Three Things Hannah Whitall Smith Said about Faith

Hannah Whitall Smith published The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life in 1875, at the height of her popularity as a speaker, along with her husband, in the Higher Life movement. It’s a good example of the preaching that was prevalent at the beginnings of the Keswick Convention in England and in the Holiness movement in America, with its emphasis on trusting God to develop and maintain personal holiness. Here are three lessons she taught about such trust.

1. If God Is Carrying You then He’s Already Carrying Your Burdens as Well

Smith illustrated this with a story about a traveler who was offered a ride in a horse-drawn wagon but still insisted on carrying his own luggage, even while seated in the wagon!

Most Christians are like a man who was toiling along the road, bending under a heavy burden, when a wagon overtook him, and the driver kindly offered to help him on his journey. He joyfully accepted the offer, but when seated, continued to bend beneath his burden, which he still kept on his shoulders. “Why do you not lay down your burden?” asked the kind-hearted driver. “Oh!” replied the man, “I feel that it is almost too much to ask you to carry me, and I could not think of letting you carry my burden too.”

And so Christians, who have given themselves into the care and keeping of the Lord Jesus, still continue to bend beneath the weight of their burden, and often go weary and heavy-laden throughout the whole length of their journey.

2. Faith Doesn’t Look for Itself, It Looks unto Jesus

Smith compared faith to natural vision. You never wonder if you have eyesight or not. You either see things or you don’t.

You might as well shut your eyes and look inside to see whether you have sight, as to look inside to discover whether you have faith. You see something, and thus know that you have sight; you believe something, and thus know that you have faith. For, as sight is only seeing, so faith is only believing. And as the only necessary thing about seeing is, that you see the thing as it is, so the only necessary thing about believing is, that you believe the thing as it is. The virtue does not lie in your believing, but in the thing you believe.

3. First the Fact, Then the Faith, Then the Feeling

This is what Smith called the divine order; she also called it common sense. People who begin by looking for a feeling that feels like faith have it backwards.

Smith used the Emancipation Proclamation as an illustration.

In that greatest event of this century, the emancipation of our slaves, there is a wonderful illustration of the way of faith. The slaves received their freedom by faith, just as we must receive ours. The good news was carried to them that the government had proclaimed their freedom. As a matter of fact they were free the moment the Proclamation was issued, but as a matter of experience they did not come into actual possession of their freedom until they had heard the good news and had believed it.

The fact had to come first, but the believing was necessary before the fact became available, and the feeling would follow last of all.

This is the divine order always, and the order of common-sense as well:

1. The fact

2. The faith

3. The feeling

But man reverses this order and says:

1. The feeling

2. The faith

3. The fact