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.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Natural Religion Fails in the Face of Death

In all minds which have not been spoiled by sophistry or puffed up by false philosophy and self-conceit, there is a spontaneous shrinking back from treading alone the unexplored continent of religious truth and a crying out for a guide."Who will show us any good?" Socrates, pronounced by the Delphic Oracle the wisest man of his generation, to whom we shall again refer in the present discussion as the best representative of the entire heathen world, on the day of his death, sitting upon his bed in his prison, when about to enter upon his argument for the immortality of the soul, exhorted his friends "to supplicate the gods for help while we take hold of one another's hands and enter this deep and rapid river." Deep and rapid indeed is the river of theological inquiry without the aid of revelation. Who feels competent, without supernatural light, to give a satisfactory answer to that solemn question which arises in every sober mind:

"Soon as from earth I go,
What will become of me?"

Can any of us lay aside our Bibles, close our eyes to the life-giving words of Jesus, and then avow our ability to answer the cry of universal humanity:

"Who can resolve the doubt
That tears my anxious breast,"

by drawing aside the veil from that "land of deepest shade," and pointing out its crystal rivers, its sunny vales, its fragrant groves, and giving to each eager soul a title deed to some choice spot for a future home?

We know that a school of theological teachers has recently sprung up who magnify man's religious instincts. These teach that revelation is a superfluity; that every man has within himself all resources for the discovery of essential religious truth; that the Bible has been rendered obsolete by the progress of the race in theological science; that every soul is thrown upon its own spiritual instincts and impulses for guidance. As certain authors publish books entitled "Every Man His Own Lawyer," "Every One His Own Physician," so those professed religious teachers would have every one his own revelation, every one his own inspiration; or as others devise traps for the simple called "French Without a Master, in Six Lessons," "Latin Without a Master, in Four Lessons," so these apostles of the new dispensation of "the absolute religion" would deceive their fellow-men with the finely sounding advertisement, "Religion Without Master, in No Lessons."

Let us institute some tests of the religion of nature. What headway does the human soul make in following its own light? How does it solve the religious problems which baffled the skill of all the centuries before Jesus Christ came? How is future happiness to be secured? The religionist answers, By living righteously, doing good to man and loving God. But to find his answer he has committed a stupendous plagiarism on the Bible. He has gone to it to awaken his religious instincts at this great center of light and life, and then, like all thieves, he denies and decries the source of his plundered treasure. If the human soul has no need of going outside of itself to answer all religious questions satisfactorily, if it has no occasion for using the self-distrustful words of Peter, "To whom shall we go?" the best way of testing the question is to examine those who have never seen the inspired Word, just as we would test the brilliancy of some new lighting material by carrying the lamp out of the sunlight into the darkness. Go away with me for a moment out of the resplendence of revelation in to the darkness of heathenism, and see how wisely, how purely men live. Here is a whole nation offering worship to an ox, an onion, a lizard. Egypt was at that time the most cultivated nation on the earth. The religious instincts of another people offer human slaughter for praise, rear pyramids of skulls to secure the divine favor, toss infants to crocodiles and burn widows on huge funeral piles, and grind to powder the flesh and bones of living men beneath its bloody Juggernauts. The ancient Babylonians religiously required every virgin to surrender in Phallic worship that which is of greater value than all the gold and diamonds in South Africa; while the Thugs of India actually waylay and murder as acts of religious duty. Dimly indeed burns the flame of spiritual instinct, and widely do they wander who follow its flickering and uncertain light.

Death is a just ordeal of a religious system. How does the religion of spiritual instinct enable men to die? We are told that Theodore Parker, the great advocate of the absolute religion, as he styled it, lay down in Florence upon his dying couch in impenetrable gloom which his cold, barren and Christless theology had no power to dissipate. They who have advanced no farther than the religion of nature universally die without triumph. Said Socrates, that greatest pagan moralist, before alluded to, as the hour for drinking the hemlock approached, "The swan as it sees its end approaching, begins its most melodious song, and floating down the river charmed by its own music, meets death with dignity and composure. Man," said the dying philosopher, "should die with as much cheerfulness as the bird." "But," replied one of his disciples, uttering the feelings of the whole heathen world, "death is a terror to us. It unmans us and fills us with dreadful fears. We cannot die thus. We have no swan's song with which to float down the river of life into the boundless sea of eternity." "Go, then," said that wisest pagan, with a sagacity amounting almost to divine inspiration, "travel through all lands, spare no toil, no expense, that ye may find the song which can charm away the fear of death." But those poor pagan Greeks, amid the splendors of that era of literature and art, sought in vain for the swan's song of victory over the fear of death. But four hundred years afterward the wondering shepherds caught from the glad angels a part of that song. Behold, we bring you glad tidings of great joy: to-day is born a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. But the full song was first taught to mortals when Jesus opened his lips at Lazarus' tomb, saying, "I am the resurrection and the life, "and only a few years afterward there floated from the grated window of a prison in Rome the music of this complete and triumphant swan's song: "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight .... Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness!" Through all the centuries of the Christian church the triumphant deaths of millions with this song upon their tongues have attested the divinity of the gospel, "O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory? Thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory." At last Charles Wesley, in a moment of more than poetic inspiration, put the swan's song of the believer into a sacred lyric fit for a seraphic lyre:

"Jesus, the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
'Tis music in the sinner's ears,
'Tis life, and health, and peace."

— edited from Jesus Exultant Chapter 9.

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