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The Impact of Keswick

Updated on February 23, 2013
Low Wray, Lake District. From
Low Wray, Lake District. From

Characteristics of the Keswick Message

by the Rev. J. B. Figgis

What strikes me most at Keswick during Convention Week is the manifestation of brotherly love, and the earnest desire to know the will of God by those who in some measure love God and are endeavouring to keep His commandments. It is life seeking more life. -- Taylor Smith, Bishop, Chaplain General to the Forces.

Keswick’s most striking feature, surely, is intense earnestness of purpose. Why have these thousands come, but to seek from God a fuller, deeper blessing? Listen to the keen simplicity of the prayers, the fervour of the singing, the directness of the addresses. Note the solemn hush in the enormous tent. Come closer and observe the tear of repentance or of joy stealing down the cheeks of some. What does it all mean? Intense earnestness. Results? Yes, thank God! See them in the homes of rich and poor; in many a pulpit now set on fire for God, and perhaps best of all, away in many a land across the sea! – S. A. Selwyn.

Doubting, fearing, stumbling, with little hope of anything better to the end; then a glimmering prospect of a brighter possibility; then a hearty surrender to Christ’s claims, and an unwavering trust in Him as a full Saviour; then the joyful cry, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me! " That has been to hundreds the happy history of a week at Keswick. -- John Brash.


Some Characteristics of the Message

BOSSUET wrote a book on "The Variations of the Protestant Churches." What would he have said if he could have foreseen an assembly in which most of those variations were found, but found blended in sweetest harmony? Yet such an assembly is the Keswick Convention. But though we are all "one in Christ Jesus," as the motto of the tent proclaims, there are variations of the melody which has been sounding there for two and thirty years.

This period may be divided roughly into certain stages, the first might be headed Rest, the second Work, with it came Testimony, and after it came Teaching.

First, REST. He who built this ark for us was assuredly "a man of rest." The topic of many tongues was "The Rest of Faith. One of the earliest and most winning booklets of the movement was "How to enter into rest." We heard much, but not too much, about "rest in the day of trouble," rest in the hour of temptation, a favourite text being "Stand still and see the Salvation of the Lord" : Rest in moments of irritation. "Just name His Name, say Jesus, Jesus,was a great calm," people might call it Quietism. Call it what they would, it was very real and very beautiful to see. With this great peace, "there was great joy in that city" -- my text I remember on returning from the Oxford Convention of 1874. The joy was just as great at Keswick. and look to Him, and He will calm you."

Speaking of meetings held elsewhere, someone remarked, "You all seem so proper, but at Keswick you are like schoolboys let loose! " Perhaps it is quite as well that this exuberance has given place to a more strenuous piety. To "run," and even to "walk," may be a stage beyond "mounting up with wings," nor is the note of joy silent, though some other notes may oftener be heard at the present day. So recently as 1905 Dr. Pierson, speaking from I Thess. v. 18, made joy his theme. He said, "this is the only passage in which we have seven spiritual frames put before us :

‘Rejoice evermore’ -- the joyful frame;

‘Pray without ceasing’ -- the prayerful frame;

‘In everything give thanks’ -- the thankful frame;

‘Quench not the Spirit’ -- the watchful frame;

‘Despise not prophesyings’ -- the teachable frame;

‘Prove all things; hold fast to that which is good’ -- the judicial frame;

‘Abstain from every form of evil’ -- the hallowed frame.

But the thankful frame was the one he selected. "Think and thank are from the same root. Wholesale forgetfulness of God’s former mercies branded a spot as Massah and Meribah. The last thing we ever rejoice in is sorrow, and it is the greatest triumph of grace to show it. Joseph did when he said, Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good. Ay, trouble is for good. A naturalist, pitying an emperor-moth struggling for an hour to get through the narrow neck of the cocoon, took his lancet and slit down the cocoon. The moth came out, but never developed its magnificent hues, and soon drooped and died. You would cut down the cocoon of your trials, but you would never have the beautiful colours in your wings, and never know what it was to soar Godward."

The greatest exponent of joy and rest (such heavenly joy, such hallowed rest!) was the loved and honoured Charles A. Fox. To hear him night after night in the tent, and year after year at St. John’s, was as great a blessing as it was a treat.

Peace and joy, characteristic of the childhood of the Convention, were followed by WORK and enterprise, the characteristics of its manhood.It is said that the introduction of missionary subjects had to struggle into existence (like that emperor-moth!), but the struggle ended in a glorious victory. I don’t know how much of this is due to Mr. Eugene Stock, but the impetus he gave in nurturing the love of missions (and those of all societies) at Keswick, and in cherishing the love of "Keswick" in the breasts of hundreds of missionaries, has been of untold good to them and to us.

In connection with missionary work, the consecration of property was often urged, and with much vigour, as by Dr. Pierson, who piled up incident after incident to show the inconsistency of Christians amassing large sums and giving little. Not a few self-denying gifts, some of them considerable, might, we are quite sure, be dated from the tent at Keswick, nor should it be forgotten that work at home has received a stimulus there only second to work abroad.

Simultaneously with the deepening of the Spirit of Christian enterprise, there came a deepening of the stream of TESTIMONY. The charm of those spontaneous utterances we can never forget. A well-known Scotch evangelist confessed that he had found that work some times took the place of Christ, but that henceforth he wanted not His service, but Himself. On another occasion Hudson Taylor said in his gentle humble way "we often sing “they who trust Him wholly, find Him wholly true”, but I’ve sometimes found that “they who don’t trust Him wholly, find HIM wholly true."

A profound impression has been produced by testimonies given by leaders of the Convention as to the way in which they had been led into practical realisation of the blessing which can be obtained by those who will fully yield themselves to God. These were not given in most cases without deep emotion, and these personal experiences seem almost too sacred to commit to paper, but some extracts from those which have already been published may be reproduced as indicating how the varied representation of the message has affected men of widely different temperaments and attainments.

"Some years ago," said one well-known Convention speaker, " I would not have been asked to go to Keswick, and if I had been, I should certainly not have gone. But I was staying as one of a house party, where I found, after my arrival, there were to be consecration meetings." He described how much he wished to be away at the time, but how this could not be, without breaking the courtesies of life. Words from Haggai were God’s message to him, and during the after meeting, he says "I felt it most difficult to stand, but, in the way God had spoken to me, it was more difficult not to stand. The calm and peace of God filled me, and I returned home at His absolute disposal. What of the nine years since? They have been on an absolutely different plane, both as to Christian work, and as to the presence of Christ, there has indeed been failure on my part; but every failure can now be seen to be one’s own fault, and that which need not have been."

The Rev. G. MacGregor stated that he heard of Keswick as a place where sanctification was treated of, and he came as a matter of purely intellectual interest ; but he had not been in the place many minutes before he found that the treatment was practical and new. Then he felt very angry indeed, as a Scotchman, at being told anything new in theology by Englishmen! Monday was a terribly cold night, and Tuesday a burning day. Dr. Moule brought him to the crisis, and the conflict was narrowed down at last to one point. When that very point, after others, was touched that night by Mr. Hopkins, he felt so stung that he could have sprung to his feet and left. But God led him to do a very different thing -- to commit himself wholly into the Lord’s hands. Mr. Meyer laid hold of him as he spoke of getting out of the boat of self, and Mr. Hopkins followed with the opportunity "Will you get out?" It was to him indeed like leaping out of a boat upon the waters. "How has it been since?" "In temper and worry, my weak places, I have found deliverance ; not that the capacity for either has gone, but Christ has His hands on me now."

Then another Scotch minister told how the life of one beside him drew him away from the critical view of the subject, he would pardon him for naming him, and for saying that he had known Dr. Elder Cumming once, and he knew him again and it led him to silence. Then, at a small Mission, God gave him a revelation of self, and of sin after sin."Then He took my self life and put it on the Cross, and took me to be altogether His, He emptied my house and shattered my health, but through it all I never had such peace. Three years ago I came here and sat at the back of the platform in calm joy, having known the crushing and searching before ever I came to Keswick, the cleansing and the filling too, before I heard them spoken of here. You ask, Does it last? I answer, He lasts. You ask, Have you obtained holiness? I have no attainments, I have only an attitude, I am surrendered on my side that is all ; and my prayer is what Thou canst not consume, do Thou cleanse; what Thou canst not cleanse, consume; and what Thou canst neither consume nor cleanse, that counteract by Thine own presence."

These testimonies show in the clearest manner that it is possible for men to be highly honoured, and used of God as ministers of the Gospel, and even as successful evangelists and religious leaders, and yet never truly to have apprehended some secrets of peace and power which every Christian may enjoy. This was the case in the experience of the founder of the Convention and of the others whose testimonies have been quoted; but one other instance may be given in which one who held a position of remarkable influence as a writer and speaker, was led into most definite blessing.

Two addresses had been given on the subject of the power of God as to character, the invitation to stand up being given to all who wished to claim that power. In spite of what it cost him, he was one to stand, but never was a Jordan crossed without the promised land being found, and he had found that his step was the last one of the old way of failure and defeat. He described the steps to him as being first: I and God, then God and I, but now God and not I.

THE BIBLE READINGS entrusted to one or two chosen teachers have been one of the most helpful features in the Convention programme. Nothing is more striking than the manner in which it has been shown that the Word of God is filled from end to end with teaching as to the life of faith which it is the purpose of the Convention to set forth, and these expositions of Holy Scripture provide the firm foundation upon which the rest of the teaching is based. How this teaching is presented may best be seen by some instances culled from the addresses of those who are the recognised exponents of the Convention message. A characteristic utterance of the Rev. Evan Hopkins may first be taken. Speaking on the text, "The water that I shall give him shall become in him a well " (St. John iv. 14, R.V.), he said: "Here we have a fresh experience of an old gift. You have had the water, but now it has become to you a spring overflowing, and the friction and strain have been taken out of your life. You say, ‘I have no patience with that man’, you need not say that; look at Col. i. 2, link all might with all patience, and you will find the power sufficient to meet the requirement. But can I be patient always? Certainly. But must I not make a desperate effort? No, let the Lord possess you, and the impatient man becomes gentle; he has Divine provision to meet the Divine requirement. But we cannot enter on these blessings unless in right relationship to God. Have we handed ourselves over to Him to be at His disposal ; or if we have dropped this and the other sin, do we really believe? Many people have a faith that seeks, but not a faith that rests. The Lord is here, rest on Him, believe that He keeps you; the responsibility of keeping you belongs to Him, though the responsibility of trusting Him to keep you belongs to you."

On faith Dr. Pierson gave a beautiful chain in that same year (1897). Seven words describe the believer’s reception of blessing :

Look -- that is receiving with the eyes.

Hear -- that is receiving with the ears.

Take --- receiving with the hands.

Taste -- with the mouth.

Come -- with the feet.

Trust -- with the heart.

Choose -- with the will.

There is a common impression that Jacob got the blessing by wrestling, that is the way he did not get it. Suppose you try to wrestle when you have a dislocated thigh! No, Jacob gave up his wrestling and took to praying. I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me - and He blessed Him there. "

The Holy Spirit and His work always have been dwelt upon with great fulness, and while there have been, and must be, some who make more of a past Pentecost and others more of a Pentecost present or now to come, the desire for His baptism or filling, has been ever cherished as the deepest desire of all.

To give any adequate account of the teaching of the Convention on THE WORK OF THE SPIRIT would need not a chapter but a volume, but a sentence of George Macgregor’s may here be quoted : "Be filled with the Spirit, i.e., like an empty vessel plunged into a well, it is in the water, and the water is in it, or like a sponge filled at every pore with the sea that surrounds it." "KEEPING" was another frequent theme. "Keeping is God's work," said the Bishop of Durham. "I do keep it every moment. It is for us, by the grace of God, to commit, but not for us to keep ; for us to commit our helplessness, for Him to take the helpless; for us to say, Oh! Lord I cannot, for Him to say, I am able to do more than thou canst ask or think. Bring the impossibility to Him, the thoughts of evil that have torn and poisoned you times without number. Confess that you do give up the case, but do commit it to Him. He will not disappoint your self-despair. Bring your impossibility to Him, your serpent-thought shall die at the feet of Jesus, and He will keep those sacred feet upon it. Make a great friend of Psalm 121. I remember reading the Psalms after a declension and a fall, but after a renewed discovery of God’s power to keep. I read them as if I could not stop."

Unless I have missed my point altogether, it will be seen that while there is a beautiful harmony, the AIM is never lost sight of on any day of the feast, viz., to impart the Keswick secret, what old Marshall called "The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification." It is an open secret now, thanks be to God, through this movement but even now there, are multitudes for whom it is still "a fountain sealed." Only last week, at the bedside of one who has lived for seventy-seven years in an Evangelical atmosphere, I found that while the truth that Christ died for us was familiar, on the truth that Christ liveth in us, the mind was a perfect blank. It is the business of Keswick to fill up that blank with promises as practical as they are plain.

Keswick has never sought to raise false hopes, it has never given to any the promise of being sinless here. The presence of sin in the believer deeply deplored and lamented, is nevertheless acknowledged in all the words spoken from that platform. This has been a settled point from the first; in fact, it is one of the Keswick notes. As Theodore Monod said at Oxford, "We ought not to sin, and we need not sin, but as a matter of fact, we do sin."

Wherein then does the teaching differ from the view that we are sinning every moment, in thought, word, and deed ? Take two words of Prebendary Webb-Peploe’s spoken in August, 1876, and giving perhaps the two sides of the shield: "You have not perfection in man, but you have a perfect Saviour." "Never be afraid of drawing too near perfection, you may be sure there will always be limitations in you," and, "remember that our holiness, and that down here, is the purpose of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Spirit."

There has been wonderful harmony about Christ and His atoning work. Not a scintilla of doubt ever appeared at Keswick as to the proper Deity of Christ, nor as to the vicarious character of His sufferings.

GOD AND His WORD have ever had the deepest reverence in all our assemblies ; His Word quite marvellously so, when we consider the storm of controversy that has raged about it. On the top of the Buttermere Coach a Clergyman, who spent much of his time in writing for reviews, said to me, "I have been attending these meetings for a whole week, and what amazes me is that, for all I heard here, such a thing as the Higher Criticism might have no existence."

It would be totally wrong to assume from this that the speakers at the Convention are careless of current controversies with reference to the Scriptures. More than one has written exhaustively on this subject, and the Life of Faith, the organ of the Convention, has contained many learned and thoughtful articles upon these great questions of the day. These, however, are problems outside the aim of Convention.

A few sentences from words spoken at Keswick by Dr. Andrew Murray, whose books on the holy life are very widely known, may suitably close this review of the teaching of the Convention.

The first was on "But not utterly." "Listen to God’s five terrible words about Saul’s sin - rebellion, witchcraft, stubbornness, iniquity, idolatry - all this when a soul disputes God’s voice by doing nine-tenths and leaving a tenth undone."

The next was on "Carnal and Spiritual." "People go away from meetings saying how beautiful, but not helped one step ; the carnal state rendering it impossible for a man to see spiritual truth."

The third was on "The pathway to the higher life." "Look at that splendid oak, where was it born? In a grave. The acorn was put in the ground, and in that grave it sprouted, and Sent up its bulbs. And was it only one day it stood in the grave? Every day for a hundred years it has stood there, and in that place of death it has found its life. You can get the resurrection life nowhere but in the grave of Jesus."

The last address was on the words "That God may be all in all." Carved in cedar they have hung on my study wall ever since. "The whole aim of Christ’s coming," said Dr. Murray, "of His redemption of His work in our hearts, is summed up here. If we do not know that this is so, we cannot know what He expects of us; but if we do, we shall take this as our life-motto, and live it out. Meditate on it and on His coming that we may all have but one song, one hope,




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