Intro

This blog gains its name from the book Steele's Answers published in 1912. I am slowly blogging through Steele's Answers, posting each Q & A in the order in which they appear (whether I personally agree with the answer or not). But, these posts come from several other sources, as well. I post particularly eloquent passages from Dr. Steele's other writings. Occasionally I post "guest blogs" from other holiness writers.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Professing Holiness

There are two ways of professing holiness — the wise and the proper way, and the ostentatious and distasteful way. Christ did not say in a bold and offensive style, "I am perfectly holy." He might with truth have used these words; but he would have been needlessly beclouding his own humility, and laying stumbling-blocks in the way of his hearers. At this point some modern advocates of Christian perfection are at fault. In set phrase they profess more holiness in half an hour than Jesus Christ did in all his life. His profession was by a great variety of phrases, and almost always by implication: "Which of you convicteth me of sin?" "I always do those things that are pleasing to my Father." "He that seeketh the glory of him that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him. For the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. I and my Father are one." These are samples of Christ's implied declaration of his sinlessness.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Called to be Saints

J. A. Beet writes: "The word saint is a very appropriate designation of the followers of Christ; for it declares what God requires them to be."

One has humorously said that Paul called Christians saints on the same principle that some small and struggling American schools are called universities, because the founders had large hopes. As objects of hope they are universities, but not in reality. The term "holy" points to our privilege and obligation to live lives free from sin and wholly devoted to Christ, who died that we might not live unto self. In every pulpit and prayer meeting the fact should be constantly rung out that all who have taken upon themselves the name of Christ are called to be saints, holy ones.

In this view of the subject there is, after entire sanctification, a growth in the positive element of holiness. This is taught by Wesley in the continual increase of love in a pure heart, as the spiritual life day by day develops in its utmost fullness, enjoying that real freedom in which obedience to God is not hindered by any inward opposition. Hence we insist that the believer's complete development is realized only by a supreme act of self-crucifixion, followed by a life of total self-abnegation; in the words of Wesley, "naked, following a naked Christ," whose holiness as the "Son of man" was evinced in his coming into the world, "not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."

This doctrine has always been disliked by self-centered men, whether nominal Christians or not, men filled with self-will, self-seeking, self-sufficiency, and self-righteousness. When the Church tones down or neglects to preach this essential and vital doctrine to please such men and gain their support, she betrays her Lord for money and commits suicide besides.

— From A Defense of Christian Perfection, Chapter 5.




Tuesday, November 27, 2012

I Am a Freed Man

[The conclusion of a sermon preached before the Boston University School of Theology on May 30. 1871.]

 Brethren, on the subject of the fullness of the Holy Spirit as a possible and sudden attainment in modern times, I am not here to theorize, to philosophize, to dogmatize, but to testify. Let me turn my pulpit into a witness-stand for one moment. Although this school may teach that testimony in the pulpit should be of an indefinite and impersonal sort, I must speak for myself. Six months ago I made the discovery that I was living in the pre-pentecosal state of religious experience — admiring Christ's character, obeying his law, and in a degree loving his person, but without the conscious blessing of the Comforter. I settled the question of privilege by a study of St. John's Gospel and St. Paul's Epistles, and earnestly sought for the Comforter. I prayed, consecrated, confessed my state, and believed Christ's word. Very suddenly, after about three weeks' diligent search, the Comforter came with power and great joy to my heart. He took my feet out of the realm of doubt and weakness, and planted them forever on the Rock of assurance and strength. My joy is a river of limpid waters, brimming and daily overflowing the banks, unspeakable and full of glory. God is my everlasting light, and the days of my mourning are ended. I am a freed man. Christ is my Emancipator, bringing me into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. My eyes are anointed so that I can see wonders in God's law. My efficiency in Christ's service is greatly multiplied. In the language of Dr. Payson, I daily exclaim, "Oh, that I had known this twenty years ago!" But I thank God that after a struggle of more than a score of years —

"I have entered the valley of blessing so sweet,
And Jesus abides with me there;
And His Spirit and blood make my cleansing complete,
And His perfect love casteth out fear.
O come to this valley of blessing so sweet,
Where Jesus doth fullness bestow;
And believe, and receive, and confess Him,
That all His salvation may know."



What Obstructs the Spread of the Gospel?

"But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy." — James 3:17 KJV

In James 3:17, the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then radiant with all the lenient and gentle graces. These demonstrate to worldlings the heavenly origin of the evangel which we are commanded to preach to every creature by devout living as well as by persistent testimony.

It is the absence of these fruits of the heavenly vine which obstructs the spread of the gospel at home and in pagan lands. The pagans have keen eyesight. They are studying the question whether Christianity is a mere ideal system, not adapted to men under the dominion of sin, or whether it is a practical scheme of deliverance from the guilt of sin, the love of sin, and the indwelling of sin; in other words, whether the missionary is as good as his book.

The great need of the world is not more professors of Christianity, but more Christ-like men and women. Professors may be multiplied on the plane of nature where the gospel has become fashionable. But Christ-like people are the creation of a supernatural agency, even the Holy Spirit in his personal inworking and abiding.

That Christianity may attain its maximum power to transform men and elevate society, there must be a radical work wrought with nominal believers who not only do not shine themselves, but, what is worse, they obstruct rays which radiate from truly consecrated souls. It is not only true that one sinner destroys much good, but one dead church member casts an eclipse on many souls who would otherwise see Christ, the Light of the world.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A License to Preach?

QUESTION: A Christian woman, deserted by an unbelieving husband, is divorced and marries a Christian man, and feeling uncertain whether she has done right, by mutual agreement, they separate. (1) Would it be right for her, feeling a clear call to preach, to be licensed? (2) Would Galatians 5:18 justify her, "If ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law?"

ANSWER: No. There are improprieties not allowable in a preacher of the Gospel of the Holy Christ, such as having two living husbands and not living with either.

Re: (2). All Christians are under God's moral law as the rule of life. But they are not under the law as the ground of justification. We are not shut up to plead that we have always kept the law, in order to find acceptance with God. Christ is our new plea. We are not antinomians. We are under obligation to keep the law after we are forgiven through faith in Christ, but we are prompted now by a new motive, love to the Law-giver instead of fear of the penalty of the law.

— From Steele's Answers p. 28.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

What Does It Mean to "Die Unto the Law"?

QUESTION: In what sense did Paul die unto the law, so that he could aver that he was not under the law? 

ANSWER: In the interest of clear thought, practical ethics, and sound theology we answer, that every evangelical believer died to the law:

(1) as the ground of his acceptance with God. He ceased to rely on his conformity to the law through all his past history, confessed himself guilty, and entered a new plea in the court of divine justice, "Jesus Christ the Son of God died for me — I receive him as both my Savior and Lord, and through his mediation I beg for pardon." Paul was not under the law, and was dead to the law as the ground of justification for past sins.

(2) Paul was dead to the law as a motive impelling to service. Love to the Lawgiver shed abroad in his heart had taken the place of fear of the penalty of the law. In this change there is nothing strange or revolutionary, since the interior essence of the divine law is love.

(3) Paul died to the law as the instrument of sanctification. He had discovered that it could not cleanse the impurity which it revealed within. He had found in the gospel a personal purifier, procured through the atonement, the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven in pentecostal power. He can do what neither "the blood of goats and calves," nor the most scrupulous conformity to the moral law, can do for a sin-stained soul.

(4) But Paul was not antinomian; he did not "make void the moral law through faith, but rather he established the law, for he was not dead to the law as THE RULE OF LIFE.

The iron rails can communicate no power to impel the train; but they are indispensable to direct whatever force may be applied, whether gravity, steam, or electricity. The absence of the rails at any given point of the track is ruin. Thus it is with the law of God. It has no power to impel or to attract the soul God-ward; but its perpetual office is to guide the chariot wheels of the divine love, impelling souls upward along the heavenly way. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

On Being a Mystic

A Christian friend writes to me asking me whether I am not a Mystic. I reply, Yes. All men are religious Mystics who know God through spiritual intuition, a gift of the Holy Ghost far transcending the Reason and the Understanding. I have a warm side for the Christian Mystics, so utterly misunderstood by that blind generation in which they lived. They dwelt on the mountain-tops in a dark age, and never lost sight of the vision of a glorified Christ. Such a Mystic I would be as Rudolf E. Etier professed to be, when a company at an inn hinted that this reproachful epithet belonged to him, by asking his definition of the term. He replied: "The Mystics were preachers who lived as they preached." Perfect love has worn many an opprobrious name without receiving any detriment. This Rose of Sharon blooming in my heart is just as sweet under any other name. My feeling towards the Mystics is much like that of Wesley towards the Montanists. He is their only modern defender, because his mind was sufficiently large and catholic to look beneath certain exaggerated excesses and to discover that these vilified people were really filled with the Holy Ghost, and that amid a formal and worldly church they preserved a spiritual type of Christianity.

It seems to me that I never knew what it is to grow in grace till I plunged into the shoreless and fathomless sea of Love divine in 1870. Since that date each new height gained has shown above me Alps on Alps arising, betokening an endless career of progress in the ceaseless cycles of eternity.

"The fullness of His blessing encourageth my way;
The fullness of His promises crowns every brightening day;
The fullness of His glory is beaming from above,
While more and more I realize the fullness of His love." 


— From Mile-Stone Papers (1878) Part 2, Chapter 8.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Death of Personal Ambition.

To all desire of self-promotion and self-aggrandizement, to the glory of God's grace let it be said, I feel as dead as the autumn leaves beneath my feet as I tread the streets of Lynn on this gusty November day. It was different once. There was once a desire for the applause of men, a name resounding in the trumpet of fame. It was not inordinate and noticeable by my friends; but it existed as an uneasy tenant of my bosom, the spring of many of my actions, and a motive mingling with all my aspirations to serve God. But five years ago, this blessed day, an unalloyed spring of action, the motive power of unmingled love to Jesus and the race for which He shed His blood was fixed within by the Holy Spirit. It is no longer the old nature that lives, but Christ Jesus.

That a resurrection of the self that has been crucified, dead, and buried for years is possible, I do not deny. I am not divining the future, but chronicling my footsteps in the past for the benefit of my fellow-believers: —

"Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.''

— From Mile-Stone Papers (1878) Part 2 Chapter 3.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Spirit of Adoption

There is always a spiritual decline whenever Christ and the Holy Spirit have a secondary place in preaching; and there is always a revival when the "whole counsel of God," the Father, Son, and Spirit, is faithfully presented in the pulpit.

Of many individual believers it may be truthfully said that their spiritual life is feeble and sickly because they fail to grasp Christ and the Comforter in all their distinct offices. Thousands are faintly moving, with languid steps, along the heavenward path, who might run with gladness, surmounting every obstacle and overthrowing every foe by their resistless momentum, if they would only persistently endeavor to "know the exceeding greatness of Christ's power to us-ward who believe."

Thousands of sincere souls are harassed and weakened by perpetual doubts, simply because they do not render due honor to the third person of the Trinity by trusting him to the work of his office, certifying their son-ship by "the spirit of adoption." They do not stir themselves up to take hold of this blessed assurance, and to insist that the Divine seal be impressed upon them by the Holy Ghost. They live in constant disregard of the second pungent inference from Wesley's sermon on the Witness of the Spirit, "Let none rest in any supposed fruit of the Spirit without the witness." The natural consequence of this absence of "the spirit of adoption, crying in their hearts, Abba, Father," is a perpetual oscillation between hope and fear, sorrowfully singing: —

"'Tis a point I long to know;

Oft it causeth anxious thought,

Do I love the Lord, or no;

Am I his, or am I not?"

Instead of this they might be exultingly singing: —

"O love, thou bottomless abyss!

My sins are swallowed up in thee;

Covered is my unrighteousness,

Nor spot of guilt remains on me:

While Jesus' blood, through earth and skies,

Mercy, free, boundless mercy, cries."

I am convinced that this unsatisfactory and un-methodistic experience too prevalent in our Churches, is chargeable in part to the failure of our preachers to specialize this blessing, the common privilege of all believers. Hear Mr. Wesley: "Generally, wherever the Gospel is preached in a clear and scriptural manner, more than ninety-nine in a hundred do know the exact time when they are justified."

This is the testimony of a man more competent, from personal observation, to express a reliable opinion than any since the apostolic age, for he visited all his Societies annually, and met them in class, and put to each member searching test questions which went into the very core of his being. That was the style of class-leading in his day. But no such proportion of conversions, with the direct witness, now obtains at our altars. The failure is not in the Gospel, which is a changeless stream of power emanating from the living Christ, "the same yesterday, and today, and for ever." Where, then, is the failure? Let every preacher examine his sermons, and see whether he has made "the spirit of adoption" conspicuous in his ministry. 

— From Love Enthroned (1875) Chapter 10.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Can a Sinner Be Restored?

QUESTION: I am in great distress, having been pardoned and baptized with the Holy Spirit, a happy, aggressive Christian worker, then knowingly and deliberately committing sin and repeating it for months and years. Is it possible for me again to find acceptance with adoption into the family of God? do you think there is any hope for so great a sinner?

ANSWER: Your case is a very sad one, but I see one ray of hope. Your desire to be restored to the state from which you have fallen is an indication that the Holy Spirit has not left you. He who commits the irremissible sin has, we are told no longing for restoration. Hebrews 6:4-8 may be quoted against our position, but this text does not apply to you because you are "not crucifying (present tense) the Son of God afresh," but rather, earnestly seeking him as your Saviour. Hebrews 10:26-31 has also a present tense denoting a persistent sinning: "For if we are willingly sinning," etc.: It should also be borne in mind that the apostasy of a Christian Hebrew is the rejection of the Christian system and a return to Judaism, in which such an apostate will find no effectual sacrifice for sin. But should he return to Christ he will not cast him out.

"There's a wideness in his mercy
Like the wideness of the sea."

The adversary, the devil, often tempts backsliders to believe that they have committed the unpardonable sin. In my pastoral experience by quoting the divine promises to a dying sailor who said, "There is no mercy for me, I have broken all of God's laws," his despair was changed into faith in Christ. He found pardon and died in peace. My advice to this sorrowing inquirer is to go to Jesus saying, "If I perish I will pray and perish only there."

Steele's Answers pp. 26-28.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hope for Methodism (1896)

"Knowing exactly what I say, and taking the full responsibility of it, I repeat, we are the only Church in history, from the apostles' time till now, that has put forth as its very elemental thought the great pervading idea of the whole Book of God from the beginning to the end — the holiness of the human soul, heart, mind, and will. . . . It may be called fanaticism; but, dear friends, this is our mission. If we keep to that, the next century is ours; if we keep to that, the triumphs of the next century shall throw those of the past into the shade. . . . There is our mission; there is our glory; there is our power; and there shall be the ground of our triumph! God keep us true!"
— John McClintock, President of Drew Theological Seminary in a sermon preached in 1866.

I am not a pessimist nor a friend of pessimism; I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet; yet something like the burden of a prophet is laid upon me, constraining me to cry aloud to the Church of my father and mother — the Church in which I had my first and my second birth — the Church which nurtured me in her schools, and commissioned me to preach in her pulpits and to teach in her universities — a Church to which I owe a debt too large for me to pay. It is exceedingly painful to note in this Church the first and the second indication of spiritual decay. The first has long grieved me; it is the neglect of those vital truths which nourish a stalwart spiritual life. The silence of the pulpit these many years respecting the full heritage of the believer, which is nothing less than is expressed in the words of Dr. McClintock, "The holiness of the human soul, heart, mind, and will," has been broken at last by the voice of a son of the Church in the open and loud repudiation of that doctrine which is "the inmost essence" and "elemental thought" of Methodism. This is the second token of spiritual decay, the second milestone on the downward road to spiritual death. The fact that this voice sounds out through the very trumpet which was made for the heralding of the glorious evangel of Christian perfection greatly aggravates my sorrow. [This is a reference to a book written by James Mudge.] Yet I am not surprised. The Church that incorporates in itself so large a segment of worldliness will sooner or later reject every doctrine hostile to a love of the world. "Whosoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God."

But, there is an alternative outlook — a hopeful outlook — before American Methodism. The prayer of Dr. McClintock for the continuance of our spiritual triumph another century, through our faithfulness to the "very elemental thought" of Methodism, may be answered. The Head of the Church militant has a great work for Methodism in the generations to come in his conquest of the world. The extent of this work will be measured not alone by our millions of members, their social standing, wealth, and intellectual culture, but by their loyalty to Christ awakening and increasing a spiritual life strong enough to withstand the rising tides of worldliness threatening to submerge the Church.

Since everything depends on the vigor of the spiritual life, how may this be promoted? We answer:


1. FAITHFUL PREACHING.


By the use of the same weapon by which our first conquests were made, by the earnest preaching of truths which awaken spiritual life in dead souls. There must be a proclamation of the alarming truths of the Gospel, the nature and punishment of sin. Retribution must be preached as Christ the model preacher proclaimed it. We cannot err if we employ, in a tender and sympathetic spirit, the same emblems without exaggeration that he employed. He knows what mighty motives men in all ages need to induce them to repent and believe on him. The human race will never outgrow the necessity of using the Gospel imagery of retribution.

The most intellectual generations of men will need the same truths presented in the same figurative language as was preached by Jesus Christ to a less enlightened age. There is nothing temporary in the Gospel to be laid aside when men have attained a higher degree of enlightenment. The heavenly maiden, Truth, will neither be outgrown, nor will the metaphors and the parables, the robes in which she is arrayed, ever be out of fashion. In these days when we have voluminous and almost encyclopedic treatises on Homiletics, our younger preachers may overlook the brief disciplinary statement of the best method of preaching: "1. To convince; 2. To offer to Christ; 3. To invite; 4. To build up. And to do this in some measure in every sermon." Those who keep these rules in mind will find them helpful in resisting the temptation to subordinate the pulpit to such selfish ends as the display of literary culture, classical erudition, or oratorical abilities. In the last analysis self and Christ are the only themes of preaching. Self is so subtle that it may unconsciously become the real, while Christ is the ostensible theme. Worldly men dislike the alarming truths of the Gospel. Preachers who court the favor of such hearers are tempted to smooth the tongue, and to preach a soft and easy way of salvation. It requires Pauline courage to declare the whole counsel of God, keeping back nothing that is profitable, however unpalatable to lovers of worldly pleasure and enemies to God.

Under such preaching sinners will be awakened, and will ask the all-important question,"What must I do to be saved?" The answer is as important as the question, for destiny hinges on receiving a right or wrong answer and acting in accordance with it. Before directing him to believe on Christ as both Saviour and Lord be quite sure that he is truly penitent and is disposed to take sides with God against his sins, from which he must now turn away forever. Genuine faith is possible only where sincere repentance exists. But real repentance is a cup so bitter that many partially awakened sinners are strongly inclined to find some substitute. Just at this critical point there is a danger which Wesley and the first generation of Methodist preachers avoided — the danger, in revivals of religion, of exalting unduly acts of the awakened which fall short of the scriptural conditions of salvation. They had no altar service, nor anxious seat, nor card-signing. It is customary now in many cases to place slight emphasis on repentance, and restitution where it is possible, and to urge to acts which may be easily done, without repenting of sins as dear as the right hand or the right eye. It is easier to go forward to an altar as a seeker than to cut off that right hand sin. Says Professor Austin Phelps: "The fact is a very significant one that impenitent men are never exhorted in the Scriptures to anything preliminary to repentance. But one thing is the center of all biblical appeal to the ungodly — that is, repentance and faith, a complex yet a single act."

What, therefore, is it advisable to do? Shall we abandon the modern practice of applying to congregations the customary tests of a desire to begin a Christian life? By no means. But they should be kept in the background as secondary, and not be thrust into prominence, tempting the half-awakened impenitent to substitute for the abandonment of his sins some act not essential to salvation. Let the alarming, searching, convicting truths of the Gospel be copiously poured out, day after day, before any such test is applied.

Let this matter be handled cautiously, so as to guard men as much as possible against deceptive substitutions followed by spurious professions of faith in Christ. Coming to an altar or "anxious seat" should be permitted to the truly penitent as a privilege, a mode of confessing repentance toward God, rather than held up to the impenitent as the chief duty to be done. Canvassing the assembly by persons exhorting individuals to immediate submission to God's command to repent, if done in a prayerful, tender, and gentle spirit, can never result in any harm. This is far different from urging unwilling and impenitent men to a step in no way decisive of salvation, and succeeding by dint of importunity at the button-hole, if not at the coat collar. The earlier Methodist style of preaching was to storm the castle of impenitence till the inmates of their own accord ran up the white flag of unconditional surrender. I should like to see a return to this style of spiritual warfare all through our churches and religious encampments, and to note the results.


2. SAVING FAITH.


Let there be a universal return to the Wesleyan definition of saving faith on the part of a soul truly penitent and submissive to God. It is the laying hold of his Son as able and willing to save now without the seeker's doing or suffering anything more. The Holy Scriptures are the ground of this faith, the Old Testament being the prophetic record and the New Testament the historic record of this wonderful Saviour. In this attitude of assent to Christian truth and consent to Christ's enthronement over the heart, and of reliance on him alone to save, let the penitent seeker continue to seek till he has notification direct from God of his adoption into his family. Let this be the advice given at all our altars: Through faith in our Lord Jesus seek to be saved till you know that you are saved.

Largely through the influence of a school of evangelists whose theology is Calvinistic, whose view of the atonement is that it is an unconditional substitute in punishment for the sins of the elect, instead of a conditional substitute for the punishment of the sins of all mankind, misleading and pernicious advice is given at some of our altars. I do not know by what better name to call it than the syllogistic inference, thus: "The Bible says that he who believes on Christ is saved. Do you thus believe? If you do, you are saved on the testimony of the word. No other testimony is required." The great errors involved in this are: (1) That the seeker, and not God, is the sole judge of the saving efficacy of his faith; (2) that faith is its own evidence; and (3) not the results of faith, assurance of forgiveness by the Holy Spirit and consciousness of the new birth.

Now it may be that saving faith is exercised while going through this syllogism. But the outcome will probably be a state of great doubt and perplexity, a hope without experience, its proper basis, and a profession of salvation without its possession. This style of reasoning will do for that Calvinist who imagines that he by some means has gotten a glimpse of "the secret register of the elect, hidden in the bosom of God," and has seen his name written therein. But for the rest of mankind there is no repose of soul, no present comfort, no hope for the future in this groundless inference. It is groundless, because the word, written many centuries ago, cannot contain the assurance of my personal pardon, nor can it be inferred from the fact of the atonement, which is only the provision for my conditional pardon. The two theories may be thus illustrated: I. A prisoner in his cell desiring pardon is given a copy of the Revised Statutes, which describes how pardon may be obtained. After months of wearisome research he finds not his personal pardon, and is in deep despair. 2. By the other system, he petitions the governor till there comes from the executive chamber a special messenger bearing his personal pardon, signed and sealed. Now he mounts up to the highest joy.

This brings us to our next doctrinal peculiarity, and the secret of our evangelistic power:


3. DIRECT WITNESS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.


Dr. Abel Stevens deems this to be the distinctive doctrine of Methodism, the immediate contact of the human spirit with the Holy Spirit, by the touch of faith, awakening to spiritual life, giving assurance of pardon, and impressing a sense of the reality of God and of spiritual things. By the Spirit it pleased God to reveal his Son in Saul of Tarsus to qualify him to preach the faith he once destroyed. By the Spirit dwelling in the consciousness of Peter he was made bold to charge upon the Jewish officials the murder of their Messiah King.

On the day of Pentecost there came a Person capable of entering into the inner sanctuary of every believing soul and pouring out the unspeakable riches of his grace, making them all kings and priests: kings because they may henceforth supremely rule self, the most difficult kingdom; and priests, because they now have direct and continual access unto God, the prerogative of the high priest only on only one day of the year. The dispensation of the Spirit transcends in glory all preceding eras, not excepting that of the incarnation of the Son of God. Jesus implies this when he asserts that it is expedient for him to go away in order that the Paraclete may come. He has come to stay till the end of the world. One of his chief offices is to cry in every believer's heart, "Abba, Father." This was the characteristic of conversions in the day of primitive Christianity and in the day of primitive Wesleyanism. It is the characteristic of modern Methodism wherever the doctrine of the witness of the Spirit is clearly preached and generally believed. Conversions take their type from the faith of the people, and this in turn takes its stamp from the utterances of the pulpit. The instrument used by the Spirit is the truth relating to Jesus Christ as the atoning Saviour. Where this is lacking the Spirit cannot impart life to dead souls. Where the truth is diluted with human philosophy weaklings may be born into the kingdom. Uncertainty in the pulpit will produce hazy conversions, if it produce any at all. Positive, clear, constant, and sharply defined presentations of revealed truth by a man in deep sympathy with him who is the impersonation of truth, will, by an invariable spiritual law, be followed by clear-cut conversions, because the Spirit now has the use of a perfect instrument. "The sword of the Spirit is the word of God:"

Wesley testifies that ninety-nine out of every hundred converted under his preaching and that of his "assistants" could tell the time and place of their entrance upon the new life. The prominence given to the person and offices of the Spirit, especially his testimony to adoption, had laid down in the hearts of Wesley's hearers a basis of faith in God for an instantaneous and assured translation out of darkness into light of every penitent believer in Jesus Christ. The decline of this doctrine is invariably attended by dubious conversions and spiritual weakness and waning joy. Let the theme of the Holy Spirit be fully restored to all our pulpits, and let him be enthroned in all our churches, and cry in all our hearts, "Abba Father," and the complaint of spiritual poverty, "0 my leanness, my leanness!" will be no longer heard. The doctrine of the direct witness of the Spirit to adoption, indisputably scriptural, was revived by Wesley and made fundamental to the spiritual life in his preaching. So far as our observation extends the advocacy and dissemination of this doctrine is still the mission of Methodism. It is rarely heard in other pulpits. In non-Methodist writers of books on the Holy Spirit it is not advocated as the privilege of all believers. This assertion is verified by an examination of all the literature of this theme written during the last hundred years. Hence our belief that Methodism has been set for the defense of this vital doctrine. The spirituality of the whole of Protestant Christianity depends on our faithfulness to our trust. A revival of this doctrine in all our pulpits would awaken no doctrinal controversy, for universal Methodism has never had any theoretical differences in respect to this subject. It would tend to tone up the spiritual members, to reclaim the back-slidden, and to awaken the nominal, who never were regenerated. It would be the best possible preparation for the restoration of another vital doctrine which can be successfully preached only to the truly spiritual members who are aspiring to the higher altitudes of Christian experience.

Vital to the future success of Methodism is the answer to the question: What shall be the qualification for membership in our Church? Will it be safe to receive those who have sustained a good moral character during the term of probation, but have no testimony to Christ's saving power, and no evidence of a change of heart? Will it not crowd the Church with baptized lovers of worldly pleasure rather than lovers of God? Will not they be brought into an unfortunate relation to saving truth when they have Church membership as a shield against appeals to repent and be converted?

These are very serious questions. I would not make a cast-iron rule which would exclude all who cannot testify to the witness of the Spirit. But this should be the aim of the pastor, to bring all up to this point, a knowledge of sins forgiven by direct or inferential evidence. Let the instruction of probationers emphasize this doctrine of the direct and the indirect witness of the Spirit. In cases of doubt let the term of probation be extended till there is good evidence of the new birth.


4. THE REINSTATEMENT OF CHRISTIAN PERFECTION IN THE PULPIT.


This implies that this theme of discourse has become nearly obsolete. For this there are several causes. Some preachers think they are not called to preach beyond their own experience. Many of the laity think it an impeachment of their present spiritual attainments to be urged to ascend to loftier heights. Some have fallen into self-indulgences which heart purity would require them to put away. Others who are at ease in Zion dislike to be aroused to activity. Some are swayed by prejudice; for we live in an age in which "holiness" is a term of reproach because of an occasional faulty professor, and for other reasons, especially a repugnance to its requirements.

In addition to this is the necessity of addressing an unsorted assembly in such a manner as to edify as many as possible, young and old, saint and sinner. This seems to require the omission of a theme interesting to only a very few Christians who are hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and the presentation very often of evidential, elemental, and ethical truths, milk instead of strong meat. Says Joseph Parker: "Perhaps there is some excuse for the preacher, seeing that he is conventionally compelled to address all classes in a common speech, instead of being permitted to address each class in its own language, and according to its own degree of spiritual enlightenment." This difficulty may be obviated by occasional addresses on advanced spiritual themes; by a few words of this kind in many sermons; also by introducing this subject in the social meetings and pastoral visitations in the homes of the members. Thus the way may be opened for proclaiming "the whole counsel of God."

This suggests that every church should be like a university, with instruction suited to every grade of believers. Where the pastor cannot instruct all these classes, he can provide competent instruction for the highest grade. A group of churches in a city could easily maintain a believers' meeting led by some pastor or person appointed by the pastors concerned, and meeting in one of the churches. Thus hungry souls would be fed within the fold without being compelled to incipient schism by hiring a hall in which to learn the highest possibilities of grace, while all the churches near by are unused. There is neither good sense nor good statesmanship in a management which thrusts from beneath the watch-care of the pastor souls earnestly inquiring for their full heritage in Christ.

If our young converts, the fruit of our revivals, were by proper instruction, oral and by tracts and books, urged to seek a still greater experience, even that perfect love which casteth out all fear, a much larger part of them would be saved to the Church, and be developed into efficient workers and strong burden bearers. There is just as much propriety in arranging for the instruction of advanced believers as there is in providing competent professors for senior classes in college. Away, then, with the unreasonable prejudice against the Pentecostal assembly, or the meeting for Christian Perfection.

The pastor who withholds sympathy from the little company who seek the full heritage in Christ is as unwise as a general at the front who looks with distrust upon a certain loyal regiment and withdraws from it his guidance because the soldiers speak a slightly different language from the rest of the army.

Again, pastors should either feed all their flock or should appoint those who will give them wholesome supplies of food. Sheep left to browse about the highways may eat poison and die. Sheep of the fold of Christ should not be left to care for themselves, to be led astray by ignorant or designing guides. If a preacher is experimentally incompetent to preach truths relating to advanced Christian experience, he can secure some one in whom he has confidence to supply his lack of service, and not by his neglect tempt the hungry souls to listen to instructors of doubtful competency, who may lead them far astray from Christ and his Church.




EDITOR'S NOTE: This essay has been edited and adapted from chapters 32 and 33 of the book A Defense of Christian Perfection (1896) by Daniel Steele. While I have made a few changes in the opening part of this essay and have given it a new title, I have not changed, altered or toned down any of Dr. Steele's views.

Friday, November 16, 2012

In What Sense All True Believers are Saints

QUESTION: Wesley ends sermon 29 thus: "Now unto God the Father, who hath made me and all the world; unto God the Son, who hath redeemed me and all mankind; unto God the Holy Ghost, who sanctifieth me and all the elect people of God; be honour and praise, majesty, and dominion, for ever and ever! Amen." Does not Wesley here profess sanctification?

ANSWER: Yes, but not entire sanctification. He insisted that the new birth is the beginning of holiness and that all true believers are saints or holy ones. He here classifies himself with "all the elect of God," a phrase including all the regenerate who "being children are heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ."

Wesley strongly opposed the error of Count Zinzendorf, that all believers are wholly sanctified when they are regenerated. Wesley is in accord with 1 Peter 1:1-6 where those whom "God begat again" are the elect according to the foreknowledge of God (that they would comply with the conditions of salvation) in sanctification of the Spirit.

Steele's Answers p. 26.

Bishop Mallalieu Recommends "Wesley on Perfection"



Bishop Willard F. Mallalieu (1828-1911) gives a ringing endorsement to Wesley on Perfection compiled by J. A. Wood.


"It is with the greatest satisfaction that I give my approval to the present compilation of all that Wesley has taught concerning the all-important subject of Christian perfection. Surely there never, as now, was a time when the followers of Christ, of every name, and when, especially, all Methodists, should give their attention to the study of the scope and glorious nature of their privileges in this present dispensation of the Holy Ghost. We seem to stand on advanced ground, and such doors of opportunity are opened to the people of God, as never before in all the centuries of the past. All appliances, all facilities, are ours, and may be sanctified and utilized for the salvation of the world. But the great imperative, now is, that the professing disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ should rise up out of the ordinary and usual experience of vacillation, of backsliding, yes, of justification and regeneration, and leaving all that is past, as Paul exhorts should be done, commence "to go on unto perfection," commence "to expect to be made perfect in love in this life," commence "to earnestly strive after it," and if need be, strive with groanings, and tears, and self-abasement, and agonizing supplications, until the experience of perfect love is realized, and the baptism of the Holy Ghost fills every heart with zeal, and crowns every head with lambent flames and makes every tongue eloquent in testifying to the grace of God that saves to the uttermost. Surely it will help to the realization of these most desirable results, if once more we turn to the study of Wesley and the Word of God."


This book — properly titled Christian Perfection as Taught by John Wesley — may be viewed in its entirety here: Wesley on Perfection. The book is a compendium of Wesley's teaching on the subject, and includes the entire text of A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.
 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

J. A. Wood Discusses "Wesley on Perfection"

This is a special necro-interview with John Allen Wood (1828-1905) discussing his book WESLEY ON PERFECTION.





Rev. Wood, you are well known in holiness circles as the author of Purity and Maturity and Perfect Love, but also for your leadership in the National Holiness Association. What are your intentions for your book Wesley on Perfection?

The correct title of the volume in question is Christian Perfection as Taught by John Wesley. 

Oh. Yes. I see. It is. But, as I say, what are you trying to accomplish with this book?

In this book Mr. Wesley is made to speak for himself on the subject of Christian Perfection; as, in its preparation, all that he left on the subject, in his various works and elsewhere, has been carefully examined, and everything of any special interest, or at all pertinent to the doctrine and experience, has been collected and classified in thirty sections; and each quotation verified for examination, if desired. In this classified, convenient form, may be found substantially all of his teachings, respecting this the central doctrine of Christianity. 

Why do you think this should be of especial interest to all Christians?

 During more than a century, John Wesley has been growing in the esteem of mankind, until now, among all Christians — Episcopalians, Dissenters, and Protestants of all names, — he is regarded as one of the most remarkable religious reformers in modern times.

Do you think this book will help people to better understand what Wesley actually taught?

Those who desire to know his views on any aspect of the subject of Christian Perfection can turn to this volume, and at once find all that is now available from him regarding it.

So, would you recommend it to anyone who is interested? 

Within these pages are garnered many precious truths for the edification of those interested in Scriptural holiness as taught by John Wesley. 


Thank you, Rev. Wood, for coming back from the dead (so to speak) to talk with us today. 

Wood's book — properly titled Christian Perfection as Taught by John Wesley — may be viewed in its entirety here: Wesley on Perfection. The book is a compendium of Wesley's teaching on the subject, and includes the entire text of A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.

— Craig L. Adams