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"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." ~ Benjamin Franklin

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Nathaniel Griffith's Perspective of the "City upon a Hill"

Trouble brewed in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1649. But before I give you the next of my memoirs, please take this seat beside me overlooking my wife's garden. I, Nathaniel Griffith, would not have the pleasure of this great garden view (which overlooks the Narragansett Bay) had it not been for the grace of God.

Let me first be charitable to my father and those Puritans who first came to this land. Their intentions were good, desiring to establish a model community in and around the Boston area. Zealous for pure living among all church members (especially of the clergy) and for the church of England to be completely pure of Catholic influence, John Winthrop led a group of men to America. His was a tumultuous life--though I suppose any leader experiences such--but he served his people well and with the best of intentions.

I was a young man when John Winthrop died in 1649. My father insisted I should learn these words from this great man:

"...we shall be as a City upon a Hill. The eyes of all people are upon us."

And indeed, the world did watch to see if these Puritans would succeed. Those who crossed the Atlantic with John Winthrop believed they entered into a covenant with God.

Yea, I am shaking my head. Woe unto us who dare to think we have power to influence God by our right living, for righteous we are not. Nay, they learned through strife that one cannot be the conscience of another and not easily fall into sin oneself. Perhaps not the sin of the man they judge, but a sin even greater in believing they could act in God's stead.

After much labor one day, I rested against the stone fence my father insisted I build. You see, we had two horses which loved to wander. We kept them near on a picket line. What is that you asked? 'Tis a rope we strung about chest level between trees. We tied our horses to this line. We also used a high line, which is simply a picket line hung above the horses' heads. The high lines allowed the horses to graze and not get tangled in their lead. But I digress.

Behind my fence, three men walked. They spoke of those burned at the stake in England for beliefs contrary to the clergy, and then they spoke of those dissenters infecting the churches here in New England. Roger Williams was banished in 1635, Anne Hutchinson was banished, taking with her a number of other colonists to settle Portsmouth, Rhode Island. John Wheelwright was also banished then founded the town of Exeter, New Hampshire. And the list continues. Trouble brewed in England as well and the English Civil Wars began, leading to the beheading of King Charles I.

As I listened, I quaked with fear for Sarah Brown, the woman I loved. Her father had stood with Roger Williams against some of the teachings of the Puritans. Her father also stood in support of Anne Hutchinson and considered leaving with her when she was banished. Instead he stayed, his quiet manner seeming to appease those who opposed the teachings of salvation by grace alone and clung to the necessity of infant baptism. But he soon died and left Sarah. My father then took her in as a maid for my sister. A charitable act driven by a sense of guilt, for he was not without fault for the death of Goodman Brown.

These men that passed my fence determined to purify the Massachusetts Bay Colony of any and all who did not hold to their tenements. As the year progressed, they would seek out any who held a meeting outside of the church and arrest them. Indeed, in the years following some believe those who were tried for witchcraft were not witches, but those who claimed the Holy Spirit communicated with their spirit. And perhaps the most shaking of revelation to these staunch Puritans was the dissension of Henry Dunster in 1653. And one mustn't forget the hanging of Mary Dyer, a Quaker, in 1660, Boston.

I knew I needed to do something to keep Sarah from having the same fate of Anne Hutchinson and others who spoke freely of beliefs contrary to that of the religious leaders of the time. I thought perhaps if I could marry her, I could protect her, but my father would never let me marry beneath my station. Nor did I believe Sarah would have me, a wretched sinner.

Alas, the sun is setting. Perhaps Sarah will share with you next month. And thank you for listening to me ramble on about those days. I fear I lacked great courage and faith, but God would work despite me.
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Here is the timeline of the events Nathaniel mentions:

1630 John Winthrop writes the sermon "A Model of Christian Charity," which includes the section known as "The City upon a Hill." Winthrop then sails to New England

1631 Roger Williams arrives in Massachusetts

1635 William and Anne Hutchinson follow John Cotton to the New World

1635 Roger Williams is banished

1636 Harvard College is established

1637 Rev. John Wheelwright preaches a controversial sermon

1637 Anne Hutchinson and her followers are tried and banished

1638 John Wheelwright is banished

1642 English Civil Wars begin

1649 King Charles I is executed

1649 John Winthrop dies

1651 John Clarke, Obadiah Holmes, and John Crandall arrested for conducting an illegal worship service

1653/54 Henry Dunster, first president of Harvard College, abandons the Puritan view of infant baptism

1654/55 Henry Dunster exiles himself

1659 William Robinson and Maramaduke Stevenson were hung in Boston for returning to the Massachusetts Bay Colony after banishment (they were Quakers)

1660 Mary Dyer is hung in Boston

1660 Parliament asks Charles II to assume the throne thus restoring the monarchy in England.

1661 Executions of Quakers halted by Charles II

This is a very small list of acts the men, whom Nathaniel overheard, had seen and would see in the years to come. It is a quick overview of the struggle those early colonists went through, growing pains of the freedom we now enjoy. Many look at this list and become angry with Christians, but I don't think that is an accurate reaction. Without the Bible to guide our forefathers in an understanding of what true freedom of conscience is, we would never have seen the constitution we have today. I believe the colonists needed to go through these struggles before they could gain an understanding of what America was to become. Without experiencing the trials some of these men endured, they would not have known the importance of their own discovery of true freedom. These men did not look at their current situation, but at the future in which their children would live. They fought for a better place and a better life for those who would live after them.

In my opinion, I think we need to tread carefully before we pass judgment on those in this era. These people were mere men seeking to accomplish something greater than themselves, not realizing they couldn't do it without God's grace.



5 comments:

  1. Wow, I loved reading this from that viewpoint! It had to be very hard for the people of that era to try to become a new land. A City on a Hill, indeed.
    Susan P

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  2. Intriguing, interesting and informative. I'm holding my breath in anticipation of Sarah's memoir. Do hurry, please. :-)

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  3. Lynn--thanks for sharing this history. My husband's family with the surname of Sherman immigrated to Massachusetts Bay Colony and were banished with Anne H. and John W. I wrote a short blogpost about the Sherman's--it goes the the point that these immigrants paved a road to freedom with their toil and suffering. You can read it here:
    http://coffeecupsandcamisoles.blogspot.com/2013/01/lady-of-yaxley.html

    I couldn't get it to hyperlink--you'll have to paste it into your browser address.

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    1. Anne, how interesting! I'd love to read the documents found in the church parish, and how very interesting that your husband's ancestor, an earl, was to be one of those who were banished. What a great history! Sounds like you have excellent material for a terrific novel!

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  4. Lynn, thanks for sharing this fascinating post. I just handed in a proposal for a series about the Pilgrims that I will be co-writing with Gilbert Morris. The research has been eye-opening. The Pilgrims that arrived on the Mayflower, and later the Fortune, were not Puritans. They were a group of loving Christians who did not wish to be under the thumb of the English government with the King ruling as the head of the Church of England. Like you mentioned in your post, the Puritans wanted to purify the Church, whereas the Pilgrims wanted to be free of it and worship God according to the dictates of their hearts. I'm currently reading William Bradford's account of Plymouth Colony. They faced unbelievable odds and hardships, but held fast that God had sent them to the New World. My admiration for them has soared, and I understand the celebration of Thanksgiving with deeper meaning.

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