“LET GO AND LET GOD”:
KESWICK MOVEMENT’S LASTING IMPACT ON FUNDAMENTALISM’S VIEW OF
SANCTIFICATION Mr. Paul Gibbs Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary Lansdale, PA
The National Leadership Conference this year deals with the topic of sanctification. As part of the conference’s coverage, various theological models of sanctification are being stated and compared. The Keswick view of sanctification refers to the view promoted by speakers and organizers of a nondenominational, summer Bible conference on the shores of Lake Derwentwater, in England’s Lake District. This summer conference, continuing to this day, impacted our fundamentalist forebears and continues to have a latent influence on our language and practical theology.
Days at the Keswick Convention start with quiet times on the lakeshore and move on to group worship and Bible teaching, followed with an afternoon of relaxation and time for spiritual reflection, and closed in an evening of powerful preaching. 1 Men who wove the fabric of our history walked along these Keswick shores; a short list of their names looks like a shelf in my grandfather’s library: Hudson Taylor, H. C. G. Moule, C. I. Scofield, Andrew Murray, G. Campbell Morgan, R. A. Torrey, Donald Gray Barnhouse, and Dwight L. Moody. They came to Keswick to drink in the spirit of surrender for which Keswick is so noted, a spirit which aims for surrendered hearts owned by Christ, which He will fill and bring His holiness to sinful flesh which is unable to do any good thing of itself. Along these shores, the term “surrender” takes deep root in the hearts of those who visit, and, since its beginning in 1875, Keswick shoots have sprung up all around the world.2 American Fundamentalism, since its beginnings after the Civil War, has shared in the deep roots of Keswick: Keswick theology, emphasizing the attainability of complete sanctification through the surrender of the heart to Jesus Christ, was part of the climate of early Fundamentalism.
This workshop attempts to clarify the theology, history, and influence of Keswick theology on early fundamentalism. As such, three subjects will be surveyed: (1) the disctinctives of Keswick theology, (2) the history of Keswick, and (3) trans-Atlantic conduits of Keswick influence.
Distinctives of Keswick theology
The hallmark of Keswick theology is its doctrine of sanctification. While it builds upon the Reformed tradition and is in essential agreement with that view, Keswick proponents view the Reformed doctrine as not going far enough to explain how a Christian can use his or her
1 Keswick Convention, “A Typical Weekday at Keswick”; available: http://www.keswickconv.com/whatis.html ; Internet; accessed 4 February 2003.
2 According to the official Keswick website, its theology remains unchanged. “The world has changed dramatically since , yet the Biblical truths and values that inspired that first meeting in Keswick have not.” Keswick Convention, “What is Keswick?”; available: http://www.keswickconv.com/whatiskeswick.htm ; Internet; accessed 16 April 2001.
Reformed perspective to see sin defeated in their lives.3 Contrasted with the traditional Reformed doctrine of sanctification, Keswick theology teaches that Christ gives us complete victory over all conscious sin when we reach a point of total consecration, or “absolute surrender.” This may be seen by clarifying both views and noting the differences.
The traditional Reformed view of sanctification
Reformed doctrine teaches that sanctification is an act of God, completed at glorification, in which He gradually eliminates sin in the saint’s life by providing spiritual “muscles” in powerless human flesh by which the saint may work out a desire for holiness.
Sanctification will never result in complete victory until glorification.
Sanctification, the “link between regeneration and glorification,”4 is the beginning of the path to glorification, and glorification (including the absence of sin) will not be accomplished until we are resurrected in a new body. According to the Westminster Confession, XIII. ii, “This sanctification is throughout, in the whole man; yet imperfect in this life, there abideth still some remnants of corruption in every part.”5 In Reformed doctrine, man is always aware of sin’s presence.
Sanctification is an ongoing struggle with sin in which man participates.
Reformation doctrine teaches that the Holy Spirit provides spiritual “muscles” which the saint may use to perform godly works:6 “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” Paul says, with the understanding that “it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). Strong describes sanctification as being an “intelligent” rooting about in one’s life to discover and destroy sin, 7 and which involves man’s God-given diligence in utilizing, with God-given resolve, all God-given tools at his disposal to conquer sinful thoughts and deeds.8
The Keswick doctrine of sanctification
In contrast to the traditional Reformed view of sanctification, Keswick theology accepts the foundational teaching of Reformed doctrine but says that sanctification can and should results in a state of absolute victory over all of the sins of which a saint is consciously
3 Cf., J. Robertson McQuilkin, “Response to Hoekema,” ch. in Five Views on Sanctification, ed. Stanley N. Gundry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), 98-99.
4 J. I. Packer, “Keswick and the Reformed Doctrine of Sanctification,” Evangelical Quarterly 27 (July 1955), 155.
5 William S. Barker, ed., The Westminster Standards: An Original Fascimile (Audubon, NJ: Old Paths, 1997), 25.
6 Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 533-534; Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson, 1993), 871.
7 Strong, Systematic Theology, 871.
8 Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 534.
aware, and that this state is brought about without the conscious effort of the saint through the work of Jesus Christ, Who works only as the saint maintains a state of total consecration.
Sanctification, absolute victory over all known sin, is available today.
According to an authoritative speaker on Keswick theology, Stephen Barabas,9 Christ’s work in the believer’s life is already complete in the cross, and may bring absolute victory over all known sin in a believer’s life;10 that absolute victory is accessed by surrendering one’s life in faith that Christ will perform the work of complete victory over known sin.11 It is not classical Wesleyan sanctification (the perfect manifestation of God’s love, though lived out in the weaknesses of our fallen intellects and fallen society), nor is American holiness-movement perfectionism (the eradication of all sin), but rather victory over all known sin.12
Sanctification is not a struggle.
Keswick, Barabas says, teaches that freedom from all known sin “is not attained by struggle and painful effort, by earnest resolutions and self-denial, but through the cross. It is stepped into by simple faith.”13 The first great Keswick voice, South African Andrew Murray, posed human effort and resolve as the enemy of virtue: “The greatest hindrance to trust is self-effort. So long as you have got your own wisdom and thoughts and strength, you cannot fully trust God.”14 Waltke characterizes this model of sanctification as “teaching that from the inner passivity of looking to Christ to do everything will issue a perfection of performance.”15 This teaching is in opposition to Reformed doctrine. As such, Keswick literature frequetly uses terminology such as “Let go and let God,” “victorious Christian living”, and “absolute surrender”.
9 Barabas’ systematic expression of Keswick theology and history (Steven Barabas, So Great Salvation: The History and Message of the Keswick Convention (Westwood, N.J.: n.d.)) has been deemed authoritative by proponents and opponents of Keswick teaching alike. An opponent of the movement, J. I. Packer calls Barabas’s work “a statement of the distinctive and characteristic ‘Keswick teaching’ which we may safely treat as definitive” (Packer, “Keswick,” 153); Keswick Convention Council chairman Fred Mitchell agrees in Barabas’ preface, (Barabas, So Great Salvation, x).
10 Barabas, So Great Salvation, 84.
11 Ibid., 90; Packer, “Keswick,” 161.
12 H. W. Webb-Peploe, Sunday School Times, 25 June 1 898; quoted in Strong, Systematic Theology, 877; Ernest R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism (Chicago: U. of Chicago, 1970), 179.
13 Barabas, So Great Salvation, 90.
14 Andrew Murray, Absolute Surrender (Springdale, Pa.: Whitaker, 1982), 114. Cf. Andrew Murray, Obtain the Power of God (Springdale, Pa.: Whitaker, 1984), 18-19; Andrew Murray, Humility (Springdale, Pa.: Whitaker, 1982), 66.
15 Bruce Waltke, “Evangelical Spirituality: A Biblical Scholar’s Perspective,” JETS 31/1 (March 1988), 22.
The history of Keswick
Keswick theology is, essentially, (1) American Oberlin perfectionism (i.e., Charles Finney) imported to England by popular American speakers, (2) introduced to the upper classes, where its Wesleyan perfectionist edge was removed, (3) institutionalized by means of its central theme at the Keswick Conference, (4) and imported back to the United States in its new form by early fundamentalists.
Born in Philadelphia
The Americans who took the kernel form of “Keswick teaching” to England were Mr. and Mrs. William E. Boardman, and, most importantly, Mrs. and Mr. Robert Pearsall Smith (Mrs. Smith’s ministry was even more influential than her husband’s). Living in Philadelphia, William Boardman wrote a Wesleyan/holiness book titled The Higher Christian Life in 1858, and the book was an immediate and enduring success in England for up to 50 years later. The book’s success in England was due in part to the fact that a strong alliance between pietistic Evangelicals existed in England at that time, and there was and a broad and renewed interest in personal spiritual life.16 Both the Smiths and the Boardmans moved to England in the early 1870s for health reasons, 17 where they associated under D. L. Moody to hold evangelistic meetings. During the evangelistic campaigns, they held, along with Asa Mahan, former president of Oberlin College,18 morning breakfast meetings for businessmen and clergy at which they promoted their particular doctrine of Wesleyan perfectionism. As their books were well received, so were their lectures, and their influence began to grow.
The Broadlands, Oxford, Brighton and the birth of the Keswick Convention
The breakfasts which the Smiths and Boardmans led were held during the morning, at a time which was inconvenient for the person of average means, who was unable to take time from work to attend the meetings.19 Thus, the Americans were received into upper-class, influential intellectual circles almost immediately. 20 In 1874, at the Broadlands estate in England,
16 David Bundy, “Keswick and the Experience of Evangelical Piety,” chap. in Modern Christian Revivals, eds. Edith L. Blumhofer and Randall Balmer (Chicago: U. of Illinois, 1993), 134. As Hudson Taylor’s son said, the time around the arrival of Boardman’s book into England was characterized by “a remarkable movement for the deepening of spiritual life.” (Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission: The Growth of a Work of God (London: The Religious Tract Socie ty, 1934), 264.)
17 Barabas, So Great Salvation, 19.
18 Johnson, The Highest Life, 15. Oberlin was the college where Finney was professor of theology and from which Finney wrote on perfectionism. Mahan also participated in the early Keswick meetings, according to Marsden (George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism. 1870-1925 (Oxford: Oxford, 1980), 77). Though Mahan’s influence was not very large, his invitation, interest, and participation in these meetings highlights the harmony of doctrine in both Oberlin theology and the theology of the Boardmans, Smiths, and—later— Keswick.
19 Ian S. Rennie, review of Keswick: A Bibliographic Introduction to the Higher Life Movements, by D.
D. Bundy, JETS 19:4 (Fa ll 1976): 342.
20 Rennie States, “The social class of its members has an effect on any movement, and English Keswick and Anglican evangelicalism will never be understood without an awareness of their upper-class orientation” (ibid.)
an invitation-only meeting was held of about 100 influential English evangelicals; the Smiths and Boardmans were among those present, and they presented their views at these meetings. Following this, a larger conference was held at Oxford, with one thousand attendees,21 at which Rev. T. D. Harford-Battersby, Vicar of St. John’s, Keswick, was impressed by what he perceived to be the biblicity of this Boardman-Smith “Higher Life” teaching. Nine months later, a larger Higher Life meeting of 8,000 individuals 22 was held in Brighton, and Harford-Battersby and a new associate of his, a Quaker by the name of Robert Wilson, 23 became convinced of the necessity to begin holding such meetings in Keswick. The Oxford Convention was held during the summer vacation season, and so, in the style of the Oxford conference, the first Keswick conference was also hosted in the August following Brighton. The leadership was the same leadership of the previous conventions, with the exception of Robert Pearsall Smith (who retired to seclusion that year24) and the addition of W. H. Webb-Peploe (who would become the principle leader of the convention for some fifty years following). Though the attendance only numbered about three hundred,25 those who attended were encouraged, and the decision was made to continue holding them yearly.
As has been just mentioned, Robert Pearsall Smith retired during the year of the first Keswick Conference, before it convened. His retirement brought a vital turn of events in Keswick history and marked a shift in the mood and content of the teaching of those who took his place in Keswick. Since becoming a member of Keswick meant being associated with a particular brand of questionable American perfectionism, many leaders of the evangelical church had started to shun their English brethren of Higher Life persuasion. 26 With the American leadership now dropping from the movement, the university-trained British founders were free to take what the Americans had brought and refine it in such as way as to give it a greater deal of theological refinement and credibility among their suspic ious brethren. Thus, the gap left by the disappearing American leadership brought a new influx of well-educated English clergy who were pressured to build a theology which was more refined and free of perfectionist trappings. Marsden explains that, by smoothing off the rough edges of Wesleyan perfectionism, replacing terms such as “eradication” with “counteraction,” and emphasizing “fillings” of the Spirit instead of “baptisms” of the Spirit, “Keswick teachers could offer a doctrine that in practice had many of
21 Barabas, So Great Salvation, 23.
23 Ibid., 25.
24 Though the precise circumstances surrounding his retirement from public life are to this day uncertain (Sandeen, Roots, 179), an official report on Smith’s retirement was made by some close associates of Smith several months after the first Keswick meeting. According to their report, Smith had “inculcated doctrines which were most unscriptural and dangerous” (Barabas, So Great Salvation, 27) and had also made some actions which were felt to be indiscreet (ibid). Smith and Boardman, it has been proposed, were incompatible with this goal, and thus the “dangerous” character of his teachings were exaggerated as a means to affect his disposal (ibid.; Bundy, “Keswick,” 127): Bundy states, “Smith’s perfectionism, with the attendant expectations of an American-style religious experience, had been troublesome even to some of Smith’s supporters. It would appear that an indiscretion on Smith’s part gave them a basis for eradicating him” (ibid.).
25 Ibid., 26.
26 Ibid., 27. According to Marsden, “The most influential British founders of the movement seem to have been quite careful to avoid the charge of teaching perfectionism, an accusation that had some plausibility considering the American company they were keeping” (Marsden, Fundamentalism, 77).
the same implications as the more Wesleyan Holiness teachings, but in theory avoided the claim . . . of ever being totally without sin.”27
A key American associate with Keswick since its inception was D. L. Moody. Moody, having much in common with Keswick theology, both in its teachings on sanctification (he himself had a Keswick experience of deepened surrender in 1871) and eschatology (Keswick leaders were largely premillennialists28), began to invite Keswick speakers to come and speak at his new Northfield conference, 29 which was a popular conference among Fundamentalists.30 Further, Princeton hosted three years of Keswick meetings which helped secure a home for Keswick in America: after three years, the American Keswick movement settled into its permanent home at Keswick Grove, New Jersey. 31 Thus, Keswick theology had come home— and, going through years of refinement in England, had been made more appealing for conservative, fundamentalist tastes.32
Trans-Atlantic conduits of Keswick-fundame ntalist influence
Fundamentalism grew with the Keswick movement. The two movements shared many leaders who crossed each other’s paths frequently, with members from group speaking in the other group’s meetings. A short survey of fundamentalist connections to this movement follows.
The Keswick influence on American Fundamentalism must begin with Moody, in Northfield. Northfield was an important fundamentalist stomping grounds,33 and noted Fundamentalist and Keswick voice A. T. Pierson taught there. 34 Keswick conference director Webb-Peploe spoke at Northfield in 1895, fundamentalist and Keswick teacher A. J. Gordon taught there, and F. B. Meyer spoke there at the same time that C. I. Scofield was there.35 Through Northfield, fundamentalist and Keswick leaders rubbed shoulders and formed friendships that led to the cross-training of their conference speakers.
Writers and speakers such as Baptist fundamentalist A. J. Gordon, influential in Fundamentalism with his paper, Watchword (documenting early Fundamentalism from 1878
27 Marsden, Fundamentalism, 78.
28 Sandeen, Roots, 179.
29 Ibid., 176; Marsden, Fundamentalism, 78.
30 David Beale, In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1950 (Greenville: BJU, 1986),
31 Sandeen, Roots, 180.
32 It never did sit well with some American theologians, such as B. B. Warfield, who wrote a scathing denunciation of the movement (B. B. Warfield, Perfectionism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981)).
33 Beale, In Pursuit of Purity, 60; Sandeen, Roots, 179.
34 A. T. Pierson’s The Keswick Movement in Precept and Practice (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1900) was an early enunciation of Keswick theology.
35 Sandeen, Roots, 180; Marsden, Fundamentalism, 249
1895),36 and Boston teacher A. T. Pierson, with his widely-read Missionary Review of the World,37 promulgated Keswick thought in the American fundamentalist camp. These two papers, along with James H. Brooks’ paper, The Truth, were keystone fundamentalist papers, and brought Keswick thought and language into the studies and homes of early fundamenalists across America.
We see the Keswick influence in The Fundamentals itself, which contains many entries by Keswick thinkers and features as primary editor R. A. Torrey himself, who was very involved at Keswick (speaking at Keswick in 1895, he even briefly referenced his Northfield experience38). A short perusal of the table of contents reveals at least fourteen entries by Keswick crossovers: five by A. T. Pierson, three by R. A. Torrey, one by H. C. G. Moule (the theologian of the Keswick movement), one by C. H. Trumbell, two by Henry Frost (one of which was titled, “Consecration”), one by G. Campbell Morgan, and, finally— and most notably—one by Keswick chairman H. W. Webb-Peploe himself, titled, “A Personal Testimony”. 39
On my bookshelf sit twelve volumes written by Keswick writer Andrew Murray which I purchased and read, one-by-one, when I was in college. Dog-eared and underlined, they were my tutors in spiritual growth. Somewhere along the line, whether through Murray’s books, teachers, or through my friends, I picked up the idea that for an individual to labor in the conquest of sin is prideful, spiritual arrogance, for, in doing so, I was told, one trusts in the arm of flesh for spiritual strength. For several years, I tried each day in times of quiet meditation to clear my heart of all determination, and, as Murray’s Humility would have it, to rest in absolute helplessness and weakness at God’s feet, and rise, expecting myself to walk out in victory; I trusted God—certainly, I would not sin. Unfortunately, my own experience proved this method to be not unsuccessful in its aim of conquering sin’s influence in my life. Eventually, I moved away from the Keswick method, and Keswick teaching—though I did not yet know it by that name—slowly made its way into boxes in my attic.
I have never been to England. I have received all of my spiritual training in fundamentalist circles. Until the last several years, I wasn’t even familiar with the term “Keswick”. Yet still, I had been influenced by it. Even if an American fundamentalist never reads a single Keswick author, he may pick up the language and teaching from a pastor, a friend, or Bible college professors, any of which may be in the stream of Keswick thought.
Understanding our roots is critical to understanding the way we grow as believers. We must recognize which roots in Fundamentalism produce which results. For those who may be discouraged, as I was, by the shortcomings of a theology closely resembling the Keswick model, they might find encouragement through understanding their theological roots. By finding the words to describe their theological struggle, and by placing a name on the set of concepts which they employ to cope with sin in their lives (call it the “Keswick” approach, for example),
36 Beale, Pursuit of Purity, 24, 139.
37 Ibid., 61.
38 R. A. Torrey, “How to Receive the Holy Ghost,” chap. in Keswick’s Triumphant Voice, ed. Herbert
F. Stevenson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1963), 355.
39 R. A. Torrey, A. C. Dixon, et al. The Fundamentals (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972).
they may objectively study the theological models and decide whether their models are the most scriptural approaches. It is important, then, for all of us, as we are affected by so vexing an issue as our sanctification, to clearly and explicitly state our approach to sanctification and know for sure that the theology beneath our feet—the ground on which we wage the war against sin in our lives—is the solid ground of God Word.
Barabas, Steven. So Great Salvation: The History and Message of the Keswick Convention. Westwood, N.J.: n.d.
Barker, William S., ed. The Westminster Standards: An Original Fascimile. Audobon, NJ: Old Paths, 1997.
Beale, David. In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1950. Greenville: BJU, 1986.
Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976
Bundy, David. “Keswick and the Experience of Evangelical Piety.” In Modern Christian Revivals, eds. Edith L. Blumhofer and Randall Balmer, 118-144. Chicago: U. of Illinois, 1993.
McQuilkin, J. Robertson. “Response to Hoekema.” In Five Views on Sanctification, ed. Stanley
N. Gundry, 98-99. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987. Keswick Convention. “A Typical Weekday at Keswick.” Available: http://www.keswickconv.com/whatis.htm ; Internet; accessed 4 February, 2003. __________. “What is Keswick?” Available: http://www.keswickconv.com/whatiskeswick.htm ; Internet; accessed 16 April 2001. Marsden, George M. Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century
Evangelicalism. 1870-1925. Oxford: Oxford, 1980. Murray, Andrew. Absolute Surrender. Springdale, Pa.: Whitaker, 1982. __________. Humility. Springdale, Pa.: Whitaker, 1982. __________. Obtain the Power of God. Springdale, Pa.: Whitaker, 1984. Packer, J. I. “Keswick and the Reformed Doctrine of Sanctification,” Evangelical Quarterly 27
(July 1955): 153-167. Pierson, A. T. The Keswick Movement in Precept and Practice. New York: Funk & Wagna lls, 1900. Rennie, Ian S. Review of Keswick: A Bibliographic Introduction to the Higher Life Movements, by D. D. Bundy. In JETS 19:4 (Fall 1976): 340-342. Sandeen, Ernest R. The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism. Chicago: U. of Chicago, 1970. Strong, Augustus H. Systematic Theology. Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson, 1993.
Taylor, Dr. and Mrs. Howard. Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission: The Growth of a Work of God. London: The Religious Tract Society, 1934.
Torrey, R. A. “How to Receive the Holy Ghost.” In Keswick’s Triumphant Voice, ed. Herbert F. Stevenson, 347-363. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1963.
__________, A. C. Dixon, et al., eds. The Fundamentals. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972.
Waltke, Bruce. “Evangelical Spirituality: A Biblical Scholar’s Perspective,” JETS 31:1 (March
Warfield, B. B. Perfectionism. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981.
Webb-Peploe, H. W. Sunday School Times (25 June 1898); quoted in Strong, Systematic Theology, 877, Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson, 1993.
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