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The Missionary Element in Keswick

Updated on February 23, 2013
Church in the foothills of the Italian Alps, from
Church in the foothills of the Italian Alps, from

The Missionary Element in Keswick

by Mr. Eugene Stock

A cry, as of pain,

Again and again,

Is borne o’er the deserts and wide-spreading main:

A cry from the lands that in darkness are lying,

A cry from the hearts that in sorrow are sighing;

It comes unto me;

It comes unto thee;

Oh what -- oh what shall the answer be?

Oh! hark to the call;

It comes unto all

Whom Jesus hath rescued from sin’s deadly thrall;

"Come over and help us! in bondage we languish;

Come over and help us! we die in our anguish;"

It comes unto me;

It comes unto thee;

Oh what -- oh what shall the answer be?

It comes to the soul

That Christ hath made whole,

The heart that is longing His name to extol;

It comes with a chorus of pitiful wailing;

It comes with a plea which is strong and prevailing:

"For Christ’s sake" to me;

"For Christ’s sake" to thee;

Oh what -- oh what shall the answer be?

We come, Lord, to Thee,

Thy servants are we;

Inspire Thou the answer, and true it shall be!

If here we should work, or afar Thou should’st send us,

O grant that Thy mercy may ever attend us,

That each one may be

A witness for Thee,

Till all the earth shall Thy glory see!

- Sarah Geraldina Stock


The Missionary Element

The call to entire dedication of body, soul, and spirit to the service of the Lord, which has been an essential part of the message of Keswick to the Church of Christ, could not fail, in time, to send some of those it influenced into the foreign mission field. The question which many were asking from the bottom of the heart, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" was sure in some cases to receive the answer, "Depart, for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles." If the Lord’s great commission to His Church is to proclaim the glad tidings of Redemption to all mankind, it could not, in the long run, be disregarded at Keswick.

It is not at all surprising that this was not so at first. The early Conventions were characterised by the same feature which had marked the Revival period of 1858-62, the Parochial Missions of 1872 and following years, and the Moody & Sankey campaigns of both 1874-75 and 1882-84. They one and all, at the time, had scarcely any connexion with, or effect upon, the Foreign Mission enterprise. Indirectly, and eventually, they have all helped it greatly; but some years had to elapse first. Even at the Mildmay Conference, which did give a definite place to Missions at its afternoon gatherings, the majority of the agencies represented were Home Missions of various kinds, and these proved by far the most popular. All the time the large Missionary Societies were at work, as they had been for three-quarters of a century or more, but they moved on different lines and appealed for the most part to different Christian circles. No reflection ought to be cast upon Canon Harford-Battersby, Mr. Bowker, and the other Keswick leaders, because in the Convention they concentrated all their influence upon one aim, the promotion of Practical Holiness. If Practical Holiness resulted in individuals going to the heart of Africa or the heart of China, they were unfeignedly glad; but their object was, so to speak, to set the engine going and keep the fire burning; they were not pointsmen to turn the train on to this or that line.

There were two men, however, whose minds and hearts were more fully set upon the Evangelization of the World. One was Hudson Taylor, the founder and director of the China Inland Mission. He was, indeed, only at the Convention now and then, when at home from China; but when there he was a valued speaker, and though he never pleaded for his own Mission, nor indeed in any exceptional way for China, he did set forth with fervent earnestness the claim of Christ to the service of His people in making His name known to all nations. The other was Reginald Radcliffe, the Liverpool solicitor who had been so prominent a leader in the Revival Movement of 1860, who had been the first to hold a Gospel service in a London theatre, and who had preached Christ all over the land and in many distant parts of the world. He had only come to "see" foreign Missions after many years of that work; but when he once did "see" them, when his eyes were opened to the unique position which the Lord’s great commission occupies in the inspired records of His last instructions to His disciples, Radcliffe made it the chief task of his later years to arouse the Christian circles in which he had influence to a new sense of the paramount claims of the non-Christian world. At two or three successive Conventions he invited friends to his lodgings for daily prayer on the subject; and he tried to persuade Mr. Bowker, who presided after Canon Battersby’s death, to include in the programme a missionary meeting. But the venerable chairman said No. "Missions meant secretaries quarrelling for collections, and Keswick could not stoop to that."

However, there were tokens from time to time of the change that was presently coming. In 1885, for instance, at a testimony meeting, three young clergymen stood up together, and publicly dedicated themselves to the mission field.*

(* The sequel of this is interesting. One of the three, the Rev. C. H. Gill, went out a year or two later. He, after nearly twenty years work in India, became Bishop of Travancore and Cochin. All that time it was a rather sad reflection that neither of the other two had gone to the mission field. But this year (1907) the Archbishop of Canterbury has appointed the Rev. Canon Lander, of Liverpool, to be Bishop of Victoria, Hong Kong, in succession to the lamented Bishop Hoare, and he is another of the three.)

In 1886 and 1887 Mr. Radcliffe obtained Mr. Bowker’s permission to use the tent for a missionary meeting on the Saturday, which day had always been left free for excursions; but Bowker closed the official proceedings, notwithstanding, with the Praise Meeting early on Saturday morning, and then "lent" the Tent to Radcliffe for a distinct gathering " unconnected with the Convention." In the latter year this meeting proved to have great results. Bowker (who declined to be present himself) had, earlier in the week, read out a letter from the Rev. J. R. Longley Hall, a C.M.S. missionary at Jerusalem, appealing for ladies of education and private means to go and work (on their own account) in Palestine; and this letter was pointedly referred to by one of the speakers at the Saturday meeting, among whom were Radcliffe himself as chairman, Hudson Taylor, Prebendary Webb-Peploe, James Johnson (a Negro clergyman, now a bishop), and the present writer. The result of the meeting was that more than thirty persons, individually and separately, applied to one or other of the speakers with a view to missionary service; and the next two days were occupied by long private interviews with them. Many of these persons eventually went out, and some are missionaries to this day.

Mr. Bowker was duly informed of so striking an episode ; and before the next Convention came round he had avowed his adhesion to the great principle that, as he expressed it, "Consecration and the Evangelization of the World ought to go together." The result was that the official programme for 1888 included a missionary meeting on the Saturday, which was attended by all the leaders, and which was the first of that great series of gatherings with which all are now familiar. "The longest and the shortest," said a friend present, "of all the Keswick meetings." The longest, for it was timed to last three hours, from 10 to 1 o clock; the shortest, because the large number of speakers, only allowed a few minutes each, kept attention constantly alive, and prevented any feeling of weariness. In that same year began the daily Missionary Prayer Meeting, held at first in the Drill Hall and afterwards in the Pavilion, and lasting 20 to 30 minutes squeezed in between the other morning gatherings, which was for many years attended daily by hundreds of people. Only last year (1906) was it given a whole hour at 7 a.m., and a tent to itself.

An important incident in that first official Saturday meeting of 1888 must now be mentioned. In the middle of the proceedings an envelope was brought to the Chair man, which contained a £10 note, with a slip of paper stating that the donor offered it as "the nucleus of a fund for sending out a Keswick missionary." There had been no intention to have a collection at all, any possible thank-offerings having their proper application, as on the other days, to the expenses of the Convention. But the little message on the slip of paper was naturally read out to the meeting, and, to the astonishment of all, within the next hour money and promises came up spontaneously to the platform, amounting to about £150, the liveliest interest being manifested as note after note kept coming up from every part of the Tent. Before the end of the year these contributions had reached the sum of £908 for the Keswick Mission Fund, besides £151 which was earmarked for existing Missionary Societies. The donor, then a Cambridge undergraduate, little thought what his God-given thought (as it may surely be called) was destined to produce.

The question at once arose, What was to be done with the money? On the one hand, it could not be rightly divided among the existing Missionary Societies, or there might be a danger of Mr. Bowker’s old fear being realized. On the other hand, "Keswick" could not rightly start a new Society. Eventually the consideration prevailed that the Keswick message was not one for the non-Christian world, but for the Christian Church; and it was determined to send out men qualified to deliver that message to the Colonies and the Mission Field to call Christian Churches to "practical holiness." The first man to be sent was the Rev. George Grubb, who had already been in India and Ceylon as one of a party sent with a similar object by the Church Missionary Society. The result was the remarkable series of Missions conducted by Mr. Grubb and a band of younger men in Ceylon, South India, Australia, and New Zealand, which were accompanied by much manifest blessing from on high, and which afterwards issued in more important fruits than were dreamed of at the time. Subsequently, the Revs. Hubert Brooke, C. Inwood, and G. H. C. Macgregor went to Canada on a similar errand; and year by year since then, other brethren have gone forth as "Keswick missioners," not "missionaries," to China, South Africa, South America, the West Indies, and various parts of Europe. Mr. Inwood especially has done great service by his visits to many parts of the world. Few movements have been more manifestly blessed of God.

Year by year the offerings at the Saturday Missionary Meeting, and at one held since 1889 on the Wednesday afternoon in the interest definitely of this "Keswick Mission" (the Saturday meeting always including Missions generally), have sufficed, with other occasional gifts, to provide the necessary funds. But from the first there were some who felt that a part at least of the contributions should go to Missions to the Heathen. It was therefore eventually arranged to have Keswick "missionaries" as well as "missioners." But not to start a regular organization which would conduct its own Missions with all their many ramifications and consequent responsibilities. The plan agreed upon was to support individual missionaries in all cases such as had accepted the "Keswick message" in its fulness who were already on the staff of recognized Missionary Societies, the money being paid direct to the different Societies for their support respectively, and the brethren or sisters themselves remaining members in each case of the Society s staff and under its direction. The first so adopted was Miss Amy Wilson-Carmichael, for whom a special private subscription adequate for her support was offered. She is, as is now well-known, working in South India as an agent of the Church of England Zenana Society, along with the Rev. T. Walker, of the C.M.S., who is also now a "Keswick missionary" on the same plan. Others are working in India, China, Japan, Cape Colony, and other fields, in connection with the C.M.S., the China Inland Mission, the South Africa General Mission, &c.; and one, a German clergyman, among the Jews.

Such are some of the results of that memorable anonymous gift of 10 at that first official missionary meeting in 1888. Truly we may say, What hath God wrought!

The Keswick Convention, in the past twenty years, has had a powerful influence indeed upon the Missionary Enterprise. In three distinct ways:

1. By its sending forth of "missioners," and helping the Societies to send forth "missionaries," as just described. Let it be added that the visits of Mr. Grubb to Australia and New Zealand and of Mr. Hudson Taylor also, previously, to Australia had much influence in preparing the minds and hearts of our Colonial brethren for the Auxiliary Associations subsequently established among them in connection with both the China Inland Mission and the C.M.S. which Associations have sent out between them nearly a hundred missionaries, to China, Japan, India, Africa, etc., and provide the funds for their maintenance.

2. By calling forth offers of missionary service at the Convention itself, or as the result of its solemn teaching. All the Societies have gained recruits from Keswick. No other single agency can compare with it in fruitfulness in this respect. There is not a mission-field which is not indebted to the influence of Keswick for one or more of its labourers in some cases for several of them. In this connection it is worth recording that the first address in this country of Mr. R. P. Wilder, when he came from America to try to start the Student Volunteer Movement in our midst, was given at the Saturday Missionary Meeting of 1891; and that speech called forth one who became a leader in the movement, and is now a missionary of the Free Church of Scotland in Nyasaland.

3. By its influence upon the minds and hearts of missionaries who have attended the Convention while on furlough. For many years it has been the custom for some of the Societies to engage, or authorize private friends to engage, lodgings for parties of their missionary brethren and sisters, in order that they may have, by God’s blessing, the quickening and the comfort it may be the needed correction which the teaching is so often used by the Holy Spirit to supply. Very many have gone back to their fields of labour, sometimes to very discouraging and trying fields, refreshed and strengthened by the Keswick Convention. Some who have been troubled with doubts have had them dissolved; some who, though clear in doctrine and sincere in motive, have been lacking in fervour, or in patience, or in self-sacrifice, have found a fresh enduement of the Holy Ghost, a "baptism" as some would say, a "filling" as others would call it, a definite blessing, at any rate the particular phraseology matters little. Actual cases could be named. Let one illustration, which it is now permissible to give, suffice. In 1890, a house for C.M.S. missionaries was arranged, with Dr. Handley Moule (now Bishop of Durham) and Mrs. Moule as host and hostess. Among the guests was the Rev. J. C. Hoare, of Mid-China. Dr. Moule arranged a little excursion on the Friday afternoon, during which, in a field near Lodore, he asked the brethren present to give their personal experience of the week. Mr. Hoare, the last man to be affected by anything that could be called a "gushing "influence, spoke in quiet and restrained language of the blessing he had received. Next day, at the great Saturday meeting, one of the slips of paper sent up was from him, intimating that he and his wife would thenceforth take no pecuniary allowances from his Society. He afterwards became Bishop of Victoria, Hong Kong, and was drowned in the typhoon of September, 1906.



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    • tlpoague profile image


      8 years ago from USA

      What an interesting history lesson. It is amazing how God works in mysterious ways.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 

      8 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Mr. P.

      I was captured by your first line, "The call to entire dedication of body, soul, and spirit to the service of the Lord...." It's entire dedication of our entire being tat God calls for. Might I give Him that!


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