perishe out of the good Land whether wee passe over this vast Sea to possesse it; Therefore let us choose life, that wee, and our Seede, may liue; by obeying his voyce & cleauing to him, for hee is our life, & our prosperity.