Friday, September 30, 2016

Keswick's Perfectionism: in Keswick's Errors--an Analysis and Critique of So Great Salvation by Stephen Barabas, part 6 of 17

               Additionally, the related Keswick idea that, in this life, “sin . . . need not be a continued source of trouble,”[1] is likewise unbiblical.  Such a concept lays the groundwork for either self-deception in the believer who thinks he has arrived at such a state of complete triumph over sin, or for hopeless despair in the believer who knows his own heart too well to make such an affirmation.  The support by Keswick leaders of such ideas, along with their unabashed affirmations of the truth of perfectionism,[2] explain why “from the first, opponents of Keswick have accused it of holding a shallow view of sin. . . . [and of being] perfectionist.”[3]  Indeed, Scripture does not present progressive sanctification as an instantaneous transition from a state of utter defeat to one of total victory.  Likewise, the fact that sinless perfection is impossible in this life is Biblically a motive to continue striving for ever-greater progressive victory against sin—not, as is commonly argued by many groups of perfectionists, a reason to give up the fight in despair.[4] Barabas states:  “The value of a system of thought or of a doctrine therefore depends upon the manner in which it proposes to deal with the problem of sin.  Any failure here means failure all along the line.”[5]  Unfortunately, the Keswick theology does not properly deal with sin.  While some who have been helped spiritually because of Keswick preaching are blessedly inconsistent, consistent belief that sin no longer need trouble the believer is only possible by disregarding the true nature of sin or by adopting perfectionism.  Furthermore, to the extent that Keswick lowers the standard of God’s requirement from literal and absolute sinlessness to a lower and subjective standard of “known sin” that downplays the evils of sins of ignorance,[6] it leads believers to be satisfied with less than what God requires and discourages them from striving after the actual standard of perfect conformity to the absolute holiness of the Most High.[7]
               Associated with the Keswick idea that sin need no longer trouble believers who have entered into the Higher Life is the Pelagianizing and perfectionist idea, adopted by Keswick from the Broadlands Conference,[8] that the obligation of the believer to obey God is coextensive with his ability to do so.[9]  “A saying frequently heard at Keswick is this[:] ‘God’s commandment is his enablement,’ meaning that God never issues a command that He does not give us grace to fulfil.”[10]  The Keswick theology asks, “Does God therefore make demands of human beings that they cannot fulfil?  Does He expect of them conduct beyond their reach? . . . God’s requirements cannot be greater than His enablements.  If they were, man would be mocked. . . . What He demands He makes possible.”[11]  Barabas cites no texts from the Bible to prove his position, since none teach his equation of obligation and ability.  His argument, however, stands squarely in the line of centuries of perfectionist argumentation and arises out of the denial of total depravity that accompanied the Divine Seed heresy of the Broadlands Conference and the Quakerism of the Pearsall Smiths.  Consistency with the affirmation that man has the inherent ability to perform all that God demands of him requires sinless perfection, since God’s standard for man is nothing less than the perfect purity and holiness of His own nature.  Affirming that, in this life, one can be entirely without sin is a dangerous heresy affirmed only by unregenerate individuals (1 John 1:8, 10).
Keswick, however, since it at times recognizes the dangerous and unscriptural character of a more consistent perfectionism,[12] does not usually take its perfectionist doctrine that obligation is limited to ability to its actual conclusion, but stops with the affirmation that believers can live without known sin, while at the same time affirming that all believers still are sinners and do sin, although unwittingly.  It is certainly true that believers can have a clear conscience and determinately oppose all sin.  It is likewise true that genuine and ever-greater progressive victory over sin—although not the absolute victory coming in heaven—is given to the saints on earth (Romans 6:14).  However, the restricted Keswick perfectionism is not compatible with its doctrine that obligation is limited to ability.  God commands all men and angels to be perfect, just as He is perfect (Matthew 5:48), but the Holy One of Israel is not just free from certain areas of conscious sinning.  God does not lower His standard to what is possible for either unregenerate fallen man or pre-glorified regenerate man who still has indwelling sin.  Consistency with its affirmation that man’s obligation is limited to his ability would require Keswick to affirm either literal, absolute perfectionism for fallen men or to downgrade the character of God’s holy character and law, and the nature of sin, to something less than absolute conformity to the holiness of Jehovah.[13]  Such conclusions cannot be avoided by Keswick’s affirming that grace enables ability to meet Divine obligation.  Absolute perfection or a downgrade in the nature of sin must still follow—only the sinless perfection would now be allegedly enabled by grace.[14]  God certainly will give all His people the grace to be sinlessly perfect, but He will only do so when they are forever with Him, not during this life.  The necessary consequences of the Keswick doctrine of ability and obligation explain why “opponents of Keswick have accused it [of being] perfectionist.”[15]  Happily, Keswick advocates do not usually believe what is truly involved in their affirmation that God’s standard for fallen man is limited by the sinner’s ability.  But would it not be better to simply represent the teaching of the Bible on sanctification accurately than to affirm a Pelagian and perfectionistic view of obligation and ability, but inconsistently deny its consequences?

See here for this entire study.

[1]              Pg. 36, So Great Salvation, Barabas.  Compare Robert Pearsall Smith:  “The Christian who has the faith [of the Higher Life] need never sin” (pg. 257, Record of the Convention for the Promotion of Scriptural Holiness Held at Brighton, May 29th to June 7th, 1875. Brighton: W. J. Smith, 1875).  Of course, Smith reduces “sin” to “conscious sin.”
[2]              E. g., W. H. Griffith Thomas, responding to Warfield’s critique of Keswick theology and attempting to justify Keswick, boldly stated: “‘Keswick’ stands for perfectionism.  I have heard that scores of times, and so have you—and it does” (pg. 283, “The Victorious Life (I.).”  Bibliotheca Sacra (76:303) July 1919, 267-288).  Keswick leader A. T. Pierson said:  There is one kind of sinless perfection in which every Keswick teacher believes—the sinless perfection of instantaneously and for ever renouncing every known sin.  Pierson proves this sort of perfectionism in the following manner:  “There is no mistake in the attitude of our Lord. He says: ‘Sin no more;’ and He would not say that if He did not mean it.”  That is, God’s obligation on man and man’s ability to obey are coextensive, Pierson believes, so if God commands man not to sin, a fallen man with indwelling sin is able to be perfect; and, furthermore, “Paul preach[ed] perfect holiness,” meaning the Keswick doctrine of perfectionism.  However, other sorts of perfectionism were not accepted at Keswick, according to Pierson—only their peculiar brand was acceptable.  Other than the distinctive Keswick perfectionism, “being sinlessly perfect” is not for the “present” (pgs. 8-10, A Spiritual Clinique:  Four Bible Readings Given at Keswick in 1907, Pierson.  New York, NY:  Gospel Publishing House, 1907.  Italics in original).  During the “‘turn of the century’ era” from “1897 to 1909 . . . Dr. Pierson came to Keswick more often than any other speaker from America . . . and assumed from the first . . . a position of leadership unique in a speaker from overseas.  Again and again we read of him guiding the proceedings in times of particular moment.”  The editor of the Keswick Life of Faith periodical verified that Pierson “dominated the Convention by his spiritual and intellectual powers, and thousands hung upon his words with an intense eagerness” (pg. 405, Keswick’s Authentic Voice, ed. Stevenson).
               While Pierson was generally correct that the distinctive perfectionism of Hannah W. and Robert P. Smith was dominant at the early Keswick convention, he was not correct in his affirmation that other forms of perfectionism were not also acceptable at the Convention.  Asa Mahan’s early influence makes it clear that Oberlin Perfectionism was acceptable from the beginning.  Moule was converted to the Keswick theology at a convention that included both Evan Hopkins and “an ardent Salvation Army captain,” an advocate of the Army’s standard Wesleyan perfectionism (pg. 42, Transforming Keswick:  The Keswick Convention, Past, Present, and Future, Price & Randall).  Likewise, the “Japan Evangelistic Band . . . formed at the Convention of 1893 . . . looked to Wesleyan holiness speakers” (pg. 115, Transforming Keswick:  The Keswick Convention, Past, Present, and Future, Price & Randall; cf. pg. 81, The Keswick Story:  The Authorized History of the Keswick Convention, Polluck; the Band was founded by Webb-Peploe’s curate Barclay Buxton).  “Another vital link between Keswick and the Wesleyan holiness tradition was through Charles Inwood,” who spoke at twenty-one Keswick conventions and represented Keswick internationally while receving prophetic impressions through which he predicted the future (pg. 112, Transforming Keswick:  The Keswick Convention, Past, Present, and Future, Price & Randall).  “As a Wesleyan Methodist himself, Inwood actively sought to influence Keswick thinking from within the movement . . . Inwood was deeply indebted to the Wesleyan revivalist tradition” (pg. 50, Ibid).  The Methodist perfectionist, continuationist, and woman preacher Amanda Smith, who preached at Keswick and was then invited to and preached at Broadlands by invitation of Evan Hopkins and Lord Mount-Temple in the 1880s, is another example of Methodist perfectionism being propagated at Keswick (pg. 116, The Keswick Story:  The Authorized History of the Keswick Convention, Polluck; The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life:  The Unpublished Personal Writings of Hannah Whitall Smith, ed. Dieter, entry for December 30; Chapter 20-21, An Autobiograpy:  The Story of the Lord’s Dealings with Mrs. Amanda Smith, The Colored Evangelist, Containing an Account of her Life Work of Faith, and her Travels in America, England, Ireland, Scotland, India, and Africa, as an Independent Missionary, Amanda Smith.  Chicago, IL:  Meyer & Brother, 1893; pgs. 71-73, 114, The Life that is Life Indeed:  Reminiscences of the Broadlands Conferences, Edna V. Jackson.  London:  James Nisbet & Co, 1910).  The ecumenicalism of the Keswick Convention embraced a variety of conflicting perfectionisms, predominently the type taught by Hannah W. and Robert P. Smith, but also that of the Oberlin and Wesleyan theologies, in its seeking for a Higher Life spirituality.
[3]              Pg. 40, So Great Salvation, Barabas.
[4]              As already noted, Keswick does not (usually) teach actual sinless perfection.  However, by teaching that continued struggle with sin in the Christian life, and anything less than “perfect and constant victory over temptation” is “heart-breaking defeat” (pgs. 95, 76, So Great Salvation, Barabas), it lends itself to the argument of other and more radical perfectionisms that anything less than the possibility of perfection (of whatever kind is advocated by a particular perfectionst theology) in this life is a ground for despair.  Snodgrass notes:
[Doctrines of] perfectionism . . . [and] entire sanctification . . . fee[d] the mind with the notion of entire freedom from sin; and this is, at once, the essence of the system, and the reason of its danger. . . . [T]hose who anticipate better effects [in holier Christian living] from the doctrine of Perfection than from the common doctrine of Sanctification, reason falsely[.] . . . The question is asked . . . “Who would expect an army to fight, with energy, under the impression of inevitable defeat?”  And this, it is taken for granted, is a parallel case to that of the Christian, who entertains no hope of entire sanctification in the present life.  But, is it so?  Has he the impression of inevitable defeat, because he expects the war to be somewhat protracted?  Does he lay down his arms, in despair, because he believes that more than one battle is to be fought?  Does he cease from the contest, because he does not anticipate a perfect triumph, until the “last enemy” shall “be destroyed,” which “is death”?  The truth is, that, on his own principles, he has an expectation of victory, which is qualified by no peradventure; he anticipates it, with unwavering faith, and with joyful hope; it is as certain to him, as the love and faithfulness of God can make it;—nay, he has the earnest of it, in his present success;—he has already come off as a conqueror in many a struggle;—he is pursuing his advantage from one battle-field to another; and he has no doubt, that the time is near, when all the armies of the aliens shall be put to flight, “And death, the last of all his foes,/ Lie vanquished at his feet.”  So far, therefore, as the certainty of success is concerned, he has the same reason to persevere and be active, with those who anticipate a speedier triumph. 
Again:  it is wrong, in principle, to say, that the hope of success, in order to be an efficient motive, must terminate upon acquisitions to be made within the limits of the present life.  This is neither consistent with Scripture, nor in accordance with actual experience.  The hope of the apostles and primitive Christians, was a hope, which “entereth into that within the veil,” and, this was the reason why it was an “anchor to the soul.” . . . It transported its subjects beyond the region where sin and sorrow dwell, and brought them into communion with the inhabitants and felicities of heaven.  And this was the true secret of its animating influence.  It derived its energy from the importance and glory of its object; and this was something entirely above and beyond any degrees of sanctification to be anticipated here.  “Every man,” says an apostle [1 John 3:3], “that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself.”  Such a hope will undoubtedly sanctify those in whom it dwells; but a similar influence is never ascribed to any hope, the object of which is to be realized on this side of the grave.
Moreover: it is incorrect to assume, that the Christian derives his strongest impulses for holy living, from direct meditations upon his prospect of success.  No doubt, he has “respect unto the recompense of the reward,” both here and hereafter; and yet, his experience will bear me out in saying, that his heart is never assailed by more irresistible motives to active and entire consecration to God, than when his mind is most fully occupied by other considerations than those which relate immediately to himself. . . . [A greater motive than being] taken up with reflections on the degree of proficiency at which he [is] expecting to arrive . . . [is] “the love of Christ constraineth us” [2 Corinthians 5:14]!  Here [is] the main-spring of [Christian] activity . . . with his face towards Calvary, with his eye on the cross, and with his mind intent upon the compassion and condescension of a suffering Saviour, he [is] carried beyond himself, and [is] borne away, by the impulse of a mightier and more generous motive.  So it is in all the higher achievements of the Christian life.  It is not by sitting down to meditate upon the prospect of our perfect sanctification that we gather the strongest motives to the pursuit of holiness.  Our best seasons, both of feeling and action, are those, in which we think least of ourselves, and most, of the love of God, of the compassion of Christ, of the claims of gratitude and duty, and of the beauty and excellency of holiness itself.  We are not servants, who work merely for wages, but we are bound to our employment, by love and gratitude to the master, as well as by the happiness we find in the service itself. . . . And in these considerations, are contained our highest inducements, to persevere in his service, and live to his glory.  “For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself; for whether we live, we live unto the Lord, and whether we die, we die unto the Lord; whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.” [Romans 14:7-8] (pgs. 95-101, The Scripture Doctrine of Sanctification, Snodgrass).
[5]              Pg. 101, So Great Salvation, Barabas.
[6]              Lyman Atwater notes:
Some of our most dangerous sins are sins of ignorance.  Nay, the very ignorance of moral and Christian duty is itself often most culpable, and incurs the divine condemnation, even the woe upon those who call good evil and evil good; who put light for darkness and darkness for light [Isaiah 5:20].  It is the very essence of sin to be deceitful, to disguise itself, to hate the light, and refuse to come to the light which would unveil it—and is not this declared by the Light of the world to be eminently its condemnation?  What!  Do men become innocent by blinding themselves to their guilt, and sinless by ignoring their sin?  Paul “verily thought that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” [Acts 26:9].  Can a man be innocent and perfect in persecuting the Church, whatever his ignorance or sincerity therein?  Out [with] such casuistry, no matter how plausible and acceptable it may be to a worldly and backslidden church, or those who think they are something when they are nothing, or who “say they are perfect,” by whatever names sanctioned! (pg. 407, “The Higher Life and Christian Perfection,” Lyman H. Atwater.  The Presbyterian Quarterly and Princeton Review (July 1877) 389-419)
[7]              B. B. Warfield incisively notes concerning this sort of teaching:
Nothing can be more important than that the conception of perfection be maintained at its height. If there is an eternal and immutable distinction between right and wrong . . . then [g]oodness must be everywhere and in all beings essentially the same. The fundamental principles of right moral action, must be the same to God and to his creatures; and there must be one rule of duty—one standard by which to test character—to angels and to men. . . . True perfection is one and the same thing in all beings[.] The habit of conceiving of perfection as admitting of many imperfections—moral imperfections, glossed as infirmities, errors and inadvertences—not only lowers the standard of perfection and with it the height of our aspirations, but corrupts our hearts, dulls our discrimination of right and wrong, and betrays us into satisfaction with attainments which are very far from satisfactory. There is no more corrupting practice than the habit of calling right wrong and wrong right. That is the essence of antinomianism, if we choose to speak in the language of the schools. To give it its least offensive description, it is acquiescence in sin. And this is the real arraignment of all perfectionist theories[.] They lull men to sleep with a sense of attainments not really made; cut the nerve of effort in the midst of the race; and tempt men to accept imperfection as perfection—which is no less than to say evil is good. (pgs. 457-458, Studies in Perfectionism, Part Two, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. 8, B. B. Warfield)
[8]              As Hannah W. Smith taught at Broadlands:  “God’s commands are not grievous, but they would be if He commanded what we could not do” (pg. 128, The Life that is Life Indeed:  Reminiscences of the Broadlands Conferences, Edna V. Jackson.  London:  James Nisbet & Co, 1910).  Because of the Divine Seed, “We have in our hearts the germ that can receive” (pg. 185, Ibid); no monergistic and supernatural regeneration of the totally spiritually dead sinner is necessary.
[9]              The doctrine that fallen man’s obligation to obey is limited to his ability to do so is refuted in the chapter in this book “Is Fallen Man’s Obligation to Obey God Limited to His Ability to Do So?”
[10]             Pg. 30, So Great Salvation, Barabas.
[11]             Pg. 63, 188, So Great Salvation, Barabas.  Indeed, that “What He expects of us He gives us the power to do, both in sanctification and service” is stated to be “the message of Keswick” (pg. 155; cf. pg. 88).
[12]             Keswick opposes consistent perfectionism, at least most of the time—however, sometimes more consistent strains break out.  For instance, Robert P. Smith permitted “an aged minister by his side to assert roundly that he had lived for thirty-five years as purely as Jesus” (pg. 325, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: Perfectionism, Part One, Vol. 7, Benjamin B. Warfield.  [Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008]).
[13]             This dilemma faces all perfectionist positions that attempt to deal in any degree of seriousness with the Scriptural data.  Note also that inability to sin because of a will permanently and immutably inclined to holiness is not a little of the bliss of the saint’s heavenly holiness, as it is a glorious characteristic of the Divine holiness (Deuteronomy 32:4; Romans 9:14; 1 John 3:2-3).
[14]             Furthermore, once such a state of sinless perfection had been entered, grace would no longer be necessary to sustain the believer in his holiness; as God is perfectly holy and unable to sin, so the Christian would be inherently perfectly holy and unable to sin.
[15]             Pg. 40, So Great Salvation, Barabas.  Barabas must ignore the many affirmations of perfectionism by Keswick’s greatest leaders to label the charge of perfectionism a mere “accusation.”  He would have been more faithful to actual historical facts had he stated: “[O]pponents of Keswick have accused it [of being] perfectionist, and they were right,” or “The facts clearly demonstrate that Keswick stands for perfectionism.”

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