In June of 1630, the Arbella came to anchor in Salem Harbor, and the Massachusetts Bay Colony was born. Arriving ten years after the settlers of Plymouth Plantation, this first venture of the Massachusetts Bay Company was led by a 41-year-old lawyer named John Winthrop. Just before making landfall, Winthrop stood on the deck of the Arbella, and delivered a sermon, which has since become known as the "City Upon a Hill" speech.
While this speech has often be reviled by critics of America's Pilgrims as some sort of pompous, holier-than-thou harangue, one need only read the sermon in its entirety to understand Winthrop's true purpose in calling his fellow adventurers to walk in a spirit of humble service to God and to each other.
Winthrop's vision of a City Upon a Hill became a consistent theme throughout Ronald Reagan's public career. At the very first Conservative Political Action Conference in January of 1974, Reagan delivered a speech outlining his own vision of what it meant for America to serve as a city on a hill, closing that address with the unapologetic claim that "...we are today the last best hope of man on earth."
As dark as our present days may seem to us at times, we should consider the words of John Winthrop to those exhausted pilgrims, poised to land upon a shore completely alien to the world they had known.
If freedom falls here, it falls everywhere. Only God can deliver victory in a battle on that scale.
Here are Winthrop's words:
Now, the only way to avoid this shipwreck and to provide for our posterity is to follow the counsel of Micah: To do Justly. To love mercy. To walk humbly with our God.
For this end, we must be knit together in this work as one man.
We must entertain each other in brotherly affection.
We must be willing to abridge our selves of our superfluities, for the supply of others' necessities.
We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality.
We must delight in each other, make others' conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labour and suffer together.
Always having before our eyes our Commission and Community in the work – our Community as members of the same body.
So shall wee keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.
The Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us as his own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways, so that we shall see much more of his wisdom, power, goodness and truth than formerly we have been acquainted with.
We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when he shall make us a praise and glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantations: The Lord make it like that of New England.
For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us – so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world.
We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God and all professors for Gods sake.
We shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us – till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.
And to shut up this discourse with that exhortation of Moses, that faithful servant of the Lord, in his last farewell to Israel —
"Beloved, there is now set before us life, and good, death and evil in that we are commanded this day to love the Lord our God, and to love one another. To walk in his ways and to keep his commandments and his ordinance, and his laws, and the articles of our covenant with Him – that we may live and be multiplied, and that the Lord our God may bless us in the land whither we go to possess it.
But if our hearts shall turn away, so that we will not obey, but shall be seduced and worship other Gods – our pleasures, and profits, and serve them – it is propounded unto us this day, we shall surely perish out of the good Land whither we pass over this vast Sea to possess it."
— Deuteronomy 30
Therefore, let us choose life, that we, and our seed may live – by obeying His voice, and cleaving to Him, for He is our life, and our prosperity.