Academic journal article Baptist History and Heritage

F. B. Meyer: Baptist Ambassador for Keswick Holiness Spirituality: F. B. Meyer (1847-1929) Was One of the Most Prominent English Baptist Minister of His Period

Academic journal article Baptist History and Heritage

F. B. Meyer: Baptist Ambassador for Keswick Holiness Spirituality: F. B. Meyer (1847-1929) Was One of the Most Prominent English Baptist Minister of His Period

Article excerpt

He came from a wealthy and urbane background, which was unusual for Baptist leaders in England in the nineteenth century, and linked with this background was a broad outlook-that meant he took a great interest in new movements within the church. Among these were movements for social reform and for deeper spirituality. It is the second movement that is the focus of this article. From its beginnings in the 1870s, a British holiness movement steadily grew until by the end of the nineteenth century it was exercising a worldwide influence on the spirituality of evangelicalism. "Meyer became a leader and pioneer in this enterprise through his involvement with the annual Keswick Convention, held from 1875 up to the present time in the town of that name in the beautiful English Lake District. (1) Keswick incorporated a variety of ingredients with which Meyer identified, including the search for a deeper experience of God, the desire for pandenominational spirituality, the call to wide-ranging missionary endeavor, and a theology in tune with the Romantic ethos of the time. Meyer's contribution lay in his portrayal of the practical nature of the Keswick experience, his place as the main Nonconformist within the predominantly Anglican Keswick leadership, his prodigious travels as an advocate of the Keswick message, and his concept of an inclusive spirituality. The Keswick holiness movement provided Meyer with a vehicle through which he attempted to mold the spirituality of international evangelicalism.

The Influence of Holiness Spirituality

In 1874 and 1875, Meyer attended conferences on the subject of the spiritual life that were to prove decisive for British evangelical life. The first was a rather select gathering held at Broadlands, the estate of the future Lord and Lady MountTemple. About one hundred invited people--including, for instance, the author George MacDonald--met for six days in July 1874. (2)

The second event, from August 29 to September 6, was a conference at Oxford "for the promotion of Scriptural holiness," which attracted 1,500 people. (3) Two of the major speakers were an American couple with Quaker roots, Robert and Hannah Pearsall Smith. Because of her powerful messages, the latter was dubbed "The Angel of the Churches." (4)

The thrust of the message at Oxford was that sanctification, like justification, was a blessing obtainable by simple faith. This theme, which contrasted with the evangelical view that holiness was achieved by active effort, was eagerly received by evangelicals struggling with a sense of failure.

Meyer vividly recalled his response at Broadlands and in Oxford. (5) He was especially struck by Pearsall Smith's addresses. (6) Against this background, Meyer was enthusiastic to savor the Brighton Convention, held from May 29 to June 7, 1875. Here, the crowds, which filled the Dome, the Pavilion, and the Town Hall, were estimated at between 7,000 and 8,000. (7) Controversy was about to break out over whether or not sinless perfection was being taught by the holiness leaders, and Meyer was unable to accept some of the statements made at Brighton. His uncertainty probably made him reluctant to attend the initial Keswick Convention. He was not alone. The summer of 1875 saw only 300-400 gathering at Keswick, although by the early-twentieth century the numbers attending were over 5,000.

Following his attendance at the Brighton Convention, Meyer threw himself into busy pastoral ministry in his church in Leicester and, as he saw it in retrospect, "dissipated the inner life," living, he commented contemptuously, "to increase my influence, to make money, to draw audiences, and to do philanthropic work."

Such a statement is colored by the perspective of a wholehearted convert to holiness teaching and is almost entirely lacking in objectivity. The fact is that Meyer was a dedicated Baptist pastor and evangelist. It is likely that in the years following 1875, he deliberately chose to make evangelism, rather than inner spirituality, his priority. …

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