Miles J. Stanford
PURPOSE — It is our intention to share the scriptural basis for a more personal and intimate fellowship with God our Father through the Lord Jesus Christ. Although built upon the birth truths, it is by means of the identification truths, the growth truths, that this communion is developed and established. This web page outlining identification history is important as preparation for our realizing a more personalized position.
BIRTH’S LIMITATIONS — Every born-again believer can certainly thank God for Martin Luther (1483-1546), the obscure monk who He laid His hand on nearly 500 years ago. It was through brother Martin that our Father brought to light again the life-giving truth of justification by faith. "As it is written, the just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17).
The world, the church, and the devil have never been the same since God restored the truth of substitution through the faithful Luther. However, foundational as the birth truths are, they are not the intended means of spiritual growth.
BIRTH SANS GROWTH — The Lutheran Church is an example of this: little birth truth and no growth truth, resulting in legalism, lack of assurance and eternal security, and even a charismatic element as well as liberalism. In general, the Reformation-oriented Reformed Churches, with birth truth but little or no growth truth, also reflect this imbalance in their unscriptural application of "the law as the rule of life" for the believer.
J.B. Stoney went to the heart of the matter:
"In the Reformation there was, through grace, a great deliverance. The ground-work of Christianity was recovered; namely, justification by faith. But though this was recovered, it was not maintained that the old man was crucified on the Cross, and hence they only refused the exaction of popery, but considered the flesh as still before God. Refusing the exaction was right; but the retention of that on which the exaction could be made, the old man, was and is the weakness of the Reformation."
Wm. R. Newell wrote:
"Almost all the theology of the various ‘creeds of Christendom’ date back to the Reformation, which went triumphantly to the end of Romans Five, and, so far as theological development or presentation of truth was concerned, stopped there. Consequently, you must not regard yourself as bound to accept all that legal doctrine of sanctification, which has been, and still is predominantly, the sine qua non [an essential element or condition] of orthodox belief."
IDENTIFICATION’S INTRODUCTION — It was 350 years after the truths of substitution and new birth were reaffirmed that God restored the truths of identification and growth. Foundational and far-reaching as the Reformation was, it proved to be but the groundwork for the vast array of growth and related truths that God made available through another unknown, one John Nelson Darby (1800-1882).
Two years after his ordination, Darby resigned his curacy in the liberal Irish Anglican Church as a result of spiritual conviction. He knew better than to try to reform the church, and instead set out to make all things new–"New Testament." Listed below are some of the vital doctrines that have been formulated and/or clarified by Darby.
GROWTH AND RELATED TRUTHS — Our fullassurance of salvation; our complete acceptance by the Father in His beloved Son; the Church as the Body of Christ; the absolute distinction betweenIsrael and the Church, and therefore between law and grace; the basic dispensations in the Word; the pre-tribulational. pre-millennial Rapture of the Church; much light on prophecy; our identification with the Lord Jesus in His death unto sin, His burial, resurrection and ascension; our deliverance from the reign of sin and the old man via Romans Six; our freedom from the principle of law, via Romans Seven; our positionin the Lord Jesus at the Father’s right hand; and God’s purpose to conform us to the image of His Son.
DARBY’S EXCLUSIVE PLYMOUTH BRETHREN MOVEMENT — Edifying as this tremendous range of truth has been to us, we are nevertheless faced with one questionable aspect of Darby’s ministry: the assembly movement known as the Exclusive Plymouth Brethren.
Without going into the details already shared in our Tri-S-III paper, we recall that this movement enjoyed a brief golden era from 1830-1845. It then began to fragment and decline mainly due to the over-emphasized doctrine of exclusive assemblyism, and friction among themselves in the vain effort to enforce and maintain that doctrine. Today the Exclusive element of the movement is all but extinct as it slowly excludes itself out of existence.
IDENTIFICATION: FROM ASSEMBLY TO CONFERENCE — During the past century and more both streams of the Plymouth Brethren movement, the Inclusive, or Open (Mullerites), and the Exclusive, or Closed (Darbyites), have passed the growth truths in their writings. However, in an effort to maintain their mode of gathering they have given insufficient time and attention to that "better part". It has been a matter of overemphasis on the Body, causing a neglect of the Head. For the Brethren, both Open and Closed, gathering has taken precedence over growth. Their theory is, gather right in order to grow right whereas the Scripture insists upon growing right in order to gather right.
SHARE OR SHRIVEL! — Herein lies a lesson for each of us, indeed a principle. The Brethren have all but lost the benefit of that which they have kept to themselves. For the majority of Exclusive assemblies, this has been all but fatal. For the Open Brethren there is ostensibly a new interest in the identification truths as they observe the rich benefits reaped by those outside their confines. Let the prodigal become hungry enough and he will arise and return to the father and his food!
While the growth truths remained practically dormant among the Brethren, God sowed them on other, more fallow ground–that of Bible conference–and thereby caused these truths to blossom and become fruitful throughout the world.
For an inside view and candid explanation of the Plymouth Brethren movement, see H.A. Ironside’s A Historical Sketch of the Brethren Movement.
KESWICK’S RISE AND DECLINE
KESWICK’S CHARACTERISTICS — It was over one hundred years ago (1875) that God raised up the Keswick Convention in Keswick England, and through that channel began to spread the identification truths beyond the limits of the Brethren assemblies.
Although the vast majority of Christians were not ready (it is ever so) for the "Keswick message," thousands of hungry-hearted believers have been brought into spiritual growth by means of these venerable "deeper life" summer conferences. In the midst of its fruitfulness, however, Keswick (the "w" is silent) has suffered from two debilitating weaknesses–one chronic, the other progressive.
CHRONIC — From the outset Keswick’s method of an annual week of concentrated teaching of the identification truths has confounded many inadequately prepared believers. Too much too soon. Their consequent seeking to reckon upon that which is insufficiently understood has been a cause of much personal failure and disillusionment.
PROGRESSIVE — Although in the early years Keswick maintained a high-quality speaker level in the presentation of the growth truths, it was inevitable that time would eventuate in a platform breakdown. The key to identification and growth–the Cross for the old man–has been all but bypassed as otherwise fine but unqualified-for-growth speakers have been given access to the Keswick podium.
It is only natural that the trends of England’s Keswick, the mother of them all, are reflected and magnified in similar conferences elsewhere. There is too great a demand upon the inadequate supply of speakers who know the message of identification. This problem has been compounded by the fact that many of those who do know the growth truths fail to understand how to share them. It is all too often a matter of pressure-presentation to poorly prepared hearts.
CENTENNIAL CASUALTY — The English Keswick Convention celebrated its Centennial in the summer of 1975, with some fifteen to twenty thousand in attendance by the end of the week. As an example of what the movement has come to, we find one hundred years of identification truth ministry climaxed by a program featuring a Covenant theologian (Stott) presenting the law as the rule of life for the believer, and an evangelist (Graham) preaching Gospel messages! Sigh.
EARLY AMERICAN CONFERENCES — Keswick’s identification message was introduced in America shortly after the Convention’s 1875 inception in England. For nearly fifty years, until about 1925, the ground was being prepared by the "Victorious Life Testimony" summer conferences. These were held annually in such conference centers as Cedar Lake (Indiana), Northfield (Massachusetts), Stony Brook (New York), and the now permanently established "America’s Keswick" in New Jersey. The latter has been active for nearly seventy-five years.
EARLY CONFERENCE SPEAKERS — There were a number of outstanding "deeper life speakers who manned these conferences, some of the better known being L.L. Legters, Griffith Thomas, Charles Trumbull, and Gordon Watt. These men were writers as well, and their books (some of which are still in print) have effectively ministered to many.
Although most of the conference speakers were pastors who had awakened to the identification truths, the American church remained skeptical of the "deeper life" message and considered it extreme, if not actual error–and this is still the case. The message of the Cross is never popular, and the believer must be prepared of the Spirit before the identification truths are either desired or understood.
AMERICA’S NEED — There would have been no need for the Keswick Conferences to exist if the doctrinally sound churches had provided adequate food for spiritual growth. At best their set pattern has been evangelism for the lost, and "revivalism" for the saved.
American Christians have been subjected to a deadly routine of annual (if not semi-annual) "revival" meetings for the past 100 years or more. All the up-and-downism, the frustration and failure, have resulted in just one beneficial thing. The constant repetition of futility and spiritual vacuity has generated such a need and heart-hunger for reality and maturity that it has prepared vast numbers for the growth truths. Enter Keswick!
ASCENSION & DECLENSION OF AMERICAN KESWICKS — After the "Victorious Life" conferences faded in the early 1920’s, having prepared the ground well, it was not until the early 1950’s that Keswick Conferences began to flourish in many parts of the United States. Their tremendous ministry during the ensuing 25 years has filled the need of a great many on-going believers.
A few of the foreign speakers of that era (’50’s and ’60’s) were George Duncan and Ian Thomas of England, Harold Wildish of Jamaica, and L.E. Maxwell of Canada. Others, who pastored churches or led schools in this country, were Alan Redpath, Stephen Olford, George Mundell, William Culbertson, and Allan Fleece.
The later ’70’s would seem to presage the decline, if not the actual demise, of the overall Keswick Conference effectiveness. This is mainly due to the lack of qualified speakers, and the loss of the Cross in the message. Some of the conferences continue, but as to spiritual content and Cross-centered ministry of the identification truths for spiritual growth, they are a far cry from the former days. Nevertheless, by the grace of God the purpose of the Keswick movement has been well served with incalculable spiritual benefit to Christian lives worldwide.
KESWICK-TYPE IDENTIFICATION LITERATURE — Even as the American Keswick movement came into its own in the 1950’s and started to peak in the 1960’s, certain literature began to supplement the spoken message of identification. Evan Hopkins’ The Law of Liberty in the Spiritual Life, long regarded as English Keswick’s "textbook" became available here in the States. About the same time Maxwell’s Born Crucified and Huegel’s Bone of His Bone were introduced in this country. In 1960 Watchman Nee’s The Normal Christian Life was translated into English and released here.
These key writings on identification had, and still have, a tremendous influence on the many awakened believers in the States. This spate of books was the vanguard of what was to all but replace the faltering conference voice.
BRETHREN IDENTIFICATION LITERATURE — These books also gave birth to a widespread demand for literature that had been more or less in limbo for 100 years–the original Exclusive Brethren writings of Darby and his literary lieutenants mentioned earlier. Herein God had His replacement ready long before He instituted the conference ministry.
During recent years a half-dozen Plymouth Brethren publishers in this country have released scores of titles from the early Brethren writers. This stream has been swelled by the writings of a number of other authors of the past and present, all directly or indirectly drawing from the identical source: John Nelson Darby. Read any of the twenty-five foremost deeper life writers in print today, and you are reading "J.N.D."
Hence we have had the identification truths spreading, to a greater extent than ever, chiefly through books. Study groups in homes and churches, as well as individuals, are using textbooks and cassette tapes to share the growth truths with hungry hearts. And now the World Wide Web!