IMPRESSIONS OF THE JUBILEE KESWICK WHICH WAS MARKED BY THE LORD’S PRESENCE AND POWER.
by J.Kennedy Maclean.
DURING the last half-century Keswick has been the scene and centre of many remarkable Conventions, but I doubt if, since the movement began, there has been one so remarkable in character, so-full of joy, so throbbing with hope, so radiant with young- life, and so beautiful from the standpoint of weather as the one which has just closed. It was the jubilee year, and God, in His love and goodness, gave us a jubilee blessing. It just seemed as if the windows of heaven were opened, and that, through them, there were poured down the riches of His grace. From first to last, the Lord was in the midst of His people, blessing them and doing them good.
Apart altogether from the jubilee celebration on the Tuesday, which in itself was a notable event, there were certain features about this year’s Convention which gave to it a distinctive character. For one thing, the full programme was entered upon a day or two in advance of the usual time, and in each tent there were five Bible Readings, instead of the usual four. Then the first attenders were in numbers far in advance of the average. In fact, the attendance was particularly large, and the proportion of young people higher than has ever been known. Young men and women buoyantly entering upon the serious business of life, bright in face, and alert in mind, were everywhere in evidence. University men, too, were well represented; while friends from all over the world gathered with us, delighting in the happy experience, and, in many cases, thanking God that the dream of a lifetime was at last being fulfilled.
Those of us who come together year after year amid the familiar and hallowed scenes can scarcely realise what a visit to the Convention means to Christians far away. For years they have been reading about the meetings; they have become familiar with the names of speakers; they rejoice in the wonderful things that the Lord does amongst His people; and they long and pray that some day they may themselves personally share in the riches of the heavenly feast. To quite a number that day came this year. And how their faces glowed, and their hearts burned within them, as they found themselves in the company of the Lord’s own! It seemed too good to be true ! Not only from all quarters of the mission field did they come, but from far-away Australia and New Zealand, from the United States of America and Canada, from Russia, and other parts of the Continent of Europe; and as one met them and talked to them, and heard of their experiences, it was to receive a fresh understanding of that blessed unity in Christ which binds all His people together in the closest and tenderest and sweetest of all relationships. Verily, we are “all one in Christ Jesus.”
In sympathy wish this gracious atmosphere, the weather smiled benignly upon the scene, making the picture one of ineffable beauty. With a prodigal hand, Nature has lavished her favours upon Keswick and its neighbourhood, where mountain and lake and landscape combine in giving praise to God, Whose mind conceived and Whose fingers fashioned the grandeurs all round. Artists and poets, in adoring wonder, have transferred to canvas and paper their appreciation of a world so fair and beautiful, in this way devoting their genius to the service of Him Who has made everything “good.” The week just ended saw the picture at its best. With the exception of a few hours very early one morning, when welcome showers fell upon the thirsty land, and another brief occasion upon which a few heat drops pattered on the hard ground, the sun, bright and warm, shed its beauty upon the earth, bathing everything in a glory that seemed to belong to another world. From first to last, the scene remained unchanged; and to many who had hitherto known Keswick only through the mist and the rain, the transformation was a revelation too deep for words. Throughout its history the Convention has never been blessed with a more delightful week. Day by day the sides of the tents remained down, permitting the gentle breezes to play around the audiences, while during the meetings many persons stood outside or found comfortable seats on chairs or on the grass in the open air.
In this beautiful garden the Lord walked and talked with His people. A friend remarked to me early in the week that the exaltation of Christ seemed, even at that initial stage, to be the keynote of the Convention. It is true that much was made of the Lord Jesus. But that is always the case at Keswick. There He is ever the chiefest among ten thousand and the altogether lovely. _And we once again saw Him in all His winsomeness and charm—as Saviour, Master, Lord, and as some day, perhaps soon, returning to and for His waiting ones.
It was appropriate, therefore, that one of the series of Bible Readings should be on “Visions of Christ.” That was the theme of Mr. Graham Scroggie’s five mid-day addresses, a great subject handled in a great way. The crowded tent each day, the rapt attention and obvious appreciation of the audience, the mass of young life, all gave to this daily hour an interest and a value that made it stand out as one of the features of a memorable week. In the other tent the Bible Readings were shared by Dr. Stuart Holden and the Rev. Hubert Brooke; and although the latter was not well enough to undertake more than two addresses out of the five, many friends who remembered the spiritual value of his teaching in the years that are gone were glad to see him once again in the old place.
Of the other speakers, all that needs to be said is that they came to us with the messages of God. At Keswick the appeal is always to the soul; and while, from the intellectual point of view, the addresses will stand favourable comparison with utterances receiving more attention from Press and public, their primary purpose is always spiritual, and the aim ever is to bring the individual soul into direct contact with and surrender to the Lord Jesus, rather than to attempt an approach along the avenue of the intellect. That being the end, therefore, of all that is said, I can never speak of the messages in the language of everyday use. Things that are from God require a vocabulary of their own.
But even with that proviso, there are certain features or characteristics of the Convention which must be included in a record of the week. And the first is that this year’s chairman of the Convention Council, Dr. J. Stuart Holden, shouldered a heavy burden of responsibility with a tireless energy and a spiritual power. Chairman of the Jubilee Commemoration Service on the Tuesday, he delivered an address of historical interest and literary charm; at some of the other meetings during the week he also presided ; he shared the Bible Readings in Eskin Street Tent with the Rev. Hubert Brooke, taking three out of the five; at the morning and evening meetings he was a frequent speaker, and led the great gatherings in several definite acts of consecration; each night, at 9 o’clock, he conducted the Young People’s Meeting; and all day long he was at the call of old and young desiring spiritual guidance and enlightenment. Two of his addresses, in particular, stand out by reason of their keen insight and searching power—the one on Wednesday night, and the other on Friday night. From many quarters I heard appreciations of both. In the first of these two, he dealt with God’s question to Moses— “What is that in thine hand? And he said, “A rod”; and in the other his subject was the twelve gates into the city of God, as set before us in Revelation xxi.
All the other speakers fully maintained Keswick’s reputation for loyalty to the truth, for devotion to the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and for insistence upon the. urgency of full surrender and consecrated service. Perhaps, more than any of the other speakers, Dr. Inwood diagnosed the evil tendencies of the age in which we live, and called for a complete separation on the part of believers from everything that is not of God, coming day by day to the crowded meetings with the fragrance of the prayer- chamber on his garments. Like the prophets. of old, he stood boldly up to declare the message of the Lord.
Another speaker whose messages had in them characteristics of the prophetic was the Rev. John MacBeath. Their literary form, too, gave them a charm all their own. Mr. MacBeath is a young man with a message, and the Lord used him richly during the memorable week.
In a Convention throbbing with joy and life, perhaps the most hopeful feature of all was the young life. I am not ashamed to say that again and again, as I looked out on the sea of eager, youthful faces earnestly upturned to the platform, tears of joy came into my eyes as I thought of the tremendous possibilities for God and for good represented in these young men and women. They were such bright faces too—full of joy and of hope. Then on Friday night, I had the privilege of seeing them in their own special meeting—a meeting entirely for themselves, and from which all over the age of twenty-six were rigidly excluded. It was intended to hold these gatherings in the Pavilion, but after the first night, when the Pavilion proved far too small, the place of meeting was changed to the Skiddaw Street Tent. On Friday night over a thousand were present, and that had been the experience, I was told, all through the week. Dr. Holden was in charge. First of all, he sat down at the piano, and led his youthful friends in the singing of hymns, and then he spoke to them just as a father would, dealing with some of the problems on which they had sought guidance, and putting before them the glory of the life that is absolutely and without any hindrance at the Lord’s disposal.
The Universities also sent representatives to the Convention, Oxford and Cambridge men being particularly noticeable. Amongst them, Bishop Taylor Smith and others enjoyed times of blessed reaping. To one University house the Rev. W. P. Nicholson also went one night. He told me afterwards of his reception, which, to his surprise, was particularly cordial. His surprise, I think, lay here. He knew that he could not meet them on scholastic grounds, and he was just a little afraid that they might be disposed to emphasise the distinction. But they won his heart at once by their gentlemanliness and sympathetic attention. Like true men, they were playing the game. I think it was one of the happiest nights of Mr. Nicholson’s life ; at any rate, when he spoke to me about it the next day, he was bubbling over with a holy joy. He remained with his University friends until 2 o’clock in the morning, by which hour between twenty and thirty were on their knees before God in an act of full and willing surrender.
Then the open-air meetings in the Market Square deserve a word. There, again, Mr. Nicholson was in evidence. But usually, before he spoke, others bore impressive witness ness to the saving and the keeping power of the Lord Jesus. Officers in the Navy and Army, distinguished professional men, an Oxford man, who plays Rugby for his University ; the new Principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, were among those who stood up to tell of what the Lord Jesus is and does. One night, after Mr. Nicholson had preached the Gospel with eloquent and convincing power, about thirty members of the audience sought and found the
One night, standing in the crowd, I was impressed by the eagerness of the policemen on duty to get a fair hearing for the speakers. Near me several people were carrying on a conversation. Stepping up to them, a young policeman asked them to desist!
In the audience one night was a missionary on furlough from West Africa. To a man standing beside him, he spoke a word of invitation; the only reply he received was a severe blow on the face. That night, in the missionary’s house-party, this man was laid hold of for God, and earnestly was his conversion prayed for. The next night (Wednesday) the missionary, while sitting in the Skiddaw Street Tent, became conscious that the man seated next to him was in spiritual distress under Mr. Fullerton’s faithful preaching. Turning to speak a word to him, he found that he was the man who the night before had struck him on the face. A little later it was the missionary’s joy to lead this man into the light and liberty of salvation in Christ. Does God answer prayer?
Always to me one of the most delightful features of the Convention is the entire absence of class or distinction. It is just a big, happy family—all one in Christ Jesus. Men distinguished in various walks of life, men whose names are known and honoured all over the world, sit down in the tents as humble learners in the school of God, desiring not the prominent seats or the place of leadership, but seeking only to be instructed in the things relating to the Kingdom. And they often come and go without revealing their identity. At other times one only learns of their presence and position by accident.
Let we illustrate. One morning during the week I was standing with a friend in the street close to one of the tents. The meeting had already begun. A gentleman approached and asked if I could tell him in which tent he could hear the best address, as he had only a few hours to spend in the town. I explained who the speakers were that morning. Before leaving, he told me his name, which was that of a distinguished preacher in New York City—a man who has written several books almost as well known in this country as in America. My friend and I were probably the only two in Keswick who knew of his presence at the Convention. He ‘happened’ to be passing through the Lake District, and gave the Convention a call on the way.
So far I have said little about the meetings. The Jubilee Commemoration service on Tuesday morning stood out, of course, in a class by itself, for nothing of the kind has happened there before, and everybody wished to be present on this unique occasion. It was, indeed, a great gathering–great in numbers, in enthusiasm, in its abounding joyousness, in the deep note of gratitude to God that ran through everything, and in the remarkable testimonies to the Convention’s influence in other lands given by men from the countries for which they spoke. It was a thanksgiving meeting in the best and highest sense. God’s name was magnified from first to last; to Him was all the glory given.
Some of the other meetings of the week were also notable, although from different standpoints. There were occasions when the glory of the Lord so filled the tents that the heart’s impulse was to stretch out the hand and touch Him. And even if the natural eye failed to discern Him, we knew that He was in our midst, walking and talking with us and inviting us into the place of sweet communion and fellowship.
And what of these moments in the great meetings, when, in response to His call, the soul overleapt every barrier, and in an act of complete surrender acknowledged Him to be Lord and God? Such experiences are too sacred for detailed comment; it is enough to say that many who went to Keswick this year, defeated and dissatisfied and rebellious, left it the Lord’s willing captives—at rest in Him, with all fear and doubt removed, with all controversies settled, and determined, in His strength, to live no longer for self, but only and altogether for Him, Who died for us and rose again. So, once again, Keswick has been for many the place of surrender and renewal, of pardon and victory.
Then again, and finally, Keswick is a place of service. In a place and at a time when so many are helping by serving, it is difficult to mention names, lest some, equally worthy, may be overlooked or omitted. And yet, even with that possibility before me, I feel it is only fair to make some reference to the work of the stewards, under the leadership of Sir Francis Outram. A baronet as a steward! Yes—at Keswick. For there everyone loves and serves his brother. Meeting him one day as he hurried from the one tent to the other. Sir Francis spoke in the most appreciative terms of the spirit in which all the members of his staff had worked, and having seen them at it I knew that his praise was deserved,
A word, too, may be said about the chairmen. Several of the speakers, such as Dr. Stuart Holden and Mr. Fullerton, served, too, in this capacity, and others sharing in this service included Mr. C. H. M. Foster, Mr. A. Lindsay Glegg, Mr. R. Hinde, Mr. W. B. Sloan, and Mr. J. M. Waite. . It was also a great pleasure to see again, and also to hear, my brother of the pen, Mr. C. G Trumbull, the Editor of The Sunday School Times, of Philadelphia, who was last with us in 1913.
And so the Jubilee Keswck of 1925 passes into history. The meetings are over, the tents are down, the crowds are dispersed. But the influences of the Convention abide, and their full extent and mission will only be revealed on that day when the books are opened. Meanwhile, with vision enlightened, with will reinforced, with love deepened, with purpose strengthened, we once more go forth in His name to tell to a needy world the way of victory through the Lord Jesus Christ. Lord, keep us faithful to the trust. And in so far as we are faithful will the Keswick Jubilee Convention send enriching streams all over the earth.
J. KENNEDY MACLEAN