Friday, December 12, 2014

Hannah W. Smith and The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, part 2 of 21 in Hannah W. Smith: Keswick Founder, Higher Life Preacher, Quaker Quietist and Universalist Heretic

Hannah wrote her book out of a conviction that Higher Life or Keswick doctrine was solid Quaker teaching.  She was convinced that “the early leaders of her own society of Friends [Quakers] had been preaching the same” Higher Life theology “which she was hearing about from . . . Methodist writers such as John Wesley” and “the Holiness advocates of her day.”[1]  Certainly the classic Quaker doctrine of sanctification is either extremely similar or entirely identical to the doctrine taught by the Keswick convention.[2]  Hannah was confident that her Higher Life teaching was simply classic, unreformed Quakerism.
How, then, did Mrs. Smith come to write her bestselling and extremely influential Quaker and Keswick classic?  She explained:
[M]y book, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life . . . was written simply and only to oblige my husband, who was editing a monthly religious paper at the time, and who begged me each month for an article.  I had no feeling whatever of being “called” to write it, nor that I was being “guided” in any way. . . . I said . . . that I would only write one [article], and that he need not expect me to continue.  For some reason, however, my article excited more interest than anything else in the paper, and he begged me so much to go on writing that I finally consented to give him an article every month. . . . [T]hese articles, collected in a book, made the Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life[.] . . . But these articles were dragged from me, so to speak, at the point of the bayonet, for I never wrote them in any month until the printers were clamoring for their copy.  I could not be said, therefore, to have had any great feeling or sense of being called to write them, beyond the fact that I did it to oblige my husband[.] . . . [T]he book was not written under any special feeling of being called to write it, nor with any idea that it was in the least an especially religious service.  I did it simply and only to oblige my husband, and that was all there was to it.  I didn’t even pray much about it, nor had I any thought that I was doing a work for the Lord[.][3]
Indeed, Hannah was yet more candid in writing to her daughter:
[M]y most successful book [The Christian’s Secret] was written so to speak at the point of the bayonet, without one ray of enthusiasm, and hating to do it all the time. . . . I must repeat that I did write “The Christian’s Secret” at the point of the bayonet, as it were.  I did not want to write it at all, and only did it at father’s earnest entreaties. . . . [H]e begged me so hard that at last I said I would write one article and no more, if he would give up drinking wine at dinner.  Then when that article was published everyone clamoured for another, and father begged, and I was good-natured and went on, but under a continual protest.  And the best chapter of all was written . . . when I was . . . as near cursing as a person who had experienced the “blessings of holiness” could dare to be!  So . . . books can be successful even if they are ground out with groans and curses[.][4]
Thus, Hannah W. Smith did not pray much about her bestseller, nor think that she was doing a work for the Lord by writing it, but simply wanted her husband, at the pinnacle of his work as a Higher Life preacher, to stop drinking alcohol at dinner.  She had not a ray of enthusiasm for the book, but emphatically hated writing it, and even ground out the best chapter with groans and curses.  Nevertheless, with what appears to be assistance from the supernatural realm, her book, and its Higher Life theology, spread like wildfire and was received with overwhelming acclaim. So wonderful, she came to conclude, was the Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life that she wrote concerning it:  “Every line I write is a pure favor to the world[.]”[5]  The book was her doing—it was marvelous in her eyes.
            Nevertheless, even as she wrote her bestselling and paradigmatic Keswick book without much prayer and without thinking about doing any work for God by composing it, but filled with hatred, groans, and curses, Hannah recognized that the kind of religion she led others to adopt could be preached and promulgated by ungodly people who, without any blessing from God, simply were putting on a religious show.  After the downfall of her husband Robert P. Smith on account of his promulgation of erotic bride mysticism during the Keswick precursor Conventions,[6] the Smiths returned to America.  Upon their arrival, Dr. Charles Cullis, who “had stood by Robert more nobly and grandly than any other human being”[7] when Mr. Smith was exposed for his erotic mysticism, sought to restore Robert by having him and his wife preach some meetings.  The “sole object [of the meetings] was to reinstate Robert in the eyes of the church and the world. . . . [I]t ought not to have been called a ‘Convention for the promotion of holiness,’ but a ‘Convention for the promotion of Pearsall Smith.’”[8]  Hannah Smith wrote to a friend about these meetings:
I felt utterly indifferent to the meeting in every way . . . I f[ound] no pleasure in it whatever.  So we made no preparations for the meeting, we neither studied, nor prayed, nor meditated, nor in fact thought about it at all. . . . We both of us hated it cordially, and felt we should be only too thankful when it was over.
        It was in no sense a religious or “pious” undertaking on our parts.  We were neither fervent, nor prayerful, nor concerned, nor anything that we ought to have been. Thou sees[9] I am telling the honest truth. And I really cannot imagine a meeting begun in a worse frame of mind that [sic] ours was, according to all one’s preconceived notions of what is the right and suitable thing. And in precisely the same frame of mind we went through the meeting. It was all a wearisome performance to us. We did it as if we had crossed over an impassable gulf. The flood had come since the last time [when Higher Life meetings were held], and changed everything for us. There was no interest, no enthusiasm. The meetings were a bore; the work was like a treadmill. We counted the hours until we could get away, and hailed the moment of emancipation with unspeakable joy. . . . [We knew we had] indifference and want of every sort of proper qualification for Christian work, which I have described before[.] . . . I was utterly unmoved; and both Robert and I came away more confirmed than ever in our feeling of entire relief from everything of the kind. We are done! Somebody else may do it now.
However, despite the fact that neither Robert nor Hannah Smith could stand being at the meetings, the power from the spirit world that was evident in their earlier ministry was more abundant than ever:
I . . . am compelled to record that the meeting was a perfect success. There was just the same power and blessing as at Oxford or Brighton, only on a smaller scale because of the meeting being smaller. There was every sign of the continual presence of the Spirit. Souls were converted, backsliders restored, Christians sanctified, and all present seemed to receive definite blessings. Dr. Cullis and many others say that it was the best meeting ever held in this country. And it really was a good meeting, even I, uninterested as I was, could see that. There was just the same apparent wave of blessing that swept over our English meetings. And Robert and I never worked more effectually. He had all his old power in preaching and leading meetings, and the very self-same atmosphere of the Spirit was with him as used to be in England. As for me, thee knows I am not much given to tell of my own successes, but in this case, in order that thee may have all the facts, I have to tell thee that I was decidedly “favored” as Friends say. In fact I don’t believe I ever was as good. All who had heard me before said so.
The fuss that was made over me was a little more than even in England. The preachers fairly sat at my feet, figuratively speaking, and constantly there kept coming to me testimonies of definite blessings received while I spoke. The second time I spoke a Democratic Editor was converted and consecrated on the spot; and I could scarcely get a minute to myself for the enquirers who fairly overwhelmed me. . . . I had to write all this, and thee must tear it right up, but how could thee know it unless I told thee[.] . . .  For who would have dreamed of such an outcome to the indifference and want of every sort of proper qualification for [Christian] work, which I have described beforehand? . . . They all talked to me most solemnly about how dreadful it was in me to think of giving up public work[.] . . . We had to refuse lots of urgent invitations to hold meetings in various places, but we did it without a longing thought, only too thankful to be released. . . .
The one satisfaction of the meeting to us was this, and it was a satisfaction, that Robert was treated with all the old deference and respect, and that no one even seemed to think of or remember the English scandals, and Robert felt that it was a complete reinstatement of himself in the eyes of the church and the world. Our object in going to the meeting was accomplished . . . it will wipe out all the wretched English blot, and put him right once more. And then henceforth home and home life for us.
Personal holiness and genuine blessing from the Holy Spirit were not required for the type of religion spread by Hannah and Robert Smith.  Their Higher Life doctrine could be spread by both knowingly unconsecrated Christians who were just putting on a weary performance and by unconverted persons.  Hannah continued:
And now, WHAT does thee think of it all? I think one of two things, but which one I think, I don’t know. Perhaps thee can tell me. Either I was awfully wicked in the whole matter, and God was not in it anywhere, and all the success was by force of natural gifts and talents. Or else I was awfully good, so good as to have lost sight of self to such a degree as to be only a straw wafted on the wind of the Spirit, and so consecrated as not to be able to form a desire even, except that the will of God might be fully done.
I waver about myself continually. Sometimes I feel sure I have progressed wonderfully, and that my present sphinx-like calm and indifference to everything whether inward or outward except the will of God, is very grand. . . . I really don’t much care what His will is. . . .  And then again I think I am an utterly irreligious and lazy fatalist, with not a spark of the divine in me.[10] I do wish I could find out which I am. But at all events my orthodoxy has fled to the winds. I am Broad, Broader, Broadest! So broad that I believe everything is good, or has a germ of good in it, and “nothing to be refused,” if it be received with thankfulness.
I agree with everybody, and always think it likely everybody’s “view” is better than my own. I hold all sorts of heresies, and feel myself to have got out into a limitless ocean of the love of God that overflows all things. My theology is complete, if you but grant me an omnipotent and just Creator. I need nothing more.[11] All the tempests in the various religious teapots around me do seem so far off, so young, so green, so petty!  I know I was there once, it must have been ages ago, and it seems impossible. “God is love,” comprises my whole system of ethics. And, as thou says, it seems to take in all. . . . I guess He means us to be good human beings in this world, and nothing more. . . . There is certainly a very grave defect in any doctrine that universally makes its holders narrow and uncharitable, and this is always the case with strict so-called orthodoxy. Whereas, as soon as Christian love comes in, the bounds widen infinitely. I find that everyone who has travelled this highway of holiness for any length of time, has invariably cut loose from its old moorings.[12] I bring out my heresies to such, expecting reproof, when lo! I find sympathy. We are “out on the ocean sailing,” that is certain. And if it is the ocean of God’s love, as I believe, it is grand.
But, enough! Now, what will thee do with it all?[13]
Hannah saw that her Higher Life doctrine did not require the blessing of the Spirit of God and that it led people to reject Christian orthodoxy for ever greater heresy.  While she was not willing to commit to the truth because of her unwillingness to evaluate everything by Scripture alone, she was correct when she opined:  “I was awfully wicked in the whole matter, and God was not in it anywhere and all the success was because of our natural gifts and talents.”  Both Mrs. Smith and her husband possessed tremendous natural powers and salesmanship abilities which they used to great success.[14]  Mrs. Smith was also correct that her sphinxlike indifference was pagan fatalism,[15] irreligious, and evidence that she had nothing of God in her.  Describing the powers that brought her to be leading meetings and services continually, Hannah wrote:  “There seems to be something occult about it.”[16]  Nonetheless, she continued on her path without care or concern, feeling happy.  Mr. Smith recognized the overwhelming evidence provided by his last “successful” meeting that the Holy Spirit was not in his work at all, but that his success was simply natural;  his apostasy from the profession of Christianity to agnosticism following in due course.[17]  Mrs. Smith, on the other hand, was not willing to recognize that all her Higher Life agitation had been done without any real blessing by God, and so she retained her belief in the Higher Life and in a deity, while her orthodoxy, such as it was, went to the winds.  She could be satisfied without the incarnate Christ,[18] considering doctrines such as His Deity, crucifixion, and resurrection as mere tempests in a religious teapot.  She could be satisfied also without the church.[19] She could even be satisfied with the piety of mystical Hindu syncretism or Buddhism,[20] as long as she had a simple Creator.  When Mrs. Smith could dilute the whole counsel of God contained in the complete Bible to a simple and mushy “God is love”[21]—whoever and whatever God is—and when those who “travelled on this highway” of the Higher Life with her “for any length of time” ended up jettisoning orthodoxy also, it should have been glaringly and horribly obvious to her upon self-examination (2 Corinthians 13:5) that her religion was earthly, sensual, and devilish.

This entire study can be accessed here.

[1]              See January 19-20, The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.
[2]              Cf. the article “Justification and Sanctification” in the Orthodox Quaker Declaration of Faith Issued by the Richmond Conference in 1887 (Elec. acc., where both a Higher Life theology is affirmed and the Quaker heresy that justification is by the impartation of righteousness rather than imputed righteousness is confessed.
[3]              Pgs. 251-253, Religious Fanaticism:  Extracts from the Papers of Hannah Whitall Smith, ed. & intr. Ray Strachey.
[4]              Pgs. 172-174, A Religious Rebel:  The Letters of “H. W. S,” ed. Logan Smith.  Letters to her daughter, Mary Berenson, January 1, 1905 & February 25, 1905.  Italics retained from the original.
[5]              Pg. 23, A Religious Rebel:  The Letters of “H. W. S,” ed. Logan Pearsall Smith, reproducing a Letter to her Husband, Robert Pearsall Smith, April 27, 1875.  Italics in original.
[6]              The erotic Spirit baptism doctrine promulgated by the Pearsall Smiths will be explicated in further detail in later blog posts.
[7]              Pg. 32, A Religious Rebel:  The Letters of “H. W. S,” ed. Logan Pearsall Smith, reproducing Letter to Mrs. Anna Shipley, August 8, 1876.
[8]              Pg. 32, A Religious Rebel:  The Letters of “H. W. S,” ed. Logan Pearsall Smith, reproducing Letter to Mrs. Anna Shipley, August 8, 1876.
[9]              The use of the archaic English pronoun in this fashion was typical among the Quakers of Hannah Smith’s day.
[10]            That is, without the Divine Seed of Quakerism.
[11]            That is, Jesus Christ was not necessary, Mrs. Smith thought.  Note that this satisfaction with a bare creative deity, a satisfication with a god other and less than the Triune Jehovah who has brought redemption through His incarnate Son, was Hannah W. Smith’s expressed doctrine immediately after the 1874-5 Broadlands, Oxford, and Brighton Conventions.  One cannot maintain that she was solidly orthodox at the time she founded the Keswick theology and merely became a heretic, say, some decades later.
[12]            That is, the adoption of the Higher Life leads to the disowning of Christian orthodoxy.
[13]            Pgs. 32-36, A Religious Rebel:  The Letters of “H. W. S,” ed. Logan Pearsall Smith.  Letter to Mrs. Anna Shipley, August 8, 1876.  Italics and capitalization in original.  See also Letter to a Friend, August 8, 1876, reproduced in the entries for August 2-4 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.  A portion of the letter not reproduced by Logan is found in Dieter.  Hannah elsewhere wrote:  “The truth is my ‘broadness’ embraces every soul that is reaching out after God and every instrumentality that helps any to find Him, no matter how different it may be from my own views and ways”—that is, as long as one is “reaching after God,” Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, animism, or any other system of belief was acceptable (Letter to a Friend, May 24, 1880, reproduced in the entry for October 10 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter).
[14]            Logan Pearsall Smith described the natural powers of salesmanship possessed by his father Robert P. Smith as follows:
My father was a man of fine presence, and of a sanguine, enthusiastic temperament[.] . . . He was, above all, a magnificent salesman; and traveling all over the United States, and offering the firm’s wares [the glass manufacturing firm Robert worked with before he became a Higher Life preacher] to the chemists of the rapidly expanding Republic, he exercised upon those apothecaries the gifts of persuasion and blandishment, almost of hypnotization, which were destined later, in European and more exalted spheres, to produce some startling results [in his Higher Life work]. . . . My father . . . possessed the hypnotic power of swaying great audiences[.] (pgs. 32, 72 Unforgotten Years, Logan Pearsall Smith)
[15]            The sphinxlike indifference of Hannah W. Smith was radically different from the attitude of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Mrs. Smith declared:  “I utterly refuse to let myself indulge in grief for my children who have left me [in death.] . . . It is really disobedience . . . to indulge in grief” (Letter to Priscilla, January 28, 1882, reproduced in the entry for November 11 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter).  “She had lost her elder son . . . her heart was untroubled” (pg. 49, The Life that is Life Indeed:  Reminiscences of the Broadlands Conferences, Edna V. Jackson.  London:  James Nisbet & Co, 1910).  Contrast Mrs. Smith’s attitude with that of the Lord Jesus Christ:  “When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled[.] . . . Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!” (John 11:33-36).
[16]            Pg. 133, A Religious Rebel: The Letters of “H. W. S,” ed. Logan Smith.  Letter to her Daughter, Mary Costelloe, October 29, 1896.
[17]            Logan Pearsall Smith wrote:  “After this ‘scamp meeting’ . . . as Dr. Cullis wittily called it . . . and the disillusion it brought, in spite of its success, my father became more sympathetic to my grandfather’s want of faith;  and this feeling was much increased [as time continued to pass]” (pgs. 66-69, Unforgotten Years).
[18]            One is not surprised that Hannah was also sympathetic to and ready to reject the orthodox doctrine of the Council of Chalcedon on the Person of Christ and His two natures for the heretical and idolatrous kenotic theory as expressed by Godet, that “the Church doctrine of the two natures does not perfectly set forth the sense of the Scriptures . . . the Scriptures do not teach the presence of the divine nature with its divine attributes in Jesus on earth. The expression in John 1:14 conveys the idea of a divine subject reduced to a human state, but not of two states, divine and human, co-existing” (pg. 399, The Humiliation of Christ in its Physical, Ethical, and Official Aspects, A. B. Bruce.  Edinburgh:  T & T Clark, 1900).  Hannah Smith explained how the Higher Life led her against Biblical and Chalcedonian Christology:
I must read Godet . . . [for] his views of Christ . . . I am not at all shocked at what you tell me about them; and it would be just like our God to take our place really and actually, and share our lot even in its limitations. I think I would have done it if I were in His place. . . . Anna, when once the soul has begun to know God, old prejudices must go! And before the two grand facts of His justice and His love, all the old creeds and notions vanish like clouds before sunshine. . . . I cannot express how thankful I am for the relentless pressure my dear Methodist friends put me under years ago on this matter of consecration. (Letter to Mrs. Shipley, 1878, reproduced in the entry for September 8 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter).
Hannah was sympathetic to the kenotic theory, for, even if it was not taught in the Bible, she would have followed it if she were God.  In any case, at least she had a Divine seed in her, as Quakerism taught.
[19]            “Somehow my two summers out in the wilds of nature, with no meetings and no religious influences, only God and His works, have been more helpful in my interior life than any other thing I have ever known” (Letter to Anna, November 24, 1882, reproduced in the entry for November 29 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter).  Contrast the attitude of King David towards the instituted worship of the Lord:  “How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God. . . . For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand” (Psalm 84:1-2, 10).
[20]            Her attitude toward a syncretistic blending of Hinduism and Christianity is evident in her view of Chunder Sen.  “In 1857 the young Keshub Chunder Sen (1838–84) joined the society . . . Brahmo Samaj (Society of Brahma), which taught theism and rationality against the background of Indian mysticism[.] . . .  Later he formed a new group, the Brahmo Samaj of India,” which combined Hindu mysticism with “social Christianity” and “adopted some Christian teachings” while remaining fundamentally Hindu (pg. 549, The Encyclopedia of Christianity, vol. 2, E. Fahlbusch & G. W. Bromiley.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 1999-2003).  Hannah Smith viewed this Hindu idolator and syncretist as a great spiritual teacher, and affirmed that, led by her Inner Light, she worshipped the same god, the god of mysticism, the god of this world (Ephesians 2:1-3), the god that spoke to the Quakers and gave them revelations that went beyond the Bible, as the Hindu mystic:
I have read Chunder Sen, and do feel just like sailing for India to see him. What a grand revelation that man has had! It stirred me to the very depths. Oh, beloved, how it shames us who have such a blaze of light all our lives long! Where did we take the fatal turning that has led us so far astray? . . . I thank God however that the light has come at last; and like Chunder Sen I say that the “residue of my independence has been swallowed up by the all-conquering all-absorbing grace of God, and I am sold forever!” How wonderful that word, “No independence” is! [That is, both Chunder Sen’s Hindu mysticism and Hannah Smith’s Higher Life mysticism practice Quietism.] It cuts down to the root of everything; and yet is so full of life, Divine life, that it seems to bring the soul out into the grandest place of liberty.
It seems just like one of God’s coincidences that I had been learning the very lessons in regard to this which Chunder Sen’s announces. I know the “I am” he knew [that is, the pagan Hindu “I am.”]. And God has said to me: “I am your church and doctrine; I am your creed and your immortality, your earth, your Heaven, your food, your raiment, your treasure here and in Heaven. Believe in Me.” To me it is a life, a free, independent, Divine life, back of all forms, an absolute, universal life, that can fit into any form, or can exist without form. [That is, any god, any worship, whether that of Jehovah or of the vilest idol, can fit into her mysticism.] It would be true then that circumcision availeth nothing, nor uncircumcision. That is, one might enter into the form or might remain without, just as led by the Spirit at the time. I cannot but think this is the deeper insight into the truth; and the more I look to the Lord about it, the clearer are my convictions. Well, I must follow the light, my light, that which is given to me, [that is, the Inner Light,] even though it separates me from all whom I love! And sometimes I think it may. . . . Am I to reckon on God and believe He has answered my prayer [for guidance apart from submission to sola Scriptura], or am I to think He has utterly disregarded it, and has left me a prey to delusions and errors? . . . [T]he Lord has had to put to death all my traditional views one after another . . . I am amazed sometimes to find out what a genuine “early Quaker” I am. (Letter to Anna, September 11, 1879, reproduced in the entries for September 22-24 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter)
Likewise, her spiritual “secret” was inquired about, she affirmed, by “Siddartha” (Letter to Anna, February 5, 1880, reproduced in the entry for October 2 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter), that is, “Siddartha Gautama” or Buddha, founder of Buddhism, which “teaches that enlightenment may be reached by elimination of earthly desires and of the idea of the self” (Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th ed., C. Soanes & A. Stevenson.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2004).  Buddha also taught the sort of Quietism affirmed by Mrs. Smith.
[21]            The affirmation “God is love” in 1 John 4:8 is not an affirmation about an empty attribute of the generic deity with which Mrs. Smith could be satisfied.  The verse speaks about the loving nature of the Father of Jesus Christ.  God the Father is love, and He concretely demonstrated His character as love by giving His Son as a substitute for sinners on the cross, graciously applying the salvation purchased there to His people by the Holy Spirit (1 John 4:9-14; cf. 5:7).  1 John 4:8 is about the concretely manifested love of this particular God, the only true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

1 comment:

KJB1611 said...

If anybody who reads this blog and who has been exposed to Mrs. Smith or the Higher Life/Keswick system knows of a proponent of that system who is aware of facts such as these and thinks that they do not matter, I would be interested in hearing about it. I do not see how anyone who cares about the Bible can wish to sit at the feet of Mrs. Smith to learn the truth.