Item of the Day: Dr. Mayhew’s Election Sermon (1754)

Full Title:  A Sermon Preach’d in the Audience of His Excellency William Shirley, Esq; Captain General, Governour and Commander in Chief, The Honourable His Majesty’s Council, and the Honourable House of Representatives, Of the Province of the Massachusetts-Bay, in New England May 29th 1754.  Being the Anniversary for the Election of His Majesty’s Council for the Province. By Jonathan Mayhew, D.D. Pastor of the West Church in Boston.  Boston: N.E. Printed by Samuel Kneeland, Printer to the Honourable House of Representatives, 1754.

An Election SERMON.

MATT. XXV. 21.

His Lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful Servant; thou hast been faithful —-

This is part of our Savior’s well-known parable of the talents; the moral of which is in general this, That whatever powers and advantages of any kind, men severally enjoy, are committed to them in trust by the great Lord and Proprietor of all, to whom they are accountable for the use they make of them; and from whom they shall, in the close of this present scene, receive either a glorious recompence of their fidelity, or the punishment due to their sloth and wickedness.  The subject, then, is very general, and equally interesting.  All men, of whatever rank or character, are concerned in it.  It leads our thoughts from what we possess, up to the great source thereof; from what we are at present, to what we shall be hereafter.  It connects this world with another; and comprehends both our probationary and final state, under the righteous administration of God.

But tho’ the subject is very general, and of the last importance to all; yet civil power being one of the principal of those talents which Heaven commits to men, and the present occasion requiring a more particular consideration of it, the ensuing discourse will be confined thereto.  Nor would I injure our honoured rulers by the least suspicion, that they can possibly take it amiss to be reminded of their duty to God and Man upon this occasion, with all the plainness and simplicity becoming a minister of the Gospel, and consistent with decency; the rules of which, it is hoped, will not be violated. . . .

As to the source and origin of civil power; the parable on which my discourse is grounded, suggests that it is ultimately derived from God, whose “kingdom ruleth over all;” this being as truly a talent committed by Him, to the fidelity of men, as any thing else can be.  In this light it is considered in the holy scriptures.  It is not only agreeable to the original scheme and plan of God’s universal government, that civil rule should take place among men, in subordination to His own; but his providence is actually concerned in raising those persons to power and dominion, who are possessed of it.  In the language of the Prophet, “Wisdom and might are His.  He removeth kings, and setteth up kings.  the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.”  The language of the apostles is not less emphatical.  They tell us, that “there is no power, but of God”; and that “they are God’s Ministers.”

But then it is to be remembered, that this power is derived from God, not immediately, but mediately, as other talents and blessings are.  The notions of any particular form of government explicitly instituted by God, as designed for a universal model; of the divine right of monarchy, in contradistinction from all other modes; of the hereditary, unalienable right of succession; of the despotic, unlimited power of kings, by the immediate grant of Heaven; and the like; these notions are not drawn from the holy scriptures, but from a far less pure and sacred fountain.  They are only the devices of lawned parasites, or other graceless politicians, to serve the purposes of ambition and tyranny.  And tho’ they are of late date, yet being traced up to their true original, they will be found to come, by uninterrupted succession, from him who was a politician from the beginning. . . .

All the different constitutions of government now in the world, are immediately the creatures of man’s making, not of God’s.  And indeed the vestiges of human imperfection are so manifest in them, that it would be a reproach to the all-wise God to attribute them directly to Him.  And as they are the creatures of man’s making; so from man, from common consent, it is that lawful rulers immediately receive their power.  This is the channel in which it flows from God, the original source of it.  Nor are any possessed of a greater portion of it, than what is conveyed to them in this Way.  Or at least, if they have any more, they have it only as the thief or the robber has the spoil, which fraud or violence has put into his hands.  Agreably to what is here said, concerning the medium or channel thro’ which power is derived from God, government is spoken of in scripture, as being both the ordinance of God, and the ordinance of man:  Of God, in reference to His original plan, and universal Providence; and of man, as it is more immediately the result of human prudence, wisdom and concert.

In the second place, we are just to mention the great end of government.  And after the glory of God, which we usually consider as the end of all things in general, that can be no other than the good of man, the common benefit of society.  This is equally evident whether we consider it as a divine, or an human institution.

As it is God’s ordinance, it is designed for a blessing to the world.  It is instituted for the preservation of mens persons, properties & various rights, against fraud and lawless violence; and that, by means of it, we may both procure, and quietly enjoy, those numerous blessings and advantages, which are unattainable out of society, and being unconnected by the bonds of it.  It is not conceivable that the all-wise and good God, should ordain government amongst men, but with a view to its being subservient to their happiness, and well-being in the world:  to be sure, not, that it might be subservient to a contrary one, their misery.  We cannot imagine it possible that He who is good unto all, and whose tender mercies are over all his works, should exalt a few persons to power over the rest, to be their oppressors; or merely for their own sakes, that they may amass riches, that they may live in ease and splendor, that they may riot on the produce of other’s toil, and receive the homage of millions, without doing them any good.  It were blasphemous to think that God has instituted government for such a partial, unworthy end.

 

 

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Filed under 1750's, Colonial America, Government, Posted by Rebecca Dresser, Religion

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