Keswick Movement: Mark and Avoid

February 2, 2021 at 2:06 PM 4 comments

In 1859 William Boardman published his book, The Higher Christian Life. [1] The book ultimately birthed the Keswick Movement, so named because the first meeting was held in a church in Keswick, England. The Keswick Movement was filled with doctrinal error from the start and like nearly all errors that infiltrated Christendom over the centuries, they remain to this day. This shouldn’t surprise us because Satan has always twisted God’s Word to his own ends.

William Boardman worked closely with Robert Pearsall Smith, whose wife Hannah Whitall Smith, a Quaker, became well known in the movement for her belief in “quietism”. [2] Quietism teaches that “sinless perfection” is attainable in this life and comes from inner quietness or meditative contemplation that is believed to allow God to work as all human effort ceases. Remind you of something today?

Those involved with the Keswick Movement were continuationists otherwise known as anti-cessationists. These folks then (as well as today), believed the sign gifts including tongues never stopped. History as well as Scripture tells us that this is not true; that in fact, the sign gifts did actually cease not long after the last apostle died and the Bible had finished being written (though not yet compiled into Canon).

Though Boardman was a Presbyterian and strongly influenced by the numerous heresies of Charles Finney and others, he was not a trained theologian. In fact, it is tragic that many errors that crept into the church were introduced by people who had little to no training in rightly dividing the Word. This is not to say that a person with little to no formal training cannot be used by God or that he is exempt from learning the truth of Scripture (Harry Ironsides is a good example). However, there is a proper hermeneutic to be used in studying Scripture and if not applied, many errors can result.

The Keswick Movement urged Christians to seek enlightenment emotionally, to press on toward a higher (“mystical”), experience in Christ. This type of pursuit is diametrically opposed to what God teaches in His Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17). As such, it should be rejected. It is the exact same way Satan tempted Eve to focus on how she felt instead of what God had said (Genesis 3).

As a young Christian, because of a lack of discipleship, I was literally tossed about on various theological waves because of my emotions. Because of that I was drawn into the Charismatic Movement. Looking back now, I fully realize my error.

Keswick’s emphasis on emotion, signs and wonders gave birth to Pentecostalism, the Charismatic Movement and ultimately to today’s NAR movement, all facets of the same doctrinal errors. Moreover, today’s Contemplative Movement is simply a redressing of the Quaker Quietism.

Doctrinal errors never really go away once introduced and embraced. They are simply renamed and recycled by Satan to a new generation. Too many leaders within Christendom think they’ve found something “new” and introduce their followers to it in books, sermons and seminars. However, they are simply espousing the same error that Satan tempted Eve with thousands of years ago. There is nothing new under the sun. It simply seems new to the latest generation.

One of the main errors within the Keswick Movement is their unbiblical view of sanctification. Keswickians believe when a person becomes saved, they are immediately justified. This is certainly Scriptural fact (Romans 3:21-26; 5:18-19; 2 Corinthians 5:21). There is nothing I can do to justify myself before God. Only salvation provides this immediate and eternal justification as Christ’s righteousness is literally imputed to my account.

Biblically speaking, sanctification is the process the Christian goes through that ultimately makes him/her perfect in Christ. This is not only begun by God at our conversion, but finished by Him as well when we reach the eternal realm (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). In sanctification, Christians are both passive and active. We are passively trusting in God’s ability to fully sanctify us and we are active because we are to choose to do what is right, in thought, word, and deed (Romans 12:1-2; 1 Thessalonians 4:4; Hebrews 12:14, etc).

Adherents of Keswickianism would agree with the above regarding justification. However, when it comes to sanctificationthey move off in a different direction. They generally do not believe the Holy Spirit comes into the person and takes up residence at salvation, but that the Holy Spirit simply comes upon the person to seal them with salvation. It is later, at a time they refer to variously as the “second blessing,” or “higher living,” when they say sanctification occurs. Ultimately, their view of sanctification is flat out mysticism akin to New Age’s goal of an altered state of consciousness. This is all based on a strong (and seemingly biblical), desire to emotionally “know” God. The person turns inward to meet the felt needs of self.

By the way, America has its own Keswick. Keswick remains with the world.

In Thomas Ross’ critical review of Keswick Movement, he says:

…the problems in the Keswick theology are severe. Because of its corrupt roots, Keswick errs seriously in its ecumenical tendencies, theological shallowness or even incomprehensibility, neglect of the role of the Word of God in sanctification, shallow views of sin and perfectionism, support of some tenants of Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism, improper divorce of justification and sanctification, confusion about the nature of saving repentance, denial that God’s sanctifying grace always frees Christians from bondage to sin and changes them, failure to warn strongly about the possibility of those who are professedly Christians being unregenerate, support for an unbiblical pneumatology, belief in the continuation of the sign gifts, maintenance of significant exegetical errors, distortion of the positions and critiques of opponents of the errors of Keswick, misrepresentation of the nature of faith in sanctification, support for a kind of Quietism, and denial that God actually renews the nature of the believer to make him more personally holy. Keswick theology differs in important ways from the Biblical doctrine of sanctification. It should be rejected. [3]

But who in history have been associated with Keswick due to agreement with it? Here are just some of the more well known people below:

  • A. W. Tozer [4] (the Keswick Movement gave birth to the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination of which Tozer belonged)
  • Andrew Murray – “very notable advocate of the continuationistic Keswick theology and a charismatic precursor” [5]
  • Hudson Taylor [6] [6b]
  • Watchman Nee [7]
  • Brother Lawrence [8]
  • Bernard of Clairvaux [9]
  • Madame Guyon [10]
  • Thomas á Kempis [11]

It is no wonder that as a young Christian, devouring many of the writings by Tozer, Murray, Lawrence and others led me into severe confusion and ultimately pushed me into the Charismatic Movement seeking what I thought was “holiness.” Turns out it was my unchecked emotions that pushed and pulled me.

The concept of holiness is a biblical one. It is something that all Christians should know about and understand how we connect with it. Thomas Constable has this to say about holiness.

Holiness is thus not so much an abstract or mystic idea, as a regulative principle in the everyday lives of men and women. Holiness is thus attained not by flight from the world, nor by monk-like renunciation of human relationships of family or station, but by the spirit in which we fulfill the obligations of life in its simplest and commonest details: in this way – by doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God in everyday life. [12]

The emphasis of Keswick is that you are never holy enough. Certainly, this is true. However, I am on the path to greater holiness as God recreates within me the perfect character of His Son, which will not be completed until I reach eternity. This is God’s work of sanctification.

The common thread with all of the people above (and others not listed), is the emphasis on mystical experiences that allegedly begin within as we quiet ourselves and wait upon God. Unfortunately, this is clearly not Scriptural because we are not to focus on our “innerspace” as New Agers do. We are to put our hand to the plow and look forward, not backward. This can only occur as we submit ourselves to Him (Romans 12:1-2). It really doesn’t matter if our emotions catch up with us, nor should they be used to “verify” that we are growing in the Lord. If the heart is deceitfully wicked and cannot be understood (Jeremiah 17:9), what makes us think that once we are saved, our hearts are all of a sudden able to be known?

Adam and Eve lived in a perfect environment and still managed to fall through sin! For a time they were sinless. Then…the fall.

Andrew Murray, A W Tozer and others now make perfect sense to me when I read their books. They were mystics who sought, focused on and tended to emphasize an emotional experience they believed was holiness. I understand that mistake because I also desperately reached for that for several years. It doesn’t work and causes the Christian to constantly look to his/her emotions for verification.

By way of example I have been married to my wonderful wife for 35 years. The day I met her, I liked her. As we dated, I fell in love with her. That “love” was largely an emotional rush based on my feelings toward her. There were times when I thought my heart would explode because of my “love” (emotion) for her. Over time that changed and my love for my wife became more solidified and did not rely on emotion.

Thirty-five years later, I can honestly say I love my wife more now than I did early on, though I certainly believed I could not love her more in our early days. However, my love for my wife now is not (but can at times include), emotion. It is something far different than raw emotion because it is based in knowledge. I love her and I know she loves me.

I do not use my days to try to go inside myself attempting to “love” my wife more than I do; to have some type of mystical, ethereal growing awareness of my wife.

So it is I understand the desire to know God more than we do now, but this largely will not occur until after we leave this life and see Him face to face. Christians are to grow through imitating God in the area of holiness, which means separating ourselves from the things that offend God. This requires purpose on our part and the Holy Spirit is within us to empower us to do that. Sometimes, it simply requires a resounding “NO!” to the temptation.

Too many leaders and authors are tempting Christians to go “beyond,” obtaining “more” than the Bible says we have a right to expect. There is no “second blessing” for the Christian, unless you consider the life after this one the actual second blessing when we will be separated from our sin nature forever, we will see Him as He is and we will be like Him. Then we will know in certainty as we are known.

We need to stop reaching for something that God is not giving us and simply live the Christian life as He outlines in His power through faith, not emotion. He will empower us but we may not feel it.













[11] Ibid

[12] Thomas Constable, Notes on Leviticus 18



Entry filed under: alienology, Atheism and religion, christianity, Cultural Marxism, Demonic, devil worship, Emotional virtue, eternity, Global Elite, Religious - Christian - Prophecy. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Quick Update! Discerning the Times: February 5, 2021

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jen b  |  February 4, 2021 at 10:19 PM

    “If Christians would simply spend time reading, studying and memorizing His Word, I think there would be far greater reality in our relationship with God. Beyond this, I think Christians would be far more impactful in this evil and adulterous generation.” Amen and amen.

    I recently heard Arnold fruchtenbaum teach on spiritual warfare and he remarked that if satan cannot prevent someone from getting saved through believing upon Jesus, than his next course of attack is always to make the new believer fruitless through false teaching. I marvel than any one of us gets saved and eventually gets led out of all the false teaching in our midst, His sheep do indeed hear His voice even if we get distracted along the way. He is faithful.
    Blessings and Peace upon you.


    • 2. modres  |  February 5, 2021 at 8:01 AM

      But got the grace and power of God we know that no one would be saved.


  • 3. Jen B  |  February 4, 2021 at 10:29 AM

    Modres, this was really helpful to me. When my husband and I first married and began attending a popular “mega church” they were promoting Keswick theology which in their teaching, stressed the Holy Spirit working out sanctification. I think this is where the idea of “let go, let God” comes from? I am under the impression that there is a sense we have been sanctified completely upon salvation (“But you were washed, you were sanctified”….) and also a sense in which the Holy Spirit is sanctifying us…I think the way it was explained to me is that this relates to the 3 tenses of salvation. I am saved, I am being saved and I will be saved. At the apostate mega church they stressed the idea of 2nd “in fillings” of the Holy Spirit as opposed to calling them 2nd blessings but looking back they were kingdom now dominionists that were using scripture marketing to a self help live your best life now crowed. They also promoted Tozer and now, over a decade later the entire mega church has imploded.

    I recently read a book about Tozer, who is still a theological darling among many even fundamental believers and frankly I walked away thinking he had a new age bent. Many of his writings align with new age theology perfectly. Also, he let his own family go without necessities and be in great need while he would give their money to other causes that he thought were more pious. He actually neglected the care of his wife and children which many see as making him more Godly. Totally anti scriptural. Those who promote him really need to be more discerning.

    With regard to watchman née, I must say the the book “The Normal Christian Life” was one of the first books I read after getting saved, and it did help me grasp the idea of being dead to sin and alive in Christ. One of the first things the book asserts is that God has only one solution to every human need and that is in His Son, Jesus Christ…and that many christians see their standing with God based upon their moment by moment or day by day performance instead of understanding that the shed blood of Christ and His resurrection are the only basis by which we have anything. In that regard, I found the book extremely helpful with solid teaching on Galatians/Romans and the being dead to the law. However, after I continued on in his writings (The Spiritual Man) I couldn’t understand it and he seemed to veer way off scripture. I am horrified that years ago I gave out these books and many others. I grieve having done that now, but at least I thought the Normal Christian life had solid Biblical teaching.

    thanks for article.


    • 4. modres  |  February 4, 2021 at 10:44 AM

      Hi Jen,

      Glad the article helped. Researching it was an eye-opener for me.

      You said, “I am saved, I am being saved and I will be saved.” I think that’s probably sanctification in a nutshell. God authors it and finalizes it. We can help or harm, but in the end, God will finish what He began in us.

      The first and only book I read from Watchman Nee was “The Spiritual Man.” It was heady, promising, uplifting in some ways, and seriously confusing in other ways. Looking back, I can clearly see why that was the case then.

      I’ve often wondered why God never placed someone in my life who could disciple me. Because of that lack, I went face first into the Charismatic Movement. But God pulled me out of it a few years later, smarter, wiser and more biblically discerning. Had I been discipled, I likely would not have gone in that direction, but as someone who has “been there,” it probably adds weight to my testimony when I speak of the errors of the Charismatic Movement. I’ve experienced it. I didn’t simply learn about it from books. It was part of my life for several years.

      I think the tendency with too many Christians today is to seek that ethereal, mystical experience that many think they can have with God. So, people end up waiting for their emotions to help them move through life as Christians. They become dependent upon those emotions and when the emotions fade, they believe something is wrong, so they need to double down and continue striving for that new emotional experience.

      It is interesting that in our normal relationships, we never do that. We grow fond of others and enjoy their company and appreciate the relationship for what it is – a friendship, a familial love – but we don’t beat ourselves up for not experiencing positive emotions for that person all the time. Yet, with God we believe (falsely) that our relationship with Him needs to be “experienced” via our emotions otherwise, it’s not real or effective.

      If Christians would simply spend time reading, studying and memorizing His Word, I think there would be far greater reality in our relationship with God. Beyond this, I think Christians would be far more impactful in this evil and adulterous generation.

      Thanks again for your comments and thank God that He woke you up to the reality of error with the books you were reading.



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