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These beliefs are still confessed by the vast majority of Christians, but they do not command universal assent.
Many of those who, while admitting the authority of the New Testament, reject that of the Church, prefer to express their belief concerning their Galilean King in the language of the New Testament, and while confessing faith in his Divinity and in his birth from a virgin, think it safer to affirm, instead of either the Nicene or Athanasian propositions, that “Our Lord Jesus Christ was both the Son of Man and the Son of God.” Passing over the Arian and other controversies of the early Church, we come down to heretical Christians of the present day, who, while still holding that “ Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” reject the doctrine of his Godhead, and usually term themselves "Unitarians," many of them adding "of the old school." Of these there are probably few who still admit the doctrine of the Incarnation, and the Arianism of Milton and Channing. “Milton taught," says Dr. Channing, 1825, “that the Son of God is a distinct being from God, and inferior to him, that he existed before the world was made, that he is the first of the creation of God, and that afterwards all other things were made by him, as the instrument or minister of his Father."
But most of the "old school Unitarians," together with a sprinkling of persons frequenting the places of worship of other denominations—and in America, France, Germany, and Holland, in some cases forming the majority—believe Jesus to have been “simply and truly a human being," and they avoid some scriptural expressions concerning him as misleading.
“Who, then," asks the Swedenborgian, " was that dread, mysterious one that walked the earth more than eighteen centuries since, and whose appearance was the signal for a contest of opinions which has widened and extended to our own day?" And, speaking in the name of the New Church, he replies to his own query—“Without hesitation or ambiguity, He was God manifest in the flesh. We have no knowledge or conception of any other; we worship no other; we pray to no other for his sake." Thus they say, “Jesus is Jehovah,” and worship “Jesus only." He is to them not merely “the Second Person in the ever-blessed Trinity,” but the Trinity entire.
Amid all this variety and conflict of opinion and belief respecting the Nazarene, to which side shall we incline? Or shall we bow down before an image, intended to represent his “virgin mother," and, addressing her as “Mother of God," ask her to influence her Son in our behalf? And shall we also reverently regard as his “vicegerent on earth,” the present excellent occupier of the Vatican, or his successor good or bad ? No; it is difficult in these days to ask such questions seriously, and we thus summarily dismiss them from our consideration.
Having sufficiently heard the Church, let us turn to the masses of our countrymen, or their kinsmen
assembled here or across the Atlantic to hear an evangelical preacher, and let us listen as they sing:
“ Jesus, the Name high over all,
In hell, or earth, or sky," and remember that a modern thinker and writer no more fanatical than John Stuart Mill did not hesitate to pronounce Jesus higher in moral character than the Being who, presumably, created this world. If Mr. Moody happens to be the preacher, we may perchance hear a solo from his companion, Mr. Ira D. Sankey ; let us again listen:
“ Sweetest note in seraph song,
Jesus, blessed Jesus.” Of the early Christian heresies respecting Jesus, one there is which, though now extinct in Christendom, has yet survived outside its borders, viz. in Mohammedanism, for the Koran states that Jesus was not crucified, but that God, being “the best of those that devise stratagems,” caused one of the enemies of Jesus to assume his appearance, and be crucified in his stead, taking Jesus up into heaven. It is often forgotten that the Mohammedans believe with Christians that Jesus was truly the Messiah, the Word of God. "For," says the Koran (Sale's translation), "when God decreeth a thing that he desires to bring into existence he only saith unto it Be, and it is, and thus he created Jesus the son of Mary without a father.” Hence, the “Word.” The vital difference between
Christian and Moslem is, that the latter believes the connection of Jesus with the world is severed, that he no longer exercises his spiritual dominion by his own will, nor by the will of God, having been superseded by Mohammed
Leaving now those who confess their faith by squadrons, according to the belief in which they have been brought up, let us note a few singularities of opinion, uttered by persons who do not so "readily range themselves under 'isms."
It has been said that the species of angels are innumerable, each individual constituting a distinct species; it has also been alleged against free inquiry that its tendency is so decidedly towards variety of opinion that in the end it may be expected there will be as many distinct beliefs, as there are persons to hold them, so that, as with the angels, each man will have to be placed in a category by himself.
But in respect of any further comparison with angels, there are multitudes who regard it as holding good only if the angels are such as issue from below, even as that “Survey of the Life and Work of Jesus Christ," entitled “Ecce Homo," was compared to something foul vomited from the infernal pit. This, however, though uttered by a man whose goodness is deservedly honoured, is the language of excessive bigotry, inasmuch as the author of the work referred to was distinctly within the Christian pale, while some of those whose views we shall notice will not claim to be so regarded. Such narrowness as we have mentioned is (at least, among Protestants) rapidly becoming a thing of the past, and the high moral and intellectual qualities of many, who in belief are, like Goethe, "decidedly non-Christian," are freely admitted by the chief defenders of orthodox beliefs. For example, Dr. Farrar, in the twelfth page of his preface to the eighth edition of “The Life of Christ,” says, “I hope to use no single word of anger or denunciation against a scepticism which I know to be in many cases perfectly honest and self-sacrificingly noble.” And as to intellectual eminence, he writes as if unquestionably the men of greatest mental power in the present age were unbelievers in the supernatural elements of Christianity, for he deprecates the opinion that a belief in the New Testament as it is cannot be entertained in the present day by a man of the higher order of intellect.
And it is scarcely surprising that he should have fears for the intellectual status that will be conceded to orthodox believers, since the modern advocate of orthodoxy finds himself opposed on an important historical problem by the chief modern historians; on questions of Biblical criticism by the greatest Biblical critics; and on the question of the inviolability of the order of nature by the most eminent men of science ; -our Newtons and Faradays having been succeeded by men who rarely avow belief in the miracles attributed to Jesus in the Gospels.
This is perhaps the fittest place in which to introduce a passage from Dr. Cunningham Geikie's