In the quest for the historical A.B. Simpson, there have existed at least three approaches towards understanding the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. The first approach is that of biographer A.E. Thompson in his book, A.B. Simpson: His Life and Work. In this biography, Thompson attempts to portray Simpson as a significant scholar and refers to him as “Dr. Simpson”. In Alliance writer and preacher A.W. Tozer’s Wingspread, a different picture of Simpson comes into focus. This time Simpson is portrayed as a mystic or spiritual leader whose spiritual contributions have greatest significance. A recent contribution has also come from Charles Nienkirchen’s A.B. Simpson and the Pentecostal Movement. In this book, Nienkirchen attempts to paint Simpson as a proto-Pentecostal in both theology and practice.

The most helpful contribution, however, comes out of the work of Samuel Stoesz’s, Sanctification: An Alliance Distinctive. Rather than reducing Simpson’s identity and contributions, Stoesz does the opposite. He attempts to place the thought and contributions of Simpson within a larger historical-theological tradition than that of the Holiness-Keswick traditions that dominated the late nineteenth century.[1] As noble an attempt as this is, Stoesz’s distancing of Simpson from the influences of the Keswick movement in particular, does not have the historical support that he maintains it does. The evangelical climate of the late nineteenth century was one of cross-border and trans-Atlantic communication. It was quite common for thinkers, preachers and popular writers of various evangelical backgrounds to attend the innumerous conferences and conventions that were held during this period. Therefore, Stoesz’s effort to distance Simpson’s thought development and influence from the prevailing views of the day or to limit it to the influence of only a handful of thinkers does not take into full consideration the historical-theological milieu in which Simpson lived and breathed in particular his connections to the Keswick movement.

It is the purpose of this study to take issue with Stoesz’s attempt to disassociate Simpson from close connections with the Keswick movement. Although Simpson was often critical of Keswick theology, he nevertheless was influenced to varying degrees by the movement especially in the areas of sanctification, the role of “crisis” and missions. It is the purpose of this study to analyze the characteristics of the early Keswick movement and show where and how these intersected with Simpson’s thought.

  1. The Keswick Movement: Background[2]

The Keswick movement began in 1875 and was named after the town in the Lake District that became its main center. Each July, conventions would be held with the same central message of sanctification by faith. Although it claimed to be without a tradition, it is evident that the Keswick movement found its roots in the Wesleyan holiness stream. The difference lay in the fact that its founders sought to make the teaching palatable to Calvinists as well as Arminians.

            Although the Keswick movement began in England, its Trans-Atlantic influences were strong. These influences also had a great impact on Simpson particularly during his time in New York. With regards to the Keswick movement, Charles Finney’s writings regarding sanctification certainly were influential as were the writings (and personal presence) of Robert Pearsall Smith and Hannah Whitall Smith. In fact, Whitall Smith’s Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life was perhaps the most influential book in the early Keswick movement.

            Another strong Trans-Atlantic influence came from W.E. Boardman’s bestseller The Higher Christian Life first published in 1858. Boardman’s views on sanctification were highly influential in Simpson’s life (as Stoesz rightly points out)[3] as well as in the Keswick movement. In fact, Boardman’s work brought the idea of full salvation into Reformed circles which, in turn, served as an entry way for many Calvinists to accept the Keswick movement as a whole. Boardman, in fact, moved to England and spoke often in the Mildmay Circle (1864-69), a conference summoned by William Pennefather emphasizing sanctification. These conferences were precursors to the Keswick conferences a decade later.

            Further influences on the Keswick movement were to be found in the Wesleyan holiness movement and its emphasis on “Christian perfection”, Quaker spirituality and its focus on “quietism” and Brethren teaching in particular its teaching on Premillennialism and the idea that “entire consecration is possible.”[4] These influences found expression in the Keswick movement as well as in the thought of A.B. Simpson.

  1. Characteristics of the Keswick Movement and intersections with Simpson’s thought

On Saturday, August 29th, 1874, key Keswick leader, Thomas Harford-Battersby attended an Oxford Conference on holiness and sanctification. This conference would serve as another precursor to the Keswick meetings that would begin a year later. During this conference, Harford-Battersby learned of the right to act in complete dependence on the full sufficiency of Christ. He wrote of the conference, “Christ was revealed to me so powerfully and sweetly as the present Saviour in His all-sufficiency.”[5] During the conference, speakers freely used the terms “second blessing”, “entire sanctification”, and “baptism of the Spirit”. What Stoesz would call an Alliance distinctive distinguished the early Keswick meetings.

    1. Sanctification and the Crisis Experience

The central focus of the early Keswick movement was sanctification. The way of holiness was the way of faith…of belief in the power of the Holy Spirit to bring one to a point where one would be completely sanctified. This way of faith was to consciously “let Christ do things in and through you rather than try to do them yourself.”[6] To trust in the all-sufficiency of Christ would enable one to let go of spiritual struggles and rest in faith.

            This emphasis on being wholly sanctified in and through the power of Christ is a theme that is central to Simpson’s own thought. Simpson wrote, “Sanctification is not your own work; it is not a gradual attainment which you can grow into by your own efforts…You cannot sanctify yourself. The only thing to do is to give yourself wholly to God, a voluntary sacrifice.”[7]

            Coexistent with the Keswick movement’s emphasis on sanctification was its stress on a “crisis experience”. Robert Pearsall Smith told his hearers in Keswick, “It is to bring you to a crisis of faith that we have come together.”[8] Reverend Evan H. Hopkins, a key speaker during the Keswick conferences, preached a message entitled, “Crisis and Process.” In it, he claimed to have been “brought into an experience of…holiness, with a suddenness that has been as striking as the change has been blessed and soul-satisfying.” This experience, he continued, was characterized by a “wonderful instantaneousness.” Sanctification, according to Hopkins was essentially “the committal of the whole being to Him, [it] is a crisis, and the crisis must take place before we really know the process.”[9] Charles Price and Ian Randall, Keswick historians, wrote the following regarding the role of crisis in Keswick thinking. They wrote of:

…a crisis of response whereby a deliberate and intelligent appropriation of the indwelling Spirit of Jesus Christ, already possessed by their being in Christ and his being in them, should be experienced by them in a much fuller way [Bold mine].[10]


            This emphasis on “crisis” dovetails with Simpson’s own view of “crisis” in sanctification. Referring to the crisis of the deeper life, George Pardington writes:

The holiness of the Christian is the holiness of Christ…Our holiness flows from contact with God. This contact has both a divine and a human side. On the divine side there are two points of contact – the work of Christ on the cross, and the personal indwelling of the Holy Ghost. On the human side there are likewise two points of contact, whereby we become partakers of the holiness of Christ – a step of entire surrender and an act of appropriating faith [Bold mine].[11]


In the thought of both the Keswick movement and that of A.B. Simpson, sanctification and its “crisis” appropriation are evident. Both movements (Keswick and Alliance) marked a shift away from Wesleyan holiness doctrine that viewed the crisis of sanctification at the end of the Christian walk. For Simpson and the Keswick movement, the crisis of sanctification was to be properly understood at the beginning of one’s Christian’s life.

To conclude, both Keswick and Simpson’s thought maintained a strong emphasis on the need for the believer to be “wholly sanctified” and to enter into this through a “crisis experience”. Although it is true that not all proponents of the Keswick movement endorsed such a view regarding “crisis”, the concept of “crisis” or an immediate turning point in one’s spiritual life nevertheless abounded.

    1. Union with Christ

Although it can be argued that later Keswick developments marked a shift towards relying on “faith” and “belief” rather than on the union with Christ per se, the early proponents of the movement held similar views to that of Simpson with regards to the centrality of Jesus Christ in the believers’ life. In fact, early Keswick thinkers warned against overemphasizing “faith” at the expense of focusing on Jesus Christ. Evan Hopkins wrote, “Don’t think of believing at all. Think of Him who bids you follow him.”[12] In his sermon entitled, “How to walk more closely with God”, Harford-Battersby claimed, “Everything, in short, has been provided in Christ…[there are] infinite resources which are treasured up in Him for our need.”[13] Although Simpson was to criticize the Keswick movement in 1899 for its overemphasis on the “sanctified life” rather than the “Christ Life”[14], the early Keswick movement did, nevertheless, hold similar views to Simpson’s regarding “union with Christ” in the believer’s life.

c. The Keswick emphasis on “peace” and “stillness”

            Another characteristic of the Keswick movement was its emphasis on cultivating an internal sense of peace and relaxation. Perhaps the modern maxim, “Let go and let God” could well summarize this “quietist” element in Keswick thinking. All believers could enter into “the rest of faith” and let go of trying to wage the spiritual struggle through their own effort. Such an emphasis can also be found in Simpson’s thought when he wrote of reading a little book entitled, “True Peace.” In this book, Simpson reflected on how “God was waiting in the depth of my being to talk with me if I would only get still enough to hear Him.” After initial difficulties, Simpson spoke of the rest that God gave him. He wrote:

As I listened and slowly learned to obey, and shut my ears to every sound, I found that after a while when the other voices ceased, or I ceased to hear them, there was a still small voice in the depth of my spirit. As I listened, it became to me the power of prayer, the voice of wisdom, and call of duty; and I did not need to think so hard, or pray so hard, or trust so hard, but that the ‘still, small voice’ of the Holy Spirit in my heart was God’s prayer in my secret soul, and God’s answer to all my questions.[15]


The influence of Quaker quietism that influenced the Keswick movement also found its expression in Simpson’s thought.

d. Missions and Pre-millennialism

Although the Keswick movement in 1875 was reluctant to become involved in world mission, by 1885 it had hit a turning point. Influenced by a prayer meeting led by Reginald Radcliffe, the Keswick movement from this point on developed a strong missions focus. In fact, J. Hudson Taylor reinforced this emphasis by introducing the concept of faith missions when he spoke in 1883 and 1893. By 1888, the convention members had firmly committed themselves to foreign missions. It was, therefore, not uncommon to find 100-400 young people responding to the missions call during a convention.

            This growing emphasis on foreign missions was in no doubt tied to the growing influence of Pre-millennialism within the Keswick movement, in particular the teachings of John Nelson Darby. The Brethren rooted Darby, whose eschatology laid the foundation for twentieth century dispensationalism, was a key figure in the Keswick movement.[16] It is also true, as Stoesz contends, that the Keswick movement took upon a distinctly dispensational flavour by the turn of the century. However, it can be argued that the early movement of the 1870s and the 1880s had a greater focus on the imminent return of Christ than on the manner by which he would return. As it was in A.B. Simpson, it was this sense of imminence that propelled both movements (Keswick and Alliance) towards missions. Evidence of this could be found in the conferences Simpson held in Orchard Park in Maine. David Elliot wrote, “Those who spoke at his meetings represented the core of the Keswick faith mission and pre-millennial leadership…”[17] Therefore, it can be concluded that the element of Christ’s imminent return found in pre-millennialism (in both the historicist and Darbian forms) gave both Keswick and Alliance movements a strong missions impulse.

            e. Non-denominational character of the Keswick Movement

            Both the Keswick movement and Simpson’s thought were recipients of the broadening tendency that came out of the Holiness movement. This tendency created an entire generation of “undenominationalists” who knew no ecclesiastical boundaries. This was the immediate strength (and weakness) of both the Keswick and the Alliance. For the Keswick movement, the primary goal was to bring to the forefront the need for personal holiness regardless of whether one was of Reformed or Arminian backgrounds. This intentional non-denominationalism is found in Simpson as well. The 1887 Constitution of the Christian Alliance had as its preamble the following:

The Christian Alliance is designed to be a simple and fraternal union of all who hold in common the fullness of Jesus in His present grace and His coming glory. It is not intended in any way to be an engine of division or antagonism in the churches, but, on the contrary, to embrace Evangelical Christians of every name who hold this common faith and life…[18]


Therefore, both movements reflected the spirit of the age and downplayed denominational loyalties and instead promoted a form of pan-denominationalism whereby Evangelicals from different backgrounds were welcome.[19]

f. Other areas of intersection

            In the Keswick movement, one can find at least three other areas of intersection with Simpson and his thought. These can be found in the role of women in the respective movements, the participation of lay leaders and the widespread criticism that both movements received from within the Evangelical camp.

            The high profile that women held in the Keswick movement and the Alliance reflected the influence of the Holiness thought. From the mid-nineteenth century, women played a more prominent role in both the church and missions. This influence carried over to both Keswick and the thought of Simpson.[20]

            Likewise, both movements were lay-centred in their inception. This aspect of Keswick and Alliance thought was no doubt connected to its non-denominational characteristic. Simpson wrote, “The work of laymen is one of God’s chosen instrumentalities in this age…We do not disparage the ministry, but God is calling His Church to use all her resources and agencies.”[21]

            Finally, both Keswick and Alliance movements were widely criticized within Evangelical camps. B.B. Warfield was relentless in his criticisms of Simpson whereas J.C. Ryle wrote his best-selling book, Holiness as a critique of Keswick teachings. Once again, the movements’ non-denominational character (plus the significant role that women played) left both Keswick and Alliance teachings open to criticism.


As the twentieth century progressed, the Keswick and Alliance movements began to part ways. The rise of Pentecostalism and the deleterious effect this had upon the Alliance caused the movement to become more like a denomination. Further, the rise of Pentecostalism also led the Alliance to shift markedly away from its holiness roots towards a more generic evangelical theology.[22]

The Keswick movement, by contrast, began to shift away from its Christocentric and missions characteristics and began to grow introspective in its spirituality. What resulted was a growing emphasis on faith/belief and a theology of “suppressionism”. It was because of this that Simpson wrote in 1899, “There is always a little danger of seeing our experience more than the source of that experience, the Person and work of the Lord Jesus…”[23]

Both A.B. Simpson and the thinkers of the early Keswick movement were products and shapers of their age. Both the Keswick and Alliance movements went on to influence the shape of evangelicalism in the twentieth century. In this respect, they were distinctive as movements. However, both movements were also products of the age and were, thereby, influenced by both the holiness movement as a whole and by each other. As stated earlier, late nineteenth century evangelicalism can be characterized by a high degree of intersection. A brief study of the two movements and the common thinkers and speakers that intersected them underlines this point.

Contrary to Samuel Stoesz’s contention, historical evidence does support a greater intersection of ideas and characteristics between Simpson’s thought and that of the Keswick movement than Stoesz admits. Both movements were initiated during roughly the same time and bore the holiness movement’s legacy of personal holiness, the involvement of women and lay persons. Further, both movements expressed a strong concern for sanctification, crisis, Union with Christ, missions and an expectation of Christ’s imminent return.



Bebbington, David. Holiness in Nineteenth Century England, Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2000.


Bebbington, David. Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989.


Draper, Ken.  “Readings in Alliance History and Thought” Unpublished, 2001.


Packer, J.I.  Keep in Step with the Spirit. Old Tappan: Revell Books, 1984.


Pardington, George. The Crisis of the Deeper Life. Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1991 ed.


Price, Charles and Ian Randall, Transforming Keswick. Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2000.


Rawlyk, G.A. and Mark Noll eds. Amazing Grace: Evangelicalism in Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993.


Simpson, A.B. The Fourfold Gospel Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1984.


Simpson, A.B. “Editorial,” Christian and Missionary Alliance Weekly. June 3, 1899.


Stevenson, Herbert F. ed. Keswick’s Authentic Voice, 1875-1957. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959.


Stoesz, Samuel J.  Sanctification: An Alliance Distinctive. Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1992.


Tucker, Ruth and Walter Liefeld, Daughters of the Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan   Publishing House, 1987.















A.B. Simpson and the Keswick Movement

























David T. Wood

HIS 606 Alliance History and Thought

ACTS Seminaries

Dr. Ken Draper

Due: July 31st, 2001


[1] Samuel J. Stoesz, Sanctification: An Alliance Distinctive. (Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1992), pp.68-69.

[2] For a full treatment of the place of the Keswick Movement within the Holiness movements of the nineteenth century, see David Bebbington, Holiness in Nineteenth Century England, (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2000).

[3] Stoesz writes, “To understand Boardman is to more fully understand Simpson.” Stoesz, p. 36.

[4] David Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), p. 159).

[5] Cited in Charles Price and Ian Randall, Transforming Keswick. (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2000), p.26.

[6] J.I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit. (Old Tappan: Revell Books, 1984), p.147.

[7] A.B. Simpson, The Fourfold Gospel (Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1984), p.26.

[8] Bebbington, Holiness in Nineteenth Century England, p.81.

[9] Cited in Herbert F. Stevenson ed. Keswick’s Authentic Voice, 1875-1957. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p.332.

[10] Price and Randall, Transforming Keswick, p. 27.

[11] George Pardington, The Crisis of the Deeper Life. (Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1991 ed.), p. 108-109.

[12] Bebbington, Holiness in Nineteenth Century England, p.21.

[13] cited in Stevenson, Keswick’s Authentic Voice, p. 290.

[14] A.B. Simpson, “Editorial,” Christian and Missionary Alliance Weekly. (June 3, 1899), p.8.

[15] Miss Emma Beere, Simpson Anecdotes cited in Ken Draper, “Readings in Alliance History and Thought” (unpublished, 2001), p.4.

[16] Stoesz makes this point in his work. He cites the number of prophetic Bible conferences which ran from 1883 to 1897which propagated a dispensational emphasis. Stoesz, p.43.

[17] David R. Elliot, “Knowing No Borders: Canadian Contributions to American Fundamentalism” in George Rawlyk and Mark Noll eds. Amazing Grace: Evangelicalism in Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993), p.354.

[18] Draper, “Readings in Alliance History and Thought,” p. 43.

[19] One should note that the “undenominational” character of the Keswick movement emerged over time into an “introverted subculture” with a focus on “private spirituality”. It is in this aspect that the two movements parted ways. See Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, p.180.

[20] See Ruth Tucker and Walter Liefeld, Daughters of the Church. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1987), pp. 245-291.

[21] A.B. Simpson, “Constitution of the Evangelical Missionary Alliance (1887)” cited in Draper, “Readings”, p.45.

[22] See Darrel R. Reid, “Towards a Fourfold Gospel: A.B. Simpson, John Salmon, and the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada” in G.A. Rawlyk ed. Aspects of the Canadian Evangelical Experience (Kingston: McGill-Queens Press, 1997), p. 286.

[23] A.B. Simpson, “Editorial,” Christian and Missionary Alliance Weekly, (June 3, 1899), p.8.