Keswick: Effect on Individual Ministry
The Effect on the Individual Ministry
By the Rev. Harrington C, Lees, M.A.
My glorious Victor, Prince Divine,
Clasp these surrendered hands in Thine;
At length my will is all Thine own,
Glad vassal of a Saviour's throne.
My Master, lead me to Thy door ;
Pierce this now willing ear once more :
Thy bonds are freedom; let me stay
With Thee, to toil, endure, obey.
Yes, ear and hand, and thought and will,
Use all in Thy dear slav’ry still!
Self’s weary liberties I cast
Beneath Thy feet; there keep them fast.
Tread them still down; and then I know,
These hands shall with Thy gifts o’erflow;
And pierced ears shall hear the tone
Which tells me Thou and I are one.
H. C. G. MOULE, D.D.
Bishop of Durham.
The Effect on the Individual Ministry
IT is difficult for one who owes much to a movement to write dispassionately about it. But attachment is not necessarily a disqualification. Detachment has its gains, it has also its losses. The astronomer in writing of the nature and movement of the planets has the advantage of being an outside observer. He notes their orbits, perhaps their eccentricities; he marks their waxing or waning brilliance. But much is lost to him through distance, and sometimes whole tracts are never seen by him at all. The travelled geographer, on the other hand, writes of our earth, not as an outsider, it is true, but with a vital acquaintance with its features. He has bathed in its rivers, revelled in its sunshine, refreshed himself with its fruits, gained inspiration from its vistas. And so, if he, who pens these lines, writes with the bias of filial relationship, yet he has thereby one qualification for a true description and appreciation of the movement which others have not, who, in some sense, have been outsiders to what is conveniently termed the Keswick School.
If, however, the keenest critics of "Keswick" have been found in the ranks of the ministry, it is also happily true that the most grateful testimonies to its helpfulness have come from the same quarter. "These people have found a way of linking Pentecost with the Sermon on the Mount." The witness comes from the north of the Tweed, and from the lips of a theologian, who differs considerably in religious standpoint from the views associated with the Keswick platform. "Keswick stands for what is most spiritual in the religious life of today." The words are taken not from the "Life of Faith," but from one of the best known organs of the High Anglican Party a few years ago. Indeed the effects produced by the Convention movement upon the life of the Christian Church at large will scarcely be challenged by any thinker, who has seriously studied the religious currents of the past three decades. Perhaps two main positions may be instanced, one social, one theological.
First, amid the clash of creeds and strife of sects it has been found possible, under the banner whose tranquilising motto is "All one in Christ Jesus," for men to forget their religious differences in their spiritual union, and to demonstrate to the world that the "Unity of the Spirit" is a practical fact. It has been the unhappy fate of some religious movements, while aiming at a new bond of union, to throw down a fresh apple of discord, and to add one more to the already over-numerous sub-divisions in the army of the Great King. Keswick has founded no new denomination, nor has it weakened any of the old ones. It has to a singular extent been kept free of the fanaticism that makes for secessions from one church to another. It has sought to pour oil upon the hearth-stones of all the churches and cold water on none. Its aim has been to send back Church members, who have been brought into touch with new possibilities, to impart new vitality to their old circles.
Secondly, Keswick has stood not only for the primary evangelical truth of justification by faith as its foundation, but also for a resolute witness to the possibility of a life of holiness, entered and maintained by faith in a living Christ, through the power of an indwelling Holy Spirit. And indeed, the Church and the ministry have need of such a satisfying witness. There is no heart hunger like that of the unsatisfied minister of Christ. If he be conscious of failure in the inner walk of his personal life, or awakened to a realisation of spiritual powerlessness in public ministry, he is still obliged by the exigencies of his clerical routine to go on, hungry or not. There are scores of such unwritten agonies known only to God; the dull, dogged performance of duty by diligent men, conscious all the time that they have missed the true secret of the truths they preach, and often envying the humble souls, who, from time to time, receive blessing from their ministrations. It is the old story of the slaves in the book of Job "Being an-hungred they carry the sheaves ; they tread their winepresses, and suffer thirst " (Job xxiv. 10, n, R.V.), pining for hunger with bread in their arms, and fainting for thirst with invigorating streams beneath their feet.
We sometimes forget that upon the minister of Christ are concentrated some of the deadliest temptations in the arsenal of Satan. If, in our recent war, the wily foe picked off the officers in order to demoralise the ranks, can we doubt that the subtle tempter will see that the leaders in the spiritual war are exposed to a deadly fire?
The temptation to put ambition in place of zeal for God, or even to admit self-advancement as a parallel motive with the expansion of Christ s Kingdom -- the temptation to attempt mere brilliance of rhetoric in place of a divine message prayerfully sought and plainly delivered, "Half an hour in which to raise the dead," as Ruskin says -- the temptation to secularize our high and holy calling by useless travesties of the methods of the music-hall, or more common still, to mentalise the spiritual, letting the concert outweigh the Bible-class, or the lecture oust the prayer-meeting, in relative importance -- to look merely at numerical triumphs in attendance at meetings, forgetting that with God quality stands first, and quantity second -- to work for schedules and reports to the neglect of that quiet unreported dealing with souls which defies tabulation, on this side Heaven’s gate at least -- to get full pews and send hearers away with their deepest needs unsatisfied, perhaps unawakened -- to live practically on the lines of the programme once shamelessly unfolded before a minister of Christ by a Church officer: "A clergyman’s business is to please his people, and to make the place pay" -- to permit private, personal laxity in duty, and even moral rectitude, as a kind of self-fixed compensation for a life wholly spent in public religious work -- to let the harass of life’s onward rush drown holy, yet familiar intercourse with the Lord -- as one busy religious leader said of the holy life his cause professed: "I cannot live it myself, I am too busy, but my family do" -- to wander after the latest will-o-the-wisps in theoretic theology, until the supernatural is almost entirely eliminated from the spiritual horizon -- the bare enumeration of these possibilities is enough to startle many a man, who in candid honesty before God, commences to cast up his spiritual accounts to see how he stands, recalling, as he must, how often the points indicated have been not only battle-grounds, but places of defeat.
And here, one of the first aims of "Keswick" provides a real message for the seeker after soul-health, urging each one to be frank before God in admitting spiritual lack of condition. It cannot be denied that for many a fairly successful clergyman or minister, the first result of the Keswick message has been "a horror of great darkness," "not peace, but a sword." Yet who that has gone through such an experience would dare to have been without it ? Admitting that the standard stated was high, was it more than Christ has always demanded? If the shock of realising how far below it we had fallen was terrible, were we not bound to rise to the standard, rather than attempt to lower it to our experimental level? If we cried "Woe is me," were we not able also to say, "I saw the Lord." Better face the "eyes of His glory" now and let Him deal with the defects, than come ashamed before His presence in the great and inevitable Day.
Unquestionably, " Keswick " has been an untold help to many a minister in leading him to "get right with God." The very atmosphere helps. To be apart before God for several days, in which all else is laid aside save thinking and learning of the conditions of fellowship with the unseen Master, is a pathway of blessing to the over-driven worker. There is no parade of oratory, but deep in the heart of the speaker calls to deep in the heart of the hearer, and awakes a responsive echo. The Spirit of God broods in blessing here, where men come to surrender what parts them from their God, and separates them from their neighbour; and similar spiritual results are seen, wherever like conditions are reproduced. Bible ideals begin to appear as divine possibilities, Alps to be attempted, not stars to be admired. God's promises are seen to be cheques which have been cashed by others before, and can be cashed by us to-day. And this again is a distinctive truth which has helped many, the possibility of a present entrance into a life of blessing. The student becomes aware of the spiritual significance of the aorist tense in the programme of holiness. He has perhaps been living rather aimlessly in the progressive present, hoping sometime and somehow to emerge into a new experience of quickened spirituality; and possibly Seton Merriman’s epigram has been applicable in his case : "The world can find no fault, but God can find no fruit." Now his attention is suddenly called to divine finger-posts, which claim a present decision and an instant choice. If "ye were justified" (i Cor. vi. 11), is a phrase which conveys a restful assurance to the soul as marking a definite transition from guilt to acquittal ; then also "Ye were sanctified " indicates a no less definite step, to be taken now, if never before, and enjoyed henceforward. Such phrases as " Yield your selves," "yield your members," "present your bodies," " sanctify you wholly" (Rom. vi. 13, 19, xii. i; i Thess. v. 23) are seen to be not only incentives to a process of sanctification, but if tenses mean anything, the words mark "a crisis with a view to a process," to borrow the Bishop of Durham s happy definition. It is absolutelyimperative that spiritual dislocations should be adjusted before there can be growth and progress (cf. i Pet. v. 10)
The doctrinal standpoint of " Keswick " lies outside the scope of this chapter, but a few lines of special helpfulness in its teaching are in place here.
(i) The Keswick message promises victory in the life. Few things are so deadening to the inner life of a minister of Christ as the consciousness of periodic defeat. Repeated failure in the face of temptation is apt to bring about an almost sullen resignedness to what is falsely said to be in evitable. So "Keswick " insists upon the reliability of God’s promises of conquest, and the possibilities of cleansing in heart and thought, of a keeping power by which Christ transforms the will and transfigures the life. Faith lays hold of the risen Saviour and triumphs in Him --not vauntingly indeed, but in the spirit of St. Paul: "I know nothing against myself; yet am I not hereby justified; but He that judgeth me is the Lord" (i Cor. iv. 4) -- humbly conscious of a real freedom from former bondage, yet also sure that God’s holy eyes still find much to alter.
(2) The Keswick message promises rest in the heart. Its " quietism " is not a gospel of quiescence. The harassed worker learns not to work less but to trust more ; he transfers his burden and learns that worry is among the forbidden things (Psa. xxxvii., Matt, vi., Phil, iv.) He casts his anxiety upon Christ once for all (i Pet. v. 7, note the aorist), and finds, as Dean Alford truly says, "None need arise if the transference has been properly made." Christ does not remove the stress of work, but He does relieve the strain of worry.
(3) The Keswick message promises power for service. The filling of the Holy Spirit is shown to be a possibility for the weakest. He is the agent, we are His tools, with the added joy that we are conscious and willing instruments. His power is humbly claimed, His voice obeyed, His presence enjoyed. Again and again, in the sacred record of spiritual experience at Keswick have men of proved ability and worth in the Church of God, admitted the access of power which has come to their life and ministry through a personal experience of the filling of the Holy Ghost.
Now when the honest seeker after these blessings comes to recognize that the first conditions of enjoying them are a definite surrender of all known sin, or doubtful habit, denial of self in its many subtle forms, and an absolute pledge of obedience to the will of Christ, he often finds an amazing unwillingness to take the steps. He is astonished, perhaps shocked, at the revelation of self, but it is there facing him. The thought of Christ as Sovereign is not new, but the actual application is startingly practical; and while some resent, others shrink from the logical consequences of the discovery. Said a clergyman to the present writer a few years ago: "I have come up to the brink again and again, and have shrunk back, saying, ‘the waters are too deep.' " Deep they are, thank God, but waters to swim, not drown in, waters in which self is carried off its feet and supported by a power not its own while yet free to act as a willing agent.
And for those who will bend to this Divine claim there is a real benediction. The fellowship of the Holy Ghost "is a phrase which acquires new meaning in a life yielded in consecration and maintained by faith." The Lord has been here to-night," I said to a brother minister at a Convention held in a Colonial capital not many months ago. "Yes," was the reply, "and He has been here before, but this time I think He has come to stay."
It is not claimed that these are new doctrines, still less that "Keswick" holds any monopoly in light. They are New Testament truths, and universal lights, and wherever acted upon have been harbingers of blessing.
But God has been pleased in these gatherings to seal with His blessing the emphasizing of truths too often forgotten. And from the hallowed atmosphere of the tent in that little lake-side town, men have gone forth, who were wearied, and are now at peace, who were defeated, and now triumph in the Lord, who were powerless, and now see God's might manifested in their work. Their churches have gained a new minister, faulty still, fallible ever, but one who humbly substitutes for the old "I cannot," the triumphant "I can do all things in Him that strengtheneth me."
HARRINGTON C. LEES.