This is the second in my ongoing series of necro-interviews with holiness writers of the past. Today our own Dr. Daniel Steele talks with us about his 1875 book Love Enthroned.
Dr. Steele, in the era in which you lived there were many books written about the deeper Christian life (what followers of John Wesley call Entire Sanctification or Christian Perfection). Why did you feel there was a need for another?
For the same reason that I should preach another Gospel sermon.
Why should you read it? For the same reason that you should hear again "the old, old story of Jesus and His love."
Doesn't it still seem strange that so many books on this subject were written in your era?
How strange it is that every one who receives full salvation gets hold of a pen as soon as he can, and blazons it abroad to all the world! It is no more wonderful than the loosened tongue of the young convert. It argues the genuineness of the blessing found.
So, you take this as evidence of the reality of the experience of entire sanctification?
The very fact that persons who hate hobbies become, when thus anointed of the Holy Ghost, men of one idea, and henceforth push this specialty with tongue and pen as if in the grasp of an all-absorbing passion, ought to demonstrate to doubters that there is here a great Gospel truth struggling to reveal itself to the Church.
Do not be afraid of the multiplication of books on advanced Christian experience. The light grain will drift off into the chaff, while the full corn will drop into the bushel and feed the famishing.
Do you feel there is real value in having so many people write about this experience of perfect love?
It takes many men to explore a continent, many pens to portray the unsearchable riches of Christ. Believers could have been saved by one gospel — one photograph of the Nazarene. But God chose four evangelists to hold up to the Son of Man their mirrors, in order to reflect his bright Image upon our dark world. Who shall be the limners of his great Successor, the blessed Comforter, but they in whom he abides, with whom he communes, and on whom he has wrought his transfiguration? The work of each of these spiritual artists may fix some wandering eye in a long and earnest gaze till transformed from glory to glory by the Spirit of God.
The venerable Bishop Janes, whose zeal for Christ, and abundant labors, are almost apostolic, in commending to the Christian public a book on this high theme by one associated with him in the episcopal office, used the following eloquent language:
Every man has his circle of influence. Each author on this subject will secure some readers that would not give attention to the writings of others. Here is a power for good that ought not to be lost. Verily, if there is any subject on which we need precept upon precept, and line upon line, the theme of this book is that subject. If there is any religious truth that should be urged upon the disciples of Jesus with the sweetness of his constraining love, and the solemnity of his Divine authority, it is the truth that Christians may and ought to be holy. O that tens of thousands of individuals, filled with its bliss, and inspired by its power, were telling of its charms, and inviting to its pursuit! O that tens of thousands of spiritual limners, the Holy Ghost guiding their pencils, were actively and ceaselessly engaged in portraying the glories of this subject to the vision of the Church until every member of it, ravished by its beauties, and impelled by its attractions, would aspire to its attainment, by faith enter into its enjoyment, and then join in labors to spread it!
Are your purposes in this book academic and theological, or are they more practical?
It is not the purpose of the author to bewilder his readers with pages of speculation, however strong the temptation may be, but to keep as near as possible to the teachings of the Scriptures, to his own experience, and to the testimony of others on whom the Holy Spirit has poured his illumination. It is the design of the writer, in true Pauline style, "To testify unto you the Gospel of the grace of God." He may not often use the pronoun in the first person singular. But he wishes it to be understood that his arguments have been forged on the anvil of his own experience. St. Paul's argumentative epistles are his experience expressed in logical form.
Have you always been an advocate of the Wesleyan doctrine of Christian Perfection, or was there once a time when you opposed it?
It is with much sorrow of heart that the writer confesses one unenviable similarity to the apostle to the Gentiles, in the fact that he now preaches that part of the Gospel which he once destroyed. Before his eyes were anointed he saw not, in the provisions of the atonement, the blessing of the fullness of Christ as a sharply defined transition in Christian experience — an instantaneous work of the Spirit by faith only, as taught by Wesley. Embracing the plausible theory of a gradual unfolding of the spiritual life without any sudden uplift by the power of the Spirit, he criticized, without the charity that is kind, the professors of this grace, magnifying their imperfections, stigmatizing them as fanatics and "pluperfects," and judging them all by an occasional glaring hypocrisy or by the extravagances of some unbalanced mind. Thus he ran into the shallow fallacy of those sinners who feast on the failings of the saints — ex uno disce omnes
— who from one learn the character of all.
Is this book a systematic overview of Christian salvation, or are you intending to focus upon particular aspects of Christian experience?
In unfolding his thoughts on this subject, the author has deemed it best to simply sketch the scheme of soteriology, or doctrine of salvation by Jesus Christ, and to elaborate only that which relates to the privileges of advanced believers. This will account for the apparent lack of symmetry in the treatment of the whole question of human salvation. Although the author has addressed special classes of his readers in the concluding chapters, he has not restrained himself from occasional exhortation in the process of his argument. Whenever the temperature rose to a white heat, he has thought it wise "to strike while the iron was hot" It may not forestall criticism to confess, in advance, to this violation of the strict rules of logical development.
The purpose of the writer has not been so much to create for himself a high reputation as a dialectician, as to lead willing souls unto "the blessing of the fullness of Christ" by the shortest path. It is our devout prayer that these utterances of a soul filled with "joy unspeakable," and sometimes almost "intolerable," may contribute to the fulfilling of the Pauline petition, "That ye may be filled with all the fullness of God."
Are there particular types of Christians you especially wish to address?
Dr. Payson thus beautifully illustrates the relation of various classes of Christians to Christ. He conceives them as ranged in concentric circles around the radiant form of our Immanuel:
Some value the presence of their Saviour so highly that they cannot bear to be at any remove from him. Even their work they will bring up, and do it in the light of his countenance, and while engaged in it will be seen constantly raising their eyes to him, as if fearful of losing one beam of his light. Others, who, to be sure, would not be content to live out of his presence, are yet less wholly absorbed by it than these, and may be seen a little further off, engaged here and there in their various callings, their eyes generally upon their work, but often looking up to the light which they love. A third class, beyond these, but yet within the life-giving rays, includes a doubtful multitude, many of whom are so much engaged in their worldly schemes that they may be seen standing sidewise to Christ, looking mostly the other way, and only now and then turning their faces toward the light.
To induce those who are in the second and third circles to yield to the drawings of the Son of God, and gladly enter into the inner circle, and ever abide in the joyful presence of the crucified Lamb of God, is the motive of the writer, who, amid his pastoral and pulpit labors, and the more exhausting studies in preparing a commentary on a portion of the Pentateuch, has found refreshment in setting up along the path of his own experience a few guide-boards for the benefit of those who may wish to walk in the same path.
Is there any other special wish you have for your readers?
The writer cannot dismiss his book without invoking upon his readers the Pauline blessing, as translated by Bishop Ellicott, "Abstain from every form of evil. But may the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved entire, without blame, in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it."