EFFECT OF MY VIEWS ON MY PUBLIC WORK
AS was to be expected in those days, my views on Restitution, which of course I had speedily announced, met with a great deal of disapproval from the Plymouth Brethren, and my other orthodox friends, and I had to undergo a good deal of what might be called persecution, but which I myself rather gloried in, because I felt it was a grand thing to know so much more of God than those did who opposed me. I often compared my feelings to the feelings a civilized man might have, when going into a savage country, and trying to tell the savages of some of the wonders of civilization, which wonders they of course could not understand, and would not be likely to believe. His sense of superior knowledge would make all their disapproval and opposition only a cause for supremely pitying their ignorance, and bearing with it patiently. And on this ground I have always rather enjoyed being considered a heretic, and have never wanted to be endorsed by any one. I have felt that to be endorsed was to be bound, and that it was better, for me at least, to be a free lance, with no hindrances to my absolute mental and spiritual freedom.
In those days the discovery I had made was not so widely known as it is now, and it seemed likely that the holding of what was considered by many to be such a grave heresy, might have proved a hindrance to my Christian work; and I dare say it may have been so in some quarters. But as I always had far more openings for work awaiting me than I could possibly fill, I never experienced any difficulty. I tried to be courteous enough not to involve people, to whom such views were abhorrent, in the responsibility of endorsing me; but the revelation I had had was too glorious for me to withhold it whenever I found an open door; and as I was never willing to sail under false colours, nor speak anywhere without its being perfectly well known beforehand what a heretic I was, I enjoyed for the most part all the freedom I desired. And, as a fact, these very views, and the frank confession of them under rather trying circumstances, were the means of opening the way for some of our most important and successful work.
It came about in this wise. In 1873 my husband had come over to England to hold some meetings in the interests of the Higher Life, or, what I prefer to call it, the Life of Faith. I soon followed him, and upon my arrival in London I was invited to meet a company of leading Evangelical ladies, who were to decide as to whether it would be safe for them to endorse me, and lend their influence to the work. The occasion has thus been described by Lady Mount Temple, who was one of the party, in her life of Lord Mount Temple:—“I think it was in 1873, that Mr. Pearsall Smith came to England from America, followed in a few months by his dear beautiful wife. It was a time long to be remembered. They came full, one may say, of the new wine of the Spirit, and longed to help others onward in the Divine life. A friend asked us to lunch to meet them. I shall never forget my first sight of Hannah Smith. We called her the ‘angel of the Churches,’ and she looked like one, with her golden hair and clear beautifully cut face, in a dress distinctly her own, but simple as that of the Friends, among whom she had been brought up.
“I may mention what strongly drew me to her that day. I must confess that I was only a seeker after truth. Hannah was sitting in a little circle of excellent orthodox friends, who had assembled to hear of the good things that she had to impart, and she was there on her examination.
“She happened to have seen a funeral in the street, and as she spoke of it, we all put on the conventional look of sadness. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘when I meet a funeral I always give thanks for the brother or sister delivered from the trials and pains of this mortal state.’ How wonderful, I thought, and I could not help exclaiming, ‘Is that possible? Do you feel this about everybody?’ I was indeed an enfant terrible. She stopped a moment and looked around. She was amongst a party of evangelicals, at a time when the universal hope was deemed a heresy, and she was on her trial. She owns that she went through a few moments of conflict. But truth prevailed, and looking up, with her bright glance, she said, ‘Yes, about everybody, for I trust in the love of God.’ I yielded my heart at once to this manifestation of trust and love and candour.”
I remember this occasion perfectly, and the thoughts that influenced me. I knew I was on my trial, and I thought very likely the whole party would be shocked, but I felt that loyalty to God demanded that I should tell what I knew would honour Him, and that I must be willing to leave the consequences in His care. The moment I ceased speaking Lady Mount Temple, (or Mrs. Cowper Temple, as she was then), left her seat and came across to where I was sitting, and, stranger though I was, gave me a most loving kiss, and said at once, “You must come and have some meetings at Broadlands.” How the rest of the party felt I do not know, but not a word of disapproval was uttered, and they were all afterwards my best friends. And the result was that in a few weeks, Broadlands, Lord and Lady Mount Temple’s place in Hampshire, was thrown open to us for our first conference, which was a time of wonderful blessing, and proved to be the entering door for all the future conferences, and for our whole after work in England and elsewhere.
When in 1874 there was to be one of these conferences at Brighton, some of the committee who were helping to organize it, got frightened about my heresies, lest they should hinder the work, and induced my husband, who had preceded me to England, to write over to America and tell me that unless I would promise not to let my heresies be known while I was in England, they would strongly oppose my being allowed to take part in the meetings. When looking over an old package of letters lately I came across my reply, which I quote to show how I felt about it.“Philadelphia, April 6, 1874. Thy letters from London have arrived. Thee need not think I should be grieved not to be allowed to speak in the meetings, for nothing would really suit me better. I am not in the least anxious to preach. In fact I consider that it is a great favour on my part to be willing to do it, and not the least of a favour in people to be willing to listen to me. And if your committee should say ‘We do not want to hear you speak at Brighton,’ I should have returned them hearty thanks. Nobody need feel any delicacy whatever in this direction. But it must be thoroughly understood that I compromise for nobody, and that I believe in Restitution more and more. I do not think I could endure the misery I see in this poor sad sin-stricken world without it. Our temperance work brings us into contact with such helpless misery, that my heart would burst if I did not know that God loves all His creatures, and has something gracious in store for every one.”
So I wrote; and, as I would not compromise, and, as it was felt important to have me at the meetings, the committee dropped the subject, and decided to take me as I was, with all my heresies.
When my husband wrote me this, I replied as follows:—“Philadelphia. I am very glad thee has got out of thy difficulty about thy heretical preaching wife with so little trouble. But the idea of B——, with shaky views of his own, undertaking to excommunicate me! I really do not think it was honest. I do not choose to sail under false colours, and I am a thousand times stronger in my views of restitution every day I live. If they let me alone in England I shall probably not say much about it, but if there is the least hint of any compromise or underhand secrecy on my part, I shall blaze out in a perfect conflagration. For I cannot endure anything like that. So you must please bear this in mind, ye Lords of Creation. Soberly however I do not feel at all drawn to preach or to teach restitution over there, and if the dear frightened Orthodox friends do not make any fuss about it, I shall not be likely to. Their difficulties about me do not annoy me in the least. I believe I actually enjoy being the victim of the ‘odium theologicum.’ I guess there is something of the war horse in my composition.”
Whether the fears of the committee had been well founded or not I cannot tell, I only know that never for one single moment in all my work in England was I made to feel that my views on restitution in the slightest degree hindered the entrance of the message I had to give, or closed any door for my work. In fact I believe they made the way for me in many places that would otherwise not have been open. The truth was that my underlying belief in the absolutely unlimited justice and love of God enabled me to speak with a far more courageous faith in Him than I could otherwise have done, and I am convinced that without it I should have been shorn of half my power.
Be this as it may, however, the revolution wrought in my own experience by the discovery I had made of the wideness of God’s salvation, was so tremendous, that no words could tell it, and the romance of my religious life grew more entrancing than ever.
Every day seemed to bring me some deeper and more glorious insight into the unimagined goodness and unselfishness of God, and I felt that I was at last beginning to enter into the meaning of the Apostle’s prayer for the Ephesians, and was able in my little measure to comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and to know (something at least) of the love of Christ that passeth knowledge.
Such love as this did indeed pass knowledge, and could only have sprung out of the heart of an utterly unselfish God. I stood amazed before the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of it, and wondered, with an endless wonder, how I could ever have supposed for a single instant that a Divine love could have had any limitations.
So delightful was it all that for a long time I felt that there could not be anything more to find out about God, but that I must have made my final discovery.
But a further revelation was in store for me, and the fourth epoch of my soul’s life, and the most entrancing of any, was about to open.
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