Prior to 1972, I knew nothing about Keswick. Today, 48 years later, I am still involved in a Christian movement that focuses on living victoriously. I was introduced to Keswick in Kingston, Jamaica. However, the movement got its name from the place where the first gathering was convened in Keswick, England. In 2016, when my wife and I visited this community in the Lake District of England, it was the first time we were seeing the name Keswick as a location, and not as a Christian convention.
At the first Keswick convention in 1875, more than 400 persons met under the banner of “All One in Christ Jesus.” That same theme was prominently displayed in the 5,000-seater tent my wife and I visited in 2016. That theme was first used by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 3:28. Paul was emphasizing the oneness believers experience when the Holy Spirit brings them into the universal church. The distinguishing marks of ethnicity, status, and gender were subordinated to the primacy of oneness in Jesus Christ.
As I expressed in a recent Keswick publication, historians will concur that Keswick’s theological emphases did not begin in England. The theological emphases had their genesis with Robert and Hannah Smith in the United States of America. In the eighth year of marriage, these two Quakers were both converted to Christ on the same day.
In their struggle to live victoriously, they consulted with older Christians. They were told that the life of sinning and repenting was inevitable because of basic human weakness. They were caught in the cycle of sinning and repenting as well as making good resolutions and breaking them. They both longed for victory over sin.
The influence of a young Baptist theological student and a Methodist dressmaker helped Hannah Smith to understand what it meant to live victoriously by overcoming the power of sin. Hannah learned that she and Robert could be “more than conquerors through Christ” (Romans 8:37). Although neither of the Smiths had theological training, each had an unusual ability to simplify abstract religious truths. They used every possible minute to teach others to live victoriously.
Their commitment to the family business and to propagating this message of living victoriously began to impact their health. Their doctor strongly recommended a period of rest. In 1872, they chose England to get the prescribed rest.
On their arrival in London, they found that their fame had preceded them. Before long, they were addressing groups of Christians on the secrets of living victoriously. At one of those meetings, the Smiths met the Rev. Evan Hopkins. Hopkins invited clergyman, Canon Harford-Battersby from the district of Keswick to participate. Under Battersby’s guidance, the first convention met in Keswick in 1875.
From that small community of Keswick in northern England, the movement quickly spread throughout England. In 1900, the convention was introduced to Mandeville, Jamaica. It was the first overseas gathering under the Keswick banner. Mandeville Keswick has since given birth to a number of conventions, including Kingston Keswick in 1960. Since 1973 I have had the honor to serve at various levels of Keswick in different countries.
Keswick is unapologetically geared to Christians who see themselves as tired of sin and eager for victory over sin. At a 1905 convention, one preacher who was scheduled to preach, did not preach. He was so humbled and overwhelmed by the previous preacher, he led the congregation in a season of confession and prayer. This is how he described the experience – “The prayer was scarcely concluded, when a spirit of penitent confession broke out in every quarter, and I stood there on my feet for about two and a half hours, witnessing the Holy Spirit’s wondrous working.”
That spontaneous experience has been repeated numerous times in conventions around the world. It is not unusual to see scores of believers weeping after a service. Over the years, thousands have responded to missionary appeals. Hudson Taylor once said that two-thirds of the missionaries in the China Inland Mission were there as a result of the Keswick ministry.
My wife is a product of Keswick ministry. Keswick nurtured her fledgling faith in Mandeville, Jamaica. For our entire marriage, Keswick has had a major positive influence. Because of Keswick, we have established some of our more meaningful friendships and have had some unforgettable ministry opportunities.
Another of those opportunities surfaces this week when Kingston Keswick celebrates sixty years of ministry. I feel honored to be among some of the luncheon speakers. I am praying that God will use
this year’s convention to rekindle another movement – a movement to strengthen foundations for a strong future; a movement of godly passion and godly power among Christians.