It has been said that “One cannot understand the Holiness Movement today without a knowledge of Phoebe Palmer and the Tuesday Meetings.”
This statement shows the tremendous influence that Mrs Palmer had. Her ministry touched the lives of many, some of whom were to have a decisive impact on Christian History, such as William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army. Mrs Palmer’s ministry started in a humble manner in the Tuesday Meeting that she and her sister founded; these meetings were to spread to many parts of America. Mrs Palmer and her husband were involved in evangelistic campaigns and in camp meetings. The Palmers also spent time in Britain influencing the founders of the Keswick Convention. In all of this Phoebe Palmer’s main concern was to promote holy living.
Phoebe Palmer used testimony as her major teaching tool and she therefore had a very strong emphasis on the experiential nature of the Christian faith. This has caused some to see her as overly subjective in her teaching. This is an understandable reaction but it does not always do justice to Mrs Palmer’s desire to be a Bible Christian. Her aim was to draw people into the fullness of biblical faith and holiness of life. With a background of Methodism, her Wesleyan theology shows through at many points in her teaching; this is so even when she develops her thinking in novel ways. Mrs Palmer was known for her Altar theology and many attribute this to her. If this is so, Finney took this terminology on board at a very early stage. The other alternative is that this phraseology was already in use by the 1830’s and Mrs Palmer developed it. She was active in ministry for many years before she equated the reception of holiness with the baptism of the Spirit. Timothy Smith says,
Phoebe Palmer…was so involved in the elaboration of John Wesley’s language of Calvary that she was one of the last to adopt the new terminology, but she did adopt it, in the fall of 1856, after a summer of immense spiritual refreshing in camp meetings in Western New York. Her next major book, Promise of the Father for the Last Days, made Peter’s text at Pentecost the basis of faith for the “second blessing” and the foundation as well of a biblical argument in favour of women’s right to preach the gospel.
Smith here refers to the Palmer’s, The Promise of the Father, but before returning to this volume one needs to look at her earlier teaching and see how this prepares for her later teaching on the baptism of the Spirit.
Phoebe Palmer is perhaps remembered best for her book, The Way of Holiness. In this volume we are confronted with a woman who desires to be a Bible Christian at any cost. She struggles to find a way forward to a more holy life. This book was to influence the whole tone of holiness teaching, by showing how to enter the blessing of entire sanctification. Although Mrs Palmer did not refer to the baptism of the Holy Spirit in her early ministry, she did believe in a second work of grace subsequent to salvation.
Teaching through testimony was Mrs Palmer’s strong point, she never claimed to have presented a systematic theological approach to the subject. Phoebe Palmer wanted to use her biblical knowledge to see lives transformed. Her book, The Way of Holiness, was criticised in her own day because it was claimed that she downplayed the inner witness of the Holy Spirit and replaced it with syllogistic holiness. This was linked to her altar terminology and her teaching about naked faith. Although Mrs Palmer is probably not guilty at this point, it is very easy to see how her followers would arrive at this position.
William Greathouse makes this helpful comment,
Eventually the altar theology became one of the common ways of preaching and teaching in the holiness movement. Mrs Palmer herself was able to satisfy most of her critics that her teachings were “substantially orthodox and Wesleyan,” but many who taught the Palmer way failed to achieve her balance at essential points. Her “theological syllogism” as Dieter calls it, led to a pattern of teaching into which the ensuing movement often fell, pressing upon seekers a simplistic stereotyped formula that was in danger of precluding an authentic spiritual experience.
Mrs Palmer intended to be a biblical Christian and therefore her use of altar theology was meant to be Christocentric not anthropocentric. Her emphasis on the atonement and its application to the believer is one which points to the merits and glory of Christ. Every blessing received by the believer is given as a result of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. Mrs Palmer’s use of testimony could be construed to be a man centred approach, nothing could be farther from the truth. Phoebe Palmer uses testimony to lead to Christ, she says,
I will let every high state of grace in name, alone, and seek only to be fully conformed to the will of God as recorded in His written word. My chief endeavours shall be centred in the aim to be an humble Bible Christian. By the grace of God, all my energies shall be directed at this one point. With this single aim, I will journey onward even though my faith may be tried to the uttermost by those manifestations being withheld, which have been previously been regarded as essential for the establishment of faith.
Phoebe Palmer realised her utter dependence upon God and his grace, this led her to a deeper consecration; she surrendered her whole being to God for his service. She saw this consecration as a response to the richness of God’s grace. We can see this in an important section of The Way of Holiness, when she says,
With poverty of spirit her heart was constantly giving utterance to its emotions with the poet-
“Thou all our works in me has wrought,
Our good is all divine,
The praise of every virtuous thought
And righteous act is thine.”
And when (as she still continued in a waiting attitude before the Lord) the Spirit appealed to her understanding thus “Through what power have you been enabled thus to present yourself a living sacrifice to God?” Her heart replied, “through the power of God, I could no more have brought myself, but through faith in God, believing it to be his requirement, than I could have created a world!” Immediately the Spirit suggested, “If God has enabled you to bring it, will he not, now that you bring it and lay it on the altar, accept it at your hands? She now, indeed, began to feel that all things were ready! And, in thrilling anticipation, began to say, “Thou wilt receive me! Yes, thou wilt receive me! And still she felt something was wanting. “But when and how shall I know that thou dost receive me?” Said the importunate language of her heart. The Spirit presented the declaration of the written word in reply, “Now is the accepted time.”
She realised that faith must be placed in the written word of God and not in feelings, ”Yet, faith and feeling are two distinct objects, though so nearly allied”.
59 Because of this she realised that she had been seeking feelings rather than exercising faith in God and his Word. Her error at this point was to lead her to emphasise naked faith in the Word of God. One other point arising from the above quotation is that she ascribes the altar terminology to the Holy Spirit.
In section 6 of, The Way of Holiness, Mrs Palmer shows that her view of faith is now centred upon the word of God, therefore, God must keep his promises. This section is interesting because while there is a strong emphasis on faith in the promises, there is also testimony given to the working of the Holy Spirit at the same time. Here we clearly see that Word and Spirit are not divorced in her thinking. It is interesting that in a chapter which emphasises the act of faith, that we also find Phoebe Palmer’s testimony to the inner witness of the Spirit. This inner witness leads quite naturally to a greater awareness of the centrality of Christ; she said,
Her perceptions of the absolute need of the atonement were never so vivid as while journeying onward in this way. She felt she could not take one progressive step, or for one moment present an acceptable sacrifice, but through the merits of her Savior.
Mrs Palmer’s altar theology has been referred to above but for a proper understanding of her thinking, it is now necessary to briefly examine her explanation of this point. The whole concept of altar theology is linked to and grows out of Mrs Palmer’s emphasis on faith in the written word of God. In the Old Testament dispensation the altar sanctified all that was placed on it; this is seen by Mrs Palmer to be a shadow of the good things to come in Jesus Christ. In the New dispensation, Christ himself is the altar and therefore when a believer places himself on the altar of Christ that person is cleansed from all sin. The act of consecration is the means to entire sanctification and was later to become identified in Mrs Palmer’s thinking with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In section 9 of, The Way of Holiness, Mrs Palmer expounds at length her views on this vital subject. Some examples of her argument are given below.
The altar, thus provided by the cojoint testimony of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is Christ. His sacrificial death and sufferings are the sinners plea, the immutable promises of the Lord Jehovah the ground of claim. If true to the Spirit’s operations on the heart, men, as workers together with God, confess their sins, the faithfulness and justice of God stand pledged not only to forgive but also to cleanse from all unrighteousness.
And though she apprehend that nothing but the blood of Jesus could sanctify and cleanse from sin, yet she was scripturally assured that it was needful for the recipient of this grace, as a worker together with God, to place himself believingly upon “the altar that sanctifieth the gift,” ere he could prove the efficacy of the all-cleansing blood. Gracious intentions, and strong desires, she was convinced, are not sufficient to bring about these important results; corresponding action is also necessary; the offering must be brought and believingly laid upon the altar, ere the acceptance of it can be realised. In this crucifixion of nature, the Spirit helpeth our infirmities, and worketh mightily to will-but man must act.
Mrs. Palmer here strongly affirms a synergistic view of salvation and sanctification. Because of this she stressed the need to lay all on the altar. This in turn led her to stress that once one has placed oneself on the altar that person is sanctified, hence the accusation of syllogistic holiness. This is to take her teaching out of context because she is always emphasising the experiential nature of her faith and indeed the Spirit’s working within.
63 Mrs Palmer taught that consecration was something that must be maintained; it was not a once and for all act but rather a constant keeping of oneself on the altar by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Turning now to Mrs. Palmer’s teaching on the baptism of the Spirit, it has been noted that Mrs Palmer was one of the last to adopt this terminology. In her, Notes by the Way, there is an interesting reference to baptism in the Spirit, Mrs Palmer has been recounting the story of a man seeking to enter the way of holiness when she says,
For about four hours he was no more under his own control, or that of his friends around him, than the apostles were when first baptized with the Holy Ghost. Many others were baptized as suddenly at the same time. He still continues a flaming witness of saving grace.
It is quite clear from the context that Mrs Palmer identifies this experience with entire sanctification. Mrs Palmer in her book, Full Salvation,
mentions the baptism with the Holy Ghost and links it not only to purity but also to power. After discussing a case where someone has not been converted until his mother has been baptised by the Holy Spirit, Mrs Palmer makes these interesting comments,
We have known very marked cases other than the one we are just now about to present, where the conversion of dear ones, though long prayed for, was delayed till after the pleader had received that power from on high which the full baptism of the Spirit brings
The context of this passage clearly shows that Mrs Palmer identified the baptism of the Spirit with entire sanctification; the power that comes from this full baptism is one that comes from the cleansed soul. She does not conceive the baptism with the Spirit to be primarily about power for service but rather the cleansing of the soul so that the person can live for the glory of God. In her book, The Promise of the Father
,Phoebe Palmer continues to identify the baptism of the Spirit with entire sanctification. She expresses this very clearly in the following words,
A recognition of the full baptism of the Holy Ghost as a grace to be experienced and enjoyed in the present life, was the distinguishing doctrine of Methodism. And who can doubt but it was this speciality that again brought out a host of Spirit-baptised labourers, as in the apostolic days? And the satisfaction with which this apostolic man [Wesley] recognised and encouraged the use of the endowment of power is everywhere observable throughout his writing.
Mrs Palmer as she refers to Wesley in the above passage, shows that she identifies his teaching on entire sanctification with her teaching on the baptism with the Holy Spirit.
Mrs Palmer throughout her ministry was consciously Wesleyan in her theology. Her main emphasis was upon purity of heart and it is the purified heart that is empowered to do God’s will.
Daniel Steele was very obviously a man of scholarship, warm hearted discipleship and worship of God. He maintained a pastoral heart and used his learning for the benefit of the ordinary believer.
His writings include; Love Enthroned,
70The Gospel of the Comforter, 71 Milestone Papers, and Defense of Christian Perfection. All of these volumes have been consulted for this chapter but the following discussion will concentrate on, Love Enthroned, and, The Gospel of the Comforter, for it is in these two volumes that Daniel Steele presents his views in a systematic manner. Although, Love Enthroned, was published in 1875 and, The Gospel of the Comforter, in 1897, there is a continuity of thinking. These volumes are clear statements of Wesleyan Theology and as such represent the growing Holiness Movement. With his distinct teaching he resisted equating the baptism of the Spirit with power for service; he was convinced that entire sanctification and the baptism of the Spirit are to be equated. This reminds us that although there was a growing emphasis on the baptism of the Holy Spirit being an enduement with power from on high, we cannot claim this is the only emphasis. Two streams of thought were developing which were to result in the emergence of the Pentecostal and Holiness Movements as we know them today. It is therefore vital that we evaluate this restatement of the Wesleyan position.
Love Enthroned: Love Enthroned, by its title, leads one to expect a restatement of the Wesleyan position. Steele also brings his scholarship to bear in a creative manner in this debate and therefore makes a significant contribution of his own. Steele was influenced at many points by Fletcher. This is apparent in his approach to both the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the concept of three dispensations. Also Steele brings his knowledge of the Greek text of the New Testament to bear upon the discussion. The emphasis on purity comes through clearly when Daniel Steele says,
The age of miracles is not past. Jesus changed unresisting water into wine, but the Holy Ghost transfigures the sinful soul bristling with antagonisms, transforming depravity to purity by the mighty alchemy of Love. The power to effect such revolutions in character constitutes the standing miracle of Christianity.
Steele goes on to argue that entire sanctification must take place in this life if we are to avoid any concept of purgatory; he believes that the classic position held by Protestants turns death into a purgatorial process thus transforming an enemy into a friend. Steele also believes that entire sanctification is possible now because of the clear promises, commands and statements of Scripture. He says,
The promises of sanctifying grace are available to believers now, or they are worthless.
For true faith can be exercised for spiritual grace for ourselves only as it rests on the promise which includes the present moment . “Knowing this, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” This promise of the destruction of sin begins now, and is followed by a glorious henceforth of emancipation this side of death.
Although Steele spoke of entire sanctification in glowing terms, he was also aware of the results of the fall. Steele recognised that the sanctified believer is still involved in spiritual warfare, wandering thoughts caused by health and tiredness were still problems to contend with. The whole of chapter six shows that Steele had wrestled with the problems which are posed by those who are opposed to entire sanctification. He also had obviously thought through issues that would have perplexed those who claimed to be entirely sanctified.
The purpose of his seventh chapter is to demonstrate that entire sanctification and the baptism with the Spirit are identical. Steele commences his argument with reference to Acts15:9; he identifies the purifying of the believers hearts with the second work of grace because he believed that Cornelius and his household were already justified and thus their need was for the fullness of salvation found in entire sanctification. Steele says,
The conclusion is inevitable, that the baptism of the Holy Ghost includes the extinction of sin in the believer’s soul as its negative and minor part, and the fullness of love shed abroad in the heart as its positive and greater part, in other words, it includes entire sanctification and Christian perfection.
Steele believed like, Fletcher whom he quotes, that a knowledge of the three dispensations of Father, Son and Holy Spirit are essential for the preacher who would lead his people to perfection. He held that the present dispensation is that of the Holy spirit, the provisions of this dispensation are that of cleansing from sin and the reception of God’s blessing so that the believer may live a holy life. Steele believed that with the witness of the Spirit in the believer’s life it was possible to live a triumphant life. Steele does not see a conflict between purity and power but rather he sees love as power, love overcomes sin. Steele does not turn all this into a neat formula but rather he recognises the diverse ways God treats the individual believer. He warns against setting up well known Christians as the standard to which believers should conform. Steele showed pastoral wisdom when he said,
While, therefore, everyone should covet the best gift, he should not rest satisfied till he has received the grace of the Holy Ghost in the plenitude of his purifying and inspiring efficacy. Then he should thankfully employ the gift bestowed, and not in vain repining covet the more showy gift of his fellow-laborer in the Lord’s vineyard.
Throughout, Love Enthroned, Steele shows the greatness of God’s salvation but he teaches that these blessings can only be received by faith. It is therefore important that the believer should be instructed in the fullness of God’s grace. Only when the believer
realises that the blessings are available to him, will he respond in faith and receive all that God intends for him. Steele in his teaching is consistently Arminian; this can be seen in his synergistic presentation of the gospel. He gives primacy to God’s grace at the same time as he teaches mans responsibility to respond to that grace.
The Gospel of the Comforter: this book is a continuation of Daniel Steele’s theological presentation of the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. Even though, The Gospel of the Comforter was written twenty four years after Love Enthroned,
there is a great deal of overlap, as well as some complimentary teaching. In this sectiionthe discussion will be confined to looking at aspects of the teaching that are clarified in, The Gospel of the Comforter.
The first point that will be looked at is, in which ways Christ is the sanctifier and in which ways the Holy Spirit is the sanctifier. Steele says,
When Christ is spoken of as our sanctification, it is meant, not that he enters into the hearts of believers and cleanses them, but that he provides the purifying medium, His own shed blood, and the sanctifying agent, The Holy Spirit. The Son’s work is external, the Spirit’s internal, or in philosophic terms, the work of one is objective, that of the other is subjective; the one sanctifies provisionally and the other effectualy.
This passage is important to any understanding of the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. By stressing the objective work of Christ and the subjective work of the Spirit, Steele is able to demonstrate the unity of purpose between Son and Spirit without compromising or confusing their roles in the economy of salvation. Christ’s unique work of redemption is upheld in all its glory while at the same time upholding the dynamic nature of the Holy Spirit’s work in the application of that work to the believer. Steele is keen to maintain that entire sanctification is a crisis experience through which the believer can receive the blessing of inner purity
Because of his emphasis on the inner witness of the Holy Spirit at this point, no one could accuse Steele of holding to a syllogistic holiness.
Steele discusses the whole issue of the connection between purity and power in chapter seventeen, which is entitled, “Christ’s two receptions and two bestowal’s of the Spirit”. In this chapter he states that the believer needs to be cleansed before he is empowered. Steele says,
A sinners first need is newness of life imparted by the Holy Spirit, the Lord of life, before he can walk in the footsteps of Christ. In the plan of salvation there is a divine order which must be followed to attain the best results. In this order purity normally precedes power. This proposition implies that purity is not power. Jesus was perfectly pure and sinless during the thirty years preceding his baptism, but there was no miracle, no astonishing wisdom revealed to the people of Nazareth. He was known only as a blameless young man and a good carpenter. But when filled with the Spirit, “Many hearing him were astonished, saying, whence hath this man these things? And what mean such mighty works wrought by his hands?”
If even Jesus needed “the power of the Spirit,” and did not enter his work till he received it, surely every Christian needs the same power to do public or private work to which he is called. But let him follow the divine order for its attainment, life before service and purity before power.
Steele also discusses the relationship between purity and power in chapter thirty one, “The
Fullness of the Spirit”. In this chapter, he is keen to maintain the priority of purity over power. He acknowledges that some have sought the baptism of the Spirit as a full endument for service, however, he maintains that in such cases, when one examines the testimonies given, there is clear evidence given to show that purity has priority over power. Steele states it this way,
It is quite evident that purity is a prerequisite to this indwelling fulness of the Spirit. This is the divine order, first cleansed, then filled. All filling presupposes emptying. It is true that the baptism of the Spirit has been sought and received as a full endowment for service. But a careful examination of such experiences reveals the fact of the Spirit’s revelation of an inward bias to moral evil, and of the seekers full consent to its extermination by the purifying fire of the Spirit before he his abode within. This consent is part of his irreversible and all-embracing self-surrender to Christ, the great Physician, whose healing power is prepatory to the full endowment with the Holy Spirit.
The above quotation shows that although Steele would not deny the testimonies of others, he was not willing to accept that the baptism of the Spirit was anything less than an experience of divine cleansing.
Steele, as has been demonstrated above was thoroughly Wesleyan in his theology. He lifted up the banner of “scriptural holiness” and expected believers to have their lives transformed by the cleansing and empowering baptism of the Spirit.
Daniel Steele in his work laid the foundation for a Holiness Theology which others would build upon and it is a pity that this work is unknown outside of Holiness circles. In the course of his life he made a great contribution to the debate about the baptism of the Holy Spirit but he also contributed other helpful insights into the work of the Holy Spirit that are outside the remit of this paper.