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WILLIAM ELLERY CHANNING.
We are far from placing Dr. Channing, the great leader of American Unitarianism, and one of the brightest ornaments of American literature (born 1780, at Newport, Rhode Island; died 1842, at Bennington, Vermont), in the company of unbelievers. Although heretical on the fundamental articles of the Holy Trinity, the Divinity of Christ, and the Atonement, he was, in his way, a worshiper of Jesus, and exhibited the power of his holy example in his lovely character and written works. He was deeply penetrated by the ethical spirit of Christianity, and certainly “not far from the kingdom of heaven.” We select two passages from his admirable Sermons, which bear strong testimony to the perfection of Christ’s character. The italics are our own. Compare the remarks on his inconsistency on p. 131 ff.
From the Sermon on the “Character of Christ” (on Matt. xvii. 5), in Dr. Channing's Works, Boston, 1848, vol. iv. pp. 1-29:—
“This Jesus lived with men: with the consciousness of unutterable majesty, he joined a lowliness, gentleness, humanity, and sympathy which have no example in human history. I ask you to contemplate this wonderful union. In proportion to the superiority of Jesus to all around him, was the intimacy, the brotherly love, with which he bound himself to them. I maintain that this is a character wholly remote from human conception. To imagine it to be the production of imposture or enthusiasm, shows a strange unsoundness of mind. I contemplate it with a veneration second only to the profound awe with which I look up to God. It bears no mark of human invention. It was real. It belonged to, and it manifested, the beloved Son of God. . . .
“Here I pause; and indeed I know not what can be added to highten the wonder, reverence, and love which are due to Jesus. When I consider him, not only as possessed with the consciousness of an unexampled and unbounded majesty, but as recognizing a kindred nature in human beings, and living and dying to raise them to a participation of his divine glories; and when I see him, under these views, allying himself to men by the tenderest ties, embracing them with a spirit of humanity, which no insult, injury, or pain could for a moment repel or overpower,—I am filled with wonder as well as reverence and love. I feel that this character is not of human invention; that it was not assumed through fraud, or struck out by enthusiasm; for it is infinitely above their reach. When I add this character of Jesus to the other evidences of his religion, it gives, to what before seemed so strong, a new and a vast accession of strength: I feel as if I could not be deceived. The Gospels must be true: they were drawn, from a living original; they were founded on reality. The character of Jesus is not a fiction: he was what he claimed to be, and what his followers attested. Nor is this all. Jesus not only was, he is still, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. He exists now: he has entered that heaven to which he always looked forward on earth. There he lives and reigns. With a clear, calm faith, I see him in that state of glory; and I confidently expect, at no distant period, to see him face to face. We have, indeed, no absent friend whom we shall so surely meet. Let us then, my hearers, by imitation of his virtues, and obedience to his word, prepare ourselves to join him in those pure mansions, where he is surrounding himself with the good and pure of our race, and will communicate to them for ever his own spirit, power, and joy.”
From Dr. Channing's Discourse on “The Imitableness of Christ” (Works, vol. iv. p. 140):—
“I believe Jesus Christ to be more than a human being. In truth, all Christians so believe him. Those who suppose him not to have existed before his birth do not regard him as a mere man, though so reproached. They always separate him by broad distinctions from other men. They consider him as enjoying a communion with God, and as having received gifts, endowments, aid, lights, from him, granted to no other; and as having exhibited a spotless purity, which is the highest distinction of heaven. All admit, and joyfully admit, that Jesus Christ, by his greatness and goodness, throws all other human attainments into obscurity.”
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