America a Wonderful Nation
When the Puritans came to America they believed that it was a special place and that it was their destiny to serve God in this strange, untamed wilderness. However, even in the seventeenth century things were not perfect. The Puritans did not believe everyone was a saint in their “City Upon a Hill,” and not all Puritans were confident of their personal commitment to Christ. Only those Puritan “Saints,” “The Elect,” whose lives showed evidence of a relationship with God were allowed to fully participate in the leadership of the community. An example of this can be seen in the way the first generation of Puritan Americans treated their children. The children had not had the same experience with God that their parents had had, and the parents believed that the children did not have the same commitment to the faith that they had, and with each passing generation it seemed to the older generation that the fire of faith was going out. The early Puritans were concerned about the rising decadence and the moral decline of their culture, and four centuries later, this same concern persists among many Americans.
Like the Puritans of the 1630s, I have a personal interest and concern for America that goes beyond patriotism. Like the Puritans, I have a love for America that is rooted in my faith in God and the Bible. I have an interest in what America is and what America should be and what it is that America stands for. For the early American Puritans, the Jeremiad was a sermonic form that revealed a vision of what America was and should be. For the Puritans, the Jeremiad was a means of hearing from God and listening to His voice, a method I believe God has been using for the last 400 years, and is still using, to speak to America today.
The American Jeremiad is a dialectical message of woe that emphasizes hope; it speaks of sin and repentance and of God’s love towards humanity. The Jeremiad is a rhetorical form that reveals society’s sense of responsibility toward God and nation. I believe that the American Jeremiad is a timeless message of eternal love and concern from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But the American Jeremiad was, and is, much more than a rhetorical device for the occasional sermon. It is a rich, meaningful message whose roots reach to the very beginning of American history. For people of faith, the Jeremiad is evidence that there is direct communication from the God of the Bible. The message of the Jeremiad is not limited to believers, but is addressed to both the believing and the non-believing. The delivery of the Jeremiad is usually via the ministers of God, although especially in the twentieth century some Jeremiads take other forms, such as the political rhetoric of some politicians, both republican and democrat, and in some secular non religious writings.
I will discuss the uniqueness and importance of the Jeremiad to American culture in three chapters. Chapter One focuses on the vision of a perfect Puritan America, and I will use Winthrop’s “A Model of Christian Charity” to show what this perfect America would have looked like. I will also give a detailed definition of the American Jeremiad, and I will discuss some early Puritan examples of the Jeremiad. I will also discuss some of the changes that the Jeremiad underwent between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.
In Chapter Two, I will give an overview of Biblical typology and its use in the
American Jeremiad. An in-depth treatment of the Biblical typology of the American
Jeremiad reveals the power of Biblical imagery in early American culture. I will analyze
the expressions of Biblical imagery in the typology of Jonathan Mitchell’s “Nehemiah on the Wall.” Typology is an elegant formation of words, rich in meaning, which the Puritans used to relate the Biblical themes represented in the Jeremiads to their own destinies. From the typology of the Jeremiad, we can glimpse how the early Puritans viewed themselves as individuals in relation to their society and their sense of the larger world around them. Mitchell’s sermon is a good example of how the Jeremiad was used to address politicians’ God-given responsibility to serve Puritan citizens.
The closing chapter of this study examines some modern American Jeremiads and identifies threads of continuity and change from the first American versions. I will survey the development of both secular and religious forms of the American Jeremiad in the twentieth century.
Not everyone will agree about the importance of America’s Christian foundation and some even deny America’s Christian beginnings. I believe the Jeremiad’s importance to America’s Christian roots parallels its role as the foundation of the ideas and beliefs that many believe still support contemporary American secular and religious culture.
A Vision of the Perfect America
Even before the first explorers came to America, there were myths about the greatness of this place. For example, Spanish explorers believed the myths that circulated in fifteenth century Europe about El Dorado and searched for cities of gold and the fountain of youth. The Puritan version of this new world mythology about America finds its best expression in a sermon preached by John Winthrop in 1630. After enduring the dangerous crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, and while anchored in Massachusetts Bay, Winthrop delivered his now famous sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity.” In this sermon, Winthrop laid out a vision of the perfect Christian society. The Puritan community in the New World was to be a firm foundation of “agape,” a lighthouse of Christian love, an example of church and state illuminating the way for the entire world to follow.
The Puritans believed that America was the Promised Land, that they were New Israel, and that they were destined to be an example of the perfect Christian society. While the Puritans believed that they were New Israel, they did not believe themselves to be the literal Israel. If the Puritans had believed that they were the literal Israel, this would have, in effect, disenfranchised the historical Israelites from any Biblical claim to the literal promised land of Israel, which was not the Puritans’ intention; rather, the Puritans understood the “New Israel” as a metaphor. This form of rhetoric in early Puritan thought is an example of how the Puritans used the dual interpretation of Scripture to refer to themselves, while, at the same time preserving the original or literal intent of the Scripture. Dual applications of Scriptural exposition are particularly applicable to prophetical and typological passages. In Scriptural exposition sometimes there is a dual meaning applied to the literal meaning of the Scripture. An example of this can be can be seen in how the Puritans used scriptures that contextually referred to literal Israel. The Puritans used Scriptures that were clearly spoken to ancient Israel, and in a duel interpretation applied those same Scriptures to themselves. Hence, they referred to themselves as the New Israel, America as the Promised Land, and as the patriarch Jacob was a pilgrim just passing through this temporary dwelling place, so too the Puritans were pilgrims just passing through on their way to Heaven. America was just a temporary dwelling.
The Puritans hoped their community could serve God in the New World without the common corruptions of the evil old one, in which they believed the King of England to be their most significant hindrance to serving God. According to Edmund S. Morgan in his book, The Puritan Dilemma, The Story of John Winthrop,
“…James made no secret of his dislike for Puritans and promised to harry them out of the land. But his bark proved worse than his bite. He appointed as Archbishop of Canterbury George Abbott, an easy going prelate who leaned toward Puritanism himself. And while James allowed no further reformation of the Church, he did pick a fight with the Roman Catholics over the power of a king to defend the laws of God inside his kingdom without interference from the Pope. Though the Puritans thought that James was doing a poor job of defending those laws, they had to applaud his attack on the pope” (20).
The Puritans did not have a perfect situation in England, and that situation worsened with the death of King James I and the ascension of Charles I to the throne in 1625. It was the desire of the Puritans to bring the reformation to the Church of England, riding it of all popish embellishments. Some of the Puritans, called Separatists, believed that the Church of England was beyond hope and could not be reformed; they were extreme in their Biblical views. The Puritans under John Winthrop were not Separatists and did not give up their hope of reforming the Church of England; instead, they took their battle to America. King Charles I alarmed the Puritans by marrying a Catholic woman, making her his Queen, but that was not all. According to Sydney E. Ahlstrom in his book A Religious History of The American People, King Charles I,
“…showed marked favoritism to a new party in the church which was both ‘Armininian’ and dogmatically ‘prelatical.’ Charles made the leader of that party, Bishop Laud of London, one of his most trusted advisors, and in 1633 appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury. Coupled with the king’s high-handed dealings with Parliament and his weak foreign policy in the face of the growing power of Roman Catholic France, these policies began to dim Puritan hopes for Englands future. As a consequence the more dogmatic and especially the more congregationally inclined among them began in ever larger numbers to despair of root and branch reform. Singly or in groups some fled to Holland. Then, during the decade of the 1630s, the Puritan migration to America took place” (93).
By emigrating to New England, the Puritans found a freedom to serve God that had not been possible in Old England. They believed their business was God’s business and that the society they were attempting to create should be a blend of church and state, a Christian society in which every person would work harmoniously. Perry Miller, in his book New England Mind, tells us that the Puritans were not just running away from England, they had a purpose and intention in coming to America:
“The migration was no retreat from Europe: it was a flank attack. We are to be a city upon a hill, the eyes of all the world upon us; what we succeed in demonstrating, Europe will be bound to imitate, even Rome itself. These were not--despite their analogies with Moses and the tribes of Israel--refugees seeking a promised land, but English scholars, soldiers and statesman, taking the long way about in order that someday they, or their children, or at least their friends, might rule in Lambeth. They knew that they would have to take pains in husbandry and business; since the fall of Adam such diligence was obligatory, but it was unthinkable that children conceived and educated in Massachusetts and Connecticut would become preoccupied, not with universal Christendom, but with provincial merchandise” (5).
After preaching a rallying cry to the Puritans from the deck of the Arbella, Winthrop prophetically declared that American Puritan society would become a “City upon a Hill,” a Christian, utopian society that would command the attention of the world. According to Winthrop in his sermon “A Model of Christian Charity,”
“…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 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 by-word through the world, wee shall open the mouthes of enemies to speake evill of the wayes of god and all professors for God’s 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 exhortation of Moses that faithful servant of the Lord in his last farewell to Israell Deut. 30. Beloved there is now set before us life, and good, deathe and evill in that we 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 multiplied, and that the Lord our God may blesse us in the land whether wee goe to possesse it” (42).
Throughout his sermon, from its beginning to its end, Winthrop emphasized the importance of Christian love. Winthrop believed that this kind of love would be the element that would hold the colony together and would enable it to succeed. Winthrop intended for love to be the main characteristic of American Puritan society. Throughout his sermon, Winthrop painted a picture of how love was also to be the defining quality of all individual, interpersonal relationships. The Puritans intended to infuse this Christian ideal of love into every aspect of their personal lives. Winthrop emphasized that Christian love is the “bond of perfection,” (the Greek word for perfection comes from the word “teleos” and means maturity or mature) and that it would make the work of God perfect, or mature, in the New Israel. The “bond of perfection” refers to love as the special ingredient that will hold/bond the society together. In the “Model of Christian Charity,” Winthrop provides his listeners with a scriptural definition of Christian love:
“The diffinition which the Scripture gives us of love is this Love is the bond of perfection. First, it is a bond, or ligament. 2ly, it makes the work perfect. There is
noe body but consistes of partes and that which knitts these partes together gives the body its perfeccion, Because it makes eache parte soe contiguous to each other, both in strengthe and infirmity in pleasure and paine, to instance in the most perfect of all bodies, Christ and his church make one body: the severall partes of this body considered aparte before they were united were as disproportionate and as much disordering as soe many contrary qualities or elements but when Christ comes and by His Spirit and love knitts all these partes to himselfe and each to other, it is become the most perfect and best proportioned body in the world Eph:4:16” (35).
The love that Winthrop talked about was not common or ordinary. It was different
from “phileo,” which means to embrace or kiss, to have affection for; “phileo” is the friendship kind of love. According to Ethelbert Bullinger in, A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament, phileo means, “to kiss, to love, used of the more direct demonstration of regard” (469). Phileo was also different from “eros,” which is the passionate kind of love, desire. The love that Winthrop referred to was “agape” love, an elevated form of love that was central to Christ’s message and goals for Christians. Bullinger says that agape love is,
“[A word not found in the profane writers, or in Philo and Josephus, or in Acts, Mark, and James. It is unknown to writers outside the New Testament. Philanthropy was the highest word used by the Greeks, which is a very different thing to agape], agape denotes the love, which springs from admiration and veneration, and which chooses its object with decision of will, and devotes a self-denying and compassionate devotion to it. Love in its fullest conceivable form” (469).
Agape love literally chooses its object of veneration and appreciation and wills to love. Agape love is a divine kind of love. It was agape love that Winthrop intended that American Puritans use as the foundation for their society. Winthrop’s vision was that the colony in Massachusetts would be exactly what his sermon title calls for, “A Model of
Christian Charity,” a demonstration of agape love on display for the nations of the world
to observe. It was Winthrop’s desire that American Puritans respond to one another’s needs in an atmosphere of agape love. This is no small undertaking because it means that in all the everyday mundane tasks of life, Christian love was to be the very essence of life itself. Winthrop believed that without agape love, the mission in the wilderness would not succeed; it would undoubtedly fail. In his sermon, Winthrop asserts the centrality of love to the success of the Puritans’ efforts. At the same time, Winthrop intertwined and wove this theme of love through several subtopics and ideas that were of central importance to the success of the “City upon a Hill.” According to Winthrop,
“1 First, This love among Christians is a reall thing not Imaginarie.
2ly. This love is as absolutely necessary to the being of the body of Christ, as the sinewes and other ligaments of a naturall body are to the being of that
3ly. This love is a divine spirituall nature free, active strong Couragious permanent under valueing all things beneathe its propper object, and of all the graces this makes us nearer to resemble the virtues of our heavenly father.
4ly. It restes in the love and welfare of its beloved, for the full and certaine knowledge of these truthes concerning the natural use, and excellency of this grace, that which the holy ghost has left recorded 1Cor.13. may give full satisfaccion which is needfull for every true member of this lovely body of the Lord Jesus, to worke upon theire heartes, by prayer meditacion continuall exercise at least of the speciall power of this grace till Christ be formed in them and they in him all in eache other knitt together by this bond of love” (39).
Throughout Winthrop’s sermon, the theme of agape love is a finely woven thread that intertwines individual, spiritual, and societal relationships. Winthrop tells the Puritans that the love he is describing is not imaginary; it is the real thing. The importance of love to the community is just as important as ligaments and sinews are to the human body, without them, the body cannot exist or be held together.
Winthrop applies his central theme of love to a secondary theme of almost equal importance, the theme of the “body of Christ.” The body of Christ, like the human body, can only be held together by love. Winthrop reminded his listeners that they are the body of Christ. The concept of the body of Christ, used by first century Christians, is now a universal term used by Catholics and Protestants to describe a local congregation’s individual identity, and to also describe the collective identity of all local churches combined, as the Church universal. In Winthrop’s thinking, the Puritan citizens of Massachusetts Bay Colony were connected to one another and they were the “body of Christ.” In his “Model of Christian Charity,” Winthrop uses the words of Paul to make this point,
“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, ‘God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body” (English Standard Version, 1st Corinthians 12:14-20).
Being the “body of Christ’ meant that the Puritans were united to one another by a spiritual cord in Christ, just as in the human body, every joint, every piece of marrow, every fingertip, and toe is needed for the body to function properly. No matter what position a person may have in life, rich or poor, every individual is significantly important to the society and to the body of Christ; every citizen is necessary to the rest of the body and hence, is always needed by the others. Winthrop also used the “Model of Christian Charity” to instruct the Puritans concerning the body of Christ,
“1 first all true Christians are of one body in Christ 1. Corinthians 12. 12. 13. 27. Ye are the body of Christ and members of your parte.
2ly. The ligamentes of this body which are knitt together are love.
3ly. Noe body can be perfect which wants its propper ligamentes.
4ly. All the partes of this body being thus united are made soe contiguous in a speciall relacion as they must needes partake of each others strength and infirmity, joy, and sorrowe, weale and woe. 1 Cor: 12. 26. If one member suffers all suffer with it, if one be in honour, all rejoyce with it.
5ly. This sensiblenes and Sympathy of each others Condicions will necessarily infuse into each parte a native desire and endeavour, to strengthen defend preserve and comfort the other” (35-36).
Winthrop goes on to say, in concluding his teaching about the body of Christ, as both an organic, living structure and a community metaphor, that Puritans should be willing and ready to lay down their lives for one another. With the blending of these two themes, the central theme of love and the theme of the body of Christ, Winthrop intended to present the Puritans with a unified vision of interpersonal, spiritual and societal relationships. In doing so, he hoped to ensure that the principle of love would be the strength undergirding all their societal relationships.
These two themes were central to Winthrop’s vision for a perfect American society. Winthrop stressed the absolute necessity of agape love as the unifying tie (sinews and ligaments) that would hold the body, and hence the society, together. The Puritans were bound to one another by their common faith in Christ, which, through love, was meant to overflow into all activities of their social life. Winthrop believed that agape love would be the foundation from which the Puritans could make the choices necessary to exercise their freewill and build a compassionate, caring community. Emphasizing the divine spiritual nature of love, Winthrop told his audience how this love undergirds, strengthened and made the Puritans more like their heavenly Father, and as such, better citizens.
In order to understand love, Winthrop pointed the Puritans to 1st Corinthians 13, a chapter used to this day in weddings because of its emphasis on love, and a chapter that Winthrop’s listeners were undoubtedly familiar. In 1st Corinthians 13, Paul says,
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angles, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind;
love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends…So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (English Standard Version, 1st Corinthians 13:1-8, 13).
Winthrop expected his adherents to not only know 1st Corinthians 13, but also to
practice the quality of love that it described. Winthrop knew that if the Puritans believed they were the body of Christ and were able to put agape love into practice, they would be a true “Model of Christian Charity.”
In emphasizing the scriptural importance of love, Winthrop revealed the Biblical roots of his vision for the perfect Christian society. In such a utopia, God was in charge of both the rich and the poor, and the high and influential. Winthrop says that, “God Almightie in his most holy and wise providence hath soe disposed of the Condition of mankinde, as in all times some must be rich some poore, some highe and eminent in power and dignitie; others meane and in subjeccion” (28). Winthrop sounded a theocratic note when he affirmed that God was in charge of the affairs of the Puritan community. The
Puritans took comfort in the Biblical concept that all men have a purpose in life and that God gave men different gifts and abilities. In the distribution of His gifts, men receive the divine privilege from God, as His servants, to distribute His gifts as if He distributed them Himself. Puritans were expected to use their unique gifts or abilities as members of the body of Christ for the common good of the community. Motivated by their love for God, Puritans would have the privilege of using their unique “God-given abilities” for God’s work in building their New Jerusalem. Thus, the Puritans believed they were on a life-long mission that was directed by and ordained by God. Motivated by agape love, the Puritans would hold one another in high esteem and regard; no man was to be considered better than any other.
In Winthrop’s ideal Christian society, God would be a force for equilibrium and God Himself would contain conflicts that might arise between the rich, the poor, and the despised. God would restrain the rich so that they would not oppress the poor, and He would control the poor and the despised, so that they would not rise up against their superiors and shake off their yoke. Winthrop tells us that God, by His Holy Spirit, was a moderating force between the rich and the poor:
“That he might have the more occasion to manifest the worke of his Spirit: first, upon the wicked in moderateing and restraineing them: soe that the riche and mighty should not eate upp the poore, nor the poore, and dispised rise upp against theire superiours, and shake off theire yoake; 2ly in the regenerate in exerciseing his graces in them, as in the greate ones, theire love mercy, gentleness, temperance etc., in the poore and inferiour sorte, theire faithe patience, obedience etc” (28-29).
In ideas about wealth and poverty, it almost sounds as if Winthrop was supporting the oppression of the poor and downcast. This, however, is not the case, Winthrop believed that all men were created for God’s glory; both the wealthy and the poor, and it was by divine providence (or predestination) that men are what they are. Winthrop envisioned a society of all ranks and classes of people, who, regardless of their stations in life, would all work together in Christian love and harmony.
The New Israel described by Winthrop was an idealistic society based on such Christian virtues as conformity of one’s life and conduct to Biblically centered morals and ethical principles, moral excellence, and rectitude. In the New Israel, a true heaven on earth, God would exercise His grace in the “regenerate,” a term used by Christian scholars to describe those who have been changed or born again by Christ, just as He had with the great men and women of the Bible. Faith, patience, love, gentleness, temperance, and obedience were to be the character qualities influencing the behavior of each citizen in the society. Matthew said, “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets” (English Standard Version, Matt.7:12). In this ideal Christian society, grounded in agape love, every person would have a real concern for the needs of others. The Puritans were expected to love one another with brotherly affection and no one person was to be honored more than another. Because they were all members of the body of Christ, every Puritan was to have a productive place in society, leading to a social order based on recognition of mutual dependence. The church in New England would be a central institution, ensuring that these ideas of mutual dependence were fresh in the hearts and minds of the Puritans.
In his book The New England Soul, Harry S. Stout emphasized the church’s important role in Puritan society. According to Stout,
“ New England’s mission began with the church. The cathedrals in Europe were beautiful to the eye and mighty in splendor but stood in the shadows of more powerful institutions housed in palaces, courthouses, and counting-houses. And,
like the buildings in which they worshiped, many members of the Church of England existed in the shadows of ignorance and superstition. In New England, the church would be central. The eyes of the faithful would be opened fully to the truths of God’s Word; and with light would come power, and through that power the entire society would be transformed into a people with the soul of a church” (15).
Puritan society was to be a community with “the soul of a church,” and hopefully it would be a compassionate church. It was especially important that the “City upon a Hill” avoid the persecution that some had experienced at the hands of the state affiliated Church of England. This included incarceration and the lopping off the noses and ears of the believers. New Israel sought to avoid the sins of its motherland, but they were not successful. New Israel had its own sins, witchcraft trials, the hanging and jailing of Quakers, all of which are a blot on the early record of Puritan utopia. While the Puritans did better than their motherland, they failed in allowing freedom of religion for others, but they did arguably better than their religious counterparts in Europe, both Catholic and Protestant. Winthrop believed that the Puritans would have the best chance of compassionately rendering true mercy and justice if they were governed by the love of God. It was Winthrop’s intention that the teachings of love and of the body of Christ be applied to the everyday affairs of Puritan life. “The body of Christ” is another way of referring to the “Church,” which belongs to Christ. The Greek word for church is “ekklesia,” and refers to those individuals who have been “called out” of the world. According to Bullinger, ekklesia,“…denotes the redeemed community in its two-fold aspect.(i) The entire community of all who are called by and to Christ out of the world, the church universal, (ii) every Church in which the character of the Church as a whole is seen in miniature” (153). Winthrop goes on to instruct the Puritans that sense they are the body of Christ they must practice mercy and justice.
For Winthrop, two main principles, mercy and justice, were to govern Puritan life. In the “Model of Christian Charity,” Winthrop told the Puritans that,
“There are two rules whereby wee are to walke one towards another: Justice and Mercy. These are allwayes distinguished in theire Act and in theire object, yet may they both concurre in the same Subject in eache respect; as sometimes there may be an occasion of shewing mercy to a rich man, in some sudden danger of distresse, and alsoe doeing of meere Justice to a poor man in regard of some perticuler contract etc” (29).
The Puritans were to use the Christian ideal of agape love to temper mercy and justice into compassionate societal values. Mercy has its roots in the Greek word “eleos.” Bullinger says the definition of mercy is, “a feeling of sympathy with misery, active compassion, the desire of relieving the miserable” (495). The Puritans were to view the needs of the community through the laws of mercy and justice; with mercy, they could have real understanding and compassion for all of those around them. Winthrop told the Puritans that they must exercise justice along with mercy. According to Bullinger, justice is defined by the Greek word “dikaios,” “the act of fulfilling all claims which are right and becoming. A right state (of which God and His word is the standard) so that no fault or defect can be charged. (“Used of God” it refers to His doings as answering to the rule which He has established for Himself)” (428). With these two concepts, mercy and justice, undertaken in the spirit of agape, the principles supporting the Puritan understanding of the relationships between the laws of man and the laws of God could be administered in a compassionate manner.
Concerning the law, Winthrop believed there was a double law (these two laws are the law of nature and the law of grace) that the Puritans were to use in furthering the success of the community. According to Winthrop,
“There is likewise a double Lawe by which wee are regulated in our conversacion one towardes another: in both the former respects, the lawe of nature and the lawe
of grace, or the morrall lawe or the lawe of the gospel, to omit the rule of Justice as not properly belonging to this purpose otherwise then it may fall into consideracion in some perticuler Cases: By the first of these lawes man as he was enabled soe withal is commaunded to love his neighbor as himself upon this ground stands all the precepts of the morrall lawe, which concerns our dealings with men. To apply this to the works of mercy this lawe requires two things first that man afford his help to another in every want or distresse Secondly, that hee performe this out of the same affeccion, which makes him carefull of his owne good according to that of our Saviour Math: 7:12 Whatsoever ye would that men should doe to you. This was practiced by Abraham and Lott in enteraineing the Angells and the old man of Gibea” (29-30).
Winthrop has a Biblical perspective on the issues of law, explaining that the law of nature is the same as the moral law, and that the law of grace is the same as the law of the gospel. The Puritan understanding of the law came from their knowledge of the Bible and the Biblical definition of law; the following is a definition of the Greek word for law. Bullinger says that law is, “namos,” “anything divided out, what one has in use or possession; namos became the established name for law when set up in a state and recognized as a standard for administration of justice” (442). When all has been said and done, the law that the Puritans were to conduct their daily lives by was the law of the gospel, while they were obliged to obey the King’s laws if those laws contradicted the law of the Bible, the Puritans would obey the gospel law first.
Puritan society and daily life, infused by agape, was to be organized around these two main laws; the law of nature, and the law of grace. Winthrop intended for the Puritans to love their neighbors as themselves, thereby applying the laws of mercy and justice, on these two laws, stood all moral law (or the law of the gospel). The Puritans were to apply or walk in mercy and justice towards one another in all the necessities (to be helpful to one another) of daily life and in every distress. “Walk” is a metaphorical term that describes the Christian journey through life in spiritual terms, such as “walk in darkness” or “walk in light.” In applying justice to daily life, the Puritans were to be merciful and walk in forgiveness. According to Bullinger, forgiveness finds its meaning in the Greek word “aphiemi” and means, “to send away, dismiss, set free, to express the discharge or acquittal of a defendant; whether the appellant is non-suited by verdict or otherwise, especially to remit the punishment, where the guilty person is dealt with as if he were innocent” (303). Literally, for the Puritans to forgive meant that they must let go of the offence or the one who is offending. By practicing forgiveness, Winthrop was exhorting the Puritans to treat others in a manner in which they would like to be treated.
In this new society, the Puritans were to be good to everyone but especially to those in the household of faith. Puritans would be considered to be in the household of faith; anyone who was not a believer was second on the list for help (i.e. a second-class member of the community/society). Winthrop told the Puritans to love their enemies, to feed them and to love those that hated them. In the Puritan’s attempt to exercise love, Winthrop encouraged them to show their love by giving and lending to their fellow man and, in some cases, by completely forgiving a debt. By living in this manner, the Puritans would be obeying the law of the gospel, and as a result, they would be furthering the success of the New Israel, the community would truly be a Christian utopia, a “Model of Christian Charity.”
Winthrop emphasized giving and lending because he felt it was the responsibility of every Puritan in the community to help one another. In the “City upon a Hill,” the Puritans were encouraged to help their brothers beyond their ability to do so (this might be best understood in today’s terms as “sacrificial giving”) by giving, lending and forgiving. While Winthrop encouraged the Puritans to be givers, they were also encouraged to save some of their goods, or money, to lay aside for their posterity (retirement and or inheritance). The Puritans believed that a man who did not provide for his own family was worse than an infidel. Winthrop instructed the Puritans to avoid slothfulness and voluptuousness. The Puritan was also to avoid the lazy or slothful man. This kind of person, because of his laziness, would not provide for his family and was to be treated as an unbeliever. The law of the gospel seems to come into play as the motivation behind Winthrop’s reasoning. While “voluptuousness” is a word that can refer to the pleasures of life, Winthrop is sounding a warning in the context of what he believes are the obvious moral aspects of the word. Winthrop says, “…the Apostle speaks against such as walked inordinately, and it is without question, that he is worse than an infidel who through his own sloth and voluptuousness shall neglect to provide for his own family” (31). Puritans were expected to take a stand against the “pleasures” or “things of the flesh” that would hinder their service to Christ and as a result, effect their ability to be a productive member of society.
Winthrop exhorted his followers to be wise and to prepare for the day of evil, just as the patriarch Joseph stored up the riches of Egypt in preparation for the lean years that were to come. While telling the Puritans to save, Winthrop also instructed them to be lenders, because the righteous are merciful and they lend and enjoy the blessing of doing so. Winthrop encouraged the Puritans to invest their money. Quoting the words of Solomon, he said, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days” (English Standard Version, Ecc.11:1). In financial dealings, the Puritans were told to be wise like the unjust steward of Luke 16. This is somewhat problematic because the unjust steward misappropriated his master’s goods. He unjustly reduced the debt of some of his master’s debtors and then completely forgave the debt of others. Nonetheless, using this example, Winthrop instructed the Puritans to make friends with both the rich and the poor, so that should in case things go terribly wrong, they will have friends in the world outside the Christian community. Winthrop further instructed the Puritans not to put their hope in uncertain riches; quoting from the words of Matthew he said,
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (English Standard Version, Matt.6:19-21).
In this vision of a Puritan society, all citizens were expected to contribute something to the community, of their goal of creating a caring loving society, as an expression of the body of Christ. The Puritans were told to follow the example of ancient Israel and to give to the community in the same manner in which the Israelites had sacrificially contributed to the construction of the Tabernacle in Moses’ time. Faith, which means to trust in, adhere to and rely upon God, was connected to giving. If a person loved God, because of his love for God, he would help his brother. The law of the gospel was a reminder to the Puritans to do what was scripturally right. For example, in 1st John, the Apostle John says,
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (English Standard Version, 1st John 3:16-18).
In a society based on gospel law, peer pressure was brought to bear by the community on each citizen to obey the word of God. For example, single men or women were not allowed to live alone in the colony. They were taken in by a family and lived as a member of that family; this was done in order that no one would be alone and to eliminate temptation of single adults. Puritans were expected to freely make the choice to lend to his brother (a brother was a fellow Puritan or believer) even if his brother could not repay. However, such giving was not to be without conditions. Winthrop laid down rules based on the Bible to govern the ideal pattern of Christian giving and lending. According to Winthrop,
“ Quest. What rule must wee observe in lending?
Ans. Thou must observe whether thy brother hath present or probale or possible meanes of repayeing thee, if ther be none of these, thou must give him according to his necessity, rather then lend him as hee requires; if he hath present meanes of repayeing thee, thou art to looke at him, not as an Act of mercy, but by way of Commerce, wherein thou arte to walke by the rule of Justice, but if his meanes of repayeing thee be onely probable or possible then is hee an object of thy mercy thou must lend him, though there be danger of looseing it Deut: 15.7. If any of thy brethren be poore etc. thou shalt lend him sufficient that men might not shift off this duty by the apparant hazzared, he tells them that though the Yeare of Jubile were at hand (when he must remitt it, if hee were not able to repay it before) yet he mist lend him and that chearefully: it may not grieve thee to give him (saith hee) and because some might object, why soe I should soone improverishe my selfe and my family, he adds with all thy Worke etc. for our Saviour Math: 5.42. From him that would borrow of thee turn not away” (32-33).
If a brother could not repay a loan, he could still receive it, but he should only receive enough to cover his actual need and nothing more. God would repay such a lender because lending to someone who could not repay was believed to be lending to God. If a brother had the ability to repay the loan then he could receive a larger amount than he actually needed. If a brother had borrowed and could not repay the loan, then he was to be forgiven the debt; this was an act of mercy. If, however, there was a legal document connected to the loan, then, because of the legal document, the debt must be repaid; this was justice. Additionally, a Puritan was obliged to do his giving and lending not out of obligation, but with a cheerful heart. Scripture governed the life of the Puritan, and in giving and lending, he was to remember what the Scripture said. The Puritans had a concept of money that it was neither good nor bad. In his book Worldly Saints The Puritans As They Really Were, Leland Ryken says that the Puritans had a long list of cautions concerning money. According to Ryken the Puritans had “…an awareness that God sends poverty as well as riches, an obsession with the dangers of wealth, the ideal of moderation, a doctrine of stewardship in which God is viewed as the ultimate owner of goods and a view of money as a social good” (71). It was not a sin to acquire wealth, but with the acquiring of wealth, the Puritans had a God given responsibility to help the less fortunate, money that was over and above what a person needed was looked at by the Puritans as God’s providence to help the community.
In “The Model of Christian Charity,” Winthrop told the Puritans to practice Biblically-based giving. The poor and hungry were not to be forgotten; the burdens of others were to be remembered and validated. Help was to be given to the unfortunate and the downtrodden. “The City on a Hill” was to be a society centered on the needs of others and not on the selfish desires of the individual, it was to be a society motivated with compassionate love. Every citizen was to be actively concerned for the safety and possible peril of the community. According to Winthrop,
“Quest. What rule must wee observe and walke by in cause of Community perill?
…in the primitive Churche they sold all had all things in Common, neither did any man say that which he possessed was his owne..,.. If thou power out thy soule to the hungry, then shall thy light spring out in darknes, and the lord shall guide you continually, and satisfie thy Soule in draught, and make fatt thy bones, thou shalt be like a watered Garden, and they shall be of thee that shall build the old wast places etc. on the contrary, most heavy cursses are layd upon such as are straightened towards the Lord and his people Judg: 5. 23. Cursse ye Meroshe because they came not to help the Lord etc. Pro: 21. 13. “Hee whoe shutteth his eares from hearing the cry of the poore, hee shall and shall not be heard: Math: 25. 41. Goe ye cursed into everlasting fire etc. 42. I was hungry and ye fedd mee not. Cor: 2. 9. 6. He that soweth spareingly shall reape spareingly” (33-34).
Winthrop warned those who might forsake their Christian responsibility that when they passed from this life they would be cast into everlasting fire (hell). Because of the Puritans’ strong belief in the after-life, the threat of hell fire was a message that was certain to capture their attention. He that sowed sparingly, giving with a stingy attitude, would also reap sparingly. Stinginess was not something to be rewarded, and the Puritans believed that the judgment of God was certain to come if they refused to help their brothers.
Winthrop’s sermon painted a picture of what he hoped the Massachusetts Bay Colony would become. In his vision, the colony was destined by divine providence to become as perfect a Christian society as possible. The Puritans were unified by their common faith in God and their errand into the wilderness. The New Israel was to be a Christian paradise, a perfect blend of church and state. For the Puritans, the Bible was the Constitution and their Declaration of Dependence (not Independence); the Bible was their torch, it was a light to their path, and would act as a beacon to others. In the “Model of Christian Charity” Winthrop said that the purpose of the Puritans’ errand into the wilderness was,
“ 2ly. for the worke wee have in hand, it is by a mutuall consent through a
speciall overruleing providence, and a more than ordinary approbation of the Churches of Christ to seeke out a place of Cohabitation and Consortship under a due forme of Government both civill and ecclesiasticall. In such cases as this the care of the publique must oversway all private respects, by which not onley conscience, but meare Civill pollicy doth binde us; for it is a true rule that perticuler estates cannott subsist in the ruine of the publique.
3ly. The end is to improve our lives to doe more service to the Lord the comforte and encrease of the body of christe whereof wee are members that our selves and posterity may be better preserved from the Common corruptions of this evill world to serve the Lord and worke out our Salvacion under the power and purity of his holy Ordinances” (40).
The Puritans believed that they were a chosen people and it was divine providence for them to do in America what they could not do in England. It may sound strange, but for the Puritans, the goal of the great American experiment was not democracy, it was freedom to practice their religion as they saw fit. In the Puritan effort to be an example of Christian charity to their motherland and to the entire world, it was necessary to pass on the torch of faith to the next generation. However, as Perry Miller has pointed out, those born on American soil, the second generation, became preoccupied with provincial merchandise and the pleasures associated with acquiring material things began to take precedence over the spiritual. The success of the mission was threatened by the very prosperity that the Puritans found in this land of plenty. Prosperity brought with it change, and the first generation of Puritans found it was not an easy thing to pass on (to the second generation) the same fervency of faith that they had possessed.
Winthrop had told the first settlers that this New Israel, known as America, was to be a city upon a hill for all to see and to desire. He told the Puritans that if they failed in their mission, they would become a “byword,” a cautionary tale, and a laughing stock of a people that had lost favor with God. According to John McClintock and James Strong in their article in Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature,
“By-word represents in the Authorized Version the following Hebrew words: millah, (Job xxx, 9), a word or speech (as elsewhere rendered); mashal, (Psa. xliv, 14), a proverb or parable (as elsewhere); so the kindred meshol (Job xvii, 6); but properly sheninah, sharp words in deresion (Deut. Xxviii, 37; 1kings ix, 7; 2Chron.vii, 20; “taunt,” Jer xxiv, 9)” (vol.1, 940).
Should the Puritans fail, the “City upon a Hill” would become an illustration, or a parable, to the entire world of what happens to a people who have turned from God. The Puritans believed that they were the “chosen people” of God and they knew that if they failed in their mission that they would become a “by-word.” They believed that God does not show special favor related to some men but treats all of humanity the same; as He judged others, certainly He would judge them. It was a tremendous responsibility being God’s chosen, and the consequences of failure were a constant reminder to the Puritans of their special covenant status. The fear of failure was very much a part of the Puritan psyche and they were constantly searching their souls, and their activities for evidence of success. Winthrop clarifies this point, and warned the Puritans that backsliding would mean the destruction and total failure of their mission,
“But if our heartes shall turne away soe that wee will not obey, but shall be seduced and worship other Gods our pleasures, and proffits, and serve them; it is propounded unto us this day, wee shall surly 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” (42-43).
The task that Governor Winthrop and his companions undertook was no small endeavor, and under his leadership, the Puritans hoped to succeed at establishing a society based on the laws of the Bible, something that no one in the history of man had successfully accomplished except Israel.
Did the Massachusetts Bay Colony succeed in establishing their New Jerusalem and what was the colony really like, were the Puritans able to live up to the high standard of community that Winthrop spoke of in the “Model of Christian Charity?” The colony had its problems; the idea of a utopia, whether it is religious or non-religious, is a very naïve understanding of the dynamics of a human community. Not all people have the same philosophy of life, and for the Puritans not everyone in the colony held to the same Biblical worldview of Winthrop. Additionally, others later joined the colony who did not believe in the typology that portrayed New England as the “New Israel,” the “City upon a Hill.” Roger Williams and Ann Hutchins are two examples that reveal that all was not blissful in the New Jerusalem. According to Ryken
“Today it is considered a mark of reasonable people that they respect and tolerate viewpoints other than their own. The Puritans generally failed to rise to such an ideal. Their whole cultural situation, of course, did not provide them with models for toleration. This failure to cope with the phenomenon of pluralism in society was especially acute in New England, where the Puritans were the dominant force and where they developed coercive strategies for denying freedom of conscience to dissenters.
For people who had suffered as much persecution as the Puritans, it is difficult to believe that they could have been so oppressive when they themselves came to power. Like others in their day, the Puritans did not conceive of the possibility of a pluralistic society in which everyone had the privilege of believing and living as his or her conscience directed. In Puritan New England, people with unorthodox viewpoints were simply banished from the town, with Ann Hutchinson and Roger Williams being the most notorious instances of such intolerance” (198-199).
Roger Williams migrated to the Colony in 1631. A separatist, he criticized the Colony for not breaking all ties with the Church of England. Winthrop showed restraint and toleration in his relationship with Williams. Winthrop considered Williams to be a godly man and a friend but did not agree with him on some doctrinal points and his separatist views. Williams was a hard core separatist and believed that the “City upon a Hill” should completely cut all ties with the Church of England. Williams did not believe that the Church of England could ever be changed, Winthrop disagreed. It was part of the errand into the wilderness to be an example to the Church of England and from the shores of New England it was hoped that change in the Church of England could be effected. For Williams to disagree with one of the fundamental beliefs of the New Jerusalem could only cause division and strife. Williams was known to change his doctrinal positions, at one point embracing Anabaptist doctrine, something that even in modern America can cause banishment from a denomination and loss of ministerial credentials. In January of 1636, the General Court sought Williams for extradition back to England; Winthrop got to him first and recommended that he might go to what would become known as Rhode Island, a place that also became known as a refuge of religious diversity. It was Winthrop’s job to preserve the religious unity of the Colony, people such as Williams created doubt as to the goals of the errand into the wilderness, and as a result, action had to be taken.
Another example of Puritan religious intolerance was the case of Ann Hutchinson. Ann Hutchinson migrated to the Colony in 1634. The daughter of a minister, she was accused of antinomianism and familism. Antinomianism is a word that literately means “against law,” antinomians believed that faith had done away with the law; familism in this usage implies that Hutchison was listening to spirits other than the Holy Spirit (a very serious accusation). Frances J. Bremer addresses the problem of antinomianism and familism in his book John Winthrop America’s Forgotten Founding Father,
“Ministers seeking to guide their congregations preached that the saints possessed an inner sense of God’s love and of the Spirit’s presence, and also that good works were fruit that grew from a regenerate being. Clergy who emphasized the Spirit’s presence were in danger of drifting toward antinomianism and familism, beliefs that encouraged following the promptings of that Spirit, even if those promptings clashed with the teachings of the Bible, the church, or the state” (95).
Hutchinson ran into problems by inviting fellow Puritans to her home to discuss the minister’s sermon, upon which she proceeded to place her own definition as to what the sermon meant. In a society where the minister had the final say in theological matters, Hutchinson’s actions were not acceptable. The fact that that she was a woman and did not have the theological training of an ordained minister probably did not help her cause. Hutchinson also set herself up as the soul authority for determining who was an able-bodied minister. Hutchinson criticized the ministers of the Colony stating that there were only two that she considered to be true ministers her brother, Wheelwright was one and John Cotton was the other. Essentially Hutchinson had made herself a minister with a church in her home, her personal revelation of scripture was always the correct one regardless of what the Bible actually said. This type of activity by a church member in modern America has led to church splits, and such an individual would face church discipline in modern America. Winthrop recognized that for Anne Hutchison to continue in her activities would undermine the authority of the church, and for a society that was so closely tied to church and state this was a threat to the errand into the wilderness. In 1638, Hutchinson was brought before the Boston church on charges of heresy and was excommunicated. According to Bremer, banishments caused problems for Winthrop,
“WINTHROP WAS CONDEMNED BY THE ENTHUSIASTES who were banished by the court. He has also been criticized by those historians who believe that he should have led the Bay colony to a modern system of religious freedom and toleration that no one at the time---including Vane, Wheelwright, and Hutchinson---would have accepted. Equally unhappy were Shepard and Dudley, who desired to use the controversy to impose a more rigid definition of orthodoxy and to rid the colony of others beyond those actually banished, perhaps even John Cotton. For them, the settlement Winthrop guided them to allowed too much diversity within the bounds of orthodoxy” (298).
Anne Hutchison, accompanied by some of her followers, moved to Rhode Island and along with Roger Williams helped to establish a religiously diverse colony, something different from the Christian utopia envisioned by Winthrop. The problem that the “City upon a Hill” encountered with Williams and Hutchinson was not just a problem of Church discipline; the Massachusetts Bay Colony was a blend of church and state. In modern America a disciplined church member will just leave, and find another church, or they can incorporate and start their own church. In seventeenth century wild America, banishment from the Church also meant banishment from the Colony, this not only created a hardship for those who were banished but showed a lack tolerance and compassion for those who were banished. In spite of Puritan shortcomings, what Winthrop did, he did with the conviction that it was best for the ccolony.
Winthrop’s “Model of Christian Charity” provided a detailed blueprint for spiritual life in what was to be the ideal Puritan community. Winthrop’s sermon was the first “Jeremiad” in the New World, a particular sort of Christian sermonic form that was primarily reserved for special occasions. As an early American Jeremiad, Winthrop’s “Model of Christian Charity” provides a powerful look into long-lived American concerns and pre-occupations about our identity and community life. The Jeremiad also offers insights into powerful cultural myths about the greatness and exceptionality of this nation. The Puritans possessed a determination to serve God in this new land and in the process of what they did in New England they laid the foundation of contemporary American culture. Their Christian utopian society, as imperfect as it was, had high ideals and standards, and helped to mold America into what it is today.
The Jeremiad was used by the Puritan ministers to call attention to the imperfections and errors of their society has played an important role in molding the cultural rhetoric of American society. For the Puritans and generations of Americans who followed, the message of the Jeremiad was intended to act as the rudder of America’s ship of state. No one can tell the direction that a ship has taken through the ocean, but without the rudder, the ship will be adrift. Beginning with “the Model of Christian Charity,” the Jeremiad has acted as a recurring voice in American culture, one used by God to call His people to renew His covenant with them.
Defining the Jeremiad and its Typology
With old England behind them and a New England ahead of them, Winthrop gave a lot of thought to the things that he believed would enable the colony to succeed. In his Jeremiad, “A Model of Christian Charity,” preached from the deck of the Arbella in 1630, Winthrop provided an illuminating look into the heart of the perfect utopian Christian society. This first American Jeremiad provides the seeds of a highly influential rhetorical form of literature that was destined to influence America’s culture into the twenty-first century. In the preface of his book The American Jeremiad, Sacvan Bercovich says, “The American Jeremiad was a ritual designed to join social criticism to spiritual renewal, public to private identity, the shifting ‘signs of the times’ to certain metaphors, themes, and symbols” (xi).
The Jeremiad draws its name from the prophet Jeremiah, who prophesied during the Babylonian captivity, a time of national sorrow for the Israelites. In Jeremiah chapter 30, Jeremiah tells the Israelites to prepare for a long stay in Babylon. It was Jeremiah’s intention that the Israelites not live under a false hope of coming home soon; his message apparently contradicted the messages of the other prophets of the day such as Hananiah. Hananiah spoke in the presence of the priests and, “…in the presence of all the people, saying, Thus says the Lord: Even so will I break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all the nations within two years” (English Standard
Version, Jeremiah 28.11). False prophets such as Hananiah led the Israelites to believe that they would be going home soon. Jeremiah, on the other hand, took a more realistic approach and told the people of Israel how things were really going to be. Jeremiah responded to Hananiah saying, “…Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie” (English Standard Version, Jeremiah 28.15). Jeremiah goes on to tell Hananiah that because of his false prophesying that he would die within the year. False prophets were only one of Jeremiah’s concerns; there were also decadence and moral corruption among the Israelites.
Charles Feinberg describes the moral decline of Jeremiah’s time in his commentary on Jeremiah’s prophecies in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary. According to Feinberg,
“In Jeremiah’s time moral corruption was widespread and social injustices
abounded (5:1-9; 7:1-11; 23:10-14). Priests and prophets were as culpable as the rest of Judah (6:13-15). Yet the nation carried out its religious rites. But God was
not to be placated with these merely external services. Jeremiah preached that judgment was inescapable. God had already used drought, famine, and foreign invaders (14:1-6; 4:11-22); he would yet bring the culminating visitation through Nebuchadnezzar (25:9). But God’s love and faithfulness to his covenants would not permit the judgment to be fatal or final. There was a future hope. Jeremiah foretold the return from captivity in Babylon (25:11; 29:10) as well as the doom of Babylon itself (chs. 50-51). He did not hesitate to give Israel’s hope tangible manifestation (32:1-15).
Jeremiah also had a ministry to the nations (1:5, 10). He saw Nebuchadnezzar as God’s agent in the events of that day (27:6). He warned the other nations against resisting Nebuchadnezzar (27:1-11). In God’s name he demanded righteousness of all nations (chs. 46-51). He voiced God’s concern for the welfare of all peoples (29:1-14, esp. v.7)” (6: 369).
Feinberg goes on to emphasize that Jeremiah’s primary concern was with spiritual things over the temporal and that Jeremiah preached repentance, a major theme of both the original and later Jeremiads. More than any other Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah’s message emphasized Israel’s covenant with God. The covenant with God and the constant renewal of that covenant in the light of current events are perhaps the central theme of the Jeremiad. Likewise, a Jeremiad takes a realistic approach and “tells it like it really is,” an unapologetic approach of assessing and speaking forthrightly about where the culture has gone awry.
J. Finis Dake, a Pentecostal Bible scholar, says the purpose of the Jeremiah’s prophecies was “to make clear to Israel the consequences of sin, and apostasy. To reveal to them their own future in God’s plan for man and to emphasize the fact that the destiny of every man is determined by his conformity or lack of conformity to God and His plan” (Dakes Annotated Reference Bible, 800). Sin, apostasy, and conformity to God’s covenant/plan are all themes of the Jeremiad. Jeremiah’s message was not what the people of Israel wanted to hear, but if they believed and received the prophet’s message,
they would take his advice and settle down for their stay in Babylon, raise their families and wait for the opportunity to return to Israel. It was Jeremiah’s hope that he could help the people of Israel avoid suffering a disappointing, heartbreaking, “false hope,” of returning to Israel in the near future.
In his essay on Jeremiah, part of the Anchor Bible Commentary, Jack Lundbom says that Jeremiah dramatized his prophecies in order to emphasize his message:
“Jeremiah’s prophetic message is more than words, although words in the ancient world were believed to be invested with the power to bring about their actualization. Jeremiah, like many of his predecessors, went a step further and dramatized the spoken word with symbolic action (Moulton 1895:372-79; H. W. Robison 1927). He buried a loincloth and later recovered it ruined in order to
symbolize the spoiled pride of a nation once it has abandoned its covenant with Yahweh (13:1-11). He broke an (empty) decanter at the Potsherd Gate to symbolize Yahweh’s determination to “make empty” the counsel of those planning the future of Judah and Jerusalem (chap. 19). Together with a fringe group of Rechabites, he went to the temple to test their resolve not to drink wine-all for the purpose of giving others an object lesson in obedience (chap. 35). When the Babylonians began imposing their rule over Palestine, Jeremiah wore thongs and yoke bars around his neck to symbolize the submission that Judah and neighboring nations must now render to Nebuchadnezzar (chap. 27-28). Later in Egypt, Jeremiah buried stones in the pavement before Pharaoh’s palace at Tahpanhes. These were to symbolize the future erection of Nebuchadnezzar’s throne on that site (43:8-13). But when Jerusalem was about to fall, Jeremiah redeemed property at Anathoth from his cousin Hanamel to point people ahead to the day when Yahweh would restore them to the land.” (21A: 32)
Lundbom’s characterization of the life of Jeremiah reveals how God used the prophet as a living sermon, to illustrate His message to the nation Israel. Lundbom points out that Jeremiah himself was the prophetic symbol of his preaching. Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet, symbolic of God’s sorrow for his unrepentant people. Jeremiah’s painful life was also symbolic of the suffering nation of Israel. In considering what Feinberg, Dake and Lundbom have to say about the Prophet Jeremiah, a picture of the Jeremiad as a sermonic form begins to emerge. The Jeremiad finds its origins and much of the basis for its content in the life and prophetic words of Jeremiah. This is particularly true of the Puritan sermonic form of the Jeremiad.
Information on the form of the Jeremiad abounds. While much has been written that describes the Jeremiad, scholars sometimes differ in their emphasis on the thematic material that characterizes the Jeremiad. Perry Miller, a highly respected authority on the early Puritans, emphasizes what is known as the dark side of the Jeremiad, describing it as a message of failure/defeat. In his book Errand into the Wilderness, Miller says,
“The literature of self-condemnation must be read for meanings far below the surface, for meanings of which, we may be so rash as to surmise, the authors were not fully conscious, but by which they were troubled and goaded. They looked in vain to history for an explanation of themselves; more and more it appeared that the meaning was not to be found in theology, even with the help of the covenantal dialectic. Thereupon, these citizens found that they had no other place to search but within themselves---even though, at first sight, that repository appeared to be nothing but a sink of iniquity. Their errand having failed in the first sense of the term, they were left with the second, and required to fill it with meaning by themselves and out of themselves. Having failed to rivet the eyes of the world upon their city on the hill, they were left alone with America” (15).
According to Bercovich, “Perry Miller stressed the dark side of the Jeremiad. I argue that this was a partial view of their message, that the Puritans’ cries of declension and doom were part of a strategy designed to revitalize the errand” (xiv). While Bercovich acknowledges Miller’s perspective, he sees the emphasis of the Jeremiad’s message as one that “transforms” the failure and defeat that Miller describes into a message that contains hope. The contradictory views of Miller and Bercovich show that the Jeremiad is an incredibly complex message which was intended to inspire its listeners to social change. Puritan ministers used the Jeremiad to address what they viewed as the best interests of the “New Israel.” The Jeremiad could be an inspirational rhetorical device, encouraging the Puritans in their covenant with God.
S. A. Wenig gives a definition of the Jeremiad in his article in the Dictionary of Christianity in America. Wenig says that the Jeremiad is,
“A sermon of woe and promise deriving its name from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. The Jeremiad originated with the Puritans and was based on a belief in a previous golden age from which subsequent generations had dangerously departed. Focusing attention on contemporary moral failure and natural disasters, the Jeremiad attempted to create an anxiety that would lead the audience to reform and renewal of the covenant.
While the sermon explicitly warned of God’s punishment, this threat was perceived as God’s loving antidote to spiritual compliancy. Its purpose was to redirect God’s wayward people toward the fulfillment of their corporate destiny and guide them individually toward salvation.
The sermon was structured in a three-part format. First, a precedent from scripture was given that established God’s demands for his people. Second, a series of denunciations were made demonstrating how the people had violated their covenant with God. Finally, a reassuring prophetic vision was proclaimed that unveiled the promise of God’s blessing upon his repentant people” (591-592).
Wenig seems to agree with Miller that the Jeremiad is a message of failure/defeat or
woe. However, he also seems to agree with Bercovich that the Jeremiad as a message of hope. The dialectical views of Miller and Bercovich reveal that the Jeremiad was a rich rhetorical form that addressed all the facets of Puritan society.
Wenig describes the Puritan Jeremiad as a three-part sermon (see Appendix A). In the first part of the Jeremiad, an example from Scripture provided a revelation of God’s requirements for His people. A.W. Plumstead expounds on the first section of the Jeremiad in The Wall and the Garden;
“The sermon begins with a Biblical text followed by an ‘Explication’ which ‘opens up’ the text by a careful scrutiny of the words, including in some cases their derivations and their different meanings in context. The preacher may point
out controversies among Biblical scholars over the proper English translation of
the Hebrew or Greek, adding his own authority to the reading he is sure is correct. This meticulous examination of the text is often accompanied by a brief narrative of the historical events leading up to the time the words of the text were first spoken, whether by Samuel, Asa, Nehemiah, or Christ” (31-32).
In the second part of the Jeremiad, which is also referred to as the doctrine section, a series of woes and accusations were proclaimed that described how the people had violated their covenant with God. Samuel Danforth in his Jeremiad “Errand into the Wilderness,” given on March 11, 1670, offers a good example of an accusation in section two of his Jeremiad. Danforth says,
“Of solemn and serious Enquiry to us all in this general Assembly, Whether we have not in a great measure forgotten our Errand into the Wilderness. You have solemnly professed before God, Angles and Men, that the Cause of your leaving your country, Kindred and Fathers houses, and transporting your selves with your Wives, Little Ones and Substance over the vast Ocean into this waste and howling Wilderness, was your liberty to walk in the faith of the gospel with all good Conscience according to the Order of the Gospel, and your enjoyment of the pure Worship of God according to his Institution, without humane Mixtures and Impositions. Now let us sadly consider whether our ancient and primitive affections to the Lord Jesus, his glorious Gospel, his pure and Spiritual Worship and the Order of his House, remain, abide and continue firm, constant, entire and inviolate. Our Saviour’s reiteration of this Question, What went ye out into the Wilderness to see? Is no idle repletion, but a sad conviction of our dullness and backwardness to this great duty, and a clear demonstration of the weight and necessity thereof. It may be a grief to us to be put upon such an Inquisition; as it is said of Peter, Joh. 21.17. Peter was grieved, because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? but the Lord knoweth that a strict and rigid examination of our hearts in this point, is no more then necessary. Wherefore let us call to remembrance the former dayes, and consider whether it was not then better with us, then it is now” (159-161).
Danforth implied that the Puritans had lost sight of their purpose in coming to America, and that, in fact, they had lost their Love for God. Danforth goes on to describe how wonderful things had been in the beginning of the New Israel. Now there was a “coldness” and an “idleness” among the people; now they possessed a “mere form of religion.” The “former days” to which Danforth refers are those of the first generation of Puritans settlers. Danforth’s point is that his audience, the second generation, did not have the same experience of God that their parents had.
The third part of the Jeremiad contains a message of consolation that refers to God’s blessings if people repent and turn from their wickedness. If the people repent, God will hear their cries for help, will answer from heaven and will heal their land. However, to clarify the repercussions of not repenting, the focus of the third section of the Jeremiad would turn to a description of the judgment of God; a litany of punishment and woe that would be visited on unrepentant people. If the people returned to God, repented, believed, and received the message of the Jeremiad, then God would have mercy upon them and bless them. Essentially, God would change His mind (to change one’s mind is the essence of the word “repent”), and withdraw His threat of punishment and woe. The third part of the Jeremiad is of particular interest because it contains a conditional clause, or what is known in Biblical circles as an “if” clause. The “if” clause of the Jeremiad is an “either-or” phrase, it is an open-ended message, a “semi-prophetic” or “prophetic” utterance, a message that can find prophetic fulfillment in either direction. The conditional clause of the Jeremiad allows for fulfillment of the prophetical element of either good results or bad, doom and gloom, or blessing. The Puritans could, in effect, choose their destiny by repenting, and in doing so, negate the judgment prophesied in the Jeremiad. The choice to repent was a conscious decision to accept God’s blessing, and repentance translated the Jeremiad into a message of hope, nonetheless retaining the threat of God’s impending judgment.
The prophetical element of the Jeremiad is especially interesting given the fact that prophecy is the foretelling of future events, history told in advance. The foretelling of future events relates to the “if” (maybe it will happen, maybe it will not) clause and adds suspense of the unknown to the Jeremiad. Like a good movie, the suspense could have Puritan listeners on the edge of their seats. An example of the prophetical use of the “if” clause can be found in Winthrop’s “Model of Christian Charity.” Winthrop refers to the mission of the Puritans in New England in a classic conditional clause “if” the colony succeeded, it would become a “City upon a Hill.” Winthrop’s sermon made clear that if the colony failed, the Puritans would be an example to all the world of a people that had lost favor with God, thus providing an example of the other direction of the “if” clause. The prophetical/conditional “if” clause of the Jeremiad makes it a powerful tool of rhetorical influence for social renewal and reform.
The Jeremiad is a diverse multi-topic message that is often eloquently woven together. The major topics that are of thematic importance to the Jeremiad are “sin,” “repentance” and “judgment.” The Greek definitions, which did not change in meaning over time, of the major and minor thematic topics of the Jeremiad can help in understanding the message of the Jeremiad as the Puritans understood it. The Puritans believed in a literal interpretation of the scripture. For example, in the twenty-first century, the word “sin or sinner” has come to be viewed as an extremely derogatory term. In fact, these were not intended to be dirty words, although this is not to say that these words did not have a derogatory meaning in sixteenth century Puritan America. The word for “sin” comes from the Greek word “hamartano,” which according to Ethelbert W. Bullinger in his book, A Critical Lexicon and Concordance, means, “to miss the mark, swerve from, err; hence, to sin” (704). This definition can be likened to shooting at a bull’s eye and missing the mark. “Repentance,” comes from the Greek word “metanoia,” which means, according to Bullinger, “afterthought; hence, repentance, change of mind (the mind being the faculty of moral reflection), change of mind from bad to good, not merely pain of mind; reformation” (638). This definition of repentance can be understood as a person who is heading east but then “repents,” and as a result, heads west. Repentance is a literal one-hundred and eighty degree change of (spiritual) direction. The person who repents has a change of heart, change of mind, and a change of will that causes the person to metaphorically turn around, repent, and head in the opposite direction. For the word “judgment,” there are six different words in the Greek New Testament. Of most value in understanding the Jeremiad is the word “krivo,” which is specifically used in connection with God’s judgment. The definition of “krivo,” according to Bullinger is, “to divide, to separate, to make a distinction, come to a decision, to judge, to pronounce final judgment. Not merely sentence of condemnation, but also a decision in any one’s favor” (427). Repentance, judgment, and sin were realities that were, according to Winthrop’s “Model of Christian Charity,” shared concerns of the entire community.
The Puritans were a God-conscious people who believed that there was a Biblical reason behind every event in their daily lives and the life of the colony. Early Puritan Jeremiads are awe-inspiring examples of rhetoric rich in Biblical imagery. The Jeremiads of the early Puritans are full of historical examples of everyday colonial events that the Puritans related to the Bible and God as living examples of their present situation. Preachers used the Jeremiad, filling attaching contemporary events to Biblical allusion and symbolism, to call the community to renewal and repentance. According to Bercovich,
“The ministers, in short, knew ‘how much weight [God] lays upon his fear, in that he hath made it one of the main grants of the Everlasting Covenant,’ and to that end they directed their appeal for reform. They showed, on the one hand, a people ‘grown customary, formal, superficial,’ ‘fawning upon God’ with faces like ‘painted Sepulchers.’ On the other hand, they pictured the Lord ‘pleading a controversy with this Land.’ They depict Him in this guise as a rejected and suppliant lover: longing to reclaim His beloved, ‘waiting that he may be gracious,’ eager to forgive all injuries and insults. Despite our hardheartedness, ‘Gods compassions are moving, his bowels are sounding, his repentings are kindling, his heart is turning within him, towards New England….After all our backslidings he is crying after us, I am married unto you, I will heal your backslidings. Open unto me, my Love…Having pleaded so long in vain, God, they warned, had every right to abandon the colony. And yet He was offering a last chance. ‘God hath set New-England between Ebal & Gerazim’ and announced: ‘here is life and death set before thee; choose which you will’” (53).
For the person who reads or listens to the Jeremiad with a basic understanding of the Bible and all of its related subjects, as the Puritans did, the Jeremiad is an invigorating message that overflows with meaning. For example, references to Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerazim in a Jeremiad would have brought memories of Joshua 8:30. For the Puritans, Mt. Ebal was symbolic of the blessings of God whereas Mt. Gerazim is symbolic of His curses. It was the hope of the preachers that the Puritans would choose life not death; blessing, not curses.
In the beginning of America’s history, the Jeremiad was used as a special occasion
sermon, used on election days, special fast days, prayer days, days of calamity, natural disaster and war, or for just any occasion that might seem to require it. Plumstead says that the Election Day sermon started in Boston in 1634. According to Plumstead,
“The custom of opening the annual General Court in May with an election sermon is unique to New England. Sermons were given in Connecticut from 1674 to 1830, in New Hampshire from 1784 to 1831, and in Vermont from 1777 to 1834: but it is to the Colony of Massachusetts Bay that we turn… for it was the home of the tradition. Here it began and ended. The first was given in Boston in 1634 and the tradition continued for two hundred and fifty years, until 1884—one of the longest in American political history” (6).
Plumstead goes on to say that there was a short time when the Election Day sermon was suspended,
“The first charter of Massachusetts Bay was revoked in 1684 and the Governor was no longer elected locally but appointed by the King. There were no sermons preached during the strained years of Governor Andros’ regime… The new Charter of 1691 retained the appointment of the Governor to be elected by a “House of Representatives.” The election sermon was revived” (9).
On election days, the Jeremiad took the form of a political sermon, such as Jonathan Mitchell’s “Nehemiah on the Wall in Troublesome Times.” Preached on Election Day May 15, 1667 in Boston, Mitchell’s Jeremiad emphasized the politician’s God-given directive to rule compassionately (see Appendix B). In his Jeremiad Mitchell told those seeking public office and those who held public office to govern as if their mandate was directly from God. Mitchell’s Jeremiad reminded Puritan leaders to be mindful of the condition of their covenant with God and of their responsibility to serve Him, individually and nationally.
The once a year Election-Day Jeremiad was a day that the Puritans looked forward to, it was a time of festivities and feasting, a time for a special sermon, a time for all to take account of civil responsibility and the religious covenant of the chosen. According to Plumstead,
“The election sermon up to 1730 was a presidential address to the annual convention of God’s Chosen People in New England, Inc.—and it was precisely the “incorporated” that mattered. God incorporates a special group and while it is not a closed club, neither is it an open community with a loose sense of identity and fuzzy boundary lines…
The election-day sermon tradition began as an apologia for the indispensable cooperation of church and state, and although the eighteenth century preachers
gradually recognized the growing separation between the two, they continued to remind the politicians of their duties to God and to offer the guidance of the church in civil and political affairs” (19-20).
While the Jeremiad was used as an annual Election Day message, it was not the normal doctrinal message that was typical for Sunday sermons. The Jeremiad could be a harsh form of oral expression. The Jeremiad was not a sermon that any people could endure as a steady diet. The Jeremiad could be a blasting message, speaking metaphorically, that could wither the landscape. The Jeremiad was a message that was normally not preached on Sundays, which is not to imply that the Jeremiad was never preached on Sundays. Harry S. Stout in his book The New England Soul, describes the contents of a typical Sunday sermon:
“…ministers selected their biblical texts and topics for maximum efficiency. To meet the demands of preaching at least two, one- to two- hour discourses weekly, they typically organized their sermons into larger blocks of thought to extend over many weeks or months in the form of ‘sermon series.’ Instead of selecting texts that would vary widely in theme and subject matter from week to week, they preferred to take a chapter or book of Scripture for long-term study, a verse at a time. Sometimes a single verse could occupy their attention for many weeks. By organizing their sermons rather like a modern college course, ministers could focus their collateral reading and simplify the process of sermon construction. At the same time, their immersion in single themes or texts facilitated the recall of ordinary listeners who relied on their memories rather than on books to store information and who needed to hear the same truths reiterated week after week” (34).
Regular Sunday preaching differed from the Jeremiad in that it was open to any topic of Biblical interest to the preacher or whatever topic that he believed that his congregation needed to hear. The minister spent much time in preparing his Sunday sermon, and was expected to make his points clearly, from a perspective of what today theologians would refer to as “Bibliology Proper.” The Jeremiad was not the normal Sunday message; its rhetorical method was a call to the community for self-examination, the intention of which, was a renewal that would keep the covenant with God fresh in the hearts of the people. The Jeremiad was also a constant reminder to the people that God was ever mindful and watchful of what they did, and would judge their sins. If the Puritans did well, all would be well. If the Puritans sinned, the hand of their Heavenly Father would bring the sort of loving correction that only a father can give his children. The Jeremiad was used to call the people to examine themselves repent and renew their covenant with God. According to Harry S. Stout,
“…communities would come together at the meetinghouse to implore God’s mercy and inquire into the meaning of events that bore on their collective well-being, Sometimes the precipitating causes were happy, as in the founding of a congregation of the dedication of a meetinghouse. More often, however, they were disasters such as drought, pestilence, earthquake, war, or internal division. Such events were always understood as divine messages signaling God’s displeasure with the life of his people” (28).
The preaching of the Jeremiad was a time for introspection, a time to search one’s soul for the possible reasons behind a dramatic event had the people followed God’s laws, where had they failed, and what must they do to make things right? The Puritans used the Jeremiad, as needed, to explain and deal with the everyday events in their culture. According to Bercovich,
“The American Jeremiad was born in an effort to impose metaphor upon reality. It
was nourished by an imagination at once defiant of history and profoundly attuned to the historical forces that were shaping the community. And in this dual capacity it blossomed with every major crisis of seventeenth-century New England: doctrinal controversy, the Indian wars, the witchcraft trials, the charter negotiations. From the start the Puritan Jeremiahs had drawn their inspiration from insecurity; by the 1670s, crisis had become their source of strength. They fastened upon it, gloried in it, even invented it if necessary. They took courage from backsliding, converted threat into vindication, made affliction their seal of progress. Crisis became both form and substance of their appeals” (62).
From the very beginning, the Jeremiad was a message of hope with the promise of a good outcome if the people repented. However, if the people did not repent, then God’s judgment would surely come. The Jeremiad was also used as a message of apocalypse and was a way for the Puritans to explain disasters, an element that persists in modern Jeremiads. The preacher was center stage and the Jeremiad was his tool for keeping the building blocks of Puritan society on a solid foundation.
In his Jeremiad, Winthrop gave the Puritans building blocks for establishing their Christian society. The Jeremiad that Winthrop preached on the Arbella has left its mark
on American culture. The phrase “City upon a Hill” comes from Winthrop’s Jeremiad. Winthrop’s words were words of encouragement; he let the Puritans know that he had faith that they could be a model Christian society. While Winthrop warned the Puritans of the consequences if they failed in their mission, his message was still one of encouragement. Winthrop warned the Puritans that in the same manner that God had removed ancient Israel from their land of promise, the Puritans could expect to
suffer the same fate if they failed to serve God in their New Israel. The Puritans could find themselves being taken into a “Babylonian” captivity of their own.
While Winthrop’s “Model of Christian Charity” is not a classical Jeremiad, it nevertheless contains all three of the major parts of the form. It is a message of woe and warning; it is a message of hope and promise; and it is a message to renew God’s covenant that calls on those who are listening to repent. Winthrop’s Jeremiad is a clarion call to all of God’s children. His message emphasizes love as well as giving a warning of pending judgment. Winthrop’s view of love can be summed up with the words of Jesus, “...and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these” (English Standard Version, Mark 12:30-31). Loving God would give the Puritans the ability to love themselves, and thereby, to love their neighbor. With the building block of love, a community that blended church and state could be established.
The early Puritans saw no separation between church and state. For them the two were connected. The Puritans believed that they possessed both a personal and social covenant with God and that they had His blessing in all their endeavors. The Church was the center of the early Puritan community, all the activities of Puritan life revolved around what transpired at the meetinghouse. The Puritans were a highly motivated people, and according to Bercovich they were “A colony of radical dissenters, militant, apocalyptic, irrepressibly particularistic and anti-authoritarian” (24). The Puritans were on an errand. Fleeing religious persecution in England, they saw America as the new Promised Land, the new Israel, a place where they could fulfill God’s covenant. A covenant is an agreement, contract, or compact that can be civil or religious. According to Plumstead, “One of the basic concepts in Puritan thought is the covenant, or meaning of the word ‘chosen.’ It is the nature of God to choose or elect both individuals and nations for his kingdom on earth as well as for eternity” (18). The Puritans’ worldview was tied to their view of covenant theology. Covenant theology is the center piece of Puritan theology, with the doctrines of election, justification, predestination and salvation subsidiary theological concepts. In his article, “Covenant Theology,” in the Dictionary of Christianity in America, K. L. Sprunger says
“The covenant approach to theology strongly affected English Puritanism, and through Puritanism’s influence in the New World, came to have a significant influence in America…
…In dealing with “intelligent creatures” (i.e., man and woman), God governs in a moral, intelligible way through covenants. “This covenant is as it were, a kind of transaction of God with the creatures whereby God commands, promises, threatens, fulfills; and the creature binds itself in obedience to God so demanding.”…
Just as God had covenanted with mankind in salvation and in gathering churches, so groups within society were to covenant with one another as they carried out their ordinary affairs. In fact, the seventeenth century was an age of compacts, contracts and secular covenants, through which the public business was transacted. Theological covenants and social-political covenants sprang out of the same milieu in America, and overlapped with one another…
In a larger sense, the Puritan leadership envisioned the entire people of Christian New England as forming a covenanted people in compact with God, a kind of national covenant” (322-324).
The Mayflower Pilgrims formed a covenant, which they called the Mayflower Compact. Roger Williams established Providence, Rhode Island with a compact; and governments throughout the New World were established by covenant. The Puritans believed that they had an agreement with God, a contract that the Puritans saw as both civil and religious. The Puritans’ belief in a covenant with God gave them encouragement and motivation to believe that God had sent them on an “errand into the wilderness” to set up the ideal Christian church and commonwealth, a Christian utopia. Robert Middlekauff, in his book The Mathers, Three Generations of Puritan Intellectuals 1596-1728, says that when Increase Mather spoke of the Puritan commonwealth,
“Increase summed up these attitudes in a Discourse Concerning the Danger of
Apostasy, one of the great sermons of this type. The leaders among the founders, he said in this sermon, were “Abrahams.” When God called Abraham out of Ur, he followed the Lord’s instructions and “built an altar to the Everlasting God.” And so did our fathers, Increase said; they moved “out of their own Land, when God called them hither, to build an Altar here to the Everlasting God,” and “upon its right Basis too.” Increase meant that the fathers had placed the Church in a political state that excluded the errors and heresies that disfigured the English scene. Indeed, he explained, “Our Fathers have been Davids, that is to say, eminent Reformers.” Increase, in a sentence that appeared in slightly altered form in dozens of sermons by his colleagues, made no effort to suppress the admiration he felt for these men: “Let me speak freely (without offence to any) there never was a Generation that did so perfectly shake off the dust of Babylon, both as to Ecclesiastical and civil Constitution, as the first Generation of Christians, that came into this Land for the Gospels sake, where was there ever a place so like new Jerusalem as New England hath been?” (101).
While the Puritans were sincere in their efforts to establish a Christian society that would be an example for the entire world, their efforts to establish their Christian society were not perfect. For example, all modern Americans would agree that the Salem witchcraft trials and Indian wars are a blot on the Puritan’s perfect Christian utopia.
The Puritans were apocalyptic in their worldview; they believed that the end of the world was near. The Puritans were pre-millennialists; they believed that Christ would return before the millennium and reign for one thousand years, resulting in a time of world peace. The Puritans believed that they were living in the “last days” and that the events of the Book of Revelation could unfold at any moment. According to Bercovich,
“America, Cotton explained, was the new promised land, reserved by God for His new chosen people as the site for a new heaven and a new earth. A Model of Christian Charity announces (in Loren Baritz’s phrase) that all of history is converging upon “the cosmic climax of Boston’s founding.” More cogently still, Gods Promise to His Plantation, as Jesper Rosenmeier has shown, reveals “the Puritans’ hopes that their plantation would become the scene of Christ’s triumphant descent to His New Jerusalem.
The American Puritan Jeremiad owes its uniqueness to this vision and mode of
These views of apocalyptic doom and the imminent return of Christ, along with Biblical typology are the seasonings that give the seventeenth century American Jeremiad its flavor.
While the emphasis in seventeenth century Jeremiads was on God’s covenant, in the 18th century, the emphasis shifted to highlighting man’s reasoning. Nevertheless, even with the positive advance of mans ability to reason, with each passing generation, corruption continued to increase in the New Jerusalem. By 1670, the annual “election day” sermon had turned from the state of the covenant to sharp castigations of those believed responsible for Apostasy in the Colony. For example, Increase Mather’s Election Day sermon of May 23, 1677, “A Discourse Concerning the Danger of Apostasy,” gave a warning to the ruling magistrates and ministers who had allowed New England to fall into sin. Mather told the magistrates and ministers that they were the ones responsible for the cultural decline of the colony, and without doubt, everyone would suffer. Mather pointed to the purity of the first generation Puritans in contrast to the apparent apostasy of his day. According to Middlekauff,
“Increase pioneered in the new form of the Jeremiad. It’s beginnings are clear in his great Discourse Concerning the Danger of Apostasy. In this sermon as in others he directed the most feverish of his appeals to the magistrates. It was very well to remind a people of their duty, but fifteen or twenty years of that had proved of little value. The facts were, as he saw them, that the people had no inclination to reform, that sin would abound unless the State acted more vigorously. The magistrates were the “cornerstone” of New England Society—he told them in 1679. If they failed to act, New England’s people would fail the Lord” (114-115).
Mather gave the magistrates a rhetorical tongue-lashing, the likes of which they had never received. Mather included the ministers in his tongue-lashing Jeremiad; he
held the preachers just as much at fault for the apostasy of the day as the magistrates were. Mather believed that the Puritans were falling away from the faith, and that decadence was on the rise.
In his book, The Last American Puritan, Michael G. Hall sheds more light on the complicity of the ministers. According to Hall, Increase Mather held the ministers more responsible than the magistrates, Mather said that the
“Magistrates alone were not responsible. Ministers, too, Mather said, must bear part of the blame, because some ministers admitted unregenerate persons to the sacraments. He put his finger on the most sensitive of all issues in New England Puritan worship: “I wish there be not Teachers found in our Israel, that have espoused loose, large Principles here, designing to bring all persons to the Lords Supper, who have an Historical Faith, and are not scandalous in life, although they never had Experience of a work of Regeneration on their Souls…” The neglect of the experience of regeneration was the foundation of the great apostasy” (131).
Staying true to the message of hope in the Jeremiad, Mather went on to speak words of encouragement to the Puritans of this New Jerusalem, telling them to live up to their heavenly father’s principles. Mather urged the preachers to promote a general renewal of the church covenant among the community. Hall says of Mather, “He threw down the gauntlet to the ruling magistrates and the ministers, declared himself the champion of the brethren of the churches, and called the people of Massachusetts to a vision of their holy purpose in America” (131). Mather’s aim was wide and everyone in the community was included, the magistrates, the preachers and all of the citizens of the “New Jerusalem” (i.e. the Massachusetts Bay Colony). Decadence and sin were taking the place of the purity of the founding fathers, and Mather was calling the community back to God in order to save their city upon a hill.
According to Perry Miller in his book, Errand into the Wilderness, corruption and moral decline were central concerns for Increase Mather. In 1679, a synod of lay members and clergy met in Boston Mathers leadership. The group prepared a report on why the land suffered and listed twelve sins. The land was afflicted and, according to Miller, it was the opinion of the clergy that,
“…because corruption had proceeded a pace, assuredly, if the people did not quickly reform, the last blow would fall and nothing but desolation be left. Into what a moral quagmire this dedicated community had sunk. The synod did not leave to imaginations, it published a long list and detailed inventory of sins, crimes, misdemeanors, and nasty habits, which makes, to say the least, interesting
The list was published in 1679 under the title “The Necessity of Reformation,” the list was used by ministers to keep Puritan culture up-to-date with their moral decline, bringing to their attention, sin, crime, and bad habits. It seemed clear to the clergy that Puritan culture was sinking into decadence.
Increase Mather’s son, Cotton Mather who ministered during the same time as his father, optimistically believed that God would establish a holy city in America, a city with streets of solid gold. But by the beginning of the eighteenth century, Cotton Mather began to lose hope in the “New Jerusalem.” In his book When Time Shall Be No More, Dr. Paul Boyer says that, “As New England’s spiritual condition deteriorated, Mather’s prophetic hopes dimmed. Perhaps, he speculated sadly in 1726, New England had already, ‘done the most that it was intended for’” (70). Mather consoled himself with the belief that the second coming of Jesus was near, and that perhaps things were as bad as they were because history was in its final stages. Believing that the end of time was at hand, Mather set dates, for the end, which came and went.
The seventeenth century Jeremiad addressed the backsliding ways of the “City upon a Hill” and the approaching pre-millennial return of Christ; it was also a constant barometer of the success or failure of the errand in the wilderness, as it also interpreted New England’s situation in the context of the history of the Biblical nation of Israel.
By the beginning of the eighteenth century, the theme of the errand and the historical correlation of New England to Israel were mentioned less and less, the Jeremiad was changing. Among other things, the Jeremiad was becoming advice on choosing a morally good man for public office. However the themes of the errand and the historical typology of New England and Israel were not lost, in Jonathan Edwards they became organic, expanding to include a growing country. In his book The Genuine Article: A Historian Looks At Early America, Edmund S. Morgan says
“The history of New England became sacred history, which would eventuate in the millennium: ‘the progress of saint and society became identified: one reflected, and verified, the other.’ With the Great Awakening of the 1740s this vision was extended to involve the whole continent. Cotton Mather had already made the jump in his Magnalia Christi Americana (which Miller himself described as ‘a colossal Jeremiad’). Jonathan Edwards, with his concerts of prayer, saw the Great Awakening as the beginning of a millennial fulfillment of New England’s and America’s destiny, enlarging the constituency of the jeremiad ‘from saintly New England theocrats to newborn American saints’” (36).
With the First Great Awakening in the seventeenth century came Jonathan Edwards. Unlike earlier Puritans, Edwards was a post-millennialist, and believed that the imminent return of Christ Jesus would come after the millennium. Jonathan Edwards is famous for the sermon he preached on July 8, 1741 entitled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Edwards is given credit for the First Great Awakening in America and according to Bercovich,
“Recent scholars have recognized the importance of millennialism in our religious and social history. But by and large they have begun their account not with Puritans but with the Edwardsian revivals. Their dating is based on what they have assumed to be a fundamental theological shift. Technically speaking, the seventeenth-century colonists (like most Protestants of their time) were pre-millennialists. That is, they believed that the descent of New Jerusalem would be preceded and attended by a series of cataclysmic divine judgments and followed by a universal change in all things. Jonathan Edwards, on the contrary was a post-millennialist; he posited a final golden age within history, and thereby freed humanity, so to speak, to participate in the revolutions of the apocalypse” (94).
Edwards took over the pastorate of his grandfather Solomon Stoddard, was educated at Yale, and was Pastor of a Congregational Church in Northampton for 23 years. Not everyone appreciated Edwards; he disagreed with his grandfather’s position on communion and had some disagreement with the half-way covenant (the admittance to church membership of individuals who did not really have a conviction that they had been changed by God). Edwards’s beliefs cost him; he was fired from his position as pastor of the Northampton church, preaching his farewell sermon July 1, 1750. Edwards spent the next seven years as missionary to the American Indians in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, after which he accepted a position as the President of the College of New Jersey, later to be known as Princeton University. According to Boyer,
“While Edwards and others during the great awakening had interpreted America’s spiritual history apocalyptically, viewing the millennium as a product
of the gradual spread of Christianity, expositors of the late 1750’s and early 1760’s typically explained God’s prophetic plan in political and military terms, as nearly synonymous with British interests in North America. By 1760, Hatch writes, few New England ministers drew any clear distinctions ‘between the kingdom of God and the goals of their own political community.’ This shift would be profoundly important in determining prophetic interpretations of the American Revolution” (72).
In the first part of the nineteenth century, Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875), a
converted lawyer, although it is not certain if he had taken the bar, gave up a promising career to claim the mantle of Jonathan Edwards. Bercovich says that,
“Finney, who claimed the mantle of Edwards as passionately as Edwards, debating the liberals of his time, had claimed the mantle of the Puritan orthodoxy. Under the banner of ‘National Religion,’ the 19th century awakenings
transformed the itinerant pulpit into a platform for the American Jeremiad, and
the itinerant preacher into an apostle of socialization” (172).
Finney was one of the most successful American evangelists of all time and is still highly respected to this day. His books, revival lectures, and systematic theology are still used in many American Bible colleges. Bercovich says,
“His summons to salvation promised a ‘paradise on earth’ under Christ and the Constitution. His emphasis on personal experience openly enlisted possessive individualism (as ‘self-love’) into a crusade for continuing revolution, his threats
held out the prospect of doom (‘If America fails... the world fails), and his alternative to failure, ‘The gospel the only security for eminent and abiding national prosperity’” (172).
The focus of many of Finney’s Jeremiads was two-fold: converting the lost, and arguing for the Christians’ responsibility to live a life of agape. Finney also took America to task concerning the uneven distribution of human freedom in American society. Finney particularly chided the body of Christ for its silence on this issue. Finney loved America but held nothing back when it came to America’s sins. In spite of all of America’s problems, Finney hoped that America could continue to experience the blessings of God. For Finney, God’s covenant was still in effect and could be looked to for the hope of His blessing on America.
On May 14, 1841, a day of National Prayer was called in memory of the death of newly-elected President William Henry Harrison. Finney preached Lecture XXXIV, taking as his text Isaiah 58:1 “Cry aloud, spare not; lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins” (1).
Finney spoke of the Christian requirement for a proper fast, and he then moved quickly into a question and answer discussion on human government and who it is that gives men the right to rule. According to Finney,
“Tenth. The true basis on which the right of human legislation rests.
Under this head, I need only to repeat the substance of what has already been said, that the right of human legislation is founded in the necessities of mankind—that the nature and ignorance of mankind lie at the foundation of this necessity—and, that their wickedness, the multiplicity and variety of their wants, are additional
reasons, demanding the existence of human governments. Let it be understood, then, that the foundation of the right of human governments lies not in the arbitrary will of God; but in the nature, relations, and circumstances of human beings.
…1. Each nation is regarded by God as a unit. Nations are regarded as public persons.
2. They are regarded as amenable to Him for their conduct.
3. As bound by the principle of the moral law—that is, they are bound to legislate and adjudicate in accordance with the law of nature, or that rule of conduct that requires every moral being to love God with all the heart, and his neighbor as
himself” (Finney 12-13).
In his national fast day Jeremiad, Finney went on to say that the purpose of the national fast day was not for the nation to pay penance or to rectify its sins, but that it was a day for the nation to recognize its responsibility to God. Finney mentioned some of the sins of America that were reasons for the national fast day, focusing on America’s treatment of the American Indians and of the slaves. According to Finney,
“Who can mention or think of these things, without grief and indignation? How these helpless Indians have been trampled down, and in multitudes of ways oppressed and injured, until their cry has come up into the ears of Jehovah!
…I notice the treatment of the question of the abolition of slavery, as another of those heinous sins for which this nation ought to blush. Is it not astonishing, that in this government the friends of the oppressed are not even allowed to petition.
…The fact is , that neither individuals nor nations can ever bind themselves by any promise to do wrong, to violate the law of love…, If the union cannot be preserved, except by abiding by a stipulation to sustain slavery, or not to interfere with it, let it be given up. It is the highest degree of rebellion against God, to attempt to support it upon such principles.
…It is commonly reported, and I suppose truly, that during the sessions of Congress, the city of Washington exhibits a scene of most disgusting licentiousness and intemperance on the part of many of those who are entrusted with, and voluntarily put into places of power, and made the conservators of the public morals.
…We are assembled to celebrate a fast appointed in view of the recent death of that President. Now who can wonder that he was taken away be a stroke of Divine Providence, in the very beginning of his official career? Who ever witnessed such disgraceful and bacchanalian scenes as generally disgusted the eyes and grieved
the hearts of the friends of virtue during that political struggle?” (15-17).
Finney spoke as a man who was passionately concerned with the unchristian activity he saw in a country that placed such high emphasis on belief in God. Finney’s Jeremiad speaks in such a way that it is almost like reading the daily newspaper. Finney speaks to the church telling it that it has a responsibility to participate in government, even if some may try to discourage such actions. Finney’s Jeremiad called upon ministers to recognize their responsibility to alert America to its sins, and, in a spirit of love, to call America to repentance. Finney chided the body of Christ for not uniting as a voting block to elect a good man to public office. Finney thought that it would be good if the Christian community could make a choice between the better of two good men running for public office rather than choosing between the lesser of two evil men. Finney picked up the mantel of the Jeremiad from Edwards according to Bercovich,
“Charles Grandison Finney, who claimed the mantel of Edward’s as passionately as Edwards, debating the Liberals of his time, had claimed the mantle of the Puritan orthodoxy. Under the banner of ‘national Religion,’ the nineteenth-century awakenings transformed the itinerant pulpit into a platform for the American jeremiad, and the itinerant preacher into an apostle of socialization” (A.J. 172).
Finney’s Jeremiad was a balanced message that did not place the blame on any one group of people for America’s sins but pointed to everyone in America as having contributed in some way. Looking at Finney’s sermons, its clear that the nineteenth century Jeremiad was a message of great concern about American culture. Finney sought to change America through his revivals, changing one heart at a time. There were others in the nineteenth century who preached Jeremiads, such as the pen of Harriet Beecher Stowe in her book Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which illustrates the Jeremiad’s influence on American literature of the nineteenth-century, and the form’s reach into America’s secular culture.
The methods of delivery for the Jeremiad are varied, and its delivery and form are not limited to preachers and their pulpits, but include poets, novelists, and politicians. Some significant nineteenth century examples of the Jeremiad’s influence, especially on the symbolic meaning of America, can be found in the literature of Herman Melville and in the poetry of Walt Whitman. This quote from Melville’s White Jacket, clearly shows the effect of the Jeremiad on American literature and culture:
“The future is endowed with such a life, that it lives to us even in anticipation…the Future is the Bible of the Free… [Thus] in many things we Americans are driven to a rejection of the maxims of the Past, seeing that, ere
long, the van of the nations must, of right, belong to ourselves…. Escaped from the house of bondage, Israel of old did not follow after the Egyptians; to her were given new things under the sun. And we Americans are the peculiar, chosen people- the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the liberties of the world….God has predestinated, mankind expects, great things from our race; and great things we feel in our souls….Long enough have we been skeptics with regard to ourselves, and doubted whether, indeed, the political Messiah had come. But he has come in us” (177).
Melville wrote “White Jacket” in 1850, over two hundred years from the time when the Puritans disembarked from the Arbella. Melville refers to America as the ‘peculiar chosen people,” the Israel of the nineteenth century. The way Melville mentions predestination reflects a Jeremiad-based sense of America’s destiny and the greatness of its people. Melville’s work shows that the Biblical typology concerning America was intact in his time and had become a part of how nineteenth century Americans viewed themselves.
Walt Whitman who was always expanding his “Leaves of Grass,” wrote at the same time as Melville, and shared the same vocabulary of Biblical typology. Whitman refers to the American constitution in typological rhetoric as the “Bible of the Free.” According to Bercovich,
“…Whitman’s work. ‘As America,’ he wrote, ‘is the legitimate result and evolutionary outcome of the past’ –and as the Constitution is ‘the greatest piece of moral building ever constructed,’ a ‘Bible of the Free’ for modern man, composed by ‘mighty prophets and gods’ –‘so I would dare to claim for my verse.’ But he could not avoid considering the possibility of self-deceit, ‘and if so.’ He noted, both America and his poetry would prove ‘the most tremendous failure of time,’ mutual victims of ‘a destiny…equivalent in its real world to that of the fabled damned.’ He resolved his fears through the ambiguities of the American Jeremiad” (198).
Both Melville and Whitman demonstrates a sort of apocalyptic foreboding in their literary works, speaking of high ideals, and an American destiny that is predestined, with typological thought of America as the New Israel, an idea of Americanism that
transcends our own shores as an example of liberty to the entire world. Both men speak in terminology that is in every way characteristic of the Jeremiad, and they speak of America as a nation with a divine destiny, thoughts that are consistent with Winthrop’s
“Model of Christian Charity.” Winthrop’s Jeremiad comes to life, reminding us of the foundation for America’s status as unique and exceptional. Melville and Whitman both refer to America in typological terms. Biblical typology is central to the power of the American Jeremiad and has invigorated its message since Winthrop first referred to the colonialization of America as a society that was to become a “City Upon A Hill.”
In its early seventeenth century classical form, the Jeremiad is a message that is full of typological expression. A Biblically-centered definition of typology likens historical events to the on-going or unfolding circumstances of the present. While early Puritan Jeremiads are full of typological rhetoric, typology diminished in later Jeremiads, and at times, seemed to have almost disappeared. However, Jeremidic typology has survived the centuries and continues to be a part of the rhetoric of the modern Jeremiad.
Typology is fundamental to an understanding of the thought and rhetoric of the American Jeremiad. Understanding typological expression and its importance to the Jeremiad, allows for a comprehensive understanding of Puritan thought in literature and sermon. Typology allowed the Puritans to see beyond themselves, it gave them purpose of life. Typology was part of the Puritans’ everyday talk and early Puritan literature texts and sermons were full of allegory, symbolism, and imagery. Examples of this rhetoric in Puritan thought can be seen in their references to themselves as “New Israelites” and America as the “New Israel.” Similarly, the Puritans also looked at America as New England in contrast to their homeland England. The Puritans believed that God was leading them in the same manner that He had led the ancient Israelites out of Babylon; He led them out of England, a type of Babylon, to New England, the antitype of the new Israel. The Puritans had faith that God was “literally” with them, which gave them comfort and courage. The Puritans felt that God was with them as a father is with his children. For the Puritans, typological expression was a way of thinking that allowed them to fully identify, or understand, themselves historically as the “New Israel” in covenant with God.
The primary origin of the word “type,” as it is known and used in early American
Puritan thought, comes from the Greek New Testament. In his article “Typology” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, G. R. Osborne says that,
“Typology is a hermeneutical concept in which a biblical place (Jerusalem, Zion), person (Adam, Melchizedek), event (flood, brazen serpent), institution (feasts, covenant), office (prophet, priest, king), or object (tabernacle, alter, incense) becomes a pattern by which later persons or places are interpreted due to the unity of events within salvation-history. The ‘type’ is the original person or event and the ‘anti-type’ (Greek antitypos) the later ‘copy’ that fulfils the former” (4: 930).
John E. Alsup in his article on “Typology,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, while
agreeing with Osborne on hermeneutics, stresses the hermeneutical relationship of typology to the Old Testament and New Testament. According to Alsup,
“Paul expresses the hermeneutical starting point for typology thinking when he writes that the ‘veil’ of Moses remains un-lifted and obscures understanding when people ‘read the old covenant,’ that ‘only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to
this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord the veil is removed,’ and ‘all the promises of God find their Yes in him (Christ)’ (2Cor 3:14-16; 1:20). This starting point presupposes the unity of the Old Testament and the New Testament and that the active involvement of God to save and deliver people in history is consistent. It presupposes, therefore, that the meaning of the Old Testament is finally unclear without the New Testament, as is that of the New Testament without the Old Testament; the two testaments are connected at a substantive level. The Pauline image of the removal of the ‘veil’ finds its antecedent subject matter in typology.
Typology is, in one sense, relevant for modern-day interpretive methodology because the latter is concerned about fundamental openness to the stated understandings of the original writers of scripture. The roots of the discussion, therefore, are in the New Testament use of the Greek word typos and its cognates; returning to such exegetical roots out of respect for the text shapes the context for serious consideration of typology in Biblical scholarship today” (6: 682-683).
In Christian usage, typology is the application of a Biblical verse or text that transcends the literal meaning of the text. Typology adds a symbolical or dual meaning to the literal interpretation of a Biblical text. “Typology” comes from the Greek word “tupos,” and according to Bullinger is defined as, “a blow, that which is produced by a blow, the mark of a blow, impression; the impress of a seal, stamp of a coin, etc.; hence, that which forms the pattern or model after which a thing is made” (252). “Tupos” is translated in various ways, such as visible impression of a stroke or pressure, mark, or trace. It is also translated as copy or image; an example would be the children are the copy; the children would be the anti-type or the very image of the historical type, their parents.
Typology is comparable to a noun, it refers to persons, places, things, animals, states, or qualities and it can function as the subject or object. For Biblical typology to be pure or true, it must be based upon an historical event, person, place or thing, in the past that is looked upon in present time to have prophetic application to a present organic (live/ongoing) event or situation. An historical event of the past is the type or the prototype of a future historical event involving present time. The antitype is the copy of the actual (historical) person, place or thing. Typology does not redefine historical events but rather reveals a latent meaning that has remained hidden, say in the scriptures, until a future historical event reveals the Biblical text’s significance for typological interpretation.
An example of typological interpretation can be found in the Puritan crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. The crossing can be understood as a typological interpretation or symbol of Puritan baptism. Water baptism is symbolic of believers burying their old selves, or what is known in Christianity as the person they were before conversion. The phrase “burying of the old man,” is the typological symbol of the old nature or individual before conversion, of which Adam is the Biblical typological. When the Puritans left England behind them and began their voyage on the high seas, they were like the nation of Israel leaving Egypt behind them, along with the old life and ways, and looking forward to the promised land and a new life. Another aspect of the typology of baptism is the symbol of resurrection, the rising up out of the water. This symbolically identifies the believer with the resurrection of Christ and a new life in Christ. Another typological example can be taken from the Puritans crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. The storms that the Puritans encountered on the high seas were a symbol of their trials and tribulations. The Puritans referred to America in typological rhetoric as the “New Israel,” the “New Jerusalem,” a “City upon a Hill,” the “Promised Land,” all of which added to the myth of the greatness of America. The Puritans believed that they were on an errand into the wilderness and as such, they considered the voice of John the Baptist as relevant to their mission in the American wilderness. John the Baptist was the voice of one crying in the wilderness, saying, “prepare ye the way of the Lord.” The Puritans saw this as a Biblical reference of their mission, they saw themselves as living in the last days and they were the “voice of one crying in the wilderness,” and they were ushering in the imminent return of Christ.
The rhetoric of early American Puritan thought is full of typologies that are not limited to Biblical allusions but include allusions to mythology and historical ideology as well. The typological rhetoric of the Jeremiad opens a door to the understanding of a early Puritan culture rich in Biblical imagery. The Puritans’ use of typology has its roots in the Old Testament but finds its greatest expression in the New Testament. For instance, Melchizedek, an Old Testament priest first mentioned in Genesis, is a good illustration of New Testament typology that has its roots in the Old Testament. The book of
Genesis says nothing of Melchizedek’s birth or death, implying that like Christ, Melchizedek had no beginning or end, Melchizedek serves as a perfect type representing the eternal existence of Christ as Alpha and Omega. The New Testament book of Hebrews says that Christ was considered a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. According to the book of Hebrews, “…Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (English Standard Version, Hebrews 6:20). Since the Melchizedek priesthood is a priesthood that has neither beginning nor end, Hebrews 7:1-28 gives the priestly order of Melchizedek and compares Jesus to Melchizedek. New Testament typology has its roots in the Old Testament, a pattern that the Puritans followed as the basis for their use of typological interpretation.
The Puritans were Biblical purists when it came to typology. For the Puritans, typology is an interpretive methodology that is concerned with the literal meaning of Biblical text. Biblical typology was nearly ruined in the Middle Ages by theologians who interpreted typology allegorically. Interpretation of Scripture would only be limited by one’s imagination. In his essay, “Images or Shadows of Divine Things” in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards,” in the book Typology and Early American Literature, Mason I. Lowance, Jr. says
“…during the Middle Ages, typology had been exploited by some exegetes to mean something altogether different. The allegory, or allegorical correspondence, had always stood as an alternative mode of interpreting the Old Testament figures, and during the late middle ages particularly, the allegorical method of interpreting Scripture subsumed the typological. Allegory is essentially based on the Platonic conception of a spiritual universe that lies beyond the physical world, which is its representation or symbol only. In contrast, the type is a particular kind of symbol, historically true and eternally verifiable because it was instituted to perform a specific function in God’s grand design” (209-210).
The Puritans did not accept allegorical or metaphorical interpretation of Scripture. In Puritan theology, for typology to be effective there must be a historical parallel between the type and the antitype. There should be at least a main point that ties the type and the antitype together. Typology can have secondary points; and these should be looked at with great care before being added. Any secondary points of the typology should lend support to the main point of the type, anything less than this will tear down the type causing it to be vague and will ultimately detract from its meaning. The secondary points of the type are similar to Greek proclitics; these points should go so closely with the word that follows that they have no accent of their own. It is the job of the secondary points of the type to be pillars of support strengthening and illuminating the main point of the type. Osborne in his article on “Type, Typology” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, says, “…Were the peripheral details of Num. 21:4-9 part of the typology? There will always be a single central point, and secondary details must be noted with care before they are applied to the analogy. Noting the dissimilarities provides a control against an overly imaginative, allegorical rendering of the type” (1118).
The Puritans’ interpretive methodology was concerned with the literal meaning of the
Biblical text. Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament gives an example of the Apostle Paul’s usage of the word type “tupos” which parallels the Puritan method:
“…Paul describes Old Testament events as tupoi in order to show hermeneutically that they point to the present eschatological salvation event. The events which are said to have happened as tupoi in 1Cor.10:6 or tupikos in
1Cor.10:11 are the things which befell Israel in the wilderness. Here manifestations of grace and judgments on sin form an indivisible materiel nexus. It is not the Old Testament texts that are called tupoi, but the historical events, which are depicted in loose dependence on the Old Testament. (8: 251)
According to Kittel, Paul’s interpretation of 1Cor.10 did not arise out of his scriptural exegesis of the verse. Rather, Kittel says, Paul looked to the prior works of God in history
in which he found an example, or type, for the present. The Puritans used this same method of relating the events of the past, “the type,” with the events of the present, “the
Typology is not symbolism, but elements of symbolism can find their way into typology. Typology can take on the aura of symbolic representation. The representation
of typology lies in the historical truth of the type. According to Osborne,
“It is important to distinguish types from symbol and allegory. A Symbol has a meaning apart from its normal semantic field and goes beyond it to stand for an abstract concept, e.g., cross= life, fire=judgment. Allegory is a series of metaphors in which each one adds an element to form a composite picture of the message, e.g., in the good Shepard allegory (John 10) each part carries meaning. Typology, however, deals with the principle of analogous fulfillment. A symbol is an abstract correspondence, while a type is an actual historical event or person. An allegory compares two distinct entities and involves a story or extended development of figurative expressions while a type is a specific parallel between two historical entities; the former is indirect and implicit, the latter direct and explicit. Therefore, biblical typology involves an analogical correspondence in which earlier events, persons, and places in salvation history become patterns by which later events and the like are interpreted” (1117-1118).
Some secular examples of symbolism in typology are the American flag along with its colors is symbolic of America and all that it is, this symbol can evoke feelings of patriotism. In Christian symbolism of the American flag, white is symbolic of the forgiveness of Christ that “washes white as snow.” Blue is symbolic of the Holy Spirit, and red is symbolic of the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of freedom and justice for all; it is an invitation for the citizens of the world to come to America. The Puritans stood in awe of the unique features of America’s landscape, some of which have been preserved as national parks. America’s national parks can be seen as symbolic of the uniqueness of America, and as such are a call to the citizens of the world to come and see. The Statue of Liberty, the American flag and America’s national parks are viewed as symbols (by many of the people of the world) of a way of life that they would like to share. One can only wonder if Winthrop’s vision that America was to be a “City upon a Hill” has indeed been fulfilled. All of these things, animate and inanimate have come to represent something more than what they actually are; hence, they allude back to the symbolic typology of the myth of the greatness of America.
The etymology of typology has a long and varied history. Osborne has shown us that typology is neither allegory nor symbol; typology identifies present day historical events with historical events of the past. In contrast, allegory will often use a fictious narrative to convey a moral truth, not historical truth. An example illustrating the use of allegory and symbolism can be found in the English Puritan John Bunyan’s book, The Pilgrims Progress, very well. This book was a favorite of the Puritans and according to Will Durant, in his book on The Age of Louis XIV, “in Puritan America it was in almost every home. Some of its phrases—the Slough of Despond, Vanity Fair, Mr. Worldly Wiseman—entered into common speech” (8: 211). In Bunyan’s book, a character named Christian is on a journey to the Celestial City accompanied by Faith, Hope and Love. Leaving the City of Despair, Christian is on the right path until he takes what appears to be a better path, which leads to his enslavement in the dungeon of Doubting Castle, the home of the giant Despair. Faith and Hope come to Christians’ rescue. The Puritans obviously liked allegory and symbolism, as can be seen in their fondness for Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, but with their use of typology they also showed their love for Scripture.
According to Miller in his introduction to Jonathan Edward’s Images or Shadows of Divine Things,
“Typology was a system of interpreting the rhetoric of the Bible, …In all its many
formulations, typology held that particular events in biblical history were “types” or direct rehearsals of the ultimate act, the “antitype.”…Types were not allegories or emblems or fictitious narratives, the spirit of which might be that of Christ, but they were preliminary, factual prefigurations of what Christ finally did. Typology repeatedly gave rise to a host of extravagances, but even at its most fantastic it strove to distinguish between the type, which was true, and the trope, which was merely invention and therefore suspect. In the type there must be evidence of the one eternal intention; in the trope there can be evidence only of the intention of one writer. The type exists in history and its meaning is factual; as Pascal, to whom typology was precious, put it, “The type has been made according to the
truth, and the truth has been recognized according to the type.” By contrast, the allegory, the simile, and the metaphor have been made according to the fancy of men, and they mean whatever the brain of the begetter is pleased they should mean” (6).
Miller aptly points out the difference between type and trope, Random House Webster’s College Dictionary defines trope as “any literary or rhetorical device, as metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony, that consists in the use of words in other than their literal sense” (1379). Miller also points out that, as true typology the antitype must have a basis in an historical event, the Puritans understood this and were careful that their types did not exceed Biblical limits of interpretation (interpretations of scripture that obviously go beyond, and stretch, the literal meaning of any Biblical text). Tropes did not have a basis in historical fact and along with allegorical interpretations were avoided by the Puritans.
One rich example of the power of historical, mythological and Biblical typology or figure is Cotton Mather’s reference to John Winthrop as “Nehemiah Americanus.” The Puritans highly regarded Winthrop’s life and the manner in which he led that life; Cotton Mather compared Winthrop, the American Nehemiah, in a typological manner to the compassionate life of the Nehemiah of the Old Testament. Nehemiah was the postexilic governor of Judah, a man of great faith and confidence. This Puritan example of typology compares the leadership qualities of Nehemiah to those of John Winthrop. Cotton Mather superimposes the leadership qualities of Nehemiah on the life of John Winthrop. Cotton Mather in his book Magnalia Christi Americana; Or, The History Of New-England says,
“But whilst he did, as our New-English Nehemiah, the part of a ruler in managing the public affairs of our American Jerusalem, when there were Tobijahs and Sanballats enough to vex him and give him the experiment of Luther’s observation, Omnis qui regit est tanquam signum, in quod omnia jacula, Satan et Mundus dirigunt; he made himself still an exactor parallel unto that governor of Israel by doing the part of a neighbor among the distressed people of the new plantation” (Vol. 1, 121).
Mather lists several ways in which John Winthrop showed his compassion to the
community. Winthrop gave to those in need; he used his own purse when the community had no money. Like Nehemiah, Winthrop was a man of love and compassion who held the need of the community in higher regard than his own needs. The name Nehemiah means, “Yahweh comforts,” and for the Puritans John Winthrop was a man of comfort and a man of faith like Nehemiah. Nehemiah was the historical type, John Winthrop was the antitype, and to an extent, he became known as the first “American Nehemiah.” For the Puritans, Winthrop was the embodiment of all moral and ethical leadership and had all the characteristics of the historical Nehemiah and much more. In the words of the ancient historian Josephus regarding Nehemiah, “By nature he was a man good and just, and most zealous for the glory of his countrymen; he left behind for them an eternal memorial-the walls of Jerusalem” (Origins, 205). John Winthrop, as “Nehemiah Americanus” was proof to the Puritans of the providence of God. As the archetype of Nehemiah, God could use Winthrop as the anti-type to govern in the same manner in which he had used Nehemiah. Nehemiah was the man of faith who led the Hebrew children out of Babylon back to Israel to rebuild the walls of what would be the New Jerusalem. The Puritans believed that God was using John Winthrop to bring these latter day Hebrew children out of their Babylonian captivity in England. Now in their New Jerusalem, New England, the Promised Land, the Puritans were realizing a destiny that transcended their individual selves, they were living the dream, albeit for a short time, they were becoming the city upon a hill. Nehemiah Americanus typifies a much greater destiny. The individual Puritan John Winthrop was a man who lived to serve God and it was through serving God that he could serve man. By living an exemplary Christian life, Winthrop was able to influence the Puritan community.
In Boston on May 15, 1667, Jonathan Mitchell was called upon to deliver a special occasion sermon, an Election Day Jeremiad. Mitchell’s Jeremiad comes nearly twenty years after the death of John Winthrop and after Cotton Mather had written of Winthrop as “Nehemias Americanus.” The title of Mitchell’s Jeremiad refers to “troublesome times.” Mitchell also refers to the ancient Israeli leader “Nehemiah” in the title of his Jeremiad; this was undoubtedly done with the intention of causing his listeners to think back to John Winthrop, the “American Nehemiah.” But why did Mitchell call his Jeremiad “Nehemiah on the Wall in Troublesome Times?” What was happening in the “City upon a Hill” that caused Mitchell to use Nehemiah as his example, and to refer to the times as “troubling?” Nothing is known conclusively, but in his book The New England Mind: From Colony to Province, Perry Miller says
“The Synod of 1662 was positive that half-way membership should not convey a franchise either in state or church, and for years there was no linking of citizenship to the covenant. But shortly after 1665 an awful result became evident: because citizenship meant obligation, masses of good people found themselves content to stop with the half-way position in order to evade it. This was nothing less than a silent revolution worked by the prized possession of an elite: it had become an onerous chore.
Coincident with this discovery there appears the first division within New England society that was not a local quarrel (as Winthrop’s with the Hingham militia) or a theological issue (like Antinomian dispute), but a calculation of policy. An opposition party took shape…
Thus we perceive the hidden background of the jeremiads. Mitchell’s Nehemiah on the Wall bemoaned “discontents and divisions” in such pointed terms as to make clear that he was striking in 1667 at what had already become a party of appeasement” (127-128).
As Miller makes clear, Mitchell had reason to be concerned. Mitchell came to his Election Day pulpit “armed to make war” against injustices, and used the moment to capture the attention of the magistrates, Mitchell said,
“…Character or description of good Nehemiah, when appointed to be Governor or Ruler in Judah, and that in a time of trouble (of great Affliction and Reproach, as ver. 3 of Chap. 1. and the whole frame of the Story tells us) then he willingly undertakes the Charge, and comes with this design, this was his aim and spirit, (as it was afterward his practise) to seek the Welfare of the children of the Children of Israel. If you ask who or what Nehemiah was, that was now come to be ruler in Judah, (for so he was, Chap. 5. 14.) or what his business or design was? You are answered in this Periphrasis, There was come a man to seek the Welfare of the Children of Israel., …this was the News that was then to be heard at Jerusalem: and it was no small joy to them, that there was come a man (viz. Nehemiah) whose aim, business and spirit was to seek the welfare, (or good, as the word is) of, or that that was good for, the children of Israel” (119-120).
Mitchell’s use of “Nehemiah on the Wall in Troublesome Times” for his sermon title was just as important as the form of the Jeremiad itself. The subtitle reinforced the primary title and helped to set the tone for what was to come, “A Serious and Seasonable Improvement of that great Example of Magistratical Piety and Prudence, Self-denial and Tenderness, Fearlessness and Fidelity, unto Instruction and Encouragement of present and succeeding Rulers in our Israel” (119). The subtitle, along with the introductory title, called the magistrates attention to the responsibilities of holding public office. The listeners would have had thoughts and visions conveyed by the title, of the Biblical Nehemiah, and of John Winthrop as the American Nehemiah. Along with the primary title and the sub title, Mitchell quotes three verses of Scripture, further setting the stage for his Jeremiad on the responsibility of the magistrates, saying,
“Psal. 78.70-72. He chose David his servant—He brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance. So he fed them according to the integrity of
his heart, and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands.
Josh. 7. 10. And the Lord said to Joshua, Get up: wherefore liest thou thus upon
Isa. 32. 1, 2.—Princes shall rule in judgement. And a man shall be as an hiding-place from the wind, and a cover from the tempest, as rivers of waters in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land” (119).
Mitchell frames the context of his Jeremiad with the title, subtitle, and with allusions to troublesome times, adding Bible verses to back up his theme. Mitchell tells his audience that the meaning of these verses should be obvious to them without further explication. He then begins his Jeremiad by quoting Nehemiah 2:10; “There was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.” In Mitchell’s primary title, he links the days of Nehemiah with those of his own age. In this allusion, there is a type contrasted with the anti-type, the ability of Nehemiah to govern versus that of contempory magistrates holding public office and those who are seeking public office. To understand Mitchell’s Jeremiad, the listener would need to know the Biblical story of Nehemiah. Nehemiah was opposed in rebuilding the wall in ancient Jerusalem by Sanballat, whose name means, “may sin give him life,” and Tobiah whose name means, “Yahweh is good.” Mitchell’s allusions imply that those holding or seeking public office can expect opposition from their own Sanballats and Tobiahs. Nehemiah was the type, or figure, of how politicians, through faith in God, can handle political trouble and, in good conscious, make the best possible decisions. Mitchell alludes to the character qualities of Nehemiah as an example for politicians to emulate in serving God’s people. Mitchell strongly emphasizes the exceptional value of these character qualities and he encourages the politicians to seek God’s help. The character qualities that are listed in the sub-title of “Nehemiah on the Wall in Troublesome Times” are piety, prudence, self-denial, tenderness, fearlessness and fidelity. Mitchell’s sermon points out and spells out for the politicians that just as Nehemiah “as the type” governed God’s people, so they must also govern “as the anti-type” of Nehemiah. John Winthrop had set the standard for the “American Nehemiah,” so the politicians must also rule with the same care and concern for God’s children just as Nehemiah had. It is important to understand that the typological allusions to Nehemiah have transcended the man Nehemiah himself. Through the symbolism of typology, Nehemiah has become greater than the actual man of history, a bigger-than-life mythological figure of a good ruler. The symbolical typology of an American Nehemiah is bolstered by the fact that Nehemiah is the post-exilic Governor of Judah/Israel. Nehemiah was the man who led a small group of faithful Jews out of Babylonian captivity on an “errand into the wilderness,” to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and restore Jerusalem. The Puritans could fully identify themselves with ancient Israel because they believed that, typological they were, in fact, the New Israel. The Puritans believed that John Winthrop (destined to be the American Nehemiah) had led them out of Babylon, the type of England, and into their New Israel, New England, the anti-type. America was God’s “promised land,” it was His wilderness, it was “His city upon a hill.” The fact that the Puritans came to American Israel was not by chance, it was God fulfilling His promises. For the Puritans America was no myth, they believed that they were “living” the covenant of God. Everything about America, the country the land and its inhabitants, all found its allegory, typology and symbolism in the Puritan interpretation of their covenant with God. All of these themes in Puritan thought
played into Mitchell’s Jeremiad as common knowledge by all who were listening.
Mitchell discusses doctrine, propositions and reasons for magistrates saying,
“Doct. It is the work and the spirit of faithful rulers, to seek the welfare of the people, especially when they are the people of the God of Israel. Or, it is the duty and the spirit of faithful rulers, even in difficult and troublesome times, (you may adde that, for that was the case of the Text) to seek the good (or welfare) of the people especially when they are the people of God” (120).
Mitchell asked a question of the magistrates. What is the good or the welfare of the people that magistrates should look for and what is involved in this duty? The answer was for the magistrates to take Nehemiah as their example so that they might improve themselves. Mitchell tells the magistrates that their concern must be for safety, honesty, prosperity, tranquility, and quietness or peace. The magistrates must look after the welfare of the people and put forth their best effort. Mitchell gives reasons and propositions to the magistrates on why they must rule like Nehemiah. Mitchell tells them that the work, duty and responsibility of the magistrates is to seek for, to look after, the good, and to promote the welfare of God’s people. It was the magistrates duty to ensure that the people of this New Israel were well taken care of, Mitchell says this over and over in so many different ways as to become repetitive. Trust is bestowed upon the magistrates, God entrusts them with the welfare of the public, and God Himself will call on the magistrates for an accounting. The magistrates were the civil servants responsible for making and upholding the law. They were elected rulers, or council members. According to Plumstead
“The terminology of colonial politics can be confusing. In the seventeenth century the Governor’s advisors are usually referred to as Assistants or Magistrates (legally they are assistants to the Governor; functionally, they are also magistrates in the courts and may hold other positions). As a group they were sometimes called the Council. The representatives of the towns, chosen in a town meeting, are called Deputies” (8).
Plumstead has given us an idea as to who the magistrates are. But why, as Mitchell says, should the magistrates especially seek the welfare of God’s people? Mitchell gives plenty of reasons as to why, all of which point directly to the implied threat of the intervention of God if they don’t. Mitchell reminds the magistrates that the citizens of the society are God’s precious children, the Lord has but one darling and they are His people. Because God’s name is eminently bound up in the concern for the welfare of His people, concern for His family name implies a warning to the magistrates not to ruin the family name. If the magistrates are honestly seeking the glory of God, then they should know that He is the God who brings good out of evil. As such, they are obligated to intensely seek the welfare of His people. Mitchell points out that for the magistrates’ own wellbeing and comfort they will be promoted if they seek God. The Nehemiah of the Old Testament is the pattern for the magistrates to follow.
Mitchell expounds on what ought to be the general end and rule of all the motivations and actions of rulers. This again comes back to the need of the magistrates to have “concern for the welfare of God’s people.” A ruler must be concerned with the welfare of God’s people and there should be no doubt in his mind that this is his responsibility. A ruler must consider and know the things that affect the welfare of God’s people. Difficulties and troubles do not excuse, nor should they discourage, rulers from doing what God has called them to do. Mitchell’s Jeremiad contains allusions and typology that were intended to show the magistrates their historical parallel to the leadership of the Biblical Nehemiah. Mitchell’s Jeremiad, while primarily addressing the magistrates, had something to say to all the citizens of the Colony. Mitchell reminded the magistrates of Nehemiah, calling upon them specifically to put on “bowels of compassion.” Toward the end of his Jeremiad, Mitchell directed his rhetoric to the ministers of the Colony, and to the layperson (church members). Mitchell told them that it was their responsibility to obey and pray for their rulers. For those citizens of the Colony who were not church members, Mitchell warned them to be a friend and helper of their own welfare, and not to cause trouble for Israel.
Mitchell did a masterful job of defining and describing the responsibilities of
the magistrates. Mitchell also told his audience to be thankful that God had blessed them with good rulers. The following quotation from the close of Mitchell’s Jeremiad serves to illustrate the fervency of his exhortation to the rulers of the Colony, the magistrates, to do what is right. According to Mitchell,
“Lastly, let everyone be and do for God and for his people now, as they would wish to have done, when the great Day of Account shall come. For God, and For His people, is the Motto of every gracious soul, 2Cor.5:13. and he that is indeed
for God, is for His people, (that is certain, 1Joh.5:1 & 4:20-21.) and doth sincerely seek their good and welfare. Why now hearken to this word, all you that stand before the Lord this day; we must ere long meet in a far greater Assembly than this is, where we must give Account of our speaking, and of our hearing and doing; when Christ shall break out of the clouds, who is the only potentate, King of kings, and Lord of lords, and sit him down on the Throne of His glory, and all Nations, and us all before Him; and when it shall be said, What you did to my Brethren, to my People, yea to the least of these my Brethren, you did it unto me? And what good you did not do, what you neglected, or had no heart, no affection to do, nor courage to do for these, you did it not to me, Mat.25:40-45. How will these things look then? when all worldly interests shall be worth nothing; when Estates, and Friends, yea Crowns and Kingdoms shall appear to be but pebble stones, compared with one good look from Christ Jesus! Will it not then be a comfort to have sought the welfare of the children of Israel? And will it not then be more bitter and terrible than many deaths, not to have done it, or to have done the contrary thereunto? What the Apostle says to Ecclesiastical, I may say to Civil Rulers, 1Pet.5:2-4. Feed and rule the Lord’s people, and seek their good in the integrity of your hearts, and when the chief Shepard, and chief Ruler shall appear, then shall you receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away!
And so all the people of God in your several places, the Lord is with you, while you be with Him; as we excellently heard the last year: and if you be with Him you must and will be with and for His people; you chuse to suffer affliction with them, if that be their condition, as Moses did, Heb.11:25. And you will every one say, as you sometimes had that word on such a day as this, sweetly left with you,
by that faithful Nathaniel now with God, Psal.122:8. For my Brethren, and companions sake, I will now say to Jerusalem, peace be within thee: and because of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek thy good; that is thy voice of every Soul that loves our Lord Jesus in sincerity. In that spirit and way persist, act and walk in your several places, and hold on therein against all temptations, in faith and love through Christ Jesus. And at that day, when every Cup of cold water to a Disciple shall be rewarded; when the house of Onesiphorus shall be remembered; when every act of love to the faithful shall be honorably acknowledged: Then shall you stand in the Congregation of the righteous, (in the
same company then, that you cleave unto now) And the Lord the Righteous Judge shall give you a crown of righteousness, and unto all that love His appearing”(149-150).
Mitchell closes his Jeremiad by reminding the magistrates that by treating others the way they would like to be treated will lead to a Divine reward. Mitchell, in true Puritan sermonic form, knew how to say the same thing over and over again. Mitchell left “no stone unturned” in his effort to drive his point home. Mitchell consistently and repetitively reminded the magistrates that the people are God’s treasure, the apple of His eye, and His little children. Mitchell emphasized to the magistrates that the right to govern only came from God and it is this theme that is overwhelmingly woven throughout his Jeremiad.
For the Puritans, a magistrate was to be a “Nehemias Americanus” and it seemed that they themselves were the New Israel, American Israelites on an errand in the wilderness
with their American Nehemiah leading the way in their New Israel, America. Mitchell has given us a Jeremiad detailing special instructions to the magistrates on their God given responsibility to govern God’s people, and that they do so with extreme compassion. While Mitchell reminded the Puritans to be thankful for God’s blessing of good rulers, he also made mention of Israel in “the wilderness.” Three years after Mitchell preached his Election Day Jeremiad, Samuel Danforth preached an Election Day Jeremiad before the General Council at Boston, Massachusetts; Danforth found weeds in the wilderness.
On March 11, 1670, Samuel Danforth preached his Election Day Jeremiad, “A brief Recognition of New-Englands Errand into the Wilderness,” Danforth uses Winthrop’s earlier Jeremiad, “A Model of Christian Charity” delivered in 1630, as the foundation on which to build his Jeremiad. Danforth speaks in typological language of how the Puritan community, a garden, is all grown over with weeds, excess, and extravagance. By leaving England, the Puritans had given up the luxuries of life and came to America for an errand into the wilderness. Danforth said that prosperity was ruining the landscape and spoiling their relationship with God. Danforth’s sermon is a very beautiful, flowering detailed account of the backsliding ways of the Puritans. Danforth says,
“But who is there left among you, that saw these Churches in their first glory, and how do you see them now? Are they not in your eyes in comparison therefore, as nothing? How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed! Is not the Temper, Complexion and Countenance of the Churches strangely altered? Doth not a careless, remiss, flat dry, cold, dead frame of spirit, grow in upon us secretly, strongly, prodigiously? They that have Ordinances, are as though they had none; and they that hear the Word, as though they heard it not; and they that pray, as though they prayed not; and they that receive Sacraments, as though they received them not; and they that are exercised in the holy things, using them by the by, as matters of custome and ceremony, so as not to hinder their eager prosecution of other things which their hearts are set upon. Yea and in some particular Congregations amongst us, is there not in stead of a sweet smell, a stink? And in stead of a girdle, a rent? And in stead of a stomacher, a girdle with sackcloth? And burning in stead of beauty? Yea the Vineyard is all overgrown with thorns, and nettles cover the face thereof, and the stone-wall thereof is
broken down, Prov. 24. 31. yea, and that which is the most sad and certain sign of calamity approaching, Iniquity aboundeth, and the love of many waxeth cold, Mat. 24. 12. Pride, Contention, Worldliness, Covetousness, Luxury, Drunkness and Uncleaness break in like a flood upon us, and good men grow cold in their love to God and to one another” (161-162).
Danforth cut no corners, very articulately laying into the Puritans, and calling upon them to renew their covenant with God. Danforth’s rhetorical evocation of the “wall being broken down,” and the “vineyard all grown over with thorns,” is symbolic of the failure of the Puritan’s “errand into the wilderness.” According to Bercovich,
“…Danforth’s strategy is characteristic of the American jeremiad throughout the seventeenth century: first, a precedent from Scripture sets out the communal norms; then, a series of condemnations that details the actual state of the community (at the same time insinuating the covenantal promises that ensure success); and finally a prophetic vision that unveils the promises, announces the good things to come, and explains away the gap between fact and ideal” (16).
The Puritans believed that there was a divine purpose for all historical events,
especially their own, and that their situation in life was special. It was the Puritans’
Calvinistic theology, particularly their interest in predestination, election, and free will, that helped them to find purpose and a silver lining in every dark cloud of circumstance. The Puritans’ use of typological rhetoric revealed their sense of destiny.
Typology was a part of the Jeremiad’s message, but typological rhetoric was not only in the Puritan pulpit, it was also apart of the political speech of the early eighteenth century. The Federalists and Jeffersonians both referred to themselves in vivid Biblical terms. Bercovich gives a historical example of typological rhetoric that is political in nature and one that is filled with Biblical imagery. Bercovich says, “The Federalists, wrote Nathaniel Howe in a typical Jeffersonian attack, were modern ‘Pharaohs,’ seeking to return God’s country to an old world bondage,…The characteristic Federalist response was that the Jeffersonians were, like Absalom, rebels in ‘the land of promise’” (154). This example shows the way typology and symbolism effectively illustrate the secular use of typology in the political mudslinging and in-house fighting between the Federalists and the Jeffersonians in the early 1800’s. In this example, there is a genuine historical typology comparison.This typological parallel compares the Jeffersonians and the Federalists to the historical characteristics of Pharaoh and Absalom. Pharaoh and Absalom are the historical types, the Jeffersonians and the Federalists are the antitypes. The symbolism in this example can be found in the character references that liken the Jeffersonians to Absalom and the Federalists to Pharaoh. What is implied, as a secondary point, was that the Jeffersonians were unfaithful to the nation and were just as self-serving as Absalom. Absalom tried to take his father’s (King David) kingdom. King David fled his palace and Absalom pitched a tent on the roof of his father’s harem. As a result, Absalom committed adultery in the view of the entire nation. What it also implied, as a secondary point, was that the Federalists ruled and reigned just like Pharaoh. The Federalists are accused of being dictators, ruling by their own decree, and like Pharaoh, they are enslaving God’s people. Hence, the Jeffersonians are saying to the Federalists, “let my people go free.” In this example, there is the historical parallel of type with antitype. The images that this type and antitype produce are powerful. The political rhetoric between the Jeffersonians and the Federalists is a mixture of typology combined with a strong sprinkling of imaginative symbolism. The lives of Pharaoh and Absalom give very vivid and colorful pictures of just what the Jeffersonians and the Federalists thought of each other. The symbolism of this typology reveals the accusation that each political party was ruling improperly. As can be seen Biblical typology can add a color expression to politics, but it was also used by the Puritans to mentally berate themselves. Bercovich gives us a unique look at the inner conflict of the Puritan, and the way Biblical typology played a part. This is known as the introspective self, the “auto-machia,” a word that evokes both modern autonomy and medieval psychomachia. In typological language, the Puritan viewed this inner conflict with the old self as a battle with the anti-Christ, the false Christ. The people they were before conversion is a figure or type of the old self or the old Adam, the old life must pass away; it is the Devil’s poison. The Puritan conscience related everything in their society and culture to some form of inner conflict. In his book The Puritan Origins of the American Self, Bercovich says that,
“All record the ‘Self Civil War’---as they repeatedly describe the struggle---of a Puritan Sisyphus, driven by self-loathing to Christ and forced back to himself by the recognition that his labors are an assertion of what he loathes. ‘Unto myself my Selfe my Selfe betray,’ wrote George Goodwin in a popular early seventeenth-century poem; ‘I cannot live, with nor without my Selfe’” (Origins, 19).
The Puritan was forever trying to be like Christ, but the “old man,” the infectious self, the old Adam, was always serving its own interests, and like the mythology character Sisyphus, was forever rolling the stone and never able to complete the task. This inner struggle can be seen in some of the poetry of Edward Taylor a late seventeenth century poet. Bercovich quotes Taylor’s poetry, “I fain would praise thee, Lord, but when I would, I find my sin my Praise dispraises bring; …, shall the little Bee present her thankful hum? But I who see thy shining Glory fall before mine eyes, stand blockish, dull and dumb;…, Whether I speak, or speechless stand… I fail thy glory” (Origins 20-21). Taylor’s poetry typifies the view of personal unworthiness, a spiritual battle with the typological old man. Bercovich has tapped into the spiritual life of the Puritans by showing the Puritans’ tremendous desire to be Christ-like. Puritan introspection finds its exemplar in John Winthrop, “the American Nehemiah,” a man who through introspection strove to be Christ-like, and in the eyes of many Puritans, he succeeded.
Jeremidic typology has taken many paths in American history showing its pliability in American culture. Examples abound, and the preachers of early New England had no problem giving typology an American twist. Puritan preachers obviously knew the literal Biblical interpretation for the passages of Scripture they quoted. However, it seems they found great joy in applying the Scriptures to their “errand into the wilderness.” For an example, typology used in the French and Indian war of 1754-1763 was very colorful. The French Catholic enemy was referred to as the Anti-Christ. According to Boyer
“Samuel Davies identified the struggle with the French as ‘the grand decisive conflict between the lamb and the beast.’ A Rhode Island minister characterized the Gallic enemy as the ‘Offspring of that Scarlet Whore, that Mother of Harlots, who is justly the Abomination of the Earth.’ The French surrender of Canada in 1760 inspired Samuel Langdon of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to quote Revelation 18: ‘Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen! This eschatologizing of the imperial struggle between France and Great Britain influenced the course of prophetic belief in the late eighteenth century and beyond. While Edwards and others during the Great Awakening had interpreted America’s spiritual history apocalyptically, viewing the Millennium as a product of the gradual spread of Christianity, expositors of the late 1750’s and early 1760’s typically explained God’s prophetic plan in political and military terms, as nearly synonymous with British interests in North America. By 1760, Hatch writes, few New England ministers drew any clear distinction ‘between the Kingdom of God and goals of their own political community.’ This shift would be profoundly important in determining prophetic interpretations of the American Revolution” (72).
Since Winthrop first preached his Jeremiad from the deck of the Arbella, the American Jeremiad has been like an arrow of time directing America through nearly four centuries of history, and even now, is still pointing the way. The American Jeremiad, with all of its typological rhetoric, has helped America culture to understand current history. The American Jeremiad is a harbinger, helping American culture, both religious and secular, to understand its direction for tomorrow. The message of the American Jeremiad is significant to American culture, and is seen by many as evidence that God, in His mercy and grace, is still honoring His covenant with our forefathers. Through the Jeremiad, God has been calling America to renew its covenant with Him. The American Jeremiad is a reminder from God to the people of America to keep His covenant fresh in their hearts. The Jeremiad is a message that does not exclude anyone; it is a call to the unconverted or non-believer, as well as believers, in order that God may establish His covenant with them afresh. The American Jeremiad has had a long and lasting influence on America, permeating American spiritual, political and literary culture expressions. The American Jeremiad is a message to each American generation, warning of God’s impending judgment, and the ongoing hope of bringing the nation to repentance. If the voice of the Jeremiad were to fall silent in America, for believers, this silence would signify “an apocalyptic calm before the storm,” it would be evidence to those who believe that the judgment of God is soon to fall upon America. The presence of the Jeremiad is a sign from the God of Israel, that there is still hope for America. For this reason, the existence of the Jeremiad, in its many different forms, is a message that is vital to the very survival of the myth of the absolute specialness of America.
The Jeremiad is a way of self-examination; it is a way for American culture to look at itself through God’s eyes. The Jeremiad tells us which of God’s laws America has broken. The Jeremiad also warns America of the terrible consequences if America continues to break God’s laws. However, the Jeremiad offers hope for those in America who will repent. Jeremiah is the weeping prophet, and the Jeremiad is a message that is weeping for the sins of America.
In the same manner, throughout the history of America, there are individuals who have been so emotionally moved by America that they have preached a Jeremiad of hope. Hope is one element of the Jeremiad that stands out as a promise that out of a negative situation something positive can come. No matter how bad America is, no matter how great the decline of America’s culture, the Jeremiad is a voice of encouragement, the hope that America will be successful in its struggles, that God will bless America again. The Jeremiad is a message to each generation, specifically addressing each generation of Americans in an attempt to influence America to keep God’s covenant. America is known as the land of the free; the Puritans came to America to escape religious persecution and freely practice their faith in God. The Puritans have passed on to American culture the same desire for freedom, this desire for freedom has grown to include many of the people of the world who are looking for a better way of
life. The Puritans’ desire was for religious freedom, a desire that persists in modern America, but one that some twentieth twenty-first century Christians believe is being threatened (many modern Jeremiads refer to this as “culture wars”). Each century of America history has had its problems, unique to the times and the culture, in this respect modern America is no different. Through the Jeremiad, the Puritans have passed on a Christian heritage to America that is worth remembering and one that should be retained in America’s consciousness. The early Puritans have influenced American culture and have become part of what it means to be an American. Because of the living sacrifice of the Puritans, America, to this day, reflects the character of its Puritan beginning. In a similar manner, the founding Fathers have given Americans a constitution that has set a high standard of human worth and value, which to this day, has yet to be fulfilled in American history. All men are “created equal” is not only a reference to the Judeo-Christian God, but is also a statement that sets a high standard of human worth. This high standard of human equality and worth is something that Americans should strive to fulfill. The founding Fathers starting with President Washington used the rhetoric of the Jeremiad in their speeches, in referring to God, country, and America as the City upon a Hill, something that continues in modern times. Robert N. Bellah refers to this utilization of religious language by politicians as “civil religion.” This use of Jeremidic rhetoric by politicians has not gone unnoticed by early or modern Jeremiahs. Charles G. Finney expressed concern about the motives of President John Tyler in calling for a National Fast-Day after the death of newly elected President William Henry Harrison. Finney hoped that the Presidents call for a National Fast-Day was for the religious welfare of the nation and not for political showmanship, some concerns of the Jeremiad seem to be timeless, transcending the centuries, this is one of them.
The Jeremiad reveals that as bad as things may be, Americans want to believe in the
“good” and not the “bad.” Americans are a forgiving people, and it appears that Americans are always trying to believe the best, holding out for hope, mercy and justice. Americans, in spite of a bad situation, try to believe that there is an unseen benefit in every cloud and that somehow Americans are different from all the people of the world. In a way, the Jeremiad is like a valve for America’s culture. When the pressures in American society begin to boil, the valve starts whistling and the American Jeremiahs begin to preach their Jeremiads. They are calling upon Americans all across the continent to repent, beseeching them in the spirit of agape to renew their covenant with God. Their message is, “America, there is still hope!” It is in the rhetoric of the Jeremiad that concern for America continues into modern times.
The Modern Jeremiad
Is the rhetoric of the Jeremiad a relevant sermonic form for modern American culture? What influence do modernity and postmodernism have on the twenty-first century Jeremiad? In four hundred years, America has developed into what is arguably the greatest civilization that the world has ever seen. Modern America is now representative of many different faiths, not all of which are Christian. Modern America does not resemble seventeenth century Puritan America. The early Puritans could never have imagined a modern America with huge buildings and a population numbering in the millions. Over the centuries, America has grown into a nation representing freedom and liberty for all, becoming a multicultural nation with many belief systems, religious and secular. There is no doubt that the Jeremiad has permeated multicultural America and has become part of its very fabric. While the Jeremiad has gone through changes, typology dropped off as a major ingredient, many modern prophetic Jeremiads speak of America’s destruction, not its repentant restoration. Nevertheless, it seems at least in the writings of the Reverend David Wilkerson that the message of the modern Jeremiad has come full circle, and is very much like the early Puritan message of the early seventeenth century. Like Puritan Jeremiads, the modern Jeremiad emphasizes moral decline and decadence in American society.
Throughout the history of America, politicians (either knowingly or unknowingly) have used the rhetoric of the Jeremiad to refer to the “greatness of,” or the “decline of,” America and her people. Sacvan Bercovich says that the Jeremiad was a tool used for the socialization of America. Just as in ancient times the God of the Bible sent His prophets to the nations in the hope of changing social behavior, so the American Jeremiad, in some form, is a message that has transcended time, speaking to all generations of Americans and to the world. The message of the Jeremiad has always contained a promise of restoration for America; however, since World War Two, this promise of restoration has almost disappeared from the Jeremiad. According to Paul Boyer, “The somber view of the United States promulgated by postwar prophecy writers contrasted starkly with the outlook of earlier times, when many religious and (ostensibly) secular writers had discerned a bright destiny for America, the New Israel…” (225). It is of interest that prior to World War Two, the message of the American Jeremiad included a positive outlook of hope for America’s restoration. What is it that has characterized such a change in the Jeremiad? Possibly America’s use of the nuclear bomb, this though is mere speculation. The fact is, as Boyer has pointed out, that since World War Two, the many books of last-day prophetic events (Jeremiads) speak primarily of God’s judgment upon America, a message for modern America that holds out little hope of America’s restoration. The modern prophetic Jeremiad is often in the vein of a steady diet of negative rhetoric, a message that can cause depression in its readers. According to Boyer,
“For an American to plow through the hundreds of popular prophecy books published since 1945 is an unsettling experience. From these works emerges a picture of a nation mired in wickedness and trembling on the brink of chaos-a nation whose destiny is as grim as it is certain…
In their comments on the United States, prophecy writers also invoked the destruction of wicked Babylon foretold in Revelation and elsewhere in the Bible. A 1979 prophecy work drew a detailed comparison between modern America and Babylon: like the ancient kingdom on the Euphrates, the United States too possessed great military power, boasted of its ‘technical, scientific’ achievements, sheltered an ‘apostate world church movement’ (the World Council of Churches), and encouraged ‘loose morals and defiance of God’s laws’ worldwide through its movies and TV programs. Clearly, the authors concluded, America would have ‘a prominent role in preparing the world for the last Babylonian system.’ Building on these and other biblical descriptions of end-time wickedness, writers constructed their profile of a nation gone in evil and debauchery” (230-231).
The writers to whom Boyer refers believe that American culture is falling apart, and that it is even beyond repair. Even with the negative outlook of their prophecies, these writers have the same kind of love for America that the Puritans had in the seventeenth century.
The primary place where the Jeremiad can be found in modern America is in the many traditions of fundamental Christianity, specifically church doctrine and the sermonic literature of fundamentalist evangelical churches. The Jeremiad is being preached from many of America’s pulpits as a prophetic end-time message, a form of sermonic rhetoric whose origin many of those who preach it are unaware or even that what they are preaching is a Jeremiad. Some of these church traditions found their origins at the turn of the twentieth century, in Los Angeles on Azusa Street in 1906, where a revival of Pentecostal truth occurred that gave roots to nearly every Pentecostal Church organization known of in modern America. Organizations such as, the Assemblies of God, the Foursquare Church, the Pentecostal Church of God of America, and the Church of God in Christ, not to mention the many, many smaller organizations. While these Christian traditions love America, there is a tendency for the Christians in them to look-on as the events of prophecy unfold (as if watching a game from the sidelines), withdraw from society, and wait for Jesus to come again (what can be referred to as a monastic mentality, or as in early Puritan terms as “separatism”). This kind of thinking will not help America regain its moral footing. To change America it will take the active involvement (in all areas of America’s culture) by those who have faith in God. Within these Christian traditions, the same basic Jeremiad that the Puritans preached in the seventeenth century is still being preached. These modern day Jeremiads are proclaimed as messages of prophetical doom and gloom, as foretold in the Bible, on America and the world, and reflect the belief that what affects America will affect all of humanity. The decadence and moral decline of America is referred to as warning signs of God’s impending judgment.
A good example of the modern Jeremiad can be found in the writings of David Wilkerson, an Assemblies of God minister, founder of Teen Challenge (a drug rehabilitation program started in the 1960’s). Wilkerson has written several books of prophetic warning, with specific messages aimed at America, warning Americans of judgment if they do not repent. Wilkerson’s book America’s Last Call, On the Brink of a Financial Holocaust is very close to the original form of the early Puritan Jeremiad. Like the early Puritan Jeremiad, Wilkerson starts with a scriptural precedent, he then expounds on the scripture and tells America where it has missed the mark or sinned. Wilkerson speaks of America’s punishment, which is more like another Great Depression, a time that will bring America to its senses and thereby to repentance. Wilkerson reasons that if God does not judge America, He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah. Wilkerson believes that the sins of America have exceeded those of Sodom and Gomorrah. According to Wilkerson,
“Sodom and Gomorrah enjoyed the same booming economy as Noah’s society. Yet Ezekiel wrote, ‘This was the iniquity of…Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness…neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty’ (Ezek. 16:49-50). I ask you, doesn’t this sound like a description of the United States? These people had an abundance of provision, with no sign of hard times. They were prosperous, with plenty of leisure time on their hands. Still. They ignored the poor!
Right now, our government’s welfare cutbacks have gone beyond needed reform and have entered into the realm of sin against God. Desperately needy families are being cut off from their last line of help. Yet the rest of our society continues to suck up all the wealth and live in luxury.
The people of Sodom and Gomorrah didn’t know their prosperity was God’s final mercy call to them. Suddenly, overnight, the good times ended. Calamity struck in broad daylight, and within twenty-four hours the whole society lay in ruins! (14-15).
Wilkerson’s Jeremiad is characteristic of the type of negative prophetic message that Boyer refers to as dominating the Jeremiad since World War Two. The warning of impending doom and gloom is one thing that the early Puritan and modern Jeremiad hold in common. In America’s Last Call, written in 1998, Wilkerson does not say that America will be destroyed, just that America will experience a time of sorrow for its sins. However, in an earlier book written in1985, Set the Trumpet to Thy Mouth, Wilkerson predicts the destruction of America saying,
“ I believe modern Babylon is present-day America, including its corrupt society and its whorish church system. No other nation on earth fits the description of Babylon in Revelation 18 but America, the world’s biggest fornicator with the merchants of all nations. Ancient Babylon was long destroyed when John received the following vision. John saw fiery destruction coming in one hour:
Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and morning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her. And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning, standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour is thy judgment come. Revelation 18:8-10” (Trumpet, 14).
Wilkerson is telling America that its time is over and like the early Puritan Jeremiad, he points to the imminent judgment of God for its sins. Wilkerson loves America but in his Jeremiad, he seems to have given up hope for an America that will return to God. Nevertheless, there are others who, in spite of the ills of American society, are optimistic that America will return to God.
Love for America and its well-being is not just a Christian concern. America was founded on Judeo-Christian values. People of all faiths are concerned with preserving America’s moral-spiritual foundation, and the American way of life. Rabbi Daniel Lapin is one such individual. An Orthodox Rabbi who advocates the need for America to return to her Puritan roots, in his book, America’s Real War, An Orthodox Rabbi insists that Judeo-Christian values are vital for our Nation’s survival, Lapin calls concerned Americans to action;
“We have no choice but to pray and encourage a return to an America steeped in Judeo-Christian values. It is either that or taking our chances in a society with no values at all. For all Americans the former carries certain risks, but the latter spells certain doom. For now, we should not be deflected by theological debate from the life-saving tasks awaiting us. There is work to be done. We must ensure that America will continue to be part of God’s plan for the world” (359).
Lapin knows that the task ahead will not be easy, but if all people who have faith in God will work together, there is hope for America. The hope of God’s blessing upon America are shared concerns in fundamental Christian and Judaic traditions, and sometimes this concern for America is expressed and translates into feelings of emotion (love of country). The fundamental Christian traditions believe that judgment upon America is unavoidable, a foreboding of impending judgment, if America does not repent. The belief of judgment upon America is a very real thing, as the many hundreds of books on America in prophecy prove. Paul Boyer says that prior to World War II, the “blessings of God” on America, in connection with “impending judgment,” was always mentioned in books and sermons on the last days. Boyer has read more than 200 plus books written on Bible prophecy since World War II, he declares that most of the authors (except for a few Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Hilton Sutton, to mention a few) speak of doom and gloom and ultimately of God’s judgment on America.
Charles Colson, a modern voice of the Jeremiad and special White House counsel to President Nixon. Colson served time in Federal Prison over the Water Gate scandal that brought an end to the Nixon Presidency. Colson was converted to Christianity while in prison, and since serving his time in prison, Colson has devoted his life to Christian service founding “Prison Evangelism Fellowship” (a worldwide Christian outreach, dedicated to helping prisoners and their families, with a specific concern for helping children of prisoners). The Christian community has forgiven Colson, and in 1993, in recognition of his dedication to Christian service, Colson was awarded the “Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.” In his Templeton award acceptance speech, Colson uses “apocalyptic typology” referring to the “four horsemen” of Revelation to make his points of doom and gloom that he believes American culture and the western world are headed for. Colson’s use of the “four horsemen” is something that the early Puritans would have understood, seeing that they believed that the book of Revelation was being fulfilled in their time. The audience that Colson gives his Templeton speech to has representatives from the entire world. Colson, in his book The Enduring Revolution: The Templeton Address, says
“Four great myths define our times--- the four horsemen of the present apocalypse.
The first myth is the goodness of man. The first horsemen rails against heaven with the presumptuous question: Why do bad things happen to good people? He multiplies evil by denying its existence…
The second myth of modernity is the promise of coming utopia. The second horsemen arrives with sword and slaughter.
This is the myth that human nature can be perfected by government; that a new Jerusalem can be built using the tools of politics…
The third myth is the relativity of moral values. The third horsemen sows chaos and confusion.
This myth hides the dividing line between good and evil, noble and base. It has thus created a crisis in the realm of truth. When a society abandons its transcendent values, each individual’s moral vision be-comes purely personal and finally equal. Society becomes merely the sum total of individual preferences, and since no preference is morally preferable, anything that can be dared will be permitted…
The fourth modern myth is radical individualism. The fourth horseman brings excess and isolation.
This myth dismisses the importance of family, church, and community; denies the value of sacrifice; and elevates individual rights and pleasures as the ultimate social value” (Enduring, 14-19).
Colson’s Jeremiad is similar to John Winthrop’s “Model of Christian Charity,” like Winthrop, Colson calls for America to reflect on its covenant with God, while Colson does not use the word “covenant,” it is unmistakable as to what he is referring. Looking forward, Winthrop exhorted the Puritans as they embarked upon their errand into the wilderness to remember their covenant with God. Looking back, Colson asks America not to look for some new truth, but to look to the past, specifically to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Winthrop told the Puritans that their mission was to establish a “Christian Commonwealth” with the intention of being an example of Christian Charity to the entire world. According to Winthrop, “…the eies of all people are uppon us” (42). Colson in using the rhetoric of the early Puritans also refers to America as the New Jerusalem. Colson’s Templeton address is not the first time he mentions, “doom and gloom,” in 1989 in his book, Against the Night, Living in the New Dark Ages. Colson speaks of a crisis that is already upon us,
“…a crisis of immense proportions is upon us. Not from the threat of nuclear holocaust or a stock market collapse, not from East-West relations or ferment in the Middle East. Though all these represent serious problems, in the end they alone will not be our undoing.
No, the crisis that threatens us, the force that could topple our monuments and destroy our very foundations, is within ourselves. The crisis is in the character of our culture, where the values that restrain inner vices and develop inner virtues are eroding. Unprincipled men and women, disdainful of their moral heritage and skeptical of truth itself, are destroying our civilization by weakening the very
pillars upon which it rests” (Ages, 10-11).
Colson’s addresses his message to the layperson, to the American public as a whole. Colson’s call to awareness goes out to anyone who will listen, and anyone who will care enough to do something. Charles Colson is probably one of the most influential voices of the Jeremiad in modern America, providing a five-minute daily radio broadcast on the ills and cures for American culture, a short Jeremiad. In several of his books, his major emphasis is the need for Christians to renew their covenant with God. Colson differs from the writers of classic Jeremiads in that he does not use biblical text to show which of God’s laws the people have violated. Colson uses historical examples to warn America, such as the things that led to the fall of ancient Rome. Colson sometimes uses typology to illustrate his point, as he did in his Templeton Award speech. According to Colson,
“Before Rome’s fall, its citizens had lost the characteristics that had made them distinctly Roman: discipline, respect, and obedience. Incest and adultery had invaded many families, breaking the natural bonds of love and commitment and setting yokes of bitterness, disdain, and hatred in their place. Moral education had been supplanted by indolence, corruption, and decadence” (Ages, 131).
Colson uses the decline of ancient Roman cultural as a warning for America. Moreover, if the decadence of ancient Rome is a reliable indicator of what causes a cultural to collapse, then the foreboding voice of the Jeremiad can be heard in Colson’s Jeremiad. Colson calls on Christians to look to God for their cultural needs, not to the government of America, and not to legislation. According to Colson, Christians, many times have the wrong idea concerning government,
“In their high expectations of politics, many Christians also misjudge the source of true societal reform. In reality, it is impossible to effect genuine political reform without reforming individual and, eventually, national character.
While it has a moral responsibility to restrain evil, government can never change the hearts and minds of its citizens. Attitudes are forged by spiritual forces, not by legislation. ‘All history once you strip the rind off the kernel is really spiritual,’ said historian Arnold Toynbee. Values change when spiritual movements stir the hearts of people and when fresh winds of reason stir their
minds” (Ages, 118).
Colson covers a lot of territory in his Jeremiad, touching on every imaginable aspect of American culture. However, what Colson says in the above paragraph is of extreme importance, it is the human heart that needs to be changed, and there is no amount of legislation that will ever change the heart of man. While Colson tell the Christians not to look to government to change society, he does however seem to imply that the source to eliminating a problem that began in the sixties would be for some kind of governmental influence. Colson has much to say about America’s cultural decline, while not being critical of others; he sees the sixties as a source for America’s societal problems. Colson in his book, Justice that Restores, says that the advance of the “God is dead” theology in the sixties created problems for American society. According to Colson,
“The most beguiling promise of all was advanced in the 1960s: God is dead, so we live to overcome the nothingness with free expression and heroic individualism. Personal autonomy became the Holy Grail, the ultimate object of life. But the passion for autonomy skewed our laws and shattered our cultural taboos, resulting in an untenable moral nihilism. Today people are finally discovering that they cannot live with the logical conclusions of the worldview they so enthusiastically embraced in the latter half of the twentieth century. So in increasing numbers, people are searching for something better. Thus it is that the old questions, the timeless ones, are being asked again, questions as basic as these: What is justice? Can we create a just and moral framework by which to order our common lives together?
…It is a view of justice that acknowledges the created moral order and thereby preserves the peaceful order with minimum infringement of human liberty, what the American Founders referred to as ordered liberty” (Justice, 159).
Colson believes that the answer to America’s societal woes is connected to how Americans view liberty. Essentially Colson is pointing to America’s covenant with God, and the need for America to acknowledge the created moral order, and then America’s societal woes can be corrected.
Colson recognizes that passing laws to create a Christian utopia will only create prohibition. Colson refers to those who are causing problems for America as, “Barbarians of the new dark age as articulate men and women, carrying briefcases, not spears. However, their assault on our culture is every bit as devastating as the Barbarian invasion of Rome” (Colson, slipcover of book, Ages). Colson calls upon the church in America to take responsibility and preach repentance of sin, something not popular in today’s “feel good, I am not responsible” culture, but completely consistent with the Jeremiad. Colson calls on Christians to be faithful to God, to care about their communities, their families and people other than themselves (this was one of the themes of Winthrop’s “Model of Christian Charity”). People who do not believe that there is anything worth dying for appall Colson. He sees immorality as the root cause of the decay in America’s culture. He calls upon the church (through the layperson) to stand up for what the Bible says, in order to change the heart of America’s culture one person at a time. According to Colson
“To model the kingdom of God in the world, the church must not only be a repentant community, committed to truth, but also a holy community.
The Judeo-Christian heritage is distinguished from all other religions by its covenant with a personal God who chose to dwell in the midst of his people. ‘I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God,’ said the Lord. In Hebrew the word dwell meant ‘to pitch a tent’; God said he would pitch his holy tabernacle in the midst of the tents of the Israelites. In the New Testament we read ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ Here also the word dwelt in the Greek is translated ‘to pitch a tent.’ The covenant, both old and new, is that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who later became flesh in Christ, actually dwells in the presence of his people. And thus it is that the central requirement of our faith is that we be holy, for a holy God lives in our midst” (Ages, 155-156).
In this quotation, Colson speaks of America’s Judeo-Christian heritage, in referring to America’s covenant with God. Colson has no problem bluntly telling Christians of their responsibility to live their life according to a Biblical standard. Colson draws parallels of America’s modern Christian community with the Catholic Church, which preserved Western Civilization inside its monasteries during the Dark Ages. It may be that it will become the responsibility of America’s Christian community to preserve the time-tested values that are being eroded away in modern America. In time, the Catholic Church was able to change the culture; Colson believes that in time the church too may be able to change America’s culture. According to Colson, time is short:
“We may indeed be approaching midnight. If there is any hope, it is to be found in a renewed and repentant people possessed of a moral vision, informed by scripture, respecting of tradition, and committed to the recovery of character. We must be a people of conviction, prepared to offer the world a story filled with courage, duty, commitment and heroic effort that will inflame the moral
imagination of the West. Will we succeed? Perhaps, does it matter? In one, sense yes, of course. In another sense, not really, for our duty is clear no matter what the outcome” (Ages, 181-182).
Colson declares that the darkness of the hour is great for America, but even in a time of darkness, if Christians will do their Christian duty, there is hope. Just like the early Jeremiads, Colson calls the people of God to repentance, and to live their Christianity, in the belief that what is done here in America will be known throughout the world. Colson has a deep concern for American culture and like Winthrop, Colson believes that love (especially the Christian’s love of God) is central to America’s recovery.
Theologian Carl F. Henry, Colson’s mentor, also has a deep concern for American culture. The audience to whom Henry addresses his Jeremiad is primarily ministers. Henry’s rhetoric is of a theological nature and is directed more to those in academia and those involved in some form of ministry; because of this the layman is not so likely to read Henry. Henry offers a look at what could be considered the theological Jeremiad. In his book, Twilight of a Great Civilization, The Drift Toward Neo- Paganism, Henry sounds a Jeremidic warning. According to Henry the, “Barbarians have already begun to invade the beleaguered civilization of the West, and that the Christian vanguard has two significant responses. Jesus Christ is coming and he will have the final word about history and is in fact even now judging the barbarians and us” (23). Henry’s words are not far from the rhetoric of the early Puritans; the difference is that Henry is speaking in 20th century terminology and he is addressing the problems of a modern, civilized America. Henry speaks of his concern for America,
“I have a heavy heart about America. American culture seems to me to be sinking toward sunset. I do not, like some, call America the epicenter of evil in the world, but we have fallen far from lofty ideals for which this land came into being. I don’t intend to spend most of my time reciting a catalogue of vices. Yet our country seems more to act out of traditional character. To be sure, there is a godly remnant-not simply a tiny band but a goodly number-for which we may be grateful. But it is surely not America at her best” (40).
The solution for Henry is a reminder to the Body of Christ of their responsibility to perform their Christian duty, something that Winthrop told the Puritans they must do. Henry says Christian duty will require courageous participation at the frontiers of public concern, such as education, mass media, politics, law, literature and the arts, labor and economics and other cultural pursuits. This idea of societal involvement goes along well with Winthrop’s idea of everyone in the community working “together” as the “Body of Christ,” thereby forming the perfect Christian utopia. In the same spirit of the early Puritans, Henry sounds a warning to America. At times, Henry uses scripture to help prove his point, and like the Puritans, to some extent he includes typological analogies, referring to a “rising tide of moral indecency,” and a “cultural Armageddon.” Henry says that
“American society, in which evangelicalism thrives, is undergoing a catastrophic culture shock. Not only in theory but in practice as well, the rising tide of moral indecency inundates our culture. The devaluation of human life is evident in the millions of abortions and in the increased acceptance and practice of euthanasia. To the trashing of the beginning and end of life we must now add the sad statistics of suicide by disillusioned and despairing young people. On every hand the violation of personal worth and dignity is hastening us to cultural Armageddon” (174).
Like the Jeremiads of the early Puritans, Henry’s Jeremiad gives a warning of the impending judgment of God. Henry speaks very candidly and has no fear to speak what he believes is the truth, while at the same time maintaining a positive attitude that not all is lost. As Henry puts it,
“Christianity is qualitatively different or it has nothing distinctive to offer the world. The real arena in which we are to work and witness and win over others is the world, or we have ceased to be light, salt, leaven. Christian duty requires courageous participation at the frontiers of public concern—education, mass media, politics, law, literature and the arts, labor and economics, and the whole realm of cultural pursuits. We need to do more than to sponsor a Christian subculture. We need Christian counterculture that sets itself alongside the secular rivals and publishes openly the difference that belief in God and His Christ makes in the arenas of thought and action. We need Christian countermoves that commend a new climate, countermoves that penetrate the public realm. To live Christianly involves taking a stand for God that calls this world’s caesars to account before the sovereign Lord of the universe, that calls this world’s sages to account before the wisdom that begins with the fear of the Lord, that calls this world’s journalists to account before The Greatest Story Ever Told. We must strive to reclaim this cosmos for its rightful owner, God, who has title to the cattle on a thousand hills, and for Christ who says to the lost multitudes, ‘I made you: I died for you: I ransomed you.’…
We may not know all the answers, but we know some absolutes at least, and that puts us head and shoulders above the relativists, and the woods are full of relativists today. Each of us must find his or her proper station and platform in the ‘fight of the day’ and use our God-given talent to reflect the truth and justice of God into the world of public affairs… American culture is sinking toward sunset. Christian believers are stretching toward the sunrise. We are warriors with a mission in the world” (44).
What Henry says here is very much like Winthrop’s battle cry from the deck of the Arbella, with the exception that Winthrop was giving instructions to the Puritans for the establishment of the perfect Christian society. Sounding very much like a modern Winthrop, Henry is sounding a battle cry from American soil, for the establishment of a Christian community, within American society, with the intent of offering American’s a different way to live. Like Winthrop, Henry is giving instructions to the Body of Christ on their God-ordained responsibilities in creating this “City upon a Hill.” In considering where America began to experience cultural breakdown Henry says that the 1960’s were a time of countercultural revolt in America. In his six volume series, God, Revelation and Authority, God who speaks and Shows, Henry says
“What was first demeaned in the mid-1960’s as simply a ‘hippie and drug’ fallout of adolescent malcontents soon became a formidable countercultural revolt that aggressively challenged many of the perspectives prevalent in modern Western society” (vol. 1, 112).
The sixties were a tumultuous time of change for America and some would say that what happened in America in the sixties was a revolution. The sixties gave rise to many different religious movements in America, Eastern religions, new age religion (many of these groups established communities), along with anti-war protests, riots and political unrest. In the midst of this time of unrest, (a time that raised the hopes of many Bible believing Christians that Jesus was coming back, very soon) some of the hippies and adolescent malcontents began reading the Bible. What resulted was a revival movement that became known as the “Jesus People Movement.” Henry deemed this movement so important that he devoted an entire chapter to it, in his six volume series God, Revelation and Authority. According to Henry
“The ‘Jesus People,’ as they called themselves, confidently claimed to be the bearers of ‘the Jesus revolution,’ a superthrust into contemporary history assured of final triumph. They saw secular culture as drifting toward an inescapable judgment and doom which even the counterculture was powerless to prevent and to which the counterculture also remained vulnerable. When it became apparent that the counterculture revolt was unlikely to crest in a social revolution that would fundamentally alter the prevailing pattern of society, the ‘Jesus revolution’ took over the initiative once held by the larger protest movement and gave to it a missing spiritual and moral dimension. It furnished the modern generation with a more specific and penetrating alternative than the countercultural revolt supplied. The secular counterculture had already emphasized the importance of a celebration of human life, but only in the context of a mechanistic culture. The so-called Jesus movement now brought to this celebration a dimension of holy joy, born not only of deliverance from despair and disillusionment in a drug culture but of personal fellowship with the risen Jesus” (vol.1,122).
As the early Puritan preachers used the Jeremiad to remind their listeners to renew their covenant with God, so Henry, for all intents and purposes, is saying essentially the same thing. In this respect, Henry calls for Christians to repent and renew their covenant with God. As part of the solution to America’s ills, Henry suggests the need to bring the Ten Commandments back into America’s culture. Henry believes the Ten Commandments are God’s word, and that they are beneficial to American culture. According to Henry, the Commandments need to become apart of American culture again,
“God’s commandments need once again to become an issue in national life, the truth of revelation a matter of contention in every sphere of modern culture, the call for social righteousness a cause of trembling in every vale of injustice and indecency in the land. Neither modern scientists nor modern historians stand a ghost of a chance of burying and bolting Jesus of Nazareth in a Palestinian tomb unless we shroud Him through our silence, unless we keep quiet about the way God acts and speaks and about the sure future toward which He is guiding all history.
The church often tells the world where it is going; does the Church today any longer know where she is going? The Church of Jesus Christ is here and has marching orders: our mandate is His Word. Everything else around us is on the move: have we opted out of the contest for the mind and will and heart of modern man?” (19-20).
Henry lays the responsibility for the demise of America’s culture on the steps of the Church, the Body of Christ. Henry believes that if Christians are silent in the fight for America’s culture, then they will have forgotten the mandate of the early Puritans to establish and maintain a Christian culture. Recognizing the diversity involved in maintaining such a culture Henry says, “Not only do atheists complicate the current ethical debate, but non-Christian theists and other speculative philosophers do so also, and Christians themselves often do not much help their own cause” (28). Henry believes, like the early Puritans, that America has a Divine potential, and a destiny for greatness. Henry believes that it will take God’s people, motivated to social action by God’s love, to make the necessary difference in America’s culture. Henry reminds God’s people through his Jeremiad of the promise of God’s blessings to those who repent. Henry sounds the call for America to renew its covenant with God, and “if” America repents, all will be well.
Interestingly, Judge Robert H. Bork, in voicing his concern about America’s culture gives us a look at what can be considered the secular Jeremiad. In his book, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, Modern Liberalism and the American Decline, and in Judge Bork, we have a man who, through judicial proceedings has gained an insight into what ails America. Bork did not intend to limit his work to a religious audience, and as such, he has the ability to reach a much larger segment of American culture with his Jeremiad. Bork sounds a warning of impending doom to American culture as we know it. He lays the problem of the decline of America at the feet of modern liberalism, which he feels stresses the dual forces of radical egalitarianism (the equality of outcomes rather than opportunities) and radical individualism (the drastic reduction of limits to personal gratification). Judge Bork also emphasizes the need to understand what happened to American culture in the sixties, as contributing to America’s decline. According to Judge Bork,
“It is important to understand what the Sixties turmoil was about, for the youth culture that became manifest then is the modern liberal culture of today. Where that culture will take us next may be impossible to say, but it is also impossible even to make an informed guess without understanding the forces let loose by the decade that changed America.
Many people attribute the student frenzy, civil disobedience, and violence of the Sixties to the war in Vietnam. That is a comforting thought, for, if true, it would mean that the Sixties pivoted on a single issue rather than representing a major, and perhaps permanent, upheaval across all of American culture. Unfortunately, the evidence seems clear that Vietnam was more an occasion for the outbreaks than their cause. The war at most intensified into hatred a contempt for American civilization that was already in place” (17).
Bork says the moral upheaval of the sixties affected American culture like nothing else in the history of this nation. Radicals during this period, intended to upset and change America’s way of life. Bork refers to these primarily nameless individuals as modern liberals and radicals. Beginning in the sixties those who sought to overthrow the American way of life infiltrated American society at all levels, affecting our religion, our morals and all aspects of our culture, and today they are now in power and by their conduct are threatening to destroy American culture. Judge Bork says
“I begin with the theory and the practice of the decade of the Sixties, the decade not only of burning law books but of revolutionary nihilism, occupied and terrorized universities, and the Establishments surrendered. The Sixties may be seen in the universities as a mini-French Revolution that seemed to fail, but ultimately did not. The radicals were not defeated by a conservative or traditionally liberal opposition but by their own graduation from the universities. And theirs was merely a temporary defeat. They and their ideology are all around us now. That is the reason for understanding the Sixties” (13).
Bork recognizes the restlessness of some in American culture: “Americans are becoming restless under the tyrannies of egalitarianism and sick of the hedonistic individualism that has brought us to the suburbs of Gomorrah, for the immediate future, what we probably face is an increasingly vulgar, violent, chaotic, and politicized culture” (342). Bork believes that our culture must be recaptured, institution by institution, just as religion must be recaptured church by church. Bork’s solution to the recovery from America’s decline is not an easy one; it will take patience and hard work by concerned citizens to turn America around. Judge Bork does not speak in Christian terms, except in his reference to America sliding towards Gomorrah, and his perspective and outlook on the decline of American culture sounds as if it is coming from the bench of a judge who has examined all the evidence and has sounded his gavel. Judge Bork issues a Jeremiad concerning postmodern thought as something that can possibly destroy our American democracy. Quoting from a June 6, 1995, New York Times article, “Scientists Deplore Flight From Reason,” Bork says the scientists were
“Concerned about the breadth of the attacks on rationality, some 200 scientists, doctors, philosophers, educators, and thinkers met at the New York Academy of Sciences. ‘Defenders of scientific methodology were urged to counterattack against faith healing, astrology, religious fundamentalism and paranormal charlatanism. But beyond these threats to rational behavior, participants at the meeting aimed their barbs at ‘post-modernist’ critics of science who contend that truth in science depends on one’s point of view, not on any absolute content.’
The conferees deplored the distortion of scientific ideas, such as the physics of relativity and quantum mechanics (pillars of twentieth-century thought), into arguments that nothing in science is certain and that mystery and magic have an equal claim to belief. At risk was not only science but every subject dependent on disciplined, rational thought. Dr. Paul Kurtz, a professor of philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, argued that post-modernists of both the political left and right denied that scientific knowledge was possible. This causes an ‘erosion of the cognitive process which may undermine democracy’ (270).
Like an early Puritan Jeremiad, Bork’s message is a warning for all Americans; Judge Bork has determined from the evidence of moral decline that something bad is happening to American culture. To regain the moral ground Bork offers little hope or encouragement of immediate change. Bork is not being pessimistic, he believes that America can be changed, but it will take time, and hopefully there will be people who are willing to do the work, even if it takes years.
Bork’s Jeremiad contains elements of early Puritan Jeremiads, specifically, the element of hope, in which there was always the promise, “if you do well, all will be well.” Looking at modern Jeremiads, the theme of the moral decline of American culture and the concern for America’s wellbeing seems the same in all of them. Although Bork’s Jeremiad can be considered secular in nature, it is nonetheless in agreement with the early Puritan Jeremiad. Similarly, typological interpretations, which helped make many of the early Puritan Jeremiads colorful, while not present in abundance, are not entirely absent in modern forms of the Jeremiad. Some examples of the use of typology in modern Jeremiads that we have seen can be found in the writings of Colson, Henry, Wilkerson, and Judge Bork. Colson uses the typological allusion, of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” Henry refers to America’s problems as a cultural “Armageddon,” Wilkerson likens modern America to “Sodom and Gomorrah,” while the title of Judge Bork’s book has America sliding towards “Gomorrah.” Bork is optimistic and holds out hope for the possible restoration of America’s culture. According to Bork,
“…Government is largely responsible for making the inner cities what they are. Perhaps government can stop doing harm by reforming welfare, but it should leave to private institutions the task of redeeming the culture.
I end where I began, contemplating burnt books. Though I did not suspect it then, the charred law books on the sidewalk in New Haven were a metaphor, a symbol of the coming torching of America’s intellectual and moral capital by the barbarians of modern liberalism. We have allowed that capital to be severely damaged, but perhaps not beyond repair. As we approach its desolate and sordid precincts, the pessimism of the intellect tells us that Gomorrah is our probable destination. What is left to us is a determination not to accept that fate and the courage to resist it---the optimism of the free will” (342-343).
Bork believes that the government should stay out of the way of private institutions and let them work on redeeming America’s culture. This is a difference from Winthrop’s “Model of Christian Charity” where Winthrop called upon the Puritans to establish a Christian utopia based upon a perfect blend of church and state. Bork holds the government responsible for some of what ails America. Alexander Brooks, on the other hand believes that it is the responsibility of American government to uphold its Christian foundation. Brooks believes that America’s Christian foundation is the very thing that has made America such a blessing to its citizens.
In the Spiritual Counterfeits Project Journal, 1993, in his article “Burden of Conflict, Church and State in a Fallen World,” Brooks speaks of Augustine’s “City of God,” as an example of what American government should be. According to Brooks,
“The American system of government is steeped in the values and concepts of Christianity. And that is exactly what has made it such a blessing to its people. America’s citizens have ‘Rights’ and ‘Liberties’ for one reason alone---because America’s founders gave themselves the conscious task of diluting the loves of the fallen, earthly city with the values of the Gospel and the love of the City of God.
The good news is that all of us—Christian and non-Christian alike—have benefited from the Christian wisdom built into the American system. The bad news is that the system itself is only workable in a society that holds Christianity and Christian truth in high regard. The alternative to the workability of the American system is a relapse into the pagan model of statism and ‘ontocracy’” (vol.17:4, 55).
When the Arbella docked in Massachusetts and the Puritans embarked on their errand into the wilderness, they believed that they could merge both the religious and civil into one harmonious whole. For this delicate balance between the religious and civil to be restored in modern America, a return to the sixties and a reversal of our court’s decision to remove the Bible and prayer from our public schools may be all that is necessary. However, legislating morality will only return America to times of prohibition. Changing one heart at a time through another “Great Awakening,” (such as the one that swept New England under Jonathan Edwards) is something that has benefited America in the past and can certainly be a solution for modern America. For those who believe in the greatness of America and the greatness of her people, there will always be an optimistic hope, of which the Puritans would approve, that America can be and will be restored to its original greatness.
The Jeremiad exists in many different forms it has permeated our culture. It is still alive and well. While no longer communicated in its classical, Puritan form, the Jeremiad has survived. It is closest to its original form in many of the pulpits of America today. The Jeremiad can also be occasionally heard in the political speeches of our times.
In Judge Bork’s book, on a page all by itself before the table of contents, is a poem by William Butler Yeats called the, “The Second Coming;”
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is a hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about I
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
There is a foreboding in Yeats poem that seems to imply that with the coming of the twentieth century, something of an apocalyptic nature is now upon us. Yeats reference to the second coming shows that this same theme of the imminent return of Christ is still very much a part of American religious culture. Just as the Puritans believed that, they were living in the last days, so too many Christians in modern America believe the same. Bork comments on Yeats saying that,
“When Yeats wrote that in 1919, he may have foreseen that the twentieth century would experience the ‘blood-dimmed tide,’ as indeed it has. But he can hardly have had any conception of just how thoroughly things would fall apart as the center failed to hold in the last third of this century. He can hardly have foreseen that passionate intensity, uncoupled from morality, would shred the fabric of Western culture. The rough beast of decadence, a long time in gestation, having reached its maturity in the last three decades, now sends us slouching towards our new home, not Bethlehem but Gomorrah” (VII).
Bork believes that American culture has taken a wrong turn, and that the direction that America is now headed will only lead it to the abyss. Bork says that Yeats poem is most likely the most quoted poem of the twentieth century and his reason for quoting it, is because he believes that it addresses our fears. According to Bork, “The image of a world disintegrating, then to be subjected to a brutal force, speaks to our fears now” (VII).
The opposite of the fear that Bork speaks of, is the hope that many in America have. That just as God spoke to King Solomon, King of ancient Israel, telling him how He would respond to Israel if the Israelites repented. God said to Solomon “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (English Standard Version, II Chronicles 7:14). This ancient Jeremidic verse from the Old Testament is being declared all across modern America in many different forms. For those who have a love for America and hope for its recovery from ways of decline, this passage of scripture is the battle cry of the Jeremiad calling America to renew her covenant with God. Even in the light of 911, or whatever else may come to America, if America will live up to her motto “In God We Trust,” it is the hope of many that the future of America will be good. If America repents and turns from its wicked ways, then as the scripture says, God has promised that He will heal this promise land, the United States of America, and as the song says at its ending, God Bless the U.S.A.
According to Paul Boyer, “When all is said and done, we are confronted with the remarkable endurance of this ancient way of understanding the world. Prophecy belief, and specifically premillennialism, not only survived the ‘secular’ twentieth century but exhibited vigorous signs of renewal as the century ended” (338).
In researching the American Jeremiad, I have encountered writings, both secular and religious, which express a common concern for American culture. The early Puritan Jeremiad expressed concern about moral decadence in Puritan society. Moral decline is a theme that has been a constant in the message of the Jeremiad from its beginning to the present time. Many modern Jeremiads warn of culture wars that are tearing America apart. The seventeenth century Puritans were people of faith, with apocalyptic concerns, a message which dominates the modern Jeremiad. It was the Puritan’s faith in the God of the Bible that helped them to found America and make America what it is today. Through the Biblical imagery of the Jeremiad, the Puritan preachers expressed concern for the moral decline of their new Israel, American society. Interest in the contribution of the Puritans to the founding of American society persisted into nineteenth century, resulting in the building of a memorial, “The National Monument to the Forefathers” (see Appendix C for details).
Places that I did not go with this thesis that would certainly be profitable to investigate cover several subjects. As I researched the Jeremiad, I found that the typology of the Jeremiad was in a multitude of places, scattered like seasoning throughout America’s culture. I believe that it would be interesting to trace the typology of the Jeremiad through the four hundred years of American history. A study of Jeremidic typology could provide a wealth of information on just how far typology has entered into American culture. While at the same time providing light on how Americans have used this colorful rhetoric in referring to themselves and America in Biblical terms. Such an undertaking would include a close look at four centuries of preaching in America. Which would also include a look at four hundred years of political rhetoric; such research could provide enough material for a doctorate dissertation. As I progressed in my research, I could see that this would be an area of research well worth the time and the effort (maybe someday).
An examination of American poetry is another area of study for the typological rhetoric of the Jeremiad. Seventeenth century Puritan poetry, eighteenth century poetry, nineteenth century poetry all three centuries, have good examples of Jeremidic typology. In the twentieth century the poetry of T. S. Elliott, would provide much Jeremidic materiel worth studying. Poetry is an area of study that I did not delve into, but I saw in passing through in research, that some American poetry is rich in typological Jeremidic rhetoric. This will make for an interesting future study.
In an examination of the modern Jeremiad, I did not touch on the Black Jeremiad. What I did run across in my research was a realization that the sermons of Dr. Martin Luther King (of which I am familiar with some) would reveal a completely new area of research into the Jeremiad, which would go back to the beginnings of America. Such research would undoubtedly include Uncle Toms Cabin, the study of Negro Spirituals, early Blues music and Jazz music. Such a study could be fun and informative; I believe the Black Jeremiad would be a good thesis topic, and another area for future research.
On the internet, I found several Jeremiads with apocalyptic overtones. One article concerning science and space exploration looked to the fifties and the launching of the sputnik as an apocalyptic Jeremiad, an ominous warning to America. Another internet article issued a warning; it was titled the “Post-Modern Jeremiad.” I found it interesting that while I searched for material on the Jeremiad, that postmodernism or modernism or modernity kept popping up, always unexpectedly, “postmodernism” has been mentioned by several authors, Rabbi Lapin, Charles Colson and Judge Bork as one of the factors in the decline of American culture. Is the observation of these men relevant? I believe that their observations of postmoderism can possibly be viewed as a warning shot of the modern Jeremiad across the bow of America’s ship of state.
In my research I found what seemed to be an unlimited supply of Jeremiads, and anything that even had a small negative overtone (a woe of any kind), seemed to be justification for using the word “Jeremiad.”
America is a wonderful nation, and there is no other nation on the face of the earth quite like America. But neither is modern American culture the “perfect” Christian utopia, which the Puritans tried so hard to found. My research of the American Jeremiad has given me a greater appreciation for America and knowledge of the Christian origins of this country that I did not have before. In my research, I encountered American hymns that have a very patriotic flavor, not to mention the many songs of our independence. Studying the music of the early Puritans alone would reveal a Puritan mindset of how they viewed themselves and how they viewed God, not to mention the music could be a theological gold mine for Puritan beliefs. Our national anthem says that America is home sweet home. America is a special place, and to many people around the world America is the number one destination for immigration.
As we progress, I would like to use a recent event in American history as an example that reveals how the message of the Jeremiad can be misapplied and misunderstood. However, first I want to mention two individuals who spoke near the same time in the nineteenth century. De Tocqueville was impressed with a nation of Americans he believed were good people, and what Charles G. Finney said of nineteenth century America, is applicable to modern America. Finney said that the America of the nineteenth century had more sins than he could mention, and so to modern America has many “sins.” Preachers have tried to use the Jeremiad to help America to understand why God’s judgment has come. Nineteenth century America had good people as De Tocqueville has said, and the America of today also has good people, and as 9/11 has shown the world, the citizens of America do care about one another, and America does have a soul. The pulse of America at times may be hard to detect, but the heroics of 9/11 and the many Americans who donated what they could was evidence that America is alive. I believe that the sacrifices Americans made in light of 9/11, is evidence, that the teaching of the “Body of Christ” that John Winthrop preached to the Puritans, is indeed part of the American spirit. From the infancy of America, the teaching of the “Body of Christ,” has been the foundational concept of a culture taught to care for their neighbor, looking after the needs of one another, for the common good of the society. Winthrop’s teaching on the “Body of Christ” has manifested itself in the secular and religious culture of America, becoming, I believe, the motivation for modern Americans to help one another. Following the events of 9/11, Americans were gripped with compassion and what appeared to be a heart felt concern for their fellow Americans, it seemed that patriotism and love of country was at an all time high. It could be said, that during and after 9/11, “love” burst forth from the hearts of Americans.
In the light of 9/11, the Jeremiad became a lens for interpreting current events, some good interpretations and some bad. High profile ministers, such as, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, attributed the events of 9/11 to God’s judgment and later apologized for having thus spoken. The events of 9/11 evoke apocalyptic images, and the internet, to this day in 2004, is full of religious websites that fully attribute 9/11 to God’s judgment on America. To view 9/11 as an apocalyptic judgment, in my opinion, is to miss a more appropriate message, of a loving God who in His mercy and grace did not allow the buildings to tumble or turn into infernos setting New York City on fire. Considering the prophetic and apocalyptic emphasis of the modern Jeremiad, it is easy to understand how a first response to the events of 9/11 could be viewed as God’s judgment on America.
In my research, I found that there is a common concern for American culture that comes from all quarters of American society, Judeo-Christian or secular. I found it interesting that many views at some point refer to the sixties, as a time of cultural upheaval and moral decline, and as the reason why America is experiencing trouble today. Theologian Carl F. Henry, Judge Bork and Charles Colson all refer to the sixties as a time that changed America for the worse.
All those who lived during the sixties have memories of a time of trouble for America. I remember the day that my father came home and filled the bathtub with water because of the Cuban missile crisis. It was believed by many that America was about to be nuked, my neighbor had a bomb shelter built in his backyard. I remember the day when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, I remember where I was and what I was doing. I will never forget hiking out of the high sierras to hear that race riots had broken out in Watts. Along with the political events of the sixties, there was moral decline that seemed to affect everything, “free love,” “drugs,” a “if it feels good do it culture.” It is easy to point to the sixties as the reason for America’s problems today. However, not everything in the sixties was bad. A revival among the free love hippies, resulted in a blessing for America, out of it came the “Jesus People Movement.” The influence of the Jesus People Movement touched me personally, of which I am a product. Los Angeles in the sixties was a place of cultural upheaval that gave birth to the Jesus People Movement.
America is not a perfect nation. However, what would the world would be like today if America had not been here to make a difference in the twentieth century. There is a saying that, America is going to “Hell in a hand basket,” and a bumper sticker that reads, “I don’t know where I am going, and what am I doing in this basket?” If America is going to Hell in a hand basket, and if this is true, how did we get into the basket? It is “we the people” who together make up and comprise American culture. If America is going to Hell in a hand basket, it is “we the people,” who hold the responsibility for sending it in that direction. It is our actions our words and our life styles that have made America what it is today. Just as the prophet, Jeremiah addressed the societal sins of ancient Israel; it is these same warnings of the judgment of sin that concerns the preachers of the modern Jeremiad. Many believe that “what people do is their own business;” from a Biblical perspective, this is not a true statement. Metaphorically, our lives are like the tossing of a pebble into a pond; the pebble causes ripples (sin) throughout the pond. The ripples, while not wanted, none-the-less affect all those in the pond. The actions of all Americans are ripples upon us all. For those who trust in God the ripples are the sounding of an alarm that the judgment of God will certainly visit America and is indeed affecting all of us; no one can escape these ripples.
Where do we possible go from here, what place if any should the Jeremiad be given in modern America? One place that I would personally like to see is the restoration of the “Election Day Jeremiad” as the special occasion sermon that it was designed to be. I believe that it would be nice for America to honor a tradition of preaching that lasted for two hundred and up to two hundred and fifty years. I know that this would not be popular in today’s America, but as a bit of nostalgia, and as a means of preserving a bit of American history, the Jeremiad could again be a voice, which modern American politicians could listen. Certainly, a sermon, such as “Nehemiah on the Wall in Troublesome Times,” could be a good thing for modern American politicians to contemplate.
If God is speaking to modern America through the Jeremiad, then it is important that America have ears to hear. In the book of Revelation, chapters two and three, God spoke to the seven churches of Asia Minor, to each of the seven churches the Spirit says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (English Standard Version, Revelation 2:7, :11, :17, :29; 3:6, :13, :22). Will Americans have ears to hear and will Americans hear what the American Jeremiahs are saying. Not all will repent, but will enough Americans repent and turn from their wicked ways to make a difference? It is the hope of many, that America will hear God speaking, and that America will turn back and acknowledge its Christian roots.
America is a great nation, but for America to continue to be a truly great nation and to rise above its many cultural differences, people of faith and non-believers alike need to come together for the “common good” to address the ills of American culture. It is certain that not everyone will agree on the direction that America should go. People, who put their trust in God in today’s America, many times feel as if the rhetoric of church and state has left them without a voice in this great society. All Americans deserve to have an active part in America’s culture. Separation of church and state should never be used as an excuse to exclude people of faith from participating in all aspects of American life. Christians today, like the early Puritans, would like American society to be entirely Christian (any thinking based in reality will know that will never happen), a Christian utopia of the sort Winthrop had envisioned. This is not a realistic approach for the “here and now.” Jesus himself in the garden of Gethsemane prayed for the proper relationship of believers to the world. When Jesus prayed to God about his followers he said, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. The utopia that Winthrop had envisioned in the “Model of Christian Charity,” never found fulfillment past the first generation of Puritan emigrants. Yet the dreams of a utopia have never died off, nor has the dream of attaining the impossible stopped anyone from trying. America has a long history of “Christian” and “Christian like cults” attempting to establish a utopia of religious freedom, but what is freedom for some is bondage for others. The early Puritans found this out in their own experiment of religious freedom.
Utopian ideals in modern America, whether a blend of Christian or non-Christian, all have similar stories of people who gave all that they owned in this world, and lost everything. However, on the same hand, there are communities based on utopian ideals that appear to be successful, but they never seem to extend past the lives of their founder. The sixties gave rise to several such communities, both religious and secular.
They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (English Standard Version, John 17:15-16). It is the job of Christians in a secular world to be the salt of the world; fulfilling Winthrop’s mandate that Puritan America was to be an example of a Christian society to the entire world. Believers are to look for a heavenly city that is not made with human hands. What the Puritans did in their New Jerusalem in attempting to implement the teaching of the “Body of Christ,” a society based on “agape,” can be seen in modern American governmental programs that are designed to help Americans. With the preaching of the Jeremiad, the Puritans attempted to build a society based on Christian love that set a standard for each generation of Americans. Robert N. Bellah gives a possible solution for America’s cultural ills in his book, The Broken Covenant, American Civil Religion in Time of Trial Bellah says
“If we are to transcend the limitations of American culture and society it can only be on the basis of an imaginative vision that can generate an experience of inner conversion and lead to a new form of covenant. Liberation without any sense of constitution will surely be self-defeating. The perils of late 20th-century America will not be overcome by everyone doing his or her “own thing,” but through the discovery of cultural and social forms that can give the disciplined basis for a new degree of moral freedom” (85-86).
This sermon outline is an internet source from Gonzaga University, “Forms of Puritan Rhetoric”: election sermons and Jeremiads (from Emory Elliott). Early Puritan Jeremiads were normally a multifaceted three-part sermon; this outline shows the topical format of the Jeremiad in four parts.
1. Biblical Text and Explication.
a. Review of Biblical events that foreshadowed the text.
b. Setting the stage for typological interpretation.
2. Doctrine: Announcement of general laws and lessons.
3. Applications and Uses.
a. Describes how Doctrine and Proposition pertained to contemporary New England.
4. Addresses the various groups in the audience (governor, elected officials, etc.). (, 4-20-2002)
Jonathan Mitchel’s Jeremiad in graph form shows how detailed and complex Mitchel’s Jeremiad is. This Jeremiad is a Rhetorical marvel as to Mitchel’s ability to repeatedly speak over and over again the points of responsibility for holding public office.
1) Biblical Text and Explication.
A) Nehemiah on the Wall or (subtitle);
B) Psal.88:70-72, Josh.7:10, Isa.32:1&2, Nehemiah 2:10.
C) The context is framed by these verses and the meaning of the
verses was obvious to every listener.
2) Doctrine: propositions and reasons;
A) Question one, asked in two parts.
B) Answer, 1)___, 2)___; 1a)___, 2a)___, 3a)___, 4a)___.
2b) answers 2nd part of question one, 1)___.
C) Reasons, 1)___, 2)___, 3)___.
D) Question two; 1)___.
E) Reasons, 1)___, 2)___, 3)___.
3) Application and Uses;
A) Use one, 1)___, 2)___.
B) Use two, 1)___, 2)___, 3)___, 4)___, 5)___, 6)___, 7)___, 8)___,
C) Use three, given in three multiple parts;
1c) Part one, 1)___,1a) Directions, 2)___, 3)___, 4)___, 5)___, 6)___.
2c) Part two, 1)___, 2)___, 3)___, 4)___.
3c) Part three, 1)___, 2)___, 3)___, 3a)___.
4) This last section may be an extension of the Use Application section as
it does appear to speak to everyone, this then would be in
agreement with Elliott’s outline of the election day Jeremiad.
A) This section has three parts.
1A)___, 1a)___, 2a)___.
2B)___, 1b)___, 2b)___.
3C), 1c)___, 2c)___, 3)___, 4)___, 5)___.
As Americans, we must remember our past in order to know our future, who it is we are, and the things that have helped to make us the nation we our. Just as God commanded the ancient Israelites to build memorials to remind them of God’s blessings of deliverance. America too needs memorials to remind it of the faith of past generations and of the sacrifice, they made.
Washington D.C. is full of memorials to American government and its great leaders. Boston Massachusetts has a monument, which America has largely forgotten, it a monument that recognizes the contribution of the Puritans to America’s culture. In modern America the contribution that the Puritans made to American society, is rarely spoken of and it is something of which many Americans are unaware. In the middle of the nineteenth century, prior to the Civil War, the “National Monument of Our Forefathers,” a monument of colossal size was envisioned and designed by Hammatt Billings, who also did the illustrated drawings for the first edition of Uncles Tom’s Cabin. This monument was planned for construction prior to the Civil War, but the war interrupted planned construction. After the Civil War, construction began and continued until the completion of the monument in the early 1890’s. So appreciated were the Puritans in the nineteenth century that the memorial to the Puritans stayed in the public consciousness for nearly fifty years, from its inception to its completion.
The national monument that was actually built is a greatly scaled back version of what Billings originally wanted. Billings had envisioned a monument that would compete in size with the Pyramids of Egypt. “The National Monument to Our Forefathers” is not small. The monument weighs 180-ton, it is essentially three-dimensional statue; it is 216 times life size. It is a call to all Americans to remember the example of the faith of our Forefathers. Faith is the central figure of the monument and is represented as a woman standing on top of a 45-foot pedestal. Faith rises 36 feet into the air, resulting in a statue that is 81 feet from bottom to top.
The corner stone of the “National Monument to our Forefathers,” was laid on August 1, 1859. The monument was completed and dedicated on August 1, 1889; it is located on the highest ground in Plymouth, Massachusetts. James F. O’Gorman in his book, Accomplished in All Departments of Art, gives a description of the monument. According to Gorman,
“The Forefathers Monument is an 81-foot apparition of solid Hallowell granite composed of a 36-foot figure of Faith bestride an octagonal, 45-foot pedestal surrounded by seated 15-foot figures of liberty, Education, Law, and Morality. Faith is a large-featured, 180-ton, classically draped female who stands with one foot on a representation of Plymouth Rock (fig. 83). She holds a Bible in her left hand and points heavenward with her right. Her only other significant attribute is a single star above her forehead. The heroic ancillary figures, each weighing 20 to 25 tons, are seated on diagonal buttresses. Liberty (fig.84) is a carapaced male wearing a helmet, draped with a lion’s skin, cradling a sword in his right arm, and holding a broken chain in his left hand. Small figures on the sides of his chair represent Peace (woman holding a cornucopia) and Tyranny (king laid low). On
his pedestal is a relief depicting the landing of the Pilgrims. Education is a draped woman pointing to a book in her lap. The small figures on her chair represent
Wisdom (bearded man with book and globe) and Youth (woman and child). The relief on her pedestal depicts the signing of the Mayflower compact. Law is a draped male also holding a book. His chair is supported by Mercy (draped ornate) and Justice (woman with scales and sword). The Treaty with the Indians is shown in relief (fig. 85). Morality, finally is a woman holding a book inscribed “God” who sits above a relief showing the embarkation from Deft-Haven. Her chair contains small figures representing an Evangelist (writing a book) and a prophet (Moses holding the tablets of the Law and looking to heaven). There is no
mistaking the meaning of any of this, for the name of each figure is clearly inscribed in the stone.
There are also inscribed panels, two of which list the names of the passengers on the Mayflower. The principal text bears this dedication: National / Monument / to the / Forefathers / Erected / by a Grateful People / in Remembrance of / Their / Labors, Sacrifices / and Sufferings / for the / Cause of Civil / and / Religious Liberty” (175-178).
Faith’s finger pointing heavenward, the Bible in her left hand, speaks of looking to God and His word for life’s direction. An example of how the Puritans were guided by their faith in God and the promises they found in the Bible. Denunciation will vary with each passing generation as to how the people have violated God’s covenant. The reassuring promises of God’s word are seen in Morality, slightly looking up towards Faith and holding the Ten Commandments and the book of Revelation in her hands. Law tempered with Justice and Mercy are also reassuring aspects of the Jeremiad that all will be well if God’s people repent. By remembering the faith of our forefathers, we will be able to preserve and illuminate our path for the future. If there is a warning of judgment or denunciation in the monument, the warning could possibly be of the failure of America to remember the sacrifice that the Founding Fathers made. If America is ashamed of its past, how can it appreciate what the future may bring? This monument stands as a reminder to Americans that, in every generation since the founding of this nation, there have been those who have sought to remind of us of our greatness, of what we are, and of what we can be. The National Monument to Our Forefathers is an illustrated Jeremiad that calls America to remember the origin of the foundation of American society. It is there as a memorial for all generations to see; it is a declaration to America, not to forget her Christian beginnings.
Statistics of “The National Monument to Our Forefathers”
Faith, which stands atop the base, is 36’ high. Length of her outstretched arm, pointing to heaven is 19’10 ½”; Head circumference at forehead is 13’7”; neck circumference is 9’2”; Circumference of wrist is 4’; Finger pointing upward is 2’1”.
Alexander, Brooks. “Burden of Conflict,” SCP Journal, 17:4 (1993): 40-55. This is an
article on the separation of church and state. Brooks draws upon Augustine to show the Christians place in relation to society.
Alsup, John E., “Typology,” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1st ed. vol. 6, 682-683. New
York: Doubleday, 1992.
Bellah, Robert N. The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in Time of Trial. 5th
ed. New York: The Seabury Press. 1975.
Bellah, Robert N., and Phillip E. Hammond, Varieties of Civil Religion. 1st ed. New
York: Harper and Row. 1980.
Bellah, Robert N., Richard Madsen, William M Sullivan, Ann Swidler and Steve M.
Tipton. Habits of the Heart. 1st paperback ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. Discusses in detail individualism and commitments in American life. It covers topics such as love and marriage, citizenship, religion, and transforming American culture.
Bennett, William J.. The Broken Hearth. First Edition. New York, N.Y.: Doubleday,
2001.Discusses the necessity and importance of maintaining the nuclear family; Bennett argues several “sensitive” cultural issues which he believes are primarily responsible for the moral decay of the American family. Bennett is concerned with efforts of some to change the definition of what a family is. Bennett says, “If once the lights have been shot out, can they be shot on again”.
---. The De-Valuing of America: The Fight for Our Culture and Our Children. 1st
Touchstone ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.
Bercovich, Sacvan. The American Jeremiad. 1st ed. Madison: University of Wisconsin
Press, 1978. Bercovich examines the rhetoric of the American Jeremiad in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Bercovich discusses the typology of the American Jeremiad and the influence of the Jeremiad on America and its importance as early American literature. The Jeremiad helps us to understand the origins of American cultural myths.
---ed. The American Puritan Imagination: Essays in Revaluation. 1st ed. New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1974.
---. The Puritan Origins of the American Self. First Edition. New Haven and London.
Yale University Press, 1975. Did you ever wonder where Americans get there idea of greatness? What is the American Nehemiah, these questions and others are answered in this book. This book is rich in examples of how the Puritans used typology (Biblical, Historical, and Mythological). The American idea of greatness is rooted in our Puritan origins. Bercovich gives examples of Jeremiads and how they relate to the American view of “self”.
---. The Rites of Assent: Transformations in the Symbolic Construction of America. New
York. Routledge, Chapman and Hall, 1993.
---. Typology and Early American Literature.1st ed. Printed in USA: University of
Massachusetts Press, 1972.This a great collection of essays by Professors who write from their expertise of early American literature. All ten of the essays are informative. Bercovich adds his touch with a lengthy annotated bibliography at the close of the book, pages 249-340.
Bork, Robert H. Slouching Towards Gomorrah. New York: Harper Collins, 1996. A
Judge’s no nonsense examination of what he believes is wrong with American culture. Bork places emphasis upon understanding the tumultuous “generation changing” sixties in order to recognize why American cultural is where it is today.
---. The Tempting of America: The Political Seduction of the Law. New York: The Free
Boyer, Paul. When Time Shall Be No More. 1st Ed. Harvard: Harvard University Press,
1999. This book discusses prophecy belief in modern American culture. Americans are preoccupied with prophetical belief and much of it affects our every day discussions. It covers topics concerning the United States in prophecy and the continuing appeal of prophecy belief in American culture.
Bromiley, Geoffrey W. Theological Dictionary of the Testament New. 6th
printing. 10 Vol. Edited by Gerhard Kittel, and Gerhard Friedrich. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978.
Brumm, Ursula. American Thought & Religious Typology. New Jersey: Rutgers
University Press, 1970.
Campbell, Donna M., “Forms of Puritan Rhetoric: The Jeremiad and the Conversion
Bullinger, Ethelbert W. A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek
New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976.
Colson, Charles. Against the Night. Ann Arber: Servant publications, 1989. Colson using
examples of the fall of Rome to illustrate the parallels he sees with America. Drawing from Bellah, he emphasizes the need of heart felt loving care for our culture.
---. America Responds, How Now Shall We Live in the Face of Terrorism. Cassette
Tape. Carol Stream: Oasis Audio, 2001.
---. America Without God. Cassette Tape. Carol Stream: Oasis Audio, 2000.
---. Justice That Restores. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2001.
---. The Enduring Revolution the Battle to Change the Human Heart. Uhrichsville:
Barbour & Company, 1993.
Colson, Charles, and Nancy Pearcy. How Now Shall We Live?. First Edition. Wheaton,
Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1999.Chuck Colson of Watergate fame is primarily addressing this book to a Christian audience; Colson, is calling Christians to rise up, and be true Christians (to renew their covenant with God). Colson believes that Christianity can help our culture only if the believers “hearts” have been changed. Contains many short chapters with real life examples.
Danforth, Samuel. “A Brief Recognition of New-Englands Errand into the Wilderness.”
American Sermons The Pilgrims to Martin Luther King Jr. Ed. Michael Warner.
New York: The Library of America, 1999.
Durant, Will and Ariel. The Story of Civilization The Age of Louis XIV. Vol. 8. New
York: Simon and Schuster, 1963.
Edwards, Jonathan. Images or Shadows of Divine Things. Ed. Perry Miller. New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1948.
Elliott, Emory. “The Jeremiad” The Cambridge History of American Literature., 1st ed.
Cambridge University Press, 1994. Vol.6. Discusses the history of the Jeremiad in England especially the political reasons that led the Puritans to America. Examines several Jeremiads while spending much on Danforth’s famous Jeremiad. Elliott gives a very good account of Mary Rowlandson’s account of her kidnapping by the American Indians and her internal warfare of questioning “why” God had allowed this to happen.
---. Power and the Pulpit in Puritan New England. Princeton: Princeton University Press,
Feder, Don. A Jewish Conservative Looks at Pagan America. Louisiana: Huntington
House Publishers, 1993.
Feinberg, Charles L. “Jeremiah.” The Expositors Bible Commentary. Vol. 6. Ed. Frank E.
Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1986.
Finney, Charles G. Charles G. Finney Memorial Library. CD-Rom. Grand Rapids:
Alethea In Heart, 2002.
Goppelt, Leonhard. TYPOS: The Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament in the
New. Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company,1982.
Hall, Michael, G. The Last American Puritan. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press,
Henry, Carl F. H. God, Revelation and Authority Volume 1: God Who Speaks and Shows
Preliminary Considerations. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1999.
---. Twilight of a Great Civilization. Wetchester: Crossway Books, 1988.
Henry sees America’s culture changing at a dramatic pace that only a few are aware of. Neo-Pagans are coming , the Barbarians are at our doors. The solution is for Christians to assert themselves in every aspect of American culture.
Holy Bible: Dakes Annotated Reference Bible. Lawrenceville: Dake Bible Sales, Inc.,
---. English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2001.
Karabell, Zachery. A Visionary Nation: Four Centuries of American Dreams and What
Lies Ahead. 1st Perennial ed. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2002.
Kyle, Richard. The Last Days are Here Again. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998. Gives
a short history of apocalyptic beliefs from early Christianity to the year 2000.
Landow, George P. Victorian Types, Victorian Shadows: Biblical Typology in Victorian
Literature, Art and Thought. Massachusetts: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980.
Lapin, Rabbi Daniel. America’s Real War. 1st ed. Organ: Multnomah Publishers, Inc.,
1999. Rabbi Lapin, the son of a very famous Rabbi, is alarmed at the decay of American society. The survival of the Christian church in America is directly related to the survival of the Jewish faith; Lapin believes that it is necessary for America to return to its early Puritan roots in order for America to remain a safe haven for the Church and the Jewish faith.
Lundbom Jack R., “Jeremiah,” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1st ed. 6 vol. New York:
Published by Doubleday, 1992.
McClintock, John., and James Strong. “By-Word.” Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological,
And Ecclesiastical Literature. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1981.
Medved, Michael. Hollywood vs. America. 1st ed. New York: HarperCollins Publishers,
Middlekauff, Robert. The Mathers. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971. Gives an
account of the Lives of three generations of preachers who contributed greatly to the making of America in their own times. The sermons they preached and the ideas they contained have permeated American culture and have helped to make America what it is today.
Millard, Catherine. The Rewriting of America’s History. Camp Hill: Horizon House
Miller, Perry. Errand Into the Wilderness. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996.
Miller shows us that the Puritans were everyday people who believed that God had called them to accomplish His will in creating a blend of church and state for all the world to see.
---. The New England Mind: From Colony to Province. 1953, 8th printing. Massachusetts:
Harvard University Press, 1995.
Minor, Earl. Literary Uses of Typology: from the Late Middle Ages to the Present. New
Jersey: Princeton University Press,1977.
Mitchel, Jonathan. “Nehemiah on the Wall in Troublesom Times.” American Sermons
The Pilgrims to Martin Luther King Jr. Ed. Michael Warner. New York:
The Library of America, 1999.
The National Society Sons and Daughters of the Pilgrims. The National Monument to
Our Forefathers. 7 Mar. 2000. <http://www.nssdp.org/monument.htm>
O’Gorman, James F. Accomplished in all Departments of Art. Boston: University of
Massachusetts Press, 1998.
Osbore, G. R., “Type: Typology.” The International Bible Encyclopedia. 1st printing.
Edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans publishing Company,1988. pg. 930, vol.4.
---. “Type, Typology.” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Ed. Walter A Elwell.
Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984.
Plumstead, A.W. The Wall and the Garden. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
Stout, Harry S. The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in colonial New
England. 1st paperback ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
“Trope.” Random House Webster’s College Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1997.
Warner, Michael, ed. American Sermons, The Pilgrims to Martin Luther King Jr.1st
Printing. New York: Penguin Putman, Inc., 1999.This book contains four
centuries of American sermons. This collection of sermons is very good source material and is a fine historical representation of Jeremiads.
Wenig, S.A. “Jeremiad.” Dictionary of Christianity in America. Downers Grove: Inter-
Varsity Press, 1990.Gives definitions of persons, places, and things in American Christianity. I found it particularly useful for helping to define the American Jeremiad.
Wilkerson, David. America’s Last Call on the brink of a financial holocaust. New
Kensington: Whitaker House, 1998.
---. Set the Trumpet to thy Mouth. New Kensington: Whitaker House, 1985.