Updated: Oct 31, 2022
The late Roy Hession (1908–1992) was a British evangelist and author whose beliefs almost entirely consisted of Keswick “theology” (false “holiness,” second blessing theology, higher life, deeper life, crucified life, victorious life, etc) which is unBiblical and heretical. His beliefs concerning soteriology were heretical as well, largely bent toward Arminianism, that of the losing salvation heresy, which is a false gospel.
The Calvary Road which was first published in 1950 and apparently has sold a million copies, and in recent years seen a resurgence of interest, is largely based upon heretical Keswick teachings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and has misled millions of people unto utter destruction. In the book, Hession expresses his beliefs in a “deeper experience of the Lord Jesus” and of the “victorious life,” but in so doing he exposes his heretical nature.
The late missionary, Dr. Gerald Johnson, related the following account to Dr. Dayton Hobbs, concerning what took place in Japan and Southeast Asia in the early 1950’s with the arrival of this book The Calvary Road and its theology or Hessionism. A brief history is in order first though. With the release of Hession’s book in 1950, copies made their way to Far Eastern Asia where missionaries began to digest the book. After a few months, several missionaries were teaching the book to their people and special prayer meetings were initiated for the purpose of “emptying self of all known sin,” a key principle in Hession’s book. Several missionaries went into bouts of depression because of failure to receive the “victorious life.” There was confusion and divisions that arose as some claimed to have received “the second blessing” while others had not yet reached the plateau. Hession taught that the Christian was capable of eradicating all known sin through confession and repentance. In other words, it was possible to reach a certain measure of spiritual perfection, a level very close to the eradication of the sin nature. He believed that the Christian must constantly empty himself of self and all known sin before he could be filled with the Spirit, or be led of the Spirit to be victorious. Still further, Hession taught that a Christian could lose his salvation and in order to be saved again, must reapply the blood of Christ, to once again be restored to faith in Jesus Christ. In 1952, Dr. Bob Jones Sr received word of what was happening on the mission fields of Japan and Southeast Asia with this wave of “second blessing theology” and he traveled to East Asia to meet with the Bob Jones graduates who were serving as missionaries there. As a former Methodist, Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. understood this second blessing doctrine well and was greatly opposed to it. When he arrived he told the missionaries that what they were teaching and practicing from Roy Hession’s book amounted to heresy. He warned those who had been ordained through Gospel Fellowship Association that if they continued with the heresy of Hession they would be removed from the association. Because of his contending for the faith, the heresy that had spread among the missionaries was extinguished.
Let us consider some of the false teachings found within the pages of this short book.
1. False teachings on “victorious” living and sin.
A key principle taught throughout Hession’s book is emptying self of all known sin. This would lead to living the “victorious life” according to Hession and would be identified with the filling of their lives with the Holy Spirit. He believed that the Christian must constantly empty himself of self and all known sin before he could be filled with the Spirit to be victorious. Hession taught that the Christian was capable of eradicating all known sin through confession and repentance and then essentially living a sinless life. In other words, it was possible to reach a certain measure of spiritual perfection, a level very close to the eradication of the sin nature. This is completely false and contrary to Scripture. But his theology was not original, for Pelagius, Arminius, John Wesley, the Keswick movement, the Salvation Army and Pentecostalism have all believed and taught this false doctrine.
The truth of the matter is; because he didn’t understand true salvation or the concept of true freedom in Christ and what was done at the cross, he, like all other Keswick theologians and followers, aimlessly pursue after something that is impossible in the Christian life, and furthermore, pursue after that which is received at salvation: freedom from sins dominion, power, and bondage (Rom 6:1-23; 8:12-15). That is why Hession and all other Keswick “theologians” divide freedom from sin into two categories: freedom from penalty of sin received at salvation and freedom from power of sin received sometime during the Christian life, when they have experienced some kind of crisis moment and the Holy Spirit is poured out upon them (proof-texting Acts 2) and Jesus becomes their Lord and they become disciples of Christ and enter a second rest, etc. A further error that compounds the issue is vast amount of Scripture wrested to fit the corrupted beliefs.
2. False teachings on the Holy Spirit.
Introduction by Norman P. Grubb:
“For long I had regarded revival only from the angle of some longed for, but very rare, sudden outpouring of the Spirit on a company of people. I felt that there was a missing link somewhere.” (p. 2)
The Holy Spirit is received at salvation, not after (Eph 1:13-14). You get as much of the Holy Spirit of God in the new birth as you will ever receive. And the Holy Spirit does not “outpour” like He did in Acts 2. That happened but once in Acts 2 and for a specific purpose.
The Spirit of God does not come in pieces and in parts. Being “filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18) simply means submitting and yielding to the Spirit of God (by obedience to the Word of God), Who was given at the new birth, for Him to have greater control of you in every part of your being (Rom 8:12-15). This heresy of Hession and by extension, Keswick “theology,” leads to unprofitable fleshly introspection, externalism with religion (perfection of conduct – changed exterior with a corrupt interior), and false claims of reaching a higher plane of spiritual life. What it in reality reveals is a people that are very likely unsaved, attempting to imitate what happens at conversion but they have never actually experienced personally. It produces outward conformity, something I have witnessed way to many times. Many will turn back to the mire and vomit they once (allegedly) had left (2 Pet 2:22), into the depths of iniquity and sin.
3. False teachings on the blood of Christ.
Roy Hession writes in the preface to the 1973 edition, that through revival believers are coming to experience,
“the power of the blood of Jesus to cleanse fully from sin . . .”
Hession, like his “holiness” and Keswick colleagues, have been teaching that the blood of Christ only covers sin insofar as the believer confesses all known sin. The implication is that any un-confessed sin is not covered by the blood sacrifice. The further implication was made that unconfessed sin caused the loss of salvation, which is heresy and a false gospel (1 Jn 5:9-13), turning God into a liar and further revealing of his unsaved estate.
Hession wrote that through revival,
“believers are coming to experience . . . the blood of the Lamb . . . to cleanse us from all sin.”
Hession had an infatuation with the blood of Christ that went beyond the bounds of Scripture.
Hession misunderstood the disposition in the Blood (pp. 29-30). The blood of Christ is indeed the foundational truth of the forgiveness of sin provided by Christ; however, Eph 5:25-27 is very clear that sanctification is carried forth in the believer’s life through the washing of the water by the Word. The daily cleansing of sin in the believer’s life is handled through the washing of the Word of God by walking in the Light (a synonym for the Word of God—walking in the light means to walk in the obedience of God’s Word) and confession of sin (1 Jn 1:7-9).
His misunderstanding of the disposition in the Blood implies several things: (a) it implies that the blood of Christ only covers sin insofar as the believer confesses all known sin; (b) it implies that any unconfessed sin is not covered by Jesus’ blood sacrifice and therefore must be exposed and identified; (c) it implies that “revival” is an experience equal to a second work of grace beyond initial salvation as the believer comes to experience the power of the blood to reach us in cleansing power (p. 31). In other words, the blood is limited in its efficacious work for it can only reach us as individuals who confess every known or unknown sin and have the Spirit poured upon them.
Additionally, in his preface to the 1973 edition, Hession references Ps 102:13 and Neh 2:13 in relation to revival and his vision for “the Church.” These verses obviously pertain to Israel, and unsaved Israel at that, yet Hession applies them to “the Church.” (There is no such thing as singular “church” as in a Universal church; all church references in Scripture are to local autonomous bodies — and all people in “the church” are supposed to be saved, which is how they are in “the church”). “Revival” in Scripture always refers to a need of unsaved people. The word itself is found nowhere in the NT but the Greek word is found however, once, underlying the word “refreshing” in Ac 3:19, a passage that refers to salvation: “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;” In other words, revival or “refreshing” occurs when a man truly repents and is converted.
4. False teachings on the gospel.
Hession believed that a Christian could lose their salvation, and then in order to be saved again he must “reapply the blood of Christ” to once again be restored to faith in Jesus Christ. This is not only error, it’s a false gospel. See here: Losing Salvation is a False Gospel Propagated by False Teachers.
This point alone reveals Hession to be a heretic and false teacher.
5. Written from a humanistic position and not scriptural.
Very scant scripture references. Very little Scripture is used by Hession to back up his beliefs and of course there is a reason for that: false teachings have no Biblical support, only Scripture twisted out of their meaning and privately interpreted. This book is largely based on personal experiences and vague opinions that the author seems to construct from "ideas" in the Bible.
The terms he uses like "revival" (even though he tries to define what he means) and "fill" are very vague. Revival, again, in the Bible refers to a need for unsaved people. The regenerate have been revived, they have been brought to life from the dead, never to die again. The term is not found in the NT because saved people always have the Holy Spirit and therefore do not need revival; while in contrast, the saints of the OT did not have the indwelling Spirit it God—the Spirit came and went, depending on their obedience. Jesus refers to both dispensations in one sentence: “Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” (Jn 14:17). At that time, He dwelled with them but after Christ’s ascension, He would dwell in them (see Jn 16:7). His references to "peace of Christ" are completely wrong and misguided. This book is much more in line with a “God helps those who help themselves" book in disguise— even if Hession says that it is not about self.
6. It’s a Keswick book.
Hession in this book clearly borrows much from the Keswick movement, of the late 19th and early 20th centuries though he never actually mentions Keswick by name. This book has also been used widely and popularized by Keswick proponents and in Keswick meetings over the last century.
7. Hession does not understand Biblical salvation/conversion.
Though briefly mentioned already, I will elaborate further. In the first chapter Hession makes it clear that he does not understand true conversion. He sees salvation and sanctification as two completely separate acts. That makes both salvation and sanctification false. Furthermore, he does not understand positional sanctification and practical sanctification. Positionally, the believer is holy, hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3). Though the old man is crucified with Christ (Rom 6:6; Gal 2:20; 5:24) and the true believer is “dead to sin” (Rom 6:1-23) the Christians old sin nature still exists including self-will. This sin nature will continue in the body until death. We cannot empty the old nature entirely or eradicate it. What Hession does not understand is that Christian perfection does not necessarily mean being sinless, but rather being complete without want or wilful sin, what 2 Tim 3:16-17 refers to: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” Christian perfection means to be complete and in perfect fellowship with God, perfection of motive and love (1 Cor. 10:31; 1 Jn 4:17-18; Matt. 22:37-40; 1 Cor. 13) and perfection of understanding (1 Jn 2:20-21, 27) and doing God’s will (Matt 7:21). Enoch walked with God. Whether Enoch’s relationship with God was perfect or not was known only to God.
Hession seems to believe that one cannot walk in newness of life unless we are continually confessing and emptying ourselves of self, which was his definition of brokenness. This form of Keswick heresy is the profound belief that daily brokenness (emptying of self, the flesh, and all known sin in order to obtain or gain something in return) is the secret to revival and the “victorious life” and that sanctification cannot come unless we live out a daily emptying of the flesh and all known sin. Yet, we read in Gal 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” As Paul says, we are to “reckon (literally means to continually consider, figure, and count) ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but ALIVE unto GOD through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 6:11). At salvation we are “quickened” (made ALIVE) forever and never to under sins power or bondage again. The reason for that is because we are “dead indeed unto sin”! Paul did not say we are to be broken everyday, he says we are to continually consider ourselves to be two things: (a) DEAD indeed to the reign and rule of sin, but (b) ALIVE UNTO GOD. Hession, and Keswick “theology,” also accepts a new definition of grace; and calls it revival. How did the apostles and other early Christians in that century miss this definition? How did grace, God’s favour against human merit, become revival, with no context of revival being given? “The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men” (Ti 2:11) which grace then continues to sustain us and grow us in godliness and holiness and righteousness, not after the things of the world (Ti 2:12-14). There is absolutely ZERO, NIL, NONE excuse for any so-called Christian to live a life of defeat and failure and sin for, “where sin abounded, grace [not revival] did much more abound.” (Rom 5:20). Grace is certainly exhibited in revival, for its by grace we are saved (Ti 2:11; Eph 2:8-9) but the two words are not synonymous. Paul warns the believer in 2 Cor 6:1-10 that true believers do not receive “the grace of God in vain” — in other words, God supplies His grace in the day of your salvation (v. 2) and continues to supply His grace in Christian living (vv. 4-10).
The Keswick IFB heretics and “theologian” like John Van Gelderen wrote in an article on Brokenness, that Jam 4:6 and 1 Pet 5:5 mean the following: “God resisteth the proud [the unbroken], but giveth grace [revival] unto the humble [the broken].” (John Van Gelderen, Revival Magazine, 2008 Issue II, p. 15). Not only is he corrupting Jam 4:6 into something post-salvation (the entire context is referring to unsaved people in need of salvation, vv. 1-10) he is also corrupting brokenness and revival. This translation of grace is implying something that is not in the text. Grace, God’s favour against man’s merit, is manifested every moment of every day to the child of God. It never stops (Ti 2:11-14), just like God’s love never stops chastening (Heb 12:5-11; Pr 3:11-12) and the Holy Spirit never stops leading (Rom 8:14). God revives unregenerate sinners; by giving them a new heart, a new life, quickening them, circumcising the heart from the flesh, and giving them eternal life and imputing His righteousness unto them, all on the basis of His righteousness (Rom 4:1-8; 5:15-17). You do not revive that which is alive. You can only give resurrection life to that which is dead. Though Hession admits this in the preface to his 1950 edition (The Calvary Road, Christian Literature Crusade, 1950, pp. 4-5), he however ironically presents a differing conclusion in his explanation of revival when he says, “Revival is just the life of the Lord Jesus poured out into human hearts.” (Ibid, pp. 5-6) Is that not what happens at the moment of salvation (Jn 3:16-18; 36; Col 3:1-3; etc)?!? Of course it is!
“Jesus is pictured as bearing the golden water pot with the Water of Life. As He passes by, He looks into our cup and if it is clean, He fills to overflowing with the Water of Life.” (Ibid, p. 7).
When do we receive the water of life? At salvation!
“Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (Jn 4:13-14).
Have we not eternal life at the moment of our conversion? How can we have more water of life one day and less water of life the next, based on whether we are clean or not? And does not Jesus cleanse us from all sin forever (like is 1:18; 1 Cor 6:11 teach and many other places)?
Hession was a very confused man. He, like Van Gelderen, did NOT understand what true salvation actually was. He consistently twisted, misused and abused the Word of God because he didn’t understand and know the truth, in contrast to those who do know the truth, it is plain to them (Pr 8:8-9), they “know the certainty of the words of truth” (Pr 22:20-21). God’s Word is “not written unto you [saved people] because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.” (1 Jn 2:20-21; see also v. 27). Eternal life and everything else we will ever have in the Christian life is received in its perfect fullness at the very moment of out conversion. You either have it or you don’t! There are no have not’s in God’s kingdom.
“According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” (2 Pet 1:3-4).
Hession exhibited a great misunderstanding of true salvation, and what transpires at that moment (cf. 2 Cor 5:17-21). Brokenness refers to the condition required for salvation: “The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” (Ps 34:18). To apply this to some additional work of revival post-salvation and appearance of a “second blessing” is to rewrite Scripture to fit a human belief system, not the Bible rightly divided. Those that follow after these kinds of heresies and ear tickling, whom clearly do not understand what salvation produces, have just as clearly never been born again. I have always said that and as time goes on, I stand even firmer on that position. Keswick followers are practically always unsaved.
Don’t misunderstand me, of course the Christian is to confess sin to God and God is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1:9). In fact, the one who doesn’t confess his sins before God reveals himself to be am unsaved fake (1 Jn 1:8, 10). The problem is that Hession and the Keswick teachers of his day taught that we maintain brokenness by emptying ourselves of self through continued confession. Does the NT anywhere teach the already saved person to to empty himself of self? That occurs at salvation, where we deny ourselves and lose our lives for Christ and the gospel sakes (Matt 10:32-39; 16:24-26; Mk 8:34-38 — passages also corrupted and perverted by Hession unto something post-salvation) and this self denial continues as a way of life, but nowhere does it speak of emptying self of self as Christians. Emptying of self Hession is referring to the flesh, which once again reveals his lack of understanding of what occurs at salvation. He is teaching heresy because the flesh is corrupt and dead from the moment of salvation:
“Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. . . . For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. . . . Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. . . . For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” (Rom 6:6-7, 14, 18, 20-22).
Many other passages speak to the same, such as Gal 5:24, “And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” “Have” is a Greek perfect verb tense, an indicative mood tense representing a point-in-time action used to indicate a completed, or "perfected" action or condition. The perfect tense is a primary tense because it emphasizes the present, or ongoing result of a completed action. That action obviously is salvation.
All these things occur at the very moment of conversion. Hession could not understand that, which is why he was always pursuing emptying self of all known sin. If he was truly “dead to sin” and crucified with Christ, he would understand that sin had no more dominion over him and that it was nailed to the cross. He would understand that he was no longer a slave to sin, but a slave to righteousness (Rom 6:16-18). All truly saved people do. But he didn’t. All his life he tried to free himself from the slavery of sin, but to no avail. So it is with practically all Keswick followers. And what he believed and taught is no different than that of false religious groups such as the Mennonites, who are constantly emptying self of known sin, lest they lose their salvation or die with unconfessed sin. It is heresy and a false gospel, very revealing of Hession’s feigned estate.
The error of Hession is the same error upon which Methodism, the Holiness movement, and the Salvation Army was founded in the 19th century. The promises related to contrition and brokenness are linked to salvation, not post-salvation.
“Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” (2 Jn 1:9-11)