HOLINESS CAMP MEETINGS
AS may be imagined, we took every possible opportunity of learning all we could of the new truths we had discovered; and I must confess that, although we found, as I have said, that the Friends did actually teach it, yet it was among the Methodists we received the clearest light. The Methodists were very definite about it. They taught definitely that there were two experiences in the Christian life, the first being justification, and the second sanctification, and they urged Christians not to be satisfied with justification (i.e., forgiveness) merely, but also to seek sanctification or the “second blessing,” as they called it, as well. I should not myself express the truth in this fashion now, but at that time I must acknowledge it was most helpful.
It was not, however, every Methodist who took this ground, as many thought it was too extreme. Those who did were called “Holiness Methodists,” and it was from them we received the most help. They held “Holiness Meetings” for the express purpose of considering the subject, and it was our delight to attend these Meetings whenever we could. Especially did we enjoy their “Holiness Camp Meetings,” which were held in the summer time in lonely forests or at seaside places. They were called “Meetings for the promotion of holiness,” and were really great open air Conferences of Christians of all denominations, from all parts of the country, who were interested in the subject, and who would assemble at these Camp Meetings, living in tents under the trees, and spending a week or ten days in waiting upon God, and conferring together on the deep things of the Kingdom.
No words can express the wonderful power, and solemnity, and yet overwhelming joyfulness, of these meetings. We were there living in tents, entirely separated from all our usual occupations and cares, with nothing to do but to give ourselves up to the spiritual influences around us, and to open our hearts to what we believed to be the teachings of the Holy Spirit. Such a company of earnest Christians, all set on coming into a closer communion with God, could not fail to create a spiritual atmosphere of great intensity; and the thrilling experiences of spiritual joy that were told in every meeting, with the songs of praise resounding through the forest, and the happy faces of every one we met, were all something so out of the ordinary and so entrancing, that it often seemed almost as if we were on the very threshold of Heaven. I cannot help pitying every Christian who has known nothing of such seasons of pure delight. They were a sort of culmination of the grand spiritual romance which my religion has always been to me, and I count them among the most entrancing times of my life. To this day the sight of a camp chair, or of a tent under the trees, always brings back to me something of the old sense of supreme happiness that used to fill every hour of those delicious Camp Meetings.
A friend of ours who knew nothing of the especial object of the Meetings, having heard that we were attending one of them, came unexpectedly to see what it was like. He arrived early in the morning, and on the way to our tent met the people returning from the early Prayer Meeting. He was profoundly impressed with their looks of peace and joy, and he said to us, “What is the matter with all these people, that their faces shine so? Nearly everybody I have seen on this Camp ground seems to have a shining face; but I met a few whose faces did not shine, and I want to know what is the difference.” We told him as well as we could, that the “shining faces” were an index of hearts at rest in the Lord, while those whose faces did not shine had not yet learned the blessed secret. He listened to us with the deepest interest, and, when we had done, he said with conviction, “Well I am determined that I too will get a ‘shining face,’ and I will stay on this Camp ground until I do.” And sure enough, in a few days his face too was shining with the joys of God’s salvation.
I shall never forget the first time I was present at one of these Camp Meetings, and the first Prayer Meeting I attended. It was an early morning meeting in a tent. I knew nothing of Methodist Meetings, having never attended any except those little ones at Millville, and had no conception of the emotional atmosphere into which I had come. I found when I got into the meeting that I had forgotten my handkerchief, but having never in my life shed any tears in a meeting, I was not troubled. But in this meeting the fountains of my being seemed to be broken up, and floods of delicious tears poured from my eyes. I was reduced to great straits, and was obliged surreptitiously to lift up my dress and use my white under-skirt to dry my tears. I have never since been to any meeting without at least two handkerchiefs safely tucked away in my pocket, although I believe I have never since been so overwhelmed with emotion as at that time. It was my first introduction to the entrancing joys of spiritual emotion, and I revelled in it.
As I left the tent where the meeting had been held, a Methodist “Holiness Sister,” seeing my emotion, put her arm around me, and told me of her own experience in sanctification, and took me in hand to help me. Guided by her, I soon found myself in the way of getting the full benefit of all the exercises of the meetings. I found that they talked a great deal about what they called the “blessing of sanctification,” and at every meeting we were urged to come forward to what they called the “altar” (which was really a bench set apart for the purpose) to seek for this “blessing.” Just what the “blessing” was I did not understand, but it seemed to be something very tangible, which resulted from entire consecration and simple faith, and which made people rapturously happy. My “Holiness Sister” soon had me going forward to the “altar” to obtain this “blessing.” I was determined to get whatever there was to be had, and I was more and more fired with enthusiasm by the thrilling testimonies I continually heard on every hand from those who had received the “blessing,” so that I was nothing loth to embrace every opportunity for going to the “altar” to seek it. In fact I enjoyed doing so immensely, for it seemed somehow to bring me to the delicious verge of unknown spiritual possibilities, that might at any moment reveal themselves.
Apart, however, from this treading as it were, on the threshold, no especial “blessing” ever came to me from these visits to the “altar.” I am not of an emotional nature, and none of the overpowering emotions I heard described, as constituting the “blessing,” ever fell to my portion. But the grand truth that was taught at these Meetings, that the Lord Jesus Christ was a Saviour from the power of sin as well as a Saviour from the guilt of sin, became more and more real and effective to me; but of any blessing, as a blessing, apart from the truth, I realized nothing. A knowledge of the truth was all the blessing I ever received; and although at first I was somewhat disappointed, I came in time to see that a knowledge of the truth was all the “blessing” I needed. And I was gradually convinced that a large part of what was called “the blessing” was simply the emotional response of emotional natures to the discovery of a magnificent truth. To me it came with intellectual conviction and delight, to more emotional natures it came, with emotional conviction and delight, but in both cases the truth was the same, and it was the truth, not the emotion, that set the soul free.
My husband, however, being of a more emotional nature than myself, did, at one of these Camp Meetings, receive the “blessing” in a true Methodist fashion. He came home full of a divine glow that seemed to affect everybody he met. He could not speak of the Camp Meeting without bringing tears to all our eyes, and it was very evident that he had gone through there a remarkable experience in his spiritual life. He said they had had one day a special meeting to pray for the “Baptism of the Spirit,” and that after the meeting he had gone alone into a retired spot in the woods, to continue the prayer by himself. Suddenly, from head to foot he had been shaken with what seemed like a magnetic thrill of heavenly delight, and floods of glory seemed to pour through him, soul and body, with the inward assurance that this was the longed-for Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The whole world seemed transformed to him, every leaf and blade of grass quivered with exquisite colour, and heaven seemed to open out before him as a present blissful possession. Everybody looked beautiful to him, for he seemed to see the Divine Spirit within each one, without regard to their outward seemings. This ecstasy lasted for several weeks, and was the beginning of a wonderful career of spiritual power and blessing.
I confess I was rather jealous that I did not receive a like “blessing,” for I felt that I needed it quite as much as he did, and I renewed my efforts to obtain it. But it was all in vain; I never seemed to get out of the region of conviction into the region of emotion, and I found myself compelled to take all my experiences intellectually, and not emotionally. I became convinced at last that the reason of this difference between my experience and that of some others was not that they were peculiarly favoured by God above me, but that their emotional natures received with these floods of emotional delight, the same truths that I received calmly, and with intellectual delight; the difference being, not in the experiences, but in the different natures of the recipients of that experience.
I have many times since noticed this difference in people’s experiences; and I have also noticed that, very often the emotional experiences have not been as solid and permanent as the more intellectual ones. In the very nature of things emotions are more or less variable, while convictions, where they are really convictions, and are not purely notions or ideas, are permanent. Once convince a man that two and two make four, and no amount of dyspepsia or east wind can change his conviction; while everything that is only a matter of feeling, and not of conviction, is at the mercy of these and a thousand other untoward influences. I learned in time therefore not to seek emotions, but to seek only for convictions, and I found to my surprise and delight that my convictions brought me a far more stable and permanent joy than many of my more emotional friends seemed to experience. In the time of stress, with many of them, their emotions flagged, and even often vanished, and they had hard fights to prevent utter failure and despair, and some of them have been thankful at last to struggle back to the stable ground of conviction, which in their emotional days had seemed so barren and comfortless.
All this however took me many years in learning. But meanwhile the joy and power of the glorious secret we had discovered grew every year more and more practical; and more and more my soul learned to rest in absolute confidence on the keeping and saving power of the Lord. I must repeat what I have said elsewhere, that not for a moment do I mean that temptation ceased its attacks, or that we had reached what is sometimes called “sinless perfection.” Temptations continued to arise, and sometimes failures befell. But we had discovered a “way to escape,” and had learned that this way was the way of faith. We had found out that Christ was a Deliverer, not only from the future punishment for sin, but from the present power of sin, and we realized that we need no longer be the “slaves of sin.” And just so far as we laid hold by faith of this deliverance, just so far were we delivered. We had not picked up holiness and put it into our pockets as a permanent and inalienable possession; but we had discovered the “high way” of holiness, and had learned the secret of walking therein. When we walked there, we had victory, when we tried other pathways, we found failure. It was simply this, that at last, after many years of “wilderness wandering,” we had entered into the “promised land” and had found it true as was said to Israel of old that “every place the sole of your foot shall tread upon that have I given you.” The whole land was ours, and it only needed for us to “go up and possess it.”
We had discovered that the Bible stated a fact when it said, “And God is able to make all grace abound towards you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.” And we had proved in actual experience that God really was able, if only we were willing.
Christ had been revealed to us, not as our future Saviour only, but as our present and complete Saviour now and here, able to keep us from falling, and to deliver us out of the hands of all our enemies.
For myself I had now entered upon a region of romance before which the glory of all other romances paled into insignificance. It was like an exploration of the very courts of heaven itself. Every day was a fresh revelation. Words fail when I try to describe it. I often in my heart called it the “bird life,” for I felt like a bird spreading its wings in a country all sunshine and greenness, and soaring upwards into the blue of an unfathomable sky. In the past, I had been a caged bird, happy in its cage because it knew nothing of the uncaged life outside. But now all barriers seemed removed, and my soul was set free to “comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.”
I thought, when I discovered the restitution of all things, that I had reached this comprehension, but I saw now wider breadths, and longer lengths, and deeper depths, and higher heights, than I had even conceived of then, and the love of Christ that seemed then to pass knowledge, became now an unfathomable abyss of delight.
I had found that God, just God alone, without anything else, was enough. Even the comfort of His promises paled before the comfort of Himself. What difference did it make if I could not find a promise to fit my case? I had found the Promiser, and He was infinitely more than all His promises.
I remember well how, when I was a child and found myself in any trouble or perplexity, the coming in of my father or my mother upon the scene would always bring me immediate relief. The moment I heard the voice of one of them calling my name, that very moment every burden dropped off and every fear vanished. I had got my father or my mother, and what more could I need. It was their simple presence that did it. They did not need to stand up and make a string of promises for my relief, nor detail to me the plans of deliverance. The mere fact of their presence was all the assurance I required that everything now would be all right for me,—must in fact be all right, because they were my parents, and I was their child. And how much more true must all this be in regard to our Heavenly Father, who has all wisdom and all power, and whose very name is the God of Love. His presence is literally and truly all we need for everything. It would be enough for us, even if we had not a single promise nor a single revelation of His plans. How often in the Bible He has settled all the questions and fears of His people by the simple announcement, “I will be with thee.” Who can doubt that in that announcement He meant to say that all His wisdom, and all His love, and all His omnipotent power, would therefore of course be engaged on their side?
I was married very young, and knew but little of housekeeping, and would naturally often find myself in bothers and snarls over my household duties, and not know what to do. And then sometimes, in the midst, I would hear the front door bell ring, and my mother’s voice would ask, “Is Hannah at home?” And I would exclaim, with a sigh of infinite relief, “Oh, there is mother,” and all my troubles would vanish as though they had never been. My mother was there, and would manage it all. And over and over again in my spiritual life the words, “Oh, there is God,” have brought me a similar but far more blessed deliverance. With God present what can there be to fear? Since He has said, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee,” every heart that knows Him cannot but boldly say, “I will not fear what man can do unto me.”
Every fear, every perplexity, every anxiety, find an all-satisfying answer in God—He Himself, what He is in nature and character. His ways, or His plans, or even His promises, we may misinterpret or misunderstand, but goodness of character we cannot mistake, and it is the character of God that is our resting-place. He can only act according to His character, and therefore what is His character is the one vital thing we need to know. If He is good, and unselfish, and loving, and wise, and just, and, with all this, omnipotent and omnipresent as well, then all must be ordered right for us. It cannot be otherwise. The seen thing may seem to be all wrong, but we know that the seen thing is very often not at all the true thing. What we are able to see is generally only a partial view, and no partial view can be depended on. I may look at a partial view of a winding river, and declare it to be a lake, because no outlet can be seen. To witness the outward seeming of a parent’s dealing with a child during the hour of lessons, or during the administration of medicine, or during the necessary discipline and training of a child’s life, and to see no further than the outside, would give a very untrue idea of a parent’s love. One must have, what George Macdonald calls, “eyes that can see below surfaces,” if one is to do justice either to a good parent or to a good God. But when His utter unselfishness has been discovered, this interior eye is opened, and all difficulties as to the apparent mysteries of His dealings are answered forever.
I can understand the joy with which the Psalmist reiterated over and over the goodness of the God of Israel. “Oh, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good;” “Oh, trust in the Lord, for He is good;” “Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness;” “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord;” “Come, taste and see that the Lord is good.” Living all around Israel were nations whose gods were not good,—cruel gods, unjust gods, and, above all, selfish gods, who cared only for themselves and for their own glory, and who were sublimely indifferent to the welfare of their worshippers; and for the Israelites not to be afraid to contrast with these bad gods their own unselfish, and just God, and to be able to declare, without fear of contradiction, that He was a good God, must have given them triumphant delight. And I feel that it is no less of a triumph now, in the midst of a world that misunderstands and maligns Him, to be able, with absolute conviction and assurance to challenge every human being the world over to “Come, taste and see that the Lord is good!”
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