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Leaders of the Keswick Convention - 1
You may ask me why I am so painstakingly typing out the messages from the book, The Keswick Convention: Its Message, Its Method and Its Men. Something truly wonderful happened in England during those marvelous early years of the Keswick Movement. Of course, we are painfully aware of the fact that the best books are never available on the Internet. The realm of the World Wide Web (which is a reflection of the world and society around us) is the realm of Satan and his evil forces. Cheap shallow religious books are available online; but spiritual books that are worth their weight in gold are few and far between.
I typed out the first two hubs on the Brighton Conference and the earliest years of the Keswick Convention, but then I discovered that we can ‘copy and paste’ the message from pdf. format, and then convert the resultant Courier Type font into Times New Roman. It is easier than typing out the entire message.
Here is an account by J. Elder Cumming on three of the founders and leaders of the Keswick Convention, viz. Canon Battersby, Mr Bowker and Charles A Fox.
The Founders and Some of the Leaders of the Keswick Convention
The part of this volume which has been entrusted to me is a short memorial sketch of the Founders and some of the Leaders of the Keswick Convention who are now no more. My own memories and associations do not go back to the opening in the year 1875. My first year was 1882. But I was from that date brought into close contact with those who were then conducting the Convention. I enjoyed the intimate friendship of those men. And I have, thank God ! never missed a year at Keswick since, besides having been present at more local conventions than I can count, from Aberdeen to Brighton, and from Cork to Belfast.
The Founder and first Chairman was the Rev. Canon T. D. Harford-Battersby,* Vicar of St. John s, Keswick. As we shall see, Canon Battersby had a lieutenant and successor to whom we all owe much, the late Mr. Robert Wilson. Canon Battersby was a strong Evangelical, who had reached his doctrinal position through some suffering and trial ; and it is not to be wondered at, that for a time he was rather afraid of the spiritual movement and its teaching. Some addresses had been given at Silloth, where the Canon was resting with his family (I think in the
(* The family name was Harford, to which Battersby was added by his father ; the latter surname has now been dropped by most of his descendants, who are to be known as Harford; but to some of us the old name is dear, and the associations which gathered round it are not to be moved.)
summer of 1874) ; and with some of the expressions in these he could not agree. He was, however, persuaded to go to the Convention which met at Oxford in August, and there something happened which meant much for many of us. A connection of his own (a Missionary lady from India) told me the story. In the early part of the Conference she was disturbed by some of the teaching, and went to her relative for guidance, who assured her that the teaching was one-sided and exaggerated, and that she had better put it aside. But towards the end of the Convention, she was passing him in the street with a friend, when he stopped her, to take back entirely what he had said before, and to say that he since had received a wonderful blessing which seemed to change his whole position. We have in his own words a statement of what had happened ; and we have in the Oxford Convention Report, the very words which came home to him so powerfully and so blessedly. Here are the words spoken by Mr. Evan Hopkins, as reported (“Oxford Union Meeting,” p. 113) :
“In the story of the nobleman, John iv. 46-50, we have an illustration of seeking faith and resting faith. We see him first coming to the Lord Jesus with a faith that led him to seek, but not a faith that enabled him to rest. He has a want. He carries a burden. ‘Come down ere my child die!’ ‘Go thy way, thy son liveth!’
But when the word was spoken, ‘Go thy way, thy son liveth!’, at once he loses his burden, his heart is satisfied, and his faith passes from seeking to resting ! He did not rest on a sign, or an emotion, or an experience, but on the word of Jesus ; ‘and the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way.’ He was perfectly satisfied that the cure had been effected. He acted as if he saw ! So let us rest in the promises of God. Not merely ask, but believe that we have the petitions that we desire of Him.”
Such were the words : let us be thankful that we have them still. And here also (page 174 of the same Report) is the testimony given by Canon Battersby two days afterwards. “It was when I heard a dear brother clergyman speak of the faith of the nobleman whose son was healed, that the truth flashed upon my mind, and afterward God enabled me to trust and make a full surrender. It is a difficult thing to speak of my own experience, and very distasteful, yet perhaps for this very reason it may be right for one to do so, and to acknowledge the blessing I have received.” Yes, personal testimony is often demanded by God as the seal of a blessing, and as a real preparation for farther usefulness. He who is not willing to make the little sacrifice which it demands, how shall he make the much more difficult sacrifices which are involved in teaching and in living the life of Holiness?
Canon Battersby’s voice was the last heard at the Oxford Convention. Here is the Report : “Canon Battersby requested those present to rise, and join him in repeating together 2 Thess. i. 3 and iii. 16, ‘We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity (love) of everyone of you all toward each other aboundeth. Now the Lord of Peace give you peace, always, by all means. The Lord be with you all.’ With these words the Oxford Conference ended.”(p. 325.)
Such is the record of the change in dear Canon Battersby s heart and life. He had been a Christian for many years, but this was something more. And what happened? Within a week, he was home at Keswick. There was due shortly afterwards the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Union of the Diocese of Carlisle (29th September, 1874), where some leading clergy were to attend who had been strongly if not bitterly opposed to the “Holiness Teaching,” as it was called. The Canon was secretary to the Union, and he wrote a paper telling of his change and his Blessing. An attack of sickness prevented him from being present, but the paper was read by a friend, and gave a full account of the teaching at Oxford. He was now fully and publicly committed : there was no hesitation or going back. The first Keswick Convention met on Tuesday, June 29th, 1875, for “three days, “ the circular being signed by Canon Battersby and Mr. Robert Wilson. Of all the speakers who took part, and are now to be found at Keswick, only Prebendary Webb-Peploe remains. Others joined immediately thereafter, and are still well known among us. A few whose names were connected with the Oxford and Brighton meetings do not now take any part. I have the copy in MS. of a letter written by Canon Battersby 7th July, 1875, giving a short account of the first Convention. He says in it: “We have had a time of extraordinary blessing. More, far more, than our weak faith enabled us to grasp beforehand. ‘The Lord stood by me and helped me,’ I can truly say for myself; and He was very present with our dear friends Thornton and Peploe, whose words were with great power. Mr. Bowker and Mr. Shipley helped us much, and Mrs. Compton’s meetings with the ladies were inexpressibly blessed, as I hear….. All I think agreed that we had the Presence of the great Paraclete in greater fullness than at any former meeting. I can only account for it by the fact that we were so entirely thrown upon the Lord.
It has been a lesson of great value to myself, and my faith has been much strengthened in consequence. I could, if there were leisure to write, tell you of many, many most blessed proofs of God’s power and grace unto us. I can feel something of what David says (Ps. xxxv. 28), As for my tongue, it shall be talking of Thy righteousness and Thy praise all the day long.’”
So it began; and for seven years more (1875-1882) Canon Battersby was Chairman, holding the helm. It was in that last and closing year that I made his acquaintance and paid my first visit to Keswick. I remember his sermon in St. John’s on the opening Sunday, on the 7th chapter of Romans. I remember some of his short but glowing words spoken from the chair. I saw something of the home life at the vicarage. Most of all I remember his face, which continually brings back to me the language of Acts vi. 15, they “saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.” No other face I have ever seen has expounded for me that verse ; but his did! It showed at once that there was something there, which told its own tale.
During the same year (1882) I went to the small Convention at Polmont, where Mr. Bowker presided. We also held a large meeting at Glasgow, where Canon Battersby was present, so that in Scotland the movement was fairly begun, and had taken hold. In 1883 we gathered again at Keswick, the first year I spoke there; but the news met us at the station on Monday that Canon Battersby had died that morning. What a shock it was! What a sermon! What a teaching, that this work was not to stand in the power or wisdom of men! What a lesson, if we could learn it, that God was sufficient, and that God was alone! And all through the Convention, over which dear Mr. Bowker was Chairman, the shadow of the grave, dark, sad, but tender and impressive, was upon us all.
Mr. Bowker was for several years both at Keswick and at the provincial gatherings, the recognised Chairman. He was a man of great vigour of mind, who had long been the head of one of the great Educational institutions; and although we used to say with a laugh, that we seemed still to be his “sixth-form boys,” we owed him a great debt for his continuous and watchful labours in and out-of-season. In him, too, grace had a victory. I remember a group of us speakers dining with him in London ; and seeing a large portrait of him taken some years before, I said, privately, to dear Mr. Fox, that I had never seen a more remarkable change of expression and of Christian growth than in the comparison between the face of the portrait and that which we saw in our still living friend, a remark with which he quite agreed. In private, Mr. Bowker was a most interesting man. One story I remember which he told. He had dined (at Carlisle, I think) in a small company which included, among other remarkable people, Lord Brougham. A question arose as to what Great Britain owed her greatness. Brougham evaded the question himself, but referred to Mr. Bowker for his opinion. He answered, “It is to her possession of the Word of God, in the English Bible.” Brougham bowed his head, and added “I should not wonder if you be correct!”
The name of the Rev. Charles A. Fox has already occurred ; and it is with a full heart that I write it, and trust myself to say a few words concerning one of the best and dearest men I have ever known. He was the poet of the Convention, perhaps the only man on the platform who was an orator, and one of the sweetest and truest of friends. I have sheaves of his post-cards (his favourite postal medium), and many of his letters, in poetry and prose ; some in joy and redolent of humour, some in deep anxiety and sorrow ; and one at least after the shadow of death had already reached him in the great suffering of his latter months! Nobody touched hearts more truly by exposing his own. The tremulous tenderness of his soul when he opened up the depths was the revelation of an inner man ! Certainly, I have never known any case in which the joyous fun of a strong man was so absolutely in harmony with Christian feeling.
He had one physical difficulty which went with him all through his ministry, but was often unnoticed and to many unknown. It was a nervous stammer which attacked him without warning, and accompanied the expression of any feeling which touched him deeply. It had the strange power of specially affecting his reading of the liturgy, so much so that latterly he almost never attempted to do so. I had previously dealt with this trouble in others, not unsuccessfully, and at an early period of our friendship had spoken to him on the subject. Though very sensitive about it, this was one of the things which drew us closer together, and he once told me that when before the Bishop for examination for Deacon’s orders, he was refused on the ground that the stammer was so bad. But at the time he boldly faced it in God’s strength, and the Bishop proceeded, leaving the responsibility to Fox. He told me how often it attacked him in public; how he met it in faith; and how the only physical relief was obtained by throwing out his arms, in the fashion of the orator. So that often when we thought him most carried away by his feelings, he was righting his defeat. Thus was he reminded continually that he was made strong “out of weakness.” Though apparently a strong, even a very strong, man, there were often things which led one to question his health. A railway journey was always a trouble, and latterly a serious one, apparently jarring the nervous system. And all at once, a discovery was made, on a visit to Scotland, that very serious evil was present in the face, and that an operation was inevitable.
It was the beginning of an awful eight months, which framed a long death-bed experience, of agony. Even it was turned into spiritual teaching, and poetry. He found traces that the Master had trodden a similar road. “The face that was more marred than any man’s” brought Him nearer than before, who “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows.” “The Marred Face” is the title of one of the most touching sonnets ever written. It was the Face of the Master; and it was the Face of this, His disciple. Here are the words, which no one will read without great feeling; but only those who know the last few months of Charles Fox’s life will see the depths which lay beneath :
“THE MARRED FACE.”
Marred more than any man’s ! Yet there’s no place
In this wide Universe but gains new grace
Richer and fuller, from that marred Face!
O Saviour Christ! those precious wounds of Thine
Make doubly precious these poor wounds of mine;
Teach me to die with Thee the Death Divine;
All wounds and woes of earth, once made Thine Own,
Add colour to the Rainbow round the Throne,
And save from loneliness saints else alone.
Pain trims the lamps at Nature’s eventide,
Ere the King enters to bring home His Bride,
My King, by suffering perfected and tried!
Beloved ones are hastening past, and all
The ground is strewn with blossoms they let fall
In haste to gain Love’s Crowning festival.
Heaven beckons now - I press me toward the mark
Of my high calling. Hark ! He calls ! Oh ! hark !
That wounded Face moves toward me through the dark !
J. ELDER CUMMING