"WHAT THINK YE OF CHRIST?"
Every church that claims the right to use the name Christian, should have some clear and well defined conception of the character and mission of Jesus Christ. The question is often asked: "Do you, as Universalists, believe in Jesus Christ?" Every loyal and well informed Universalist will answer promptly and proudly, "Yes! Most emphatically we do. To us the name of Jesus is as precious as it can be to any church. We believe in him as he is revealed to us by the Holy Scriptures, and by human experience. We accent him in the character that he claimed for himself, as the son of God and the Savior of the world. We have the fullest confidence in him, in his gospel, in his life, and claim far better results from his mission and his work than any believer in a partial salvation can possibly expect. In point of fact, therefore, we believe more devoutly in, and expect more from Jesus Christ, than many people do whose pretension in this direction is much greater than our own.
Among our preachers and our people there is undoubtedly a slight difference of opinion, if they attempt a close definition of the nature and character of Jesus. One class of our people may represent an extreme view, and appear strongly Unitarian, by putting special emphasis upon the idea of "the man Christ Jesus." At the same time a much larger number see in him, "the brightness of the Father's glory, and the express image of his person." We are not any of us Trinitarians, but we are so thoroughly impressed with the divinity of Christ that we emphasize this in preference to his humanity. Understand, when we say divinity, -we do not mean deity. We believe with St. Paul that "there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time." (1 Timothy 2:5 and 6.) Yet we do not attempt to place him on the level with other men; we seek to recognize his intellectual, moral and spiritual greatness. We see the divine authority and spiritual power with which he leads and helps humanity. He lived in closer touch with God, and thus gained the divine quality that makes his name precious to our human hearts. There is especial pride and satisfaction in the thought that our General Convention, in its last session at Chicago, could unite upon a statement of our belief in this matter and thus say to the world, "We believe in the spiritual authority and leadership of Jesus Christ."
To the Universalist church, Jesus Christ was no impostor or pretender, but one bearing in his life and mission, the sanction and authority of the universal Father.
First-The prophets of God had foretold his coming. For several centuries these worthy religious teachers had promised that God should send a great leader and Savior into the world. They clearly defined his mission and his work and thus prepared the people to receive him when he came.
Second-His advent was heralded by "an angel of the Lord." "And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins." (Matt. 1:21.) His coming likewise bore the approval of the angelic host. Hence the glad song, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men." (Luke 2:14.) When the waiting shepherds were alarmed at the manifestation about them, "the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10 and 11.)
Third-We find further proof of his divine authority when he was ready to begin his ministry, and was baptized of John at Jordan. "And lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the spirit of God, descending like a dove, and lighting upon him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, this is my beloved' son, in whom I am well pleased." (Matt. 3:16 and 17.)
Fourth-The "Sermon on the Mount" gives us abundant evidence of the great spirit of divine truth that filled his heart. "And it came to pass. when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine; for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the Scribes." (Matt. 7:28 and 29.) This divine authority with which Christ was crowned gave added weight to his words and meaning to his mission. There was great intrinsic worth in the life, and peculiar power in the preaching of Jesus: yet all this was multiplied in proportion to the understanding that he came from God, and was divinely commissioned to do a certain work. John said: "We have seen and do testify that the Father sent the son to be the Savior of the world." (1 John 4:14.) It is a grand thing to be the savior of one person from suffering, from sin, or from death. I-low glorious then is the work of Christ as the Savior of the world from sin! The grandeur of his mission only adds glory and beauty to his character. No wonder that hearts have burned with Christian zeal, and lips have grown eloquent over the sublime subject of salvation. The broader the view we take of salvation, and the more complete we make the final result, the more exalted and glorious becomes The name, before which "every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things. in earth, and things under the earth. And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phil. 2:10 and 17.)
There was nothing narrow, partial or incomplete in his own promises as to the final result. "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me."' (John 12:32.)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in giving expression to her faith, is deeply impressed by this promise of the Master and thus says:
How grandly this voices our faith, and how perfectly it proclaims the attractive power of our gnat leader. In this great work of salvation, and in all of the steps of human growth, or human progress, intellectual, moral or spiritual, there is imperative need of competent leadership. Such a leader can only expect to succeed when coming with a heavenly commission, and under divine authority. The commanding officer in an army must be an. efficient leader, and must have the proper authority, or the soldiers will not obey cheerfully or promptly. Government is not only a fact, but a genuine necessity. Without leadership everything is chaotic. Existence itself, to say nothing of peace and harmony, depends upon a recognized leadership, and an accepted form of government. Even the animal world acknowledges this. Every considerable company of creatures will invariably select a leader. The wild horses on the plain follow faithfully some one of their number, who is brave and strong enough to be a leader. The wild geese in their flight north or south make poor progress only as they hear the regular and encouraging cry of their leader. If a n accident or the hunter's shot strike down the leader another is soon selected and the flock flies on. What is true in the animal world, what is true in our social or political life, is equally plain in our effort to learn religious truth, and reach our ideal of Christian character. To attain this priceless treasure we must have a great spiritual leader. From our understanding of ourselves, and of the end to be reached, we are convinced that our spiritual leader must be one sent of God. He must be one of great personal power, full of love, sympathy and tenderness, and thus competent to help us at every point. Our ideal of such leadership is an exalted one, but Jesus is all and more than we require. From the record of his life, and from our conception of his character, we are satisfied that Jesus may well be recognized as the "Captain of our salvation." In his brief ministry on earth he left abundant evidence of his divine leadership.
First-His first great gift to the world was his gospel. The "good news," the "glad tidings" concerning the nature and character of God, concerning the duty and destiny of humanity, plainly proved his power to lead in the realm of thought. So broad and generous and universal was his glad message of hope and happiness, that no one could doubt his wisdom, or question his love and power.
Second-His next creation was the Christian church. This was a natural production, coming out of his close and tender relation to men and women. They learned to love him, and out of that love they were pleased to gather in his name. "His spiritual majesty, his royal leadership in the realm of religion, created the church." In this he doing the will of God, and manifesting his divine power is our behalf.
St. Paul says: "And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-word who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places far above all principality and power and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come; and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all." (Eph. 1:19-23.)
The New Testament is not therefore the foundation of the Christian church, or indeed of Christianity, but simply bears record of this glorious beginning in behalf of humanity. Prize the Bible as we may, love its truth as we will, it stands only as a record; while the spiritual leadership of a living, personal Christ is -none important. Dr. Newman Smyth in his "Reality of Faith," says: "Even if you should break the Bible to pieces, the evidence of the ultimate spiritual personality of Jesus the Christ would not be destroyed." "The church is a living witness to the realty of Christ. The personal reign of Christ in the hearts of men, drawing them into communion with himself, and building them into the temple of the Lord, is an everlasting testimony to his past history and present glory." The more we think- of this, the more earnest and unanimous we shall be in declaring Jesus to be not only a reliable authority in spiritual things, but also the very ideal of leaders in everything that pertains to spiritual life. We are willing to unite with any class of Christian believers in acknowledging the full leadership of Jesus, through the power and perfection of his lift as a divine example. In all things that go to make the ideal life, Jesus leads the way and proves to us the possibility of such pure and exalted living. We can no longer say that the demands of Christian living axe beyond our reach. Jesus knew that we had power to follow him in the way of righteousness, before he led the way. In love, in tenderness, in kindness, in` sympathy, in pure and unselfish service, and in all things that serve to make our life here happy and helpful, our great spiritual leader is the perfect example for each and every child of God. "Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:14-15.)
More than all this, we devoutly believe in a present divine leader in spiritual affairs, and that leader to us is Jesus Christ. We believe not simply in the Christ of history, but in the Christ of today. We have confidence in Jesus, who walked and worked with the people of Palestine; but we are infinitely more interested in the spiritual leadership of America,. Not in narrowness or selfishness, but for the sublime purpose of making the spiritual truth more real, and the life of Christ to be of personal and present importance.
In much of our human teaching the hope of heaven has been the main thought. The life and work and teaching of Jesus has all been to make that hope more sure. This idea is good, and unquestionably has been of great value at times; but our religious instruction should mean more than this. Our spiritual leader should come so close to us here each day that we may be inspired to make this life what it ought to be. We should follow that leader not simply for the sake of gaining heaven by and by, but to bring heaven into our hearts here and now. This, then, briefly stated, is our conception of Christ, and upon this "rock" we strive to build. We do this in the full confidence that we have a, message for the world, and that nothing can thwart; the divine plan or prevent the coming of final and complete victory in His Name.