Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Proper Humanity of Jesus

Guest Sermon by Rev. Edward Higginson

We’re invited by Jesus Christ to imitate God; to strive to become, “perfect even as our Father who is in heaven is perfect,” (Matt. 5:48) who “is kind to the unthankful and the evil,” (Luke 6:35.) But it’s obvious that this imitation can’t apply to the natural attributes of God: the self-existence, eternity, power, and presence which belong to God and God alone.
And our imitation even of His moral perfections is, admittedly, so feeble and faint in the very best of humanity that had Scripture not enjoined the duty, we’d neither have noticed nor dared to aspire to such ideals.
Yet, we need the stimulus of an example more approachable by our sympathies and level to our nature. We need to see in what sense, and to what extent, Humanity may be like God. We need one specimen exhibited to us of human nature actually made perfect, bearing the brightest transcript possible of all the imitable perfections of our Father in Heaven.
And this need is supplied by the history of Jesus Christ.
But not if he was in person Divine and Human at once. If his example is both Divine and Human we could neither confidently distinguish which is imitable, nor sufficiently discriminate how much is beyond our reach. Nor, if he was an angel, or any being except a man. The virtues of angels are not imitable by us in the way we require.
Jesus is not in nature an angel, but of the seed of Abraham (and indeed, of Adam.) “Wherefore it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren.” (Heb. 2:16-17.) His example is itself human duty exhibited in human life – duty fulfilled with matchless fidelity.
But we’re trained to look upon Jesus as we might upon a visitor from another planet – a creature of a superior order of being, the splendor of whose angelic character we must admire with a distant and detached feeling of wonder. It’s not only a theological, but a practical, mistake that makes the character of Jesus an object of distant reverential wonder, rather than one for direct emulation, or his example a matter of vague contemplation and admiring sentimentality, rather than direct practical imitation. This should not be.
That Jesus should be a perfect example for all men, throughout all time, to look up to and obey, it was necessary for the validity of his example that he should be really and properly human.
When we speak of the imitableness of Jesus’ character, and rest this assertion on the belief that he was a man “tempted in all points as we are,” we aren’t forgetting he was a Prophet, mightier in word and deed than any God had ever sent before.
The example of Jesus is entirely human, and strictly imitable in every respect. That sublime character was strictly of natural growth, under supernatural influences.

The Prophet's amazing commission from God acted upon Jesus, the Man, to produce a pattern so far advanced above all men to furnish all the world, for all ages, a Standard of human Excellence.

Those who profess a religious horror at the doctrine of Christ's Humanity, don’t know of its full worth. The Character and Example of our Savior, viewed as strictly and properly human, and therefore properly imitable by men, have in them a storehouse of virtuous influences, which, when transferred into our own characters, renders him his highest glory.
The great religious advantage of this “peculiar doctrine” of proper humanity, is that it allows our Master to be what he’s not in any other system: a true Example for Humanity. An example of perfected human nature, to guide our conduct here, and to animate our faith as to what we may become hereafter.
Christ's virtues, however exalted, are properly imitated; his perfect example is designed to be our guide. He will "hold us by the hand,” will help, guide, and support us, not with an angel's touch (for he helps not angels - and will perform upon us no miracle, and not operate upon us like a magic charm) but will help us as the wisest and holiest of the sons of Adam may help his less experienced brethren - he will counsel, admonish, reprove and encourage, as one tried and perfected, helping the yet imperfect struggling with their trials and temptations.
His example ought to help us in our duties and our difficulties, to regulate the state of our minds, and suggest the principles of our conduct. Only then do we make the proper application of this great spiritual truth, that Jesus exhibited a perfect model of human duty.

- Adapted from “Christ Imitable; The Religious Value of Christ’s Proper Humanity” by Rev. Edward Higginson (1807-1880)


  1. You've given us food for thought here, Stephen --- especially we who lean toward Adoptionism. (I'm still somewhat tentative about this.)

    Question to ponder: How does the concept of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34) fit into Unitarian Christian theology, and what role does Jesus play in its fulfillment?

    By the way, I like the above painting. At least Jesus looks Jewish! Who was the artist?

  2. Thanks DougieD, for the comment!

    I see Jesus as the greatest and Last of the great Hebrew Prophets, but greater than them, not by nature but by role - as one who was specially anointed by God to live out His commands as a perfect window on what God expects of us. That, in a sense, is a "new" covenant, but it in reality renews the "Old" one, and as Jesus himself says, fulfills it. I also believe Jesus expands it to all nations and peoples, as again he demonstrates during his ministry.

    The image is a close-up of "Christ's Image" by Heinrich Hofmann (1824-1911.) He is known for his portrayals of Christ.