With the same caustic irony with which he had flavoured his celebrated Reflections on the resistance made to King Charles I, Mayhew seeks to prove that the king of heaven, though absolute, is not arbitrary.
The Earthly Prince [he continues] may take off the head of the traitor, robber, or murderer, not to gratify his own anger, but for the common good. Contrariwise, punitive justice may be a branch of goodness, but how far from goodness it would be to condemn the bulk of mankind to eternal misery. Divine Goodness, p. 38.The amiable heretic of Massachusetts may here be contrasted with the rigid Calvinist of Connecticut. Edwards, in his dreadful Enfield sermon, implied that the majority of his hearers were in danger of hell fire. Mayhew calmly carried out that implication. He had taken as an appropriate text for his Thanksgiving sermon, “The Lord is good to all.” But this, for the sake of the argument, he is willing to change to, “The Lord is good to three-fourths of His creatures, and His tender mercies are over three-fourths of all His works,” --and so on down to the smallest fraction of mankind. Mayhew is a master of ironic attack. He discloses this in his political discourses, ranging from that against Non-Resistance to that against the Stamp Act. But when it comes to defending his views, he is weak. He declaims effectively against the terrible punishment to be meted out by the Calvinistic judge of all mankind, but, in upholding benevolence, he outdoes the most complacent deist of his day. The first of his Thanksgiving sermons contends that the nature of divine goodness admits of strict application a priori. The companion sermon attempts to make that goodness of universal extent, and goes to such extremes as praising December weather in the town of Boston. But though the arguments are forced, these provincial writings have a certain interest as being prototypes of those hollow documents, the Thanksgiving proclamations of governors and presidents. Through the two Massachusetts divines, Chauncy and Mayhew, one may traverse, by parallel paths, the whole controversy between old and new lights, a controversy beginning with a narrow emotionalism and ending with a rationalistic trend