In these lectures, then, we shall deal first of all with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and this theme will occupy the greater part of our attention. We shall then show what impression he himself and his Gospel made upon the first generation of his disciples. Finally, we shall follow the leading changes which the Christian idea has undergone in the course of history, and try to recognise its chief types. What is common to all the forms which it has taken, corrected by reference to the Gospel, and, conversely, the chief features of the Gospel, corrected by reference to history, will, we may be allowed to hope, bring us to the kernel of the matter. Within the limits of a short series of lectures it is, of course, only to what is important that attention can be called; but perhaps there will be no disadvantage in fixing our attention, for once, only on the strong lines and prominent points of the relief, and, by putting what is secondary into the background, in looking at the vast material in a concentrated form. We shall even refrain, and permissibly refrain, from enlarging, by way of introduction, on Judaism and its external and internal relations, and on the Greco-Roman world. We must never, of course, wholly shut our eyes to them—nay, we must always keep them in mind; but diffuse explanations in regard to these matters are unnecessary. Jesus Christ’s teaching will at once bring us by steps which, if few, will be great, to a height where its connexion with Judaism is seen to be only a loose one, and most of the threads leading from it into “contemporary history” become of no importance at all. This may seem a paradoxical thing to say; for just now we are being earnestly assured, with an air as though it were some new discovery that was being imparted to us, that Jesus Christ’s teaching cannot be understood, nay, cannot be accurately represented, except by having regard to its connexion with the Jewish doctrines prevalent at the time, and by first of all setting them out in full. There is much that is true in this statement, and yet, as we shall see, it is incorrect. It becomes absolutely false, however, when worked up into the dazzling thesis that the Gospel is intelligible only as the religion of a despairing section of the Jewish nation; that it was the last effort of a decadent age, driven by distress into a renunciation of this earth, and then trying to storm heaven and demanding civic rights there—a religion of miserabilism! It is rather remarkable that the really desperate were just those who did not welcome it, but fought against it; remarkable that its leaders, so far as we know them, do not, in fact, bear any of the marks of sickly despair; most remarkable of all, that while indeed renouncing the world and its goods, they establish, in love and holiness, a brotherly union which declares war on the world’s misery. The oftener I re-read and consider the Gospels, the more do I find that the contemporary discords, in the midst of which the Gospel stood, and out of which it arose, sink into the background. I entertain no doubt that the founder had his eye upon man in whatever external situation he might be found—upon man who, fundamentally, always remains the same, whether he be moving upwards or downwards, whether he be in riches or poverty, whether he be of strong mind or of weak. It is the consciousness of all these oppositions being ultimately beneath it, and of its own place above them, that gives the Gospel its sovereignty; for in every man it looks to the point that is unaffected by all these differences. This is very clear in Paul’s case; he dominates all earthly things and circumstances like a king, and desires to see them so dominated. The thesis of the decadent age and the religion of the wretched may serve to lead us into the outer court; it may even correctly point to that which originally gave the Gospel its form; but if it is offered us as a key for the understanding of this religion in itself, we must reject it. Moreover, this thesis and the pretensions which it makes are only illustrations of a fashion which has become general in the writing of history, and which in that province will naturally have a longer reign than other fashions, because by its means much that was obscure has, as a matter of fact, been cleared up. But to the heart of the matter its devotees do not penetrate, as they silently assume that no such heart exists.