I am finishing Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret for my January missiology course.
Here are some quotes from my reading yesterday, which come from a letter Hudson wrote to his sister in 1869:
When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter from dear McCarthy was used to remove scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed to me the truth of our oneness with Jesus: “But how to get strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting in the Faithful One.” As I read it, I saw it all! “If we believe not, he abideth faithful.” I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh joy flowed!) that He had said, “I will never leave thee.” “Ah, there is rest!” I thought. “I have striven in vain to rest in him. I’ll strive no more…” (180).
I was talking to my friend Massimo the other day about this book, and he mentioned something of this element of Hudson’s theology. I had not read far enough yet, but I was on the look-out after our conversation. And, as you can see, there it is. Maybe you do not see the problem with what Hudson says above. It is a teaching of the Higher Life/Keswick theology movement. (I’m not going to get into a long background, but you can read about the roots of the kind of theology Hudson promotes here).
What’s wrong with Hudson’s spiritual secret? Well, it’s unbiblical and impractical.
I know from experience. I went to a school that had such roots called Capernwray Harbour. Capernwray is a part of the Torchbearers International, which was founded by Major Ian Thomas. Major Thomas wrote a book called The Saving Life of Christ, which is founded on the same type of idea that Hudson talks about. I read it at Capernwray. Now, I had a great time at Capernwray. I learned a lot. It is a school and organization that loves Jesus and loves his Word. They teach it expositionally. Though I disagree with some important points of their theology, I believe God is using the school in the lives of many people, mostly for good.
However, their theology of sanctification is flawed, just like Hudson Taylor’s.
First, it is impractical. I have tried to live my life like they talk about. It sounds good in theory — letting Christ live through me. But I wrestled with this at Capernwray.
“What does this kind of holiness look like?”
“How can I let go and let Christ live his life through me?”
“What is my part?”
“How do passively let Christ reign in my life?”
I never figured it out. Because it is impossible to not do anything. You cannot put feet on a theology that has no legs.
This type of theology gets it partly right: Christ does live in us. But we are not merely passive human flesh suits which the Spirit of Christ wears around like a costume. We are people. God has imbued us with true responsibility; and he has called us to do something. Yes we are to strive in Christ’s power. We are to rely upon him. But that does not make us passive. Instead it enables our activity.
Second of all, Hudson’s/Capernwray/Keswick theology is unbiblical. As the quote above shows, this theology appropriates the doctrine of union with Christ as seen in the New Testament. But it misses the point and mis-appropriates the doctrine because union with Christ throughout the New Testament is an impetus to strive after holiness. New Testament holiness is not passive holiness. Paul says in Philippians 2 to “work out your own salvation.” He talks to Timothy of “fighting the good fight.” In fact, look at Galatians 2:20, one of the favorite verses of this movement:
I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me; the life that I now life in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me.
Now, at first blush, it might seem like Paul supports the whole passive notion of “life in Christ.” He says, “I no longer live,” doesn’t he? But what does this mean? He defines it further: “the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith.” So, whatever “I no longer live” means, it cannot mean that we do nothing or that we ourselves do not actually live. Because Paul in the next clause says he (Paul) lives. The difference is that he lives “by faith”. Being crucified and risen with Christ does not mean that Paul ceases to work out his salvation or fight the good fight. It means that he actually can do these things.
The Christian life is an empowered life, not a passive life. We do not live an impotent life of failure. We live by faith in the Son of God, whose life and death and resurrection and intercession are ours. But we live, looking to him.
Similarly, consider Hudson’s verdict: “I have striven in vain to rest in him. I’ll strive no more.” Scripture contradicts this idea:
A Sabbath rest remains therefore for God’s people. For the person who has entered his rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His. Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience (Hebrews 4:9-11).
That says it clearly. Entering God’s rest is somehow connected to “making effort.”
Overall this teaching on passive sanctification hurts the church and prevents her members from truly seeking holiness. I have been there, trying not to try — to “let Christ live through me” as the saying goes. Even while at Capernwray I would come to sections of the New Testament (like those above) where I began to see that the Christian life does require effort. It is an empowered effort. A dependent effort. A God-glorifying effort, but true effort all the same. We trust in Christ alone. We are not saved by our effort. It does not, however, mean that we do not strive simply because our striving does not provide us righteousness before God. We must not cut a false dichotomy — salvation by faith in Christ alone does not remove our responsibility. It gives us the ability to obey.