But the point of view of the philosophical theorist, in the strict sense of the word, will also find no place in these lectures. Had they been delivered sixty years ago, it would have been our endeavour to try to arrive by speculative reasoning at some general conception of religion, and then to define the Christian religion accordingly. But we have rightly become sceptical about the value of this procedure. Latet dolus in generalibus. We know today that life cannot be spanned by general conceptions, and that there is no general conception of religion to which actual religions are related simply and solely as species to genus. Nay, the question may even be asked whether there is any such generic conception as “religion” at all. Is the common element in it anything more than a vague disposition? Is it only an empty place in our innermost being that the word denotes, which every one fills up in a different fashion and many do not perceive at all? I am not of this opinion; I am convinced, rather, that at bottom we have to do here with something which is common to us all, and which in the course of history has struggled up out of torpor and discord into unity and light. I am convinced that Augustine is right when he says, “Thou, Lord, hast made us for Thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in Thee.” But to prove that this is so; to exhibit the nature and the claims of religion by psychological analysis, including the psychology of peoples, is not the task that we shall undertake in what follows. We shall keep to the purely historical theme: What is the Christian religion?
Where are we to look for our materials? The answer seems to be simple and at the same time exhaustive: Jesus Christ and his Gospel. But however little doubt there may be that this must form not only our point of departure but also the matter with which our investigations will mainly deal, it is equally certain that we must not be content to exhibit the mere image of Jesus Christ and the main features of his Gospel. We must not be content to stop there, because every great and powerful personality reveals a part of what it is only when seen in those whom it influences. Nay, it may be said that the more powerful the personality which a man possesses, and the more he takes hold of the inner life of others, the less can the sum-total of what he is be known only by what he himself says and does. We must look at the reflection and the effects which he produced in those whose leader and master be became. That is why a complete answer to the question, What is Christianity, is impossible so long as we are restricted to Jesus Christ’s teaching alone. We must include the first generation of his disciples as well—those who ate and drank with him—and we must listen to what they tell us of the effect which he had upon their lives.