Monday, March 9, 2009

Jonathan Mayhew on the Divine Right of Kings

Jonathan Mayhew preached a sermon in 1750 that John Adams considered as "great influence in the commencement of the Revolution." Mayhew's sermon, A Discourse concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers: with Some Reflections on the resistance Made to King Charles I, remains a classic discourse laying out the biblical case against the "Divine Right of Kings" and in favor of resisting "unjust" governmental authority.

Mayhew's exposition of Romans 13 rivals that of any biblical commentary for its logic and compelling exegesis. Mayhew's take on Romans 13, however, clashed with Calvinist orthodoxy and remains unpopular with some Christian thinkers even today.

**To read Mayhew's milestone discourse, click here.

Our own Jonathan Rowe has argued that Romans 13, Mayhew's interpretation notwithstanding, was problematic for colonial era Christians. Rowe has argued that the Founders had to rely on the Enlightenment and Unitarian thinking to justify the Revolution, since the Bible was "insufficient" to their cause.

**To read some of the American Creation blog posts on this topic, click here.

For my own part, as a pastor, I believe Mayhew's take on Romans 13 makes sense. A literalist reading of Romans 13, divorced from context, would certainly support Rowe's interpretation (which, to be fair, is shared by many theologians, including the eminent John Calvin). But if you define the "higher powers" in Romans 13:1 according to the function spelled out in the subsequent verses as Mayhew does, then you get a far different feel.

**For a commentary on Romans 13 and Mayhew's sermon that I wrote, click here.

This topic, of course, has been discussed at length here at American Creation. I don't profess to be breaking new ground. I only hope that those reading this will take the time to read Romans 13 and Mayhew's discourse. I think Mayhew's case is worth considering.

And though I may differ with Jon, I commend him for all the research, time, and writing he's done on this very important part of the Revolutionary War era.


Jonathan Rowe said...

Thanks for this and for your longer post on the American Revolution blog.

As I have noted elsewhere not every evangelical who comments on these threads comes off (in my eyes) as a good witness for the faith. But you do.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thanks, Mr. Tubbs. I've read Mayhew's sermon several times in its entirety. What most people are unaware of is that it's often excerpted with a lot of the God stuff cut out!

At its heart, Mayhew argues for liberty on theological and scriptural grounds. Once strong theological arguments were made against the divine right of kings per Romans 13, the walls fell.

But what's important to realize is that the vast bulk of men in that era wanted to obey the Bible, and would not revolt without proper theological justification.

Our blogbrother Jonathan Rowe often argues that the Founding era believed that reason took precedence over revelation, but the influence of Mayhew's pivotal sermon shows just the opposite: theology such as Mayhew's was the reconciliation of reason and revelation.

It wasn't philosophy [read here secular "Enlightenment" principles] or admittedly a straight literalistic reading of revelation [the Bible], that was the light of the American revolution. It was theology.

Lindsey Shuman said...

Yes, but as you are SOOOOOOOOOO fond of pointing out, Tom, we cannot take the words of ONE person and apply them to EVERYONE. The door swings both ways here. I read your comments that constantly point out how we cannot take the words of Madison, Jefferson, Washington, etc and apply them to all the founders. You are guilty of doing the very same thing here.

Brian Tubbs said...

Lindsey, I think Tom is simply echoing what John Adams said about Mayhew's sermon. According to Adams, Mayhew's discourse on Romans 13 was very influential in helping to commence the American Revolution. Now, perhaps Adams was wrong. But it was Adams' view.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes. Nice to hear from you again, Lindsey. I hope Brian's explanation of my argument sits well with you, as Romans 13 seems to come up often around here, and after further review, you will find me not guilty of your charge.

Lindsey Shuman said...

Yes, guilty as charged.

Tom Van Dyke said...