Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln



Paul Royster

Date of this Version



Samuel Danforth’s election sermon of 1670 is a classic example of the New England jeremiad. Addressed to the assembled delegates on the occasion of the election of officers for the Massachusetts General Court, it asks the very pointed question: “What is it that distinguisheth New-England from other Colonies and Plantations in America?” The answer, of course, is that the Puritan colonies (Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven) were founded for the pursuit of religious ends by the reformed Protestant churches of England:

“You have solemnly professed before God, Angels and Men, that the Cause of your leaving your Country, Kindred and Fathers houses, and transporting your selves with your Wives, Little Ones and Substance over the vast Ocean into this waste and howling Wilderness, was your Liberty to walk in the Faith of the Gospel with all good Conscience according to the Order of the Gospel, and your enjoyment of the pure Worship of God according to his Institution, without humane Mixtures and Impositions.”

Danforth’s sermon is an eloquent and extended meditation on the words of Jesus in Matthew, chapter 11, “What went ye out into the wilderness to see?”—concerning the character and function of John the Baptist, both as prophet and as harbinger or forerunner of the Messiah. While Danforth excoriates those who have put worldly concerns above New England’s religious mission, and enumerates examples of God’s special punishments and trials directed at the colony, he also holds out the “promise of divine Protection and Preservation” and the opportunity to “choose this for our Portion, To sit at Christ’s feet and hear his word; and whosoever complain against us, the Lord Jesus will plead for us ... and say. They have chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from them.”

Samuel Danforth (1626-1674) was pastor of the church in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He was a graduate of Harvard College, a poet, almanac-maker, and astronomer, and an associate of the Rev. John Eliot, the missionary.