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 started this on Dec. 10, 2011. I completed blogging from that book 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. Since then, I have begun adding material from his Bible commentaries. I also re-blog many of the old posts.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Some Things That Methodism Stands For

Guest Blog by: Bishop Willard F. Mallalieu (1828-1911)

Doubtless Methodism is the greatest religious movement of the last two hundred years. At present it encircles the world and reaches from pole to pole. Strictly speaking, it is not theological in its origin or development. It never has claimed that it has discovered, much less originated, any new doctrine. It has held fast to the theory that, so far as doctrines are concerned, the old are true, and the new are false, and the newer the doctrines, the more likely they are to be false. It has always had substantial faith in the supernatural element in the Bible. It has had a firm belief in the reality of inspiration, that holy men wrote and spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Never, in the slightest degree, has Methodism confounded the inspiration of the Scriptures with the so-called inspiration of the writings of Shakespeare, Milton, Dante, and Homer. Hence Methodism has always had implicit faith in the Biblical prophets and their prophecies; has believed that the prophets were illuminated; that they clearly saw the things that were to be unfolded in the far-distant ages; that their horizon was not bounded by the things about them, but, rather, when lifted on wheels of fire and wings of flame, their vision was vast as the thoughts of God, and only limited by the horizons of eternity. Methodism has never doubted concerning the recorded miracles of the Bible. It has believed in them all, and has had no trouble in so doing, for it has always recognized an Almighty God as an ever-present factor in the performance of all these miracles.

Methodism has never assumed to classify the recorded miracles of the Bible, counting some as altogether unworthy of being ascribed to Divine action, some others of a doubtful character, and a few others that God might properly perform. It certainly has never sneered at the floating ax, nor the fleece of Gideon, nor the story of Jonah, nor any others. Nor has it set itself up as a judge of what might be ethically proper or improper for the Ruler of this earth to do in dealing with the vile and utterly-depraved inhabitants of Canaan, with Sodom and other scenes of catastrophes in which thousands of the innocent have suffered and perished; it still holds fast to the theory that what is done by the Judge of all the earth is right.

Again, Methodism has always had a theory of the atonement. At least it has steadfastly believed that in the fall of Adam all his posterity has been disastrously affected; that moral depravity has touched every soul; that this depravity has been universal rather than total. Then it has held that the atonement is coextensive with the needs of man, and that the claims of Divine justice have been so fully satisfied that God can be just, the moral government of the universe vindicated, and at the same time all can be saved who comply with the easy terms of redemption's plan. All prison doors are open, all chains and shackles unloosed, so that any soul may be delivered from the bondage of Satan, and come to enjoy the freedom of the sons of God.

Experimentally, Methodism, from the very first, has had a plain, practical, Scriptural faith. Starting on the assumption that salvation was possible for every redeemed soul, and that all souls are redeemed, it has held fast to the fundamental doctrine that repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ are the divinely-ordained conditions upon which all complying therewith may be saved, who are intelligent enough to be morally responsible, and have heard the glad tidings of salvation. At the same time Methodism has insisted that all children who are not willing transgressors, and all irresponsible persons, are saved by the grace of God manifest in the atoning work of Christ; and, further, that all in every nation, who fear God and work righteousness, are accepted of him, through the Christ that died for them, though they have not heard of him. This view of the atonement has been held and defended by Methodist theologians from the very first. And it may be said with ever-increasing emphasis that it commends itself to all sensible and unprejudiced thinkers, for this, that it is rational and Scriptural, and at the same time honorable to God and gracious and merciful to man.

Methodism has always held that, when the sinner complies with the conditions of salvation, when his penitence is sincere and thorough, when his faith takes hold on the promises of God, when he implicitly and fully trusts in Christ as his all-sufficient Savior, God then pardons the penitent and believing sinner; he freely pardons, forgives him, for the sake of Christ, so that no sin remains charged against the one who is pardoned. At the same time God justifies, and this justification is so complete and all-inclusive that the relations of God and the sinner are changed; the prodigal is not only forgiven, but he is received into the paternal home, and he is clothed and feasted as a son. He is no longer an alien and an outcast, but he becomes a son and an heir. Regeneration is involved in pardon and justification. Old things have passed away, and, behold, all things become new. The blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are brought to life. It is a new birth. The soul is born from above. It was Jesus who said:

"Except a man be born again he can not see the kingdom of God .... Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit."
— John iii, 3, 5, 6.

The great Teacher did not attempt to explain the process of regeneration. He declares its reality, and insists upon its necessity, and makes known the fact that it is wrought by the Divine energy of the Holy Spirit, and does not invoke metaphysics or psychology to explain the methods of the Spirit. There are mysteries in connection with all life, and so there are mysteries connected with the new birth of the soul. John tells us that "He [Jesus] came unto his own, and his own received him not." (John i, 11.) The Jewish people rejected him, and put him to death, and to this day he is rejected by them.

"But as many as received him to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." — John i, 12, 13.

Methodism has always insisted upon the reality of the witness of the Holy Spirit to the adoption of the regenerated soul into the household of God. Indeed, it has claimed that the Spirit witnesses to the reality of every state of grace in the Divine life in the soul. God reveals himself to men in the realm of nature:

"For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead." — Rom. i, 20.

Much more definitely and clearly does he reveal himself in the spiritual realm than in the material realm. Methodism accepts both revelations as equally real and within the range of human knowledge.

It is still further to be observed that Methodism has always held to the Scriptural doctrine of perfect love, of entire sanctification, of holiness in heart and life -- of the experience of the fullness of the blessing of the gospel by whatever name it may be called. The Lord Jesus Christ, in Methodist theology, has ever been held to be a Redeemer and Savior resourceful enough to meet all the requirements of an uttermost salvation. The history of Methodism shows that millions upon millions have been thus gloriously saved.

These fundamentals and essentials, not one of which is in any sense new, Methodism has always held, and still holds them, and it is to be devoutly hoped will ever hold them, despite the varying whims and fads and foolish vagaries that ever and anon make their appearance. And we propose to maintain these essentials of faith, "till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." (Eph. iv, 13.)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Common Christian Language

Jesus prays for his disciples: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21 NRSV)

The language of Christian feeling can never be successfully counterfeited. The language of the dry intellect, the language of the head, may be misunderstood. Hence wherever religion has consisted in theological dogmas alone, fierce strifes have arisen. But when the gospel has been addressed to men's hearts, and has been received by faith in its transforming power, the weapons of denominational warfare are cast away, and believers vie with one another in magnifying our common Saviour. Such, thank God, are the happy times upon which we have fallen. We live in a day when the Holy Spirit has come down upon the evangelical churches, and we now understand one another, because our hearts speak. In the eras of the warmest theological controversy this heart unison was not noticed amid the din and discord of clashing swords. Professor Shedd says that ‘Tried by the test of exact dogmatic statement there is a plain difference between the Arminian creed and that of the Calvinist; but tried by the test of practical piety and devout feeling, there is little difference between the character of John Wesley and John Calvin. The practical religious life is much more a product of the Holy Spirit than is the speculative construction of truth.' The advance of spirituality will be the advance of that unity for which Jesus prayed in his wonderful high-priestly prayer in the seventeenth of St. John. 

— Daniel Steele, Jesus Exultant (1899) Chapter 3.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Believers Cannot Sin

QUESTION: Explain 1 John 3:9: "Whosoever is begotten of God doeth no sin, because his seed remaineth in him, and he cannot sin because he is begotten of God."

ANSWER: The verb "begotten" is in the Greek in the perfect tense, denoting the continuance of sonship. The verb "sin" is present, denoting not a single act, but a series of acts, a habit of sinning. He cannot be a sinner and a saint at the same time. Such a contradiction is an impossible character. In chap. 2:1: "If any (Christian) man sin (Aorist denoting a single act) we have an advocate," etc. If any believer contrary to the tenor of his life under the pressure of some sudden temptation commits a sin, he is not to give up in despair, drop his oars and go over the Niagara of damnation, but to remember that he has a Friend at Court through whom he may find forgiveness. If he does not do this, but enters on a career of sinning, he is no longer a child of God, but a child of the devil, as 1 John 3:10 declares, and is on his way to the place where Judas is.

— From Steele's Answers p. 19.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Transforming Power of God's Love

"This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love each other, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us." — I John 4:10-12 (NIV)

In Christ crucified we find the highest expression of God's love to sinful men. The most comprehensive sentence in the universe is comprised in three monosyllables, 'God is love.' Nature could not reveal this wonderful truth, men of the greatest wisdom and insight could not infer it from the physical world or from human history. There is too much suffering in the world to justify such an inference. It must be revealed by the Spirit of God, who searches the depths of His being. The Spirit inspired John to write the words 'God is love,' the demonstration of which he had contemplated at Golgotha.

Love is the only weapon that can conquer the rebellious will and transform the soul from sin to holiness. And divine love does this only when it awakens responsive love in the sinner's breast. If love alone could save sinners, every prodigal son who has a mother would be drawn immediately from his husks to his home a reformed man. As a parent's love alone cannot save the dissolute son or fallen daughter, so God's love alone, though deep as hell and wide as the world, can save no soul from the guilt and love of sin. But love that awakens love in return is a magnet that draws men from the lowest depths near the very gates of perdition up to the highest heaven. The sinner whom love cannot save God cannot save, for salvation is absolutely impossible without responsive love, the first throb of which is the first pulsation of spiritual life. He is born again, born from above, for, behold, he loveth.

He who has so hardened himself in sin as to lose the capacity to be inspired with love responsive to the love of God revealed on Calvary must perish. For God has no way of regenerating the sinner except by awakening in him love to himself. If love revealed in the greatest possible sacrifice cannot awaken love to God, nothing can enkindle this sacred flame. It is certain that omnipotence cannot change the heart of stone to a heart of flesh. Power cannot constrain love. Not the thunderbolt but the cross is the symbol of salvation. What a relief did Christianity experience when she shook off the dreadful doctrine of salvation through sovereign power and irresistible grace with a sledge hammer breaking down the door of the impenitent heart!

Herein is the secret of the rapid spread of the gospel going forth as an angel flying over all the world, not with a sword in her hand, but with a trumpet at her lips proclaiming God's love. Deny the vicarious atonement and we have an utterly impotent gospel. The churches which have tried this experiment have lost the light and warmth of evangelical truth, and have felt the chill, the frost, the death of mere naturalism. But wherever Christ crucified is preached as the Redeemer of the entire human race without one exception, and the Saviour of everyone who believes and receives the Holy Spirit, there is a quickening power which raises the dead to life and enkindles the fire of a quenchless zeal. Hence the cross of Christ becomes a live coal, which has touched myriads of dumb lips and made them eloquent to preach Christ crucified to all the world.

— From Jesus Exultant (1899).