Few would contest that Christianity played a significant role in the development of early America, and the integration of Christian beliefs with everyday work was a hallmark of the Puritan mind. This mindset was summarized by Pastor George Swinnock, who said, "The pious tradesman will know that his shop as well as his chapel is holy ground."
Such was the life of John Winthrop: Puritan, lawyer, businessman, and Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for 12 years.
Winthrop is well known for an admonition he gave fellow colonizers in a sermon delivered aboard the flagship Arbella, in 1630. It was an admonition based upon the words of Jesus, who declared, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, which is in heaven." Winthrop's exact words were: "For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us."
Both John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan made reference to the "city on a hill" idea, in political speeches. Kennedy was more specific than Reagan, when he stated in 1961, "...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."
Yet something important is missing from Kennedy's speech, and Reagan's, too. It's what Winthrop went on to say next: "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 a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God's sake."
We'll not hear this part of Winthrop's message in political speeches soon. But it describes our condition perfectly, as I see things.