This blog gains its name from the book Steele's Answers published in 1912. I am slowly blogging through Steele's Answers, posting each Q & A in the order in which they appear (whether I personally agree with the answer or not). But, these posts come from several other sources, as well. I post particularly eloquent passages from Dr. Steele's other writings. Occasionally I post "guest blogs" from other holiness writers.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Value of Christian Joy

The notion is widely prevalent that an emotional religion must be fitful and unstable.

It is true that feeling excited by appeals to the sensibilities only, without any inculcation of truth upon the intellect, is to be deprecated. This results in a Christian character described by Christ as the stony-ground hearer that hears the word, and anon with joy receives it, but having no root in himself he endures only for a while. The failure is not to be ascribed to the joy, but to the lack of deep moral convictions resulting from a reception of Christian truth used by the Holy Spirit as a subsoil plowshare breaking up the fallow ground of the heart as a preparation for a spiritual life which will grow more and more robust as persecutions and tribulations increase.

Scholarly men are apt to think that feeling stands on a lower plane than the understanding and that it is not consistent with large thinking powers. Hence comes the error which spoils so much preaching warming at the head instead of the heart. It is thought that he who addresses the emotions and melts his hearers to tears is not so great as the master of syllogisms who welds a flawless chain of argument. Hence the tendency of the schools is to repress feeling and to intensify the dry intellect; whereas few people reason while all feel.

All popular preaching takes the line of the sensibilities. The great orators of the ages have been emotional men. Study the sermons of Whitefield, Spurgeon, Beecher and Simpson and you will find them all mastering men's wills through appeals to feeling based on truth clearly presented to the intellect. Christianity addresses the whole man. Such fundamentals as the atonement, the day of judgment, heaven and hell, are adapted to awaken a torrent of emotion so strong as to move the will to right action. Sinai trumpets its alarm to fear, while Calvary tenderly speaks to gratitude and hope.

The preacher has a message which can satisfy the strongest intellect and yet sway men of low degree, the illiterate, the barbarian, the savage. The intellectual dwarf, "who thinks the moon no larger than his father's shield," can believe in Jesus Christ, the Saviour of sinners, and be quickened into spiritual life, be filled with the joy of the Holy Ghost and be lifted to an immeasurably wider horizon of thought. Again how true is the scripture, "The joy of the Lord is your strength."

How many Christians miss the secret of spiritual power. They are weak to resist temptation, and lack power to draw others to Christ. There is much friction to overcome in themselves. The oil-can is as necessary to the continuous motion of the train as is the piston-rod, for without oiling the machinery would soon be destroyed. Christian joy is to the believer both impulse and lubrication. It is not work that kills, but worry. There is much less danger that a joyful Christian minister will wear out by his excessive labor than that a dry, unanointed, emotionless preacher will be used up by the friction of his unoiled machinery.

The joy of the Holy Ghost neutralizes physical pain, cheers in sickness, comforts in penury, lightens every burden and makes Christian labor fruitful. The joy of the Holy Spirit lifts the soul above the most depressing circumstances. Three days after the battle of Gettysburg a wounded and dying officer was found in a stable into which he had crawled, shouting happy. Without food, without water to quench his thirst intensified by his loss of blood and by the heat of July; without human companionship, with the prospect of dying alone without the means of sending his farewell message to the loved ones at home, he testified that so great was his Christian joy the days spent in that stable were the happiest of his whole earthly life. It was the presence of the Holy Ghost in their hearts which enabled Christians in apostolic times, and Methodists in the "back country" in England, whose houses were plundered and furniture carried off by persecuting mobs in the days of Wesley, to take joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing that they had their own selves for a better possession (Heb. x. 34, R. V., margin) here in the present life.

Jesus Exultant, Chapter 7.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Liberty of the Spirit

Many modern Christians become so highly cultivated and refined in their taste as to rebuke the spontaneous hymn breaking out in the pews, independent of the chorister's tuning fork or the organist's keynote, and to take offense at the amen or hallelujah in the congregation not printed in the ritual. They deem such freedom unbecoming the dignity and solemnity of Christian worship. It is possible that the Spirit, who dwells only where there is liberty, departs from those assemblies which attempt to imprison him in stiff forms. He desires to develop individualities by bestowing different gifts severally on whomsoever he will. Dr. Stalker says that the prophets addressed only nations, but Jesus Christ discovered the individual. This latest discovery it is the office of the Holy Spirit to create anew, preserving all original traits so far as they are innocent. Men are not at their best when pruned of all personal peculiarities. Grace is not a die which makes all souls alike like dollars dropping from the mint. There is the same variety in the new creation as there was in the original creation. There should be the same variety in the expression of Christian experience. Let not the quiet find fault with the exultant. Let all the people praise the Lord, each in his own natural way.

Jesus Exultant, Chapter 7.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Uniqueness of Christian Joy

The peace of Christ and the joy in the Holy Ghost depend on persistent, appropriating faith. The perpetual fulness of the Spirit resulting from this kind of faith is the condition of fulness of joy.

The joy inspired by the Spirit is unique. It is totally unlike natural gladness such as arises in worldly men when their corn and wine are increased. Hence it is indescribable. A simple emotion cannot be defined. You may talk forever of the peculiar emotion of the young mother who feels the first pulsation of maternal love, when her first-born child is laid in her bosom. The feeling must be forever unknown except to those who have had such an experience. It is so with every kind of emotion. We can describe it only by stating under what circumstances it arises. If you have never been in those circumstances the person who speaks of such an emotion speaks to you in an unknown tongue. The joy of the Holy Ghost is to an unbeliever as vague and meaningless as the colors of the rainbow described to one born blind.

The world is not rushing to obtain this joy, because it is to them perfectly unreal. Why should they not reject the effect when they disbelieve in the cause, the Holy Spirit, "whom the world cannot receive because they see him not" with their bodily eyes, all the organ of vision they have, in the absence of the eye of faith. The demand is sometimes made that the Christian should explain his spiritual joy in terms understood by unregenerate minds. The demand is as impossible and as unphilosophical as the description of the taste of oranges would be to a Laplander who never saw this tropical fruit. The joy of the Holy Ghost must always be attested by its possessor in language which is an unknown tongue to the unregenerate.

They can have the testimony translated to their spiritual intuition only by visiting the house of the Interpreter as did Bunyan's pilgrim. The glorious dreamer in Bedford jail was on intimate terms with this interpreter whose office it is to take of the things of Christ and to declare them to believers whose souls are open upward to receive the personal Paraclete.

The joy inspired by his indwelling is intense, "unutterable and full of glory," the highest in degree and the purest in kind which the human soul can experience in this world or in the world to come. For the bliss of heaven comes from union with God, and the Holy Spirit in us effects that union. That the joy of heaven is a continuation of the "joy of the Holy Ghost" experienced on the earth is implied in the wonderful words of Christ to the Samaritan woman, "But the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." Verily, verily I say unto you, He that heareth, i. e., continually obeyeth my word, and perseveringly believeth on him that sent me hath present and eternal well-being, his joy will be as lasting as his obedient trust, and it will be of the same kind in both worlds. The same truth is expressed in the earnest of the Spirit. The Spirit enjoyed 'here is a pledge of our full heavenly reward. But it is customary to pay the full wages in the coin with which the earnest, the money paid down to bind the bargain, was paid. This is the spirit of adoption, the first installment of heaven.

No Christian need die to have the secret of heavenly bliss divulged to him. If he claims his full heritage in Christ he has a slice of heaven for his daily rations while journeying to heaven. And this is the best surety of heaven. That was a wise woman whom I once heard in love-feast testifying thus, "I am carrying heaven with me on the way so as to be sure that I shall have it at the end of the journey." In the experience of the inward joy of the abiding Comforter the jubilant shout is often necessary as a safety-valve. But those whose sense of propriety is so extreme as to tie down the safety-valve find relief in the apostolic injunction, "Is any merry? Let him sing psalms" (James v. 18). The revisers do not limit the singer to the Hebrew psalms" "Is any cheerful, let him sing praise." Singing and making melody with the heart to the Lord is the natural expression of the heart filled with the Spirit. (Eph. v. 19)

— edited from Jesus Exultant, Chapter 7.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Kingdom Realm of Joy

"For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." — Rom. xiv. 17

But great as is the blessedness of peace, Paul intimates that the kingdom of God affords a richer banquet. We have three degrees of beatitude set before us, rising like a climax: righteousness is good, peace is better and joy in the Holy Ghost is best of all, the crowning grace which God has to bestow on believers in his adorable Son. It is the link which unites us with God. It is the first installment of heaven paid on earth in advance.

This is more than the joy which is the natural sequence of right doing. The approval of conscience is the lowest degree of the joy of righteousness. If the act be not merely right but beneficent, if we have by sacrifice benefited some person, the joy rises in quality and intensity. Hence the generous deeds of the unregenerate are to them a source of felicity. This arises from the very constitution of human nature. Happiness and virtue are not divergent but parallel lines. We are as moral beings so constituted that joy must follow the exercise of benevolence. This joy is natural. But the joy of the Holy Ghost is supernatural. It is handed down direct from the Giver of all good gifts through the agency of the Holy Spirit. It flows not in the channels of nature, but is a fruit of the Spirit. Paul intends to discriminate between the natural joy of rectitude and this heavenly joy in Christian experience by styling it the joy of the Holy Ghost. It attends his residence in the soul. For there is a mystery next to the three-fold personality in the unity of the divine nature, the two-fold personality of the believer, the human interpenetrated by the divine personality inhabiting it as his temple. This miracle of the fulness of the Spirit was first manifested in Adam in Eden when the breath of God conveyed not merely animal and intellectual life, but spiritual life resulting from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Sin dissolved this mysterious union and the heavenly personage withdrew from his polluted sanctuary. From being filled with joy pervading every capacity, Adam became desolate indeed. The supremely blessed became supremely wretched. To be sundered from God, the fountain of bliss, is hell. When sin entered the soul of Adam that deep celestial spring ceased to send up its refreshing waters, and he became the subject of intense thirst. His posterity born in his fallen image share also his tormenting thirst. They all flew from spring to spring of sensual pleasure, but still they thirsted till Jesus stood up in this spiritual Sahara and cried, "If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink." The satisfying nature and the inexhaustible abundance of the water of life are intimated in the fact that out of the believer shall flow, not drops as from a spile, not brooks which dry up "in the summer's heat, but rivers, Amazons and Mississippis of living water. Then John, in a blessed parenthesis, for which I mean to thank him when I shake hands with him in heaven, strips off the imagery and tells us in plain words that Jesus is describing the joy of the Holy Spirit, who was not yet given in Pentecostal fulness. To this fountain Jesus sets a perpetual finger-point in his last words in the Bible, "The Spirit and the bride say, Come . . . and take the water of life freely."

Jesus Exultant, Chapter 7.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Kingdom Realm of Peace

We may compare the kingdom of God to a three-storied temple founded on Christ, the corner stone. The first story is a basement partly underground, the region of shadow and darkness, the cellar-kitchen of this palace, where servants toil in fear and hirelings work for wages.

But a broad staircase leads up into the apartment of peace; while the Lord of this castle is constantly inviting those below to ascend, to exchange the place of servants for that of sons. For he is willing to adopt the whole crowd into his family, but only now and then one has the good sense to believe in the sincerity of the offer and to accept it, to doff the servants' livery and to don the many-colored robe of sonship and heirship. This room is spacious and sunny and resonant with songs. Yet its occupants do more work than the servants downstairs. But they do not work for wages, but from love to their adopted Father. They are sons; they belong to the royal family; the whole estate is theirs. This gives a new character to their labor, lifting it infinitely above the drudgery of wage-service. When the hired man marries the daughter of his employer he doesn't play the gentleman at leisure and cease working, but he works all the harder because he now is a member of the firm. This takes all the irksomeness out of his toil and bedecks it with roses. "And because ye are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." The filial feeling is suddenly breathed into the soul. Fear of a servile kind which brings torment is removed. Fear of death disappears and the fear of future ill. Child-like trust in the newly-found Father mostly banishes fear and enthrones peace. The habit of faith becomes fixed, love lubricates all acts of obedience and stern duty is dissolved in love. Service ceases to be a task and love knows no burdens. The beneficent law of habit now comes in to afford an additional safeguard to the gift of peace.

Paul says of Christ, "He is our peace." And Jesus says to his disciples in every age, "My peace I give unto you." Hence it is the rightful heritage of every believer. It is described as the "peace of God" because He is its source and origin. It is the deep tranquility of soul resting wholly upon God in contrast with the unrest and anxiety engendered by a self-centered and worldly spirit. It is said by the apostle to "pass all understanding" (Phil. iv. 7). More literally, it transcends every mind, every attempt of the strongest intellect to realize its qualities and to describe it as "keeping guard over our hearts and thoughts in Christ Jesus," i. e., so long as we retain faith, the vital link of union with the Prince of Peace. What power has he to calm the troubled spirit! He can say to its warring passions, its cringing fears, its clamorous desires as he said to the winds and waves of the sea of Galilee, "Peace, be still," and there will be a heavenly calm in that soul. Brethren beloved, I know whereof I affirm. The once stormy Galilean sea within me has heard that voice divine and a blessed calm has ensued. Jesus is the great Peacemaker in tempest-tossed souls.

"Jesus protects; my fears begone:
What can the Rock of Ages move?
Safe in thy arms I lay me down,
Thine everlasting arms of love."

This peace is genuine and no sham. Jesus called it "my peace" in contrast with the world's hollow peace. The Oriental salutation, Salaam, salaam, Peace, peace, like all compliments, had degenerated into an empty and insincere form. But the salaam of Jesus is sky-born, the first installment of that everlasting rest that awaits all the children of God. This undisturbed repose of the soul we may have in this life. How blessed it would be if every regenerated soul were panting after this rest!

"O that I might at once go up,
No more on this side Jordan. stop,
But now the land possess.
There dwells the Lord our righteousness,
And keeps his own in perfect peace
And everlasting rest."

Jesus intimated the superiority of his peace to that of the world. His peace inheres in the soul filled with the Holy Spirit. The world's peace is determined by outward things and is as changeable as external conditions.

— edited from Jesus Exultant, Chapter 7.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Kingdom Realm of Righteousness

We may compare the kingdom of God to a three-storied temple founded on Christ, the corner stone.

The first story is a basement partly underground, the region of shadow and darkness, the cellar-kitchen of this palace, where servants toil in fear and hirelings work for wages. As servants, they are faithful, conscientious and true to their Master's interests. They are not drones, nor gluttons, nor drunkards, nor stewards wasting their Master's goods. Their service is voluntary. They have chosen it in preference to any other. Yet they are not joyful, but rather fearful that they shall fail to please their Master and so lose their wages. For they toil with an eye to the reward, and every day after twelve o'clock they often look over their shoulders to see whether the sun is not setting, so that they may quit for the day and draw their pay. While they believe that they are serving the best of masters, they sigh when they contrast their condition with that of his acknowledged sons and daughters in the parlors above. They are tempted to be sad and envious, not cheerful and songful. In this state of mind there is danger of discouragement and abandonment of the service. For it is natural for to escape from an irksome employment. The predominant motive of their service is fear, not love, and there is no magnetism in fear to attract and hold them steadfast.

We forgot to say that this lower story is righteousness. It has always had a very numerous population. The Old Testament saints nearly all dwelt here. Here John the Baptist toiled. Here live today a large number of legal, not evangelical, Christians. They are under the law. Here are many good Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Protestants generally. All unconsciously they make obedience to the law the ground of their justification, while they have in their hands the New Testament, which declares that by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified, for by the law is the knowledge of sin, not deliverance from its guilt and power. It is an irksome, uphill business this earning salvation. It is always attended by a discouraging sense of failure. The sincere and devout portion of the vast Roman Catholic church here dwell under the yoke of religious bondage, both priests and people dying in gloom illumined with a single ray of hope that they may escape hell and get into purgatory, a figment of pagan mythology utterly unknown to revelation. I am so charitable as to believe that the truly pious among them will find the gate of heaven open at their coming, and that they will be saved on the same terms as any other image-worshipping pagans, through the spirit of faith and the purpose of righteousness. By this we mean the disposition to embrace Christ, the object of faith, were he properly presented to their faith, and the desire to keep the moral law were it clearly revealed to them without the chaff of traditional errors. Here again are God-fearing Mohammedans, who follow their best light, a few ethical rays from our Bible struggling through the dense fog of the errors of Islam. Here are two other classes of honest and prayerful Unitarians, those Jews who, through mis-education, rather than from badness of heart, have their eyes blindfolded to the beauty of Christ, the true Messiah, and those self-styled liberal Christians who in sincerity worship the Father, but cannot call Jesus Lord because they have not the Holy Spirit; over whose eyes cataracts have grown so that they cannot see the Central Sun in the heavens of Christian theology, the divinity of the Son of God. So far as these classes, blinded by prejudices of education and misled by blind religious guides, follow that path of righteous living revealed by the light which faintly comes to them through clouds of error, so far they may be accepted of God through the mediation of his Son, "though," as John Wesley says, "they know him not." They cannot be classed among the willful rejecters of Christ. They may be saved as servants, though they have not lived as sons. They have always dwelt among the bondmen and have been actuated by servile motives. If they have ever heard of Jesus Christ, the great emancipator who makes "free indeed," through some misconception of their privilege or of his power they have failed to appropriate his proclamation of liberty.

The difficulty with those who serve God in the legal spirit is that their acts of obedience are viewed as duty, a word not found in the Bible in the sense commonly ascribed to that term. Acts of duty are consciously performed. These are they who are legally right because they honor law. But they do not freely and spontaneously love the Lawgiver. They are like boys learning to write by painfully imitating the teacher's copy. Their action is constrained and not spontaneous and free. In the legal stage of religious experience we are thinking only of the law and its rewards and punishments. People who abstain from crime under the pressure of this motive are worthy of some commendation, for they are better citizens than those who disregard all the sanctions of law. But we reserve our highest commendation for those citizens who because of their love for their fellow-men spontaneously fulfill all the requirements of law, unconsciously obeying its precepts and refraining from its prohibitions. They help the cripple who falls in the street; they feed the hungry; they refrain from theft, adultery and murder because of the feeling of philanthropy and love of virtue, and not because of any law human or divine.

Jesus Exultant, Chapter 7.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Righteousness Among Those Ignorant of Christ

That righteousness may exist without conscious assurance of acceptance and peace and without even a knowledge of the historical Christ, is no new and strange doctrine, as may be seen in the introduction of Peter's sermon at C├Žsarea: "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted with him." Cornelius was in a state of acceptance as a servant, in doubt and fear without the Spirit of adoption, because he was ignorant of the giver, Jesus Christ. Says Paul: "When the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these having not the law are a law unto themselves, which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness."

On this ground the pagans need no probation after death. They who by living up to their best light have put on the elements of Christ's character have the essential Christ, though ignorant of the historical Christ.

Jesus, in that most sublimely awful passage which ever fell from his lips, represents the decisions of the day of judgment as turning not on the treatment of the historical Christ, but on the treatment of his representatives, the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the naked, the homeless child, the prisoner. Every one has a chance to become acquainted with the essential Christ and to reject or to assume and manifest his spirit. What a throng of good Samaritans, of humble peacemakers, of humane men and tender-hearted women in the humble walks of life, whose names the trump of fame never sounded, will be surprised to hear that they have ministered unto Jesus Christ! They lived in fear of losing heaven and died in doubt of their destiny.

Righteousness is conformity to the law of God; holiness is conformity to his nature. Righteousness, if possible without a knowledge of Christ, as in the case of pious pagans living up to their best light, affords little peace and less joy because of grave uncertainty and painful doubt. It is a scheme of justification by works and not by faith in the personal Christ. Repeated failures lead the thoughtful moralist to utter the despairing cry, "O, wretched man that I am." He is like a man attempting to cross the gulf of perdition walking on a single hair stretched from mountain top to mountain top. Having no balancing-pole, he is constantly in unstable equilibrium, and full of fear lest at every step he may lose his balance and irrecoverably fall into the yawning chasm. He cannot cancel one sin by meritorious works. He can find no day in which he can do overwork and thus compensate for past sin. The law claims the full revenue of his powers every moment. But the righteousness which results from faith in Christ has grounds for both peace and joy in various degrees. The justified person is required to keep the whole law and to be perfectly holy. To such is given the command, "Be ye yourselves holy in all manner of living, for I am holy" (I Pet. i. 15, R. V.). Every soul is required to make a complete consecration to Christ and to turn away from every known sin.

— from Jesus Exultant, Chapter 7.

Monday, July 14, 2014

God Has Three Kingdoms

There is a sense in which God has three kingdoms. The first two constitute the platform or pedestal on which the third is erected. 

First, God reigns over the material world by the mechanical necessity of physical laws. In this kingdom there is no freedom. The subjects, whether floating atoms or blazing suns, bow to the law of necessity. To this kingdom our bodies belong. The laws of gravitation and of vital chemistry are ceaselessly at work in them, whether we will or not, whether we wake or sleep. 

In the second place, God presides over a moral government requiring obedience to the universal law of moral obligation. God did not give us the privilege of choosing whether or not we would be in this kingdom. We are in it by no vote or consent of ours. The moral law is imbedded in our very constitution. We can escape it only by escaping two beings, God and ourselves. We may disobey and suffer penalty; we may obey and enjoy the reward. 

But on the basis of these two kingdoms stands another. No one is in it of necessity, but everyone enters freely. The law of this kingdom is love of righteousness. All who love righteousness love God, its perfect embodiment, and belong to this kingdom, hence it is purely spiritual with an ethical basis. It was founded by the Father. When some method of making the wicked righteous was needed, he devised the scheme of the atonement. Hence he is no impersonation of mercilessness holding an iron scepter, as some falsely assert, but a tender Father devising the ransom of his banished ones. "God so loved the world," says the divine record. The atonement is a river of love rising in the heart of the Father, flowing through the self-sacrifice of the Son and emptying itself on the earth in the gift of the Holy Ghost to restore to human souls the lost image of God, righteousness and true holiness. The Son of God is the administrator of this kingdom. He is head over all things to his church. "My kingdom is not of this world." From the residence of a majority of its subjects it is called the kingdom of heaven. The census of that kingdom would be so great that the number on the earth are to the number in heaven as a handful of sand is to a continent, or as the planets of our system are to the milky way powdered with stars. 

— edited and adapted from Jesus Exultant, Chapter 7.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Cross of Christ and Human Sin

 "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." — 1 Cor. ii. 2

Who is he who hangs thereon bowing his head in death? It is none other than the Son of God, who dwelt in his bosom and shared his glory before the world was. By him, "the image of the invisible God, were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in the earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions; all things were created by him and for him" (Col. 1. 16). Equal in power and glory with the Father, he says, "I and my Father are one." "He who hath seen me hath seen the Father." This person of infinite dignity is nailed to the cross, voluntarily laying down his life as a ransom for many. The cost of redemption is the measure of the turpitude of sin. Jesus died to antagonize sin, to neutralize its baneful effects and to arrest its consequences in such a manner as to afford no encouragement to sin, but rather to raise up the strongest safeguard against it. If Jesus Christ, by the grace of God, tasted death for every man, it proves that in every man there is some fatal plague spot which must be removed, which nothing short of the death of the Son of God could effect. I need not tell you that this plague is sin which embitters and blights every human soul, casting an eternal eclipse upon its future existence.

Before Jesus was born it was said, "He shall save his people from their sins." He began to preach and his theme was repentance of sin. He visits John the Baptist and he hears himself designated as "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." He heals the paralytic, — but his omniscient eye sees deeper than the paralysis of the body the sin of the soul, which he hastens to forgive before he utters the omnipotent word, "Arise, take up thy bed and walk." From the top of Olivet he looks down upon Jerusalem and weeps over her sins. On the cross he prays, not Father, deliver me, but Father, forgive the sins of my murderers.

The whole scheme of revelation in both Testaments has distinct reference to sin. The great problem with which omnipotence wrestled was how to annihilate sin without annihilating the sinner. Justice said: "Let them share the same fate." Mercy cried: "Let me devise a ransom, though it be the most precious thing in the universe, even the only begotten of the Father. Let his death atone for the sins of the human race with whose nature he has forever united himself. Let him satisfy the demands of the moral Governor and the Protector of law, and at the same time melt the obduracy of sinners and sway them to a penitent acceptance of Christ as both Saviour and Lord." The chasm between sinners and God is bridged by an atonement satisfactory with God and influential with man.

We may not be able to state correctly the philosophy of the atonement on its Godward side, showing in what way he is affected by the death of his Son. But the saving efficacy of the atonement does not depend on our perfect philosophy, but on that faith which inspires love, imparts spiritual life, overcomes the world, and purifies the heart. The Father is grossly misrepresented when he is represented as a pitiless and vengeful Shylock demanding his pound of flesh, while his Son is the sole embodiment of mercy. The Father originated the atonement and himself suffered in the gift of his well-beloved Son beyond all possible conception by men or angels. Suffering is the highest proof of love. To say that the gift of his Son to the manger and the cross did not wring the heart of the Father with the keenest anguish, is to strip him of every proof of love to a world of sinners. Professor Fairbairn asserts that it is a great error to teach that God is incapable of suffering.

The self-sacrifice of both the Father and the Son in providing for human redemption pours a light of double intensity upon the awful nature of sin. Not so distinctly are we taught that the Holy Spirit suffers in his part of the scheme of redemption. But in the application of it by convicting the world of sin, he must be deeply grieved with every individual who rejects his mission and hardens himself in sin. The three Persons of the Trinity being interested in the elimination of sin are pained by its existence in any human character.

"With joy the Father doth approve
The fruit of his eternal love;
The Son looks down with joy and sees
The purchase of his agonies;
The Spirit takes delight to view
The contrite souls he forms anew;
While saints and angels join to sing
The growing empire of their King."

Jesus Exultant, Chapter 6.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Centrality of the Cross in Paul's Preaching

"For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." — 1 Cor. ii. 2

The character and career of St. Paul are an inspiration to every believer in Christ and a model to every one of his ministers. That character will never cease to be admired by all who are capable of emotions of moral sublimity. It will be a dark day for the Christian church when this heroic apostolic example will have no imitators. He declared that after a course of bloody persecution he obtained mercy that he might stand forth as a conspicuous specimen of the wonderful power and condescending mercy of God, and as a pattern of all long-suffering to them who should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting. We are justified in saying that Saul found pardoning grace that his course of labors and sufferings might be presented to every successive generation of Christian heralds as a model of all ministerial fidelity and devotion to his divine Master. His heroism is seen not only in his persistent surmounting of obstacles and dauntless courage to face foes thirsting for his blood, but also in the offensive doctrine to which he always gave prominence. He exalts and magnifies the most unpalatable truth of the gospel. He lifts up the bloody cross, awakening the anger of the Jew and the disgust of the Greek. To the one it was a stumbling-block and to the other foolishness. The Jew's worldly ideal of the Messiah was rudely shocked by the hammer that nailed the Nazarene to the tree. Even to this day he will not bow the knee to Jesus Christ because he says, in the words of a Hebrew college classmate, "I cannot worship a dead God." The cultured Greek, whose exquisite taste has given law to art, has his modern successors who are disgusted with a theology that has the blood of atonement as a cardinal element. Every audience before whom Paul "reasoned" was composed of Jews and Greeks whose prejudices were harshly assaulted, whose tastes were grossly offended by the very mention of the shameful cross as the instrument of blessing to mankind.

For we must strive to recollect what the cross was. We have wrought it in gold and wreathed it with flowers, and worn it as an ornament, and placed it at the top of all human symbolisms, until we have transfigured it. It had none of these associations originally. It was the meanest of all the engines of torture. The guillotine has something respectable in it, as it was used in the decapitation of princes as well as of robbers. The gallows is not so mean as the cross; for, when there was slavery among us, and a master and his slave were convicted of a capital crime, they perished on the same scaffold. But the cross was reserved for the lowest and vilest malefactors. It added deepest ignominy to death — Tacitus called crucifixion the torture of slaves.

Paul was constantly under a strong temptation to please men by concealing the cross and by exalting other facts in the history of Christ. For he is a very wide topic, affording a vast variety of themes. Paul could have preached many sermons without alluding to Christ's ignominious, judicial death. His inventive and fertile mind could easily have filled up his longest term of service in one place, three years, dwelling without repetition on other topics than the crucifixion and its relation to human salvation. He might have preached on the mediatorial office of the Son of God in the physical realm, by whom the world's were made, and by whom they are upheld, and in whom all things consist. How easy for Paul's judicial mind to discourse of the Son of God as the governor of the world, proving that his shoulder upholds the kingdom, and that he is head over all things unto his church. How large the theme of messianic prophecy! How many sermons on the text, "Unto him give all the prophets witness"! How charming and fertile the theme of the unique and wonderful character, a sinless soul mingling unstained with a world of sinners, wearing the robe of spotless purity amid earth's pollutions; each radiant virtue constituting the theme of a discourse, his humility, his meekness, his philanthropy, his forgiving spirit, his zeal and diligence in his Father's work, the wonderful symmetry of his character, so unlike any creation of man's imagination as to prove him divine. How rarely did Paul in his addresses dwell upon the miracles of Jesus, a large subject almost entirely neglected. He names only the miracle of miracles, the resurrection of Christ. The legal training of St. Paul might have found a large field for its exercise in amplifying each of the wonderful utterances of the sermon on the mount, emphasizing and illustrating every specific moral obligation. What proofs of Christ's Godhood might have been educed from his sole judgment of the whole human race, adjudging changeless and eternal destinies!

Paul knew how to become all things to all men that he might win some. Why then is he not politic and conciliatory in the selection of the theme of his preaching? There must be some good reason. This is found in the fact that the cross is the center of the Christian system. To have ignored it would have been to pluck the roots from the tree with the expectation that it would grow and withstand the tornado, or to dig out the corner-stone and look to see the temple withstand the earthquake.

Paul might thus have conciliated a few bitter Hebrew enemies of Christ, or he might have gained the favor of a few proud philosophers, but he would have torn out the heart of Christianity and would have preached another gospel. If he had shunned preaching salvation through the blood of Christ he would have robbed Christianity of its distinctive doctrine, on which rest both justification from the guilt of sin and sanctification from its pollution, and he would have made Jesus a favorite on the platform of the skeptics and agnostics of his day. To Jesus as a mere ethical teacher they would have no more objection than they have to Confucius, Buddha or Zoroaster; and his gospel would have become as impotent to save as are their religions. Jesus the expounder of the moral law on the mount of beatitudes provokes no great opposition in the proud sinner. But Jesus the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world arouses the hostility of the self-righteous, because it lays their pride in the dust to be saved through the sacrifice of another. How contemptuous and blasphemous the words of a former professed teacher of Christianity in Boston, that "orthodox people are depending for salvation on the blood of a crucified Jew, the son of a peasant mother and a peasant sire." Paul magnifies Christ's death, because as an atonement for sin it is the foundation of all the vital doctrines of the gospel. Here are displayed God's love, man's worth, and the nature and cure of sin.

Jesus Exultant Chapter 6.