John Winthrop Delivers "City Upon a Hill" Sermon Aboard the Arbella, Heading En Route to Colonial America

Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck, and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God.

For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as His own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways, so that we shall see much more of His wisdom, power, goodness and truth, than formerly we have been acquainted with. We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when He shall make us a praise and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, "may the Lord make it like that of New England." For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God, and all professors for God's sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.

The speech is believed to be given when aboard the Arbella not long before landing.

Winthrop believed that all nations had a covenant with God, and that because England had violated its religious covenant, the Puritans must leave the country. This was an expression of the Puritan belief that the Church of England had fallen from grace by accepting Catholic rituals. John Winthrop claimed that the Puritans forged a new, special agreement with God, like that between God and the people of Israel. However, unlike the Separatists (such as the Pilgrims), the Puritans remained nominally a part of the Anglican church in hopes that it could be purified from within. Winthrop believed that by purifying Christianity in the New World, his followers would serve as an example to the Old World for building a model Protestant community.

The Puritans, led by Winthrop, believed their community was 'specially ordained by God' and this concept had a powerful effect on the Puritan society of New England. Breaking a covenant with God has dire results. In order to avoid incurring God's wrath by breaking their promise, the Puritans sought to maintain perfect order in their society. Their institutions and conventions attempted to mold an extremely rigid society in New England, in contrast with the other loosely-bound colonies in the new land of America.

The Puritans wanted the freedom to practice their own religion, but their religious views were very strict and not necessarily compatible with contemporary notions of religious freedom. They forced everyone in the Massachusetts Bay Colony to follow the dictates of their puritanical faith, even those who were not Puritan.