Seven Sermons

From The Epic Of Unitarianism, Compiled by David Parke (54-55)

In 1749 Jonathan Mayhew, the young minister of the West Church in Boston, preached and published Seven Sermons, the most lucid and advanced statement of Arminian liberalism of its day. Instead of the Calvinist God of judgment and punishment, Mayhew described a "wise and infinitely gracious being" who seeks the happiness of all his creatures. To this end God gives us reason, and it is by reason that "we resemble God himself." May-hew further argued that we are endowed with the capacity to distinguish right and wrong and to choose the right (the central doctrine of Arminianism). The trustworthiness of reason and con-science led Mayhew to champion the right of private judgment in religion, a right which was to become the key principle not only of American Unitarianism but of American democracy itself.

1st Let us all stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free; and not suffer ourselves to be intangled with any yoke of bondage. If we have submitted to the yoke hitherto, and ingloriously subjected ourselves to any human impositions in religious matters; it is better to throw off the yoke even now, than to let it gall us all our life-time: It is not yet too late to assert our liberty, and free ourselves from an ignominious slavery to the dictates of men.

Let us take pains to find out the truth, and after we are settled in our judgment concerning any religious tenet or practice, adhere to it with constancy of mind, till convinced of our error in a rational way. Let us despise the frowns and censures of those vain conceited men who set themselves up for the oracles of truth and the standard of orthodoxy; and then call their neighbors hard names-We have not only a right to think for ourselves in matters of religion, but to act for ourselves also. Nor has any man whatever, whether of a civil or sacred Character, any authority to control us, unless it be by the gentle methods of argument and persuasion. To Christ alone, the supreme and only head of the Christian church, and the final judge of mankind; to him alone we are accountable for not believing his doctrines, and obeying his commandments, as such. And whosoever attempts to restrain or control us, takes it upon him to rule another man's servant, forgetting that he also is a man under authority; and must hereafter stand or fall by a sentence from the same mouth with ourselves.

Did I say, we have a right to judge and act for ourselves? I now add-it is our indispensable duty to do it. This is a right which we cannot relinquish, or neglect to exercise, if we would, without being highly culpable; for it is absolutely inalienable in its own nature. We may dispose of our temporal substance if we please; but God and nature and the gospel of Christ injoin it upon us to maintain the right of private judgment, and to worship God according to our consciences, as much as they injoin us to give alms to the poor, to love God and our neighbor, and practice universal righteousness: and we may as well talk of giving up our rights to the latter, as to the former. They are all duties, and not rights simply; duties equally founded in the reason of things; duties equally commanded by the same God; duties equally required in the same gospel....


21y. And to conclude, while we are asserting our own liberty and Christian rights, let us be consistent and uniform; and not attempt to incroach upon the rights of others. They have the same right to judge for themselves and to choose their own religion, with ourselves. And nothing is more incongruous than for an advocate of liberty, to tyrannize over his neighbors. We have all liberty to think and act for ourselves in things of a religious concern; and we ought to be content with that, without desiring a liberty to oppress and grieve others. . . . Let us, as much as in us lies, live peaceably with all men; but suffer none to lord it over our consciences. . . . Let us use no methods but those of sober argument and kind persuasion, in order to bring men over to a belief and practice of the truth as it is in Jesus. ..