Like the Pilgrims, the Puritans who came to America identified with the ancient Israelites of the Bible. The Israelites were God’s people who, with God’s help, escaped from captivity in Egypt, made a covenant or agreement with God to be His people and follow His commandments, and settled in the Promised Land of Canaan. The Puritans similarly saw themselves as God’s chosen people who had fled oppression in Europe and settled in their Promised Land of America. During the Puritans’ voyage to America, Puritan leader John Winthrop expressed the Puritans’ identity with the Israelites in his famous Model of Christian Charity sermon, saying, “The Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us as His own people. The God of Israel is among us.”
Following the practice of the Israelites and reformed Covenant Theology, the Puritans enacted a covenant with God in coming to America. As conveyed in Winthrop’s Model sermon, the Puritans promised to follow God’s moral law in the Bible, to love God and one another, and to uphold justice and mercy. Winthrop writes, “Thus stands the cause between God and us. We are entered into a covenant with Him for this work. …Now if the Lord is pleased to bring us in peace to the place we desire, then he has ratified this covenant and sealed our commission.”
The Puritans, like the Israelites in the Bible, enacted their covenant when they moved into a free environment. Covenants are based on the assumption that the participants are free and able to make pacts with God and one another. Such binding agreements are enacted by mutual consent. The principle of covenants, therefore, is one of the bases for a people’s claim to liberty. Indeed, covenantal agreements would later shape the Puritans’ colonial governments, laws, and constitutions as well as the United States’ founding documents—the Declaration of Independence and U. S. Constitution—and its civil government.
The Puritans were like the Israelites in the sense that they identified with God’s people in coming out of an oppressive situation and into a free land where they could worship freely and build a new society as they chose. They were also like the Israelites in that they followed the biblical practice of covenants–with God, in their personal lives, and in their civil colonies and constitutions.
Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.
Source for more information:
Kamrath, Angela E. The Miracle of America: The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief. Second Edition. Houston, TX: American Heritage Education Foundation, 2014, 2015.
1. The Principle of Popular Sovereignty
2. Who were the Pilgrims? Why did they come to America?
3. Why the Pilgrims Identified with the Israelites
4. The Mayflower Compact: The Pilgrims’ First Self-Governing Act in America
5. The Pilgrims’ Mayflower Compact as Covenant
6. The History of Thanksgiving Day in America
7. The Pilgrims & Private Property: What the Pilgrims Might Have Thought About Communism & Socialism
8. Three P’s That Led to Freedom in the West: Printing Press, Protestant Reformation, & Pilgrims
9. A City on a Hill: Why John Winthrop and the Puritans Came to America
10. Why the Puritans Favored Limited Government (and Why the U. S. has Three Branches of Government)
11. Why the Puritans in America Favored Rule of Law
12. Why the Puritans Elected Representatives to Govern in their American Colonies
13. Why Puritan Thomas Hooker Favored Democracy Over Aristocracy
14. Challenges in the Early Puritan Colonies: The Dilemma of Religious Laws & Religious Dissent
Activity: Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 3, Part 1 of 3, Activity 8: Coming to America by Covenant, p. 105. MS-HS
Unlock the lesson plan below….
Coming to America By Covenant
Purpose/Objective: Students learn about the Puritans including their beliefs and practices such as covenants, identification with Israelites, reasons for migrating, & desire to form Bible Commonwealths in their colonies in America.
Suggested Reading: Chapter 3 of Miracle of America sourcebook/text. Students read sections Introduction to 3.3.
- Text Analysis/Reading and Questions. Students read Winthrop’s Model of Christian Charity sermon and selected Bible passages on covenants (in “Instructional Considerations” in this unit and in Chapters 2 & 3 in Miracle of America sourcebook/text). Define/review vocabulary as needed in the reading. Students analyze in writing the Puritans’ covenant with God and one another in coming to America as expressed in Winthrop’s Model Students answer the following questions in writing and/or discussion:
- What were the terms of this covenant? What did the Puritans believe would happen if they honored this covenant? If they broke it?
What Bible passages does Winthrop cite related to this covenant? Students should point to specific passages/lines where they find their answers. Discuss.
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