The Earliest Keswick Conventions
Early Keswick Conventions
By Rev. Preb. H. Webb-Peploe, M.A
By Rev. E.W. Moore, M.A.
I have known and valued the Keswick Convention since the year 1882.
The truth brought out in various forms is the life of peace, joy and victory upon which Christians can enter, and in which they can be kept by full surrender and faith in Christ. It is summed up in the lines:
‘Christ without our safety,
‘Christ within our joy!’
Not only Christ without, but Christ within. Col 1.27, Eph 3.17. Christ within to apply to us by the Holy Spirit His finished work on the Cross; to manifest Himself in the study of the Word; to cleanse us from sin, and keep us cleansed; to fill us continually out of His fullness; to enable us to identify ourselves with Himself on the Cross; to keep self in the dust of death; to use us as, and when, and where He pleases.
This is the great Message of Keswick, and this has brought life and joy and peace to thousands. It has introduced a fresh era into missionary work, many of the missionaries through receiving the Message having entered into newness of life.
- Francis Paynter.
Early Keswick Conventions
Great issues flow from small beginning, and those who now contemplate with amazement and awe the gatherings of thousands at the great Keswick Convention can hardly perhaps understand or appreciate from whence these mighty assemblies sprang. To one who saw, and took part in the first Keswick Convention has been accorded the holy privilege (I will not say duty unless my readers will carefully think of this word as meaning only ‘that which is due from one to others’) of telling a little of what took place in those memorable days, and how from the loving invitations of one man to his friends and parishioners to come and hear what the Lord Jesus could be and do for the true believer, have gradually come (in the magnificent goodness of God) the solemn assemblies which are now seen year after year, filling two great tents, from early morning till night, throughout the whole of the last week of July, and drinking in the ‘words of Life’ as God gives them to His messengers.
The first gathering in Keswick, under the title of ‘A Convention’, began on Monday, July 28th, 1875, and its origin may perhaps be thus described.
In Sept 1874, there had been held in Oxford the first great Convention on ‘Holiness’, which was attended by (I believe) about 1,000 persons, almost everyone of whom seemed to receive distinct spiritual blessing; and it was at that holy gathering that the late Canon Battersby was led to trust the gracious Saviour with wonderful new Light, and with a joy of soul that demanded confession and open manifestation of the blessing received. But though so many had received special help at the O.C., the teaching there given was not allowed to pass unchallenged; and I can remember, with pain, how not only the godless but the greatest Leaders and Teachers of Evangelical Truth thought it their duty to oppose to the utmost what they considered ‘very dangerous Heresy’ – that Christ could keep His people from every known sin, and that according to our faith it would be unto us in this as in regard to our original salvation. The fact was that they did not know what was really being taught by sober, earnest, and spiritual minded, men; and they only formed their opinions from certain mistaken reports which were promulgated in the columns of some of the weekly papers.
The result was (as we some of us remember with pain) that when in the autumn of 1874 meetings were organized in different parts of the country – to further the good work that had been begun at the Oxford Convention – the Evangelical Leaders of that day felt it their duty to oppose what they believed to be a false doctrine of ‘Perfection in man.’ The teaching was simply that which is now everywhere received as the complement of that Gospel which tells of a free and full salvation in Christ, and which makes our blessed Saviour not only a perfect atonement for sin, but also a keeper for those who trust Him up to the measure of their light and knowledge, not only of their own need, but of Jesus Christ as their ‘Life.’ This, we need hardly say, was never for one moment intended (by those who were rightly instructed, and were the real leaders of the movement) to be a teaching of ‘sinless perfection in man’! On the contrary, it was always most carefully guarded by an insistence on the fact that sin remains in us to the last, and that though Christ will by His Holy Spirit’s power keep the true believer moment by moment from falling into known and unknown sins, yet that every thought, word and deed of the believer – to the last moment on earth – is tainted by the fact of indwelling sin or corruption, and that therefore the blood of Christ is needed, every moment of our lives, to cleanse us from guilt and keep us acceptable in the sight of the Holy God. Never I believe was the solemn meaning or force of 1 John 1:8-10 at any time forgotten or put aside by the real leaders of what is sometimes called ‘The Keswick Movement’. The term is a false and unmeaning one really, for the ‘Movement’ was nothing less than the gracious working of the Holy Spirit, to rouse the Church of God to a greater realization of the ‘Rest’ which God would give to all true believers in Christ, not only from fret, and fear, and folly, but from all known and actual sins – and that the Church should realize and exhibit to the world what is really meant (in spiritual things ) by ‘entering into the promised land’ (Hebrews chapters 3 & 4).
Surely, no well-instructed Christian of our day, who heard the teaching which I have briefly depicted, would think of condemning it as opposed to God’s Truth, and yet it is only some 28 or 29, years ago that, when I had been asked to set forth ‘Keswick teaching’ before some 50 or 60 evangelical clergy and I had heartily responded to the invitation, explaining from Romans chapters 6 to 8, from 1 Cor 10.13, and from 2 Cor 12.9, guarded carefully by 1 John 1.8-9, the blessed keeping power and purposes of the Lord Jesus Christ for His people – the chairman of the meeting (himself perhaps the very centre of Evangelical Churchmanship) rose as soon as I had finished my address, and said: ‘Heresy! Heresy!! Damnable Heresy! I hold that it is for the glory of God that we should fall into sin, that He may get honour to Himself by drawing us out of it!’ Thank God! further light was very soon given to the earnest, but misinformed, leaders of that last generation; and for the honour of our Lord and the good fame of the brethren, I may mention that each of the three great leaders, who most determinedly opposed the movement at first, afterwards invited me, as an exponent of Keswick teaching, to conduct missions, or to take special services in their parishes, and that, in each case, I was permitted to do what they asked, and to have these honoured fathers sitting humbly in their own parish churches, and listening earnestly, while I set forth ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ’.
I only mention this fact to show, how much of prejudice had to be overcome before the glorious Gospel of a keeping Saviour could be welcomed even by those who had long been teachers of the great truth of ‘justification by faith’, but who, if I understand the difference rightly, seemed to think that human effort was the chief element in sanctification. Of course, this human effort is demanded, but what is taught at Keswick and other similar Conventions is that Christ keeps His faithful servant from falling, moment by moment, according to the exercise of faith – following the teaching of such passages as 2 Pet 1.10 and St. Jude 24 (where the same word, which really means ‘stumbling’, is given as ‘falling’ in each of the two verses). The immediate result of the Oxford Convention was that, in the autumn of 1874 several smaller Conventions were held, in some of which I was permitted to take part, and with very blessed and beautiful results. These were followed by clerical meetings, etc, in which strong opposition was shown to what was often called ‘Pearsall-Smithism’ or ‘Sinless Perfection’, and at a great gathering in June 1875, a leading evangelical clergyman spoke on ‘Holiness by Faith: Are recent statements according to Scripture?’ and very strongly reprobated the whole movement as contrary to God’s Word! Yet only a few years later that very same brother invited me to take a mission in a most important parish and town.
It was in June 1875 that the great Brighton Convention was held, at which it was said that 8,000 people were present. Only those who had the privilege of attending those ‘Ten-day Meetings’ can in any way appreciate the marvelous blessing that was given. There may, of course, have been some mistakes, and some erroneous doctrines put forward, for men were almost excitedly looking for light; but on the whole it may be safely affirmed that the Lord overruled those gatherings to give wonderful results.
It was as the outcome of that Convention that the late Canon Battersby, the honoured and much-loved Vicar of St.John’s, Keswick, felt impelled to invite a number of friends to go to Keswick for a week of Holiness Meetings, and the intention was that Pearsall Smith should be the leader thereat. Canon Battersby was to be helped in all the details and arrangements of the meeting by his true and powerful coadjutor, Mr. Robert Wilson. But man proposes and God disposes; and so, when June 28th came, and the meetings were to commence, Mr Pearsall Smith was ill and could not go to Keswick at all; and from that time he retired altogether from the leadership of Conventions, and other men had to be upraised of God.
On arriving in Keswick we went straight to the Tent, which had in it a gathering of 300 or 400 people. Canon Battersby was, of course, the leader, and director, while Mr RobertWilson, with wonderful self-denial, undertook all the arrangements connected with the Tent and other secular matters. During the following days of the Convention our numbers may have reached at some meetings as many as 600; but of the great gatherings now expected we knew nothing then. I had only gone as a listener, but like others found myself called to speak almost all day long, owing to the absence of those who had been expected as leaders. The programme of the meetings, as issued at the time, was as follows: -
Keswick, June 28 – Jul 2, 1875.
Monday, June 28th,
Prayer Meeting, 7.30 pm – Marquee.
Daily Meetings, June 29th.-July 1st.
7.0 to 8.30 o’clock.- Marquee.
Before Breakfast.- Prayer Meetings.
8.30 to 9.30 o’clock. – Breakfast.
9.45 to 11.15 o’clock. Conversational Side Meetings-
St. John s Girls and Infant Schools.
Rev. G. R. Thornton, Rev. H. Webb-Peploe,
Mr. H. F. Bowker, Rev. T. Phillips.
Lecture Hall of the Keswick Library,
For Ladies Only.
11.45 to 1.30 o’clock. Marquee.
General Meeting. Prayer and Addresses.
1.30 to 3.0 o’clock. Dinner.
3.0 to 4.0 o’clock.
Prayer Meeting. St. John’s Infant Schoolroom.
Service of Song. Rev. J. Mountain, Marquee-
4.0 to 5.15 o’clock. Marquee.
General Meeting. Prayer and Addresses.
5.15 to 6.15 o’clock. Tea.
6.15 to 7.30 o’clock. Marquee.
7.30 to 9.0 o’clock. Marquee.
General Meeting. Prayer and Addresses.
Friday, July 2nd,
Prayer and Praise Meeting, 7.0 a.m.
and all that the speakers knew of preparation times was that, after long and earnest prayer, in Canon Battersby’s house at night, he would apportion the next day’s work and say to each one, ‘Will you take this?’ and ‘Will you take that?’ No one thought of questioning his appointment, but took it as being directly of the Lord. The chief speakers at that first Convention were the Rev. George Thornton, Mr. H. Bowker, Mr. T. M. Croome, Mr. Shipley (an American), and myself. For two or three hours each day, one was occupied with answering questions, which were openly propounded in the class-rooms of the schools, or sent up in writing to the platform of the Tent; and this part of our work was very wearying, but exceedingly profitable, and it might with advantage be much more used now. Nothing can be imagined more simple, or more unconventional than the arrangements of that first holy meeting at Keswick.
The second Convention in that town began on July 31st, 1876, when the opening meeting was addressed by Canon Battersby and the Rev. Evan Hopkins. About 400 were present that night, and perhaps 600 to 700 at some later meetings of the Convention. The speakers of that year were chiefly the Rev. Evan Hopkins, the Rev. R. B. Girdlestone, the Rev. Thompson Phillips, the Rev. J. B. Figgis and myself, with Mr. Bowker, and Mrs. Johnson of America, besides Canon Battersby, who of course took a leading part as the Vicar, and as Chairman of the Convention. It was during that year’s gatherings that our Tent was blown down in the night, and Mr. Wilson gave up the whole night to preparing the Drill Hall for our 7 a.m. meeting. His generalship was remarkable, and we were all most deeply indebted to him for his labour of love. The result was, however, some what trying for us speakers, especially for Mr. Hopkins and myself, as we had to rush from the Drill Hall to the Lecture Hall, and vice versa, all day long, repeating our addresses alternately in each of these places ; but the Convention, in those days, closed before the end of the week ; and so one could get away on Friday, and prepare for one’s home work on the Sunday; and it might be well perhaps for some of us, if the same custom prevailed now.
Wonderful indeed were the spiritual results in those earlier Conventions ; and one sometimes is led to yearn for the simple delight that was manifested, as the truth of Christ’s keeping, and peace-giving power, was apprehended by hungry and thirsty souls.
May Keswick Conventions never become formal; but be ever more and more owned of God, for the uplifting of souls into the true, and joyful, life of a believer in Christ.
I may not now write concerning the later Conventions : Other brethren have undertaken that holy privilege and duty : but I would simply, in closing, express my humble astonishment and awe at the great things which the Lord of Hosts has done in that consecrated place; and pray that His mighty power and love may be ever more and more seen, working with even greater force and beauty than in the past, and that every Convention that is held in Keswick may be far better than the preceding one. Thus shall the Lord Jesus be truly honoured as our Saviour, and men shall rejoice in the loving kindness of their gracious God.
H. W. WEBB-PEPLOE.