Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Hannah Whitall Smith

Because of her long personal search for God out of the strongly non-creedal religion of the Society of Friends, Hannah’s understanding of truth did not always match the formal doctrines of the evangelicalism of her day, doctrines which had been fashioned into evangelical orthodoxy after centuries of theological debate. Most Christians who knew her or of her were aware of these differences. Some had a real problem with her “broadness,” but most did not.

Several factors contributed to the wide-hearing her spiritual counsels received among evangelicals in her time and up to the present time: (1). She never chose to ride a hobby or promote her differences publically. Total submission to God and following Christ were the key notes of her writing and preaching. (2). Her readers and hearers were in a revivalistic tradition which was loyal to basic evangelical doctrine which believed that life not doctrine was the true test of pure Christianity. (3). She had the skill of a spiritual genius in getting to the heart of relational spirituality. Her God was the Omnipotent Lord, but above all, the Loving Father, and she was his devoted child. God was family, like her father, her mother, her sisters and her brother, only so much more.

Hannah’s heresies have not been emphasized in these limited selections from the thousands of entries available. Many today who know her only through her writings know very little about them, or, if they do, like those who knew her best, they still accept her spiritual insights as valid in the same way that most evangelicals of her own generation did and for the same reasons. Like Job, God put her to the test. And like Job she put God to the test. Her ability to tell us about it is what still helps us home to God today.

To a Friend, The Cedars, August 8, 1876


And now what do you think of it all? I think one of two things, but which one is right, I don’t know. Perhaps you can tell me. Either 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. Or else I was awfully good, so good as to have lost sight of myself 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. And then again I think I am an utterly irreligious and lazy fatalist, with not a spark of the divine in me. 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 thanksgiving.” I agree with every body, 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.

“God is love,” comprises my whole system of ethics. And, as you say, it seems to take it all in. 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 boundaries widen infinitely. I find that everyone who has travelled this highway of holiness for any length of time, has invariably cut loose from their old moorings. 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 you do with it all?

Reblogged from: http://not1lost.blogspot.com/

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