Friday, June 17, 2011

Jonathan Mayhew, Universalist

The good Rev. and "key" Patriot Preacher was not only a "unitarian" but also, it seems a "universalist."

From his 1762 Thanksgiving Sermon:

"The consideration of God's goodness and mercy, particularly as manifested in the Scriptures, in the redemption of the world by Christ, naturally suggests very pleasing hopes, and a glorious prospect, with reference to the conclusion, or final result of that most wonderful interposition of grace. It cannot be denied, that ever since the apostacy of our first parents, there have been, and still are, some things of a dark and gloomy appearance, when considered by themselves. So much folly, superstition and wickedness there is, 'in this present evil world.' But when we consider the declared end of Christ's manifestation in the flesh, to give his life a ransom for all, and to destroy the works of the devil; when we consider the numerous prophecies respecting the destruction of sin and death, and the future glory of Christ's kingdom on earth; when we consider, that he must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet, the last of which is death; and until he hath subdued all things to himself; when we reflect, that according to the apostle Paul, where sin has abounded, grace does much more abound; and that the same creature (or creation,) which was originally made subject to vanity, is to be delivered from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the children of God; when we consider the parallel which is instituted and carried on by the same apostle, betwixt the first and second Adam, in his epistle to the Romans; and his express assertion in another, that "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive; but every man in his own order;" in a word, when we duly consider that there is a certain restitution of all things, spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began; when we duly consider these things, I say, light and comfort rise out of darkness and sorrow.

And we may, without the least presumption, conclude in general, that, in the revolution of ages, something far more grand, important and glorious, than any thing which is vulgarly imagined, shall actually be the result of Christ's coming down from heaven to die on a cross, of his resurrection from the dead, and of his being crowned with glory and honor, as Lord both of the dead and the living. The word of God, and his mercy, endure forever ; nor will he leave any thing which is truly his work, unfinished. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth,' saith the Lord, 'so are my ways higher than your ways; and my thoughts than your thoughts— My word, that goeth forth out of my mouth, shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please; and it shall prosper in the thing whereunto I send it.'"

"To conclude then ; let us all, young men and maidens, old men and children, love and honor, extol and obey the God and Father of all, whose tender mercies are over all his works; and who has been so gracious and bountiful to ourselves in particular. If we sincerely do thus, as becometh the children of the Highest, we shall, in due time, partake of his goodness, in a far more glorious manner and measure than we can in the earthly house of this tabernacle. We shall doubtless also have a far more clear, distinct and perfect knowledge, than we can possibly have at present, of what is intended in some apparently grand and sublime, yet difficult passages in the sacred oracles; particularly that of John the Divine, with which I close: 'And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, blessing, and honor, and glory, and power be unto Him that sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever." Rev. v. 13."


Now this sounds "Christian." But Rev. Mayhew 1. denied the Trinity; 2. as we just saw, denied eternal damnation; and 3. believed men were saved by their works, following Christ's perfect moral example. (The bad -- those that didn't earn immediate salvation at death -- would be punished temporarily but eventually reconciled to Christ). Whether it's "Christian" or not is above my "pay-grade" as a co-blogger would put it. But it DOES help to know what the Founding era unitarian-universalists believed.

10 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

believed men were saved by their works, following Christ's perfect moral example.

My reading of this passage is that Christ dies for all men.

in the redemption of the world by Christ...

"as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive; but every man in his own order..."

"And we may, without the least presumption, conclude in general, that, in the revolution of ages, something far more grand, important and glorious, than any thing which is vulgarly imagined, shall actually be the result of Christ's coming down from heaven to die on a cross, of his resurrection from the dead, and of his being crowned with glory and honor, as Lord both of the dead and the living."

I could be wrong, but if correct Mayhew espouses a uniquely Christian sentiment here.

Jonathan Rowe said...

We could both be right. It could be an unorthodox (unitarian) exposition of the atonement.

Pinky said...

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I don't see any problem regarding the idea "that Christ dies for all men." and "those that didn't earn immediate salvation at death -- would be punished temporarily but eventually reconciled to Christ)."
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Whatever takes place during the period of "punishment" can be seen as "works".
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Jonathan, the univeralist angle isn't synonymous with the unitarian one. Benjamin Rush, for example, leaned universalist but was quite the Trinitarian.

This illustrates to me that "unitarian Christian" language of the Founding era doesn't necessarily deny the Atonement, only that it denies Jesus was co-equal with the Father as God. "Christ" is still synonymous with "Messiah" or "Redeemer" or "Saviour," and these terms are still uniquely Christian. No other religion sees Jesus this way.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Whatever takes place during the period of "punishment" can be seen as "works".

In the universalist scheme, such "punishment" corresponds to the Roman church's notion [invention?] of Purgatory. The theme is "justification," and the theology is that man can not justify himself [or "balance" his sins] via good works.

You can find Jefferson justifying himself through good works, and that theological dope John Adams agreeing, but I'm not aware of it being a commonly held notion.

Pinky said...

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Hey, Tom.
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My point is based on the idea that if a person is in that state--call it purgatory--they're pretty apt to be doing whatever it takes to be reconciled. I'm sure they would work like no one ever worked before.
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And, so I didn't see any problem there.
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Perhaps I'm wrong.
.

Jonathan Rowe said...

The riddle to how Rev. Mayhew viewed salvation is found, I'm sure, somewhere in this work. Not sure if we'll find it tonight.

http://tinyurl.com/4x8jow7

I've seen it asserted elsewhere that JM believed in salvation thru "character." But we need the smoking guns on this website.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I'm noticing a similar theme in Mayhew's above cited book that we see with Timothy Dwight on unitarians, Jediah Morse v. John Adams, Ben Franklin and the Hemphill affair and today sheds light on Dr. Frazer's thesis.

To the "orthodox" this "unitarian Christianity" was not "Christian," but rather was no better than Deism.

Not sure if I want to cite what I'm reading in the comments or a front page post.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Mayhew's words: "IT is a stale art of bigots and party-men, to represent those who appear in opposition to their designs, as deists, or heretics at best; as denying the essential, fundamental doctrines of christianity, &c. in order to destroy their influence, and to inflame the unenlightened zeal of the multitude against them."

This is what the orthodox clergy did to the unitarian Christians like Mayhew. I think it came back to haunt them, given the disproportionate influence of unitarians on the American Founding, especially at the political ruling level. But make no doubt this is the seed that grew into the "Founders were a bunch of deists" line.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Clergy are always making trouble. They have a rooting interest in doctrinal purity.

As you recall until the formal establishment of "unitarianism" [1790s?], trinitarians and unitarians sat in the same pews, and as you also recall, the sermon-givers rotated from church to church. On the whole, the unitarians kept mum in the pulpit, since half their audience would have taken offense at overtly unitarian sermons.