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Peter Althouse: Wesleyan and Reformed Impulses in the Keswick and Pentecostal Movements

The point to which we [were] aiming to bring our friends [was] not their personal perfection, but an attitude of the soul as to the purposes of their life in which they [should] make absolutely ‘no provision for the flesh.’ This [was] not the consummation of Christian perfection, but only the nominal commencement of a career of progressive sanctification,—a sanctification which is not retrogressive or intermittent, but a daily progress.54

Both Asa Mahan and W.C.[?] Boardman took part in a theological discussion with the Reverend G. Wade Robinson, Mr. Maitland, the Reverend J.B. Figgis, among others, around the issue of sanctification. In the opening speech, Robinson articulated the Oxford/Brighton theological understanding of sanctification in distinction to the older progressive one:

…the attitude of sanctification…declare[d] that man ha[d] in himself no power to purify his heart, from which, as from a fountain, the life proceed[ed]. It declare[ed] that the same Jesus who [was] made unto righteousness [was] also made unto us sanctification; and that just as we came to Him at first, poor helpless sinners, to receive the forgiveness of sin, which He only could bestow, so now we may come to Him to receive power over sin, which [could] proceed from Him alone….In a word, [Keswick sanctification] not only [taught] progressive sanctification, but it also [taught], and emphasise[d] with untiring, reiteration, that attitude of surrender and trust in which only progressive sanctification [could] truly take place.55

Robinson later stated that:

The attitude of sanctification represent[ed] the separation of the man to God in his own will, and the trusting in Christ as his sanctification….Progressive sanctification represent[ed] that separation to God over which the man himself ha[d] immediately no control, but which [was] wrought by the Spirit of God….56

Thus, in the Keswick articulation of sanctification, a tension existed between the crisis and the progressive. The important point, though, was its emphasis upon the attitude of the believer. By believing, in faith, that one could have victory over sin, one could then experience a victorious Christian life of holiness. Bebbington suggested that Keswick holiness flowed from Romantic notions. There was a stress on the power of human will and its ability to govern affections, a perspective evident in Evan Hopkins’ belief that a believer was placed in a perfect state of holiness by a decisive act of the will. There was a limited doctrine of sin in the sense that only willed disobedience was sin, the consequence of which, according to Bebbington, was a lack of an objective morality.57

Douglas Frank asserted that the emphasis on attitude and crisis created a psychological condition for motivating the will. The focus of evangelical Christianity, and particularly Keswick spirituality, was not so much on objective behaviour or even right doctrine,—though these were important and ought not be minimized—but on the inner self and its effort to control sources of anger, irritability and worry. The experience of sanctification would therefore free one from the tyranny of the self.58 Keswick holiness emphasized not only moral action, but, to a greater degree than in Wesleyan perfectionism, human subjectivity.59

The change to subjectivity was evident in the Keswick understanding of sin. The Reverend R.W. Dale, a Keswick participant, identified two classes of sin. One kind of sin was more objective and involved outward behaviour such as drunkenness or licentiousness, etc. These sins were overcome, with occasional lapses now and again, in the act of conversion. The other kind was related to the inner self and involved sins of the personality such as temper, selfishness, envy, etc. These inner sins were believed to be overcome through the crisis of sanctification.60

Keswick sanctification exhibited a diversity of beliefs, primarily due to the diversity of denominational backgrounds of its speakers. There was a small group who held Wesleyan-Holiness beliefs. For example, Albert encouraged his listeners to seek the “essential truths and practical characteristics of ‘perfecting holiness in the fear of God,'”61 words quite similar to perfectionist language. Likewise, Baptist minister F.B. Meyer commented that while he was visiting the United States just prior to the conventions, he was cautioned not to speak of sinless perfection or holiness because it would create controversy.62

Yet for the most part the conference speakers sided more with a Reformed view,63 which defended itself from accusations of Wesleyan tendencies by asserting that the

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Category: Church History

About the Author: Peter F. Althouse, PhD (University of Toronto), is Assistant Professor of Religion at Southeastern University. He is the author of Spirit of the Last Days: Pentecostal Eschatology in Conversation with Jürgen Moltmann (T & T Clark, 2003), and has written many articles on eschatology, pneumatology and Pentecostal studies. Faculty page. Facebook.

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