By Jay Wegter


The concept of the higher Christian life arose in the nineteenth century in connection with the holiness tradition in America.  The movement grew in popularity and ultimately spread to England.  Keswick, England became the home of the higher life conventions.  In time, the movement returned to America with great momentum.  “The Higher Life movement has influenced the rise of other theologically conservative movements, the founding of a number of institutions, the growth of foreign missions, and the theological perspective of several denominations.”1

Description of the Movement

          The higher Christian life is an explanation of the means and methods involved in advancing the believer’s progressive sanctification.  The purpose of this paper is to identify the areas where the higher life model of sanctification differs from the scriptural doctrine of sanctification.

          Though not identical, three terms are used synonymously to refer to the movement; “The higher Christian life,” the “Victorious Christian Life,” and “Keswick Teaching.”  In this paper, any of the three terms may be used to refer to the whole body of higher life teaching.


          The inception of the higher life movement is often identified with the publication of William Edwin Boardman’s book, The Higher Christian Life (1858).  The book argued that Christ was to be received for sanctification sometime after justification.   The book sold over 100,000 copies on both continents.  Although the book was a great success, there were also those who found it to be based more upon experience than Scripture. 2 Jacob Abbot, an early critic, argued that not one principle in the book stood upon the ground of historical truth.3

          In spite of criticism from a number of circles, the book was widely read in both America and Britain.  William Boardman became the primary spokesman for higher life teaching.4

          Boardman began an itinerant convention ministry.  During one of his conventions, he met Robert Pearsall Smith (1827-98) and Hanna Whitall Smith (1832-1911).  This married couple became prominent higher life teachers who widened the popularity of Boardman’s teaching throughout Britain.5

          The higher life movement reached its culmination through the labors of the Smiths.  Out of their efforts in the early years of the fourth quarter of the nineteenth century grew the great Keswick Movement.6

          The Smith’s “higher life meetings and conferences did much to set the pattern for the Keswick Movement.  Their emphasis arose as the result of their own entry into deeper spiritual experiences.”7

          Mrs. Pearsall Smith’s own account reveals that she was seized with wonder as to why spiritual victory was always out of reach.  She finally identified the problem.  She had stopped with the blessed truth of justification, but hadn’t gone on to the twin truth of sanctification by faith.  She then learned that victory was by faith and “that there was an experience called the ‘second blessing,’ which brought one into a place of victory.”8

          Higher life conferences were held at Broadlands (1874), Oxford (1874), Brighton (1875), and finally at Keswick (1875).  “Keswick soon became the recognized center of the movement, which today has conventions around the world.” 9

          The higher life teaching of Keswick is not representative of a single confessional perspective.  Speakers come from a variety of denominational backgrounds.  “F. B. Meyer was a Baptist.  A. T. Pierson, J. Elder Cumming, and George H. C. Macgregor were Presbyterians. Andrew Murray belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church.  H. C. G. Moule, H. W. Webb-Peploe, H. W. Griffith Thomas, and J. Stuart Holden were Anglicans.” 10

          Keswick conferences exist ostensibly for “the promotion of scriptural holiness,” and for “the promotion of practical holiness.”  The Keswick convention has as its aim the deepening of spiritual life.  It seeks to proclaim “liberty from sin” and the reality of “life more abundant,” through the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit.11

          Many of the speakers at American Keswick conferences have been prominent evangelical leaders.  These include, C. I. Scofield, A. W. Tozer, Alan Redpath, Stephen Olford, Major Ian Thomas, Ruth Paxson, Harry Ironside, Vance Havner, Theodore Epp, Lewis Sperry Chafer, James O. Buswell III, John Walvord, Kenneth Wuest, Charles Feinberg, Arthur Glasser, L. E. Maxwell and Harold J. Ockenga.12

          Needless to say, the above list of names represent varying degrees of affinity toward higher life teaching.  The limited scope of this paper permits only an examination of the views held by mainstream higher life authors.


A Summary of the Higher Life Theory of Sanctification

          Key architects of the higher life theory of sanctification include Robert Pearsall Smith, Hannah Whitall Smith, Evan Hopkins, Bishop H. C. G. Moule and William E. Boardman.

          The proponents of higher life doctrine laud the effects of their teaching.  Supposedly, the application of higher life principles will produce the following results, “Christians will be delivered from all known wrong.  [Sinful cravings] . . . will be so completely counteracted by Christ that  . . . [a person] will cease from all voluntary transgressions of the Law.  The Christian’s life (will) . . . potentially become one of endless victory over every form of temptation and moral weakness.”13

Essential Elements of the Model

          Higher life proponents argue from Romans 6:1-14 that it is possible for a believer to live as a perpetually defeated Christian.  Victory could be obtained through a “crisis of surrender.”  The following three essentials comprise their theory of sanctification wherein the believer may enter “life on the highest plane.” 14

1.     The Christian, though justified by grace through the work of Christ, may

yet be under the dominion of sin.  The great need is for a “second blessing,” or “second work of grace.” 15

          John Pollock, a Keswick historian writes, “Keswick acted on the belief that many listeners would yield and trust in an instant; the convention’s course was directed to that end, and a silent act of ‘definition’ encouraged.  This had its dangers. . . . Brooke [notes] there were many testimonies of a practical deliverance from the power of besetting sin, a constant and lasting blessing found in the keeping power of Christ, . . . [many spoke of this] new and blessed experience . . . as a ‘second conversion.’”  Moule gave a stern warning regarding the promised “second blessing.”  He indicated that Keswick speakers ought to show caution so as not to insist too much upon gaining an instantaneous experience of liberty from sinning.  Error would result if such a “second conversion” were touted as an essential. 16

2.     The Christian who senses his need of sanctification may enter into the

blessings of Romans 6:1-14 through surrender or consecration.” 17

          The identification truths of Romans 6 are appropriated through two steps.  These are surrender and faith.  Trumbull indicated that the only surrender acceptable to God is the surrender of the entire life. 18  Crisis prepares a man for surrender and surrender is the entrance into a life of faith on a new and higher plane.

          “The believer must consciously and persistently believe that he is dead to sin and alive to God.  Only through believing in his deliverance can the Christian experience this deliverance.” 19  Victory depends upon constant reliance upon Christ to both defeat sin and prompt obedience in the heart.  This reliance makes special use of Christ’s power to raise him above temptation.” 20

          Keswick writer McQuilkin speaks of the reason why this theory of sanctification is referred to as the “victorious life” view.   “. . . The new person in Christ has the ability to choose the right and to do so consistently.  Such a person need never – and should never – deliberately violate the known will of God . . . .   Victory is initiated by a decision at a specific point in time . . . .” 21

3.     Consistent victory depends upon the continual exercise of faith.  The

believer must avoid all “self-reliance” or “energy of the flesh” when seeking to obey God’s commands.  The Christian need not employ effort or striving, for these will ensure defeat.  To directly resist the urges of sin is to be overcome.  The believer is to give his battle to Christ who will bring the victory. 22

          Trumbull writes, “the secret of complete victory is faith: simply believing that Jesus has done and is doing all.”  Trumbull suggests that effort can never play any part in victory over the power of sin.  Effort only prevents victory.23

The Relationship Between Higher Life Teaching and Wesleyan Perfectionism

          John Wesley’s view of sanctification was known as “Christian Perfection.”  It affirmed a second transforming work of grace.  In that second work, sinful motives are rooted out of the heart that it might be a channel for love of God and others.  Wesley taught that the second work of grace would be signaled “by the Spirit’s direct, assuring witness in one’s heart to what has happened.”  24

          Wesley’s doctrine of perfection focused upon growth and sanctification.  His emphasis was upon the power of perfect love to reverse sinful expression, and upon faith’s role in a self-despairing trust of God.  For Wesley, the personal knowledge of being “sanctified” or without known sin depended upon not being conscious of “breaking any known law . . . .” 25

          Keswick incorporates the Wesleyan vision of the possibility of the fullness of God making a comprehensive entrance into the Christian life. This view becomes definitive of the holy life.  The Wesleyan holiness position appears in the Keswick pattern for growth.  A process-crisis-process pattern begins at regeneration.  Daily victory over sin is achieved by offering oneself to God in entire consecration.  Utter surrender delivers the believer from the warped will inherited by the Fall. 26

          B. B. Warfield saw higher life teaching as the stepchild of Oberlin theology.  “If Oberlin Perfectionism is dead, it has found its grave not in the abyss of nonexistence, but in the Higher Life Movement, the Keswick movement, the Victorious Life Movement . . . .” 27

          Warfield notes how Asa Mahan of Oberlin experienced a full pendulum swing from sanctification by works alone to sanctification by faith alone.  “As he had formerly allowed no place for faith in sanctification, so now he did not wish to allow any place for effort in sanctification.  He seems not to be able to understand that we must both work and pray,’ . . . .” 28

          For Mahan and his associates, immediate enjoyment of all that Christ has bought for His people is both a possibility and a duty.  The duty and possibility of absolute appropriation is a form of perfectionism says Warfield. 29

          Victorious life teacher C. G. Trumbull, often began his expositions by carefully explaining that justification and sanctification are two separate gifts of God.  He would go on to say that they are to be obtained independently by separate acts of faith.  “He thus bases his entire system on Wesley’s primary error, . . .” 30   That error consists of the separation of sanctification from justification.

          Wesleyan author W. Ralph Thompson has recorded some of the similarities between the Wesleyan and Keswick positions.  Both agree that a life of victory in Christ comes through a definite crisis experience or second work of grace.  Both believe that sanctification can be lost.  While Wesleyans hold that the second blessing is a normal occurrence in the economy of God, Keswick teachers state that the second blessing usually comes after justification because of man’s ignorance of the need of being filled with the Holy Spirit. 31

          C. K. Prior catalogs the most common features of perfectionism.  No matter the theory of sanctification, the following characteristics normally accompany perfectionism.  First, there is the understanding that sanctification is an isolated experience that occurs after justification. Second, perfectionism tends to externalize sin.  A life of constant unbroken victory is considered possible.  As higher life proponents teach,counteraction is the word used to describe Christ’s continual control and subjection of the sinful nature so that it does not express itself in acts of sin.  Third, obligation is determined by opportunity.  In other words, a Christian’s responsibility to holiness is measured by his capability. Fourth, perfectionism allows a standard of holiness or perfection that is subjective rather than scriptural.  A man’s consciousness of personal sin or lack thereof becomes the determining factor.  The key phrase that makes this a subjective standard is “any known sin.” 32


          Keswick teaching aims at answering one of the Christian’s greatest dilemmas.  “How do you do what you know is good and therefore want to do and avoid doing what you know is bad yet still want to do?”  Every Christian has some awareness of this inner struggle.  Keswick teaching has highlighted the problem and addressed it directly. 33

          Also, Keswick teaching has exposed the danger of “prayerless self-reliance.”  Efforts to progress in sanctification that are contaminated with self-confidence and self-righteousness will likely be unfruitful.  In addition, Keswick teaching focuses upon the inestimable privilege of the believer’s union with Christ.  The infinite benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection life are given to every believer (Romans 6:14-22).  Keswick teaching rightly stresses that sanctification is a supernatural work of grace.  Keswick teaching also calls individuals to total consecration.  Holy living is preconditioned upon ongoing repentance and full commitment to Christ.  As a result of Keswick teaching, many double-minded folk have been effectually exhorted to walk in the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). 34

          Keswick teaching has a high regard for the inerrancy of Scripture.  Higher life teachers universally hold to the primacy of the inerrancy and authority of Scripture.  “Higher Life proponents have contributed a wealth of literature to the evangelical world.”  Many of the devotional works produced are practical expositions of the Christian life produced by godly men.  Finally, the higher life movement has made a significant contribution to world evangelism.  A number of mission groups have successfully recruited at Keswick conferences and continue to do so. 35


1.     The movement has an inadequate concept of regeneration.  Higher life

teaching views regeneration as the addition of a new nature to the old, sinful nature.  Regeneration is not seen as the transformation of the believer, instead the new nature is identified with the indwelling Spirit. 36  The biblical concept of regeneration involves a thorough change that affects every faculty of man’s being.  Scripture presents regeneration as producing an ultimate result of perfect conformity to the image of Christ. 37

Keswick teaching suggests that regeneration fails to provide the believer

with all the enablement he needs for the Christian life.  It makes a second experience necessary for the abundant life.  The net effect is to depreciate the change that took place at conversion, for the Christian is put upon a journey in search of a crisis.  For this is how he may enter the “normal” Christian life.  By contrast, New Testament exhortations to godliness do not contain appeals for a second experience.  Paul points believers back to what is theirs at conversion.  His prayer in Ephesians 1:15-23 is a petition for an expanded perception and insight into what the Ephesians already possessed.

          Saved men are new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).[38]  Regeneration is to have a profound impact upon believers.  Conduct ought to be consistent with the new birth.  When regeneration is devalued, the implied message is that holiness is optional.[39]  J. C. Ryle emphasizes why new conduct necessarily follows regeneration.  “It is something of ‘the image of Christ,’ which can be seen and observed by others in our private life, and habits and character, and doings (Romans 8:29).”[40]

          2.  Justification and sanctification are separated from one another.  Warfield explains that by making sanctification a faith-based experience distinct from justification, the doctrines are divided.  By making sanctification a “second conversion,” the tendency is to exalt it above justification.  Boardman spoke of the higher life experience of sanctification as “the second and deeper work of grace.”  He urged Christians not to be satisfied with justification.   Says Warfield, the whole allure of the higher life was the offer of something more.   “. . . This distinction between justification and sanctification was the hinge on which her whole higher life teaching turned . . . .”[41]

          When justification is separated from sanctification by a lapse of time, it points to a defective view of faith in Christ.  Kenneth Prior sheds light on this error by pointing to the truth.  “Justifying faith is identical with sanctifying faith.  [Christ] is both our justification and sanctification . . . .”[42]

          Scripture keeps justification and sanctification together (1 Corinthians 1:30).  Those who are in Christ have both.  God’s choice of His people sets in motion God’s purpose for His people; conformity to the image of God’s son (Romans 8:29Ephesians 1:4).  Scripture asserts that there is a logical connection between the doctrines, “sanctification is the necessary result of justification . . . .”[43]

          Sanctification issues forth from God’s work in justification.  Those released from sin by an act of divine acquittal will not remain in a state of bondage to sin.  Berkhof observes that Christ’s work merits forgiveness of sin’s and eternal life for His own.  The benefits of Christ’s meritorious work are applied in a life renewing way by the power of the Holy Spirit.  “By doing this, He would render it absolutely certain that believers would consecrate their lives to God.  (John 10:16) . . . .”[44]

          John MacArthur notes that all those that God justifies He also sanctifies (1 Corinthians 1:26:11).  Justification has as its objective sanctification.  By dividing Christians into two classes, the “carnal” and the “spiritual,” a false dichotomy is created.  This false division allows Christ to be “Savior” for justification but not necessarily “Lord,” for sanctification.  False assurance of salvation can be the dangerous byproduct.[45]

          Sanctification is separated from justification when it is presented as a “second blessing” to be sought after.  When it is viewed as an additional gift of grace, it is not longer seen as belonging to all believers in Christ.  In part, this error comes from a misunderstanding of Romans 6-8.

          Higher life teachers see Romans 6-8 as expounding the method of sanctification rather than the necessity of sanctification.  As a result, those who appropriate the method are “spiritual” and those who do not are “carnal.”[46]

          Ultimately a “two-step” system of justification-sanctification is a slight upon the sovereignty and Kingship of Christ.  For Christ’s kingly office is evident in His Lordship over men.  All those who are redeemed own Him as their Lord and King.  They have been transferred into His kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13).

          As King, Christ sanctifies His people.  He chooses the providences by which they are to be refined and chastised.  He subdues their lusts and He subjects their wills to His own.  What a dishonor to Christ and danger to the soul to suggest that a Christian may have his Savior be Prophet and Priest, but not King and Lord.[47]

          3.  Higher life teaching promotes passivity or “quietism.”  “Let go and let God,” has been taken to extremes by a number of higher life teachers.  Boardman and Trumbull have been two of its most vocal proponents.  Victory supposedly can only become habitual when passivity is cultivated.  For passivity is what quietists think is the means of releasing the Spirit.  Personal initiative of any sort is attributed to the flesh. Passivity allows God to work through the person by promptings and impressions.  Annihilation of selfhood is key.  When self is out of the way, “the divine life” can flow freely through the individual.[48]

          The quietism enjoined by the higher life approach is actually contrary to the scriptural pattern of spirituality.  In truth, the Holy Spirit works in us through our minds and wills.  He causes us to comprehend the reasons for conformity to God’s will.  And He operates through the rational exercise of our wills.  He imbues upon us the importance of resolute obedience.[49]

          Far from the exercise of our wills blocking God’s power, according to Philippians 2:1213, the Christian has “the assurance that God works in us all our good impulses!”  God energizes the believer by effecting both the “willing” and the “doing.”  The Christian “works out” his salvation by reverently esteeming God’s gracious purposes as the energizer of his acts of obedience.[50]  This is worlds apart from quietism that condemns exertion.

          The notion that man “lets go” to “let God” contains an incipient pride.  For though man is pictured as passive in the process, God cannot work until man “lets go.”  Thus man is still in control of the process of sanctification.[51]

          Quietism lowers human responsibility by discouraging the very “fight of faith” commanded in Scripture (1 Timothy 1:1819).  “Letting go” is the antithesis of resisting sin.  As a result, passivity leaves the door open to antinomianism.  Quietistic mysticism has for many, lowered the city walls and sent home the defenders, allowing immorality to easily invade.[52]

          By contrast, New Testament imperatives connected with sanctification are directed at man’s responsibility.  The believer is to bring “his renewed mind, will, and desires to bear against indwelling sin, . . .” (1 Corinthians 9:27Romans 6:13,

2 Timothy 2:22).[53]  The believer is anything but passive in the process of sanctification.  In the final analysis, it is passivity that quenches the Spirit rather than releasing the Spirit.

          4.  The Higher Life Movement has an inadequate concept of indwelling sin.  William E. Broadman was a proponent of the “sliding scale” view of sin.  The claims of God’s law were adjusted or “graduated” according to the sinner’s ability.  Boardman borrowed heavily from Oberlin’s theology of perfection.  Finney taught that man’s obligation is limited by his ability.  “The moral idiot-Finney does not hesitate to say it – is as perfect as God is . . . .”  Thus sin is excused based upon a person’s lack of moral capacity.[54]

          If such a principle were adopted, God’s Law would no longer be regarded as a fixed rule of righteousness.  God’s Law would have become a sliding scale of duty.  Its requirements would be lessened in proportion to the wickedness of the individual.  Such a notion has disastrous consequences.  For it inveighs against the righteousness of God revealed in the Law (Romans 3:19), and it undermines the justice of God displayed in the cross (Romans 3:2526).[55]

          Since God’s Law is the expression of His holy character, it requires from the creature absolute moral perfection.  “God demands perfect holiness in our every thought, word, motive and deed.”  Higher life teaching lowers these expectations.  A Christian is regarded as victorious orspiritual because he does not commit any known sin.  The comprehensiveness of God’s Law is exchanged for an achievable standard.  Both formalism and subjectivism reduce the requirements of biblical holiness to externals.  “A Christian who thinks he is mature because he is unaware of any sin in his life has lost touch with the true nature of biblical holiness.”[56]

          Self-deception abounds in such a system, for the higher life teaching of Boardman called upon adherents to believe they possessed perfect sanctification even after failing.  The focus was not upon God’s Law standard but upon personal victory.  Self-satisfaction and personal tranquility became higher values than penitence and contrition.[57]

          Brokenness over sin has no place in the higher life theory.  The experience recorded in Romans 7 is universally regarded by higher life writers to be unworthy of the Christian.  Believing oneself to be perfectly sanctified is the antipathy of Romans 7.  If indwelling sin and depravity is viewed merely as “an accident,” then mortification of sin will not be a priority.[58]

          5.  Higher Life teaching overemphasizes experience and mysticism.  An early critic of Boardman’s higher life teaching noticed immediately that the means of sanctification proposed posited itself as a wonderful secret.  Abbot noticed in Boardman’s writings that sanctification benefits were to be derived immediately from Christ by faith.  They were not to be gained mediately through the Scriptures.  But Christ Himself affirms that His disciples were to be sanctified through the Word of Truth, the Scriptures (John 17:17John 15:32 Peter 1:4).  When Christ is divorced from Scripture, the doors are flung open for the mystical.[59]

          Higher life teaching defines union with Christ in such a way that experience takes precedence over doctrine.  As Packer brings out, to imagine one holds “esoteric spiritual secrets” is to edge toward “pietistic elitism.”  “Peace, joy and rest are the higher life buzzwords.  To believe you have gained these by applying a “secret” method leads to an inward looking self-centered smugness.[60]

          Rather than beholding Christ as almighty Lord who regulates our activities, the higher life notion casts Him as an “efficient” means.  He is “the instrument at our disposal by means of which we sanctify ourselves . . . . the power is yours – use it!”  Such a view of Christ is highly reductionist.  It portrays Him as a force or spiritual law to be mastered or harnessed like electricity.  God is cast as the limitless reservoir; man’s faith as the work that is efficacious.  In such a system there are echoes of Pelagian doctrine, for man by his will manages the grace of God.[61]


          1.  It is this author’s opinion that higher life teaching presents an untenable standard.  Where victory and sanctification are promised upon the condition of yieldedness, there is room for great disillusionment.  Those who agonize over indwelling sin are often left discouraged and despondent over their failure to achieve any semblance of the higher life.  Those of a more sanguine temperament experience a pendulum swing in the other direction.  For them, false assurance and self-confidence abound.[62]

          At the end of the nineteenth century, former Keswick teacher Theodor Jellinghaus confessed that he was personally a sharer in the grave responsibility of having been a higher life teacher.  He condemned the levity of Keswick that was so interested in achieving personal assurance of salvation without true holiness.  He mourned over the fact that the conferences did not encourage the repentance that sin necessitates, nor the working out of salvation with fear and trembling.  The conferences, he said, depicted a faith without repentance and a conquest of sin without moral struggle.  The pursuit of peace has been raised above the pursuit of righteousness.[63]

          Without question, some have been assisted by higher life teaching.  It is possible to be helped by the positive aspects without being negatively influenced by “the theological implications of its concepts.”  God in grace gives Himself to all those who seek Him in Christ even if their theology is imperfect.  But, the reality that some have been helped by the teaching is not sufficient grounds “to accept higher life teaching without reservation.”[64]  The doctrinal errors of higher life teaching lead this author to the conclusion that it does not provide a legitimate model for progressive sanctification.


As with most Christian movements that claim to be doing the work of revival, there is the accompanying conviction that some aspect of apostolic Christianity has been recovered after centuries of darkness.  The higher life school is no exception to this tendency.  Higher life teaching offers itself as the apostolic secret to progressive sanctification, a secret that has long lain dormant.[65]

It is this author’s conclusion that higher life teaching is not radically different from Wesleyan holiness.  While the Wesleyan teaching emphasized a sanctification that issued forth in love to God and neighbor, the higher life form emphasizes victory over sin.  Both schools demonstrate that every breaking wave of perfectionism in church history has been generated by the divorce of sanctification from justification. In both schools, perfection is the prize and self is the suitor.[66]

In summary, here are some of the most significant reasons why higher life teaching exhibits a divergence from apostolic truth.  The mysticism inherent in higher life teaching makes the individual vulnerable to both pride and antinomianism.  The central themes of law, grace, sin, righteousness and imputation are overshadowed by subjectivism.  The believer’s experience becomes the new “foundation” upon which to rest and rely.

Higher life mysticism is a serious error.  For it teaches men to believe that their peace rests upon the perfection of the new man.  The “old man” only commits sin, the “new man” cannot commit sin.  If men are taught that the ground of their reconciliation is the new man or perfect self, then the blood of the Sin-bearer is no longer the basis of reconciliation.  Such a notion can open the door to antinomianism.  For the old man becomes the alibi for failure.  Responsibility for sin is reduced.  The conscience is blunted.  The source of peace is transferred from Christ to self.[67]

Unlike self-absorbed mysticism, apostolic Christianity viewed the cross of Christ as that which justified and purified from sin (Galatians 6:14).  It was by a daily taking up of the cross in self-denial that hearts and wills were brought in line with the will of God.  By the cross, God makes men decisive.  By the cross, men are crucified to the reign of sin and self.  By taking up the cross, they own their responsibility to bring their thoughts, decisions and actions into conformity with God’s commands.[68]

Mysticism opens the door to further doctrinal error because once experience is made authoritative, the Word of God is interpreted in light of it.

A second departure from apostolic teaching is the higher life notion of sin.

The apostolic doctrine of sin was first and foremost God-centered.  Failure in the struggle with sin was viewed as intolerable not because it fell short of victory and success, but because sin is an offense to God.[69]  Higher life teaching emphasizes a feel good victorious life.  In that scheme, there is little room for the contrite and penitent posture shown by the authors of Scripture.  Paul, Isaiah and David all repeatedly remind us that those who would be holy must first face their sin with courage.  There must be a willingness to have our hearts examined by God (Psalm 139:23,24).

A third area of difference concerns the tendency of higher life teaching to ignore the scriptural commands that call for exertion on the part of the believer.  Quietistic pietism falls into the trap of “either or.”  Either Christ does all the fighting, resisting, believing or I do all of it and fail. There is an overt denial of the balance called for in Scripture.  The apostles taught that God’s power was the basis for our effort in sanctification. There is an intrinsic link between divine enablement and human exertion.  Many of the passages that call for exertion also contain an exposition of God’s power toward the believer (“be all the more diligent,” 2 Peter 1:10, “striving according to His power,” Colossians 1:29; “pursue holiness,”Hebrews 12:14; “show the same diligence,” Hebrews 6:12).[70]

Christ is the Author and Finisher of our faith.  He calls us to make progress in holiness by steady, humble persevering and by meditation, prayer, watchfulness, self-denial and good works.  By contrast, the higher life school eschews fighting, watching, warring and wrestling.[71]

Warfield is correct in stating that God’s way of holiness is a wearying process.  God does all things well, “though our struggle is tiring,” it is illumined by [the] hope [of glory].”  Higher life teaching has not uncovered a better way.  Its glowing and “romantic” overtures that offer life on a higher plane are ultimately offers of victory to the impatient.[72]


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Trust, 1961 rp.

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Press, 1984.

Flavel, John,  the Fountain of Life.  Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977 rp.

Hopkins, Evan H.  The Law of Liberty in the Spiritual Life.  Philadelphia: The

Sunday School Times, 1952.

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Sanctification.  Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1987.

MacArthur, John F.  Faith Works.  Dallas:  Word Publishing, 1993.

MacArthur, John F.  The Gospel According to Jesus.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan

Publishing House, 1988.


Packer, J. I.  Keep in Step With the Spirit.  Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell

Company, 1984.

Paxson, Ruth.  Called Unto Holiness.  Chicago: Moody Press, 1936.

Pearce, Thomas Preston.  An Examination of the Higher Life Concept of

Sanctification with Respect to its Dependence upon the Trichotomous View of Man.  Thd. diss., Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, 1994.


Pollock, J. C.  The Keswick Story.  Chicago: Moody Press, 1964.

Prior, Kenneth.  The Way of Holiness.  Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1982.

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Ryrie, Charles C.  So Great A Salvation.  Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989.

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Keswick.  Edited by Herbert F. Stevenson, 5-8.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan

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Toon, Peter.  Justification and Sanctification.  Westchester: Crossway Books, 1983.

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Reformed Publishing Company, 1958.

[1]  Thomas Preston Pearce, “An Examination of the Higher Life Concept of Sanctification with Respect to its Dependence upon the Trichotomous View of Man.” (Thd. diss., Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, 1994) 1.

[2]  Ibid., 14-15.

[3]  Jacob J. Abbott, “Boardmans’ Higher Christian life”  Bibliotheca Sacra (July, 1860) : 509.

[4]  Ibid., 15

[5]  R. Brown, “Higher-life Theology”  In New Dictionary of Theology” Edited by Sinclair B. Ferguson et. al, 301.  Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988.

[6]  Benjamin B. Warfield, Perfectionism (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian Reformed Publishing Company, 1958) 218.

[7]  W. Ralph Thompson, “An Appraisal of the Keswick and Wesleyan Comtemporary Positions” Wesleyan Theological Journal, vol. 1 no. 1 (Spring

1966) :12.

[8]  Ibid., 13.

[9]  Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Herbert F. Stevenson, The Ministry of Keswick, Edited by Herbert F. Stevenson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1963) 5.

[12] Pearce, An Examination of the Higher Life, 22.

[13] Henry A. Boardman, The Higher Life Doctrine of Sanctification Tried by the Word of God (Harrisburg: Sprinkle Publications, 1996), ii.  (This author not related to H. A. Boardman).

[14] Ibid., ii-iii.

[15] Ibid.

[16] J. C. Pollock, The Keswick Story (Chicago: Moody Press, 1964), 75, 76.

[17] Boardman, The Higher Life Doctrine, iii.

[18] Pearce, An Examination of the Higher Life, 58.

[19] Boardman, The Higher Life Doctrine, iii.

[20] Ibid., iii-iv.

[21] J. Robertson McQuilkin, “The Keswick Perspective,” In Five Views on Sanctification (Grand Rapids: Academic Books, 1987), 178.

[22] Boardman, The Higher Life Doctrine, iv.

[23] Charles G. Trumbull, Victory in Christ (Fort Washington: Christian Literature Crusade, 1959), 84, 48.

[24] J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1984), 132-135.

[25] Ibid., 137-139

[26] McQuilkin, Five Views, 185-186.

[27] Warfield, Perfectionism, ix.

[28] Ibid., 52.

[29] Ibid., 52, 53.

[30] Ibid., 355.

[31] Thompson, An Appraisal of Keswick, 14.

[32] Kenneth Prior, The Way of Holiness (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1982), 78-80.

[33] Packer, Keep in Step, 148, 149.

[34] Ibid., 149, 150.

[35] Pearce, An Examination of the Higher Life, 121-123.

[36] Ibid., 125-128.

[37] Thomas Boston, Human Nature in its Fourfold State (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1964), 207-209.

[38] Pearce, An Examination of the Higher Life, 128, 129.

[39] Ibid., 129-131.

[40] J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), xv.

[41] Warfield, Perfectionism, 228-232, 252.

[42] Prior, The Way of Holiness, 69.

[43] Ibid., 68.

[44] Louis Berkhof, “The Covenant of Redemption,” In Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939), 269.


[45] John F. MacArthur Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus (Grand

Rapids: Academie Books, 1988), 187, 188, 25-27.

[46] John F. MacArthur Jr., Faith Works, (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1993), 111-114.

[47] John Flavel, The Fountain of Life (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977 rp.), 182-187.

[48] Packer, Keep in Step, 155-157.

[49] Ibid., 156.

[50] Benjamin B. Warfield, Faith and Life (Carlisle: the Banner of Truth Trust, 1974 rp.), 308-312.

[51] Pearce, An Examination of the Higher Life, 157.

[52] Warfield, Perfectionism, 378, 379.

[53] Pearce, An Examination of the Higher Life, 155-157.

[54] Warfield, Perfectionism, 68-71.

[55] James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1961 rp.), 285.

[56] Boardman, The Higher Life Doctrine, v, vi.

[57] Ibid., 177, 236, 237.

[58] Pearce, An Examination of the Higher Life, 132-134.

[59] Abott, Boardman’s Higher Christian Life, 513.

[60] Packer, Keep in Step, 152.

[61] Warfield, Perfectionism, 246.

[62] Pearce, An Examination of the Higher Life, 157-159.

[63] Warfield, Perfectionism, 346, 347.

[64] Pearce, An Examination of the Higher Life, 161, 162.

[65] Ibid., 163, 164.

[66] Boardman, The Higher Life Doctrine, 5.

[67] Horatius Bonar, God’s Way of Holiness (Pensacola: Mt. Zion Publications, n. d.), 72, 73.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1978), 20, 21.

[70] Prior, The Way of Holiness, 134-137.

[71] Pearce, An Examination, 141.

[72] Warfield, Perfectionism, 464.

Sourse : http://www.frontlinemin.org/higherlife.asp


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