HANNAH WHITALL SMITH

Born FEBRUARY  7, 1832 

It’s true: the woman who wrote the book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life (1875) lived through plenty of disappointment, difficulty and sorrow. Hannah Whitall (White-hall) Smith’s secret? Draw closer to God in both sunshine and storm.

Image in public domain

THE POTTER TAKES THE CLAY*

Raised in a Philadelphia, Quaker home, Hannah grew increasingly dissatisfied with her spiritual training. In 1851, she married Robert Pearsall Smith, who also rejected his Quaker upbringing. Both experienced a conversion in the Plymouth Brethren church.

They moved to New Jersey. In a new spiritual climate, they grew quickly in their faith. Robert and Hannah began witnessing and preaching. They travelled the United States, ministering as part of the holiness movement. Their family grew. But not all was perfect.

THE WILDERNESS OF CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE

Robert became a well-known preacher. Hannah, always introspective, suffered bouts of loneliness. She questioned the scriptural basis for some of the beliefs and practices she heard and saw around her. Along the way, they lost a child to bronchitis. Hannah spent a lot of time seeking God for strength.

In 1874, the Smiths traveled to England. They shared their insights of “higher Christian life” with thousands of pastors. The Keswick Convention, in Keswick, England, grew out of those meetings. Robert arranged with the Revell Publishing Company (United States) to put some of Hannah’s writings into book form. When they released The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, it became a best seller. The Smiths remained in England, teaching and preaching. Perhaps longer than they should have.

One day, someone found Robert in another woman’s bedroom. That ended his ministry in England. Upon returning to America, the defamed Robert fell into depression. He got so low, he eventually forsook the faith. Instead of turning her back on God, Hannah ran to Him. She expressed her faith in phrases like, “No difficulties in your case can baffle Him.”

ENTIRE ABUNDANT PERFECT TRUST

By that time, two of their five children had died from illness. Although their speaking ministry dried up, Hannah continued writing. In her darkest moments, she clung to statements like “Nothing can separate you from God’s love, absolutely nothing. God is enough for time, God is enough for eternity. God is enough!” Another deep cut came when one of their daughters married renowned atheist, Bertrand Russell. Still, Hannah could say, “Your part is simply to rest. His part is to sustain you, and He cannot fail.”

OTHER SOURCES

Hannah did change in one way. She described a surprising turn in her 1903 auto-biography. In that book, The Unselfishness of God and How I Discovered It,  she expressed her belief in Universalism (think Rob Bell’s 2011 book, Love Wins). However, like many influential Christians since, that turn in the road for Hannah doesn’t negate any of the truths she previously promoted.

Keswick Marketplace. Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

In her later years, Hannah suffered from arthritis and was bound to a wheelchair. She died in 1911. The century since her death has witnessed the contin-uance of the spiritual-growth meetings in Keswick, England. The United States version flourishes in New Jersey at a modern facility that hosts spiritual resources year-round. Hannah’s writings still inspire. Many Christians, some well-known, have grown in their faith and received comfort from the influence of Hannah’s insights for a steadfast relationship with Jesus Christ.

L4G—————————————————-L4G—————————————————–L4G

LET ME KNOW:  How has Hannah’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped  you? I welcome your comments.

Bibliography——————————————————————————————–

  • Smith, Hannah Whitall. The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life. http://www.ccel.org/s/smith_hw/secret/secret.htm.
  • Kooiman Hoosier, Helen. 100 Christian Women Who Changed the 20th Century.  Grand Rapids MI: Fleming H. Revell, 2000.
  • Hazard, David. Safe Within Your Love: A 40-Day Journey in the Company of Hannah W. Smith. Minneapolis MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1992.

Here are three other titles written by Hannah, still available today—————————

  • Everyday Religion
  • God of All Comfort
  • God’s Love for You

———————————–*Subtitles for this article were taken from phrases used in The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life.  ———————————————————–

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About William E. Richardson

I'm married to a wonderful woman named Deb. We're the parents of a son and daughter who bring great joy to our lives. I currently pastor the Assembly of God church in Afton, Iowa.
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