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.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Self-Love and Selfishness

QUESTION: Can a person be a true Christian who finds self at the bottom of all his desires and activities, who wants self to have God's favor and self to be saved from endless woe?

ANSWER: This querist evidently confounds self-love with selfishness. Self-love is an instinctive principle implanted by the Creator which impels every rational creature, however holy, to preserve his life and promote his own happiness. When God in his Word appeals to the hopes or to the fear of a man, he appeals to his self-love, he sanctions self-love when he makes it the measure of our love of our neighbors. Selfishness in exclusive regard for one's own interests, ends, or advantage, without any regard for others. It is destructive of the happiness of society, hateful in the sight of God, and repugnant to Christianity. It must be crucified. This crucifixion begins with the new birth when the love of God is first shed abroad in the heart and is completed when that love is made perfect, casting out all fear and killing all selfishness.

 — from Steele's Answers pp. 43, 44.

Christian Joy

Christ Jesus glorified in the soul by the Holy Ghost, is the fountain of true joy. The kingdom of God is "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." When the blessed Comforter fills the hearts of a people with his joy-inspiring presence, they burst out into spontaneous singing. But where formalism, worldliness, and unbelief have crowded the Comforter out of their hearts, they pay thousands of dollars to a quartette to perform the service which their backslidden souls refuse to render. Hence joy is a very good test, not only of orthodox opinions, but of the strength of our faith in Christian truth, and our personal devotion to Christ.

But not all joy is Christian. Joys may be classified as, 1) unnatural, 2) natural, 3) supernatural.

The first is the exhilaration resulting from the application of stimulants to the nervous system. Lord Bacon credits drunkenness with intense pleasure. This is the secret of the fatal fascination of the cup. It awakens a delirious, evanescent, and fatal joy, which momentarily lifts up the soul to ecstatic heights, and then plunges it into the depths of despair. The daydreams of the opium eater, and the serene composure of the slave to tobacco, belong to the class of unnatural and injurious delights. The joy which ends in the scorpion's sting must be ranked as the lowest in the scale of rational satisfactions. Yet all nations and generations have plucked this apple of Sodom and tasted its ashes.

[The second] is a mere animal joy which flows from the healthful condition of the body. The animal spirits overflow in their exuberance. The lambs frisk upon the sunny hillside, and the horse, in the very fullness of life, prances through the pasture with arched neck and nimble foot. So men may be joyful by reason of their good physical condition. There may be not only "no rebellion when the stomach is full," but there may be an outflowing stream of animal joy. Higher than this is the gladness of worldly success, when the corn and the wine increase, the joy of sordid gain, the joy of the miser, the joy of the harvest. Above this is the intellectual triumph of the student, the gladness incident to the victories of mind, the solution of a mathematical problem, or the discovery of the missing truth which was necessary in order to convert an hypothesis into a science. Still higher is ethical joy, the approval of a good conscience pronouncing on a good action. This is no small joy. It is all that many have to cheer their sojourn in this vale of tears. More excellent still is the gladness of beneficence, the joy of awakening gladness in another heart, or of mitigating another's sorrows. Many who are not Christians have learned the secret of this semi-Christian joy, and by a charitable use of money have opened fountains of felicity for themselves along their earthly path. All these kinds of joy are natural; they lie on the dead level of the plain of nature. They are transient, and limited to this world.

At the disparity of an infinite distance is the joy of the Holy Ghost. It is supernatural — an out-gushing fountain from a rock stricken by the rod of a greater than Moses. It is a joy not springing up in the course of nature, but handed down from heaven, and implanted in the believing soul. It is really a miraculous spring opened by the Holy Spirit in the Sahara of the human breast.

It may be surprising that the fullness of the Spirit is several times in the Scripture contrasted with fullness of wine. "Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit." Contrast always implies some point of likeness. This seems to consist in three facts: (1.) Exhilaration and elevation of feeling; (2.) Out of the course of nature; and (3.) By an agent from without the man entering and exciting his sensibilities. The universal appetency of the fallen race of Adam for some external stimulant argues the loss of the true excitant, the Holy Spirit, which filled the hearts of the unfallen pair with satisfying joy, just as He fills now all who regain the Eden of perfect love.

Christian joy exists in every degree. There is the joy of penitence, described by the poet as "the sweet distress," "the pleasing smart." There follows the joy of conscious pardon — a radiant angel standing out on the dark background of condemnation like a thundercloud overcasting all the sky. The Spirit of adoption, crying in the heart, Abba, Father, is the source of gladness above the negative joy of forgiveness. Adoption is positive, and entitles to heirship with Christ. But when we enter upon the fullness of the Spirit, in the words of Mr. Wesley, "it will feast our souls with such peace and joy in God as will blot out the remembrance of every thing we called peace or joy before." This is strong language, but it is justified by all who have been led to this banqueting house, and have read on the banner floating over them! the new, best name of Love — Perfect Love.

"O, what a heaven of heavens is this,
This swoon of silent love!
How poor the world's sublimest bliss
Compared with joys above!"

To portray this bliss by words would be like representing the rainbow by a charcoal sketch. If the meagerness of human language fails to convey to a blind man the vastness of that ocean which lies in the hollow of the Creator's hand, how much more is its poverty seen when it attempts to set forth to an inexperienced soul all the plenitude of God himself.

No simple emotion of the soul can be indicated in any other way than by stating the circumstances under which it arises, as the sense of beauty in the presence of the rose, the feeling of sublimity where Niagara pours down its avalanche of waters before our eyes. The heart that has never felt the throb of love and the gladness that follows, as the shadow follows the substance, can never learn it from the most graphic writer in the whole range of literature. It is thus with the joy of the Holy Ghost in the fullness of his abiding presence. It differs from the joy of the justified, from the gladness of the adopted, in degree, if not in kind. These seem like gifts liable to decay, while the joy of the Divine fullness is the possession of the Giver — the perennial fountain of all blessedness. Jesus intimated to the woman begging the mysterious water which he had, that she might not only taste but carry away the well with her. "But the water which I will give you shall be in you a well of water springing up to everlasting life." This promise, rightly interpreted, is, that the love to Christ and the attendant joy shall become ingrained, inherent in the fully believing soul as a second nature; faith, love, and joy becoming as natural and involuntary as breathing. Hence permanence is a marked characteristic of perfect love. Mr. Wesley was fifty-five years old before he became "thoroughly convinced that it is amissible, capable of being lost."

— edited from Love Enthroned, Chapter 11.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Unpardonable Sin & Spiritual Desire

QUESTION: What Scriptural authority have we for the statement that he who has committed the irremissible sin has no longer any desire for restoration to God's favor?

ANSWER: Ps. 145:10, "Thou satisfiest the desire of every living thing." Matt. 5:6, "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled," and Isa. 55:1. Our God is too good to refuse to gratify a desire which he has inspired. He does no tantalize his spiritual intelligences in this manner.

 — from Steele's Answers p. 43.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

An Immediate Point of Attainment

Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, in her admirable essay on "Primitive Christian Experience," uses the following language: —

The advantages to the Christian Church in setting before it distinct points of attainment, are very nearly the same in result as the advantages of preaching immediate regeneration in preference to indefinite exhortation to men to lead sober, righteous, and godly lives. It has been found, in the course of New England preaching, that pressing men to an immediate and definite point of conversion, produced immediate and definite results; and so it has been found among Christians, that pressing them to an immediate and definite point of attainment will, in like manner, result in marked and decided progress. For this reason it is, that, among the Moravian Christians, where the experience by them denominated full assurance of faith was much insisted on, there were more instances of high religious faith than in almost any other denomination.

Here is sound philosophy, founded on facts corroborated by Mr. Wesley in his wide range of observation: — "Wherever the work of sanctification increased, the whole work of God increased in all its branches." In 1765 he found in Bristol fifty less members that he left before. He thus accounts for this decline: — "One reason is, that Christian perfection has been little insisted on; and wherever this is not done, be the preacher ever so eloquent, there is little increase either in the numbers or grace of the hearers."

When a definite point is presented to the believer as attainable immediately, all the energies of the soul are aroused and concentrated. Prayer is no more at random. There is a target set up to fire at. Faith as an act — a voluntary venture upon the promise — puts forth its highest energies and achieves its greatest victories.

— from Love EnthronedChapter 7.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Esau & Apostacy

QUESTION: Is Esau as described in Heb. 12:17 a type of the hopeless apostates who have committed the unpardonable sin?

Hebrews 12:17 (KJV): "For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected:for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears."

ANSWER: Some scholars say "Yes," but others say "No." I agree with the latter. Those who say that because Esau, faint with hunger, sold to his hard-hearted, selfish, grasping twin brother his birthright for a mess of pottage, he was forever afterwards incapable of that true repentance necessary to eternal salvation, are mistaken in their exegesis of Heb. 12:17. The repentance which Esau found no place for was not a change in his own mind, but a change in his father's decision, by which he might regain a double portion of Isaac's estate and the headship of the tribe which he had foolishly sold. For this he repented with tears, but they did not secure the earthly blessings which he desired. But the favor of God in the forgiveness of sin and the gift of eternal life were still attainable. Another mistake is found in answering the question, "By whom was Esau rejected?" Some say, "By God." The true answer is "by his father Isaac," when he refused to reverse his decision about the birthright. When Esau got through "sowing wild oats" he seems to have become quite a respectable man, kind and forgiving toward his brother. I hope he died in peace with God and attained eternal life.

— from Steele's Answers pp. 42, 43.

Dr. Steele Discusses His Book "Mile-Stone Papers"

This is the third in my ongoing series of necro-interviews with holiness writers of the past. Today our own Dr. Daniel Steele talks with us about his 1878 book Mile-Stone Papers.

Dr. Steele, your first book of essays on Christian Perfection (Love Enthroned) was very well received. What prompted you to pick up your pen again and write another volume?

It is with the author of this volume about three o'clock in the afternoon of life's brief day. As he begins to look toward the sunset, and to think of that night in which no man can work, he realizes an ambition to be preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ after his sun shall have gone down.

I see, so you are looking to the future. You want to make sure that generations to come will have access to your insights on this subject. Is that correct?

With Peter, he purposes, so long as he is in this tabernacle, to stir up his fellow-believers, putting them in remembrance of the exceeding great and precious promises. With Peter, he also feels that he must shortly put off this tabernacle; and with him he now endeavours, by the use of the pen, "that ye may be able, after my decease, to have these things always in remembrance." This is the motive which prompts the publication of the present volume of essays on the theme partially elaborated in Love Enthroned.

So the success of your first book prompted you to write another? Is this is another book of essays on Christian Perfection, like your first book?

The unexpected favor which has been shown to that book evinces a wide-spread interest in the doctrine and experience of evangelical perfection. This demands the discussion of other questions intimately related to the subject of that volume, but not extendedly treated therein.

 Can you give us some idea of what subjects are discussed in your new book Mile-Stone Papers?

A glance at the table of contents will show the reader the breadth of this range of topics.

Well, are all the essays doctrinal, or do you also talk about your own experience in the life of faith?

After receiving assurances from hundreds at home and in foreign lands, especially from Protestant missionaries of various denominations, that the writer's published testimonies to the power of Christ to save unto the uttermost have been blessed of the Holy Spirit to the strengthening of their faith and the uplifting of their spiritual life, it would be not only an act of disloyalty to the law of duty, but a painful deprivation of privilege, should he be constrained by a false modesty to forbear standing any longer as a witness, and testifying to the wonders of redeeming love more and more fully unfolded in his experience during the past seven years.

"With age Thou growest more divine,
More glorious than before;
I fear Thee with a deeper fear,
Because I love Thee more.

"Thou broadenest out with every year,
Each breadth of life to meet
I scarce can think Thou art the same,
Thou art so much more sweet.''

Hence some of these essays are classified as experimental, though a few in this class border on the doctrinal.

Could you give us a foretaste of some of these essays in your new book?

The twenty-second essay is the substance of a sermon, preached in 1877. Many persons who listened to this sermon, and others interested in the theme, have requested copies when it should be published. We would say to these Christian friends that this is probably the only form in which the author will commit it to the press.

The fifteenth essay, "Let Go and Trust," published as a tract by Dr. Cullis, Willard Tract Depository, has enabled many seekers after purity of heart to see the simplicity of consecration and of faith, and to enter into the rest of a full trust in Christ.

The sixteenth, "The Executive of the Godhead," is designed to recall the Church to the primitive doctrine of the distinctive work of the Holy Spirit in advanced Christian experience. It is the prayer of the author that this essay may incite many, of his ministerial brethren especially, to a thorough study of the proofs of the Personality and Offices of the Spirit, and to that simple, earnest, and incisive style of preaching which He only can inspire.

The Tense-Readings of the Greek Testament, in chapter viii., are an attempt to introduce English readers to the doctrinal results of the minute study of that wonderful language which God selected as the golden pitcher in which the water of life should be borne to the thirsty millions of the human family.

The writer hopes that the grammatical proof that the conditions of eternal life are continuous through this life, and that entire sanctification is a momentary act, will contribute to banish those seductive errors industriously propagated by some — (1) that the first act of faith gives the person an inalienable and eternal standing in Christ, and (2) that sanctification must be imperfect so long as we live in the body, and that death is a conqueror of sin mightier than the Son of God. Those who plead for a gradual death of sin in the believer without any special exercise of faith, and without any crisis in Christian experience, called by the Wesleys "the second blessing," may be encouraged by this chapter to expect entire sanctification "now, without doing or suffering anything more.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your new (1878) book, Dr. Steele. With you, we hope it will continue to be both a challenge and an encouragement to many Christian believers throughout the world.