Friday, December 19, 2014

Hannah W. Smith, Quakerism, and Self-Examination rejected; part 3 of 21 in Hannah W. Smith: Keswick Founder, Higher Life Preacher, Quaker Quietist and Universalist Heretic


Hannah was able, in part, to continue to preach the Higher Life even after facing the evidence that all her work was unspiritual and devoid of the smiles of heaven because she flatly rejected self-examination.  In direct contradiction to the command of 2 Corinthians 13:5[1] and other Biblical passages, Mrs. Smith proclaimed that “self-examination . . . seems to be spiritual” but in reality causes “injury and harm”—indeed, it is “about as disastrous as anything.”[2]  Consequently, as she learned from “Fenelon,” she counselled others:  “[G]ive up all future self-reflective acts,” for this was a key to spiritual “liberty.”[3]  At the Brighton Convention, for example, she boldly preached against self-examination, distorting 2 Corithians 13:5 in a major way.[4]
After all, she had “suffered so much from” self-examination that she wrote:  “I have at last given it up forever.  Do the same, dear friend[.]”[5]  Rather than practicing self-examination, one is to “lear[n] the precious lesso[n] . . . of knowing the inward Voice, and following it without reserve. . . . For myself, I find that the sweetness of a life of obedience to this inward Voice is greater than I can express,” as confirmed by her feelings of happiness and by the Quaker “Isaac Pennington.”[6]  Hannah sought to come to a “more complete surrender to . . . the inward voice . . . than ever” as she plunged ever deeper into the Higher Life;  her “great hunger” was for this “voice.”[7]  Thus, by rejecting self-examination, she could remain deluded and happy despite in the devilish nature of her religion, as its terribly unsound character was only obvious to those who recognized human depravity, rejected the Inward Voice, cleaved to sola Scriptura, and carefully applied the Bible to their own spiritual experience, because of their own personal regeneration.  Hannah W. Smith rejected such a careful and watchful attitude, since the conflict between the Bible and her experience hindered her feelings of happiness and made her feel like she was suffering;  following the Inward Voice instead made her feel very happy, at least at the time—whether she was happy upon her death is another question.
As well as the paradigmatic Higher Life or Keswick writer, Mrs. Smith and her husband were Quakers, “birthright member[s] of the Society of Friends”[8] who sought to lead her children into the Quaker way.[9]  The Smiths had Quaker ancestors reaching back to the days of William Penn.[10]  Hannah’s “father . . . was . . . a very strict Quaker . . . Robert’s family were also of good Quaker stock.”[11]  Indeed,  Hannah, her “parents, and [even her] grandparents” were “birthright Friend[s],”[12] and Hannah was raised in “traditional Quaker mysticism.”[13]  While, Mr. Smith was for a portion of his life a member of the Presbyterian denomination,[14] even in his most theologically orthodox years he was close enough to Quakerism that, for example, around the time of his leadership of the Keswick precursor Conventions he could send his “children and their nurse . . . to stay for the whole summer with the Barclays, a wealthy Quaker family, at Monkhams, their home in Essex . . . [where] the girls shared the Barclay children’s governess and tutors.”[15]  Furthermore, Mrs. Smith “could not follow . . . Robert . . . [in joining] the Presbyterians . . . as she found their views against the preaching of women unacceptable.”[16]  Indeed, Hannah was too heretical even for many Quakers:  “In 1867 . . . Hannah . . . tried to start a little Quaker Meeting in Millville, which, not surprisingly, turned out too heretical to be approved, and she searched the Scriptures to support her strong feeling that she was called upon to preach.”[17]  Nevertheless, by “the 1870s Hannah had no church affiliation and . . . had begun to attend Friend’s Meeting again,”[18] as she “had become more or less reconciled . . . [with] the Quakers.”[19]  During some periods of their married life when, in the words of Hannah, “Robert [was] enthusiastic over [men such as a local] Baptist clergyman . . . because he preaches such a pure gospel,” Hannah nonetheless noted, “I cannot enjoy close contact with such people”;[20]  Quaker ministers, who did not preach a pure gospel, were better.[21]  The teachings of the Pearsall Smiths cannot be understood properly without a consideration of the Quakerism that permeated their religious background.
Hannah believed that the “Friends . . . were especially raised up by the Lord to teach this truth” of the Higher Life, and she “long[ed] to see Quakerism the formost in the great battlefield” for it.  She wrote:  “More and more I am convinced that Quakerism was in its first founding pure, unadulterated Christianity.  Every advanced truth that the Lord teaches me, I find is only a return to pure Quakerism.”[22]  Before her rise as a preacher of the Higher Life, at the pinnacle of her preaching work with Robert that led to the founding of the Keswick Convention, and throughout the rest of her life, she remained a devoted Quaker.[23]
Mrs. Smith . . . remained essentially a Quaker throughout life, or, as it would be more accurate to say, grew steadily more and more Quaker.  There is scarcely a distinctively Quaker conception which does not find expression at some time or other in her writings. . . . [E]ven the fundamental mystical [Quaker heresy of] the “divine seed” is quite clearly enunciated and the characteristic Higher Life teaching developed out of it. . . . Mrs. Smith became perfectly well aware, then, that her teaching was in its essence genuinely Quaker teaching: and she delighted to present it in its organic relation with Quaker teaching.[24]
The Higher Life theology she founded was simply the theology of Quakerism.
Since she did not have to examine herself by the teaching of Scripture, Mrs. Smith could set Biblical doctrine and practice against each other, reject the former, exalt the latter, and feel happy in her deluded state.  Hannah wrote:
How true the old Friends were when they used to tell us that it was not what we believed but how we lived that was the real test of salvation, and how little we understood them! . . . And as thee says, my opinions about God may all be wrong, but if my loyalty to Him is real it will not matter. It seems as if it would be enough just to say, “God is,” and, “Be good,” and then all would be said. [That is, even Deism combined with mere morality would be acceptable.]  It is the practical things that interest me now[.][25]
She did not know whether what she taught people was sound, or whether it was true—but she knew that it made people feel comfortable, and this was enough.[26] Indeed, she wrote that her first duty in life was not to glorify God, but to be comfortable:  “I consider it my first duty in life to make myself as comfortable as is possible[.]”[27]  After all, as Hannah explained at the Brighton Convention, the Holy Spirit is not “one to make us unhappy”—thoughts that make one unhappy “always come from Satan.”[28]  She did not seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), but sought first the secret of a happy life.  Feeling happy—eudemonism—was what was truly important.  Her son Logan narrated:
When in her later life [Mrs. Smith] came to be a sort of mother-confessor to the many people who used to come to her for advice in their perplexities, her advice was always, she told us, for them to do the thing they really and seriously wanted to do. . . . “But surely, Mother,” [her children] sometimes protested, “this is dangerous advice to give to people!”  “Well,” she would answer, “our Heavenly Father knows the kind of advice I give, so if He sends people to me it must be because He wants them given this advice.  Besides, children,” she would add, “people always in the end do what they want to do, and they might as well do it with a good conscience.”[29]
Based on this view that people should do whatever they wanted, Hannah taught:  “[D]on’t be too unselfish.”[30]  Logan Pearsall Smith explained what he learned from his parents about sanctification from the time he experienced his second blessing as an unregenerate seven year old:
Sanctification . . . renders us immune from sin. . . . [I] renounced . . . Pelagian attempts to conquer Sin and Satan by [my] own carnal struggles, and realized that only by Grace, and unmerited Grace alone, and by no “deadly doing,” could [I] attain the conquest that [I] sought. . . . [Those who receive the second blessing receive] [t]he glorious certainty that they are sanctified . . . they rejoice—as all my life I have rejoiced—in the consciousness that they can commit no wrong.  I may do, I have undoubtedly done, things that were foolish, tactless, and dishonest, and what the world would consider wrong, but since I attained the state of Sanctification at the age of seven I have never felt the slightest twinge of conscience, never experienced for one second the sense of sin.[31]
Logan achieved the goal of his mother’s theology of sanctification—happiness in a perpetual freedom from a sense of sin and guilt—the secret of a happy life.  To Hannah W. Smith, feeling happy, and having no pangs of conscience because of sin, were more important than the glory of God and obedience to the Bible.



This entire study can be accessed here.





[1]              “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Corinthians 13:5; cf. Psalm 26:2; 119:59; 139:23-24; Lamentations 3:40; Ezekiel 18:28; Haggai 1:5-7; Matthew 7:5; 1 Corinthians 11:28-31; Galatians 6:4; Hebrews 12:15; 1 John 3:20-21).
[2]              Letter to a Friend, 1863; April 10, 1878; Letter to Daughter Mary, May 12, 1878; Letter to Daughter, Atlantic City, May 25, 1878; reproduced in the entries for January 30, August 17, 24, 28, of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.
[3]              Pg. 65, A Religious Rebel:  The Letters of “H. W. S,” ed. Logan Pearsall Smith.  Letter to Miss Priscilla Mounsey, January 22, 1882 & Letter To Priscilla, January 22, 1882, reproduced in the entry for November 9 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.  Hannah Smith often warned others, “Don’t indulge in self-reflective acts” (Letter to Mary Beck, May 14, 1874, Letter, 1866, reproduced in the entry for July 12 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter). 
[4]              Pg. 318, Record of the Convention for the Promotion of Scriptural Holiness Held at Brighton, May 29th to June 7th, 1875. Brighton: W. J. Smith, 1875.
[5]              Letter to a Friend, April 10, 1878, reproduced in the entry for August 17 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.
[6]              Letter to Miss Beck, December 5, 1878, reproduced in the entry for September 9 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.
[7]              Letter to Sisters, August 14, 1879, reproduced in the entry for September 19 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.
[8]              Pg. 11, Religious Fanaticism:  Extracts from the Papers of Hannah Whitall Smith, ed. Ray Strachey.  New York, NY:  AMS Press, 1976, repr. of 1928 London ed; cf. also pg. 231 & Remarkable Relations, Barbara Strachey, pg. 19.
[9]              See, e. g., Letter to Daughter Mary, January 1, 1882, reproduced in the entry for November 1 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter; pg. 79, Unforgotten Years, Logan Pearsall Smith, references Logan’s education in Quaker schools all the way through, and inclusive of, college.
[10]            See pgs. 4-35, Unforgotten Years, Logan Pearsall Smith.
[11]            Pg. 20, Remarkable Relations, Strachey.
[12]            Pg. 36, The Secret Life of Hannah Whitall Smith, Henrie.
[13]            Introduction, The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter; see also after January 7 for Robert P. Smith’s heritage among “prominent Philadelphia Quakers.”)
[14]            Pg. 17, So Great Salvation, Barabas.
[15]            Pg. 45, Remarkable Relations, Barbara Strachey.
[16]            Pgs. 25-26, Remarkable Relations, Strachey.  A German Reformed minister did, however, administer infant baptism to Mrs. Smith (pg. 35, The Secret Life of Hannah W. Smith, Marie Henry).  Such an event by no means changes the plain historical fact that she was firmly entrenched in Quakerism for the entirety of her time as a public speaker, teacher of men, Higher Life crusader, and formative writer in the Keswick movement, although she was not always specifically a member of a Quaker assembly.
[17]            Pg. 30, Remarkable Relations, Barbara Strachey; cf. pg. 55 for Hannah’s continued public speaking.
[18]            Pg. 68, The Secret Life of Hannah Whitall Smith, Marie Henry.
[19]            Pg. 55, Remarkable Relations, Strachey.
[20]            Pg. 29, Remarkable Relations, Strachey; Italics in original. Compare 1 John 3:14.
[21]            Cf. Letter to Sarah, Marcy 12, 1885, reproduced in the entry for December 25 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.
[22]            Letter to a Friend, August 22, 1880, reproduced in the entries for October 14-15 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.
[23]            Thus, for example, a few days before the Brighton Convention, Robert having just concluded his continental preaching tour in 1875, when “it seem[ed] as if the whole German and Swiss Churches were moved to their very center by his message” of the Higher Life, Mr. and Mrs. Smith would still attend the Friends Meeting with Mr. Cowper-Temple, where Hannah would preach to people who had come to town to attend the Brighton Convention (pg. 26, A Religious Rebel: The Letters of “H. W. S,” ed. Logan Pearsall Smith.  Letter to her parents, John and Mary Whitall, May 26, 1875; cf. also pg. 29).  The idea that one would need to separate from and reject Quakerism as heresy to be part of the Higher Life or Keswick Conventions was absolutely unthinkable.
[24]            Pgs. 494-497, “The ‘Higher Life’ Movement,” Chapter 4 in Perfectionism, vol. 2, Benjamin B. Warfield.  Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003 (reprint of 1932 Oxford ed.).  Warfield downplays Robert P. Smith’s Quaker background, but it is unreasonable to do so when, for instance, Mr. Smith did not renounce the Quakerism into which he was born as a false religion and he had his “steadily more and more Quaker” wife write Higher Life articles for him, such as those which became Mrs. Smith’s bestselling Secret of a Happy Life.
[25]            Letter to Anna, August 4, 1882, reproduced in the entry for November 18 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.  Since any deity was acceptable to Mrs. Smith, it is not surprising that the pioneering psychologist, pragmatist, and finite god proponent William James was friends with the Pearsall Smiths, nor that, in the words of Logan Smith, James “was an admirer of my mother’s religious writings” (pg. 114, Unforgotten Years, Logan Pearsall Smith;  Logan notes that James also “enlisted my father’s assistance in the formation of an American Society for Psychical Research.”).
[26]            “It is to be hoped I give . . . sound teaching! [For she did not know if she did or not.]  At any rate it is comfortable teaching” (pg. 183, A Religious Rebel:  The Letters of “H. W. S,” ed. Logan Pearsall Smith.  Letter to her daughter, Mary Berenson, February 22, 1906.  Italics in original.). Compare Jeremiah 6:14; 8:11.
[27]            Pg. 204, A Religious Rebel:  The Letters of “H. W. S,” ed. Logan Pearsall Smith, reproducing Letter to her Daughter, Mary Berenson, November 26, 1908.  Italics in original.
[28]            pg. 376, Record of the Convention for the Promotion of Scriptural Holiness Held at Brighton, May 29th to June 7th, 1875. Brighton: W. J. Smith, 1875.  Contrast Zechariah 12:10-14; Matthew 5:4; 1 Corinthians 5:2; James 4:9-10.
[29]            Pgs. 155-156, Unforgotten Years, Logan Pearsall Smith.  Mrs. Smith justified this utterly unbiblical advice by a wretched abuse of Philippians 2:13, which was said to prove that God leads people to do whatever they want.
[30]            Logan recounts the situation in which this advice was given:
I remember once when [Hannah Smith] was full of years, and famous for her religious teachings, that a party of schoolgirls from some pious school in Philadelphia visited Oxford, and the teacher who conducted the party wrote to my mother . . . to say that it would be a privilege for the little flock of maidens to have a sight of this venerable Quaker saint, and to hear from her lips a few pious words.  The permission was granted;  the schoolgirls assembled on the spacious lawn outside our house . . . [W]hen she opened her lips I was considerably surprised to her her say, “Girls, don’t be too unselfish.”
        “Surely, Mother,” I remonstrated with her afterwards, “when those girls go home their pious relations will be dreadfully shocked by what thee said.”
        “Yes,” she replied gayly, “yes, I dare say it will make them grind their teeth.” (pgs. 156-157, Unforgotten Years, Logan P. Smith)
[31]            Pgs. 38-40, Unforgotten Years, Logan P. Smith.

2 comments:

KJB1611 said...

The modern deemphasis by many advocates of Keswick theology upon the problem of and the possibility of church members being unconverted, or people who are simply professing Christians being unconverted, follows in the footsteps of Mrs. Smith's teaching.

There is also a subtle but real difference between seeking sanctification for the glory of God and seeking it so that one can feel happy, one that is also often missed, IMO, among many advocates of Keswick.

Anonymous said...

The true sanctified life of a born-again saint of God must be manifest in the mortal flesh and this manifestation is found in such passages as Philippians 3:8-10, 2 Corinthians 4:6-11, Galatians 2:20 and others. It is best quantified by 2 Timothy 3:12 in that "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."

The "feel good" philosophy and vain deceit of women "teachers" such as this, who would pervert the truth of the scriptures (add the modern day Marilyn Hickey to that list) is foolishness and is the typical life a carnal, Laodicean mentality. "This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.