APPRAISAL OF THE KESWICK AND WESLEYAN CONTEMPORARY POSITIONS
Wesleyan Theological Journal
ideal of Christian perfection which Christ and the apostles expressed, and which
was made available to the believer by the Spirit at Pentecost, has recurred in
one form or another from age to age. I Clement echoed the New Testament standard
of brotherly love as the highest expression of the Christian life.
Repetitions of this ideal are to be found in the writings of Ignatius, bishop of
Antioch (c. A.D. 110); in Chiliasm; in Montanism; in the ideal of asceticism; in
monasticism; and in other individuals and movements.
the fourth to the sixteenth centuries of the Church the quest for holiness was
polluted in the main by the doctrine that evil is to be associated with the
human body, a teaching emphasized by Gnosticism and Manichaeism. Consequently
many of those who longed for holiness united with one or another of the sects of
the Cathari, or joined themselves to monasteries or convents.
there were those during the Middle Ages who lived lives of genuine piety and
taught the same. Outstanding among them were Eckart (1260–1327), Tauler
(?–1361), Suso (?–1366), and the Brethren of the Common Life. Pietism in
emphases on victorious Christian living are represented by those groups related
to the Wesleyan and Keswick movements. It is with an appraisal of the
contemporary positions of these two schools of thought that this paper deals.
The History of the Wesleyan and Keswick Movements
order to achieve chronological orientation, the Wesleyan movement is surveyed
origin of the Wesleyan movement centered around John Wesley, a clergyman of the
Church of England, who lived during most of the eighteenth century. The movement
began within the bounds of the established Church. When that institution closed
its doors to Wesley and his followers, they moved to secular buildings, to the
open fields, and to wherever they could get a hearing. Later, necessity forced
them to form the Methodist Societies in order to conserve and perpetuate the
work which had been begun. Wesley himself, however, never withdrew from the
Church of England.
Methodist revival spread into
zeal brought tremendous growth. Before many generations had passed, Methodist
prosperity, however, came spiritual decline and a relaxation of those principles
which made Methodism great. While her book of discipline continued to retain the
same standard of doctrine and conduct which had been in effect under Wesley, and
Coke, and Albury, a general relaxation in the application of those standards and
in her emphasis on personal religion ensued.
of Methodism’s leaders and a goodly number of her members continued to hold to
the original principles, and chose to remain within the
among Methodism’s more conservative children today are the following: The
Wesleyan Methodist Church of America (1843), The Free Methodist Church of North
America (1860), the Salvation Army (1865), The Pilgrim Holiness Church (1897),
The Church of the Nazarene (1907), and The Evangelical Methodist Church (1939).
A number of other groups which have not come so directly from Methodist
backgrounds as the above, nevertheless endeavored to preserve the doctrinal
position of early Methodism.
The Keswick Movement
Keswick movement had its beginnings in
and Mrs. Robert Pearsall Smith’s higher-life meetings and conferences in
Pearsall Smith says that she knew herself to be a child of God, but was unable
to act like one, and this made her wonder whether she had not missed something
which would have given her victory. She determined to find out, if possible,
what that something was. Older Christians whom she questioned about it all told
her the same thing: she had not missed anything; a life of sinning and repenting
was inevitable because of the weakness of the flesh, and was all she could ever
hope for. She continually cried out with the apostle, “O wretched man that I
am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Yet the fact stared her
in the face that Paul had not only asked that question but answered it and said
triumphantly, “I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In her
discouragement she began to be afraid that she would lose every bit of religion
she possessed. She and her husband, she says, had “learned thoroughly the
blessed truth of justification by faith, and rejoiced in it with great joy. But
here we had stopped. The equally blessed twin truth of sanctification by faith
had not yet been revealed to us.
new revelation came to Mrs. Pearsall Smith about 1867, through a young Baptist
theological student who was living in her home as a tutor, and a Methodist
dressmaker who lived in the little
conferences were held at Broadlands (1874),
always have come from various lands. At the Oxford Convention, for example,
there appear the names of Otto Stockmayer’, of
should be noted, too, that convention speaker’s represent several
denominations. F. B. Myer was a Baptist. A. T. Pierson, J. Elder Cumming, and
George H. C. MacGregor’ were Presbyterians. Andrew Murray belonged to the
Dutch Reformed Church. H. C. G. Moule, H. W. Webb-Peploe, W. H. Griffith Thomas,
and J. Stuart Holden were Anglicans. Such were representative of those who have
brief survey of Wesleyan and Keswick history must suffice for the purpose of
this study. We shall now turn to an appraisal of the teachings and contemporary
status of these movements.
Similarities Between Wesleyanism and the Keswick Movement
basic similarities between the two schools of thought, especially with respect
to their doctrinal positions, should be noted. If at times quotations or points
of view are cited from men who are no longer contemporary, it is because neither
movement has departed theologically from the position held by their founders;
and both quote their earlier leaders when presenting their own contemporary
basic doctrinal agreement between them is to be noted with regard to their
appraisal of the condition of unregenerate man. Both find him to be a sinner by
nature, and consequently unable to cease from sinning, or to save himself from
the wrath of a just God.
Both schools of thought base their hope for man’s salvation squarely on the
redemptive work of God through Jesus Christ.
believe that justification is by faith in Christ, that it is attended by
regeneration, and that the sinner is thereby made a child of God.
recognize that although transgressions are forgiven in justification, at which
time also sanctification is begun, yet the principle of sin with which man is
born remains in the justified believer. They agree that a life of complete
victory in Christ comes usually through a definite crisis experience, or second
work of grace. Wesleyans generally consider that the “second-blessing
experience” is the normal procedure in the economy of God, as He works toward
the ultimate salvation of the believer.
Keswick teachers emphasize that the second-crisis experience is usually a
practical necessity not because it is in the purpose of God that it should come
later than justification, but because of sinful man’s ignorance of his need to
be filled with the Holy Spirit and of God’s provision for that need.
Keswick and Wesleyanism believe that the sanctified believer continues to grow
in grace so long as he lives. Both believe, too, that sanctification can be
are some of the basic similarities in doctrine which Wesleyan and Keswick
teachers have. But it should also be noted that they possess important doctrinal
Differences Between the Wesleyan and Keswick Positions
important difference in the teachings of Wesleyanism and Keswick is seen in
their analysis of what happens in the believer’s heart at the moment of
sanctification. Wesleyanism teaches that the soul itself is delivered from all
sin. Keswick, on the other hand, teaches that the sanctified themselves are not
made holy, but only that they are made completely victorious over the sin
nature, which still remains in their hearts. They distinguish between a state of
holiness and a condition of holiness. They say that if the sanctified were in a
state of holiness he would have no need for God to keep him thus, therefore they
reject the doctrine as untenable. H. W. Webb-Peploe voiced Keswick’s objection
in the following words:
man who believes in a sanctification which eradicates sin from his person, as a
principle, must be satisfied with his own condition, and be able to take his
place more or less independent of the Savior, even while he may say that he is
dependent upon that Savior or his vital joys and power from moment to moment.
see no such difficulty in connection with the doctrine. They believe that the
sanctified is made holy initially, and kept holy moment by moment, through the
atoning grace of Christ. In speaking of the sanctified relationship to God,
Charles V. Fairbairn says: “Just as natural life is maintained by daily
sustenance, so with the spiritual; it must be renewed ‘day by day.”
D. Shelby Corlett asks this question: “In the work of entire sanctification is
the sinful nature brought into more perfect control, or is it entirely removed
from the heart of the Christian?” His answer is:
is entirely removed from the heart of the Christian, because this sinful nature
is enmity against God, is not subject to the law of God neither indeed can be
(Romans 8:7), it cannot be incorporated into the Christian life, it cannot be
harmonized with the nature of God, nor can it be brought under perfect control.
The only remedy is removal or deliverance. Hence, “the blood of Jesus Christ .
. . cleanseth us from all sin” (1
says: “The body of sin, the carnal mind, must be destroyed; the old man must
be slain, or we can not put on the new man, which is created after God . . ., in
righteousness and true holiness.”
stated at a Keswick convention that he could not understand how “dear John
Wesley” could be so self-deceived as to suggest that a Christian could be free
from sin in this life. Reader Harris, in answer to Webb-Peploe, offered one
hundred pounds for the production of a single text of scripture which taught
that sin is a necessity in the life of a Spirit-filled Christian. The one
hundred pounds was never claimed.
Hopkins, one of the most quoted spokesmen among Keswicks, uses illustrations to
prove that sin remains in the soul of the sanctified. One of his most effective
analogies is that of an ascending balloon. Since it is so characteristic of
several illustrations which Keswick speakers use, it is quoted here at length:
a balloon with a car attached to it is ascending from the earth its tendency is
upward—it has no tendency at all downwards, it has lost its tendency to fall.
So when the Lord cleanses my heart from all evil—gives me a ‘clean
heart’—I have no tendency to sin. I am liable to sin, but I have no tendency
this the reasoning of any of our readers? The illustration is a good one, but
the inference is fallacious, and most misleading in its spiritual application.
First, as to the balloon, we would say it has not lost its tendency downwards,
though it continues to rise. We must remember that its movement upwards is but
the resultant of opposing forces. Suppose we say the weight of the materials of
which it is composed, or, in other words, its tendency downwards, is equal to
four, and the lifting power of the gas by which it is filled is equal to six. As
these two forces are diametrically opposed, the power by which it actually
ascends is only equal to two.
to say that the balloon has lost all tendency downwards, because it has ceased
to move in that direction, but on the contrary is steadily moving upwards, would
be to talk after the popular mind, but it would not be an accurate statement of
fact. Its tendency to sink, equal to four, remains the same, though it is
counteracted by the superior power of six in the opposite direction.
very fact that ‘the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus’ must be ever
in force as a continual necessity, is a proof that the tendency to sin is not
extinct, but is simply counteracted.
the other hand, this does not imply that I need be conscious of that tendency.
If we walk in the Spirit, the strain is borne by the Spirit. The privilege of
the believer is this, that he may so live in the Spirit, and be filled with the
Spirit, that, speaking from his consciousness, he may be tempted to say the
flesh no longer exists; that he has now only one nature. But let us not be
ignorant of Satan’s devices. It is then that we are in danger of being shunted
off the rails of soberness and truth on to the line of spiritual delusion, which
sooner or later terminates in disaster.
then, both schools of thought stood together. It is at the point of the doctrine
of what happens to the heart of the sanctified believer that they differ.
basis for the radical doctrinal cleavage at this point appears to be due to a
fundamental difference in the two schools’ definitions of sin. Adherents to
the Keswick position are recruited, for the most part, from those churches which
accept the Calvinistic definition of sin,
while Wesleyans are Arminian in doctrine. Since Calvinism looks upon those human
weaknesses which produce a lack of conformity to the perfect will of God
(mistakes, lapses of memory, ignorance, etc.) as sin, it is not conceivable that
followers of Keswick could think of a perfect cleansing of the individual in
this world. Wesleyans on the other hand, have no such theological impediment,
for “sanctification” denotes for them the cleansing of the affections and
motives, but not the undoing of the normal effects of the Fall.
Criticisms of Certain Keswick and Wesleyan Positions and Practices
writer now proposes to indicate what he believes to be inconsistencies and/or
weaknesses of the Keswick and Wesleyan positions and/or practices.
Keswick position and practices
the writer is happy with the intense Keswick desire for complete victory in
Christ; while he rejoices at their zeal in proclaiming that victory, and at the
soundness of much of their doctrine, and at the holy lives of many of their
number; he finds their emphasis upon sanctification as a sustained condition to
the first place, a number of Scriptures clearly indicates that God would
sanctify His people themselves, as well as give them victory over sin. The
emphasis upon personal cleansing in the following passages is noteworthy:
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for
her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water
with the word, that the Church might be presented before him in splendor,
without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without
blemish” (Ephesians 5:25–27,
in his use of analogies, Mr. Hopkins proves too much. If, for example, the
downward pull of the ascending balloon illustrates that the sinful nature
remains in the heart of the sanctified—he raises some serious theological
the case of Adam. Consistency demands that Mr. Hopkins assume either that Adam
was not subject to temptation, or that he did not have the upward “pull” of
the Spirit of God; or, if neither of these conclusions is tenable, that he
simply did not sin. This fallacy cannot be dismissed on the ground that our
Keswick brethren mean that while the downward “pull” remains in the heart of
the sanctified believer it was not in the heart of Adam. The writer would call
attention to a statement by Stephen Barabas, Keswick’s approved historian and
the codifier of their theological position. He says, “There would . . . be no
need to abide in Christ and rely upon Him for victory over temptation if sin
were no longer in us.”
By this statement he seems clearly to mean that the sinful nature is the basis
same consistency in the application of the doctrine which Mr. Hopkins derived
from his illustration of the balloon would lead to more serious conclusions yet
with regard to Jesus: either His temptations were not real, if we follow Mr.
Hopkins reasoning, or Jesus too had a sinful nature, for He was tempted “in
all points” (Hebrews 4:15).
teaching that the sanctification of the believer is a counteraction of sin, but
does not make the man himself holy, actually is no sanctification at all, any
more than the sealing of a cesspool might be called a cleansing.
their attempt to find scriptural support for the doctrine that sanctification is
a sustained condition of victory, but is not also a state of purity, the Keswick
teachers quite clearly quote certain passages of Scripture out of context.
Wesleyan position and practices
Wesleyans fall into the same verbal error as that of Keswick mentioned above.
Thomas Cook, for example, says, “We teach not a state of purity, but a
maintained condition of purity.”
By reading his statement in its context, however, one concludes that what he
really means to say is that the sanctified believer needs the Spirit’s power
continually in order to remain sanctified, to which both Wesleyanism and Keswick
use of the term “eradication,” on the part of certain Wesleyans, to describe
what happens at sanctification, seems to the writer to be a weakness. If by
“eradication” it is meant that an essential part of the person is removed,
then the writer would ask for scriptural substantiation of that doctrine. It
must be remembered that inbred sin is not an essential part of the nature of
man. If it is, then Jesus was not a true man. Nor was Adam before the Fall. When
God made man in His “own image,” He made him without a carnal nature.
Sanctification, therefore, is not the removal of an essential part of the human
personality; it is the cleansing of that personality. The word “eradication”
is greatly misunderstood and misinterpreted by some non-Wesleyans.
“Cleansing” is a scriptural term and carries better connotations. It would
seem, therefore, that it should replace “eradication” in Wesleyan
entire sanctification still is taught by the leaders of those branches of
Wesleyanism which are known as “holiness” churches, and while a number of
their pastors are faithful in the proclamation of the doctrine, the writer sees
a slackening of its emphasis among their general leaders, and a disturbing lack
of preaching and teaching of the doctrine at the grass roots. Wesley urged that
“all our preachers make it a point to preach perfection to believers
constantly, strongly and explicitly.”
And Adam Clarke said, “If the Methodists give up preaching entire
sanctification, they will soon lose their glory.”
Any slackening of emphasis on the subject among Wesleyans, then, becomes
writer believes the reasons for the lessened emphasis on the subject of entire
sanctification in churches of the Wesleyan tradition to be several in number.
a number of her pastors have never entered into the experience themselves. While
some would not admit it publicly, they are confused on the subject, hence do not
many laymen of the Wesleyan tradition have never been sanctified wholly and do
not “groan after” the experience, though they may have promised to do so
when they joined the church. Because of this fact, some laymen too cease to
speak clearly on the subject.
many Wesleyans who have come to a crisis experience of entire sanctification
have supposed that it is self-perpetuating. Through carelessness with respect to
prayer and the devotional reading of the Bible; through a lack of careful
obedience to God; through a loss of zeal to win others; and through ceasing to
hunger and thirst continually after righteousness, the Spirit has been grieved
away. The experience of full salvation for them has ceased to be alive and
meaningful. While they may continue to hold to a profession of this grace, and
though they may contend for the teaching itself, their lives, far from
attracting the sinner, bring reproach upon the very doctrine which they profess.
a desire to grow numerically causes some among us to modify, or to keep silent
about the doctrine of holiness, lest some who have begun to attend the services
should be offended. In so doing, we forget that this doctrine is our reason for
being, and our glory.
the decline in emphasis on the doctrine of entire sanctification has come, to no
small degree, as a result of the decline of the class meeting.
churches of the Wesleyan tradition have failed to “sell” the doctrine of
holiness because too often it has been presented primarily as something
negative, while its positive aspects have been neglected. Wesleyans could learn
from Keswick teachers at this point.
Summary and Conclusions
rise of Wesleyanism and the Keswick movement have been given briefly in this
paper. In an analysis of their similarities, it has been noted that both believe
in the crisis experiences of justification and sanctification by faith in the
Christ of Calvary. Both believe in complete victory over sin in personal living.
Both can count among their numbers outstanding saints. And both have done much
to promote God’s kingdom in the world.
between the Wesleyans and Keswick stem from basic dissimilarities in their
definitions of sin. This results in a distinct cleavage of thought with regard
to what happens in the heart of the sanctified. Wesleyans maintain that the
heart itself is cleansed, while Keswicks affirm that the sin nature is only
counteracted in the sanctified heart.
is weak in its scriptural foundation, but strong in its proclamation.
Wesleyanism is doctrinally sound, but lacks in zeal and in positive
presentation. Each has something to learn from the other. While learning it, let
neither oppose the other, nor yield to the other’s weaknesses.
 George Allen Turner, The More Excellent Way (Winona Lake, Ind.: Light and Life Press, 1952), p.122.
 Ibid., p.128.
Wilson T. Hogue, History of the Free
 Stephen Barabas, So Great Salvation (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1952), pp.15–16.
 Ibid., pp.17–18.
 It is not to be supposed, however, that these schools of thought see eye to eye on this and other doctrines listed in this paper, when such doctrines are analyzed fully.
Cf. D. Shelby Corlett, The
A.B.C.’s of Holiness (
 Barabas, op. cit., pp 134–135.
 Herbert H. Stevenson, ed., Keswick’s Authentic Voice (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p.31.
 Charles V. Fairbairn, Tarry Ye (Winona Lake, Ind.: Light & Life Press, 1943), p.61.
 Op. cit., p.37.
 Quoted by W. B. Godbey, Sanctification (Louisville, Ky.: The Kentucky Methodist Publishing Company, 1896), p.55.
Jack E. Ford, What the Holiness
People Believe (Palm Grove, Birkenhead, Chesire:
Barabas, op. cit., pp.49–50.
 Barabas, op. cit., pp.49–50.
 Even Anglicanism, from which Keswick draws a part of her constituency, and some of her ablest leaders, is mildly Calvinistic (see “Church of England,” The New Shaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. IV).
 Barabas, op. cit., p.49.
 Ibid., p.73.
 Thomas Cook, New Testament Holiness (London: The Epworth Press, 1902), p.43.
 Godbey, op. cit., p.14.
 Loc. cit.