Christianity is a religion of the spirit,—a religion of faith, as the Apostle Paul would have said. That is, its essential nature resides in unseen and spiritual attributes; on the persistence of spiritual forces depends its identity from age to age; the inner attitude of the soul is the sphere of its true life. Neither letter nor form, but spirit, is the characteristic mark of Christianity. If this is true, it follows that the life of Christianity necessarily implies the continually new expression of the Christian spirit amid the ever-changing phases of human thought and life. And historical conditions will govern not only the outward forms and modes of Christian life, but also, at least in its concrete formulation, the thought of Christians about religion. The changes that have taken place in Christian thought and doctrine may well be no indication of any weakness or imperfection in Christianity. They are, in fact, rather the manifestation of its excellence, the proof that it is indeed the supreme religion, capable of bringing in the kingdom of God.
Some have tried, by a process of successive eliminations, to discard the Jewish, the Greek, the pagan, the Teutonic influences which from time to time have affected Christianity, as if by such expurgations they could isolate essential Christianity from its accidents, and separate the kernel from the husk. But if Christianity is a religion of the spirit expressing itself under historical conditions, its expression in any period of history will be made through the ideas, true and false, through the modes of life, crude or refined, through the existing beliefs, philosophies, laws, customs, and even superstitions of the time. Many philosophies which we deem false, many rites which we find degrading, have been the well-justified means of expressing the religion of the spirit for men who held those philosophies and to whom those rites were dear. Those things are to be called foreign influences upon a pure Christianity only in the same sense in which that would be true of the inadequate science, clumsy philosophy, and sorry philistinism of custom which in our own day do duty, as the best we have, for civilization.
If it be asked, wherein, then, lies the assurance that our Christianity is properly called Christian, what force binds together these shifting phases of life and thought, and entitles us to speak of them as belonging to one religion, a personal conviction is the only answer that can be given,—namely, that the identity of the Christian religion through the ages depends on the New Testament, and in particular on the presentation of Jesus Christ found in the gospels and on the persistent spiritual power of his person.
From the general point of view thus outlined the question of the miracles of the New Testament, like every other historical topic connected with the Christian religion, must be considered.