“City Upon a Hill” Analysis In 1630 the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony gave a sermon to his Puritan followers. Winthrop writes that God has purposefully made some people poor and others rich in order to perform his work in the different areas of life. He also speaks of a man’s moral requirement to help others with their needs. Winthrop’s purpose of delivering this sermon to Puritans was to encourage them to purify their connection with God and to obtain perfect order in their society. John Winthrop’s “city upon a hill” sermon was like his vision for the New England colony.
With research, careful analysis and thinking you can interpret the meaning of Winthrop’s speech. When he says, “for we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us”, Winthrop is saying that they will be an example for all other people. They will be “a city upon a hill” where everyone else can see them and whether they follow God and prosper or defy him and fail as a society. This sermon was said so that the Puritans could have a sense of hope in the goals that they wanted to achieve in New England. You can interpret Winthrop’s ideas and goals for the community through his sermon.
One of the reasons why Winthrop preached this sermon was to project his visions of his perfect society onto his fellow Puritans. Different from the pilgrims who had travelled to North America, Winthrop and his followers had not separated from the church. They hoped to establish a pure church that would act as a model for the churches in England. The Puritans believed that this church would reform English society, on both continents, and help change things for the better. These ideas were emphasized in Winthrop’s “city upon a hill” preaching’s. The saying “a city upon a hill” can also be found in the New Testament in the Bible.
The quote is relative to when Jesus Christ was giving his sermon on the mount. As it says in the Bible, “Matthew 5:14 You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid”. Winthrop’s phrase was used almost as a metaphor to say that they would be like Jesus. Their actions and behaviors in their reflection of God would be observed by the world. The Puritans listening were still loyal to the Anglican Church and not travelling to America for religious freedom. Winthrop felt the need to remind them that others will follow by their lead which must be kept pure, another reason for delivering his sermon.
Winthrop’s saying can be compared to the idea of American Exceptionalism. America and its history are placed in an “exceptional” light. Our legacies that make us distinctive, our values, our freedom, set us apart from the rest of the world. These are the things that make America “a city upon a hill”. Winthrop’s vision for his New England colony blossomed into an entire country where we are an example to other nations. In the words of John Winthrop, we “…must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us…”