John Winthrop (1588 – 1649) set sail for the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629. He had already been elected governor and would serve intermittently in this position until his death nineteen years later. Winthrop typified the Puritan settler; he was committed to both the church and the state being built on Christian principles.
In January 1637, Winthrop elaborated upon the difficulties of his own spiritual journey. In a work entitled “Christian Experience,” he described faith as a rigorous process full of ups and downs. He clearly understood faith to be both a gift (Eph. 2:8) and a challenge (Mark 9:24). Through these words he joined a long list of Christians, throughout the centuries, who have struggled at times with “dead-heartedness,” a coldness to the things of God, and “presumptuousness,” a dangerous reliance on Christian duty. Still, in the end, he could give thanks that his “faith hath not failed utterly.”
. . . I have gone under continual conflicts between the flesh and the spirit, and sometimes with Satan himself (which I have more discerned of late than I did formerly); many falls I have had, and have laid long under some, yet never quite forsaken of the Lord. But still when I have been put to it by any sudden danger or fearful temptation, the good Spirit of the Lord hath not failed to bear witness to me [Rom. 8:16], giving me comfort and courage in the very pinch, when of myself I have been very fearful, and dismayed. My usual falls have been through deadheartedness and presumptuousness, by which Satan hath taken advantage to wind me into other sins. When the flesh prevails the Spirit withdraws, and is sometimes so grieved as he seems not to acknowledge his own work. Yet in my worst times he hath been pleased to stir, when he would not speak, and would yet support me that my faith hath not failed utterly.1
1 John Winthrop, “Christian Experience” (1637) in Puritans in the New World: A Critical Anthology, ed. David D. Hall (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), 117.