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practical obligations of life? Is not the dogmatic temper, you ask, rightly regarded as a species of “intellectual ritualism”. which lulls men into the belief that they have true religion at heart, when in point of fact they are merely gratifying a private taste and losing sight of honesty and sober living in the intoxicating study of the abstractions of controversy? On the other hand, will not a high morality shrink with an instinctive reverence from the clamorous and positive assertions of the theologians? In particular, did Jesus Christ Himself require at the hands of His disciples a dogmatic confession of belief in His Divinity h? Was He not content if they acted upon His moral teaching, if they embraced that particular aspect of moral obligations which is of the highest importance to the well-being of society, and which we have lately termed the Enthusiasm of Humanity ? This is what is urged; and then it is added, Shall we not best succeed in doing our duty if we try better to understand Christ's Human Character, while we are careful to keep clear of those abstract and transcendental questions about Him, which at any rate have not promoted the cause of moral progress ?'

This language is notoriously popular in our day; but the substantial objection which it embodies has been already stated by a writer whom it is impossible to name without mingled admiration and sorrow,--admiration for his pure and lofty humanity,

-sorrow for the profound errors which parted him in life and in death from the Church of Jesus Christ. Love to Jesus Christ,' says William Channing, depends very little on our conception of His rank in the scale of being. On no other topic have Christians contended so earnestly, and yet it is of secondary importance. To know Jesus Christ is not to know the precise place He occupies in the Universe; it is something more: it is to look into His mind; it is to approach His soul; to comprehend His spirit, to see how He thought and felt and purposed and loved. I am persuaded,' he continues, that controversies about Christ's Person have in one way

done great injury. They have turned attention from His character. Suppose that, as Americans, we should employ ourselves in debating the questions, where Washington was born, and from what spot he came when he appeared at the head of our armies; and that in the fervour of these contentions we should overlook the character of his mind, the spirit that moved within

Ecce Homo, p. 69, sqq.

Moral obligation of facing the dogmatic question. 39

him, .... how unprofitably should we be employed ? Who is it that understands Washington ? Is it he that can settle his rank in the creation, his early history, his present condition ? or he to whom the soul of that good man is laid open, who comprehends and sympathizes with his generous purposes i ??

Channing's illustration of his position in this passage is important. It unconsciously but irresistibly suggests that indifference to the clear statement of our Lord's Divinity is linked to a fundamental assumption of its falsehood. Doubtless Washington's birthplace and present destiny is for the Americans an altogether unpractical consideration, when placed side by side with the study of his character. But the question had never been raised whether the first of religious duties which a creature should pay to the Author and End of his existence was or was not due to Washington. Nobody has ever asserted that mankind owes to the founder of the American Republic the tribute of a prostrate adoration in spirit and in truth. Had it occurred to Channing's mind as even possible that Jesus Christ was more than a mere man who lived and died eighteen centuries ago, he could not have permitted himself to make use of such an illustration. To do justice to Channing, he had much too clear and fine an intellect to imagine that the fundamental question of Christianity could be ignored on moral grounds. Those who know anything of his works are aware that his own opinion on the subject was a very definite one, and that he has stated the usual arguments on behalf of the Socinian heresy with characteristic earnestness and precision.

My brethren, all are agreed as to the importance of studying and copying the Human Character of Jesus Christ. Whether it be really possible to have a sincere admiration for the Character of Jesus Christ without believing in His Divinity, is a question which I shall not shrink from considering hereafterj. Whether a true morality does not embrace, as one part of it, an honest acceptance and profession of all attainable religious Truth, is a question which men can decide without being theologians. As for reverence, there is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak. Reverence will assuredly speak, and that plainly, when silence would dishonour its Object : the reverence which is always silent as to matters of belief may be but the drapery of a profound scepticism, which lacks the courage to unveil itself before the eyes of men. Certainly our Lord did not practical obligations of life? Is not the dogmatic temper, you ask, rightly regarded as a species of intellectual ritualism which lulls men into the belief that they have true religion at heart, when in point of fact they are merely gratifying a private taste and losing sight of honesty and sober living in the intoxicating study of the abstractions of controversy? On the other hand, will not a high morality shrink with an instinctive reverence from the clamorous and positive assertions of the theologians? In particular, did Jesus Christ Himself require at the hands of His disciples a dogmatic confession of belief in His Divinity h? Was He not content if they acted upon His moral teaching, if they embraced that particular aspect of moral obligations which is of the highest importance to the well-being of society, and which we have lately termed the Enthusiasm of Humanity?' This is what is urged; and then it is added, Shall we not best succeed in doing our duty if we try better to understand Christ's Human Character, while we are careful to keep clear of those abstract and transcendental questions about Him, which at any rate have not promoted the cause of moral progress l'

| Works, vol. ii. p. 145.

See Lecture IV.

This language is notoriously popular in our day; but the substantial objection which it embodies has been already stated by a writer whom it is impossible to name without mingled admiration and sorrow,-admiration for his pure and lofty humanity,

sorrow for the profound errors which parted him in life and in death from the Church of Jesus Christ. · Love to Jesus

William Channing, depends very little on our conception of His rank in the scale of being. On no other topic have Christians contended so earnestly, and yet it is of secondary importance. To know Jesus Christ is not to know the precise place He occupies in the Universe; it is something more: it is to look into His mind; it is to approach His soul; to comprehend His spirit, to see how He thought and felt and purposed and loved. I am persuaded,' he continues, “that controversies about Christ's Person have in one way done great injury. They have turned attention from His character. Suppose that, as Americans, we should employ ourselves in debating the questions, where Washington was born, and from what spot he came when he appeared at the head of our armies; and that in the fervour of these contentions we should overlook the character of his mind, the spirit that moved within

Christ,' says

5 Ecce Homo, p. 69, sqq.

Moral obligation of facing the dogmatic question. 39

him, . ... how unprofitably should we be employed ? Who is it that understands Washington ? Is it he that can settle his rank in the creation, his early history, his present condition ? or he to whom the soul of that good man is laid open, who comprehends and sympathizes with his generous purposes i ?'

Channing's illustration of his position in this passage is important. It unconsciously but irresistibly suggests that indifference to the clear statement of our Lord's Divinity is linked to a fundamental assumption of its falsehood. Doubtless Washington's birthplace and present destiny is for the Americans an altogether unpractical consideration, when placed side by side with the study of his character. But the question had never been raised whether the first of religious duties which a creature should pay to the Author and End of his existence was or was not due to Washington. Nobody has ever asserted that mankind owes to the founder of the American Republic the tribute of a prostrate adoration in spirit and in truth. Had it occurred to Channing's mind as even possible that Jesus Christ was more than a mere man who lived and died eighteen centuries ago, he could not have permitted himself to make use of such an illustration. To do justice to Channing, he had much too clear and fine an intellect to imagine that the fundamental question of Christianity could be ignored on moral grounds. Those who know anything of his works are aware that his own opinion on the subject was a very definite one, and that he has stated the usual arguments on behalf of the Socinian heresy with characteristic earnestness and precision.

My brethren, all are agreed as to the importance of studying and copying the Human Character of Jesus Christ. Whether it be really possible to have a sincere admiration for the Character of Jesus Christ without believing in His Divinity, is a question which I shall not shrink from considering hereafteri. Whether a true morality does not embrace, as one part of it, an honest acceptance and profession of all attainable religious Truth, is a question which men can decide without being theologians. As for reverence, there is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak. Reverence will assuredly speak, and that plainly, when silence would dishonour its Object : the reverence which is always silent as to matters of belief may be but the drapery of a profound scepticism, which lacks the courage to unveil itself before the eyes of men. Certainly our Lord did not

| Works, vol. ii. p. 145.

See Lecture IV.

as men

Himself exact from His first followers, as an indispensable condition of discipleship, any profession of belief in His Godhead. But why? Simply because His requirements are proportioned to the opportunities of mankind. He had taught

were able to bear His teaching k. Although His precepts, His miracles, His character, His express language, all pointed to the Truth of His Godhead, the conscience of mankind was not laid under a formal obligation to acknowledge It until at length He had been 'defined'l to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of Holiness, by the Resurrection from the dead.' Our present moral relation, then, to the truth of Christ's Divinity differs altogether from that in which His first disciples were placed. It is a simple matter of history that Christendom has believed the doctrine for eighteen centuries; but, besides this, the doctrine challenges at our hands, as I have already intimated, a moral duty as its necessary expression both in the sanctuary of our own thought and before the eyes of men.

Let us face this aspect of the subject in its concrete and every-day form. Those whom I now see around me are without exception, or almost without exception, members of the Church of England. If any here have not the happiness to be communicants, yet, at least, my brethren, you all attend the ordinary Sunday morning service of our Church. In the course of doing 80, you sing the Te Deum, you repeat several times the Gloria Patri; but you also kneel down, or profess to kneel down, as joining before God and man in the Litany. Now the second petition in the Litany runs thus: O God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy upon us miserable sinners. What do you seriously mean to do when you join in that petition ? Whom are you really addressing? What is the basis and ground of your act? What is its morality? If Jesus Christ is merely a creature, is He in a position to have mercy upon you? Are you doing dishonour to the Most High by addressing Christ in these terms at all? Channing has said that the petition, * By Thine agony and bloody sweat, by Thy cross and passion, Good Lord, deliver us,' is appalling m. On the Socinian hypothesis, Channing's language is no exaggeration : the Litany is an 'appalling' prayer, as the Gloria Patri is an 'appalling' doxology. Nor would you escape from this moral difficulty,

St. John xvi. 12.

1 Rom. i. 4: του δρισθέντος υιού Θεού. Unitarian Christianity, Works, vol. ii. p. 541.

m

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