October 8, 2020


Jonathan Mayhew: Colonial Pastor against Tyranny (Eric Patterson, October 8, 2020, Providence)

The most potent of these sermons was Jonathan Mayhew's 1750 "Discourse Concerning the Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to Higher Authorities." This sermon was printed and reprinted numerous times in the colonies and London. Mayhew begins:

Let us now trace the apostle's reasoning in favor of submission to the higher powers, a little more particularly and exactly. For by this it will appear, on one hand, how good and conclusive it is, for submission to those rulers who exercise their power in a proper manner: And, on the other, how weak and trifling and unconnected it is, if it be supposed to be meant by the apostle to show the obligation and duty of obedience to tyrannical, oppressive rulers in common with others of a different character.

Mayhew distinguishes between the moral duty of the Christian to submit to lawful authority and the citizen's duty toward "lawless, unreasonable" tyranny:

Those who resist a reasonable and just authority, which is agreeable to the will of God, do really resist the will of God himself; and will, therefore, be punished by him. But how does this prove, that those who resist a lawless, unreasonable power, which is contrary to the will of God, do therein resist the will and ordinance of God?

Consequently, Mayhew argues:

Thus, upon a careful review of the apostle's reasoning in this passage, it appears that his arguments to enforce submission, are of such a nature, as to conclude only in favor of submission to such rulers as he himself describes; i.e., such as rule for the good of society, which is the only end of their institution. Common tyrants, and public oppressors, are not entitled to obedience from their subjects, by virtue of anything here laid down by the inspired apostle.

This lays the groundwork for action against "tyrants and public oppressors." Mayhew's argument goes on at length but clearly articulates a rationale that became increasingly part of the colonial consciousness: the purpose of government was the common good, and citizens, working with established political authorities at the local and state level, had a moral duty to resist tyranny.

It's a Puritan nation.

Posted by at October 8, 2020 9:32 AM