The Keswick Message: Purity, Power and Evangelization
You will be delighted to read this lucid message by Rev Hubert Brooke, M.A, where he talks about the evolution of the Keswick Message in three stages, from the early days to the first decade of the 20th century. He is talking of a period of 30 years, from the time the Convention began in 1875 to the year 1905-6 (when he was asked to give this message).
In the early days, when the Convention began, the focus was on the need of a 'definite personal dealing with God', and the need for personal holiness of character, 'right character being of more important to the Master than any amount of outward activities'. He speaks of the love that must suffuse our heart; not a stern piety. He begins with the deliverance from the power of besetting sin, the conquest of tempers, restitution of wrongs done and a determined separation from evil. He speaks of surrender and consecration that follow. The anecdote about Moody is very enlightening.
He goes on to speak of the second stage of teaching, the recognition of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, who is ‘the greater Enabler and Strengthener for all service’. Just as the first lesson was the casting of the burden of besetting sins on the Lord, this second stage enforced the casting of the burden of service upon the Holy Spirit, and seeking to do and serve not in one’s own power, but in the power of the Holy Spirit. It was recognized that the vessel to be used for the Master’s service was one that was cleansed and sanctified. It is interesting to read the testimony of the senior clergyman who spoke of how God flashed into his mind the text from 1 Pet 5:7 when he was weighed down with worries regarding his parish. If ‘Purity was the keynote of the first stage of the Keswick Convention, Power was the keynote of the second stage.’
One gets the impression very clearly that the entire work in the early years of Keswick, was natural and spontaneous, arising out of the inspiration and leading of the Holy Spirit. As Brooke says, there was a ‘remarkable absence of planning and organizing’ in the work. The speakers in the Convention spoke whatever the Spirit of God burdened in their hearts.
The third and last stage was regarding the ‘great vista of the unevangelized world’ that opened up to those who had consecrated themselves to the Lord. The souls that had been cleansed and consecrated now sought to fulfil the Lord’s Great Commission in Matthew 28. Hence arose the ‘Missionary Call’ to the Church of Christ.
I strongly believe, after reading six chapters of the book by Harford on the Keswick Movement that this was a genuine work of the Holy Spirit, and many who are truly born again must read this book and find out the principles that believers must apply in their lives before they fulfill ‘all the will of God’.
Definiteness is what I should regard as the most impressive feature of the Keswick teaching. The speakers aim at inducing definite personal dealing with God, with a view to the reception of some definite, personal, and spiritual acquisition. It may be deliverance from sin or it may be consecration to God and His service, or it may be the apprehension of the fulness of the Holy Spirit, but in each case definite personal action is claimed, and the “faith that worketh miracles” still is directed towards a definite issue with a view to a definite result in the soul’s condition and experience.
This, I think, is what differentiates Keswick from other Conferences where there is much good and eloquent speaking that leads up to nothing in particular, except a general feeling that it is all very good and very “nice.”-- W. Hay M. H. Aitken.
I believe that in the objective character of the Message given at Keswick lies the secret of its compelling power. It searches heart and conscience, not by turning attention inward to questions of subjective experience, but upward to the glory of Christ’s Person, the efficacy of His Atonement, and the sufficiency of His grace for all need in ”the daily round and common task” of Christian life and service. -- S. M. Etches.
THE fundamental aim and object of the Keswick Convention from its commencement was the promotion of holiness, and not the development of new Christian enterprises. Character, and not service, was the aim held closely before all who spoke and heard at those meetings. What we were intended to be, and not what we were called to do, was the prominent thought in the whole Convention. We did not profess to meet in order to develop the fullest Christian activities, but to develop the highest possible Christian character. The two are as closely connected as cause and effect, for no full Christian powers will be exerted save from a full Christian character. But it is quite consistent with the divine order, and in accordance with the model of the New Testament procedure, that a deliberate separation should exist between these two things; and that we should give our attention to the formation of the highest type of character in the Christian, before insisting on the normal outcome of Christian activities. The training of the twelve disciples certainly proceeded on these lines; for it was mainly the great lessons of character that were being impressed upon them during the three and a half years of our Lord's ministry, and mainly the fruits of active service that followed in the after years of their work.
The Convention was a perhaps unconscious protest against the popular mistake, that a newborn soul is quite competent at once for full Christian service ; it served to emphasize the truth, often quite overlooked, that service is immensely influenced by the character and conduct of him who renders it; and it reinforced, with much needed precision, the fact that a right character is of far more importance in the eyes of the Master than any amount of outward activities. The lesson of i Cor. xiii. is ever in need of being pressed upon a world that loves to judge by externals, and is slow to believe, that a heart and character of love outstrips in real worth all the most magnificent exhibitions of powers and capacities that have ever been seen.
With such thoughts in mind as to the original purpose and professed object of the Convention, we shall be in a better position to define what the Message of the Convention was, and how its method of presentation took shape. We shall discover that the years of the Convention can fairly be divided into three stages, according as the teaching began to comprise new aspects of what is after all only one great whole of Christian doctrine.
In the earliest years, perhaps most definitely in the first eight or ten, of the Convention meetings at Keswick, the chief emphasis was placed upon the great matter of deliverance from the power of besetting sin, the attainment of victory in the little conflicts of everyday life and conduct, by the power of Christ accepted in the heart by faith. The keynote of the earliest message was this: that there is in Christ not only a release and deliverance from the penalty and future punishment of sins past, but that there is also in Him an ever-present power to keep from the recurring attacks of those sins; and that that power is as much to be appropriated by our faith as was the first boon of pardon for all the past. “Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” -- that was the glad message that came with such fresh force to multitudes of consciously pardoned and reconciled souls in those early years.
Closely connected with this aspect and message of the full Gospel came also the instant corollary of a wholehearted consecration of the redeemed life to God. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” These two thoughts formed the right and left hand of the subject; they were the negative and positive of the message -- cleansing and consecration, deliverance and dedication.
The consequence and fruit of such a message were at once apparent, and the result exactly corresponded to the cause. In those early years there were many testimonies of a practical deliverance from the power of besetting sin, a constant and lasting blessing found in the keeping power of Christ, which formed so new and blessed an experience, that many spoke of it as a “second conversion.” Though that phrase was never adopted by the speakers, nor given any official approval, yet it was one quite natural under the circumstances, especially in view of the exactly similar way in which the two blessings came to be received. These Christian people knew quite well, that it was by simple faith in Christ, when their own powers and efforts had proved worthless, that the blessing of pardon and peace had been bestowed upon them ; and now it was a real repetition of the same steps that brought them this further blessing. Again they were shown that their own powers and efforts had failed, and always would fail, to win them deliverance from the power of besetting sins ; just as they had failed in attaining pardon. Again they were shown that in Christ, and in Him alone, there lies the secret of deliverance and victory ; even as in Him lay the power to forgive. Again they were told to commit their case unto the Lord, and that, trusting in Him, the deliverance would be theirs; even as the pardon had been received years before. No wonder then, that with so much alike in the need, in the Deliverer, and in the condition of faith, they should express the blessing received as a “second conversion,” or more often a “second blessing”. It was no denial that many more blessings might follow, but only a thankful confession of the very marked and real change effected by this grace of God.
With this earliest aspect of the work, and as the immediate consequence of a true definition of sin, came also the fruit of amendment for wrong done to others, that most practical outcome of a real and living repentance, and the strongest assurance of a determined separation from evil. All these consequences of the Convention were among the most frequent evidences of its practical bearing on everyday life ; and where such fruits were apparent there could be no doubt of the reality and God-given character of the work. Judging by a good many cases which I have known personally, these three early fruits of the Convention must have very largely influenced the lives of those who attended.
Among the most common signs were to be noted the strong conviction of sin, and the vivid recollection of old and half-forgotten and never honestly righted faults of bygone days. Many a soul, coming to seek and pray for this deliverance from the power of sin of which men were speaking, found their prayers interrupted by the rising of such old errors of former days ; nor could they make any progress, nor get any effectual result from their prayers, until they had put those old things right, and made amends for what they had left unconfessed and uncorrected in their former dealings with others. So often did such an effect of the Convention come before my personal knowledge in the earlier days, that I found it the very best and shortest answer to objectors, who doubted whether this work were really a spiritual and Scriptural movement. I was wont to say, that as long as the constant symptoms of the blessing there sought were a fresh sensitiveness of conscience and a deeper conviction of the sinfulness of sin, as long as it was constantly leading in the very first steps to a frank confession and honest amendment towards those who had been in any way wronged by the one who was seeking blessing, then I was sure such must indeed be the work of God’s Holy Spirit. With this honest dealing with regard to their old faults there came also the wholehearted surrender of themselves to God, for the learning of His will and the doing of His work; which in very many cases led to an increased activity of service, apparent enough in each single person, but difficult to tabulate in a total of such effects. Then, and most apparent to their immediate surroundings, came so often the conquest of tempers that had marred the Christian testimony of former days. This was a proof which could be seen and known of all, and was the best evidence in those days to others who inquired or doubted about the work.
One such case may serve as an example for many. Mr. Moody was one day talking to a friend of mine, and asking him about the meeting of Keswick. Another friend sitting with them broke in with a word of ridicule about Keswick, when Mr. Moody told this remarkable story in defence of the Convention which he had never attended, and in explanation of his desire to know more about it.
“On one of my previous visits to this country I found in a certain town, on the Committee that was arranging my meetings, a leading worker, who was the most cantankerous Christian that I ever met. At my next visit, some years later, I found this man so altered and so full of the love of God, that I at once asked another friend what had happened to him. The friend said, He has been to Keswick. Then I said, I only wish all other Christians would go to Keswick too, and get their hearts filled in the same way with the love of God." Such a testimony is worth much, for it exactly expresses the result at which the Convention speakers aimed, shows how apparently it had been attained in this case, and how so keen an observer as Mr. Moody was impressed by the result and convinced of the reality of the work.
Now where such an effect was a commonly sought and found experience, it could not fail to affect the lives in other ways, besides that of deliverance from besetting sins. Where the consecration of the whole being to God was a real and definite act, intended to bring the life into closer conformity to the revealed will and Word of God, there was bound to be a change in the active side of life, as well as in the inner realm of experience. And this became evident in what I have suggested as forming the second stage of the teaching at the Convention, and which became more prominent in the next part of its existence, from the end of the first eight or ten years. This time the message, addressed very largely to those who had made real proof and experience of the reality of the earlier message, took the form of enforcing the ever-present power of the Holy Spirit, as the great Enabler and Strengthener for all the service to which a soul is called. As the first lesson was that of casting the burden of besetting sins on the Lord, so this next stage rather enforced the casting the burden of service upon Him, and seeking to do and serve not in our own power, but in His. The question was forced upon those who were proving His power to keep, whether this was to be all He meant to do; and at once it became apparent that the vessel was to be cleansed and kept clean, solely in order that it might always be ready for the Master’s use. Capacity for service began to be pressed upon all hearers as the work of the Holy Spirit, as our Lord had promised in his last discourse to His disciples after the Supper. The Holy Spirit was to teach all things, was to witness of Christ, was to show the things of Christ, was to enable to witness for Him to the world. The great lesson of Pentecost, the promise of the Father, was seen to have an ever fresh application to the Christian life, and to be as true a promise to-day as at the first.
One striking testimony as to the way in which this teaching passed from the inner experience to the outer activities was given in my hearing on one occasion at a local Convention. A second speaker at one of the meetings had failed to arrive, and it was suggested that any on the platform might give their witness to the truths that were being taught. A senior clergyman rose and told the following story. He said that the responsibilities of his parish some time before began so to press upon him, and the difficulties of fully meeting them so weighed upon him, that he was in danger of breaking down under the strain. Night and day the burden of souls lay upon his heart, and his own inability effectually to bring home the Gospel to them all oppressed him, till he thought he would very soon succumb altogether and die. He was one day in much depression, and was praying for help in his helplessness, when the text flashed into his mind, “Casting all your care upon Him.” Suddenly he saw that that must mean the care and burden of his parish, as it had meant the burden of his sins many years before. There and then he committed his parish and its burdens unto the Lord, and, as he added in closing his remarks, " I have never borne that burden since." When I add that he was an indefatigable worker, a remarkable visitor, and a capable missioner, it will be seen that this "Keswick blessing" meant no small power for service and real capacity for Christian work. That text, "Casting all your care upon Him," and the kindred one, "My grace is sufficient for thee," are among those frequently referred to as being the word by which the truth of deliverance and power was communicated to the soul.
If we were to take Purity as the keynote of the earlier stage, we may take Power as that of the second; and in the very order of the disciples experience. They had been in communion with their Master during His earthly ministry, learning to grow like Him and to develop a character such as He desired. Now that He was leaving them to carry on His work, their great need was power to do this fitly. Here, then, came the great doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and His empowering and fitting for service.
It is not a little significant of this gradual progress of the work and teaching, that the objections made by people who opposed, but never attended, the Convention changed perceptibly. In those earlier days it was some times objected that the teachers did not give proper prominence and honour to the Holy Spirit, because they so strongly emphasized the keeping and delivering power of the risen Saviour. But when the importance of the power and working of the Holy Spirit came to be enforced, the objection altered, and faulty teaching about the Spirit was one of the points of the opposing charge. It was not a change in any way officially planned; indeed, there was from the very beginning of the movement a remarkable absence of planning and organising about the work. It was the custom that all who spoke came habitually with whatever of God’s Word was most fresh upon their hearts and minds; and so the change was unperceived and natural, just like the growth of a healthy child, as they passed from one stage of the message to another.
Such a step forward very soon resulted in the third of these stages which I have suggested as marking the work. And that last stage was indeed the one, where theory and doctrine and personal experience passed into activities which are somewhat more within the reach of figures for tabulating. It was but the logical outcome of the earlier steps. If these had led to a closer conformity to the character which Christ desired His disciples to show, if they had sent the obedient hearer to the Source of all strength and fitness for service, then how and where was that service to be rendered? As this question came to be formulated, there sprang up before the Convention, quite unexpectedly and without human design, the great vista of an unevangelized world, and the reality of the Lord’s command that His Gospel was to be sent to the uttermost parts of the earth.
So it has come about that, in the later years of the Convention, more and more prominence has been given to the Missionary Call to the Church of Christ. If the earlier form of the Message had made it clear, that all pardoned souls were meant to be cleansed and kept and consecrated ; if the next development of the Message declared the power with which such souls were meant to be filled, and so fitted for divine service ; then the natural question arose, as to where this service was to be rendered.
Gradually the width of the divine Call to the Church became more and more apparent in the Message of the speakers. They began to see, and therefore to tell, what the real issue of true cleansing and consecration, of real filling and fitting, would be in the living Church. The latest form of the Message has declared, that such a Church can look to no smaller end, can be content with no narrower limits, and rest in no shorter attainment, than “The Evangelization of the World in this Generation.”