Jessie Penn-Lewis & the centrality of the cross

I’m gonna guess that eight out of ten of my readers have never heard of a woman named Jessie Penn-Lewis. That’s ok. I’m writing today to introduce you to her ministry. 🙂

Actually, I don’t know a whole lot about Mrs. Penn-Lewis’ personal history. I’m aware there is some controversy surrounding her teachings, associated as she was with the Keswick convention and other “deeper life” movements of her day. She did seem to be a little overly obsessed with Satan and demonic activity, in my own opinion. Otherwise, what little of her stuff I’ve read has the imprint of Christ all over it, no doubt about it.

In particular, allow me to direct your attention to a little booklet entitled The Centrality of the Cross. Only 142 pages long, including ten brief, easy-to-read chapters which explore various aspects of the cross and its relation to the spiritual life of a believer, this little work is a gem. The book begins with a quote from Henry C. Mabie and goes on to further unfold the meaning of what he said, from the author’s own experience:

The Greek word used by Paul in First Corinthians 1:18 is logos… [not] ‘preaching but ‘the subject matter of preaching; with the very essence of that which was to be preached; with that ‘Logos’ of the cross which constituted its rationale, its Divine reason, a reason which… he declares to be ‘the wisdom of God’…

This ‘Logos of the cross’ is conceived by Paul to be the key which unlocks the riddle of the universe, solves all mysteries, and reconciles all things…

I believe this book is actually a transcription of spoken messages delivered by Mrs. Penn-Lewis in conference. I’m not sure if it is still available through mainstream distributors, but fortunately the seeking reader always has Amazon for all of his out-of-print needs. 🙂

Also, for those who enjoy exploring the various historical connections between past servants of God, I know that T. Austin Sparks was briefly associated with Mrs. Penn-Lewis in her “Overcomer” ministry toward the beginning of his own public foray, and that her writings were likewise influential in the early formation of Watchman Nee’s thought as a young man. Again, I’ve not read much of Penn-Lewis other than The Centrality of the Cross, but I highly recommend it. If any of you are familiar with other of her works, I’d love to hear about it.


About Joshua

Writer, husband, father, friend. View all posts by Joshua

9 responses to “Jessie Penn-Lewis & the centrality of the cross

  • sybiljean

    Josh, I find you to be one of the most gracious bloggers. You tell about what is good and lovely and deal kindly with the hearts of your readers.

    As writers its so hard to get it all right/to be right. There will always be ways and beliefs in which we differ. But to write something that stirs the hearts of all
    believers is a gift from God. It sounds like Jessie accomplished this.

  • Josh

    That’s very nice of you to say, Sybil. Thank you.

  • Jim Brown

    Hi Josh, I have two of her books; Dying to Live and Living to Die. Bith very Christ centered and Cross centered. I have read these many times and always appreciate her insights.

    • Josh

      Hey Jim!

      If memory serves me right I did read Dying to Live at some point. But that was a while ago. Oh well. What I remember was good! 🙂

      • Jim Brown

        Hay Josh, Jess Penn Lewis really understood the way of the Cross and demonstrated in life not just teaching and that’s what makes these books so potent. George tried to call you but couldn’t get through so he asked me to let you know to call him. Cya Bro.

  • ishiwoman

    Jesse Penn Lewis was an incredible teacher – who never deviated from the central message of Jesus’ Heart and Cross…War on the Saints is an extension of that, not an off course obsession!

    That book in my own personal experience and of many others was used by God to open my eyes to the deception of Satan in my life, to show me how deep in the occult I was really involved in, thinking I was just a christian “of my own understanding”….her preaching was the inspiration of the grass roots of the oxford Group movement that saw 90% + success rates in curing hopeless alcoholics…which then got watered down into what we now call AA!

    At first her work made me uncomfortable, because it challenged my ASSUMPTION that every spiritual experience I was having was of God, it challenged my pride – of thinking that I couldn’t be deceived because my motives were good!

    If you haven’t read her stuff – read it, it’s amazing! It’s biblically sound, in alignment with the Holy spirit and our own intelligent co-operation!

    God Bless you and your Blog!!


    • Josh

      Greetings, Layla!

      Thanks for sharing your perspective on Penn-Lewis’ ministry. I’ve never read War on the Saints; my observation-and it was not intended to be overtly negative-comes from other material of hers I’ve been exposed to. But of course it is just my opinion. I appreciate your insight into the matter.

  • Jim Brown

    Yes Indeed Layla. I have appreciated Penn-Lewis for years and will continue to glean from her insights as well. Thanks

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