William Ellery Channing.

The complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction online

. (page 58 of 169)
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of mind. Jesus was the only-begotten Son,
because he was the perfect image and repre-
sentative of God, especially of divine philan-
thropy ; because he espoused as his own the
benevolent purposes of God towards the
human race, and yielded himself to their
accomplishment with an entire self-sacrifice.
To know Tesus as the Son of God is not to
understand what theologians have written
about his eternal generation, or about a mys-
tical, incomprehensible union between Christ
and his Father. It is something far higher
and more instructive. It is to sec in Christ,
if I may say so, the lineaments of the Uni-
versal Father. It is to discern in him a god-
like purity and goodness. It is to understand
his harmony with the Divine Mind, and the
entireness and singleness of love with which
he devoted himself to the purposes of God
and the interests of the human race. Of con-
sequence, to love Jesus as the Son of God is
to love the spotless purity and godlike charity
of bis soul.

There are other Christians who differ widely
from those of whom I have now spoken, but
who conceive that Christ's Oflices, Inspiration,
Miracles, arc his chief claims to veneration,
and who, I fear, in extolling these, have over-
looked what is incomparably more glorious —
the moral dignity of his mind, the purity and
inexhaustibleness of his benevolence. It is
possible that to many who hear me, Christ
seems to have been more exalted when he
received from his Father supernatural hght
and truth, or when with superhuman energy
he qnelled the storm and raised the dead, than
when he wept over the city which was in a
few days to doom him to the most shameful
and agonizing death ; and yet his chief glory
consisted in the spirit through which x\\cs^
tears were shed. Christians have yet to learn
that inspiration, and miracles, and outward
dignities are nothing compared with the soul.
We all need to understand better than wc
have done that noble passage of Paul,
"Though I speak with tne tongues of men
and of angels, and understand all mysteries,
and have all faith, so that I could remove
mountains, and have not charity fdisinte-
resledncss, love], I am nothing;" and this is
as true of Christ as of Paul. Indeed it is
true of all beings, and yet, I fear, it is not
felt as it should be by the multitude of

You tell me, my friends, that Christ's un-
paralleled inspiration, his perpetual reception
of light from God, that this was his supreme
distinction ; and a great distinction xmdoubt-
edly it was : but 1 affirm that Christ's in-
spiration, though conferred on him without
measure, gives him no claim •to veneration
or love, any further than it found within

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biin a vfrttie wbidi accorded with, welcomed, victorious, and perfect ifoodness. Otben may
and adopted it — any further than his own love Christ for mysterious attributes ; I love
heart responded to the truths he received — him for the rectitude of his soul and his life,
any further than be sympathized with, and I love him for that tienevolence which went
espoused as his own. the benevoient purposes through Judea, instructing the ignorant, heal-
of God, which he was sent to announce — any ing the sick, giving sight to the blind. I love
further than the spirit of the rehgion which him for that universal charity which compre-
he preached was his own spirit, and was bended the despised publican, the hated i>a-
breatfaed from his hfe as well as from his maritan, the benighted heathen, and sought
iips. In other words, his inspiration was to bring a world to God and to happiness.
niade glorious through his virtues. Mere I love him for that gentle, mild, forbearing
inspiration seems to me a very secondary spirit, which no insu^, outrage, injury could
thing. Suppose the greatest truths in the overpower; and which desired as earnestly
universe to be revealed supematurally to a the repentance and happiness of its foes as
being who should take no interest in them, the happiness of its friends. I love him for
who should not see and feel their greatness, the spirit of magnanimity, constancy, and
but should rep^t them mechanically, as they fearless rectitude with which, amidst peril
were put into his mouth by the Deity. Such and opposition, he devoted himself to the
a man would be inspired, and would teach the work which God gave him to do. I love him
greatest verities, and yet he would be nothing, for the wise and enlightened zeal with which
and would have no claim to reverence. he espoused the true, the spiritual interests

The excellence of Jesus did not consist in of mankind, and through which he lived and
his mere inspiration, but in the virtue and died to redeem them from every sin, to frame
love which prepared him to receive it, and them after his own godlike virtue. I love

Sr v^ch it was made effectual to the world, him, I have said, for his moral excellence ; I
e did not i>assively hear, and mechanically know nothing else to love. I know nothing
repeat, certain doctrines from God, but his so glorious in the Creator or his creatures,
whole soul accorded with what he heard. This is the greatest gift which God bestows,
Every truth which he uttered came warm the greatest to be derived from his Son.
and living from his own mind ; and it was You see why I call you to cherish the love
this pouring of his own soul into his instruc* of Christ. This love I do not recommend as
tioos which gave them much of flieir power, a luxury of feeling, as an ecstasy bringing
Whence came the authority and energy, the immediate and oversowing joy. 1 view it in
conscious dignity, the tenderness and sym- a nobler light. I call you to love Jesus, that
pethy. with which Jesus taught ? They came you may bring yourselves into contact and
not from inspiration, but from the mind of communion with perfect virtue, and may be-
htm who was inspired. His personal virtues come what you love. I know no sincere,
gave power to his teachings; and without enduring good but the moral excellence which
these no inspiration could have made him shines forth in Jesus Christ Yoiu: wealthy
the source of such hght and strength as he your outward comforts and distinctions, are
now communicates to mankind. poor, mean, contemptible, compared with this;

My friends. I have aimed to show in this and to prefer them to this is self-debasement,
discourse that the virtue, purity, rectitude of self-destruction. May this great truth pene-
Jesus Christ is his most honourable distinc- trate our souls ; and may we bear witness in
tion, and constitutes his great claim to vene^ our common hves, and especially in trial, in
ration and knre. I can direct you to nothing sore temptation, that nothing is so dear to us
in Christ more important than his tried, and at the virtue of Christ I


ErrnssuMS H. siJ "Creep be with au ibero that iov« A virluous attachmtnt pariBes the heart,

our Lord Jew Christ In sincerity." ^^ j^^^^ ^^^ excellent, we receive strength to

IM the prectdmg discourse, I considered the follow them. It is happy for us when a pure

nature and ground of love to Christ. The affection springsup within us, when friendship

subject is far from bchig exhausted. I pro- knits us with holy and generous minds. It is

jKJse now, after a few remarks on the impor- happy for us when a being of noble sentiments

tance and happiness of this attachment, to call and beneficent hfe enters our circle, becomes

your attention to some errors in relation to it an object of interest to us. and by affectionate

wfa^ prevail in the Christian world. Intercourse takes a strong hold on our hearts.

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Not a few can trace the purity and elevation
of their minds to connection with an individual
who has won them by the beautv of his charac-
ter to the love and practice of righteousness.
These views show us the service which Jesus
Christ has done to mankind, simply in oflering
himself before them as an object of attachment
and affection. In inspiring k>ve, he is a
benefactor. A man brought to see and feel
the godlike virtues of Jesus Christ, who
understands his character and is attracted
and won by it, has gained, in this sentiment,
immense aid in his conflict with evil and in
his pursuit of perfection. And he has not
only gained aid, but happiness ; for a true love
is in itself a noble enjoyment. It is the proper
delight of a rational and moral being, leaving
no bitterness or shame behind, not enervating
like the world's pleasures, but giving energy
and a lofty consciousness to the mind.

Our nature was framed for virtuous attach-
ments. How strong and interesting are the
affections of domestic life, the conjugal, pa-
rental, filial ties ! But the heart is not confined
.^ to our homes, or even to this world. There
are more sacred attachments than these, in
which instinct has no part, which have their
origin in our highest faculties, which are less
turoultuousand impassioned than theaffections
of nature, but more enduring, more capable
of growth, more peaceful, far happier and far
nobler. Such is love to Jesus Christ, the most
purifying and the happiest attachment, next to
the love of our Creator, which we can form.
I wish to aid you in cherishing this sentiment,
and for this end I have thought that in the
present discourse it would l^ well to point
out some wrong views, which I think have
obstructed it and obscured its glory.

I apprehend that amon^ those Christians
who bear the name of Rational, from the im-
portance which they give to the exercise of
reason in religion, love to Christ has lost
something of its honour, in consequence of its
perversion. It has too often been substituted
lor practical religion. Not a few have pro-
fess«i a very fervent attachment to Jesus, and
have placed great confidence in this feeling,
who, at the same time, have seemed to think
little of his precepts, and have even spoken of
them as unimportant, compared with certain
doctrines about his person or nature. Gross
errors of this kind have led, as it seems to me,
to the opposite extreme. They have particu-
larly encouraged among calm and sober people
the idea that the great object of Christ was to
give a religion, to teach great and everlasting
truth, and that our concern is with his religion
rather than with himself. The great question,
as such people say, is not what Jesus was, but
what he revealed. In this way a distinction has
been made between Jesus and his religion ;
and, whilst some sects have done little but

talk of Christ and his petson, others havA
dwelt on the principles he taught, to the
n<^lect, in a measure, of the Divine Teacher.
I consider this as an error to which some of
us may be exposed, and which therefore de-
serves consideration.

Now I grant that Jesus Christ came to give
a religion, to reveal truth. This is his great
office ; but I maintain that this is no reason
for overlooking Jesus; for his religion has an
intimate and peculiar connection with himself.
It derives authority and illustration from his
character. Jesus is his religion embodied and
made visible. The cormection between him
and his system Is peculiar. It differs altogether
from that which ancient philosophers bore to
their teachings. An ancient sage wrote a
book, and the book is of equal value to us
whether we know its author or not. But there
is no such thing as Christianity without Christ.
We cannot know it separately from him. It
is not a book which Jesus wrote. It is his
conversation, his character, his history, his
life, his death, his resurrection. He pervades
it throughout. In loving him, we love his
religion ; and a just interest in this cannot be
awakened but by contemplating it as it shone
forth in himself.

Christ's religion, I have said, is very imper-
fect without himself ; and therefore tney who
would make an abstract of his precepts, and
say that it is enough to follow these without
thinking of their author, grievously mistake,
and rob the system of much of its ener^.
I mean not to disparage the precepts of Chnst,
considered in themselves. But their full power
is only to be imderstood and felt by those who
place themselves near the Divine Teacher,
who see the celestial fervour of his affection
whilst he utters them, who follow his steps
from Bethlehem to Calvary, and witness the
expression of his precepts in his own life.
These come to me almost as new precepts
when I associate them with Jesus. His com-
mand to love my enemies becomes intelligible
and bright when I stand by his cross and hear
his prayer for his murderers. I understand
what he meant by the self-denial which he
taught when I see him foregoing the comforts
of life, and laying down life itself for the good
of others. I learn the true character of that
benevolence by which human nature is per-
fected, how it unites calmness and earnestness,
tenderness and courage, condescension and
dignity, feeling and action ; this I learn in the
life of Jesus as no words could teach me.
So I am instructed in the nature of piety by
the same model. The command to love God
with all my heart, if only written, might have
led me into extravagance, enthusiasm, and
n^lect of common duties ; for religious excite-
ment has a peculiar tendencv to excess ; but
in Jesus I see a devotion to God, entire, per-

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lect. never remitted, yet without the least
appearance of passion, as cahn and self-pos-
sessed as the love which a good mind bears to
a parent ; and in him I am taught, as words
could not teach, how to join supreme regard
to my Creator with active charity and common
duties towards my fellow-beings.

And not only the precepts, but the great
doctrines of Cbristiamty, are bound up with
Jesus, and cannot be truly understood with-
out him. For example, one of the great doc-
trines of Christianity, perhai^ its chief, is the
kind interest of God in all his creatures, not
only in the good but in the evil ; his placable,
clement, merciful character ; his desire to re-
cover and purify and make for ever happv
even those who have stained themselves with
the blackest guilt The true character of
God in this respect I see indeed in his provi-
dence. I read it in his word, and for every
manifestation of it I am gratduL But when
I see his spotless and beloved Son. to whom
bis power was peculiarly delegated, and in
whom He peculiarly dwelt, giving singular
attention to the most fallen and despised men.
casting away all outward pomp that he might
mingle familiarly with the poor and neglected;
when I see him sitting at table with the pub-
lican and the sinner, inviting them to ap-
proach him as a friend, suffenn^ the woman
whose touch was deemed pollution to bedew
his feet with tears ; and when I hear him in
the midst of such a concourse saying. " I am
come to seek and to save that which was lost,"
I have a conviction of the lenity, benignity,
grace, of that God whose representative and
chosen minister he was, sucn as no abstract
teaching could have given me. Let me add
one nK>re doctrine, that of immortality. I

{>rize every evidence of this great truth; I
ook within and without me for some pledge
that I am not to perish in the grave, that this
mind, with its thoughts and affections, is to
live, and improve, and be perfected, and to
find that joy for which it thirsts, and which it
cannot find on earth. Christ's teaching on
this subject is invaluable; but what power
does this teaching gain, when I stand by his
sepulchre, and see the stone rolled away,
and behold the great revealer of immortality
rising in power and triiunph, and ascending
to the life and happiness he had promised !

Thus Christianity, from beginning to end,
is intimately connected with its Divine teacher.
It is not an abstract system. The rational
Christian who would think of it as such, who,
in dwelling on the religion, overlooks its Re-
vealer. is unjust to it. Would he see and
feel its power, let him see it warm, living,
breathing, acting in the mind, heart, and lifo
of its Founder. Let him love it there. In
other words, let him love the character of
Jesus, justly viewed, and he will love the

religion in the way most fitted to make it the
power of God unto salvation.

I have said that love to Christ, when he is
jusdy viewed — that is, when it is an enlight-
ened and rational affection — includes the love
of his whole religion ; but I beg you to re-
member that I give this praise only to an
enlightened affection; and such is not the
most conmion. nor is it easily acquired. I
apprehend that there is no sentiment which
needs greater care in its culture than this.
Perhaps, in the present state of the world, no
virtue is of more difficult acquisition than a
pure and intelligent love towards Jesus.
There is undoubtedly much of fervent feel-
ing towards him in the Christian world. But
let me speak plainly. I do it from no un-
charitableness. I do it only to warn my
fellow-Christians. The greater part of this
affection to Jesus seems to me of veiy doubt-
ful worth. In many cases, it is an irregular
fervour, wluch impairs the force and sound-
ness of the mind, and which is substituted
for obedience to his precepts, for the virtues
which ennoble the soul. Much of what is
called love to Christ I certainly do not desire
you or myself to possess. I know of no
sentiment which needs more to be cleared
from error and abuse, and I therefore feel
myself bound to show you some of its cor-

In the first place, I am persuaded that a
love to Christ of quite a low character is
often awakened by an injudicious use of his
sufferings. I apprehoxi that if the affection
which many bear to Jesus were analyzed, the
chief ingredient in it would be found to be a
tenderness awakened by his cross. In cer-
tain classes of Christians, it is common for
the religious teacher to delineate the bleeding,
dying Saviour, and to detail his agonies,
until men's natural sympathy is awakened ;
and when assured that this deep woe was
borne for themselves, they almost necessarily
yield to the softer feelings of their nature. I
mean not to find fault with this sensibility.
It is happy for us that we are made to be
touched by others' pains. Woe to him who
has no tears for mortal agony I But in this
emotion there is no virtue, no moral worth ;
and we dishonour Jesus when this is the
chief tribute we ofier him. I say there is no
moral goodness in this feeling. To be affected,
overpowered by a crucifixion, is the most
natural thing in the world. Who of us, let
me ask, whether religious or not, ever went
into a Catholic church, and there saw the
picture of Jesus hanging from his cross, his
head bendii^ under the weieht of exhausting
suffering, his hands and feet pierced with
nails, and his body stained with his open
wounds, and has not been touched by the
sight? Suppose that, at this moment, there

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were lifted up among tis a human form, trans-
fixed with a spear, and from which the warm
life-blood was dropping in the midst of us.
Who would not be deeply moved ? And
when a preacher, gifted with something of
an actor's power, places the cross, as it were,
in the midst of a people, is it wonderftil that
they are softened and subdued ? I mean not
to censure all appeals of this kind to the
human heart. There is something interesting
and encouraging in the tear of compassion.
There was wisdom in the conduct of the
Moravian Missionaries in Greenland who,
finding that the rugged and barbarous natives
were utterly insensible to general truth, de-
picted, with all possible vividness, the stream-
mg blood and dying agonies of Jesus, and
thus caught the attention of the savage
through his sympathies, whom the^ could
not interest through his reason or his fears.
But sensibility thus awakened is quite a dif-
ferent thing from true, virtuous love to Jesus
Christ ; and, when viewed and cherished as
such, it takes the place of higher affections.
;i have often been struck by the contrast
betweeh the tise made of the cross in the
pulpit, and the odm, unimpassioned manner
m which the sufferings of Jesus are detailed
by the Evangelists. These witnesses of
Christ's last moments give you in simple
language the particulars of that scene, with-
out one remark, one word of emotion ; and
if you read the Acts and Episdes, you will
not find a single instance in which the
Apostles strove to make a moving picture of
his crucifixion. No ; they honoiu^ Jesus too
much, they felt too deeply the greatness of
his character, to be moved as many are by
the circumstances of his death. Reverence,
admiration, sympathy with his sublime spirit,
these swallowed up, in a great measure, sym-
pathy with his sufferings. The cross was to
them the last crowning manifestation of a
celestial mind ; they felt that it was endured
to communicate the same mind to them and
the worid ; and their emotion was a holy jov
in this consummate and unconquerable goocl-
ness. To be touched by suffering is a light
thing. It is not the greatness of Christ's
sufferings on the cross which is to move our
whole souls, but the greatness of the spirit with
which he suffered. There, in death, he proved
his entire consecration of himself to the cause
of God and mankind. There his love flowed
forth towards his friends, his enemies, and
the human race. It is moral greatness, it is
victorious love, it is the energy of principle,
which gives such interest to the cross of Christ.
We are to look through the darkness which
hung over him, through his wounds and pains,
to his unbroken, disinterested, confiding spirit.
To approach the cross for the purpose cw weep-
ing over a bleeding, dying friend, is to lose the

chief influence of the crucifixion. We are td
visit the cross, not to indulge a natural soft-
ness, but to acquire firmness of spirit, to for-
tify our minds for hardship and suffering in
the cause of duty and of human happiness.
To live as Christ Uved, to die as Christ died,
to give up ourselves as sacrifices to God, to
conscience, to whatever good interest we can
advance— these are the lessons written with
the blood of Jesus. His cross is to inspire us
with a calm courage, resolution, and supe-
riority to all temptation. I fear (is my fear
groundless?} that a sympathy which enervates
rather than fortifies, is the impression too often
received from the crucifixion. The depression
with which the Lord's table is too often ap-
proached, and too often left, shows, I appre-
hend, that the chief use of his sufierings is little
understood, and that he is loved, not as a
glorious sufferer who died to spread his own
sublime spirit, but as a man of sorrows, a
friend bowed down with the weight of grief.

In the second place, love to Christ of a very
defective kind is cherished in many bv the
views which they are accustomed to take of
themselves. They form irrational ideas of
their own guilt, supposing it to have its origin
in their very creation, and then represent to
their imaginations an abyss of fire and tor-
ment, over which they hang, into which the
anger of God is about to precipitate them,
and from which nothing but Jesus can rescue
them. Not a few, I apprehend, ascribe to
Jesus Christ a greater compassion towards!
them than God is supposed to feeL His
heart is tenderer than that of the Universal
Parent, and this tenderness is seen in his
plucking them by a mighty power from tre-
mendous and infinite pain, from everlasting
burnings. Now, that Jesus under such cir-
cumstances should excite the mind strongly,
should become the object of a vzry intense
attachment, is almost necessary ; but the affec-
tion so excited is of very little worth. Let the
imiverse seem to me wrapped in darkness,
let God's throne send forth no light but blast-
ing flashes, let Jesus be the only bright and
cheering object to my affrighted and desolate
soul, and a tumultuous gratitude will carry me
towards him just as irresistibly as natural in-
stinct carries the parent animal to its young.
I do and must gneve at the modes commonly
u^d to make Jesus Christ an interesting being.
Even the Infinite Father is stripped of his
gloiy for the sake of throwing a lustre round
the Son. The condition of man is painted in,
frightful colours, which cast unspejucable dis-
honour on his Creator, for the sake of mag-
nifying the greatness of Christ's salvation.
Man is stripped of all the powers which
make him a responsible being, his soul har-

Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 58 of 169)