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The Higher Life movement was a movement devoted to Christian holiness in Englandmarker. Its name comes from a book by William Boardman, entitled The Higher Christian Life, which was published in 1858. The movement is sometimes referred to as the Keswick movement, because it was promoted at conventions in Keswickmarker, which continue to this day.

The main idea of the Higher Life movement is that the Christian should move on from his initial conversion experience to also experience a second work of God in his life. This work of God is called “entire sanctification,” “the second blessing,” “the second touch,” “being filled with the Holy Spirit,” and various other terms. Higher Life teachers promoted the idea that Christians who had received this blessing from God could live a more holy, that is less sinful or even a sinless, life. This teaching has its roots in John Wesley’s doctrine of Christian perfection.


The Higher Life movement was precipitated by the American Holiness movement, which had been gradually springing up, but made a definite appearance in the mid-1830s. It was at this time that Methodists in the northeastern United States and non-Methodists at Oberlin Collegemarker in Ohiomarker began to accept and promote the Wesleyan doctrine of Christian perfection or entire sanctification. The American holiness movement began to spread to England in the 1840s and 1850s. Methodist evangelist James Caughey, as well as Presbyterian Asa Mahan and Presbyterian-turned-Congregationalist Charles Finney began to teach the concept to evangelical churches in England and then in Irelandmarker and Scotlandmarker.

Soon after these initial infusions of holiness ideas, Dr. Walter Palmer and his wife Phoebe Palmer of New York Citymarker went to England in the 1850s and 1860s to promote them. Oddly enough, they were banned from ministering in Wesleyan churches, even though they were promoting Wesleyan doctrines and were themselves Methodist. During their time in England many people experienced initial conversion and many more who were already converted believed that they had received entire sanctification.

In the 1870s William Boardman, author of The Higher Christian Life began his own evangelistic campaign in England, bringing with him Robert Pearsall Smith and his wife, Hannah Whitall Smith, to help spread the holiness message.

On May 1st 1873, Rev'd William Haslam introduced Robert Pearsall Smith to a small meeting of Anglican clergymen held at Curzon Chapel, Mayfair, London. Two men whose lives were revolutionised by what they heard were Evan Henry Hopkins and Edward William Moore.

Little by little, Methodist churches in the Londonmarker area became open to the concept of Christian holiness, which was their rightful inheritance from their founder. Robert Pearsall Smith warned them that they would end up falling behind other churches who had embraced the movement, and they began to invite Higher Life teachers to explain the doctrine to them.

The first large-scale Higher Life meetings took place from July 17-23, 1874, at the Broadlands estate of Lord and Lady Mount Temple. The meetings were held primarily for Christian students at Cambridge University. At the end of these meetings, Sir Arthur Blackwood, Earl of Chichester and president of the Church Missionary Society, suggested that another series of meetings for the promotion of holiness be conducted at Oxfordmarker later that summer.

A convention for the promotion of holiness was held at Brightonmarker from May 29-June 7, 1875. The prominent American evangelist Dwight L. Moody told his London audiences that the Brighton meeting was to be a very important one. About eight thousand people attended it. T. D. Harford-Battersby attended this convention and made arrangements to have one in his parish in Keswick. He was the recognized leader of this annual convention for several years until his death.

A gradual distinction developed between traditional Methodists and the newer Keswick speakers. Keswick took on a more Calvinistic tone, as Keswick preachers took pains to distance themselves from the Wesleyan doctrine of eradication (the doctrine that original sin could be completely extinguished from the Christian soul prior to death). Keswick speakers began using the term "counteraction" to describe the Holy Spirit's effect on original sin, often comparing it to how air pressure counteracts gravity in lifting an airplane. Modern Wesleyan-Arminian theologians regard the Keswick theology as something different from their own dogma of entire sanctification.

Harford-Battersby organized and led the first Keswick Convention in 1875. Over four hundred people met under the banner of “All One in Christ Jesus.” British speakers included Anglicans, such as the J. W. Webb-Peploe, Evan H. Hopkins, and Handley Moule, as well as Frederick Brotherton Meyer, a Baptist, and Robert Wilson, a Friend. An annual convention has met in Keswick ever since and has had worldwide influence on Christianity.

Columbia Bible College and Seminary (Columbia, SC) was founded by one of the early leaders of the American Keswick movement, Robert C. McQuilkin. His son, Robertson McQuilkin, contributed the Keswick chapter to the book "Five Views of Sanctification."


Keswick doctrine has been sharply criticized as a disguised form of entire sanctification (or "perfectionism") by other Christian traditions, particularly Calvinism. Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield wrote a trenchant attack on the Keswick doctrine that is still referenced today in Reformed circles. Such a critique is included in one of J. I. Packer's books.


  • Harford, C. F., ed. The Keswick Convention; its Message, its Method and its Men, London, 1907.
  • Harford-Battersby, T. D. Memoirs of the Keswick Convention, 1890.
  • Hopkins, E. H., The Story of Keswick, London, 1892.
  • Pierson, A. T., The Keswick Movement, New York.
  • B.B. Warfield, Perfectionism, Philadelphia, 1958, ISBN 0-87552-528-8.
  • Robertson McQuilkin, The Keswick View: Five Views of Sanctification, ISBN 0-310-21269-3 Zondervan Pub.
  • Pollock, J. C., A Cambridge Movement, London, John Murray, 1953.
  • Packer, J. I., Keep In Step With The Spirit, 1984, ISBN 0-8010-6558-5. — See chapter 4.
  • Pyne, Robert A., and Matt Blackmon, "A Critique of the Exchanged Life", 2006 Bibliotecha Sacra 163, April-June


  1. William Haslam and the Keswick Movement - cited in a forum on the William Haslam website.

See also

External links

  • Audio-visual material on Keswick theology by Andrew David Naselli, whose Ph.D. dissertation is entitled “Keswick Theology: A Historical and Theological Survey and Analysis of the Doctrine of Sanctification in the Early Keswick Movement, 1875–1920"
  • A Critique of the Keswick Movement taken (by the author's permission) from Keep in Step with the Spirit by J. I. Packer.
  • The Exchanged Life. Is it possible to consistently enjoy an abundant, victorious Christian life?

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