Friday, June 05, 2015

Hannah and Robert Smith's Preaching the Higher Life's Erotic Baptism: part 17 of 21 in Hannah W. Smith: Keswick Founder, Higher Life Preacher, Quaker Quietist and Universalist Heretic

The Methodist predator from whom Mrs. Smith made her most fundamental discovery of the spiritual life also believed in the doctrine, developed out of medieval and counter-Reformation Roman Catholic mysticism, that Spirit baptism brought physical sexual thrills.  Visiting “the lady who had been largely instrumental in starting people . . . on the career which led them to L. [the Methodist sexual predator mentioned above],” Hannah W. Smith narrated the following:
I found her to be a quiet refined lady rather past middle age, evidently very intelligent and a Christian worker who was highly esteemed by all who knew her.  I told her what I knew about the L. household [the Methodist minister and sexual predator]. . . . She said . . . that the Lord’s dealings were often very mysterious and such as the natural man could not understand, but that what God had pronouced clean no one might dare to call unclean, and that these dear saints had been most manifestly led by Him. . . . [S]he had been led into these courses and . . . she could do nothing but obey[.] . . . During the course of my conversation with this lady she said:  “You may think it strange, Mrs. Smith, but I speak from experience;  there have been times when, in order to help my friends to receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, I have been distinctly led of the Lord to have them get into bed with me and lie back to back without any nightgown between.  And,” she added, “it has always brought them to the conscious Baptism.” . . . [S]he has been the means of leading a great many young women into the same line of things.
        Another friend of mine . . . whom I had told about Dr. R., received while I was talking to her, what she believed was the Baptism, and began to experience right there thrills of rapture from head to foot, which completely carried her away. . . . [S]he [came] to spend most of her time lying on the sofa trying to induce [the thrills] to come.  She also . . . felt it her duty to kiss several men, with the idea that through that means God would bestow either great blessings upon them or greater blessings upon herself.  She had felt led to kiss Mr. L. [the Methodist sexual predator]. . . . [Indeed,] a great many saintly women . . . one after another . . . would in some mysterious way begin to “feel led” to give him a kiss . . . the called for kiss bestowed . . . floods of joy and peace would fill their souls.[1] . . . She was impressed with the idea that through this performance God would bestow the Baptism of the Spirit upon the receipient of her kisses. . . . [She] was so good and pure minded that we all called her “Saint Sarah[.]” . . . At one of our meetings at Brighton [when Mr. and Mrs. Smith were preaching the Higher Life] . . . there was a great deal of talk about the Baptism of the Spirit, and many souls were hungering for it[.] . . . My friend, “Saint Sarah”[2] . . . confided to me that she felt led to kiss . . . a refined and cultured gentleman . . . herself as a means of imparting to him the Baptism of the Holy Ghost. . . . She was in the greatest trouble about it . . . and she felt sure that she would be making herself ridiculous. . . . Days went on and she became really ill with the conflict;  and at last, seeing that there was no way out of it[3] but for her to do it, I said, “It won’t hurt;  I’ll explain it to him.  So just go and kiss him and be done with it!”  My taking of it in this way greatly relieved her mind.  I told our host what she wanted to do, and he said he wouldn’t object in the least . . . she was able to perform what she thought was her religious duty. This kiss was given[.] . . . In two or three other instances the same process was repeated [with other men]. . . .
        This dear Saint was so enmoured of what she called “The Touch of God,” that she spent a large part of her time seeking for it and enjoying it, until it finally became a sort of possession . . . a very good Christian lady . . . said . . . [she] was possessed of the devil. . . . I made up my mind that she must be freed from this somehow, so I . . . went to the woman who had plunged her into the trouble [by stating “Saint Sarah” was demon possessed] and told her the dreadful effects of her former words, and said to her, “And now you must give me in writing the assurance that the devil has gone out of her,” and I bullied her into doing it.  I then went back to my friend armed with this assurance, and said to her:  “Now the devil has gone out of thee, and here is the proof.” She believed it, and from that moment began to recover, and has since lived a peaceful and normal Christian life.[4]
Mrs. Smith narrates other similar and awful instances of people who were seeking Spirit baptism and the Higher Life of entire sanctification:
[Another] young woman . . . had been seeking the Baptism of the Spirit as a result of the fervent preaching of a Methodist minister in the town where she lived, and had found great spiritual help from her conversations with him.  They found, she said, that when they were together they seemed to feel an especial nearness to the Lord, and the closer they sat together the more they felt it.  They constantly, when in one another’s company, had wonderful waves of divine thrills going through them, especially when there was any personal contact, which thrills the preacher told her were the conscious Baptism of the Holy Spirit for which she was seeking.  Of course, if this was the case, the more of these waves of delicious thrills they had the more truly filled with the Spirit they were, and they had consequently sought every opportunity of being together, and had encouraged a closer and closer personal contact, never dreaming of evil, until at last she found herself in the midst of a criminal connection with the preacher who was already a married man. . . .
        [A] dear beloved saint . . . who had given up everything in life to follow the Lord, and who was considered by everybody who knew her to be one of the saints of the earth . . . had all the Quaker scruples with regard to dress, and looked as she walked about like the embodiement of ascetic piety.  I greatly revered her and sat at her feet to be taught. . . . [A] friend [and I] . . . asked her to tell us her last experience.  She said that . . . she had told the Lord that she wanted to make Him some New Year’s gift, and that as she had given Him everything that she possessed and everything she was, she could not think of anything new to give.  Then, she said, the Lord told her that there was one thing, and that was her virginity, and that He would send a man whom she must be willing to receive in His name and surrender herself to Him.  She told us that she had said, “Thy will be done,” and was now awaiting the ringing of the bell and the advent of the promised man . . . whether the man came or not, I do not know.  I have heard, however, that at one of the camp meeting grounds, where she . . . held meetings, the authorities had been obliged to close her meetings on account of the dangerous tendency of her teaching.[5]
The heresy that Spirit baptism was associated with physical sexual thrills was thus widespread in the religious background of Hannah and Robert Smith, and it is thus not surprising that they both adopted it.[6]
Robert maintained and propagated the erotic Baptism heresy throughout his time as a preacher of the Higher Life—his promulgation of his beloved mystical abomination ended only with his fall because of scandal associated with it—while he influenced many others to adopt and practice it as a key aspect of the Higher Life theology.[7]  For example, “Miss Bonnicastle sp[oke] on this subject . . . [of] conscious union of the believer and Christ as the Heavenly Bridegroom . . . at the Oxford Ladies meetings . . . [which] quite shocked a good many.”[8]  In “the Christ-life,” another minister proclaimed, one is to “let the thrill . . . surge and thrill through all your being.”[9]  Thus, the doctrine of the sexual Baptism as a key portion of the Higher Life experience was proclaimed publicly at the Oxford Convention, that key precursor to the Keswick Conventions.  Indeed, many of Robert and Hannah W. Smith’s Higher Life “evangelical and especially their Quaker friends . . . condoned . . . [Robert’s] adventures with his feminine disciples.”[10]  Nonetheless, after convincing many to adopt the heresy, Robert eventually rejected erotic bride mysticism, and “in rejecting what he himself had experienced, he could not help turning his back on all religion,”[11] so that he turned away from his profession of Christianity to agnosticism,[12] and then moved from agnosticism to Buddhism.  Robert could not retain his profession of Christianity without his erotic bride mysticism. Robert testified at the Oxford Convention:  “There has been no period since . . . [my] baptism of the Spirit . . . when God has not been more or less in my consciousness as the living Being unto Whom I looked.”[13]  At the time of his Baptism a Power came to be present with him that always accompanied him afterwards, a Power that directed all his actions as a minister of the Higher Life and was at the heart of his spiritual experience.  If his erotic Baptism was a delusion, so was all of his Christianity, and agnosticism appeared to him to be a necessary consequence.  The possibility that he was possessed by demons through his erotic Baptism, demons that then directed him in his subsequent Higher Life ministry, does not seem to have been given serious consideration.  Hannah also eventually came to reject erotic bride mysticism later in her life[14] after some time propagating it near the years of the zenith of her and her husband’s work as Higher Life agitators.
Describing the incident that led to Robert P. Smith’s withdrawal from public work shortly before the first Keswick convention, a headline in the Brighton Weekly stated: “Famous Evangelist Found in Bedroom of Adoring Female Follower.”[15]  In the bedroom of his disciple, Miss Hattie Hamilton, Mr. Smith had explained to her the abhorrant doctrine he had learned in 1871 while institutionalized, on account of a total nervous breakdown he had suffered,[16] in a hydropathic and homeopathic sanatorium from the head of the facility, Dr. Henry Foster, that the baptism of the Holy Ghost was accompanied by physical sexual thrills because of the esoteric union of Christ with His people as Bridegroom and Bride, as described in the Song of Solomon.[17]  Robert Smith’s explanation of the erotic Baptism doctrine in one bedroom too many brought about the rapid fall of his previously rising star in the Higher Life movement.

This entire study can be accessed here.

[1]              Hannah herself recounts:
One day when I was alone reading my Bible and praying for guidance . . . suddenly, in the moment of a most solemn act of consecration to God, a voice, that seemed to be entirely distinct from my own personality, said plainly, “If you want to be entirely consecrated to God, you must kiss Mr. L.” . . . There seemed nothing for me to do but to surrender my will in the matter and to say, “Yes, Lord, if it is Thy will, repulsive as it is, I will do even this!”  Perfect peace at once filled my heart[.] (pgs. 247-248, Religious Fanaticism, Strachey.  Italics in original).
However, she never ended up kissing him, because when “the voice spoke again, ‘Now you must do it,’” Mr. L. told her not to (pg. 248, ibid.).  However, she narrates:
I went to my dressmaker . . . an inward Voice told me I . . . must kiss the dressmaker. . . . I dared not refuse, and said to the dressmaker, “The Lord tells me to kiss you,” and proceeded to bestow a kiss upon her cheek.  I must say the whole thing fell very flat.  The poor woman coloured crimson with embarrassment, and I shared her embarrassment. . . . She hurried to finish her fitting and I hurried to leave the house, thankful to get alone where I could endure my mortification in silence. (pgs. 249-250, ibid.)
[2]              Compare the commentary by this Quaker woman preacher on the book of Joshua, from which the typical Higher Life conclusions are drawn: The Fulness of Blessing; or, The Gospel of Christ, as Illustrated from the Book of Joshua, Sarah F. Smiley.  London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1876.  In discussing the post-conversion Baptism of the Spirit, she condemned the “tendency to ignore the importance of the body, [which] proceeds from a general lack of insight into the Scriptural philosophy of nature and of spirit” (pg. 89).
[3]              Mrs. Smith at first tried to get her to not kiss the man.
[4]              Pgs. 194-202, 246-248, Religious Fanaticism, Strachey.
[5]              Pgs. 196-197, 203-205, Religious Fanaticism, Strachey.
[6]              Higher Life perfectionism, antinomianism, continuationism, and the rejection of sola Scriptura, are all related concepts which easily relate the one to the other.  Lyman Atwater explains:
[M]en who esteem themselves perfect are apt to make themselves, their own subjective exercises, experiences, judgments, desires, and appetites, the measure and standard of perfection;  to make these the rule and measure of rectitude, rather than God’s word;  or rather to construe them as God’s voice and word, speaking in and through them.  They have often maintained that as Christ was living within them, their desires, and words and deeds were Christ’s.  This, of course, is the extreme of fanatical and blasphemous Antinomian pride and licentiousness. . . . [T]here are [grave dangers in] making our subjective feelings the standard of truth and holiness . . . [as] often develops in simple mysticism, in which the feeling of the subject, devout and elevated though it be, still becomes a law unto itself, and sets its own impulses and bewilderments above the law and the testimony.  Against all this we cannot too sedulously guard. . . . [T]he Antinomian feature of [the Higher Life perfectionism] has strong logical and practical affinities for licentiousness[.] . . . Nor do we think it wrong or uncharitable in this connection to refer to the career of Mr. Pearsall Smith, who has been so conspicuous in Higher Life leadership. (pgs. 418-419, “The Higher Life and Christian Perfection,” Lyman H. Atwater.  The Presbyterian Quarterly and Princeton Review (July 1877) 389-419)
[7]              Leading Pentecostal historians connect the theory of erotic Spirit baptism with the rise of their doctrine of speaking in tongues as the physical mark of Spirit baptism.  For example, Donald W. Dayton, in his essay “From ‘Christian Perfection’ to the ‘Baptism of the Holy Ghost,’ which was recognized as the prizewinning submission in its category from the Society for Pentecostal Studies in 1973, references the description of Hannah and Robert P. Smith’s doctrine of physical sexual thrills in Spirit baptism in Religious Fanaticism:  Extracts from the Papers of Hannah Whitall Smith, ed. Ray Strachey, and writes:  “It is easy to see how the gift of tongues would fulfill this longing” (pg. 51, Aspects of Pentecostal-Charismatic Origins, ed. Vinson Synan;  Dayton’s essay covers pgs. 39-54).  Melvin E. Dieter also notes the background to Pentecostal tongues in the erotic Spirit baptism of Robert and Hannah W. Smith, along with “the inherited . . . tendencies of a perfectionist movement and the influence of the spiritual raptures in the experiences of the Quietists and other Catholic mystics who had been widely accepted as part of the true holiness movement” (pg. 64, “Wesleyan-Holiness Aspects of Pentecostal Origins:  As Mediated through the Nineteenth-Century Holiness Revival,” Melvin E. Dieter, pgs. 55-80 in Aspects of Pentecostal-Charismatic Origins, ed. Synan).  The doctrine of thrills in Spirit baptism could easily be passed down by the Higher Life and  Faith or Mind Cure movement into Pentecostalism through innumerable continuationists such as Dr. Henry Foster and Robert P. Smith.
[8]              Letter to a Friend, February 12, 1876, reproduced in the entry for July 30 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.
[9]           Pg. 158, Account of the Union Meeting for the Promotion of Scriptural Holiness, Held at Oxford, August 29 to September 7, 1874. Chicago:  Revell, 1874.
[10]            Pg. 132, Unforgotten Years, Logan Pearsall Smith.  Logan speaks of the time when his sister was married in Oxford:  “[T]o these festivities my parents invited their [Higher Life] evangelical and especially their Quaker friends, who most of them had condoned, if they had not forgotten, the scandal of my father’s adventures with his feminine disciples.”
[11]            Letter to Carrie, February 13, 1877, reproduced in the entry for August 12 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter.
[12]            Hannah wrote to her daughter Mary:  “I have watched the growth and development of agnosticism in your father[.] . . . Your father gave in to the doubt, and has lost at last all sense of any perception of God” (Letter to Mary, January 27, 1883, reproduced in the entries for December 8-9 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter), and noted:  “His unbelief is most contagious. . . . He has been pouring floods of agnosticism upon me” (Letter to Daughter, February 7, 1883, reproduced in the entry for December 10 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter).
[13]            Pg. 253, Account of the Union Meeting for the Promotion of Scriptural Holiness, Held at Oxford, August 29 to September 7, 1874. Chicago:  Revell, 1874.
[14]            Hannah eventually concluded that “it seems impossible that anything can be the truth of God which is not fit to be publicly proclaimed” (Letter to a Friend, February 12, 1876, reproduced in the entry for July 30 of The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Hannah W. Smith, ed. Dieter).  Note, however, that promulgation of the physical thrills doctrine and association with its other advocates continued for the Pearsall Smiths far after the time of the composition of this letter, which was more a piece of revisionist history and apologetic defense of Robert P. Smith than actual fact.  Hannah not only affirmed in this letter that “it seems impossible that anything can be the truth of God which is not fit to be publicly proclaimed,” but also that “I don’t have to tell you I am sure that my dear husband is entirely innocent of the vile charges against him,” a statement which was simply false, and which casts doubt upon her repudiation of the erotic Baptism doctrine.
[15]          pg. 82, The Secret Life of Hannah Whitall Smith, by Marie Henry.  The woman, Miss Hattie Hamilton, stated that Robert P. Smith tried to commit adultery with her in her bedroom, but he denied that he had sought to do so.
[16]            Robert, recounting his and his family’s “fearful curse of our inheritance of NERVES” in a letter to his daughter Mary, concluded:  “be very distrustful of our own intellectual and moral conclusions” (pgs. 159-160, Remarkable Relations, Barbara Strachey).  His conclusion that his own intellect and morals were untrustworthy appears to be most sound.
[17]            Cf. pgs. 506-508, Warfield, Perfectionism, vol. 2.


Doulos said...

So, this was a bit...much... I read through it quickly. The sad thing is that maybe a few years ago this would have seemed shocking or unusual. But with the norm in what is supposed to be considered "evangelical Christianity", this abusing scripture to justify our every desire rather than using scripture to know His desires...seems...familiar.

"His conclusion that his own intellect and morals were untrustworthy appears to be most sound."

Ha :) He had the verbage right but got twisted in the application. These days we use the same verbage, but in action seem more suspicious and embarrassed of the Bible--deeming it untrustworthy. It's so needed to reevaluate our motives in our Christian life. The whole LGBT in the church conversation, definition of to not be so offensive rather than
letting the cross be the offense that it is and proclaiming the truth that saves. Anemic Christianity. Somewhere in seeking "better balance", the pendulum is swinging far to the other side.

And so the Christian "excuses" and the blog posts and tacked on out of context out of orthodoxy Bible verses...look as sensual, shocking and heretical as this Smith. And it's becoming the norm in even more conservative Christianity...all manner of excuse making and irrationalization to be able to "love the world and the things thereof" all the while phrasing it as "we don't need to worry about commands or obedience...God will sanctify us as He will".

I don't know. Why do "conservative" news sources show the Jenner photo all the while decrying it...Why do Christians want to be on the "victim" agenda/bandwagon or chastise the Duggar situation all the while finding it funny that their elementary/middle school kids enjoy and know the the Super Bowl Halftime Show lyrics (erotic and perverse) by heart or are avid fans of Game of Thrones. Why are there Christian blog posts that try to give the benefits of seeing "50 Shades"...and turn around and mock those that would have no part...or vice versa...would have no part of "50 Shades" but find it their fascination or their kids fascination with a pop culture and personages and fads that have no problem with what "50 Shades" promotes. Didn't someone say "what we love and what we hate reveal what we are..."

Something like "woe unto them that call evil good and good evil"...and woe unto the age, not just some tiny slice of religion as you've presented here, but mainstream Christianity...that can't seem to tell the difference any more. Or just doesn't want to.
Mixed up world, mixed up "Christianity". It's time we just take our Bible and earnestly humbly just want to "know Him and imitate Him" rather than turning God into an image of ourselves.

There. Rant done :)
I think I have the "Christian's Secret" book around here in some collectible Christian Classics bound edition though I've never read it. It should be an interesting read now that I know the warning/background you've provided...or maybe I should go read my Bible and attempt to stay right side up in this upside down world :)

KJB1611 said...

Dear Doulos,

Thanks for the comment.

I would suggest that, unless you need to do historical research into Keswick or related movements, that you don't waste your time reading Hannah W. Smith. Christians should read her about as much as they read the Pope or Buddha.

Doulos said...


Or about as much as they read the "news" headlines of the day...
Just like the switch up of "black/white" "man/woman" "entertainment/pornography", real news is discarded and garbage has turned into news :)

Anyway, I was just coming back to try to tactfully and succinctly respond to the "do you believe in one truth" post...and saw your comment here.

Maybe we agree on this "truth"...that unless we NEED (and there'd be debate on the definition of "need" I suppose) to do research...and "don't waste time reading Hannah..."
So, yes, I chose not to read the book. It seems harder and harder to do Philippians 4:8 these days or "hold on to that which is good" while "proving all things".

As for Buddha, I just saw an interesting quote that might pertain to the "one truth" trepidly I go....