”I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” —JOHN 10:10.
ON MONDAY, July 28, 1875, there was inaugurated in this place what is now universally known as the Keswick Convention. During this period the number of persons who have attended these annual gatherings cannot, in the aggregate, have been less than 200,000. These have been drawn from every part of the world, and have been representative of every Protestant denomination.
All who have attended Keswick will know what it stands for, but there are numberless people besides who think of the convention in various ways: some with mere curiosity, some with a noncommittal interest, and some more critically. And so it may be well, at this the commencement of another season of holy convocation, to recall and reaffirm what has been the distinctive message of Keswick throughout these years, and what immediately we are here for, ever remembering that a movement must be judged by what it professes and undertakes to do, and not by what lies outside its scope.
Of course there are some things that are taken for granted: things which, though not our distinctive message, are the foundation and warrant of it: such truths, for instance, as the evangelical doctrines of the Person and work of Christ, His real humanity, His proper Deity, and His atoning sacrifice on Calvary. Also the need and adequacy of the Gospel in this world of sin; and, as being our first source of knowledge of these things, the veracity and authority of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. These truths are not Keswick’s distinctive teaching, for they are held and taught by all branches of Evangelical Christendom; but here they are assumed.
What, then, it may be asked, is the distinctive message of this movement? A former distinguished leader was once asked what was the difference between a conference and a convention, and after a moment’s reflection he replied, “A conference has a subject, but a convention has an object.” As applied to Keswick, that is not a mere epigram, but a great truth. This convention has an object, and that object is nowhere so briefly and adequately expressed as in the words of our text, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Here Christ distinguishes between “life” and “life more abundant,” and it is for the interpretation of this distinction, and that we might know experimentally this maximum life, that we are now gathered.
‘Tis life, not death, for which we pant;
More life, and fuller, that we want.
We cannot but have been impressed in our reading of the New Testament, especially of the writings of Paul and John, with the high level on which their thought moves when dealing with the subject of the Christian life. Phrase after phrase stands out in mystic grandeur of truths which have their origin in heaven, and their home in the human heart: such passages, for example, as, “For me to live is Christ”; “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord”; “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” And accompanying such passages as these, are others which point the way to the realisation of the blessed secret, such as, “Let us go on unto perfection”; “Being confident of this very thing, that He who hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ”; “Be filled with the Spirit”; “Know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled unto all the fulness of God”; “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” And there are yet other Scriptures which show the need of these, and which illustrate the fact that one may have life, and yet not have abounding life; that one may have the assurance of spiritual union with Christ, and yet be a stranger, for the most part, to that communion which is alone the outcome of obedience and trust.
Two illustrations will suffice. Remonstrating with the fickle Galatians, Paul says, “Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” Better-instructed Christians than they were are making the same mistake; and the matter is of vital importance, for we can never rise to the level of experience set forth in the foregoing texts so long as we are providing substitutes for the Holy Spirit.
But perhaps the immediate point is best illustrated by the
words of Peter at the time of his vision at Joppa. He saw, as it were, a great sheet let down from heaven, full of creatures clean and unclean, and when bidden to rise, slay, and eat, he replied, “Not so, Lord.” How glaring a contradiction stands fixed in those words! He who says, “Not so,” should never add “Lord,” and he who truly says “Lord” never will say “Not so.”
From these, and such-like passages of Holy Scripture, we must sadly acknowledge that Christians in general have been, and are, content with an experience far removed from the divine ideal. We have made the intellectual apprehension of truth a substitute for the power of it in our hearts, and are in danger of regarding Christianity as a philosophy rather than as a life. Christ is the complete answer alike to every false ground of hope, and every false theory of life. The answer to legalism is “Christ died for us,” and the answer to licence is, “We must die with Christ.” Religious belief is not enough: there must be moral change. It is the discrepancy between our profession and our experience that needs looking to; and we must deal with it, not in the twilight of past attainment, but in the noontide of divine possibility. The Christ, who dying did a work for us, now lives to do a work in us. “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” There is great need that the truth be broadcast that abounding life is possible; and it should encourage us to know that in the experience of a multitude it has been, and is, actual.
All Christians have what the New Testament calls “eternal life,” for without this one cannot be a Christian; but not all Christians have entered into the experience of abounding life. There can be relationship without fellowship; there can be union without communion; there can be life without health; there can be privilege without enjoyment; there can be movement without progress. One may war and yet not win, may serve and yet not succeed, may try and yet not triumph; and the difference throughout is just the difference between the possession of eternal life, and the experience of abounding life; the difference between “peace with God” and “the peace of God”; the difference between obtainment and attainment. Abounding life is just the fulness of life in Christ, made possible by His death and resurrection, and made actual by the indwelling and infilling of the Holy Spirit. It is not the will of God that we should be as fruitless trees, as waterless clouds, or as savourless salt; but that we should fulfil the highest functions of our Christian calling. Christ’s promise is that He will slake the thirst of all who come to Him, and His purpose for those who come is that “out of their vitals shall flow rivers of living water.”
The trouble and tragedy is that the Church has been content to live between Easter and Pentecost; on the right side of justification, but on the wrong side of sanctification; on the right side of pardon, but on the wrong side of power. The difference between the world and the Church is in the relation of each to Calvary. But it is not enough that the Church and the Christian be on the right side of Easter, which has brought us forgiveness and life; we are called also to the experience of Pentecost, which offers to us abounding life—life which is characterised by trust, and peace, and rest, and joy, and love, and power, and victory. We are as unable to live this life in our own strength as we were unable, in the first instance, to save ourselves by our own efforts; but He who began a good work in us can and will perfect it in all who yield to Him. A mechanistic psychology denies what it cannot explain, but the joyful experience and witness of a host of Christians, from the apostolic age to the present time, has been that “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made us free from the law of sin and death.”
If one is living before Easter, the Christ of the New Testament is not in his experience at all: he is spiritually dead. If one is living between Easter and Pentecost, Christ is in his experience as Redeemer and Saviour: he has spiritual life. But not unless one is living from and in Pentecost is the Lordship of Christ a reality to him, or can he enjoy spiritual health, which is holiness.
No one can but be impressed by observing the change which Pentecost wrought in the experience of the apostles. In the between time from Easter to Pentecost two things characterised them: fear, and a lost sense of vocation. We see them first behind closed doors for fear of the Jews, and then later, Peter, who had been called to high apostleship, said, “I go a fishing!” and the others said, “We also go with thee.” No one can live the abounding life who is in the grip of fear, or who has failed or ceased to believe that God has for him a programme of life.
This between-experience has been the trouble from the beginning. It is illustrated by Israel in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan, and by Paul’s subjection to self, between his deliverance from the guilt of sin and his freedom from its power, as set forth in the Roman letter. It is this that is taught by the apostle’s threefold analysis of men as “natural,” and “carnal,” and “spiritual.” The “natural man” has not reached Calvary at all; the “carnal man” is on the right side of the cross, but has not reached Pentecost; and the “spiritual man” has entered by Pentecost into the Kingdom which is “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The carnal Christian has spiritual life, for he is spoken of as a “babe in Christ,” but there is little or no spiritual growth. He is like Lazarus, who, though raised from the dead, was yet “bound hand and foot with grave- clothes” until deliverance came. Is not this sadly illustrative of the experience of many Christians, people who are in bondage to fear, or doubt, or self; or sin? Yet freedom is our inheritance; we are called to the liberty of the sons of God. It will be a great day for each of us when we penitently acknowledge that we have not been what it has been God’s purpose to make us; and it will be a greater day when we dare to believe that we may become all that it is in His power to make us.
It is this aspect of truth which Keswick exists to emphasise. The movement is not ignorant of; nor indifferent to, the social implications and obligations of the Gospel; but it is held and taught that the value of our outward activities is determined by the reality and depth of our inward experience; that it is the man who is entirely right with God who is best qualified and equipped to help his fellow men. It was not until after Pentecost that the disciples socially applied the Gospel; and it was not until after Pentecost that they were fired with enthusiasm and determination to carry the Good News to all mankind, whatever the cost might be: and ever since then, the Church’s greatest days have been when she has lived and wrought in the power of Pentecost, which is normal Christianity. The Christian Church has plant, and organisation, and money, and learning, and much besides; but all this can be of no avail if she lacks Pentecostal power. We have banked more on prestige than on prayer; we have organised more than we have agonised; we have allowed ritual to obscure reality; we have thought more of conferences than of consecration: in short, we have displaced the Holy Spirit, and it is high time that we recognised the cause of our spiritual stringency.
The way out, and only way out, is by a return to Pentecost, which is the source and secret of abounding life. But nothing effective will be done so long as we think in terms of the Church as a whole. We must be personal if we would be practical, for the Christian Church is only the aggregate of all Christians, and it cannot be better than the spiritual experience of those who compose it. The experience of Christians is not necessarily Christian experience. Christian experience is what the New Testament reveals, what Christ by His holy Passion has made possible, and what the Holy Spirit yielded to makes actual: but the experience of Christians is, too often, one of lack of peace, of joylessness, of prayerlessness, of worldliness, and of defeat: and can anyone imagine that such an experience as that is Christianity! If Christ has called us to holiness of life, it is because He has made it possible; and if we will dare to believe that, and to draw upon our resources in Him, we shall experience in our hearts and demonstrate to others the reality of abounding life.
The sum, then, of what we have endeavoured to say is just this, that it is the intention of God that Christ shall be not only Saviour, but also our Lord; that we shall be not only justified, but also sanctified; that we shall be delivered not only from sin’s guilt, but also from its power; that we shall not only live, but live triumphantly.
By Christ’s death and resurrection, apprehended and trusted, we enter into eternal life; and by whole-hearted yieldedness to Christ as Lord and Master, we enter into the experience of abounding life. The yieldedness becomes a reality when, renouncing all known sin, and looking to Christ to accomplish in and through us by His Spirit, what by His death He has made possible, we follow on in love and obedience.
The evidence and expression of such an attitude will be in Christlikeness of character, and in sacrificial service for men. For the exhibition of such a life as that, the world is waiting; and surely the experience of such a life must be the devout desire of each of us. Then let us believe Christ when He says He came that we might live like that; and let us believe that He has given to us His Holy Spirit for its realisation. Here and now in this evening hour, let us claim our inheritance.
We need not wait for Him. He is waiting for us. In this place and moment He is offering Himself to us as the source of strength and satisfaction, as well as the place of safety; and if we will but receive Him, fear will be exchanged for trust, doubt for certainty, ineffectiveness for success, defeat for victory, and sadness for joy. We have tried trying and have failed; why not now try trusting? We have wrought in our own strength and have found it to be weakness; why not now take hold of His strength? The faith we once exercised for the possession of divine life, let us now exercise for the experience of abounding life; and as Christ met us then, so He will meet us now. May our attitude in the quiet of this tent, in this evening hour, be one not of yearning, but of yielding; not of struggling, but of resting; not of asking, but of taking. Let us go out to live the abounding life. May it be so, for His Name’s sake!
REV. W. GRAHAM SCROGGIE, D.D.