Good Question. It is a question we have asked with great frequency for a number of years now.
As much as I despise having to say it, we are witnessing an America in decline today. We can sugar-coat it, we can parse it, we can ignore it, all at our peril.
To fix it, we must face it. And it is a painful thing to look, objectively, at our country today.
For so many of you who have been born and have attained maturity in America since the 1950’s, I can understand your wondering what I’m prattling on about.
See, you have never experienced a free America. You have never experienced that “shining city on a hill” as Ronald Reagan so loved to describe America. Reagan knew THAT America. He had experienced that America. Many of America’s so-called senior citizens living today also remember that America. I do.
Looking back at the America I was born into before the Second World War — I grew up in a land with unlimited horizons. It was a “can do” country. It was a land where citizens were not afraid — nor ashamed — to love their country and to defend her. It was a land where declaring oneself a patriot did not make one an enemy of the state.
Unlike today’s America, my America was a land unafraid — period.
Why was America unafraid? It was not arrogance. It was, in fact, a solid belief that America was under the protection of God.
Agnostics will no doubt, question this. Atheists will, also no doubt, get a chuckle at my quaint belief in “magic.” But it is a “truism.” Therefore, it is a fact and stands as such.
From time to time, this old Pharisee is wont to turn his collar around and climb into his scribe’s pulpit and sanctimoniously deliver a, uh, sermon.
Fair warning: I’m about to do it again … only … this time I will deliver the sermon of someone else. It is a sermon that, I believe, all Americans should hear.
Where did Reagan’s “shining city on a hill’ reference come from, anyway?
Well we have to go a long way back to before the country was actually founded. John Winthrop is credited with introducing the phrase into the American lexicon in the year 1630.
John Winthrop (12 January 1587/8 – 26 March 1649) was a wealthy English Puritan lawyer and one of the leading figures in the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the first major settlement in New England after Plymouth Colony. Winthrop led the first large wave of migrants from England in 1630, and served as governor for 12 of the colony’s first 20 years of existence. His writings and vision of the colony as a Puritan “city upon a hill” dominated New England colonial development, influencing the government and religion of neighboring colonies.
In 1630, Winthrop delivered a sermon entitled: “A Model of Christian Charity.” The
colonists were still aboard the ship “Arbella” as Winthrop admonished the future Massachusetts Bay colonists that their new community would be a “city upon a hill”, watched by the world—which became the ideal the New England colonists placed upon their hilly capital city, Boston. SOURCE: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_upon_a_Hill
It is noted in the same article referenced above that Winthrop’s sermon gave rise to the widespread belief in American folklore that the United States of America is God’s country because metaphorically it is a Shining City upon a Hill, an early example of American exceptionalism.
Understand that Winthrop drew inspiration for his description of America from the teachings of Jesus Christ. To be specific, Matthew chapter 5, verse 14: “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”
Even before Reagan, John F. Kennedy in 1961 (then President-elect), speaking to the General Court of Massachusetts said the following: “…I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates on the flagship Arbella three hundred and thirty-one years ago, as they, too, faced the task of building a new government on a perilous frontier. “We must always consider”, he said, “that we shall be as a city upon a hill—the eyes of all people are upon us”. Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us—and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state and local, must be as a city upon a hill — constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities.” SOURCE: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_upon_a_Hill
So. What DID John Winthrop declare on the windswept decks of the Arbella way back then? As we said above — every American ought to take the time to read Winthrop’s words. They are relatively short but clearly define the mission of the new country.
Here are Winthrop’s words as written and delivered by John Winthrop in 1630:
John Winthrop’s City upon a Hill, 1630
Now the onely way to avoyde this shipwracke and to provide for our posterity is to followe the Counsell of Micah, to doe Justly, to love mercy, to walke humbly with our God, for this end, wee must be knitt together in this worke as one man, wee must entertaine each other in brotherly Affeccion, wee must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities, for the supply of others necessities, wee must uphold a familiar Commerce together in all meekenes, gentlenes, patience and liberallity, wee must delight in eache other, make others Condicions our owne rejoyce together, mourne together, labour, and suffer together, allwayes haveing before our eyes our Commission and Community in the worke, our Community as members of the same body, soe shall wee keepe the unitie of the spirit in the bond of peace, the Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us, as his owne people and will commaund a blessing upon us in all our wayes, soe that wee shall see much more of his wisdome power goodnes and truthe then formerly wee have beene acquainted with, wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us, when tenn of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when hee shall make us a prayse and glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantacions: the lord make it like that of New England: for wee must Consider that wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us; soe that if wee shall deale falsely with our god in this worke wee have undertaken and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a byword through the world, wee shall open the mouthes of enemies to speake evill of the wayes of god and all professours for Gods sake; wee shall shame the faces of many of gods worthy servants, and cause theire prayers to be turned into Cursses upon us till wee be consumed out of the good land whether wee are going: And to shutt upp this discourse with that exhortacion of Moses that faithfull servant of the Lord in his last farewell to Israell Deut. 30. Beloved there is now sett before us life, and good, deathe and evill in that wee are Commaunded this day to love the Lord our God, and to love one another to walke in his wayes and to keepe his Commaundements and his Ordinance, and his lawes, and the Articles of our Covenant with him that wee may live and be multiplyed, and that the Lord our God may blesse us 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 worshipp other Gods our pleasures, and proffitts, and serve them, it is propounded unto us this day, wee shall surely perishe out of the good Land whether wee passe over this vast Sea to possesse it;
Therefore lett us choose life, that wee, and our Seede, may live; by obeyeing his voyce, and cleaveing to him, for hee is our life, and our prosperity. SOURCE: https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/winthrop.htm
Three hundred and eighty-three years ago America was warned that we would become what we have, indeed, become should be disavow our mission, as a nation, and turn away from Divine Providence.
We, as a nation have done that — and more. And we have only just begun to experience the consequences.
© J. D. Longstreet
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