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.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

On Luke 21:35

QUESTION: Explain "all on earth" in Luke 21:35: "For so shall it come upon all them on the face of the earth."

ANSWER: The Greek word is sometimes translated "earth" and sometimes "land." It probably refers to the land of the Jews.

Steele's Answers p. 74.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Had the Rich Young Man Kept the Whole Law?

QUESTION: Did the rich young man keep all the commands, or only those relating to our fellowmen?

ANSWER: Though only those in the second table were named by Christ, it is highly probable that the young man professed to have kept the entire Decalogue.

Steele's Answers p. 73.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Physical Disability Obscuring Communion with God

The author ... after passing his eightieth birthday was so violently prostrated by pneumonia that he and all his neighbors thought the time of his departure had come. He knows not for what purpose his life on the earth has been extended, unless it is to publish a view of Christian experience in the sick chamber which may enable some other "forlorn and shipwrecked brother, seeing, to take heart again."

In common with many, I may say a majority of Christian teachers, I have taught that nothing but sin of commission or omission can obstruct communion with our heavenly Father; that the pure in heart may always "see God" by apprehending His presence and favor. I have supposed that when the poet Keble penned this couplet he deprecated sin only:

"O may no earthborn cloud arise
To hide Thee from Thy servant's eyes."

I have made the discovery that there is at least one earthborn cloud that does not arise from guilt or inward impurity, a certain kind or degree of physical debility destroying, or for a time suspending, the power of spiritual perception. There are disabilities which may be utilized for intensifying and prolonging communion with God; such as insomnia, which I have both suffered and enjoyed during the past twenty-five years. The enjoyment is in the undisturbed fellowship with Christ which midnight sleeplessness affords. But when sickness was added this fellowship was utterly destroyed, though my intellect was unclouded. I, who for scores of years had been "on speaking terms with God" (Father Taylor), was greatly surprised and saddened to be thus deserted by my best Friend in this hour of my supreme need. In vain did I plead the promises so precious and so effectual in former years. In vain, when I wished to soar heavenward, did I mount my customary vehicle of devotion, the memorized hymns of the Wesleys, said by Dr. James Martineau to "have a quickening and elevating power which I very rarely feel in the books on our Unitarian shelves. After the Scriptures the Wesley Hymn Book appears to me the grandest instrument of popular religious culture that Christendom has ever produced." No voice responded to my cry:

"Leave, O leave me not alone,
Still support and comfort me."

For this experience, so contrary to my theory, my busy mind devised various reasons, seeing that I had no consciousness of having sinned. One suggestion was that it was disciplinary. Of course, this sickness may be disciplinary, but why is the Great Physician absent after having promised that He will be with me to the end of the world? Is He hiding Himself to test my faith? That seems derogatory to His character as both wise and good. I remembered Wesley's remark, "Our heavenly Father does not play bo-peep with His children." Then came the dreadful suggestion of materialism, that there is no spirit, human or divine, and Christian experience is all an illusion which certain physical changes dispel. That change has now come to disillusion me, about to die without God's comforting rod and staff. How did I answer this atheistic suggestion? Though there was no warm and cheering ray of light streaming directly from the face of Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, I had the reflected light of a past definite manifestation of Christ as a bright reality affording a certitude transcending that of the solid earth beneath my feet and of the starry heavens nightly rolling over my head. This was the sure ground of my faith during that long search of my soul for an absent Saviour. Philosophy also came to the help of faith. It may be that Christ is as near as He ever has been, and is speaking words of comfort which I do not hear because my mental telephonic receiver is damaged by sickness. Can this be true? Then, though I may die making no sign of victory over the last enemy, all will be well with me, but my friends may be grieved. Such were my perplexing reasonings during the wakeful hours of twenty-five days and nights, while the heavens seemed as if made of brass, when, lo, suddenly I was ensphered in love:

"Plunged in the Godhead's deepest sea,
And lost in its immensity!"

The explanation of this unexpected experience of God's oceanic love is not difficult when it is known that this was ten days after the favorable crisis of my sickness, and my convalesence had advanced far enough to remove the film which the disease had spread over my spiritual eye, so that I could not realize the presence of the divine Paraclete.

This experience teaches me several lessons:

1. Do not discount the piety of those godly people who do not die shouting "Victory! victory!" but who calmly meet the last enemy, trusting in Christ. When Bishop Janes, eminent for his devoutness and most intimate fellowship with his Saviour, was on his deathbed some of his clerical friends visiting him, expecting to hear ringing words of triumph in answer to the question, "How do you feel?" were greatly disappointed to hear him hesitantly reply, "I am not disappointed." How different was the exit of Bishop Gilbert Haven, whose remarkable characteristic was the breath and intensity of his human sympathies and his lofty ethical ideals, who when dying I heard shouting aloud, "There is no death, there is no river here. Glory, glory, glory!"

2. The idea that conscious fellowship with God is dependent on right physical conditions explains the utterance of Jesus on the cross, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" After the incarnation, the intercourse of the Son of God with His Father was subject to physical conditions, the same as that of any other human being. His divine personality never interposed to relieve Him from bodily suffering when hungry in the wilderness and thirsty on the cross. Nor was there any such interposition to prevent or relieve the unspeakable mental pain of the new experience of the sudden interruption of that communion which the Son had enjoyed with the Father from the time when He shared His glory before the world was down to the sad moment when through debilitating pain and loss of blood, His faculty of spiritual perception ceased to report spiritual realities. To say that this inability to hear the Father's voice speaking comforting words in this hour of His supreme need was a surprise to the Son of man, who construed it as the dereliction of the Father, may seem to some people as derogatory to His omniscience. Our reply is that when He disclaimed a knowledge of the day of His own second coming He disclaimed omniscience while on the earth.

The difficulty which exegetes encounter in this scripture has hitherto been insurmountable. Martin Luther, after meditating upon it several hours, exclaimed, "God forsaken by God! I cannot understand it, I cannot understand it." What a relief it would have been to him to regard this outcry of our dying Redeemer, not as the declaration of a fact, but as the expression of a feeling. This is a view which my recent sickness has suggested. If it is heresy let orthodoxy not roast me, for I will recant if convinced of error, but not before. If the Father's love for His Son was capable of increase, it certainly reached its climax when He saw His only begotten Son nailed to the cross a willing sacrifice for the redemption of a fallen race. These words of Jesus strongly sustain this idea, "Therefore doth the Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again." This verse is inconsistent with a real objective dereliction. Hence the interrupted companionship must have been a subjective experience, and not a reality.

3. This discussion would not be complete without the presentation of a germane topic, the difference between love as a passion, or feeling, and love as a principle. Love as a feeling, the source of Christian joy, being simple, is incapable of an analytical definition. It must be experienced in order to be known. Hence the homely phrase, "It is better felt than told." It is not originated by volition, but it arises in the believer's sensibilities through the agency of the Holy Spirit by the inward revelation of Christ as altogether lovely. It is not constant but variable in its presence and intensity; hence it is called an emotion, because it is always moving. The most spiritual person may at times be without any consciousness of this sensibility and of the joy which accompanies it. At other times he may realize a love divine burning in his heart like a furnace glowing with sevenfold intensity. These spiritual phenomena do not seem to be regulated by any law other than this, that they occur only in those who have the most intimate knowledge of Christ and are the most surrendered to His will. The purpose of love as a feeling awakening joy, and sometimes ecstatic bliss and rapture, is not only to cheer and encourage the believer amid his conflicts, but also to strengthen love as a principle which is absolutely essential to Christian character. This cannot be said of emotional love, although no true Christian is a stranger to this emotion. "No man can render Satan a better service than by preaching that one may be a Christian and have no feeling" (Whitefield). Christian love as a principle seems to be a composite embracing an intellectual assent to the truth of Christ's claims, an admiration of the stainless purity of His character, and an irreversible self-surrender of the will to His authority as a sovereign, to His infallibility as a teacher, and to His sufficiency as the only Saviour from the guilt of sin and the love of sin. The will is the chief component of love as a principle, when in the attitude of obedience it adheres to Christ. Hence it is the object of the divine command, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God." All men have the gracious ability to obey this command. They have no ability to immediate volition to create in themselves the emotion of love and the joy which attends it. They are, therefore, responsible for the constant principle of love, and not for the occasional passion. Hence they are to be judged in the last day by the strength of this principle, and not by the number of glad hallelujahs they have uttered. In our judgement of one another we should remember this. But, as the principle of love in another person is to us inscrutable, we must refrain from saying which of the two episcopal brethren just named, the saintly Janes or the genial Haven, was the greater favorite with his heavenly Father.

4. Our last lesson is the great value of a sharply defined Christian experience with a date, standing forth in the memory as Mont Blanc above the other Alps, showing his crown of whiteness to all spectators, far and near. In the days of mental and spiritual depression, to which we are all more or less subject, because of "this mortal" which is our earthly abode, with its skyward window liable to be darkened, so that no direct ray of the Sun of righteousness can cheer us amid the gloom, such a memory is of inestimable value to keep us from blank despair. This is one of the reasons assigned by Wesley in his advocacy of instantaneousness in the initiation of the spiritual life and in the completion of progressive sanctification. He insists that there are two opportunities for memorable experiences in the spiritual life. These, he alleges, are valuable safeguards in times of mental depression, being careful to say that salvation does not depend on knowing the day and hour of our spiritual transitions, whether regeneration or entire sanctification. Dateless conversions are most numerous among those who are brought into the spiritual life through Christian nurture in the warm atmosphere of home religion, around the family altar and the open Bible. These should, for their own safety, be urged to seek first the direct witness of the Spirit to their holiness or perfect love.

Love Enthroned, Chapter 23.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


QUESTION: It has been said that anger is proper when the sinful element is absent. What is that element?

ANSWER: A malicious ill will, a feeling of personal resentment. When Christ was angry he was also grieved at the conduct of the Jews. He had no ill will, but rather love, towards them — not a love of complacency and delight, but a love of pity. Grief implies love. "He hates the sin and yet the sinner loves," not approves. This will be the kind of anger attributed to Christ when as judge "the wrath of the Lamb" will be manifested in the final sentence of the wicked. Bishop William Taylor says: "At the funeral of every lost soul, the procession of mourners will be headed by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

Steele's Answers p. 73.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Altar Advice

QUESTION: Is it right to exhort seekers at the altar to believe that God does now forgive their sins instead of trusting in Christ to forgive till assured of it by the witness of the spirit?

ANSWER: Some have been saved under such advice, not because the advice was good, but because they did rely on Christ; but others have been bewildered and thrown into despair. This erroneous advice implies that the seeker, and not God, is to decide when the conditions of salvation have been complied with. This is God's province. Some say, trust the Word, for it contains the assurance of salvation; "believe that Christ does not cast you out, but receives you." The Bible can no more tell a man his sins are forgiven than the revised Statutes of a State can tell a convict in prison that he is pardoned. This is the prerogative of the Governor. Nor should anyone seeking entire sanctification say that the work is done because he has done his part, but he realizes no change. This implies that God is belated in keeping his promises. The safe advice is, trust till you know, then confess to the glory of God.

Steele's Answers pp 72, 73.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Rooted in the Soil of the Divine Word

The higher life has deeper roots than the ordinary Christian life. It is rooted in the soil of the divine word, and, like the century enduring oak, appropriates therefrom all its elements of strength. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." He who wishes to dwell on this high spiritual plane above the clouds, which intercept the sunlight to the dwellers below, must consent to be a man of one book, and to endure the reproach of being a man of one idea — Christ crucified. He will awake in the morning more hungry for his soul-food than for his breakfast. He will prefer the word of God to the morning paper, if he has time but for one; and, if compelled to go forth without his daily spiritual rations, he will be conscious of faintness and weakness. Well persons always feel the loss of their regular meals; the sick never, because they have no appetite intensely consuming their strength.

— from Love Enthroned, Chapter 22.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Portrait of a Holiness Fanatic

There are two enemies to the fullness of the Spirit — baptized worldliness, and fanaticism run mad on the subject of holiness. Let us consider the latter.

As religion is an exciting and absorbing theme, so there is especial danger of running into unwarrantable enthusiasm. Religious fanaticism has deluged the world with bloodshed, instituted inquisitions, and invented thumbscrews. Sanctification fanaticism is a milder species of this genus, yet it is none the less mischievous. It brings into reproach the most glorious doctrine of the Gospel — the office of the Sanctifier; it brings into ridicule the crowning blessing — the most precious experience of our holy Christianity.

Here is the portrait of a holiness fanatic, or perfectionist.

1. He abjures and pours contempt upon that scintillation of the eternal Logos, human reason. This lighted torch, placed in man's hand for his guidance in certain matters, he extinguishes in order ostensibly to exalt the candle of the Lord, the Holy Ghost, but really to lift up the lamp of his own flickering fancy. Reason is a gift of God, worthy of our respect. We are to accept it as our surest guide in its appropriate sphere. Beyond this sphere we should seek the light of revelation and the guidance of the Spirit. The fanatic depreciates one perfect gift from the Father of light, that he may magnify another. Both of these lights — reason and the Holy Ghost — are necessary to our perfect guidance. To reject one is to assume a greater wisdom than God's. Such presumptuous folly he will glaringly expose. He who spurns the Spirit will be left to darkness outside the narrow sphere of reason; and he who scorns reason will be left to follow the hallucinations of his heated imagination, instead of the dictates of common sense.

" 'Tis reason our great Master holds so dear;
'Tis reason's injured rights his wrath resents,
'Tis reason's voice t'obey his glorious crown;
To give lost reason life he poured his own.
Believe, and show the reason of a man;
Believe, and taste the pleasures of a God:
Through reason's wounds alone thy faith can die."

Mr. Wesley was pestered by persons

who imagine that they receive particular directions from God, not only in points of importance, but in things of no moment, in the most trifling circumstances of life. Whereas God has given to us our own reason for a guide, though never excluding the secret assistance of his Spirit.

2. The fanatic degrades the word of God by claiming for himself an inspiration equal to its divine truth.... John Wesley was called to preach against this folly of "enthusiasts, who imagine that God dictates every word they speak, and that it is impossible they should speak any thing amiss, either as to the matter or manner of it." He also styles those enthusiasts "who designedly speak in public without any premeditation."

3. This fanatic also imagines he has a manifestation of God so immediate that he no longer needs the ordained means of grace. He is beyond the sacraments. Prayer is a superfluity. He receives without asking; or, if he asks for any thing, he asks but once. To repeat his request would imply imperfect faith. He omits one petition of the Lord's Prayer, because he has no trespasses to be forgiven; although the recording angel is daily noting a thousand sins of ignorance and infirmity which need the blood of sprinkling. If he is a logical fanatic — a very rare bird — he finds all his time so holy that he has no occasion to make the commanded distinction between secular and sacred days.

4. The fanatical pretender to Christian perfection is characterized by acts professedly prompted by the Spirit, but which are contrary to both reason and the word of God. One thinks himself called by the Spirit to skip about or dance in a Christian meeting, and to make gestures which enforce no truth, because no words are uttered, though St. Paul insists that all things be done to edification. Another whirls on one toe as swift as a top, till she sinks down exhausted. Another darts like an arrow across the prayer-room with outstretched hand, and lays it on the head of a brother to impart the Holy Ghost. Another is impelled to show his humility by leaving his seat in the church, and rolling in the dust in the broad aisle during the sermon. These are specimens of vagaries contrary to common sense and the Bible, which have brought spiritual Christianity under reproach, and have turned away formal professors from seeking the greatest gift that men can wish or Heaven can send — "all the fullness of God."

"Such the credulous dotard's dream,
And such his shorter road:
Thus he makes the world blaspheme,
And shames the Church of God;
Staggers thus the most sincere,
Till from the Gospel hope they move;
Holiness as error fear,
And start at perfect love."

5. Another feature of the character of such a one is superiority to instruction and reproof. Are they not taught of the Lord? Shall they, who are receiving the blaze of the Spirit's light, like the full-orbed sun, turn away and follow the pale radiance of some brother's feebler light, glimmering like a faint star in the skies? Not they. In vain does the wise and deeply experienced Wesley expostulate with Bell and Maxfield, and their band of overheated zealots, who, by their dangerous delusions, were sadly damaging the fair fame of Methodism, and making her a laughingstock to her many foes. They would not deign to listen to "poor, blind John." After a long forbearance, sixty of these deluded members of the Foundry Society were cut off at once, and left to follow their disordered imaginations, in order to save the whole body from the fatal infection. Many of them "perished in the gain-saying of Korah."

6. We should deserve the reputation of an unskillful limner should we fail to portray the most prominent and most ugly feature of this character — his uncharitableness. Professing perfect love to God, he grievously lacks tender affection to his fellow-men. All degrees of spirituality and faith below his own are deemed by him worthy, not of sympathy but of censure. If the young convert falls into the hands of such a nursing father or nursing mother, he will have a sorry time indeed, and be more than once tempted to say that there is a mistake in the declaration that "the ways of wisdom are ways of pleasantness." He is scolded for every unsteady step; at every fall he is berated, and not encouraged to try again. He is judged by an absolute standard, and condemned without mercy if he fails in any particular. It is not our purpose to show the philosophy of so strange a combination of contradictions as this feature of the perfectionist-fanatic presents. Similar phenomena occur in the commercial world. Stock-gamblers, while calling millions their own, are penniless bankrupts. Both characters draw upon their imaginations, and account themselves rich. They do not put gold in their coffers. They are satisfied with the glitter of appearances. Simon Magus fixed his eye upon the worldly glory which the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost would confer, and was baptized, and found that he was still the same poor pagan sorcerer. Christians who seek for ecstatic joys, or showy gifts of the Spirit, or any thing else rather than the pure love of God, make the same mistake. Hence the importance of giving earnest heed to Wesley's admonition. "Let no one be satisfied with the direct witness of the Spirit, without the fruits of the Spirit."

APPLICATION: — In the words of Wesley,

Watch and pray lest you fall into so great an evil. It easily besets those who fear or love God. O, beware you do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think! Do not imagine you have attained that grace of God which you have not attained. You may have much joy; you may have a measure of love, and yet not have living faith. Cry unto the Lord that he would not suffer you, blind as you are, to go out of the way; that you may never fancy yourself a believer in Christ till Christ be revealed in you, and till his Spirit witness with your spirit that you are a child of God.

Beware of that daughter of pride, enthusiasm (fanaticism). O keep at the uttermost distance from it! Give no place to a heated imagination. Do not hastily ascribe things to God. Do not easily suppose dreams, voices, impressions, visions, or revelations to be from God. They may be from him. They may be from nature. They may be from the devil. Therefore 'believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be of God.' Try all things by the written word, and let all bow down before it. You are in danger of enthusiasm every hour if you depart ever so little from Scripture; yea, or from the plain, literal meaning of any text, taken in connection with the context. And so you are, if you despise or lightly esteem reason, knowledge, or human learning; every one of which is an excellent gift of God, and may serve the noblest purposes. I advise you never to use the words 'wisdom,' 'reason,' 'knowledge,' by way of reproach. On the contrary, pray that you yourself may abound in them more and more. If you mean worldly wisdom, useless knowledge, false reasoning, say so; and throw away the chaff but not the wheat. One general inlet of enthusiasm is expecting the end without the means; the expecting knowledge, for instance, without searching the Scriptures and consulting the children of God; the expecting spiritual strength without constant prayer and steady watchfulness; the expecting any blessing without hearing the word of God at every opportunity. Some have been ignorant of this device of Satan. They have left off searching the Scriptures. They have said, 'God writes all the Scriptures on my heart.' O take warning, you who are concerned herein! You have listened to the voice of a stranger.
— Edited from Love Enthroned, Chapter 22.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Way of Faith

Faith is the point of contact between that battery and human souls. Whatever be the form of our religious activity, it is faith that is at the bottom, whether it be prayer, praise, watchfulness, resistance to sin, or efforts for the salvation of others. When St. Paul has enumerated the weapons which constitute the Christian's offensive and defensive armor, he adds, "above (or, over) all," as a protection to every other part of the armor itself, "take the shield of faith" — continually exercise a strong and lively faith. The ancient shield covered the whole soldier. Hence the motto for all Christians, whatever their attainments, is "Looking unto Jesus."

If your old enemy is the alcoholic or the narcotic appetite, you are not to be thinking all the time of the decanter and cigar, and bracing yourself against them in your own strength — the method of occasional human victory, but more frequently of human defeat; but you are to look unto Jesus, to magnify his power, to dwell upon the promises, and to supplicate his great gift of the Comforter, to abide within, and to be the keeping power. The former method of overcoming sin is, in the words of President Finney, "the religion of resolution"; the latter way is "the religion of faith".

As long as faith in Christ is kept in exercise, the soul is impregnable; it dwells in "the munition of rocks." Then "none shall be able to pluck them out of my Father's hand." True vigilance, therefore, the price of spiritual liberty, is faith in Christ modified by the apprehension of spiritual peril — it is looking unto Jesus on the battle-field. The beautiful vignette of a cross grasped by a hand, with the motto underneath, Teneo et teneor — I hold fast and am held fast — expresses the same thought. There is no other way of maintaining the higher life. It is rest in Jesus. It is the rest of faith. They who thus rest are not exempted from temptation and warfare, but they are lifted by the power of the Holy Spirit into such a nearness to Jesus that they find trust in him a natural and a delightful exercise, and victory over sin easy.

— from Love Enthroned, Chapter 22.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Dr. Huntington on Inbred Sin

QUESTION: In a recent editorial on Christian Perfection, Dr. Buckley says that, in the judgement of many persons, Dr. Huntington demonstrates successfully that the theory of inbred sin cannot be sustained. Later on, Dr. Buckley says: "Almost every Christian finds sooner or later after his conversion what may be described as the 'roots of bitterness.'" Would Dr. Huntington say that?

ANSWER: I think he would. He contends that sin is only in the will, and not in the intellect nor in the sensibility, both being inevitable, being "absolutely caused." But he admits that "inbred derangement, perversion, disorder, are more or less, in believers; but more cloudless certainty can scarcely exist in a mathematical axiom than that, whatever is upon us by the unavoidable operation of fixed law, is not our sin."

Steele's Answers pp. 71, 72. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a reference to a book by De Witt Clinton Huntington entitled Sin and Holiness or What It Is to be Holy (1898). A Internet search will turn up a few old reviews of this book.

Friday, August 16, 2013

On Human Infirmities

QUESTION: Do infirmities partake of the nature of sin?

ANSWER: No. They are failures to keep the law of perfect obedience given to Adam in Eden. This law no man on earth can keep, since sin has impaired the powers of universal humanity. Sin is a voluntary offense against the law of Christ, the law of love. Infirmities are an involuntary outflow from a hereditary, imperfect organization. They have their ground in our physical nature, aggravated by intellectual deficiencies. Sin roots itself in a perverse will, the core of the moral nature. Infirmities entail regret and humiliation. Sin always produces guilt. Infirmities in well-instructed souls do not interrupt communion with God, but sin cuts the telegraphic wire. Infirmities hidden from ourselves, as believing souls are unconditionally covered by the blood of Christ.They are without remedy so long as we are in the body. A thousand infirmities are consistent with perfect love, but not one sin. Says Wesley: "I apprehend that involuntary transgressions are naturally consequent on the ignorances (Heb. 9:7, R.V., margin) and mistakes inseparable from mortality. Therefore sinless perfection is a phrase I never use, lest I should seem to contradict myself. I believe a person filled with the love of God is still liable to involuntary transgressions."

"Every moment, Lord, I want
 The merit of thy death."

In view of this truth, it is eminently appropriate for the holiest soul on earth to say daily, "Forgive us our debts as we also havd forgiven (R.V.) our debtors."

Steele's Answers pp. 70, 71.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

On Luke 12:49, 50

QUESTION: Explain the meaning of "fire and "baptism" in Luke 12:49, 50: "I came to cast fire upon the earth... I have a baptism to be baptized with," etc.

ANSWER: Since fire disorganizes and sunders compact substances, it is used in this passage to symbolize dissension, as described in verses 52 and 53, the Gospel salvation being accepted by some and rejected by others in the same family, the pagan father opposing the Christian son, etc. The baptism relates to the sufferings which would overwhelm Christ in giving his life a ransom for many and which would in a measure be shared by his disciples.

Steele's Answers p. 70.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

On The Penal Satisfaction Theory of the Atonement

The [penal satisfaction] theory [of the atonement] for three hundred years widely prevailed in both branches of orthodoxy — Calvinism and Arminianism — although it logically belongs to that branch which teaches an unconditional election and a particular or limited atonement.

It is grounded upon the necessity of satisfying that moral attribute of God called exact, or distributive, justice, defined by Webster as that "which gives every man his exact deserts." This principle of essential justice, or eternal right, demands punishment for violated law. If the sinner is exempted from penalty, it must be inflicted upon some substitute who is personally not worthy of punishment; otherwise, if himself guilty, he could not be a substitute for the guilty. He must suffer for his own sins.

Now there are several reasons why I have never been able to preach this theory of the atonement.

1. It is not exact justice to punish the innocent. "The soul that sinneth it shall die," says distributive justice.

2. Guilt is personal and not transferable.

3. It leaves no room for a literal and true pardon of sin, as Dr. Hodge concedes. Pardon, being a gracious remission of deserved penalty, cannot be required after the penalty has been fully endured by the substitute. Sin having been thoroughly expiated, there can be only a nominal, not a real, forgiveness. There is no longer any penalty due to sin, and of course there is none to remit. I cannot indorse a theory which reduces the New Testament doctrine of justification by faith to a mere sham.

4. The punishment of innocence is repugnant to man's moral intuitions, variously called ethical axioms, first truths, necessary beliefs, self-evident truths. No system can endure or can be true which collides with these ultimate truths, defined by Joseph Cook as "the mode of action of Omnipotence." If it is said that while it is wrong for man knowingly to punish innocence, it may be right in God, this is denied by the fact that man is in the image of God and is a subject of moral government only because there is between him and God a common standard of right to which both may appeal. Moreover, the assertion that moral qualities in man may be entirely different in kind from the moral attributes of God makes Him an unknown and an unknowable being, thus strengthening the foundations of the prevalent agnosticism which is a blight upon modem Christendom. Every agnostic on earth will thank you for saying that justice in God may be a totally different thing from justice in man.

5. Our next objection to the theory that the atonement is a penal satisfaction paid to distributive justice is that, if it is universal in extent, the inevitable, logical outcome is Universalism. For if the sins of all men were punished in Jesus Christ, no man can be justly punished, either in this world or in the world to come, for sins already expiated by suffering their penalty. I lay no foundations for the delusive doctrine of the final salvation of all men.

6. Wherever it is taught that God punished His Son on the cross there have always been some who indulge in the rhetorical statement that "Christ on Calvary was the greatest sinner in the universe" –– language which I have heard within thirty years. Within that time I have heard an English Wesleyan doctor of divinity in public prayer represent the Father as "hurling the hottest thunderbolts of His wrath down upon the head of His devoted Son in punishment for the sins of mankind."

Such statements give occasion to the liberalists to caricature the orthodox doctrine of the atonement, making the Father the embodiment of unsparing distributive justice, a relentless Shylock demanding his pound of flesh; and the Son, the incarnation of mercy and love, appeasing His personal wrath and making Him willing to be compassionate.

— from "The Atonement" Half-Hours with St. John.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Is Tithing a Requirement for Christians?

QUESTION: Are Christians by the New Testament required to give a tenth, even if they have a small income?

ANSWER: Systematic giving is very desirable. Some could give more than a tenth, and some less. This matter is left by Christ as a voluntary exercise of our benevolent sensibilities. In the Acts, where we look for an application of Christ's precepts, we find no requirement of the tithe. When Paul raised money for the poor, though educated as a Pharisee, he said nothing about the tithe, but "let each one of you lay by him in store, as he may prosper." Christianity is a bundle of principles rather than a code of minute rules. This is what makes the Gospel the law of liberty and not servility.

Steele's Answers, p. 69, 70.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Directly to Heaven?

QUESTION: Does the soul of the Christian go direct to heaven?

ANSWER: To the penitent and believing thief, Jesus said: "Today, thou shalt be with me in paradise." Paul says: "Having a desire to depart and be with Christ; for it is very far better." To be with Christ is my heaven. Again Paul says: "Willing rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord." "If any man," says Christ, "serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be." This is a very comforting doctrine.

Steele's Answers, p. 69.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Spiritual Crucifixion

The difficulty with average Christians is that they faint beneath the cross on the via dolorosa, the way of grief, and never reach their Calvary. They do not by faith gird on strength for the hour when they must be stretched upon the cross. They shrink from the torturing spike and from the spear aimed at the heart of their self-life. This betokens weakness of faith.

But when the promise is grasped with the grip of a giant — no terrors, no agonies, can daunt the soul. In confidence that there will be, after the crucifixion, a glorious resurrection to spiritual life and blessedness, the believer yields his hand to the nail, and his head to the thorn crown. That flinty center of the personality, the will, which has up to this hour stood forth in resistance to the complete will of God, suddenly flows down, a molten stream under the furnace blast of Divine love, melted into oneness with the "sweet will of God." After such a death there is always a resurrection unto life. An interval of hours, or even of days, may take place before the angel shall descend and roll away the stone from the sepulchre of the crucified soul, and the pulsations of a new and blissful life be felt through every fiber and atom of the being. It is not the old life that rises, but a new life is breathed forth by the Holy Ghost. The believer can then truly say that he is "dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ."

"He walks in glorious liberty,
To sin entirely dead.
The Truth, the Son, hath made him free,
And he is free indeed. 

"Throughout his soul thy glories shine,
His soul is all renewed,
And deck'd in righteousness divine,
And clothed and filled with God."

He who enjoys this repose is brought so intimately into sympathy with Jesus Christ that he is all aflame with zeal, and aroused to the utmost activity to save lost men. As a venerable preacher, widely known, quaintly expressed it, "I enjoy that rest of faith that keeps me in perpetual motion."

We come now to the practical question, "How may I enter into this rest, this resurrection with Christ, this Divine freedom?"

If you ask this question in sincerity, it evinces that you have the first condition requisite for its attainment — a sense of spiritual bondage. Till you realise the indwelling of sin — the great spiritual despot — you will make no efforts to secure the intervention of the great Emancipator.

The second requisite is, that you believe that he is "mighty to save;" that "he is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him."

So long as you doubt that Jesus is a complete Saviour, you will be reluctant to yield yourself to him. You must believe that "the blood of Christ cleanseth from all unrighteousness," before the Holy Spirit will apply the blood of sprinkling to your heart. We are not bound to explain the necessity of this faith. It seems to be the only doorway through which God enters into the soul to set up his kingdom. Every spiritual blessing enters the soul by the same avenue. It cannot enter through the senses, which apprehend only the material world. It cannot be grasped by the reasoning faculty, which apprehends only relations. It is not an object of the natural intuitions, or the faith faculty. The grounds of this faith are the Divine promises; its object the Lord Jesus Christ.

— edited from Love Enthroned, Chapter 21.