14. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
15. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
16. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
This inspired two famous American speeches:
The first one is Governor John Winthrop‘s A Model of Christian Charity, written in 1630 on board the Arbella, when he and the other colonists came to form the Massachusetts Bay Colony. As John Bearsley says in his introduction, In an age not long past, when the Puritan founders were still respected by the educational establishment, this was required reading in many courses of American history and literature. However, it was often abridged to just the first and last few paragraphs. This left the overture of the piece sounding unkind and fatalistic, and the finale rather sternly zealous. A common misrepresentation of the Puritan character.
Winthrop’s genius was logical reasoning combined with a sympathetic nature. To remove this work’s central arguments about love and relationships is to completely lose the sense of the whole. I hesitate to use only one quote and encourage you to read the entire sermon; Winthrop refers to A Shining City as follows,
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.
Winthrop’s intent was to prepare the people for planting a new society in a perilous environment, to use Beardsley’s words.
The second speech was by Ronald Reagan, who, in his Farewell Address to the Nation, broadcast on TV from the Oval Office on January 11, 1989 acknowledged,
The lesson of all this was, of course, that because we’re a great nation, our challenges seem complex. It will always be this way. But as long as we remember our first principles and believe in ourselves, the future will always be ours. And something else we learned: Once you begin a great movement, there’s no telling where it will end. We meant to change a nation, and instead, we changed a world.
Like Winthrop, he was envisioning a new society in a perilous environment:
The past few days when I’ve been at that window upstairs, I’ve thought a bit of the “shining city upon a hill.” The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we’d call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.
I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still.
And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was eight years ago. But more than that; after 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.
We’ve done our part. And as I walk off into the city streets, a final word to the men and women of the Reagan revolution, the men and women across America who for eight years did the work that brought America back. My friends: We did it. We weren’t just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger. We made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad, not bad at all.
And so, good-bye, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.