Hannah Whithall Smith
Introductory Paragraph: “When reduced to its final analysis, the discovery I had made was simply this, that there was stored up for me in Christ a perfect supply for all my needs, and that faith—faith only—was the channel through which this supply could flow; that struggling, and wrestling, and worrying, and agonizing, cannot bring this supply, but that faith always will and always does.”
This unrest and questioning came to a culmination in the year 1865. Family circumstances had in that year made it necessary for us to leave our delightful home in Germantown, and all our wide interests there, to live in a remote village in New Jersey, where we were almost entirely isolated from any congenial society. It was a pecuniary advantage to us, but was otherwise a very great trial, to me especially, and I confess that my spirit rebelled sorely at the change.
Little did I dream that it was here, in this very place, which seemed to me so isolated and desolate, that a glorious light was to dawn, and the fourth and crowning epoch of my religious life was to be ushered in.
It came about in this wise. I was, as I have said, very rebellious at my change of abode and of surroundings. But I had enough spiritual insight to know that this rebellion was wrong; that, since the change was a providential arrangement over which I had no control, the only right thing for me to do was to accept it cheerfully, and to say heartily, “Thy Will be done,” in regard to it. But although I scolded myself about it continually, I did not seem able to bring myself to the point of accepting God’s will; and as a fact I did not really want to accept it. I felt that it was very hard lines for me to be obliged to leave my happy home in Germantown, and my sphere of usefulness there, to live in such a lonely far off place as Millville; and it seemed to me that God ought not to have allowed it, and that I had a right to grumble and fret. As a consequence I got into a most uncomfortable state of mind, where even my dear doctrines failed to help me, and I began at last to be afraid that I was going to lose every bit of religion I possessed.
In the face of a real need such as this, it was no satisfaction to know I was forgiven. I wanted more than forgiveness; I wanted deliverance. But how to get deliverance I could not conceive. As we had a good many Mission preachers visiting us from time to time, I laid my case before several of them, and asked for help, but no one seemed able to tell me anything. Finally a very successful religious teacher came for a few days, and to him I poured out my trouble very fully, and begged him to suggest some way of deliverance. He took my case into serious consideration, and said he believed that what I needed was to undertake some Christian work, and that if I would start out the next morning and visit the poor people in the neighbourhood, and see what I could do to help them, he thought I would ﬁnd my spiritual life renewed, and all would be right. Accordingly the next day I proceeded to try the proposed remedy. But it did not take me long to ﬁnd out what a futile remedy it was. In almost the ﬁrst house I entered, I found a woman in the same sort of difﬁculty as my own, and sorely needing help, and I had no help to give. It seemed to me I was like a person trying to feed hungry people out of an empty bowl, and I saw that this was a silly and impossible thing to do. I went home more discouraged than ever, convinced, that, before I could help any one else, I must ﬁnd some deliverance for myself.
There was a little dressmaker in the village who often came to sew for me; and, having so little society in the neighbourhood, I would sometimes sit down and talk with her, as we sewed together. She seemed an unusually spiritually minded Christian, and I was much interested in her experiences. I found out that she held the view that there really was such a thing as victory over temptation, and that it was not necessary, as I had thought, to go on all your life sinning and repenting, but that a Christian might actually be delivered. She told me that among the Methodists there was a doctrine taught which they called the “Doctrine of Holiness,” and that there was an experience called “sanctiﬁcation” or the “second blessing” which brought you into a place of victory. I was immensely interested in all she had to say about it, and began to hope that perhaps I might here ﬁnd the solution of my difﬁculties.
She told me there was a little meeting held in the village on Saturday evenings, where this doctrine was taught, and where people gave their experiences in regard to it, and urged me to attend it. I thought I might go some time, but I allowed things to interfere, feeling convinced that poor ignorant factory people could not have much to teach me. I had studied and taught the Bible a great deal, and had rather a high idea of my own religious attainments in that direction, and I felt that, if I should go to the meeting, I should probably have much more to teach them than they could possibly have to teach me. At last, however, one evening, I made up my mind to give them the favour of my presence, and I confess a great favour I felt it to be. I went to the meeting, therefore, full of my own importance and my own superiority, and thought it very likely that I should astonish them by my great biblical knowledge. When I entered the meeting, a factory woman with a shawl over her head (she probably did not possess a bonnet), was speaking, and I heard her say these words: “My whole horizon used to be ﬁlled with this great big Me of mine, but when I got a sight of Christ as my perfect Saviour, this great big Me wilted down to nothing.”
These words were a revelation to me. I realized that I knew nothing of any such experience. My “Me” was very big and very self-assertive, and I could not imagine how it could, by any possibility, “wilt down into nothing.” But a profound conviction came to me that this must be real Christianity, and that it was, perhaps, the very thing I was longing for. Needless to say, I did not undertake to do any teaching that night, but sat as a learner at the feet of these humble Christians, who knew but little of book learning, but whose souls were evidently taught by the Holy Spirit depths of spiritual truth of which I understood nothing. I began to attend the meeting regularly as a learner, and to embrace every opportunity possible to talk with those who understood this life. I found that the gist of it was exactly what Paul meant when he said, “Not I, but Christ,” and that the victory I sought, was to come by ceasing to live my own life, and by letting the power of God “work in me to will and to do of His good pleasure.”
In my diary under date of 10 mo., 18th, 1866, I say:-
“The Lord has been teaching me in many ways of late my utter weakness in the presence of temptation. I have grown much in knowledge, but I have not grown in grace, and I ﬁnd that I have not actually any more power over sin than I had when I was ﬁrst converted. This has not caused me to doubt the fact of my being a child of God, justiﬁed and forgiven, a possessor of eternal life and an heir of a heaven inheritance. But, even while having this assurance, and never losing it, I have found that, while my heart condemns me, I cannot be happy; and I have been led to long for more holiness, for more power over sin, for more uninterrupted communication with God. But how to get at it I could not tell. Resolutions have proved utterly useless, and my own efforts have been all in vain. My prayers have been unanswered; and I have been ready a thousand times to give up in despair, and to conclude that it was not the will of God that I should ever attain to a victory over sin. And yet the Bible presents such a different picture of the Christian life-’blameless, harmless, without rebuke,’ with every temptation a ‘way of escape,’ ‘puriﬁed,’ ‘conformed to the image of Christ,’ ‘holy as He is holy.’
"I ﬁnd there are some Christians who say that by receiving Christ by faith for our sanctiﬁcation, just as we received Him by faith for our justiﬁcation, all this work that I long for is accomplished. That is, the way of accomplishing it is discovered. It is found out that the Bible teaches that the Lord can deliver from the power of sin as well as from its guilt, and the soul learns to trust Him to do it, and ceases to rely upon its own resolutions, or upon its own efforts after holiness, but commits the whole work of being kept from evil and delivered from temptation, to the Lord alone.
“I begin to see more clearly that the Lord is worthy of my most unlimited and boundless conﬁdence; and perhaps this is the dawning of the light I have been groping for.
“It is a Methodist doctrine, and I have been used to hearing Methodists much objected to on account of it, but it seems to be the only thing that can supply my needs, and I feel impelled to try it”
Under date of 2 mo. 11th 1867, I record my efforts to lay hold of this conquering faith, and add:-
“The present attitude of my soul is that of trusting in the Lord. And I have found it is a practical reality that He does deliver. When temptation comes, if I turn at once to Him, breathing this prayer: ‘Lord, save me. I cannot save myself from this sin, but Thou canst and wilt,’ He never fails me. Either He completely changes my feelings in the case, or He causes me to forget all about it, and my victory, or rather His victory is entire. This is a secret of the Christian life that I never knew before…. But why have I not know it? Why has my course been such a halting, miserable one, when I might have lived in victory? What a striking proof I have been of the inherent legality and unbelief of the human heart, for, while trusting the Lord entirely and only for my justiﬁcation, I have always been trusting myself for my sanctiﬁcation…. I have depended upon my own efforts, my own resolutions, my own watchfulness, my own fervency, my own strivings, to accomplish the work of holy living. This was legality. It was as truly legality as if I had trusted to these things to save my soul in the ﬁrst place. I was ‘frustrating’ the grace of God as really in regard to my sanctiﬁcation as those whom I have been used to condemn so utterly as legalists, were doing it in regard to their justiﬁcation. I could easily see how they made the death of Christ of none effect by their legal striving, but I was blind to the fact that I also was doing the same thing. Our strivings to be sure were with a different end in view, but it was still in both cases our own striving—in both it was self, and not Christ. ‘For, if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.’ But now how different it is! Now I commit my daily life to Him, as well as my future destiny, and I trust Him just as nakedly for the one as for the other. I am equally powerless in both cases. I can do nothing—not even I, the new man,—and if the Lord does not do it all, it will not be done. But oh! glorious truth, He does do it! When I trust Him He gives me deliverance from the power of sin as well as from its guilt. I can leave all in His care-my cares, my temptations, my growth, my service, my daily life, moment by moment. Oh the rest and calm of a life like this!
“. . . And this is the Methodist ‘blessing of holiness.’ Couched by them it is true in terms that I cannot altogether endorse, and held amid what seems to me a mixture of error, but still really and livingly experienced and enjoyed by them. I feel truly thankful to them for their testimony to its reality, and I realize that it is far better to have the experience, even if mixed with error, than to live without it, and be very doctrinally correct, as was my former case.”
My diary at this date is full of the wonderful discoveries I was making, but these extracts will sufﬁce. From this time the possibilities of faith opened out before me in a way I had never dreamed of. I saw that it was in very truth the victory that overcometh the world, and I marveled at my blindness in never having discovered it before. For a third time a skin seemed to be peeled off the Bible, and it became again a new book to me.
The truth that was mine yesterday
Is larger truth today;
Its face has aspect more divine
Its kingship fuller sway.
For truth must grow, as ages roll,
And God looms larger in the soul.
One day I was present at a meeting where the speaker read John 15, and the words “Without Me ye can do nothing” struck me with amazement. Hundreds of times before I had read and repeated these words, and had even preached from them. But now, so ablaze were they with wondrous meaning that it almost seemed as if they must have been newly inserted in the Bible since last I had opened it. Here was our Lord saying distinctly Without Me ye can do nothing,” and yet all the while I had been thinking I could and I must do so much! What sort of meaning had it been giving hitherto to this word “nothing”? I tried to remember, but all was a blank. I simply had not even noticed it.
Another day I came across in my reading that passage in the sixth of Matthew, where our Lord exhorts us to “take no thought for our life,” on the ground that our Heavenly Father takes thought for us; and bases His assertion on the fact that, since God cares for the fowls of the air and the lilies of the ﬁeld, His must necessarily do at least as much for His children who are, He Himself declares, of more value than many sparrows. I read the passage over and over with utter amazement. Could it really be true? Had it actually been in the Bible all these years? And, if it had, why had I never seen it? And yet as a fact, not only had I seen it, but I had even known it by heart, and had many times repeated it. But in the only sense worth considering, I never had seen it before. Now I saw; and at the sight, cares, and worries, and fears, and anxieties, vanished like mists before the sun.
And it was the same with all the old familiar texts—they were literally illuminated with a new meaning. Every page of the Bible seemed to declare in trumpet tones the reality of a victorious and triumphant life to be lived by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. My whole soul was on ﬁre with my discovery, and I could scarcely think or talk of anything else. I had found out something about the salvation of Christ of which I had never even dreamed, something that proved Him to be a far more complete Saviour than I could have conceived of.
I saw that He was not only my Saviour for the future, but He was also my all-sufﬁcient Saviour for the present. He was my Captain to ﬁght my battles for me, in order that I need not ﬁght them myself. He was my Burden-bearer to carry my burdens, in order that I might roll them off of my own weak shoulders; He was my Fortress to hide me from my enemies; my Shield to protect me; my Guide to lead me; my Comforter to console me; my Shepherd to care for me. No longer did I need to care for, and protect, and ﬁght for myself. It was all in the hands of One who was mighty to save; and what could I do but trust Him?
No words can express the fullness and the all sufﬁciency that I saw was stored up for me
in the Lord.
I could not keep such glorious news to myself. Every one who came within the range of my inﬂuence was obliged to listen to my story.
One of the ﬁrst to be told was the cousin whom I have mentioned a little way back, as being surprised at my teaching of the necessity of a continual bondage to sin, in spite of the fact that there was full forgiveness for all our sins, past, present, and to come. I seized the earliest opportunity I could ﬁnd to have a visit from her, and, on her arrival, greeted her with the words, “Oh, Carrie, I have something so wonderful to tell you. We must not lose a minute before I begin.”
As soon as we could get alone, I poured out to her my new discovery, telling her I had found out that there was in Christ, not only forgiveness for sin, but also deliverance from its power, and that we need not any longer be the “slaves of sin,” but might be “more than conquerors through Him.”
My cousin listened with amazed interest, her face growing more astonished and perplexed every minute, and when at last I paused to take breath, she burst out: ”But Hannah, what do you mean? You have always told me that even although you were a child of God you could not expect to be delivered from sin, or from worries, because the old Adam was too strong for you, and the new nature could not conquer the old. Why on earth,” she asked with indignant remonstrance, “have you let me go on all this long time with that idea? When I was converted I fully expected to be delivered from sin, and from all worrying and unrest of soul, but when I talked to you about it, you said it was impossible in this life; and I thought of course you knew, and so I gave up all hope of it. And now here you say exactly the opposite. It certainly is very confusing, and I really do not know what to think.”
I agreed with her that it was confusing, but that after all it had only been ignorance in the old days that had made possible such a false view of things as I had then taught, and that now I had discovered something far better in the gospel of Christ, and that all we had to do was to throw the old false view overboard, and accept the new truth that had been shown us. My cousin, who had all along had an instinct, in spite of all that was said, that the other way could not be the best the salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ had to offer, embraced with avidity this new teaching of deliverance from temptation through the Lord Jesus Christ, and carried it out far more faithfully than I did.
The practical working of my new discovery amazed me. I committed the whole matter of my rebellious spirit to the Lord, and told Him I could not conquer it, but that I believed He could conquer it for me; and then I stood aside, as it were, and left the battle to Him. And to my indescribable joy I found all my rebellion taken away, and such a spirit of peaceful acquiescence in the will of God put into its place, that the life which had before looked so utterly distasteful to me, began to look pleasant and even desirable. I found I could say “Thy will be done” heartily and with thankfulness. My discovery proved itself to be a practical success and I was enchanted.
In numberless ways I tested it and it never failed. One striking instance I remember vividly. I had been imposed upon in what I felt to be a most unjustiﬁable way, and in what I can see now, in looking back, was really unjustiﬁable, and I felt very much aggrieved, and was tempted to go into a ﬁt of sulks and to show my displeasure by being sulky for a week or two. But, immediately, when the temptation came, a sight of the way of escape came also, and I rushed off to be alone somewhere that I might ﬁght the battle out. I remember that I was so boiling over with provocation that I could not walk quietly, but fairly ran up to my bedroom, slamming the doors after me. When safe in the seclusion of my room, I kneeled down and said, “ Lord, I am provoked, I want to be provoked, and I think I have cause for being provoked; but I know I ought not to be, and I want the victory. I hand this whole matter over to Thee. I cannot ﬁght this battle. Thou must ﬁght it for me. Jesus saves me now.” I said these words out of a heart that seemed brimful of rebellion. According to all appearances I was declaring a lie when I said the Lord saved me, for I was not saved, and it did not look likely I could be. But by faith I laid hold of it, and declared even in the midst of turmoil that the Lord could and did save me now. The result was that immediately a summer morning of peace and happiness spread over me. All my resentment and provocation vanished, and I felt as happy as a bird in the sunshine at the thought of the very thing that before had made me so angry. My faith had laid hold of a divine fact. I had proved that God was able to deliver, and that He did deliver the soul that trusted Him. I realized that it was a wonderful truth that I had no need to ﬁght my own battles, for the Lord fought for me, and I could hold my peace.
Many hundreds of similar battles have been fought and won for me since by the Captain of my Salvation. The secret I learned then, of handing over the battle to the Lord, and leaving it in His hands, has never failed to work when I have acted on it. It has been to me over and over a practical illustration of Christ’s Words, “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” He has overcome it, not we; and He will always overcome it when we will put the matter into His hands, and will stand aside and let Him ﬁght. Never once, when I have done this, have I been disappointed; for it is blessedly true, although so few seem to know it, that He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them. He was able then, when the Epistle to the Hebrews was written, and He is able now; for He is not dead, but “ever liveth “ to make intercession for us.
I had discovered that faith is the conquering law of the universe. God spake, and it was done, and, relying upon Him, we too may speak and it shall be done. A wonderful light streamed upon I John 5: 14, 15. “And this is the conﬁdence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us: and if we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.” I had always hitherto thought of this passage as one of those beautiful dreams of the Christian life that nobody, in their senses, supposed for a moment was meant to be realized in this world; but now I saw it was no dream, but was simply the statement of a Divine law, the law of faith; a law as certain in its action as the law of gravitation, if only one understood it
Our Lord tells us over and over that according to our faith it shall be unto us, and actually asserts, without any limitations, that all things are possible to him that believeth; but I had never supposed this was anything more than a romance. Now I saw that He had been simply enunciating a law of the spiritual kingdom, which any one might try and prove for themselves. I saw that faith links us to the Almighty power of God, and makes it possible for our weakness to draw down unfailing supplies of His strength; and there seemed no limit to its possibilities.
“Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees
And looks at that alone;
Laughs at impossibilities,
And cries, it shall be done.”
I wish I could say that I have always since lived in the power of this divine law of faith. But one thing I can say, that whenever and wherever I have chosen to lay hold by faith of God’s strength, it has always been made perfect in my weakness, and I have had the victory; and over and over I have been able to say with the apostle, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.”
Taken from her book, The Unselfshness of God, which was originally published in 1903