I’m presently reading a biography entitled, John Winthrop: America’s Forgotten Founding Father, written by Francis J. Bremer.
As the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and a devout believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, Winthrop is fascinating to me. While he is little more than a local judge during his adult life in England, he becomes a profoundly important person in history through his leadership of the early Puritans. It seems that, for Winthrop, being a local judge was essential preparation for leading a little theocracy that would grow to become the most powerful nation in the world.
I have felt both sympathy and admiration for Winthrop as I see his faith develop through social, political, and personal challenges. He acted with integrity and conviction in the face of an system that was capitulating to shallow doctrine and superficial church programs.
I was particularly moved today as I read an excerpt from a letter he wrote his wife, Margaret, amidst the constant planning and preparation he and the rest of the Mass. Bay leaders went through before they set sail from England. I was struck by the depth of his love for her and the honesty with which he expressed himself.
“I have nothing to write thee of,…having so fit an opportunity, I could not let it pass without a letter to my best beloved. I know thou wilt consider how it is with me in regard of business, which so takes up my time and thoughts as I can no more but let thee know that I have a desire to still be writing to thee.”
I love what Winthrop says to his wife. There’s no ornamental language to make me question whether or not he was sincere. He simply loves his wife and shares his heart with her.
Later on, we read,
“On his February visit John and Margaret agreed on a way that would bring them together though miles apart. Perhaps suggested by Imogen’s vow to think regularly of her beloved in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, they pledged each other to enter into a dialogue of the spirit each Monday and Friday between the hours of five and six. On his way back to London he wrote to Margaret urging her to ‘remember Monday and Friday between 5 and 6,’ and he would continue to do so through the long separation that awaited them. On April 3 he wrote that ‘when 5 of the clock came I had respite to remember thee (it being Friday) and to parley with thee, and to meet thee in spirit before the Lord.'”
Since he must remain in London most of the time with the rest of the colonial architects, he and his wife agree on specific times when they will think about each other within the context of prayer and meditation with God. The Almighty serves as a cell-phone tower, as it were, for both of them to have communion.
The clarity of contemporary opinion about any doctrinally strict historical figure (but especially the Puritans) gives mud a run for the money. The Puritans, among other erroneous assumptions, are often thought to have been emotionless. To say someone is Puritanical is to say they are all head, no heart…or all law, no grace. At times, some leaders certainly erred on the side of legalism (you try starting your own country sometime); but to characterize Puritans as legalistic based on those superfluous details (a la Nathanial Hawthorne) would be like characterizing Hitler as a great leader since he invigorated Germany’s depressed economy.
The reason why popular culture neglects to see the romantic passions of the Puritans is because such passions were elevated to a spiritual level- the Puritans weren’t content with mere fleshly indulgence (though they certainly saw it as essential). Sexual gratification, despite what Cosmopolitan may teach, is a far more difficult matter to sustain when it is not only a means, but the end of a romantic relationship. This vapid mentality leaves no room for Winthrop’s confession, “I had respite to remember thee…and to meet thee in spirit before the Lord” . Such words are unintelligible to a culture of drive-through, instant hot, yet conveniently disposable romance.
The love commercialized in our media is ultimately dissatisfying; but the love found in the expressions the Puritans’ guide for life, the Bible, led them to a permanent sense of trust, faithfulness, and contentment.
Song of Solomon 3:5
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
By the gazelles or by the hinds of the field,
That you will not arouse or awaken love until she pleases.
Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
1 John 4:8-11
The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent his only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love on another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love on another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.