THE SECRET OF A HAPPY LIFE
THIS new life I had entered upon has been called by several different names. The Methodists called it “The Second Blessing,” or “The Blessing of Sanctification;” the Presbyterians called it “The Higher Life,” or “The Life of Faith;” the Friends called it “The Life hid with Christ in God.” But by whatever name it may be called, the truth at the bottom of each name is the same, and can be expressed in four little words, “Not I, but Christ.” In every case it means that we abandon ourselves to the Lord for Him to work in us, both to will and to do of His good pleasure, that we take Him to be our Saviour from the power of sin as well as from its punishment, and that we trust Him to give us, according to His promise, grace to help in every time of need.
Personally I prefer to call it “The life of faith,” as being more simple. But, in that book of mine, in which I have most fully set it forth, I have called it the “Secret of a Happy Life,” (Note: Fleming H. Revell Company, 158 Fifth Ave., New York; James Nisbet & Co., L't'd, 21 Berners St., London.) for the reason that it was for so long a secret from myself, and because it is, I fear, still a secret from hundreds of God’s children, who are groaning under the same grievous burdens as I once had to carry. It was not a secret in the sense that God had hidden it, but only a secret in the sense that I had not discovered it. It was and is an open secret, spread wide out before all eyes in the Bible, if only I had had the spiritual discernment to see it.“The secrets of the gods are from of old,
Guarded forever, and forever told;—
Blabbed in all ears, but published in a tongue
Whose purport the gods only can unfold.”
An ox and a philosopher may look at the same field, but they will not see the same things there; and my eyes, before and after this glorious discovery, looked at the same Bible, and even read the same passages, but saw very different things. The Bible like nature lies open to all, but not all see it. The law of gravitation was working plainly before all men, but only Newton saw it. And similarly the law of faith was plainly shown in the Bible, although my eyes had failed to discern it. The forces we use in nature were not created by us, but only discovered. They existed as much before they were discovered as afterwards. And no discoverers of Nature’s secrets have ever, I am sure, had greater delight in their discoveries, than I have had in my discovery of the “Secrets of God.”
So great was my delight that I felt impelled to speak of it to everybody, and to compel every one to listen.
At first my husband, who was an earnest and successful Christian worker, felt somewhat frightened lest I might be rejoicing in some heresy that would do myself and others harm; and he continually fell back on the argument that the “old man” in us could never be entirely conquered in this life, but must always bring us more or less into bondage. One morning, when we were arguing the matter, I said, “Well, impossible or not, it is certainly in the Bible; and I would like to know what thee thinks of this passage in the sixth of Romans—‘Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.’ What can this mean?” I said, “but that the body, that is, the power of sin, is really to be conquered, so that we no longer need to serve sin?” Startled by the new light that seemed suddenly to shine out of these words, he exclaimed: “There is no such passage in the Bible.” “Oh, yes, there is,” I replied; and, turning to my Bible, I showed it to him. It was a passage with which, of course, he had been very familiar, but which now appeared to him with such an absolutely new meaning that he felt as if he had never seen it before. It brought conviction, however; and from that time he did not rest until he had discovered the truth for himself.
His own account of this discovery, published in 1868, was as follows. After telling of the lack he had been feeling in his Christian life, he says:—“I knew, however, that the Bible seemed to contemplate a better life for the Christian than this, and for some years the impression had been increasing upon my mind that there was some part of the truth of God that I had missed of finding. ... I felt that in the truth, as I held it, there was a painful want of that spirit of love which is the uniting bond of the Church of Christ, and which the Scriptures declare is so much more and better than “all knowledge” and “all faith”; and I often expressed my growing conviction that there was some truth yet to break out of God’s word that would fill our hearts with a love that could bear all things. So strong was this feeling that I had arranged for a meeting of some brethren, well versed in the Scriptures, to carefully examine together and in detail what part of God’s word we had failed to receive and to teach. Circumstances delayed this meeting, but in the meantime, through an unlooked for channel, I was to receive the secret, that was to teach me the joy of Christian liberty, and the power of true service. That secret was faith! Strange! that when I had so constantly taught faith as the appointed channel for the forgiveness of sins, I had failed to see that faith alone was also the means of deliverance from the inward power of sin. Not the sinner only, but the Christian also, must receive everything by faith.
“I met at this time some Christians whose inward life, as they described it, seemed to be very different from mine. They declared that practical sanctification was to be obtained, like justification, by simple faith; and that, like justification, it was to be realized in any moment in which our faith should be able to grasp it; and they declared further that they themselves had experienced it. The subject was continually brought to my attention, and over and over again proofs were brought from the Word, to which I professed to be, and verily thought I was, in such entire subjection. But I regarded the whole thing with a deep feeling of distress, for it seemed to me that what they were aiming after and professing to have attained was a perfection of the flesh, and that I knew was impossible. I scarcely know anything towards which I had such a deep-rooted prejudice, and I suffered many hours of anxiety in thinking over the sad consequences of this heresy which I saw creeping in among us. So determined was my opposition; that even familiar passages of Scripture, when quoted to prove that sanctification was by faith, and that it was possible to walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, assumed such unfamiliar aspects that I could scarcely believe they were in the Bible at all.
“One morning, Rom. 6:6, was quoted to me with the remark that when God said of the believer that his ‘old man is crucified with Christ that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin,’ it certainly must mean something, and something too which would make it possible for a believer no longer to be the slave of sin. I was so astonished at the force of the words that I said at once and emphatically, ‘That passage is not in the Bible,’ although as a fact there were but few that were more familiar. And then, when forced to acknowledge that it was there, I took refuge in the plea that it was only judicial—that is, true in God’s sight, but never actually true in the Christian’s experience. But from that moment I began to wonder whether there might not be after all some truth in what they were teaching; and slowly I discovered that I had misapprehended their meaning. It was not a perfection in the flesh that they were talking of, but a death of the flesh, and a life hid in Christ,—a life of abiding and walking in Him, and therefore a life of victory and triumph, and one well pleasing to God.
“‘But is that all you mean?’ I asked at one time, when this had been especially pressed upon me. ‘That is nothing new. I have always known it.’
“‘But have you lived it?’ was the question asked.
“‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘I have often lived so. Very often I have given myself up entirely into the care of the Lord, and have realized that I was dead, and that He alone lived in me.’
“‘You have realized this as an occasional experience,’ was the answer to this, ‘but have you realized it as a life? You say you have taken refuge in the Lord sometimes, but have you ever taken up your abode in Him?’
“I saw that I had not. My faith had been very intermittent in this respect. In circumstances of peculiar difficulty, or where I had from any cause felt especially weak in myself, I had had resource to the Lord exclusively, and had always found Him at such times sufficient for my utmost need. But that this occasional experience might be and ought to be the experience of my whole life, I had never dreamed.
“‘What would you think,’ asked my friend, ‘of people who should trust Christ in this intermittent way for the salvation of their souls;—who should one week realize their own powerlessness to do anything towards it, and should therefore trust it altogether and wholly to the Lord, but should the next week try to do it partly themselves, asking His help to make up what was lacking in their own efforts? Would not such a course seem to you utterly foolish and inconsistent? And yet is it not equally inconsistent, and equally dishonouring to the Lord, for you to trust Him for your daily living in this intermittent way, sometimes walking by faith, and sometimes by your own efforts?’
“I could not but acknowledge the truth of this, and the possibilities and blessedness of a life of continual faith began to dawn upon me.”
Such was my husband’s account of his discovery; and to my great joy we were both from this time forward of one accord in regard to it.
It was not that either he or I considered ourselves to have become sinless, or that we never met with any further failures. We had simply discovered the “Secret of victory,” and knew that we were no longer the “slaves of sin” and therefore forced to yield to its mastery, but that we might, if we would, be made more than conquerors through our Lord Jesus Christ. But this did not mean that temptations ceased to come; and when we neglected to avail ourselves of the “Secret” we had discovered, and, instead of handing the battle over to the Lord, took it into our own hands as of old, failure inevitably followed.
But we had learned that it was really a fact that the Lord was both able and willing to deliver us out of every temptation, if we would but trust Him to do it; and we saw that our old idea that we were necessarily the “servants of sin” was contrary to the Scriptures, and was a libel on the completeness of the salvation of Christ, who had died on purpose to deliver us from its bondage. “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace.” And we had discovered further that faith and faith only was the road to victory, and that effort and wrestling were of no avail in this battle. Our part, we saw, was simply surrender and faith, and God’s part was to do all the rest.
For a third time, as I have said, a skin was peeled off the Bible, and on every page we found the “secret of victory” set forth in letters of light. As before, the old texts took on a deeper and a fuller meaning. Take for instance the passage, “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world, and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God.” This had been one of our favourite passages, but we had taken it to mean only a future overcoming, when death should be swallowed up in victory, and we should overcome the world by leaving it behind us. Now we saw that it meant a present overcoming of the world, by the power of a present faith, while still living in it.
Or take this passage, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” This had meant to us heretofore the taking away of the future penalty of sin, but now we saw that it meant taking away its present power, so that we need no longer serve it or be a bond slave to it.
I might multiply innumerable instances of this unveiling of the Bible under our new light, but these will suffice. We had made a transforming discovery, and it filled our every thought.
It seemed to me such an amazing and delightful thing that, as I have said, I could not keep it to myself. Whenever I met any of my friends my first question would be, “How much time have you to spare, for I have something splendid to tell you.” And I would at once proceed to pour out my tale of the great salvation I had discovered. To most of my friends it was as new and delightful as it had been to me, and many of them took hold of it at once as an experimental reality. But one of them, the friend who had been the means of my awakening at sixteen, and who had been my closest religious confidante ever since, after listening to my story, said, “But, Hannah, that is nothing new. I have always known it.” “Then why,” I asked in great indignation, “did you never tell me about it? Here have I been, as you must have known, struggling along all these years with my temptations, having a few victories perhaps, but a far greater number of defeats, and all the while you knew of a secret of victory and yet never told me. How could you be so unkind?” “But of course I thought you knew it,” she replied. “It is what the Quakers have always taught. Their preaching is almost altogether about it. I thought every Christian knew it.” “Well,” I said, “every Christian does not know it, and very few, in fact, do know it. Most Christians believe that they are obliged, owing to the weakness of the flesh, to be the ‘servants of sin’ all their lives; and most of them think that in order to get any victory at all, they have got to fight and wrestle for it themselves; and they never see that the Bible declares that victory is given to faith and to faith only. I feel sure,” I added, “that nearly all Christians believe, as I did, that they must do all the fighting themselves, but that, if defeat seems imminent, they can then ask the Lord to come to their help. But they do not in the least understand that what they are to do is to hand the battle over to Him in the very beginning, while they ‘stand still and see the salvation of the Lord,’ just as the children of Israel did at the Red Sea. Moses told the Israelites then that the Lord would fight for them, and they might hold their peace, and I think everybody who knows about it ought to tell people the same thing now. And,” I added emphatically, as I bade my friend good-bye, “I for one mean to tell it wherever I can.”
Consequently no one, whether old or young, whether an advanced Christian or a young beginner, to whom I dared speak, failed to hear the story, and, one after another, nearly all my friends accepted it and began to live in the power of it.
Among the rest was my own little daughter, who was at this time about seven or eight years old. She had begun to develop a spirit of great willfulness which I had found very hard to control. She herself recognized that it was wrong, and tried to conquer it, but she seemed somehow possessed. One day she came to me with a very puzzled air and said, “Mother, what is the reason I am so naughty? I know I am a little Christian girl, and I thought Christians were always good; but though I try as hard as I can to make myself good, I just can’t help being naughty.” I could sympathize with the child from my own experience, and I said, “I expect, darling, that the reason is just because you do try to make yourself good. We never can make ourselves good, let us try as hard as we may. Only our Heavenly Father can make us good, and we must just trust Him to do it. Whenever you feel tempted to be naughty, if you will tell Him all about it, and ask Him to make you good, and then will trust Him to do it, He will be sure to take all your naughty away.” The child remained silent for a while, and then said thoughtfully, “Oh I did not know that. I always thought you had to put your will into it, and just do it yourself.” And she walked thoughtfully away, having evidently got hold of an entirely new idea.
I very soon noticed a great change in her; all her willfulness seemed to have disappeared, and she was as biddable and gentle as a lamb. I said nothing, as I did not want to intrude roughly into delicate ground, but two or three days afterwards, as she was sitting on the floor of her nursery playing with her dolls, I heard her saying softly to herself, in a tone of subdued exultation, “Oh, I am so glad Heavenly Father is making me so good. It feels so nice to be good.” Still I said nothing, but a few nights later, when I was tucking her up in bed she burst out with, “Oh, mother, aren’t you glad Heavenly Father is making me so good? He is going to make me a great deal gooder, but aren’t you glad He has made me as good as He has this far?” Then, as I hugged and kissed her, and rejoiced with her, she added solemnly, “Mother, do you tell everybody about this?” I replied that I tried to, but she was not satisfied, and said, “But, mother, you must not only try to, you must really do it every time you preach, for I expect there are lots of people like I was, who want to be good and don’t know how, and you ought to tell every single person you meet.” I have always taken this as a sort of Divine call for my work.
In fact, however, our hearts were so full of the subject that we needed no incentive to fulfill our little daughter’s injunction, and everybody we knew did sooner or later hear our story. As a consequence a great stir was created in our own circle, and I may say all over the Church in America as well, and even in England. Enquiries began to come from all quarters as to what this new doctrine, taught by the Pearsall Smiths at Millville, New Jersey, could be; and very soon meetings and conferences began to be held in various places, many of which, are still held to this day, and are generally called “Meetings for the deepening of the Spiritual life.” I shall hope to give a full account of this movement elsewhere.
Suffice it to say here that this discovery, which I have tried to set forth, was the beginning of a great revival in the spiritual life of the Church everywhere. It reached its culmination in the meetings held in 1873 and 1874 on the Continent, and at Oxford and Brighton, when thousands of Christians came from all quarters to hear the story; and the effects of which are still felt in numberless lives. I never go anywhere that I do not meet people who tell me that their whole lives were changed by what they learned at those meetings. It was not that they had found a new religion, but only that their old religion had become vital to them, and the things they had before thought they believed, had been made actual and living realities. They had called Christ their Saviour, but now they had learned to know that He really did save, and they had trusted Him to do it, and He had not failed them.
There had been nothing Sectarian in the teaching, and there had been no need for any one to change their Creed or their Denomination. In all Denominations, even where in other respects they may seem to hold widely diverging views, there have always been those who have understood and lived the life of faith, not only among the Methodists, but among the Quakers and among the Catholics as well, and in fact it is I believe at the bottom of the creeds of every Church. All that is needed therefore is for the members of each Church to give up merely professing their beliefs, and begin actually to believe them; and, in believing them, they will always find them to be true.
It is a blessed fact about the life of faith that, no matter what the Creed or what the Denomination, it fits into all, and the story is everywhere the same.
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