Tuesday, May 25, 2010

the only practical question...

Rufus Ellis was a Unitarian of the Old School who felt himself  part of a tiny minority as his years went on.  In this longish post, Ellis, in a letter, describes his view of Jesus which he calls "the only practical question."

Bar Harbor, Me., 11 Sept., 1878.
My Dear C., —. . . One of the questions which you put to lately as to the beliefs of the Unitarians, I am moved to answer myself in a few words. The lines which once divided Unitarians from Trinitarians are becoming very faint, because Christians have really moved forward, and are not much interested any more in the old issues. I find that those who profess to believe in the Trinity, and say that there are three persons in the Godhead, really mean only that God is manifested in three ways, and do not use the word " person" as it is commonly used. The only practical question any more is this: Was Jesus really and truly human; and are we to understand his divinity in any such way as to overshadow his humanity and make it unreal, or, as the phrase is, phenomenal ? Trinitarianism says Jesus had two natures, divine and human, and one person, and that one person was divine. He knew that he was God, though he seemed to be a man; he knew that he was God, though he was truly tempted, as the Bible says " God cannot be;" he knew that he was God, though there were things of which he was ignorant,— as, for example, of " the day and hour " of the world's end. His divinity was personal; his humanity was impersonal. Now, to me such a humanity is wholly unreal; I can make nothing of it. It would be no example to me. Such a being would be only God playing a part, — seeming to pray, to exercise faith, etc. Now, I believe, on the contrary, that the humanity of Jesus was a perfect humanity, and that a part of his perfection consisted in this, — that he was perfectly at one with God, conscious of being absolutely guided, controlled by Him, filled with all His blessed fulness, so that he was indeed for us the true light. It was a difference between him and others, not indeed of quality, but of quantity of being ; and yet there may be a difference of quantity which practically amounts to a difference of quality. Jesus was so pervaded and possessed by the holy love which said He is Our Father, and to whom he bids us pray (not to himself), that the distance between himself and God wholly disappeared, and he said, " I and my Father are One," — recognizing his own personality, which was human, by saying " I;" confessing God, not as another self, but as his Father when he rejoiced to be at one with Him. So he manifests the Holy Love and Divine Wisdom. God, so far forth as He is the perfect Holiness, dwells in him. When we see him we see the Father. God is no longer unknown. We worship God in Christ God in Christ reconciles us unto Himself. God in Christ forgives us. And we also see what man was meant to be; that it is the perfection of our nature not to yield to temptation, to be holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners; that sin is not a necessity (would it be sin if it were ? Is a sour peach to blame for being sour ? Is it not of the very essence of sin that we are not doing as well as we might ?). I think that all Christian Unitarians will gradually come together in magnifying " the Man Christ Jesus" as the one of all who have lived on earth in human form in whom the Word (that is, the God who manifests or "utters" Himself) becomes flesh; that is truly human, lives our life, shares our limitations, encounters our temptations, bears our sorrows, finds the way of Nature sometimes hard to bear, dies our death, and goes up again into the life of God. Jesus was all this, and yet was not God. I have seen and known two men who claimed to be so possessed by God; but they soon lost their mental balance and became insane. They lost their human personality; Jesus retained his,—was the best balanced human personality that the world has ever known, and because God was in him and with him, gathered and inspired and now masters a society which is destined to gather into its beneficent fellowship all the earth. I am a Unitarian because I affirm, for this world and for the world to come, the proper personality of Jesus, and through him and with him, when I pray, say " Our Father.."


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