MY awakening had come in earnest! I was then about sixteen and a half, and from that time onwards my soul was athirst to make myself worthy of the glorious destiny of which I seemed to have had a glimpse. And even deeper than this was the longing to become acquainted with the God who had created the unimaginable wonders of which I had been reading. I have no recollection of any especial trouble about my sins. It was the magnificence of God that had enthralled me, and I felt as if it would be the grandest thing in life to come to know Him. And then and there my search began. But alas! what a blind and ignorant search it was at first.
My only confidante was my friend Anna ——. Not for the world would I have said anything to my parents on the subject. Their Quaker habits of reserve on all matters of religion seemed to make it impossible. But to my friend, after this day of awakening, I poured out my heart in a long letter full of my aspirations and my yearnings. In my diary I have a copy of her reply with the following comments.“Anna wrote me a little note in reply to my letter. Never had I received one which thrilled me more stirringly than that! She begged me to give up all to my Saviour, to pray for strength, and to strive earnestly after holiness no matter what it may cost me. ‘Oh dearest Hannah,’ she said, ‘do let us try. Let us seek to journey together towards His glorious kingdom! Let us struggle for a portion of His spirit.’
“Oh that I could follow her advice! I sat here alone in my study and tried to feel as if I could give up all. But I could not. I could not even feel repentance for the many, many sins I have committed; and, far worse than all, I could not feel as if I really loved God. It is dreadful. What shall I do? I must repent, I must love my Heavenly Father, or I shall be eternally ruined. But I cannot do it of myself; God alone can help me, and I know not how to pray. Oh what shall I do? Where shall I go? It is said, ‘Ask, and ye shall receive.’ But I cannot become really righteous until I repent, and I cannot repent.”
From this time onward my religious diary is one long record of wrestlings and agonizings, with scarcely a ray of light. My friend did her best to help me, but she, like myself, supposed that the only way to find God was to search for Him within. Our Quaker education had been as I have shown to refer us under all circumstances to the “light within” for teaching and guidance, and we believed that only when God should reveal Himself there, could we come really to know Him. In an old Quaker tract which I have found among my papers, called, “What shall we do to be saved?” there is a passage that sets forth clearly the sort of teaching with which we had grown up. It is as follows:—“I cannot direct the searcher after truth who is pensively enquiring what he shall do to be saved, to the ministry of any man; but would rather recommend him to the immediate teaching of the word nigh in the heart, even the Spirit of God. This is the only infallible teacher, and the primary adequate rule of faith and practice: it will lead those who attend to its dictates into the peaceable paths of safety and truth. ‘Ye need not,’ said the Apostle to the Church formerly, ‘that any man teach you, save as this anointing teacheth, which is truth and no lie.’”
The natural result of this teaching was to turn our minds inward, upon our feelings and our emotions, and to make us judge of our relations with God entirely by what we found within ourselves. What God had said in the Bible seemed to us of not nearly so much authority as what He might say to us in our own hearts, and I have no recollection of ever for a moment going to the Scriptures for instruction. The “inward voice” was to be our sole teacher. And for me at that time the inward voice meant only my own feelings and my own emotions. As there is absolutely nothing more unreliable and unmanageable than one’s inward feelings, it is no wonder that I was plunged into a hopeless struggle. In vain I tried to work myself up into what I supposed would be the sort of feelings acceptable to God. No dream of salvation in any other way ever came to me. I talked about “my Saviour,” as I called Him, but I never for a moment even so much as imagined that He could or would save me unless I could make myself worthy to be saved; and as this worthiness was mostly, I believed, a matter of inward pious emotions, I had no thought but to try somehow to get up these emotions. Any one who has ever tried to do this will know what a weary, hopeless task it was. The records in my diary of my religious life from the age of sixteen onwards are a sad illustration of the false methods of religion which were all I knew. As I read them over I cannot but pity the eager, hungry soul that was reaching out so vainly after light, but found only confusion and darkness.
One thing however consoles me in this retrospect, and that is that none of these religious struggles seem, as far as I can remember, to have darkened the skies of my outward happiness. My times for attending to my religious life were either in our Quaker Meetings, or when I was alone in my study during the twilight, or at night after every one else had gone to bed, and all the tragic records in my diary were written then; while throughout the day I was generally too happy and too full of interests in my outward life to be troubled by what went on in my religious seasons. I feel that this was a great cause for thankfulness, for had the struggles I went through in our silent Meetings or in my hours of meditation extended through the days as well, I do not like to think of what might have been the consequences. I believe my diary was my safety valve, for I can remember well, that, after writing there the most tragic and despairing records, I would somehow feel as if my religious exercises were over, and would go off to bed quite happily, and sleep the sleep of the just without a moment of wakeful anxiety or worry, and would wake up the next morning full of the joys of a new day, forgetting all the miseries I had so despairingly recorded the night before. I was, I recollect, now and then rather surprised at this easy transition, and find the following in my diary during this time:—“I cannot understand my feelings. Such a hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and yet, except in a few moments of retirement (when I write in my diary), such lightness, and gaiety, and indifference. It seems to me almost wrong to laugh, and yet I indulge in it continually. ...
“I know not how God can look upon me even in pity, I am so wicked. So often have I entered into a covenant to serve Him wholly and entirely, with fervour of spirit, but when the impression of my hours of retirement has nearly faded, and the temptations of the world have assailed me, I have yielded, and have forgotten my high and holy calling through fear of the world’s dread laugh, and through the love of sin. Oh that I could do otherwise! The mercy of God will some day be exhausted, and where will I be then? I dare not think.”
I can see now that it was, as I have said, my salvation from an utterly morbid false sort of religion, that my natural happy joyousness continually delivered me out of its snares, although at the time this seemed to me so wicked. How morbid and false all my ideas of religion were at this time, a few further extracts from my diary will reveal.“Oh it is a sorrowful thought that upon myself depends the salvation of my soul, and I can do absolutely nothing! Whichever side I turn all looks dark and gloomy. Oh I must renew my efforts. ... Oh that I could repent! But I cannot. I know it is wrong, I dread the anger of God, but I cannot feel what I know true repentance is. Oh that I could! I almost wish I could be as indifferent as I once was, that I could forget all that I have felt; for it seems impossible for me ever to be a Christian. ...
“This afternoon in meeting I was favoured to feel, more perhaps than ever before, the spirit of supplication. My exercise was so great that I could scarcely sit still. My head throbbed painfully, and my heart felt as though it would break with the agony. Oh how awful to feel that I have of myself no power even to think a holy thought, and yet I must gain the salvation of my soul. I cannot repent, I cannot love my Saviour, and I do not believe I ever will. What, what shall I do?”
Three months after my awakening I wrote:—“It has been more than three months since I began in earnest to seek the salvation of my soul, and I have not advanced one step. Could I have seen then all that was before me I should have given up in despair. I should have thought it impossible to wait and pray and struggle for three months, and gain nothing. Now I look forward to many, many more months of prayer, and struggling, and waiting, with a fear, almost a certainty, that that too will be all in vain. If there was only some outward work, entirely distinct from the inward change which is necessary, something to be done, not something to be prayed for—a cutting off of a hand or a foot, or inflicting austerities upon myself, then perhaps I might become a Christian, for such things I could do. But the inward change I cannot effect, and yet I am accountable if it is not effected. Accountable for not doing what I cannot do! It is a dreadful thought! I feel just as if I was seated, sick and weary, at the base of a high and inaccessible mountain peak, whose summit I must reach alone in the darkness of night. Oh Heavenly Father, wilt Thou not enable me to be faithful, to strive earnestly, and to endure to the end. ... I am so ignorant and inexperienced that I feel almost afraid to do anything. There are many, many things I long to enquire about, but whom shall I ask? I cannot speak to my parents until I know of a certainty that I am accepted. I love them too dearly to be willing to cause the anguish of seeing me give up in despair. My own dear friend, Anna, says she is not a Christian, and she dare not counsel or comfort me. And there is no one. Alone I must bear all my burdens! Alone I must seek the entrance to the straight and narrow way! Alone I must work out my soul’s salvation! And I can of myself do nothing! Oh what shall I do?”
As an illustration of the sort of teaching I was receiving at this time the following extract will be valuable:“Went to 12th Street meeting this morning, here I was favoured to have a few moments of real prayer. But my discouragement was very great, so that I could scarcely avoid crying aloud for help; and in my despair I besought my Father in Heaven, if it seemed good unto Him, to put a few words of encouragement into the mouth of one of His servants. My prayer was answered. Almost immediately Samuel Bettle rose and spoke in a manner remarkably applicable to me, bidding the poor and needy, though now they might seem to be in the depths of tribulation, in darkness and seeing no light, and thirsty yet finding no water, to put their trust in the Lord Jesus, and patiently abide His time, and they would be filled with the light of His Holy Spirit, and fountains of living water would flow from them freely.”
Of what it meant to “put one’s trust in Jesus” I had not the faintest conception, and I do not remember giving it a moment’s thought. But to “patiently abide God’s time” seemed something I could understand, and I went home from the meeting that day with a weary sense of an interminable waiting for the light of the Holy Spirit to shine in my heart and give me the longed-for joy and peace. And so day after day went by in a hopeless watching of my feelings and my emotions, which I was never able to bring up to the right pitch of fervour; and my unrest and darkness of spirit only grew more and more despairing.
One final extract from my diary will suffice.“Third month, 1, 1849. Very sad. The fear that this longing for salvation may be all a delusion attends me always, and everything is so completely veiled in gloom that I can scarcely take a single step. It seems to me I cannot bear this state much longer. But oh Father! Thy will not mine be done.”
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