I hope that I have thus shown, although briefly, that in the sphere of thought which is indicated by “the higher righteousness” and “the new commandment of love” Jesus’ teaching is also contained in its entirety. As a matter of fact, the three spheres which we have distinguished—the kingdom of God, God as the Father and the infinite value of the human soul, and the higher righteousness showing itself in love—coalesce; for ultimately the kingdom is nothing but the treasure which the soul possesses in the eternal and merciful God. It needs only a few touches to develop this thought into everything that, taking Jesus’ sayings as its groundwork, Christendom has known and strives to maintain as hope, faith, and love.
To proceed: Now that we have established the fundamental characteristics of Jesus’ message, let us try, in the second place, to treat of the main bearings of the Gospel as applied to individual problems. There are six points or questions which call for special attention, as being the most important in themselves, and consequently felt and regarded as such in all ages. And although, in the course of the Church’s history, one or other of these questions may have passed into the background for a decade or two, it has always reappeared afresh, and with redoubled force:—
(1) The Gospel and the world, or the question of asceticism; (2) The Gospel and the poor, or the social question;
(3) The Gospel and law, or the question of public order; (4) The Gospel and work, or the question of civilisation;
(5) The Gospel and the Son of God, or the Christological question;
(6) The Gospel and doctrine, or the question of creed.
By these six questions—the first four hang together, and the last two stand by themselves—I hope to be able to exhibit, of course only in outline, the most important bearings of Jesus’ message.
(1) The Gospel and the world, or the question of asceticism. There is a widespread opinion—it is dominant in the Catholic churches and many Protestants share it nowadays—that, in the last resort and in the most important things which it enjoins, the Gospel is a strictly world-shunning and ascetic creed. Some people proclaim this piece of intelligence with sympathy and admiration; nay, they magnify it into the contention that the whole value and meaning of genuine Christianity, as of Buddhism, lies in its world-denying character. Others emphasise the world-shunning doctrines of the Gospel in order thereby to expose its incompatibility with modern ethical principles, and to prove its uselessness as a religion. The Catholic churches have found a curious way out of the difficulty and one which is, in reality, a product of despair. They recognise, as I have said, the world-denying character of the Gospel, and they teach, accordingly, that it is only in the form of monasticism—that is, in the “vita religiosa”—that true Christian life finds its expression. But they admit a “lower” kind of Christianity without asceticism, as “sufficient.” We will say nothing about this strange concession now; the Catholic doctrine is that it is only monks who can follow Christ fully. With this doctrine a great philosopher-, and a still greater writer, of the nineteenth century, has made common cause. Schopenhauer extols Christianity because, and in so far as, it has produced great ascetics like St. Anthony or St. Francis; but, beyond that, everything in the Christian message seems to him to be useless and a stumbling-block. With a much deeper insight than Schopenhauer, and with a strength of feeling and power of language that carry us away, Tolstoi has emphasised the ascetic and world-shunning features of the Gospel, and erected them into a rule of observance. That the ascetic ideal which he derives from the Gospel is endowed with warmth and strength, and includes the service of one’s neighbour, is a fact which we cannot deny; but to him, too, the shunning of the world is the leading characteristic of Christianity. There are thousands of our “educated” readers who find his stories suggestive and exciting, but who at the bottom of their hearts are pleased and relieved to know that Christianity means the denial of the world; for then they know very well that it does not concern them. They are certain, and rightly certain, that this world is given them to be made the best of, within the bounds of its own blessings and its own regulations; and that if Christianity makes any other claim, it thereby shows that it is unnatural. If Christianity has no goal to set before this life; if it transfers everything to a Beyond; if it declares all earthly blessings to be valueless, and points exclusively to a world- shunning and contemplative life, it is an offence to all energetic, nay, ultimately, to all true natures; for such natures are certain that our faculties are given us to be employed, and that the earth is assigned to us to be cultivated and subdued.