By Perry D. Westbrook
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Extra resources for A literary history of New England
Perry Miller has stated that for "the heart of Puritan piety" we must go to Bradford, but for the essence of the "Puritan social ideal" we must go to Winthrop's lecture or sermon entitled "A Modell of Christian Charity," delivered in mid-Atlantic on the ship Arbella. 16 Perhaps even more than Bradford, Winthrop emphasized the idea of community. He described as fellow members of Christ the settlers of Massachusetts Bay, and saw them acting "through a special over-ruleing providence,'' better to serve the Lord than they could have done in England.
The theological reasoning for the establishing of a hereditary spiritual aristocracy was based on God's promise to save Abraham and his descendants. Disappointingly, however, in New England the children of the elect often did not become converted, and thus the power of the church diminished as its membership was eroded by death. The writings of Bradford and Winthrop and other New England historians in the seventeenth century were records of the efforts and strategies to ensure the existence and growth of the church against a multitude of threats, from Indian wars to even slightly unorthodox theology.
The ministers, indeed, did not exert any great effort to help achieve conversion, even though any one might hope for it until the day of death. The main attention in the matter of conversion was directed to the children of the elect. They were, after all, the sons and daughters of the more influential members of the community; furthermore, it was generally believed that election ran in families. Children of the elect would almost certainly be of the elect. Already tentative church members by virtue of their parents' membership, they would in due course undergo their conversion and become full, and hence voting, members themselves.
A literary history of New England by Perry D. Westbrook