A RENEWED SEARCH
THIS scepticism continued for over two years, and I had quite settled down to it and looked upon it as the normal condition of every thoughtful reasonable being. But the year 1858 was destined to see everything changed. Early in that year I had become acquainted with some very orthodox Christians who were full of the doctrines and dogmas of Christianity. As I have stated before, I knew absolutely nothing of doctrines. They had never come into my scheme of religion at all. I was immensely interested therefore in hearing about them, and began to wonder whether my unbelief might not have been caused by my utter ignorance of these very doctrines. Under date of April 25, 1858, I wrote in my diary:—“The Bible talks of the necessity of being ‘born again,’ what does it mean? Is there really such a thing practically to be experienced? And is a belief in Jesus of Nazareth as the Saviour of the world necessary to it? Oh, how I long for settlement. ... It may be that all my failures to find and walk in the right way arise from my rejection of Christ in the sense in which most Christians seem to receive Him, but I really cannot receive Him so. And besides, if their way is the truth, I must wait until my Divine Guide leads me into it; and certainly He is not leading me there now, but, it seems to me, further and further away. ... My whole soul and intellect seem to shrink from the material orthodox view of the Gospel. It seems impossible for me to believe in the atoning merits of Christ’s death. My mind revolts from anything so material as the thought that the outward death of His body, (which after all must necessarily have taken place in some way as a consequence of His humanity), could have had any atoning merits. Far more likely, if atonement was needed at all, was it His life that was the sacrifice. To put on humanity must indeed have been to Divinity a wonderful condescension, and bitter suffering; to put it off, no matter in what way, could be none whatever.
“But I may be wrong in my views. Only the Lord can teach me.”
Again on May 18, 1858, I write:—“I cannot help the feeling that I have attained to a higher form of Truth than the apostles had, and therefore I cannot pray ‘Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief’ since I have no conviction of being in unbelief. I am not comfortable, however, in my belief or unbelief, whichever it may be, and yet I can see no way of escape. Last night at our Bible class I introduced the subject, hoping that my orthodox friends would be able to argue so conclusively on their side as to force me to a conviction in the orthodox form of faith. But I felt at the end that no argument could avail anything. If my belief is to be changed it will have to be by a Divine power, and it would be indeed a being ‘born again.’ But it seems impossible to me.”
Again, on June 25, 1858, I wrote:—“Cold and dead again and full of pride! The day will certainly come at last when it will be said of me as of Ephraim of old, ‘She is wedded to her idols, let her alone!’ My ‘idol’ now I fear is the pride of human reason which will not submit to become as a little child before it can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. ... At present I am in great trouble because of my religious belief. I long to adopt the Orthodox creed, but cannot; and while on one hand it seems to me wicked that I cannot, at the same time it seems also wicked in me to try to do so, when a clearer light seems to have been granted me. If the truth is what the Unitarians profess, I am afraid to know it. I dread the consequences. I shrink from the contempt and reproaches it would bring upon me. And yet at the same time there is perhaps something a little pleasing to the natural human pride and heroism to think of being called upon to take an independent stand for what I consider a higher form of truth. And yet I do not want to be independent of those I love. I am in a state of sad perplexity.”
This perplexity increased and deepened, and I began at last to think it was dishonest not to speak it out to my friends, and was just about making up my mind to do so, when one day an event occurred that changed the whole current of my life.
And this brings me to the second epoch in my soul’s history.
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