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Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, pt. 1

Hannah Whitall Smith wrote The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life in 1875. The second link in the opening sentence is to the on-line version posted by Christian Classics Etheral Library. I possess the Ballantine Books/Epiphany edition, first published in 1986. For reasons unclear to me, the CCEL version and the Ballantine one are not identical. However, both of them have plenty of good reading.

The Ballantine version begins with the following paragraphs:

No thoughtful person can question the fact that, for the most part, the Christian life, as it is generally lived, is not entirely a happy life. A keen observer once said to me, “You Christians seem to have a religion that makes you miserable. You are like a man with a headache. He does not want to get rid of his head, but it hurts him to keep it. You cannot expect outsiders to seek very earnestly for anything so uncomfortable.” Then for the first time I saw, as in a flash, that the religion of Christ ought to be, and was meant to be, to its possessors, not something to make them miserable, but something to make them happy, and I began then and there to ask the Lord to show me the secret of a happy Christian life.
It is this secret, so far as I have learned it, that I shall try to tell in the following pages.
(Ballentine edition, p. 3. This web page has the first paragraph above, and other excerpts, including some of the material below. Since the book was published in the 19th century, I am assuming it to be in the public domain, and am quoting from all versions freely.)

Your victories have been few and fleeting, your defeats many and disastrous. You have not lived as you feel children of God ought to live. You have had perhaps a clear understanding of doctrinal truths, but you have not come into possession of their life and power. You have rejoiced in your knowledge of the things revealed in the Scriptures, but have not had a living realization of the things themselves consciously felt in the soul. Christ is believed in, talked about, and served, but He is not known as the soul’s actual and very life, abiding there forever, and revealing Himself there continually in His beauty. You have found Jesus as your Savior from the penalty of sin, but you have not found Him as your Savior from its power. You have carefully studied the Holy Scriptures, and have gathered much precious truth therefrom, which you have trusted would feed and nourish your spiritual life, but in spite of it all, your souls are starving and dying within you, and you cry out in secret, again and again, for that bread and water of life which you see promised in the Scriptures to all believers. In the very depths of your hearts, you know that your experience is not a Scriptural experience; that, as an old writer has said, your religion is ‘but a talk to what the early Christians enjoyed, possessed, and lived in.’ And your hearts have sunk within you, as, day after day, and year after year, your early visions of triumph have seemed to grow more and more dim, and you have been forced to settle down to the conviction that the best you can expect from your religion is a life of alternate failure and victory, one hour sinning, and the next repenting, and then beginning again, only to fail again, only to repent.

But is this all? Had the Lord Jesus only this in His mind when He laid down His precious life to deliver you from your sore and cruel bondage to sin? Did He propose to Himself only this partial deliverance? Did He intend to leave you thus struggling under a weary consciousness of defeat and discouragement? Did He fear that a continuous victory would dishonor Him, and bring reproach on His name? When all those declarations were made concerning His coming, and the work He was to accomplish, did they mean only this that you have experienced? Was there a hidden reserve in each promise that was meant to deprive it of its complete fulfillment? Did “delivering us out of the hand of our enemies” mean that they should still have dominion over us? Did “enabling us always to triumph” mean that we were only to triumph sometimes? Did being made “more than conquerors through Him that loved us” mean constant defeat and failure? Does being “saved to the uttermost” mean the meager salvation we see manifested among us now? Can we dream that the Savior, who was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities, could possibly see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied in such Christian lives as fill the Church to-day? The Bible tells us that “for this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil”; and can we imagine for a moment that this is beyond His power, and that He finds Himself unable to accomplish the thing He was manifested to do? (Ballantine edition, pp. 4-5)

It is a fact sometimes overlooked that, in the declarations concerning the object of the death of Christ, far more mention is made of a present salvation from sin, than of a future salvation in a heaven beyond, showing plainly God's estimate of the relative importance of these two things. (Ballantine edition, p. 7)

Although the book was written over 100 years ago, and contains some statements that sound strange to 21st century readers, most of it is pertinent in 2005. At least two versions are still in print, and I hope the excerpt above will indicate that Mrs. Smith has some important and thought-provoking things to say. God willing, I intend to post quotes from this book weekly for the next several Sundays.

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