Friday, May 08, 2015

Hannah W. Smith's Higher Life Corruption of Conversion: part 15 of 21 in Hannah W. Smith: Keswick Founder, Higher Life Preacher, Quaker Quietist and Universalist Heretic

In addition to rejecting the core Biblical doctrine of justification, Mrs. Smith was very confused on the instrumental means for the receipt of the gospel.  Denying that repentant faith alone was the instrumentality for the receipt of salvation, Hannah taught that “we cannot be saved until after we confess,” so that it was necessary to “make an apology” after doing wrong.[1]  Her view of faith was dangerous and heretical.  She wrote:  “Faith, then, is not a grace . . . Neither are there different kinds of faith.  Men talk about a . . . living faith, and a saving faith, and an intellectual faith, and an historical faith, and a dead faith; but God talks about believing what He says, and this is the only kind of faith the Bible mentions.”[2]  Thus, to Mrs. Smith, saving faith was merely intellectual assent, believing facts.  Furthermore, Mrs. Smith anticipated the Word-Faith heresy[3] that positive confessions create positive realities:
Put your will then over on to the believing side. Say, “Lord I will believe, I do believe,” and continue to say it. . . . I began to say, over and over, “The Lord does love me. He is my present and my perfect Saviour; Jesus saves me, Jesus saves me now!” . . . Those three little words, repeated over and over, — “Jesus saves me, Jesus saves me,” — will put to flight the greatest army of doubts that ever assaulted any soul. I have tried it times without number, and have never known it to fail. Do not stop to argue the matter out with your doubts, nor try to prove that they are wrong. Pay no attention to them whatever; treat them with the utmost contempt. Shut your door in their faces, and emphatically deny every word they say to you. . . . Cultivate the habit of expressing your faith in definite words . . . repeat often.[4]
Further anticipating Word of Faith error, she wrote elsewhere:  “Faith, we are told, ‘calleth those things which be not as though they were.’  Calling them brings them into being,” so that exercising faith is “the law of creation[,]”[5] misinterpreting Romans 4:17, which states that the personal, omnipotent God, not faith, calls those things which are not as though they were.  Thus, Hannah believed she could do what Romans 4:17 affirms God, not the Christian, does:  “[I]t is like the pangs of creation to have ‘the faith of God’ and ‘call those things which be not as though they were.’  Is not that a grand definition of faith?  It is in Romans 4:17.”[6]  Nevertheless, Hannah admitted:  “I see the difficulty you speak of, and I confess it does seem an odd sort of thing to do, to become satisfied by saying one is satisfied, when one is not. But is it not just what faith is described to be ‘calling those things which be not as though they were.’ And what else can we do?”[7]  She recognized that it was, indeed, very odd to simply say that things were a certain way when they were not so, but such was her view of faith, and she did not know what else to do.  Her view, applied to feelings, might have had some effect as a psychological gimmick, but when applied to physical healing in the nineteenth century Faith and Mind Cure movements, and the modern Word of Faith movement, it has caused vast numbers of early deaths, while when applied to conversion and assurance of salvation, it has led to vast numbers of eternal, spiritual deaths.
            As Mrs. Smith’s view of faith was heretical, so her view of conversion was terribly deficient and dangerous.  Her counsel to the unconverted was:
If you are unconverted, take His message to sinners in 2 Corinthians 5:19, for instance, and make up your mind to believe it, irrespective of your feelings, or of your reasonings or of any other thing whatever. Say to yourself, “God says that He ‘was reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.’ I do not see how this can be. I do not feel as if it were so. But God says it, and I know He cannot lie; and I choose to believe Him. He is reconciled to me in Christ, and He does not impute my trespasses unto me; I was saved through the death of Christ.” Repeat it over and over, putting all the power of will you possess into it. “I will believe; I choose to believe; I do believe; I am saved.” “How do you know it?” says Satan; “do you feel it?” “No I do not feel it at all; but I know it, because God says so; and I would far rather trust His word than my own feelings, let them be ever so delightful.”[8]
Henry Boardman[9] rightly comments on this false view of faith by Mrs. Smith:  “Can this grossly unscriptural advice be followed without deadly peril of self deception?”[10]  Saving faith is a Spirit-worked trust in the Person and cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.  It possesses intellectual, volitional, and emotional elements.  Repeating to oneself over and over that since Christ died for the sins of the world, one has received spiritual life, is a fearful error and a false gospel.  Describing, on another occasion, how she would bring someone to “conversion,” although conversion to “a different sort of God altogether” than that of Christian orthodoxy, that is, the god of universalism, Hannah explained that the sinner does not need to recognize that he is a child of the devil (John 8:44) who is dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1-3) and then come to repentance (Luke 13:3);  rather, he should simply mentally assent to the fact that he is, allegedly, already a child of God and already forgiven, just like all other sinners in the world, and then enter into the Higher Life and feel happy and free from trouble.  Hannah and Robert Smith were happy to give assurance and the peace and comfort that comes with it to those without any testimony of real conversion or the life associated with it;  for example, they publicly proclaimed that all their children were saved, although none of them were.[11]  She wrote:
[C]onversion comes . . . at the moment of belief, only it is belief in a different sort of God altogether. I go to a sinner now and say, “Poor soul, God loves you; God is your Father; He is on your side. He came down to this world in a human body, just to take your lot upon Him and to bear your sins and sorrows. He met your enemy and conquered him, so that you need not fear him any more. He is not angry with you. He took your sins upon Him and made your cause His own. He is reconciled to you. He declared that He forgave you when He was on earth, and He declares it still in the Record He left behind Him. He says if you will only trust Him He will get you out of all your troubles. He will beget His own spiritual life in you, and make you a partaker of the Divine nature. You shall be born of the spirit, and be filled with the spirit[.][12]
In light of Mrs. Smith’s confusion on the nature of saving conversion—errors in which she was followed by her husband[13] and in which she stood with other Higher Life leaders[14]—it is not surprising that Mrs. Smith’s son Logan could remember little about his own alleged conversion at the age of four.  He had to find out what happened at the time of his professed conversion by reading a tract his father Robert P. Smith had written about it.  His alleged conversion did not change his life—for such a change needed to await the second blessing, sanctification, Logan related—and he was never truly born again and so was able to apostatize from, renounce, and come to hate evangelical Christianity and the Christ set forth by it,[15] just as his father and mother came to do, and all the other Smith children that lived to adulthood.
Mrs. Smith was able to adopt all her heresies because she was never truly born again.  At the time of her alleged evangelical conversion Mrs. Smith noted that she thought that she simply “had found out something delightful about God” and the idea “that I personally was different in any way from what I had been before, never entered my head.”[16]  A member of the Plymouth Brethren, however, hearing her change in doctrinal views, told her:  “Thank God, Mrs. Smith, that you have at last become a Christian,” to which she “promptly replied, ‘Oh no, I am not a Christian at all.’”[17]  However, Mrs. Smith allowed this member of the Plymouth Brethren to convice her that her doctrinal assent was equivalent to becoming a Christian, so that she came to conclude:  “‘I must be born of God.  Well, I am glad.’ From that moment the matter was settled, and not a doubt as to my being a child of God and the possessor of eternal life, has ever had the slightest power over me since.”[18]  Unfortunately, since she had never through repentant faith come into saving union with the crucified Christ, but had simply assented to certain Biblical truths, she never was regenerated, and thus was able to apostatize from even the evangelical doctrinal beliefs that had, for a time, captivated her interest.  She refers, in her later life, to her “very evangelical days” as a time in the past that had come to an end,[19] and she “had afterwards to discard” even the trappings of Christian orthodoxy that she held in her “extreme evangelical days.”[20]  At the time of her evangelical influence, she stated that she had not embraced the Person of the crucified and risen Christ through a repentant faith, but “what I got at was the fact of God’s forgiveness,” and since all she “got” was a “fact,” not a Person, she stated that the evangelical gospel was “a hook [about God’s forgiveness] that I had afterwards to discard. . . . The various hooks upon which I hung this fact at the different stages of my progress were entirely immaterial after all.”[21]  She could apostatize from even the evangelical truths she temporarily held to because they were simply facts assented to mentally—she had never embraced Jesus Christ as her own Lord and Savior on gospel terms.  Consequently, as years passed, “[s]he found that, after all her searching and all her experimenting, she had come back very close to the position of the old Quakers from which she had started, and in her later days she was more mystical, more quietist, and at the same time less positive,” that is, more relativistic, than ever,[22] since the “time has not yet arrived in the history of the human race when in this world we can have any absolute standard of right and wrong.”[23]  Mrs. Smith’s universalism led her to reject the necessity of the new birth and of conversion, truths to which she had intellectually assented for a short period:
[As Quakers,] [w]e were never told we had to be “converted” or “born again,” and my own impression was that these were things . . . [which] were entirely unnecessary for us, who were birthright members of the Society of Friends, and were already born into the kingdom of God, and only needed to be exhorted to live up to our high calling.  I believe this was because of one of the fundamental principles of Quakerism, which was a belief in the universal fatherhood of God, and a recognition of the fact that Christ had linked Himself on to humanity, and had embraced the whole world in His divine brotherhood, so that every soul that was born belonged to Him, and could claim sonship with the same Father. . . . [T]he early Friends accepted this as true, and would have thought it misleading to urge us to become [converted or born again, since] we . . . already belonged . . . [to] the Good Shepherd.  For a little time, in my Plymouth Brethren days, I looked upon this [Quaker doctrine] as a dreadful heresy;  but later on I learned the blessed fact . . . that we are all, the heathen . . . heathen idolators . . . even included, “God’s offspring;” and I realized that, since He is our creator, He is of course our Father, and we equally of course are his children.  And I learned to thank and bless the grand old Quakers who had made this discovery, since their teaching made it easy for me to throw aside the limiting, narrowing ideas I had first adopted [of the necessity of the new birth and conversion], and helped me to comprehend . . . that no one can shut another out [universalism].[24]
Mrs. Smith was an unregenerate woman who professed and preached a false gospel.

This entire study can be accessed here.

[1]              Hannah was writing, in 1870, to her son Frank, basing her false gospel upon a misinterpretation of Romans 10:9-10 (Letter to Frank, January 2, 1870, reproduced in the entry for May 22 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter).  Romans 10:9-10 does not make confession of any kind a prerequisite to justification;  rather it affirms that after one has believed in his heart and received Christ’s righteousness, he will confess Christ before men as a mark of his regenerate life, and so enter heaven, that is, receive ultimate salvation.  See “An Exegesis and Application of Romans 10:9-14 for Soulwinning Churches and Christians,” by Thomas Ross.
[2]              Pg. 42, The “Higher Life” Doctrine of Sanctification Tried by the Word of God, Henry A. Boardman.  Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle, 1996, citing Mrs. Smith’s tract “Faith,” published by the Willard Tract Repository.  Pgs. 38-58 of Boardman’s book documents Smith’s unbiblical, Pelagian, and rationalistic view of faith.
[3]              Mr. Robert P. Smith also makes affirmations that sound like the Word-Faith positive confession heresy (cf. pgs. 100-101, “The Brighton Convention and Its Opponents.” London Quarterly Review, October 1875).
[4]              The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, Hannah W. Smith, Chapters 3, 6, 14, elec. acc. Accordance Bible Software; cf. Letter to Anna, September 6, 1871, reproduced in the entry for June 16 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.
                It is noteworthy that Hannah Smith’s “Jesus saves me now” was also Robert P. Smith’s great refrain of immediate sanctification, the “watch word” of the Conventions that developed the Keswick theology (Letter to Father and Mother, June 9, 1875, reproduced in the entry for July 26 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter), and the way of entrance into a state of a perfection of acts, instantaneously obtained as a result of an act of faith directed to that end. Furthermore, “‘Jesus saves me now,’ is the refrain of more than one peculiarly ‘Keswick’ hymn,” which teach that by that immediate act of faith one obtains this second blessing (pg. 216, The Keswick Convention:  Its Message, its Method, and its Men, ed. Harford);  “Jesus saves me now” was enshrined in Keswick hymnody from at least the time of the Oxford Convention (pgs. 88-89, Transforming Keswick:  The Keswick Convention, Past, Present, and Future, Price & Randall).  Compare pgs. 140, 319, 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]              Pg. 235, The God of All Comfort, Smith.
[6]              Letter to Daughter, February 14, 1883, reproduced in the entry for December 11 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.
[7]              Letter to Priscilla, January 8, 1882, reproduced in the entry for November 3 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.
[8]              Faith, Hannah Whitall Smith, cited pg. 55, The “Higher Life” Doctrine of Sanctification Tried by the Word of God, Henry Boardman.  Italics in original.
[9]              Henry Boardman must not be confused with the Higher Life leader William Boardman.
[10]            Pgs. 55-56, The “Higher Life” Doctrine of Sanctification Tried by the Word of God, Henry Boardman.
[11]            Pg. 212, Record of the Convention for the Promotion of Scriptural Holiness Held at Brighton, May 29th to June 7th, 1875. Brighton: W. J. Smith, 1875;  cf. Hannah’s teaching on pg. 373.
[12]            Letter to Anna, January 21, 1881, reproduced in the entry for October 20 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.
[13]            A brief testimony by Robert about his professed conversion appears on pgs. 168-169, Account of the Union Meeting for the Promotion of Scriptural Holiness, Held at Oxford, August 29 to September 7, 1874. Chicago:  Revell, 1874;  he came to see what Christ’s blood “had” already done for him, and recognising that fact, he testified:  “I never for an hour doubted my pardon and adoption”;  mention of repentance, or of actually trusting in what Christ did, is omitted;  only assent to facts about Christ’s blood is stated.  Furthermore, Robert believed that “consecration and conversion [were] two separate acts” and he had “never known one instance in which they were not distinct” (pg. 256, Record of the Convention for the Promotion of Scriptural Holiness Held at Brighton, May 29th to June 7th, 1875. Brighton: W. J. Smith, 1875);  that is, if his testimony is to be credited, he never knew a single instance in which a sinner repented and surrendered to Christ as Lord at the time of his professed conversion, and Mr. Smith did not surrender to Christ at the time of his own professed conversion;  consequently, his salvation was spurious, as were all those of whom he testified truly.
Mr. Smith’s exceedingly weak view of conversion is also evident in that he testified:  “I had asked the Lord not to send me out [in ministry] till the Divine seal had been set on my work at home—[but] when all my children, my servants, and many of my work-people had been converted, and brought to live the faith-life, it was easy to go ‘to the parts beyond’” (pg. 221, Account of the Union Meeting for the Promotion of Scriptural Holiness, Held at Oxford, August 29 to September 7, 1874. Chicago:  Revell, 1874).  Although his children, at least those who lived to adulthood, were all unconverted, he publicly proclaimed exactly the opposite—but it is not surprising that one who is unconverted himself should have great difficulty leading others to true conversion.
[14]            For example, Jacob Abbott, commenting on William Boardman’s definition of faith in his The Higher Christian Life, notes:
We had read with astonishment, in the early part of the work, what he quoted, with an apparent endorsement, from a monk, who was directing Luther how to be saved.  Said the monk:  “The commandment of God is, that we believe our own sins are forgiven” (p. 25).  Where do we find a warrant for so believing, and calling it saving faith?  What kind of faith would that be for impenitent men . . . [to] believ[e] that their own sins are forgiven, [that they have] an assured hope of heaven, [and] an assured knowledge of the saving presence of Jesus[?] . . . Would it not be, what a great many are doing, believing a lie, that they might be damned? . . . The amount of it is, that we are to believe something about ourselves . . . [n]ow we ask, is that evangelical faith at all? . . .
What is the object of Christian faith?  Is it not the salvation of Christ, the “good tidings” revealed in his word?  Can anything be a proper object of justifying or sanctifying faith, what what God as recorded in his word? . . . [Assurance] springs up amind the fruits of a renewed heart [and] must not be mistaken for the faith itself, that works by love, and purifies the heart, and overcomes the world. (pgs. 515-516, Review of William E. Boardman’s The Higher Christian Life, Jacob J. Abbott.  Bibliotheca Sacra (July 1860) 508-535.  Note that Boardman’s account of the monk and Luther is almost certainly mythological in any case.  As Abbott notes later:  “[S]o far as we have the means of verifying them, there is not one of [Boardman’s testimonials from history] that stands upon the ground of historical truth” (pg. 520).)
[15]            Pgs. 35-38, Unforgotten Years, Logan Pearsall Smith.
[16]            Pg. 179, My Spiritual Autobiography, Hannah W. Smith.
[17]            Pgs. 179-180, My Spiritual Autobiography, Hannah W. Smith.
[18]            Pg. 180, My Spiritual Autobiography, Hannah W. Smith.
[19]            Pg. 278, The Unselfishness of God.
[20]            Pg. 149, A Religious Rebel:  The Letters of “H. W. S,” ed. Logan Smith, Letter to her daughter, Mary Berenson, October 26, 1901.  The theological looseness and indulgence of various heresies that are consistent, in Mrs. Smith’s mind, with being an allegedly “extreme evangelical” should be recalled.
[21]            Pg. 149, A Religious Rebel:  The Letters of “H. W. S,” ed. Logan Smith, Letter to her daughter, Mary Berenson, October 26, 1901.  Italics in original.
[22]            Pg. 15, Religious Fanaticism, Strachey.
[23]            Pg. 159, Religious Fanaticism, Strachey.
[24]            Pgs. 83-85, The Unselfishness of God.


KJB1611 said...

In light of Mrs. Smith's corruption of conversion, it is not at all surprising that modern advocates of Keswick theology likewise, in a huge percentage of cases, corrupt the gospel.

Tyler Robbins said...

Bro. Ross:

Who are the modern proponents of Keswick theology today? Most of what I see in the rural Midwest are the old "holiness" denominations; Methodists and Nazarenes. I haven't met any self-proclaimed Keswick folks.

KJB1611 said...

Dear Tyler,

I believe that the great majority of fundamentalist advocates of Keswick don't know what they are promoting. If a church bookstore has the works of Hannah W. Smith, Watchman Nee, F. B. Meyer, Andrew Murray, Hudson Taylor, A. B. Simpson, and the others I discuss at then the people in the congregation are being influenced by Keswick theology. If they are taught that sanctification is by faith alone because of Colossians 2:6, or that Romans 7:14-25 is Paul being self-dependent and escaping into freedom in Romans 8, or that Christ lives the Christian life for the believer (the Christ-life, allegedly Galatians 2:20, but actually a development of the Quaker doctrine of the Inner Light/Divine Seed/Christ Within), or that in John 15 abiding is something only a select few Christians do, or that only the believer's spirit is regenerated, or that only some believers are disciples, there is very likely influence from Keswick, either directly or indirectly.

In terms of fundamentalist schools, I have personally seen strong Keswick material coming out of Ambassador Baptist and Baptist College of Ministry, and there are likely many more that I don't know about because they do not have as many admirable qualities as Ambassador and BCM in other areas. Of course, Ambassador and BCM do not agree with all the heresies of Hannah W. Smith because they are fundamental Baptist institutions, and the Baptist and the Bible part moderates some of the Keswick theology, but negative Keswick influence is still present.

When I was at Fairhaven I know a Keswick book, "Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret," was assigned, although I did not know it was Keswick at the time, nor for some years afterwards. I never heard the word "Keswick" used there but Keswick theological concepts were at times taught.

I believe that there is also strong Keswick influence at West Coast, although they may not know what they are promoting; I do not get the sense from graduates of that institution that one really gets much grounding in Scripture--one would get a lot more by simply listening to the expository preaching at Bethel Baptist Church in El Sobrante, CA and never going to Bible college at all.

Someone I know who was "under-pastored" by someone who teaches at West Coast got tons and tons of Andrew Murray and became Keswick until he got out of it later because it wasn't Scriptural and it didn't work.

Essentially unless one has a strong grounding in the Baptist doctrine of sanctification found in classic Baptist creedal statements, and which is supported by Scripture, one is almost certain to have some Keswick in him because of its pervasive influence. Far too many Baptists today have no idea what classic Baptist doctrine on sanctification is, or what classic Baptist doctrine in general is in anything.

Thanks for the question. You can get more information by reading some of the articles at:

Tyler Robbins said...

Thanks. I'm thinking of getting Naselli's book on Keswick theology. I've seen some of your own work in this area from your website, and I know you cover this much more extensively than Naselli did. What is your opinion of his work?

KJB1611 said...

Dear Tyler,

I believe that his book is worth reading. You are correct that it is shorter. Most of his criticisms of Keswick are valid. I would say that the main difference overall is the difference between the perspective of a strongly separatist Baptist and of someone who teaches at John Piper's neo-evangelical seminary. Thus, for example, he never criticizes Keswick for being ecumenical. He is also a Calvinist, and I'm not. I also hope that the exegetical sections and the applications made in my dissertation not only enlighten the mind but also warm the heart, something that did not strike me as especially high on the priority list in Naselli's work. Overall, though, it is an effective demonstration of the errors of Keswick theology.