Emigrating people’s connection with the Old Testament

English: Lesson 25

“How did Cotton and Winthrop view the emigrating people’s connection with the Old Testament?”

Cotton and Winthrop were pastors in 1630 and had the difficult task of giving the farewell sermons to their congregations, the Separatists, who were bound for America. They had little to no idea of what they would face in the New World, and it is very difficult to put together and preach a sermon of courage and faith when they had no idea what they would encounter. Their only guidance was the Bible, and they had to find a way to connect the stories of the Old Testament to their situation.

The way sermons were constructed at the time was very intricate and detailed, so much so that it would be impossible for an average person to remember all the points that were made. But, by including the familiar stories from the Old Testament they helped the congregation remember more of the important details that were made. 


A Model of Christian Charity by John Winthrop included many answers to the economic questions and problems that the congregation would have to answer when they arrived in the New World. There was no government or set economic principles in America that England had already established. Winthrop knew that if there was no common order set before going, they would surely fall apart as a society and community when they got there. So, Winthrop drew economic principles and answers to their questions from the Bible.

What rule must we observe in Lending? Deut. 15:7-8 ” If any of thy brethren be poor… thou shalt lend him sufficient.” Matt. 5:42 “From him that would borrow of thee turn not away.”

What rule must we observe in forgiving a debt? Deut. 15:1-2 Every seventh year the creditor was to quit that which he lent to his brother if he were poor, as appears in verse 4, ‘Save when there shall be no poor with thee.’ In all these and like cases, Christ gives a general rule, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye the same to them.”

And so on…

As well as answers to the more practical questions, Winthrop also gave them reassurance in God. He wrote about love and how God loves his children and will never abandon them. He gave examples of a mother and her child, how she loves the child because it is a part of herself that created that being, and it is the same with God. For we are his children born in the image of God, and like a mother who loves her child so will the Lord love us.

The last point that he made to his congregation was this;

Deut. 30 “Beloved, there is now set before us life and death, good and evil,” in that we are commanded this day to love the Lord our God, and to love one another, to walk in this ways and to keep His Commandments and his ordinance and his laws, and the articles of our Covenant with Him, that we may live and be multiplied, and that the Lord out God may bless us in the land whither we go to possess it. But if our hearts shall turn away, so that we will not obey, but shall be seduced, and worship other Gods, our pleasure and profits, and serve them; is propounded unto us this day, we shall surely parish out of the good land whither we pass over this vast sea to posses it. Therefore let us choose life, that we our seed may live, by obeying His voice and cleaving to Him, for He is our life and our prosperity.


While Winthrop mainly gave answers for moral and economical questions, Cotton gave a sermon of encouragement and reassurance in God. He gave example after example of people that God helped in the Bible, and how they can also have faith that God would help them. One example he gave was Israel and how God found them a place.  

2 Sam. 7. 10. “Moreover I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and I will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more.”

Cotton also talked about David and how he appointed a house for him, gave him a son, and appointed a place for his people Israel. If God assigned a place for his people Israel and he would appoint a place for them. He then talked about how God goes about appointing land for his people. First, he espies a land for his people, as in Ezek. 20. 6, and brings them into that land. Secondly, after God has espied it, he carries them to it so that they plainly see that providence is leading them there, as in Exod. 19. 4. “You have seen how I have born you as o Eagles wings, and brought you unto myself.” And thirdly, He makes room for those brought there, as said in Psalm 80. 9.

Cotton continued to explain how the Lord made room for His people in the Old Testament and assures that the Lord will do the same for them as they travel to the New World. This sermon would have most likely been one of the last sermons given before they departed for America. So, Cotton knew he had to instil as much power and encouragement as he could find so that they could all set off with high hopes.

In this way, we see that both Winthrop and Cotton based their answers on the bible and the parallels it gave to their own situation. The economic and social questions that everyone was asking at the time had to be answered, and because nobody among them could answer the questions, they looked to God. The bible was one way that you could encourage people and give them hope. Without hope, I don’t think any of them would have dared to cross the sea to an unknown land. But Winthrop and Cotton gave them that hope; hope in themselves and in God.

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