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 began the project on Dec. 10, 2011. I completed it 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. I still do that every once in a while.

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.

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