Higher Life movement

The Higher Life movement, also known as the Keswick movement or Keswickianism, is a Christian theological tradition in evangelical Christianity that espouses a distinct teaching on doctrine of entire sanctification.[2] Its name comes from The Higher Christian Life, a book by William Boardman published in 1858, as well as from the town in which the movement was first promoted—Keswick Conventions in Keswick, England, the first of which was a tent revival in 1875 and continues to this day.[3][1]

The Christian theological tradition of Keswickianism became popularized through the Keswick Conventions, the first of which was a tent revival in 1875 at Saint John's Church in Keswick.[1]

The main idea in the Keswickian theology of the Higher Life movement is that the Christian should move on from his initial conversion experience to also experience a second work of God in his life. This work of God is called “entire sanctification,” “the second blessing,” “the second touch,” “being filled with the Holy Spirit,” and various other terms. Higher Life teachers promote the idea that Christians who receive this blessing from God can live a more holy, that is less sinful or even a sinless, life. The Keswick approach seeks to provide a mediating and biblically balanced solution to the problem of subnormal Christian experience. The “official” teaching has been that every believer in this life is left with the natural proclivity to sin and will do so without the countervailing influence of the Holy Spirit.

With the rise of the Higher Life movement, Christian denominations espousing Keswickian theology, such as the Christian and Missionary Alliance were founded.[4][5][6] The Keswickian view of sanctification became normative among evangelicals in the Reformed tradition, including Anglicans, Congregationalists, Particular Baptists, and Presbyterians.[7]


The Higher Life movement was precipitated by the Wesleyan-Holiness movement, which had been gradually springing up, but made a definite appearance in the mid-1830s. It was at this time that Methodists in the northeastern United States began to preach Wesleyan doctrine of Christian perfection or entire sanctification and non-Methodists at Oberlin College in Ohio began to accept and promote their own version of sanctification, with Charles Finney of Oberlin teaching that his doctrine was distinctly different from the Wesleyan one which Asa Mahan was more attracted. The American holiness movement began to spread to England in the 1840s and 1850s. Methodist evangelist James Caughey, as well as Presbyterian Asa Mahan and Presbyterian-turned-Congregationalist Charles Finney began to teach the concept to churches in England and then in Ireland and Scotland.

Soon after these initial infusions of holiness ideas, Dr. Walter Palmer and his wife Phoebe Palmer of New York City went to England in the 1850s and 1860s to promote them. Oddly enough, they were banned from ministering in Wesleyan churches, even though they were promoting Wesleyan doctrines and were themselves Methodist. During their time in England many people experienced initial conversion and many more who were already converted believed that they had received entire sanctification. Robert and Hannah Smith were among those who took the holiness message to England, and their ministries helped lay the foundation for the now-famous Keswick Convention, which differs from traditional Wesleyan-Holiness theology.

In the 1870s William Boardman, author of The Higher Christian Life,[8] began his own evangelistic campaign in England, bringing with him Robert Pearsall Smith and his wife, Hannah Whitall Smith, to help spread the holiness message.[9]

On May 1, 1873, Rev'd William Haslam (clergyman) introduced Robert Pearsall Smith to a small meeting of Anglican clergymen held at Curzon Chapel, Mayfair, London. Two men whose lives were revolutionised by what they heard were Evan Henry Hopkins and Edward William Moore.[10]

The first large-scale Higher Life meetings took place from July 17–23, 1874, at the Broadlands estate of Lord and Lady Mount Temple, where the Higher Life was expounded in connection with spiritualism and Quaker teachings.[11] The meetings were held primarily for Christian students at Cambridge University. At the end of these meetings, Sir Arthur Blackwood, Earl of Chichester and president of the Church Missionary Society, suggested that another series of meetings for the promotion of holiness be conducted at Oxford later that summer.

A convention for the promotion of holiness was held at Brighton from May 29-June 7, 1875. The prominent American evangelist Dwight L. Moody told his London audiences that the Brighton meeting was to be a very important one. About eight thousand people attended it. T. D. Harford-Battersby attended this convention and made arrangements to have one in his parish in Keswick. He was the recognized leader of this annual convention for several years until his death. Robert Pearsall Smith was going to be the main speaker, but the public disclosure of his teaching a woman in a hotel bedroom that Spirit baptism was allegedly accompanied with sexual thrills led him to be disinvited from the meeting. Smith never recovered and having "lost his faith, withdrew from public gaze and spent most of the rest of his life as an invalid".[12]

A gradual distinction developed between traditional Methodists and the newer Keswick speakers. Keswick took on a more Calvinistic tone, as Keswick preachers took pains to distance themselves from the Wesleyan doctrine of eradication (the doctrine that original sin could be completely extinguished from the Christian soul prior to death). Keswick speakers began using the term "counteraction" to describe the Holy Spirit's effect on original sin, often comparing it to how air pressure counteracts gravity in lifting an airplane. Modern Wesleyan-Arminian theologians regard the Keswick theology as something different from their own dogma of entire sanctification.

Harford-Battersby organized and led the first Keswick Convention in 1875 at Saint John's Church in Keswick, which gave the name to the Keswickian theological tradition.[1] Over four hundred people met under the banner of “All One in Christ Jesus.” British speakers included Anglicans, such as the J. W. Webb-Peploe, Evan H. Hopkins, and Handley Moule, as well as Frederick Brotherton Meyer,[13] a Baptist, and Robert Wilson, a Friend. An annual convention has met in Keswick ever since and has had worldwide influence on Christianity.[14]

Columbia Bible College and Seminary (now Columbia International University) was founded by one of the early leaders of the American Keswick movement, Robert C. McQuilkin. His son, Robertson McQuilkin, contributed the Keswick chapter to the book "Five Views of Sanctification."

Albert Benjamin Simpson, accepting Keswickian theology, founded the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination in 1897.[5][6] It emphasizes the role of Jesus Christ as Saviour, Sanctifier, Healer and Coming King.[15]

In the 19th and 20th centuries, D.L. Moody, Hannah Whitall Smith, and R.A. Torrey preached Keswickian theology.[16]


Denominations aligned with the Keswickian higher life movement, such as the Christian and Missionary Alliance, differ from the Wesleyan-Holiness movement in that the Keswickian higher life movement does not see entire sanctification as cleansing one from original sin, whereas adherents in Christian Churches espousing Wesleyan-Arminian theology affirm this teaching of John Wesley.[17][5] While Wesleyan-Holiness theology is taught in the Methodist tradition that is inherently Arminian, Keswickian theology flourishes among evangelicals of a Particular Baptist persuasion.[7]

However, Keswick doctrine has been sharply criticized as a disguised form of entire sanctification (or "perfectionism") by other Christian traditions, particularly historical Calvinism and Presbyterianism. Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield wrote a trenchant attack on the Keswick and Higher Life movement in his two-volume work Studies in Perfectionism, specifically in his articles "The Higher Life Movement" and "The Victorious Life." W. H. Griffith Thomas responded to Warfield and defended the Higher Life movement in two articles in the journal Bibliotheca Sacra.[18] Another early opponent of Keswick was J. C. Ryle, who set forth the classic Protestant doctrine of sanctification in his book Holiness as an alternative to Keswick. More modern defenders of Keswick theology include J. Robertson McQuilkin in the book Five Views of Sanctification,[19] as well as John R. VanGelderen.[20] Modern Reformed criticism of Keswick has come from J. I. Packer, as well as from Andrew Naselli, who critiqued Keswick in his doctoral dissertation on the subject.[21] The Higher Life and Keswick movement is also critiqued from a non-Reformed, historic Baptist viewpoint by Thomas Ross in his doctoral dissertation The Doctrine of Sanctification: An Exegetical Examination, with Application, in Biblical, Historic Baptist Perspective. Charismatic and Pentecostal authors may critique the Higher Life movement also as not going far enough, but Pentecostal scholars[22] recognize and appreciate the groundwork laid by Higher Life advocacy of the continuation of the gifts of healing and miracle-working for the rise of the Pentecostal movement.[23] Modern Keswick writers often affirm that opponents of Keswick misunderstand the Higher Life movement,[24] Keswick critics affirm that they understand the movement very well and that they do not routinely misunderstand Keswick theology.[25]

See alsoEdit

  • Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union which can (in part) trace its beginnings to the meetings at Broadlands in 1874.
  • Quietism (Christian philosophy) which through T. C. Upham's biography (1854) of Madame Guyon was a significant influence on holiness-oriented circles in the second half of the nineteenth century.
  • Richmond J M, (2015). Nine Letters from an Artist The Families of William Gillard, Porphyrogenitus. ISBN 978-1-871328-19-6


  1. ^ a b c Combs, Bill (10 February 2020). "Romans 12:1–2 and the Doctrine of Sanctification, Part 2". Sharper Iron. Retrieved 30 September 2020.
  2. ^ Sanner, A. Elwood; Harper, Albert Foster (1978). Exploring Christian Education. Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-8341-0494-5. The new evangelicalism embraces a variety of theological emphases including: classic orthodoxy (Lutheran and Reformed), Anglican thought, Pietism, Arminianism, Keswickianism, Fundamentalism, and others.
  3. ^ Olson, Roger E. (2005). The SCM Press A-Z of Evangelical Theology. Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd. pp. 83–94. ISBN 978-0-334-04011-8.
  4. ^ Knight III, Henry H. (11 August 2010). From Aldersgate to Azusa Street: Wesleyan, Holiness, and Pentecostal Visions of the New Creation. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 365. ISBN 978-1-63087-656-2. Not included on this chart are denominations that emerged out of the Keswick wing of the Holiness movement. The most significant of these is the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
  5. ^ a b c Wu, Dongsheng John (1 April 2012). Understanding Watchman Nee: Spirituality, Knowledge, and Formation. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 58. ISBN 978-1-63087-573-2. D. D. Bundy notes that A. B. Simpson (1843–1919)—Presbyterian founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance—who never accepted the Wesleyan doctrine of eradication of sin, accepted the Keswickian understanding of sanctification.
  6. ^ a b III, Henry H. Knight (1 February 2014). Anticipating Heaven Below: Optimism of Grace from Wesley to the Pentecostals. Wipf and Stock Publishers. pp. 91–92. ISBN 978-1-63087-125-3. It is the other christological strand, that of the indwelling Christ, that is the heart of the distinctive sanctification theology of A. B. Simpson. A Presbyterian who ultimately founded the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Simpson operates within a Keswick framework while also drawing upon Wesleyan ideals. Like Wesley, Simpson described sin as in the motive or intent of the heart most especially lack of love for God and neighbour. While he agrees with Keswick that we can't ever be freed from this sinful nature in this life, he insisted, as Van De Walle puts it, "the power of the resurrected Christ would more than enable the believer to consider the sin nature a vanquished foe and to behave as though it were.
  7. ^ a b Sawyer, M. J. (25 May 2004). "Wesleyan and Keswick Models of Sanctification". Bible.org. Retrieved 30 September 2020. With Keswick one finds a different situation than with the Holiness Movement. Whereas Wesleyan holiness theology is traceable directly to Wesley and has clearly identifiable tenets, Keswick is much more amorphous and comes in many varieties from the strict Keswick of a Major Ian Thomas, John Hunter, Alan Redpath and the Torchbearers fellowship to the milder Keswick of Campus Crusade For Christ and Moody Bible Institute and other respected Evangelical educational institutions. Whereas Holiness theology has tended to dominate in Arminian circles, Keswick has tended to dominate American Evangelicalism of a more Calvinistic bent. Indeed Packer asserts that it has become standard in virtually all of Evangelicalism except confessional Reformed and Lutheran.
  8. ^ Chapter, "William Boardman," in The Doctrine of Sanctification: An Exegetical Examination, with Application, in Biblical, Historic Baptist Perspective, Thomas Ross, Ph. D. diss., Great Plains Baptist Divinity School, 2016
  9. ^ Chapter, "Hannah Whitall Smith," in The Doctrine of Sanctification: An Exegetical Examination, with Application, in Biblical, Historic Baptist Perspective, Thomas Ross, Ph. D. diss., Great Plains Baptist Divinity School, 2016
  10. ^ William Haslam and the Keswick Movement - cited in a forum on the William Haslam website.[self-published source?]
  11. ^ Chapter, "Hannah Whitall Smith," in The Doctrine of Sanctification: An Exegetical Examination, with Application, in Biblical, Historic Baptist Perspective, Thomas Ross, Ph. D. diss., Great Plains Baptist Divinity School, 2016
  12. ^ BBC History Magazine, January 2011 p. 17; Notes on a scandal; Quotes from "Evangelism and Scandal in Victorian England" by MJD Roberts of Macquarie University.
  13. ^ Chapter, "F. B. Meyer," in The Doctrine of Sanctification: An Exegetical Examination, with Application, in Biblical, Historic Baptist Perspective, Thomas Ross, Ph. D. diss., Great Plains Baptist Divinity School, 2016
  14. ^ "The Background and History of the Keswick Convention and Keswick Theology, in The Doctrine of Sanctification: An Exegetical Examination, with Application, in Biblical, Historic Baptist Perspective, Thomas Ross, Ph. D. diss., Great Plains Baptist Divinity School, 2016
  15. ^ Lewis, James R. (2001). The Encyclopedia of Cults, Sects, and New Religions. Prometheus Books. p. 165. ISBN 978-1-61592-738-8.
  16. ^ Hayford, Jack W.; Moore, S. David. The Charismatic Century: The Enduring Impact of the Azusa Street Revival. FaithWords. ISBN 978-0-446-56235-5. Evangelist D.L. Moody was a proponent of the Kewsick movement along with others, including Hannah Whital Smith, whose book A Christian's Secret of a Happy Life is still read today by thousands. R.A. Torrey, an associate of Moody whose influence was rapidly increasing, championed Keswick's ideals and utilized the term "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" in reference to the experience.
  17. ^ "The Radical Holiness Movement and The Christian and Missionary Alliance: Twins, perhaps, but not Identical". Bernie A. Van De Walle. Retrieved 30 September 2020.
  18. ^ Chapter, "Do Keswick Critics Routinely Misrepresent Keswick Theology?" in The Doctrine of Sanctification: An Exegetical Examination, with Application, in Biblical, Historic Baptist Perspective, Thomas Ross, Ph. D. diss., Great Plains Baptist Divinity School, 2016
  19. ^ Five Views of Sanctification. Melvin E. Dieter, Anthony A. Hoekema, Stanley M Horton, J. Robertson McQuilkin & John F. Walvoord, authors; Stanley N. Gundry, series ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987.
  20. ^ http://indefenseofthegospel.blogspot.com/2010/07/keswick-good-word-or-bad-one-evangelist.html
  21. ^ http://andynaselli.com/keswick-theology
  22. ^ “Wesleyan and Reformed Impulses in the Keswick and Pentecostal Movements,” Peter Althouse. Pneuma Foundation,
  23. ^ Chapter, "Keswick Theology and Continuationism or Anti-Cessationism: Vignettes of Certain Important Advocates of Keswick or Higher Life Theology and their Beliefs Concerning Spiritual Gifts and Other Matters: William Boardman, Andrew Murray, Frederick B. Meyer, Evan Roberts and Jessie Penn-Lewis, A. B. Simpson, John A. MacMillan, and Watchman Nee," in The Doctrine of Sanctification: An Exegetical Examination, with Application, in Biblical, Historic Baptist Perspective, Thomas Ross, Ph. D. diss., Great Plains Baptist Divinity School, 2016
  24. ^ Keswick: A Good Word or a Bad One? by John Van Gelderen
  25. ^ Do Keswick Critics Routinely Misrepresent Keswick Theology?


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