This is the fourth in my ongoing series of necro-interviews with Holiness writers of the past. Today we talk with Dr. Daniel Steele about his 1887 book A Substitute for Holiness or Antinomianism Revived. This book is quite a bit different than the author's other books. In this book he writes to refute a theological error which was just then becoming popular in the Christian world — Dispensationalism. This is the view made popular in our day by such people as Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye (of the Left Behind books) and numerous others. For Dr. Steele this was far more than a purely speculative concern about the details of end time events. Read on, and you will see what I mean.
In the 20th Century the Dispensational system of interpretation of end time events became extremely popular in the Christian world — especially here in the United States. If anything, it has now become even more popular. It was originally spread through the Scofield Reference Bible, but since that time, there have been many other popular books and Christian films that have spread this view: Hal Lindsey's The Late, Great Planet Earth, the A Thief in the Night film (1972), and, most prominently, the Left Behind books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.
This view is known popularly as the "pre-trib" view. Many Christians today have never heard any other view. It teaches that God works differently in different dispensations, but is best known for it's distinctive doctrine of the Rapture — that Christ will come to take his followers out of the world before a great end time Tribulation period. (I have written against this teaching myself: Rapture Theology.)
As I understand it, this view of the end times was just beginning to take hold of the Christian world in your day, Dr. Steele.
Yet, I sense, that your objections are a bit different in tone than mine. I gather that you felt impelled to write a book about this — because you felt that this teaching had serious moral consequences. Specifically, you felt that this was an Antinomian (against-the-moral-law) teaching.
We have noted the fact that a school of popular evangelists have espoused the doctrines which lie at the base of Antinomianism, and that they are zealously inculcating these peculiar tenets in Young Men's Christian Associations and summer schools. We have done what we could, by articles in our Christian periodicals, to warn the public of the certain evil results which will ensue when these doctrines descend from the few Christian teachers who, by well-established Christian habits, are fortified against their pernicious tendency, to the multitudes of weak believers who may be ensnared to their moral ruin by the pleasing doctrine that one act of faith in Christ secures a perpetual exemption from condemnation, and a life long license for walking in the flesh.
Yes, I see. So, your concerns about Dispensationalism do not have to do with the details of this end-time schema per se, but about the effect you believe this will have on the lives of Christians: that it will undermine Christian morality. But, surely, this does not mean that people who teach Dispensationalism are living immoral lives, does it?
Some teachers of this doctrine may live in harmony with the purest ethical precepts of Christ, under what Joseph Cook calls "hereditary momentum," and a personal experience of salvation in former years, before embracing their present theological errors. But what will be the legitimate fruit in those who give full credence to a theoretical error lying so near to conduct and character, and who are without the safeguards of which we have just spoken?
What do you expect will happen if these views became widely taught and believed?
From our knowledge of the human heart we forebode many shipwrecks of moral character. Men generally live below their creeds; few rise above them.
Hmm. Can you give an illustration?
Illustration: A preacher riding on top of an omnibus, in London, addressed words of reproof to a tipsy man by his side, who was using very improper language, and warned him as a transgressor of the law of God. "Oh," said the man, "it is not by works, it is by faith, and I believe in Jesus Christ, and of course I shall be saved." Here is a man, a sample of myriads, who are living in willful sin, dreaming of final salvation on the ground of a barren, fruitless, speculative belief that Jesus Christ died for their salvation, a faith which no more reforms the conduct and transforms the character, than faith in the existence of the sea-serpent.
But, these teachers do speak of faith — they insist on the necessity of faith — so, what, then, is their fatal mistake?
The fatal mistake is in ignoring the Scriptural test of saving faith, evangelical works. It is true that the penitent believer seeking the pardon of sin is justified by faith only. But it is also true that in the day of Judgment the same person will be judged by works only, works which attest the genuineness of his faith (Jer. xvii. 10; xxxii. 19; Ezek. vii. 3, 27:; xviii. 20, 30; 1 Cor. iii. 8, 13-15; 2 Cor. v. 10; GaI. vi. 5-8; especially Matt. xxv. 31-46).
Did you have any personal hesitancy in addressing this topic?
It is due to the Christian public that I should acknowledge my sense of incompetency for the proper handling of this subject. I have long waited for some eminent theologian to lift up his voice in refutation of a system of error which is industriously promoted by persons whose zeal is worthy of a better cause. At length I have yielded to the importunity of many Christian men to expose the character and tendencies of that system of doctrines against which this book is prayerfully directed. I have made a free use of that great armory of weapons — "Fletcher's Checks to Antinomianism." Sometimes I have quoted sentences unchanged, noting them with quotation marks. But frequently these marks could not be used by reason of the alterations which I have made, either to abridge, to modernize, or to eliminate some personal allusion.
In your book, do you quote from the Dispensational Bible teachers of your day?
In my quotations from the writings of the Plymouth Brethren and their sympathizers, I have endeavored to give the exact idea of the writer as gathered from the context.
Can you state for us some of your core convictions about the Gospel of Christ — the convictions which have impelled you to write on this topic?
It is no secret that the author of this book believes in a large Gospel, an evangel co-extensive with the present needs of the depraved offspring of Adam; yea, more: he believes that where sin hath abounded, grace doth here and now much more abound to those believers who insist that Christ is a perfect Saviour from inbred sin, through the efficacy of His blood, in procuring the indwelling Comforter and Sanctifier. He unhesitatingly proclaims and testifies to all the world that Jesus Christ can make clean the inside, as well as the outside of His vessels unto honor; that heart-purity is real and inwrought, and not a stainless robe, concealing unspeakable moral filthiness and leprosy. He believes with St. John against the Gnostics, that if any man asserts that he has by nature no defiling taint of depravity, no bent toward acts of sin, and hence, that he does not need the blood of atonement, that he self-deceived, and the truth is not in him; but if he will confess his lost condition, God is faithful and just, not only to forgive, but also to cleanse from all sin, "actual and original" (Bengel). He is bold to assert that we are living in the days when Ezekiel's prophecy is filled: "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from ALL your filthiness and from ALL your idols I will cleanse you; I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes," — a case of evangelical legalism, — "and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. I will also save you from all your uncleannesses"; and in the days when the words of Jehovah, by the lips of Moses, are verified in the experience of a multitude of believers: "The Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live." He finds St. Paul's inspired unfoldings of the Gospel gems, dropped by Christ, to be the exact fulfilment and realization of these predictions, when the Apostle asserts that "our old man is crucified with him" — that is, in the same manner, and with as deadly an effect — "that the body of sin might be destroyed " — "put out of existence" (Meyer); so that every advanced believer may truthfully assert, "it is no longer I that live" (R. V. Am. Committee).
He is confident that the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus does now "make us free from the law of sin and death," although it does not, this side of the grave, deliver us from errors, ignorances, and such innocent infirmities as St. Paul gloried in without detriment to his saintly character. Believing, as the author is not ashamed to confess with tongue and type and telegraph and telephone, in a genuine CHRISTIAN PERFECTION — a Scriptural term which cannot be used "without raising the pity or indignation of one-half of the religious world, some making it the subject of their pious sneers"--he views with sorrow the resurrection of that spurious perfection which wrought disastrous effects in past generations, consisting in an imaginary perfect and inalienable stand ing in Christ wholly independent of moral con duct and character, the outcome of which must inevitably be, in many cases, the rejection of God's law as the rule of life, and a sad lower ing of the standard of Christian morality. It is an evil omen when Christian teachers make eloquent pleas for the flesh, and fallaciously construct ingenious Scriptural arguments for indwelling sin. So long as the believer dwells in the body, such preaching, instead of inspiring unspeakable abhorrence for sin, deadens men's sensibility to its dreadful nature and leads them "to speak of the corruptions of their hearts in as unaffected and airy a manner, as if they talked of freckles upon their faces, and to run down their sinful nature only to apologize for their sinful practices; or to appear great proficients in self-knowledge, and court the praise due to genuine humility."
Are you concerned that some sincere Christians may be offended by your strong words against this popular view of end time events?
Whoever of my Christian friends may be grieved, I trust that the great day will reveal that truth has not been wounded, but rather cleared of errors and set forth in the robes of her native beauty.