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The Person Of Christ by Philip Schaff

I.--The Unitarian Theory.


The semi-infidelity of the older Socinians and modern Unitarians is singularly inconsistent. Admitting the faultless perfection of Christ's character, and the truthfulness of the gospel-history, including the miracles, and yet denying his divinity, they must either charge him with such egregious exaggerations and conceit as would overthrow at once their concession of his moral perfection, or they must so weaken and pervert his testimony. concerning his relation to God as to violate all the laws of grammar and sound interpretation.

Dr. W. E. Channing, the ablest and noblest representative of modern Unitarianism, prefers to avoid the difficulty which he was unable to solve. In his admirable discourse on the |Character of Christ,| he goes as far almost as any orthodox divine in vindicating to him the highest possible purity and excellency as a man; but he stops half-way, and passes by in silence those extraordinary claims which are inexplicable on merely humanitarian and Socinian principles. He approaches, however, the very threshold of the true faith in the following remarkable passage, which we have a right to quote against his own system: |I confess,| he says, |when I can escape the deadening power of habit, and can receive the full import of such passages as the following, -- Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;' I am come to seek and to save that which was lost;' He that confesseth me before men, him will I confess before my Father in heaven;' Whosoever shall be ashamed of me before men, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed when he cometh in the glory of the Father with the holy angels;' In my Father's house are many mansions; I go to prepare a place for you:' I say, when I can succeed in realizing the import of such passages, I feel myself listening to a being such as never before and never since spoke in human language. I am awed by the consciousness of greatness which these simple words express; and, when I connect this greatness with the proofs of Christ's miracles which I gave you in a former discourse, I am compelled to exclaim with the centurion: Truly, this was the Son of God.'|71

But this is not all. We have seen that Christ goes much farther than in the passages here quoted; that he forgives sins in his own name; that he asserts pre-existence before Abraham and before the world, not only ideally in the mind of God, -- for this would not distinguish him from Abraham or any other creature, -- but in the real sense of self-conscious personal existence; that he claims and receives strictly divine attributes and honors, and makes himself equal with the great Jehovah. How can a being so pure and holy, and withal so humble and lowly, so perfectly free from every trace of enthusiasm and conceit, as Dr. Channing freely and emphatically asserts Christ to have been, lay claim to any thing which he was not in fact? Why, then, not also go beyond the exclamation of the heathen centurion, and unite with the confession of St. Peter and the adoration of the skeptical St. Thomas: |My Lord and my God|?72 Dr. Channing rose indeed to the high Arian view of Christ in admitting his pre-existence before the world, yet denying his eternity. But this notion involves the metaphysical absurdity of a creature before creation, or of a temporal being before time; for time and world were made together, and are inseparable.

Unitarianism admits altogether too much for its own conclusions, and is therefore driven to the logical alternative of falling back upon an infidel, or of advancing to the orthodox, Christology. Theodore Parker felt this, and gave up the supernatural altogether. Channing, who was certainly under the influence of the holy example of Christ, inclined to the other alternative, as we may infer from his general spirit, and from his last address, delivered at Lenox, Mass., in 1842, shortly before his death, where he said: |The doctrine of the Word made flesh shows us God uniting himself intimately with our nature, manifesting himself' in a human form, for the very end of making us partakers of his own perfection.|

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