Intro

This blog gains its name from the book Steele's Answers published in 1912. It began as an effort to blog through that book, posting each of the Questions and Answers in the book in the order in which they appeared. I began the project on Dec. 10, 2011. I completed it on July 11, 2015. Along the way, I began to also post snippets from Dr. Steele's other writings — and from some other holiness writers of his times. I still do that every once in a while.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Perfect Love

Perfect love constitutes evangelical perfection, the sum of all duties, the bond which binds all the virtues into unity.

As we stand midway between the perfect estate of paradise lost and of paradise regained, regretting the one and aspiring to the other, but excluded so long as we are in the flesh, our gracious God, through the mediation of Christ, commissions the Holy Ghost to come down and open the gates of a new paradise of love made perfect, love casting out all fear, love fully shed abroad in our hearts.

Love is the fulfilling of the law. To fulfil is perfectly to keep, not the old Adamic law, but the law of the new Adam, the Lord from heaven. "Fulfil ye the law of Christ, the royal law of liberty." This law is graciously adapted to our diminished moral capacity, dwarfed and crippled by original and actual sin.

All there is left of us after sin has spread its blight may be filled with the fullness of God. Every faculty may be energized, every capacity be filled, and every particle and fibre of the being be pervaded with the love of Christ, so that the totality of our nature may be subsidized in the delightful employment of love, attesting itself by obedience, rejoicing evermore, praying without ceasing, and in every thing giving thanks. Says Wesley, "I know of no other Christian perfection."

The hypercritical may criticize the term, and say that perfection cannot be predicated of anything human, and some advocates of entire sanctification may unwisely substitute other terms supposed to be less offensive, such as "the higher life," "the rest of faith," and "full trust," and other words which man's wisdom teacheth, but it will be found that they all fail to convey the exact and definite idea of the word "perfection" which the Holy Ghost teacheth. This signifies not only our justification — sometimes called the imputation of Christ's righteousness, though improperly — but our inherent completeness in Christ, who is our sanctification as well as our righteousness or justification. The term perfection is the best word in the English language for expressing that state of spiritual wholeness into which the soul has entered, when the last inward foe is conquered, and the last distracting force is harmonized with the mighty love of Christ, and every crevice of the nature is filled with love, and every energy is employed in the delightful service of the adorable Saviour, and the soul is as "dead indeed unto sin" as the occupants of the Stone Chapel grave-yard are to the tide of Boston business and pleasure which rolls along Tremont Street.

However fractional the man may be in all other respects, he is in one sense an integer: love pervades the totality of his being. Early in divine revelation do we find Jehovah pointing to this state, saying to Abraham. "Walk before me, and be thou perfect;" and to Moses, "Thou shalt be perfect with the Lord thy God." In many other places the same Hebrew word is used in describing character, but three times it is unfortunately translated by 'sincerely' or 'in sincerity', twelve times by 'upright' and 'uprightly', once by 'undefiled', as "Blessed are the undefiled [perfect] in the way," and once by 'sound' "Let my heart be sound [perfect] in thy statutes. Forty-five times the Israelites are commanded to bring sacrifices without blemish; and every time the word should have been translated perfect, God thus teaching by impressive symbols that the heart of the offerer must be perfect before God. Leviticus is the book of all the Old Testament wherein is typically taught the need of inward cleansing, whose end is holiness, whose tabernacle is holy, whose vessels are holy, whose offerings are most holy, whose priests are holy, and their garments are holy, and whose people are holy, because their God is holy. Opening the New Testament, we find the Greek word τέλειος, perfect, as descriptive of fitness for the kingdom of God, dropping from the lips of Christ and from the pen of St. Paul seventeen times, while the cognate noun perfection is twice used, and the verb to perfect fourteen times. This examination shows that the Spirit of inspiration had a deep design, persistently followed from the book of Genesis to the epistles of John. That design is to set forth the holiness of the service demanded of us, and the perfectibility of the Christian under the dispensation of the Spirit. For this perfection is not on a level with man's natural powers, but is the work of the Sanctifier through the mediation and blood of Jesus Christ, who "by one offering hath perfected forever them that are sanctified." By one offering he has procured the Sanctifier, who, so long as the world shall stand, is able by His office of cleansing to perfect believers, and present them complete in Christ Jesus.

It is easy now to see why perfection is both affirmed and denied in the Scriptures, with respect to the same individuals. God styles Job perfect, while Job himself repudiates that adjective. Compare chapter i. 1, with ix. 20. Thus David sees the "end of all perfection," and soon after calls on all men to "mark the perfect man," and note his peaceful death (Psa. cxix. 96; xxxvii, 37). St. Paul seems to blow hot and cold with the same breath, when he denies that he is perfect, and then assumes that he is (Phil. iii, 12-15); and St. James contradicts himself in the same way in chapter iii. 2. The explanation is easy. Legal perfection is disclaimed, while evangelical perfection is claimed. In other words, perfect love-service can be rendered; while perfect law-service is beyond the power of moral cripples to render.

— adapted from Mile-Stone Papers Part 1, Chapter 1.