Friday, January 02, 2015

Hannah W. Smith, Inner Light and Biblical Misinterpretation; part 5 of 21 in Hannah W. Smith: Keswick Founder, Higher Life Preacher, Quaker Quietist and Universalist Heretic

Hannah, as a natural concomitant of her continuationism and Quakerism, believed in the Inner Light heresy and was consequently an opponent of the sole authority of Scripture.  W. H. Griffith Thomas effectively summarizes the character of the Quaker Inner Light heresy:
In the Mysticism of the Quakers we find the tendency to emphasize the doctrine of the “inner light” as something either independent of, or superior to the written Word. This position is set forth by Barclay, the leading theologian of the Society of Friends. “We may not call them (the Scriptures) the principal fountain of all truth and knowledge, nor yet the first adequate rule of faith and manners, because the principal fountain of truth must be the truth itself; i.e. that whose authority and certainty depends not upon another.”[1] Again, “God hath committed and given unto every man a measure of light of His own Son—a measure of grace, or a measure of the Spirit. This, as it is received, and not resisted, works the salvation of all, even of those who are ignorant of the death and sufferings of Christ.”[2] . . . [Contrary to Quakerism,] it is not true to say that every man, as such, has the Spirit of God, nor can we call the same thing “light,” “reason,” “grace,” “the Spirit,” “the Word of God,” “Christ within,” and “God in us.” Such a procedure would create untold confusion and lead to almost endless trouble. . . . According to the early Quakers a man of their time might be as truly inspired of God as were the Prophets and Apostles of the Bible. Against the imposition of dogma by authority George Fox said that “though he read of Christ and God,” he knew them only through a [“]like spirit in his own soul.” And to refer to Barclay again, he taught that “God hath placed His Spirit in every man, to inform him of his duty and to enable him to do it.”[3]
The Inner Light was key to Quaker devotional writing and practice:
The most obvious theological distinction [in] Quakerism which makes an impact on devotional pratice is the doctrine of the ‘inner light.’ . . . [E]very individual was born with the light of Christ within.  Though the light (which is often identified with the Holy Spirit) is darkened by sin, it can be rekindled through quietness and spiritual listening.  Christ, therefore, shines anew on the heart apart from the normal means of grace such as preaching and reading the Scriptures.[4]
Rejection of the sole authority of Scripture was a necessary corollary to the Inner Light doctrine—consequently, Hannah W. Smith, along with Quakerism in general, opposed the truth of sola Scriptura. For the “Society of Friends . . . [the] ultimate and final authority for religious life and faith resides within each individual. Many . . . seek for this truth through the guidance of the inner light.”[5]  Thus:
[George] Fox and others stressed [that] the contemporary believer has the same or clearer experience of God as the biblical prophets. . . . [T]he scripture is . . . like a record of ancient men who had their own ‘showings’ of the divine light, experiences recorded in order to prompt us to do the same.  The Bible is a guidebook only in this way[.] . . . “Quakerism is better off emphasizing pantheistic and universalist perspectives.  Our [Quaker] mode of worship is especially well-suited to this theology.  Other denominations probably better serve people who are looking for strict adherence to doctrine . . . or Christ crucified as a personal Savior[.]”[6]
Hannah Smith, a universalist who came to rest satisfied in a mystical “bare God,”[7] rather than the Triune Father, Son, and Holy Spirit revealed in Scripture,[8] received many great revelations as a Quaker—unfortunately, they were far, far too often not illumination that came from the study of the Scripture, but additional revelations or Quaker “openings” that arose from other sources.  For example, she wrote:  “One of my greatest ‘openings’ into the mystery of religion came from something I heard . . . Oscar Wilde . . . say in Philadelphia, dressed in shorts with a big sunflower in his buttonhole.”[9]  Statements of the serial pedophile Oscar Wilde, with the assistance of the Inner Light, were, for Hannah, a fine substitute for the sole authority of the infallible Word of God, the Bible.[10]
Naturally, Mrs. Smith opposed literal or grammatical-historical interpretation of Scripture, and the truly authoritative character of Scripture in general.  She affirmed:  “I am afraid of too much literalness”[11] in interpreting the Bible, preferring rather “the spiritual meaning” that is “often so much deeper than appears on the surface, as even to seem almost in contrast”[12] to the literal meaning.  After all, literal interpretation was the death-knell of Quaker continuationism and the destruction of the foundation of the Higher Life theology—it was, therefore, better when at meetings like the Broadlands Conferences Mrs. Smith, her husband, and others could minister in a “wonderfully inspired way,” testifying to notions validated not by literal exegesis of Scripture, but by “their personal experience,” as they “tarried . . . not . . . in the letter of the Word, but . . . discerned everywhere beneath it the living Word.”[13]
  Mrs. Smith could likewise rejoice when a modernist like “Newman Smyth” wrote “a grand book on Christian evolution,”[14] or when the modernist “Canon Farrar . . . dealt forcibly with all timid holding on to old errors” and set forth the necessity for “revision of the Bible.”[15]  Indeed, because of the preeminence of the Inner Light, the Bible was normally not used in the Friends meeting.[16]  Mrs. Smith certainly had no patience for a dispensational and literal view of Biblical prophecy;  indeed, while Biblical holiness leads saints to long for Christ’s second coming,[17] Hannah Smith testified:  “[S]ince Christ has come to me in my heart I cannot care so much for His outward coming.”[18]  What need did she have for the Bible and its literal meaning when she had mysticism and a Quaker inward divinity, a “Christ within,” to lead her and teach her?
Mrs. Smith, contrary to 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-37, spoke frequently to mixed audiences and taught adult men.  Although Paul, under inspiration, stated:  “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak. . . it is a shame for women to speak in the church. . . . If any man think himself to be . . . spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord,” Mrs. Smith preached to men about how to be spiritual.  At their meetings, both “Mr. and Mrs. Pearsall Smith . . . took a leading part in the speaking.”[19]  She “supported the right of women to preach as Quakers always had done,”[20] defending “women’s preaching” after “an experience of revolt from the traditional views”[21] found in Scripture, a revolt in which she was followed by many, such as Mrs. Boardman, who was similarly “led” to address mixed audiences under Quaker influence,[22] and Hannah’s Quaker and Keswick successor Jessie Penn-Lewis.  Mrs. Smith explained at the Brighton Convention, where vast crowds of men thronged to hear her preaching,[23] that she had asked the Lord to show her whether women should preach or not, and “He . . . gave me such a strong feeling that it was His mind, that now, whatever is said against it, it makes no difference.”[24]  Experience validated woman preachers in a way that Scripture could not.  However, the unscriptural experiental validation of women preachers was most comparable to the validation of the Mind and Faith Cures by experience—the marvels performed by women validated both their leadership ministries and the value of their Cures.  After all, students of the early decades of the Mind and Faith Cure movements noted:  “[N]inety-five percent of [the] adherents [of] . . . ‘Christian Science’ . . . are women . . . [and] ‘Faith Healing’ . . . too . . . has a largely feminine constituency.”[25]  Thus, experience on her side, arguments from Scripture could by no means move Mrs. Smith from her position, although she was willing to assent to the views of other Quaker women preachers who justified their disobedience by proclaiming at the pre-Keswick Conventions a misinterpretation of Joel 2:28’s promise about the prophesying of daughters.[26]  While the committee backing their Higher Life conventions allowed both Hannah and Robert to preach, she made “the members of the committee . . . uneasy[.] . . . It was bad enough for a woman to preach;  many, in particular the Germans, found it extremely shocking;  but for her to preach Restitution, or the denial of Hell, was dangerously heretical.”[27]  Nonetheless, Hannah wrote to Robert:  “I quite enjoy the thought of your pow-wow over me . . . and of . . . condolences . . . on the possession of such a dangerous article as a heretical, preaching wife. . . . I do not in the least mind being a heretic.  In fact I think it rather suits my cast of mind.”[28]  Indeed, it was precisely her denial of hell for the universalist heresy that brought her and her husband to fame, for her universalist confession lead to her receipt, “at a time when the universal hope was deemed a heresy . . . an invitation to hold [the] series of [Higher Life] meetings at Broadlands.”[29]  Consequently, on the authority of her feelings and subjective impressions and backed by her heretical opinions, Mrs. Smith began her career as a woman preacher in Quaker meetings and continued preaching regularly to mixed audiences of men and women for the rest of her life.[30]
Mrs. Smith was also passionately opposed to the Biblical pattern of leadership by the husband in marriage (Ephesians 5:22-33), stating that it made women into slaves, and looking to woman’s gaining the vote as the key to the destruction of all the Biblical patriarchy (Isaiah 3:12) that existed in the society of her day.[31]  Concerning the Biblical roles in marriage, she said:  “‘No’ emphatically . . . a thousand times ‘No.’ . . . I know nothing more absolutely unjust in itself nor more productive of misery to the woman than the assumption of the place of authority on the part of men. It reduces women at once in principle to the position of slaves . . . [a]ny amount of anarchy and confusion would be better.”[32]  Nothing, Hannah W. Smith knew, could be more unjust than what the Holy and Just One, the good and loving God, commanded about the roles of men and women in the marriage relationship.



This entire study can be accessed here.




[1]              Forsyth, The Principle of Authority, p. 181. See also p. 183.
[2]              Barclay, Apologia.  Note Barclay’s universalism.
[3]              Pgs. 237-239, The Holy Spirit of God, Griffith-Thomas.  Note the universal Quaker equation of obligation to God and ability to obey.
[4]              Pg. 46, Trinitarian Spirituality, Brian Kay.
[5]              Pg. 431, “Friends, Society of,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Elwell.
[6]              Pg. 48, Trinitarian Spirituality, Brian Kay, quoting Ted Goertzel of Rutgers University.
[7]              It is consequently not surprising that at the Broadlands Conference Christ crucified, or the economic redemptive-historical redemption and revelation of the ontological Trinity, or justification by the shed blood of Christ, or other truly evangelical themes were not the “great topics round which our thoughts centered”—the “great topics” were ones that had nothing to do specifically with the Lord Jesus Christ and His redeeming work (pg. 122, The Life that is Life Indeed:  Reminiscences of the Broadlands Conferences, Edna V. Jackson.  London:  James Nisbet & Co, 1910).
[8]              Indeed, Quakerism has never been strongly trinitarian.  Already in the sixteenth century, John Owen wrote:
God hath revealed or manifested himself as three in one, and, therefore, as such is to be worshipped and glorified by us; — that is, as three distinct persons, subsisting in the same infinitely holy, one, undivided essence. . . . I fear that the failing of some men’s profession begins with their relinquishment of this foundation. It is now evident unto all that here hath been the fatal miscarriage of those poor deluded souls amongst us whom they call Quakers; and it is altogether in vain to deal with them about other particulars, whilst they are carried away with infidelity from this foundation. Convince any of them of the doctrine of the Trinity, and all the rest of their imaginations vanish into smoke. (A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, John Owen, I:3)
William Penn (1644-1718), the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania and co-laborer of George Fox, blasphemed the Triune God and sought to bring others to adopt anti-trinitarian idolatry:
Before I shall conclude this head, it is requisite that I should inform thee, reader, concerning the origin of the Trinitarian doctrine:  Thou mayest assure thyself, it is not from the Scriptures nor reason, since so expressly repugnant:  although all broachers of their own inventions strongly endeavor to reconcile them with that holy record.  Know then, my friend, it was born above three hundred years after the ancient Gospel was declared;  it was conceived in ignorance, brought forth and maintained by cruelty.  (pg. vi, A History of the Doctrine of the Trinity in the Early Church, Hugh H. Stannus.  London:  Christian Life Publishing, 1882.)
Even for that minority of Quakerism that did not boldly adopt anti-Trinitarian heresy, the Triune character of the true God had very little influence on Quaker piety or devotion, for practical error on the Trinity was tied to the practices associated with of the Inner Light:
The Quaker doctrine of the inner light was a misunderstanding of both the person and the work of the Holy Spirit.  The constant emphasis on the Spirit within-the-soul was a subtle form of an exaltation of the Spirit by the Spirit, especially since the Spirit rarely was understood by Quakers to point the believer back to the objective work of Christ’s sacrifice.  For [orthodox Christianity, by way of contrast,] the Spirit was instead to glorify the Son, as per the words of John 16:14:  “[The Spirit] shall glorify me;  for he shall receive of mine and shall show it to you.”  The message of the Quakers was thus an inversion of the order of the divine dispensations, for the Spirit’s mission is to make the Son glorious, honourable, and of high esteem in the hearts of the believers and to shed abroad the love of God in our hearts.  The Spirit’s mission is therefore parallel to the Son’s being sent by the Father to suffer at Jerusalem . . . for us and to bring glory to the Father who sent him.  At its heart, the failure of Quaker worship was that it got the Trinity’s work of redemption wrong. . . . [T]o the extent that . . . William Penn can be credited with articulating Quakerism’s theological foundations, one would conclude that early on the movement had become decidely anti-trinitarian.  John Punshon’s history of the Quakers admits as much, saying that the movement never formally adopted the doctrine of the Trinity, but instead, the functioning theology proper is closer to pantheism [pgs. 158-167, Portrait in Grey:  A Short History of the Quakers, John Punshon.  London:  Quaker Home Service, 1984]. . . . A nebulous doctrine of God leads naturally to a nebulous, unstructured form of worship. . . . Quakerism . . . tended to describe the spiritual life as if the Trinity did not exist or matter. . . . [Neither] an orthodox theology of God [nor] . . . the role of the Son as a historical mediator . . . filtered down into actual spiritual practice.  The [Quaker] emphasis on the “Spirit of Christ” seems to therefore have no connection to the Jesus who lived in Palestine, and the “inner light” does not particularly illuminate the saving purposes of either Father or Son. . . . Quakerism, therefore, prayed, or listened [to the Inner Light], in a way that would be largely unaffected if the Trinity were proved untrue.  (pgs. 46-50, Trinitarian Spirituality, Brian Kay.  Quotation marks of sources cited by Kay have been removed.)
In contrast, for a born-again believer such as John Owen, the Trinity was at the heart of Christian piety, so that his devotional books and devotional “whole . . . discourse[s] doth presuppose and lean upon . . . the doctrine of the Trinity . . . [as their] foundation” (A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, John Owen, I:3).  It is not surprising, then, that in contrast to orthodox Christianity, the piety of Hannah Whitall Smith, as a good Quaker, would be largely unaffected were the Trinity false, while the Triune God in Christ is at the heart of the piety of Christian orthodoxy.  For a John Owen, Hannah W. Smith’s “bare God” would never do in resisting temptation—only the God and Father of Jesus Christ, who displayed His love through the cross, would suffice for a holy life:
[K]eep the heart full of a sense of the love of God in Christ. This is the greatest preservative against the power of temptation in the world. . . . “The love of Christ constraineth us,” saith the apostle, “to live to him,” 2 Corinthians 5:14; and so, consequently, to withstand temptation. A man may, nay, he ought to lay in provisions of the law also—fear of death . . . [and] punishment, with the terror of the Lord in them. But these are far more easily conquered than the other; nay, they will never stand alone against a vigorous assault. They are conquered in convinced persons every day; hearts stored with them will struggle for a while, but quickly give over. But store the heart with a sense of the love of God in Christ, and his love in the shedding of it; get a relish of the privileges we have thereby,—our adoption, justification, acceptation with God; fill the heart with thoughts of the beauty of his death;—and thou wilt, in an ordinary course of walking with God, have great peace and security as to the disturbance of temptations. When men can live and plod on in their profession, and not be able to say when they had any living sense of the love of God or of the privileges which we have in the blood of Christ, I know not what they can have to keep them from falling into snares. (Chapter 7, Of Temptation, Owen)
[9]              Pg. 170, A Religious Rebel:  The Letters of “H. W. S,” ed. Logan Pearsall Smith.  Letter to her Daughter, Mary Berenson, November 10, 1904).
[10]            As documented below, the Quaker rejection of sola Scriptura, by dominating the Higher Life theology through Quakers like Hannah W. Smith, Robert P. Smith, Robert Wilson, and Jessie Penn-Lewis, contributed to the continuationist or anti-cessationist trajectory of Keswick and wider Higher Life theology into Pentecostalism and the Word of Faith movements.
[11]            Letter to Anna, May 15, 1878, reproduced in the entry for August 23 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.
[12]            Letter to Anna, September 27, 1879, reproduced in the entry for September 25 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.  At the time of her letter, her love for allegorical and “spiritual” meanings of the Bible and disregard of the literal meaning of the text led her to “not want to read anything but the Gospels.”
[13]            Pg. 122, Memorials [of William Francis Cowper-Temple, Baron Mount-Temple], Georgina Cowper-Temple.  London:  Printed for private circulation, 1890.  Italics in the original.
[14]            Pg. 69, A Religious Rebel: The Letters of “H. W. S,” ed. Logan Smith.  Journal Letter to her Friends, August 8, 1883.  Italics in original.  Smyth made the Bible an authority subordinate to the “Christian consciousness” and made evolution his framework for interpreting Christian faith.  (See pg. 233, The Encyclopedia of Christianity, vol. 2, Fahlbusch & Bromiley & “Review of The Christian Life:  A Handbook of Christian Ethics, by Joseph Stump,” in Reviews by Cornelius Van Til, C. Van Til & E. H. Sigward.  Labels Army Company:  New York, NY 1997. Elec. ed. in The Works of Cornelius Van Til, Logos Bible Software.).
[15]            Letter to Family and Friends, July 4, 1885, reproduced in the entry for December 29 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.  Of course, Farrar approved of both the Higher and the Lower criticism.
[16]            Cf. Letter to Mary, September 4, 1882, reproduced in the entry for November 24 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.
[17]            E. g., 1 John 3:2; Psalm 17:15; Hebrews 9:28; 2 Corinthians 5:6-8; Revelation 22:20.
[18]            Letter to Anna, July 8, 1879, reproduced in the entry for September 16 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.  Concerning a dispensational approach to the second coming, she wrote in the same letter:
The Second Coming . . . all seems very spectacular and after the flesh to me. And it does not tend to spirituality say what they may. What with their seven judgments, and their two resurrections, and their rebuilding of Babylon, and their two Witnesses, and their time and times and half a time, there is such a complicated arrangement of affairs altogether, that one’s best comprehension can hardly unravel it. And since Christ has come to me in my heart I cannot care so much for His outward coming.
        If this outward Coming were to usher in at once a reign of peace and joy I would long for it unspeakably; but according to the students it is to introduce first seven years of unparalleled tribulation and anguish, and I cannot long for that. Still He knows, and I shall be content; only somehow, I have the feeling that I will ask to be allowed to stay down on the earth during this tribulation to help the poor souls bear it. How can we enjoy ourselves up “in the air” when we know that our going has taken away the last restraint upon wickedness, and that we have left the poor world to an unbridled carnival of sin?
Thus, the literal interpretation of Biblical propehecy was “fleshly” to Mrs. Smith, as it did not lend itself to her sort of “spirituality,” and she hoped that she could miss the Rapture, as she did not, in any case, care so much for Christ’s return since she could experience the Higher Life now.
[19]            Pgs. 21, 24, So Great Salvation, Barabas.
[20]            See January 29-30, The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.
[21]            Letter to a Friend, May 18, 1879, reproduced in the entry for September 13 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.
[22]            Pgs. 146-147, Life and Labours of the Rev. W. E. Boardman, Mrs. Boardman.
[23]            Pg. 120, Record of the Convention for the Promotion of Scriptural Holiness Held at Brighton, May 29th to June 7th, 1875. Brighton: W. J. Smith, 1875.
[24]            Pgs. 375-376, Record of the Convention for the Promotion of Scriptural Holiness Held at Brighton, May 29th to June 7th, 1875. Brighton: W. J. Smith, 1875.  Mrs. Smith continued:  “Don’t ask the Lord and then try to find out by your own reasoning.”  In line with Quaker doctrine, she taught that impressions and strong feelings were to supercede the reasoning faculty of the mind in determining the will of God.
[25]            Pg. 249, “Christian Science and Faith Healing,” Clyde W. Votaw. New Englander and Yale Review.  New Haven, CT:  Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor, 1891. 18:3:249-258.  Votaw gives the 95% figure for 1891 and dates the origin of the Mind Cure to Mary Baker Eddy and the year 1866.
[26]            E. g., pg. 371, Record of the Convention for the Promotion of Scriptural Holiness Held at Brighton, May 29th to June 7th, 1875. Brighton: W. J. Smith, 1875.
[27]            Pgs. 43-44, Remarkable Relations, Barbara Strachey.
[28]            Pg. 44, Remarkable Relations, Strachey.
[29]            Pgs. 41-42, Remarkable Relations, Strachey.
[30]            Pg. xv, A Religious Rebel: The Letters of “H. W. S,” ed. Logan Smith.  For example, in a letter she wrote:  “Sixty pulpits were filled by our women on Sunday, and I preached 3 times.  Lady Henry’s sermon was a great success.  The crowds were something fearful” (pgs. 118-119, A Religious Rebel: The Letters of “H. W. S,” ed. Logan Smith.  Letter to her friends, November 10, 1891).  Both before the fall of Robert and afterwards, she “often preached” (pgs. xvii, ibid).  It was not unusual in those days for Quaker preachers to hold revival meetings, and Hannah and Robert Pearsall Smith were hardly the only Quakers to do so (cf. pg. 69, A Religious Rebel: The Letters of “H. W. S,” ed. Logan Smith.  Journal Letter to her friends, August 8, 1883).
[31]            Letter to Mary, January 29, 1882, reproduced in the entry for November 10 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.
[32]            Letter to Frank Costelloe, 1883, reproduced in the entries for December 17-18 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.

1 comment:

KJB1611 said...

I am very pleased that David Cloud has published the exposé of Mrs. Smith here:

http://wayoflife.org/index_files/hannah_whithall_smith_popular_heretic.html

May his influential publication lead to a reduction in influence of Mrs. Smith's theology, that is, Keswick theology, in the independent fundamental Baptist movement.