Friday, December 05, 2014

Hannah W. Smith: Keswick Founder, Higher Life Preacher, Quaker Quietist and Universalist Heretic, part 1 of 21


Mrs. Hannah Whitall Smith, author of The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life and other devotional books, was in her day, and remains at this time, a very influential—indeed, probably the most influential—Higher Life writer on sanctification.  Her views undergird and powerfully influence and mold the entire subsequent history of the Higher Life theology.  She published The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life in 1875, a capstone of her and her husband’s preaching of the Higher Life as “lay evangelists of the National Assocation for the Promotion of Holiness”[1] at the Conventions at Broadlands, Oxford, and Brighton that constituted the birth of the Keswick theology.  The publication of her best-selling book coincided with the tremendous impact her preaching was having at that time in Britain.[2]  Robert and Hannah were spreading the Higher Life not only “in London, but [also] in other cities such as Manchester, Nottingham, Leicester and Dublin, as well as various Continental European centers.  Additionally, strategic doors were opening to them, such as being invited to meet dons and other senior members of Cambridge University to share their message.”[3]  As thousands of ministers assembled from not the British Isles only, but also France, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Italy, Spain, India, Russia, Persia, China, Australia, Israel, South Africa, and North America to learn the Higher Life from the Smiths at the Brighton Convention, Robert declared: “All Europe is at my feet!”  There was much truth to his declaration,[4] although in leading venues such as the Oxford Convention[5] and “at Brighton . . . Hannah Smith[’s] . . . daily Bible Readings were the main focus of interest and she was widely recognised as the leading spirit at the conference.  Never shy about publicity, she observed that . . . she had a congregation larger than that of C. H. Spurgeon.”[6]  Her preaching brought many into the Higher Life.[7]  Describing this period of time, Hannah wrote in her diary:
In January 1874 I went over with our four children and joined my husband in England. . . . [T]he Lord gave us . . . wonderful openings . . . for preaching the Higher Christian Life to rich and poor. My inward experience continues, through it all, to be one of perfect rest and peace. My husband’s health was mercifully restored, and the strain of my earthly sorrow was removed. The Lord saw that I had learned the lesson and He delivered me. And my earthly happiness has been unclouded since[.] . . . We returned last Sept. 1874 to America and this winter has been a time of busy work in Philadelphia for me. In March 1875, my husband went back to England, and in a week, I sail with the children to join him. A great work is opening before us there for this summer in large conventions calling for the promotion of Scriptural Holiness [the Keswick precursor Conventions], at which I have to take a prominent part, both in holding ladies meetings, and in giving “Bible readings,” as they are called to save the feelings of the dear brethren who are afraid to call it preaching.[8]
Her preaching and her person were very well received at these conferences, and her book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, which was really “old Quaker doctrine,”[9] was likewise positively received by those who adopted the Keswick teaching, leading, throughout the rest of her life, to “numberless calls . . . for preaching or giving Bible readings” all over America[10] and abroad.  Mrs. Smith was regularly “preach[ing] in Quaker and other churches in England” in high demand, while also publishing further influential books.[11]  Indeed, “H. W. Smith[’s] The Christians Secret of a Happy Life . . . is regarded as the classic presentation of Keswick teaching and was instrumental in the spread of the ‘victorious life’ movement that began at the first annual Convention for the Deepening of the Spiritual Life held at Keswick, England, in 1875.”[12]  “[I]t may be confidently said that . . . The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life . . . has never been superseded . . . [in] its teaching . . . by anything which has appeared since.  This book has had a remarkable influence in connection with the Holiness Movement.”[13]  Indeed, Hannah came to teach the Keswick doctrine of her Christian’s Secret as the “Superintendent of the Evangelistic and Bible Reading work” of the “Women’s Christian Temperance Union,” so that she had “direct influence over 60,000 Christian women, and indirect influence over all their congregations.”  She testified:  “[T]he Lord has given me my parish among them.”[14]  Indeed, she wrote:  “ever so many of [these women were] saying that they had learned the secret from my book “The Christian’s Secret.”  It is perfectly wonderful how that book has gone over this whole country. Wherever I go I am met with stories of its value and blessing. So many people even here have told me that it is ‘next to their Bibles.’”[15]  While it was reckoned by many as of great enough value to be always next to one’s Bible, Hannah’s book was most selective in its presentation of Biblical teaching, never citing verses such as Philippians 2:12,[16] for the Apostolic command to act with fear and trembling, and the mention of working, did not fit Mrs. Smith’s emphasis upon personal happiness, ease, and sanctification by faith alone.  In any case, her book is properly recognized as foundational and paradigmatic for the Keswick doctrine of sanctification, so much so that her “book . . . for many years, was the most-read devotional book in the world.”[17]  The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life “had not only a phenomenal sale all through [Mrs. Smith’s] lifetime . . . [and] was reissued again and again, and translated not only into all the major languages of the world, but even into obscure dialects of half-civilized tribes . . . [in] every part of the globe.”[18]  Hannah W. Smith’s writings “have done [m]ore than any publications ever written to extend,” in the eyes of advocates of the Higher Life, “the knowledge of the truth of sanctification.”[19]  Her preaching and writing have had an inestimably great impact on the ideas of many millions in worldwide Christendom.



This entire study can be accessed here.




[1]              Pg. 61, Aspects of Pentecostal-Charismatic Origins, ed. Vinson Synan.  Cf. pg. 66.  The National Association was a prominent perfectionist and second-blessing advocacy organization.
[2]              Pg. 23, Transforming Keswick:  The Keswick Convention, Past, Present, and Future, Price & Randall.
[3]              Pg. 23, Transforming Keswick:  The Keswick Convention, Past, Present, and Future, Price & Randall;  cf. pg. 179, Account of the Union Meeting for the Promotion of Scriptural Holiness, Held at Oxford, August 29 to September 7, 1874. Chicago:  Revell, 1874.  Other predecessor Higher Life and perfectionist meetings are listed on pg. 328, ibid.
[4]              Pgs. 60-65, Unforgotten Years, Logan Pearsall Smith;  cf. “Die Heiligungsbewegung,” Chapter 6 of Perfectionism, vol. 2, Warfield;                 pg. 28, Transforming Keswick:  The Keswick Convention, Past, Present, and Future, Price & Randall; pgs. 271, 358, Record of the Convention for the Promotion of Scriptural Holiness Held at Brighton, May 29th to June 7th, 1875. Brighton: W. J. Smith, 1875;  pg. 225, Account of the Union Meeting for the Promotion of Scriptural Holiness, Held at Oxford, August 29 to September 7, 1874. Chicago:  Revell, 1874.
[5]              At Oxford Mrs. Smith’s Bible readings were technically for ladies, but “Gentlemen who chose to attend were not excluded, and many were present at this and the [other] hours devoted to her Scripture lessons” (pg. 65, Account of the Union Meeting for the Promotion of Scriptural Holiness, Held at Oxford, August 29 to September 7, 1874. Chicago:  Revell, 1874).
[6]              Pg. 149, Transforming Keswick:  The Keswick Convention, Past, Present, and Future, Price & Randall.
[7]              E. g., pg. 175, Account of the Union Meeting for the Promotion of Scriptural Holiness, Held at Oxford, August 29 to September 7, 1874. Chicago:  Revell, 1874.
[8]              Journal, May 6, 1875, reproduced in the entry for July 22 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.
[9]              Letter to a Friend, August 17, 1879, reproduced in the entry for September 21 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.  In her autobiography, The Unselfishness of God, Hannah Smith devotes an entire chapter to proving that the Higher Life theology was Quakerism (pgs. 275-282, “The Life of Faith Quaker Doctrine.”)
[10]          Journal, May 6, 1875, reproduced in the entry for July 23 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.  Even after her husband’s downfall, she continued preaching widely;  for example, she records that she held “some meetings in a Presbyterian Church . . . the Presbyterian synod object[s] so to women, but the minister says he will ‘whistle’ at the synod if only he can get me!”  (Letter to Daughter Mary, January 8, 1878, reproduced in the entry for August 15 of ibid).  On another occasion she preached at a Methodist Holiness Camp Meeting in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, where the Methodists “endorsed this meeting fully” and “called it a ‘Methodist class meeting led by a Quaker’” (Letter to Robert, August 9, 1879, reproduced in the entry for September 18 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter).
                In light of Mrs. Smith’s strong advocacy of women preachers, rejection of complementarian gender roles in the family, and deep-seated feminism in general, it is not surprising that in the Conference’s early years the majority of Keswick missionaries were single women (pg. 114, Transforming Keswick:  The Keswick Convention, Past, Present, and Future, Price & Randall).
[11]            December 26-27, The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.
[12]            Pg. 249, “B. B. Warfield and Lewis S. Chafer on Sanctification,” Randall Gleason.  Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40:2 (June 1997) 241-256.  “Hannah Whitall Smith’s The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life is characterized as ‘one of the most remarkable settings forth of the victorious life you can find anywhere.’” “Victory in Christ,” p. 94, Trumbull, cited in “The Victorious Life,” Chapter 5 of Perfectionism, vol. 2, Warfield.
[13]            Pg. 224, The Keswick Convention:  Its Message, its Method, and its Men, ed. Harford.
[14]            Letter to Anna, November 5, 1882, reproduced in the entry for November 28 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.  One Woman’s Christian Temperance Union leader even wished for Hannah to lead a “W. C. T. U. School of the Prophetesses” (Letter to Pricilla, October 1884, reproduced in the entry for December 24 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter).
[15]            Hannah testified thus while writing from the Christian Temperance Union (CTU) meeting on October 25, 1882.  She explained:
Every day, from eleven to twelve, right in the midst of our business meeting we have an hour for a devotional meeting when we tell the story of the life of faith to the crowds who have come in to witness our proceedings. I spoke to them yesterday on “Knowing God” for ourselves and then showing Him to others. And I was followed by a great many short words of testimony as to the blessedness of it, ever so many of them saying that they had learned the secret from my book “The Christian’s Secret.”
It is perfectly wonderful how that book has gone over this whole country. Wherever I go I am met with stories of its value and blessing. So many people even here have told me that it is “next to their Bibles.” . . . The faces are shining with peace and they tell me that it has all come through that book.
Hannah further described that CTU setting in which her book molded the spirituality and had been so very influential:
Our platform is as broad as humanity; we take in everybody, no matter what their ‘views,’ or church relationships. . . . It is such a testimony to the reality of the religion which embraces all humanity.  (Letter to Mary, October 25, 1882, reproduced in the entry for November 25 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter)
A universalist, non-doctrinal religion that embraces all people, regenerate and unregenerate, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and Hindu, despite the “C” of the CTU, in a simple desire to be happy, fit Hannah W. Smith and her Keswick classic very well.
 [16]           “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
[17]            December 31, The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.
[18]            Pg. 13, Religious Fanaticism:  Extracts from the Papers of Hannah Whitall Smith, ed. Ray Strachey.  New York, NY:  AMS Press, 1976, repr. of 1928 London ed.
[19]            “The ‘Higher Life’ Movement,” Chapter 4 in Perfectionism, vol. 2, B. B. Warfield.


10 comments:

Anonymous said...

When anyone actually believes that the Christian life can be found within a book that is not the bible, you are in trouble.

Joshua said...

"and in giving “Bible readings,” as they are called to save the feelings of the dear brethren who are afraid to call it preaching"

I ran into the same mealy-mouthed disobedience at the Keswick-based convention here in Brisbane 10 years ago. I questioned the person who took me (who knew the Scriptures) why he was okay with a woman preaching, and his response was "she's not preaching, shes... shes... she's sharing".

We both laughed at the obvious evasion. Looking back now I wish I hadn't laughed. Faithless disobedience, worldly innovation and weasel words are spiritual poison, of the like this woman made her fame peddling.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Joshua,

Thanks for the comment. As we will discover in later posts on Fridays concerning Mrs. Smith, she not only was a strong feminist and advocate of women preaching, but also of other things far worse – yet, as the content of the post above demonstrates, she has been extremely influential. Indeed, I think it is safe to say that Higher Life theology has almost certainly influenced the large majority of independent Baptist churches in one way or another, and so Mrs. Smith casts a very long shadow still among the churches and people of God. Anyone who has heard the misinterpretations of Galatians 2:20; Romans 7:14 – 25; John 15; Colossians 2:6; or the other texts discussed in relation to Keswick at http://faithsaves.net/soteriology/ has very likely received, either directly or indirectly, the doctrine of Mrs. Smith.

KJB1611 said...

It is also true, of course, that all we need to know about the Christian life is in the Word of God – Mrs. Smith, on the other hand, did not believe this, because as a Quaker she thought that she had a Divine Seed in her that gave revelations equal to the Scriptures.

Some of the overly subjective views of God's guidance found among independent Baptist churches is also a result of Keswick theology.

dale mcalpine said...

Thanks for posting this.

Interesting to read of the history of the Keswick convention as I live only 30 mins or so from where it all began in England.

In the last few years I have had opportunity to preach in Keswick town centre during the convention and it is clear by the reactions of many that what they are mostly hearing in the tent and youth groups is not the Gospel.

They also still have women preachers and theistic evolutionists on stage.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Dale,

I am sorry if, as you testify, many at Keswick Conventions today are unconverted.

Some fundamentalist advocates of Keswick theology today argue that Keswick went bad in the 1960s or so, before which time it was good. However, this is historically unjustifiable, as blatant heresy and false gospels were allowed at the ecumenical Keswick Convention from the beginning--something not surprising in light of its development with occult/spiritualist ties at the Broadlands Convention.

dale mcalpine said...

Many are unconverted for sure.

I spoke to the ex director of the Convention over coffee and expressed my disapproval of among other things, allowing women to preach, his response was enlightening, saying that "it doesn't matter because that only applies in the Church."

I was quick to remind him that the Church is wherever God's people gather.

He also admitted to me that they have Roman Catholics attend every year, he told me they say to him that "it is the only time of year they are taught the Bible" and then they leave and go back to their RCC.

If Roman Catholics can attend the Convention and then remain Roman Catholics, they cannot be hearing the Gospel, right ?

One year I was handing out tracts in town during the Convention and gave one to and elderly couple, they asked what it was so I said it was a Gospel tract, they replied "oh we are at the Convention." I asked them if they were born again, "Born again?" they asked, "No we are Methodists!"

The sad thing is there are sound people involved with the Convention and put up with all the nonsense thinking that they can change things,but they are not winning.

Here is what happened a couple of years ago when I preached during the Convention ~

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5w0DzQEBIjE

God bless

KJB1611 said...

Dear Dale,

I haven't watched the video yet, but I hope to be able to do so relatively soon. Roman Catholics and Methodists responding in that way certainly makes things at the Convention appear very problematic.

I would highly question if one can be a sound person, however, and be involved in the Keswick Convention, because if one violates the Biblical doctrine of separation, he is not sound. Converted, yes, it is possible; sound, no.

I would encourage you to check out the study here:

http://faithsaves.net/ekklesia-church/

and the one on the church here:

http://faithsaves.net/bible-studies/

perhaps neither the Keswick people nor the idea that any two or three Christians together are a church is correct.

dale mcalpine said...

KJB1611 You raise some great points which I have heard before, thanks.

Would you agree with me that the Keswick Convention although not Church in the Biblical meaning should not have women preaching ?

KJB1611 said...

Dear Dale,

Yes, 1 Tim 2 and 1 Cor 14 put women preaching and exercising authority over men out of the question.

Another one of the problems of the Keswick Convention is its parachurch nature; by not being under the authority of Christ's (NT Baptist) church, many errors are allowed in.