Some Thoughts on Hudson Taylor’s “Spiritual Secret”

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.

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About Danny Slavich

I am a Christian husband, father, pastor, and poet. I lead Pembroke Road Baptist Church a multi-cultural, multi-generational church in urban South Florida.
This entry was posted in Capernwray, Hudson Taylor, Keswick Theology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Some Thoughts on Hudson Taylor’s “Spiritual Secret”

  1. Ben says:

    You see a lot of this in evangelicalism nowadays, I think. I know we sure hear a lot of it at our church … in my opinion, it’s the result of the untenability of monergism. It sure is frustrating, though, when someone tells you, “Everything you do wrong is your fault, but there’s nothing you can do except let God do everything.” I’ve been to the end of this road. You start blaming God for your lack of sanctification. Not good.

  2. Lee says:

    Good stuff, Danny.

    Ben: hmm… not monergism misunderstood or misapplied? Or are you saying Danny is putting a non-monergist stake in the ground here? What he describes here is related to what Owen says in Mortification.

  3. Ben says:

    Well, it could be a misunderstanding or misapplication … or the frustrations and difficulties that led to this misunderstanding could be rooted in a divergence from orthodoxy.

    I’m not saying that Owen (or any monergist) could not espouse a less passive model of sanctification, as Danny describes, but rather that the affirmation of monergism creates problems that could lead to “sanctification confusion”. It seems like the churches that have this problem are generally the ones that are very Calvinistic.

    I don’t know if Danny would consider this post to be a bridge to synergism, but this post sure reminded me a lot of the big reason I’m drawn to it — what seems to be to be a more balanced view of sanctification, sin, justification, etc. It seems like Danny is feeling some of the same things I felt, even if he may not come to the same conclusion.

  4. Danny Slavich says:

    Keswick theology is rooted in Wesleyan/Arminian theology, and, I think, distorts and misapplies important aspects of Reformed theology (such as union with Christ).

    I am not at all a synergist, if by a “synergist” you mean that we contribute to our salvation by our efforts. I believe that we (by “we” I mean “Christians”) are called to obedience, and that God empowers our obedience. We are called to decisions and actions, and God empowers those decisions and actions.

    Monergism means that God alone “energizes” faith and obedience. Synergism means that God-with-us-contributing “energizes” faith and obedience.

    Ben, I think that you have misunderstood Reformed theology, by taking it to a non-biblical position — i.e. that we have no responsibility or freedom. The best Reformed theology holds God as absolutely sovereign and humans as absolutely responsible with no contradiction. But I won’t get into all of that all over again…

  5. Ben says:

    I think you just did.

    And again, I don’t think I misunderstand Reformed theology …

    http://en.wikipedia.org/Calvinism

    “… emphasizing the Christian’s total dependence on the grace of God. In the same way, sanctification in the Calvinist view requires a continual reliance on God to purge the Christian’s depraved heart from the power of sin and to further the Christian’s joy.”

    That sounds exactly the same as your “let God sanctify me” stuff, “Arminian” or not.

  6. Al Perez says:

    All what you brothers are saying resonates with me
    I was very much attracted to the Keswick teaching. It has helped me understand not a “secret” but a different view of sanctification. Is it Wesleyan, Arminian…? Probably in its roots, yet as I dug in the Word, I also found that Calvinism taken as the “Word” led me to swing the pendulum to the other extreme. I am not a genius theologian, I came to realize that indeed the Keswick perspective can lead some to “passivity”. I have seen it in one church I pastored, on the other side we can be led to the extreme of “doism” and not be satisfied & joyful in Christ. Simply reading Philippians 2:12,13 sheds light and complements Gal 2:20.

    I love the doctrines of grace because they are pearls of great value and are found in the word, yet I am not going to belittle my brothers who do not hold to the same views. I am going to love them and maybe listen to them and present my views and pray that the Spirit illumines both our minds with the wonderful and precious truths He has entrusted to us in holy scripture.
    Hebrews 2:11 (ESV) 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers,
    Looking unto Jesus, I am your brother.
    Al

  7. Danny Slavich says:

    Al,

    I hope my post or comments did not come across as belitting. I was trying to present a thoughtful critique of Hudson Taylor’s Keswick theology. I don’t think it is unloving to critique someone’s ideas, especially if those ideas might bring another person harm. I was not trying in any way to “belittle” him as a man. He is and should be a spiritual hero in many ways and as a man of God he is a model for us all. But that does not mean one cannot critique some of his views.

    I do think you bring up a good point on the nature of Christian discussion. We must remember that we are brothers and that we must love and respect each other.

    Thank you for the comment,
    Danny

  8. Jim Swindle says:

    Thank you for your thoughts on the let-go-and-let-God theology. I came across it in Hannah Whitall Smith’s The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life. You’re right that it doesn’t work and that it isn’t biblical, even though some magnificent Christians (like Hudson Taylor) have held to it. My pastor has pointed out the twin dangers of quietism (I do nothing, God does all) and pietism (I do all for God). The reality is that the Father works and we work; the Father enables and we obey; the Father calls us to yet deeper obedience, and we strive to obey.

  9. Danny Slavich says:

    Thanks for you comment Jim. You’re right about the twin dangers. That’s a very helpful way of thinking through this issue. I think that this theology has been unhelpful to the church at large. Biblical balance is the key.

  10. Aaron says:

    You know Torchbearers denies vehemently that they teach the theology that you describe. I agree with you, but I find it very curious that they so desperately want to distance themselves from that teaching publicly, yet teach it so dogmatically in their classrooms.

  11. Aaron says:

    I went to Ravencrest – and they have labeled me a liar for telling people that they teach keswick or Higher Life theology.

  12. Danny Slavich says:

    That’s interesting Aaron. When I went to CHBC I didn’t have a category for Keswick theology, so I can’t say if that particular institution would deny it. It’s too bad if do/would, because their teaching clearly falls in that line.

  13. Aaron says:

    Yes, they have denied it, and I believe they still do. I posted a topic stating that they are Keswick on their forum with all the clearly Keswick quotes from Ian’s books, as well as quotes from several theologians who also identify Torchbearers and Ian Thomas as Keswicks. They got upset, said they are not Keswicks and deleted the topic.

    Anyway, they are so strictly Keswick that by omitting that fact to current and potential students they are lying no matter which way you cut it. It leads to a real elitist and smug Christianity, and it is unfortunate to see them lead so many believers in that direction. Being an ordinary Christian is an extraordinary thing, and seeking after some spiritual secret to achieve a “higher-life” spirituality is a degrading of true spirituality, a lowering of God’s standards which never leads to anything good. Every group in the history of the church who has claimed to found the secret to a higher spirituality, from the gnostics to the modern day emergents, has never accomplished anything but a perversion of the normal Christian life. It is disheartening that after 2000 years of church history proving this fact, we still chase after every fad that sweeps through the church promising an easy step-up into super-spirituality.

    • Bob says:

      Guys, I just stumbled across this discussion. I’ve read, “Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret”, Andrew Murray’s “Abide”, And Steve McVey’s “Grace Walk” among other books. I don’t know if these would all qualify as Keswick since I don’t know what Keswick(ian) theology is, but they all seem to have a similar message. I don’t sense though, that they’re saying that a Christian should be passive. Hudson Taylor didn’t become passive after he discovered his “secret” (in fact, it wasn’t a secret at all. I don’t have the book in front of me, but he wrote something to the effect that it wasn’t something “new” and yet it was new to him. It was from the Word.) But his ministry continued afterward, but it continued with a fuller expression of the fruit of the Spirit, joy, peace, and rest being clearly evident. But surely Taylor continued to work at walking in a manner worthy of the calling, and continued in his striving against sin.

      Don’t we all as Christians experience the Word being opened to us in ways that we didn’t “see” before? In that sense, we are discovering the “secrets” of God, through the work of His Holy Spirit in us. Without revelation from Him as we read and study we would be as lost as we can be. I’ve been a Christian for 33 years and still, the Word is so often “new”. I believe this is what Taylor experienced. And isn’t that what Paul implies in Ephesians 1:16-21 will eventually be our experience? He prayed for it anyway.

      I interpret his experience as being not so much about what Taylor DID as much as HOW he did it. It was really more about a renewed mind, which is how we are to be transformed (Romans 12:2)

      There are so many subtle differences in how we can go about living the Christian life and there are many different results. Surely you all, as Christians, have struggled with sin, and lost that struggle repeatedly, haven’t you? Do you experience the love of Jesus for your brothers and sisters in Christ? In 33 years as a Christian, I am sorely dissatisfied with the love and compassion that’s in my life toward others. I long for the love of Christ to be manifest in me and through me. That is what Hudson Taylor longed for. He strove and struggled with it for years. He read the bible and prayed for hours a day. He gave up his life for the spread of the gospel…and yet, after all that, he felt that his character was not progressing. He was still as tempted as ever. He still felt all of the same impatience that he always felt. He was rightly not satisfied. I believe the striving that he went through was all part of God’s work in his life. It was necessary. 1Pet. 5:10 may have some application here. But isn’t what he “discovered” just what the Word of God teaches?

      It seems to me that many passages speak of what Taylor found to be true. In Jn 15, Jesus tells us to abide. What is the full expression of that abiding? The result is that His joy will be in us and that joy will be full. Is your joy full? Mine isn’t. Taylor certainly seemed to have found a fuller joy after his discovery.

      Maybe we experience Rom 7 so that we can then experience Rom 8. The fact that we are unable to have the same result that we read Taylor had doesn’t discount the truth of it.

      The person who started this discussion above said,

      “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 I passively let Christ reign in my life?’

      I never figured it out. Because it is impossible to not do anything. ”

      The fact that you never figured it out convinces you that it isn’t valid? I don’t think that’s supposed to be the criteria by which we evaluate things. What does the Word say? Evaluate it according to that.

      In Eph 3:14-21 Paul says that he prays for CHRISTIANS that God would grant them, according to the riches of His kindness, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith; and that they, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to COMPREHEND with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which SURPASSES knowledge, that they may be filled up to all the fullness of God…

      Doesn’t that imply that the Christian may LACK these things that Paul was praying for them (and us)?

      We are to keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Why? Because we have died, and our life is hidden with Christ in God. There’s a lot about reckoning that I think we all need to learn. I want to keep striving for the mindset that Christ wants me to have. I believe that is what Hudson Taylor did.

  14. I once heard Charles Price (then at Capernwray, I think) speaking on some related topic at Christian Booksellers Convention in Doncaster. Although I don’t remember what he said, I do remember I couldn’t really tell what his teaching meant in real life.

    I’m guessing this blog post would suggest that it wasn’t just me!

    • Brian Handy says:

      I find this an interesting conversation. I hold to the doctrines of grace and Hudson Taylor is one of my heroes of the faith. I have read “The Exchanged Life” by Hudson Taylor many times over the years and at times found it confusing. I also used to agree with the position taken by those who hold to the teachings of the Keswick Convention (prior to embracing the doctrines of grace). Those who hold to the teachings of Keswick believe in a second work of grace after a crisis of faith. It is somewhat like, although somewhat different than the Wesleyan view of sanctification.
      I am still not convinced having read what Taylor wrote, that he held to the teaching of the Keswick Convention. He spoke at the Keswick Convention on three occasions and also spoke at the Niagra Convention which doesn’t hold to Keswick view of sanctification.
      Philippians 2:12b-13 Working out your own salvation with fear and trembling because it is God who is at work in you both to will and to do his good pleasure.
      Considering these scriptures, it seems to indicate that our salvation is progressive; a position I now hold to. However, that does not mean that there aren’t times in a Christians life when there are growth spurts in Christ-like character; a unusual advancement in holiness. It just means that we will struggle with the propensity to sin, weak as we are in and of ourselves until we are glorified.
      It seems to me that Taylors striving prior to this experience was imbalanced and that he had an aha moment when he realized that Christ is our sanctification. It was not necessarily let go and let God, but by resting in faithfulness of Christ in His finished work (which doesn’t preclude obedience, walking in a manner worthy of our Lord Jesus and striving to enter that rest.
      Just my thoughts or two cents worth.

  15. ken says:

    An interesting blog. I would be very surprised if Hudson Taylor’s “secret” or teaching on the exchanged life was in any way rooted in Arminian theology. Arminian doctrine is man-focused with the emphasis on our responsibility to stay saved by keeping up with appropriate behaviour. What Hudson Taylor discovered, it seems to me, was a Christ-focused approach to his Christian walk. As I understand it, the Hebrew meaning of the word ‘rest’ is to transfer weight from one place to another. That’s how I interpret Hudson Taylor’s experience. He transferred the responsibility for producing fruit from himself back to the Vine…He who began this good work would complete it. I don’t equate this with passivity, and judging from Taylor’s own testimony and that of other’s, it seemed to have made an incredible difference to both his personal life and ministry.

  16. Dave Emme says:

    Hi,

    Having not read all the comments or ever heard what you are speaking of, I learned this a few years ago and was baffled on the same thngs. I prayed to God and a few years later to my demise physically the Lord taught. I will be looking at what you are speaking of but would also like to share. If I seem obtrusive-let me know-am not trying to do anything but share what I have learned and so you can see a bit where I am headed-why do we never define the sin naturte according to Genesis 3?

    Quite often we do not define sin in the knowledge of good and evil, yet when they ate the fruit their eyes were opened and saw they were naked, tried rectifying it. All this ha to ndo with quite a bit of what I learned and took several years.

    So you know I was in the Army in 2004 and was wounded in an IED and am now retired so you understand a bit by what I mean by my demise. Of course, nI now rejoice and have joy for what God put me through for nonly then could I learn(to be nphysically humbled and see how frail we are)

  17. Jim Swindle says:

    Dave Emme, I’m not sure of all of what you mean, but I’m sorry for what you’ve had to go through. I do understand your joy in growing in the Lord through the injury. I pray that you will continue growing in him.

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  19. James Moriarty says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading through this blog. Thank you for hosting it. I’ve been a Christian since 1972 and have seen a lot of “wind of doctrine” and even been swept up by some it over the years. I know this for sure, The Father’s ways are not our ways and many times they are opposites. For instance, we give lessons and then a test, he gives tests and then the lessons. I think some us walk around with a sense of Deja vu so much of the time because the Father is faithful to us and that sometimes involves administering the same tests over and over.

    I think we should “strive” to extend grace on these matters. We’re each running our own race, in our own lane and each lane has it’s own finish line and reward ceremony. If you look hard enough you can find something sketchy about anyones theology especially with the internet. None of us has it all figured out. We all profess that He is both the author and perfecter of our faith and that He’s at work in us to both WILL and WORK.

    My experience as a christian has not completely lined up on every point with the writings of CS Lewis, AW Tozer, Watchman Nee, Hudson Taylor, Ian Thomas or Steve Mcvey. All of them VERY productive believers, but I’m beginning to get the revelation of Christ as the source of my life (Colossians 3:4)… that is, the energy source for my thoughts, choices and actions; the one who animates ME; my soul & body and the paradox we have as Christians when told to rest yet strive.

    I say “I’ve begun to get the revelation” because that’s exactly what it is, a progressive revelation. Suddenly, a scripture verse I’ve read a hundred times takes my breath away and then I notice it everywhere like when you get a new car and suddenly you see it everywhere.

    The matters of the spirit are spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14) and it’s the work of the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus to us through the word of God. It’s stunning to me that He prepared good works for me that I should walk in them and then he is the one that “energizes” me to walk them out and then at the Judgement seat he rewards me.

    Isn’t He wonderful!

  20. Joann Longton says:

    All I want to say is –I’ll take the productive lives of Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, Andrew Murray, Ian Thomas and all the other ‘wrong’ Keswick/Christians any day over that of all the more recent so called doctrinally ‘correct’ Christians through whom NO one has found Christ! I mean REALLY–who ever even heard of the likes of Danny Slavich, Al Perez, Jim Swindle etc…. When you walk with Christ as they did, and win souls to Him as they did, then I’ll believe your theology means a hill of bewans to Jesus. Afterall, wasn’t it the Pharisees who supposedly also had all the answers, yet never lifted a finger to remove a burden?

  21. Jim Swindle says:

    Joann Longton, you’re right that there were some excellent Christians who held to Keswick theology. There have been excellent Christians who were Pentecostal, anti-Pentecostal, Calvinist, anti-Calvinist, and so on. That doesn’t prove that all of them are right. It proves that the Lord is merciful. I don’t pretend to be as great a Christian as Hudson Taylor. Still, I must try to separate the good from the not-so-good in every human life-story except that of Jesus. I may or may not be a Pharisee at any given moment, but the mere act of trying to figure out sound theology doesn’t necessarily make me a Pharisee.

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  23. Heshimu says:

    Laboring to enter rest is afflicting your soul and doing no work, as on the Day of Atonement. It is taking what God gives and believing; it bows, seeks, and serves from possession. It is nearness experienced and identity in Christ; it is power from believing. Mark the life and the doctrine: Elect unto salvation by the Sanctification of the Spirit.

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