Archive for August, 2015

“While I was yet a sinner, Christ died for me. Could anything be more liberating than that?”                                                     Hannah Whitall Smith

Hannah w smithHannah Tatum Whitall came from a long line of Quakers in New Jersey. She was born in 1832, the daughter of John Mickle Whitall and Mary Tatum Whitall. Growing up as a child the rules in her home were loving but strict. Hannah focused on the legalistic side of her religion and grew up thinking God was harsh. She believed that she had to earn her own salvation by being an obedient Christian.

In her teen years Hannah struggled to find a feeling of love for God. At sixteen, she expressed her emotions in her journal, “…I cannot really become righteous until I repent, and I cannot repent.” Hannah continued in her search for a relationship with God for the next few years.

In 1851 Hannah married Robert Pearsall Smith, a man who also came from a long line of Quakers in New Jersey. Hannah and Robert settled in Germantown, Pennsylvania.   Their first two children were born – Nellie and Frank. Eventually Hannah would have seven children but only three would survive to adulthood.

Sadly, Nellie died at age five of a bronchial infection three days before Christmas in 1857. Hannah was deeply grieved but this turned out to be the turning point in her life.

The next summer the Smiths went on vacation at a beach in Atlantic City. Hannah packed only one book – the Bible. She was determined to get answers to her questions about God. While young Frank played in the waves on the beach, Hannah poured through the Scriptures.

One day Hannah read in Romans 5, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Suddenly Hannah’s image of a harsh God changed into a view of a God of infinite love and grace. She wrote, “While I was yet a sinner, Christ died for me. Could anything be more liberating than that?” Hannah had found new freedom in Christ. Hannah also understood that the sorrows that God brings into our lives are for our benefit. She now had the hope that one day she would see her daughter Nellie in Heaven.

Hannah and Robert left their Friends’ church and went through several changes of churches. They were baptized by immersion in a Baptist Church in 1859 near Philadelphia. They also attended a Plymouth Brethren Church.

During the 1860’s the Smiths became interested in the teachings of the Methodists and were attracted to the Holiness Movement. Hannah and Robert adopted the Wesleyan (Methodist) doctrine of sanctification and began to write and to teach about it. Hannah began to seek the “second blessing” that many in the Holiness movement claimed as the proof that a Christian was filled with the Spirit. Though Robert had an emotional experience, Hannah never did even though she went to the altar with handkerchiefs hoping to obtain this spiritual blessing. Hannah was really concerned about this but began to study it out and later wrote about her findings in her bestselling book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life:

I am convinced that throughout the Bible the expressions concerning theh w smith book “heart” do not mean the emotions, that which we now understand the word “heart”, but they mean the will, the personality of man, the man’s own central self, and that the object of God’s dealings with man is that this “I” may be yielded up to Him, and this central life abandoned to His entire control. It is not the feelings of the man God wants, but the man himself.

Hannah had come to realize that salvation was not based on feelings or our works but on God’s faithfulness and the truth about Christ alone. She was so overjoyed by this feeling of freedom that she wished to share it with others. Hannah would eventually become a very popular speaker on God’s love and faithfulness and the Christian life.

Robert became a well-known evangelist and Hannah accompanied him on speaking tours. The two traveled in Great Britain speaking on the subjects of the “higher life” and “holiness”. They also traveled to Germany and Switzerland where they spoke in several large cities.

In August of 1872, their son Frank died at age eighteen of typhoid fever. Later that year Robert suffered from a nervous breakdown. These were trying years for Hannah. Yet, Hannah would rely on God for strength. As she grew older her faith increased.

In 1873 Robert traveled to England for the sake of his health as advised by his doctor. At age 41, Hannah was pregnant with their seventh child and she stayed behind. Soon Hannah was surprised to hear that her husband was not resting but was spending his time on a preaching tour. He had a rigorous and demanding schedule.

Hannah’s baby, a daughter, was stillborn in August. Hannah was deeply grieved but responded by throwing herself into speaking and writing in Philadelphia and Atlantic City. Robert’s ministry was growing by leaps and bounds and he urged Hannah to join him in Britain. By this time Hannah was also a well-known speaker.

Hannah agreed to join Robert in England. On board the ship on the way over she wrote most of The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life. This book was published in 1875 and is still in print. Millions of people have been blessed by Hannah’s inspiring words of comfort and faith. (Hannah held several controversial beliefs, including universalism. These chapters have been edited out of the later editions of her book.)

Hannah arrived in England in time to attend the Brighton Conference in 1875. Eight thousand people from all over the world attended. Hannah led two Bible studies every day with 2 to 3 thousand people in attendance. Robert preached to thousands. Hannah won the hearts of vast numbers of people and became known as “the angel of the churches.” Their popularity would be short lived due to her husband’s scandal.

A few weeks before the conference ended the papers reported that Robert was accused of carrying on with a female follower. This was bad enough, but the conference organizers were also against Robert’s views about the “higher life”. Robert was following the heresy that says that believers are lifted to a higher sphere of life where Christians are no longer subject to the law of God. This is not Biblical. Could this sinful belief have anything to do with Robert’s adultery?

This scandal destroyed Robert’s reputation as a preacher. He suffered another breakdown. He became so mentally and physically fragile that Hannah had a difficult time getting him on board their ship back to America.

Hannah tried to maintain her faith in these trying circumstances by surrounding herself with good Christian friends. Robert went on to denounce Christianity for Buddhism. He continued to pursue adulterous relationships.

In all of this Hannah did not fail to turn to God. In 1878 in a letter to a friend Hannah wrote, “One thing I know, and that is that I am all the Lord’s and that His will is infinitely and unspeakably sweet to me. And like a poor little child who has lost its way I creep into the dear arms of my Father and just ask Him to carry me, since I cannot understand His directions. He doeth all things well and I can leave myself with Him.”

Hannah became a leader in the Temperance Movement and the Women’s Suffrage Movement. She spoke out for education for women. She continued to speak and write about her faith. She published more books including: Everyday Religion or The Commonsense Teaching of the Bible and The Unselfishness of God and How I Discovered It, and God of All Comfort. These works are still available today.

hannah smith - agedIn her last years, in spite of all of her suffering including her husband’s infidelities, her daughter’s scandal and divorce, and another daughter’s depression and suicide attempt, Hannah held on to her trust in God. She was able to confidently write in her final book, “God is enough! God is enough for time. God is enough for eternity. God is enough!”

Praise God – He is enough.


Read Full Post »


mary jonesMary Jones was born in December 1784, the daughter of poor weavers, Jacob and Mary Jones, who lived in a cottage called Ty’n-y-ddôl in the parish of Llanfihangel-y-Pennant. Mary was probably their only child. Sadly, Mary’s father died when she was only four years old. This was very hard on Mary and her mother especially since during this time Wales was suffering economic hardship. The common people suffered greatly while Britain and France were fighting wars in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s.

But God is good and can bring blessings out of the most trying circumstances. Because Mary needed to carry the lamp for her widowed mother to the evening Methodist Church meetings, Mary was allowed to attend when most children were not. Mary learned much about the Bible while attending these meetings and grew to love the Bible very much. As a result Mary came to faith at the tender age of 8 years old. Though very young, she was much more familiar with the Bible than most children her age. Because of her knowledge of the Bible and faithfulness in attendance Mary was received into church membership.

Bibles were very expensive in those days and only the church had a copy. The next closest Bible was at a neighbor’s farmhouse about two miles away. The farmer’s wife graciously allowed Mary to come by once a week and read it. Over a period of six years Mary walked to this neighbor’s home, and politely removing her clogs, went into the neighbor’s sitting room to read the Bible. She committed large portions of Scripture to memory. How Mary longed to have her own Bible!

The story of Mary’s 25-mile walk to the town of Bala to purchase her Bible is very famous. But more remarkable is the fact that Mary had to scrimp and save every penny of her earnings for six years before she had enough money to buy her Bible. It was notMary Jones route unusual for Methodists to walk that far to church, or even to go barefoot part of the way as Mary did. It was the great sacrifice Mary made over many years to save enough money to purchase her own Bible that is really heroic.

Mary had heard that a minister named Thomas Charles in Bala had Bibles for sale in the Welsh language. When she had enough money she trudged over the hills to his church to find him. He was happy to see her but he had bad news for her. Every copy of his Bibles had been sold. Thomas Charles was very impressed by Mary’s diligence however and he handed her the last copy that he had put away for another buyer. At last Mary had her very own Bible.

Someone (maybe Mary herself?) composed a poem expressing her joy. This poem has been preserved in the oral tradition of the Welsh:
Yes, at last I have a Bible,
Homeward now I needs must go;
Every soul in Llanfihangel
I will teach its truths to know;
In its dear treasured pages
Love of God for man I see;
What a joy in my own Bible
To read of His great love for me.

welsh bibleMary Jones’s visit to Thomas Charles in 1800 so impressed him that he had no peace of mind until he could find a way to make more Bibles available for the people of Wales. He went to a meeting of the Religious Tract Society in 1802 and told them Mary’s story. It had such an overwhelming effect on them that they decided not only to make the Bible available in the Welsh language but to form and/or fund other Bible societies to make the Scriptures available to the whole world.

This led to the founding of the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1804. Around 300 people from several denominations volunteered to form the society. The BFBS would be non-sectarian. The governing committee itself would be made up of many different denominations. Bibles would be distributed “without note or comment.” The society was not interested in fostering a particular interpretation of the Bible. The society’s purpose in forming was to provide easier, less expensive or even free Bibles to all peoples.

Next the BFBS became concerned with translating the Bible into all languages of the world. It is quite interesting that one of the first international translations was the Gospel of John into the Mohawk language!

The BFBS provided Bibles for many famous missionaries such as William Carey, missionary to India. The society aided Robert Morris, first protestant missionary to China, with a Chinese translation. They also helped Henry Martyn with a Persian translation.

In just 10 years, 60 other Bible organizations sprang up as part of the group of Bible societies encouraged by the BFBS. By 1907, 204 million Bibles, New Testaments, and other portions of Scripture had been distributed. Today the British and Foreign Bible Society is known as The Bible Society. In 1946 the national Bible societies formed a worldwide fellowship called the United Bible Societies. They work with 137 Bible Societies in a global alliance.

A young girl in Wales, Mary Jones, had inspired all of this!

Mary went on to live a long life. In 1813 she married and had six children. Sadly, all but one died at an early age. The only remaining child later moved to the United States.

Around 1820, Mary and her husband Thomas moved closer to the coast to the village of Bryn-crug near Tywyn. This is where she spent the rest of her life.

Despite her poverty Mary remained a faithful and supporting member of the Calvinist Methodist church in Bryn-crug. She donated money regularly to the Bible society. In 1854, in celebration of the BFBS’s fiftieth anniversary, she contributed half a sovereign (a lot for a poor woman in her day) towards a special collection to send New Testaments to China.

Mary earned some of her income as a beekeeper. She sold honey and beeswax. She had a small garden full of fruit to support the bees. Mary loved these small creatures of God. She was never stung and often claimed that it was because the bees knew that the money was being sent to mission and Bible societies.

As she grew older Mary loved to tell young people the story of her walk to Bala. She loved the Bible she received from Thomas Charles reading it from cover to cover many times during her life. Mary memorized many large portions of Scripture and this was a comfort to her in her last days when she became blind.

Mary died in 1864. Near her bedside was her old and much loved Bible. Today, this Bible is kept in the British and Foreign Bible Society’s Archives in the Cambridge University Library. It is a copy of the 1799 edition of the Welsh Bible.

Inside on one of the pages Mary Jones wrote:

Mary Jones was born 16th of December 1784.Mary's own bible

I Bought this in the 16th year of my age. I am Daughter of Jacob Jones and Mary Jones His wife. the Lord may give me grace. Amen.

Mary Jones His The True Onour of thie Bible. Bought In the Year 1800 Aged 16th.

A stanza from a popular Welsh hymn which Mary would have probably sung with great fervor goes:
This is Jesu’s dear Bible,
Precious gift of God’s right hand;
There we find the rule for living
And the path to Canaan’s land;
There we read our ruin’s story,
Eden’s sad and sorry loss;
There we find the way to glory
Through my Jesus and His cross.

The life of Mary Jones is truly one of inspiration and great courage. I pray that all Christians would love God’s Word so much.














Read Full Post »

A series on Nineteenth Century women who made a difference in society, following Christ by serving others must include Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton.

Elizabeth SetonElizabeth Seton founded the American Sisters of Charity in 1808 and served as the Mother Superior from 1809 until her death in 1821. At the time of her death there were more than twenty communities of Sisters of Charity. The sisters opened schools, built orphanages, boarding schools, and hospitals in 8 states and the District of Columbia.

Elizabeth Ann Bayley was born to a prominent Anglican family in New York on August 28, 1774. (2 years before the start of the American fight for independence.) Her mother died when she was only three and so her father raised her and her sister.

Elizabeth was bright, charming, fluent in French, a fine musician, and an accomplished horsewoman. She was popular wherever she went. She captured the heart of William Seton and they were married. They had five children and the marriage was a very happy one.

Sadly, after only a few years William began to suffer ill health. When his father died the Seton’s fortunes began to decline. William began to worry about being sent to debtor’s prison. Elizabeth was certain that God would provide. “Troubles always create a great exertion of my mind,” she wrote, “and give it a force to which at other times it is incapable… I think the greatest happiness of this life is to be released from the cares of what is called the world.” God would test Elizabeth’s resolve in overcoming the cares of the world again and again.

Elizabeth took care of her husband through his illness and bankruptcy. She had to take the children to live with her father for a time. Tragedy struck when the yellow fever came to New York and claimed Elizabeth’s father as a victim. She was grief stricken and lonely.

Elizabeth returned home to care for William. Elizabeth turned to her Bible to get comfort from God. In May of 1802 Elizabeth surrendered her life to God.

In 1803 a doctor suggested a sea journey for William’s health. Elizabeth sold everything to pay for the voyage. The Seton’s traveled to Italy to visit some friends. Unfortunately, when the boat arrived they were forced to stay in quarantine in primitive living conditions because they possibly carried the yellow fever from New York. Elizabeth later said that these were the most horrible forty days of her life. She nursed William but he died two days after Christmas in Pisa. He was only thirty-seven.

Elizabeth stayed with her Italian friends while waiting to return to America. Here she became deeply impressed with the Roman Catholic faith. For Elizabeth the Virgin Mary became a real person to her. Having been raised motherless, Elizabeth longed for a mother. When she decided to embrace the Roman Catholic religion Elizabeth said, “I felt really I had a Mother – which you know my foolish heart so often lamented to have in early days.” After finding Mary, Elizabeth felt that she had found even more than a mother, but a true friend as well.

Elizabeth returned to America. Her friends and relatives were mystified at her change of religion and did not give her much support. Elizabeth tried desperately to raise her family alone. Finally she opened a boardinghouse for schoolboys. After many struggles she was offered a home and a teaching position in Baltimore. She accepted and left New York for her new home in Maryland on June 8, 1808.

Within a year Elizabeth was given some property in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Here she, her sisters-in-law – Cecelia and Harriet, her three daughters, and four other young women founded the new religious order that would come to be known as the Sisters of Charity. The foundation began in a tiny log cabin in Emmitsburg. In the years that
followed orphanages and schools were founded. Women took the work to Philadelphia and New York, Ohio, Delaware, Massachusetts, Virginia, Missouri, and Louisiana, and the District of Columbia. Less than a decade after her death, the first Catholic hospital in America was established by the Sisters of Charity.

As the first Mother Superior of the new order, Elizabeth adopted the rules and with a few modifications the constitution of St. Vincent de Paul. The sisters received a group of buildings for their religious residence and charitable work. They had a boarding school for girls, a school for poor children, and an orphan asylum.

Elizabeth trusted and depended on God. She never let troubles get her down. She grew through her troubles. The excruciatingly horrible forty days of quarantine in a drafty cold stone building prepared her to have compassion on the poor and destitute. She never felt sorry for herself but trusted in God her Savior. Through all heartaches, deaths of her mother, father, and husband, poverty, and challenges as she started her charitable work she turned to God Who did not let her down but provided for her and often in unexpected ways.

Elizabeth worked tirelessly for twenty years and then slowly and painfully succumbed to tuberculosis. On her deathbed she offered prayers for the sick and dying. She was unselfish in her devotion to Christ and others right up to the end of her life. She died surrounded by Sisters on January 4, 1821.

Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1975.

Elizabeth was one of many Catholic women who contributed to the charitable care of the
poor in the nineteenth century. Before the Sisters of Charity went to Louisiana, theUrsulines health care Ursuline Sisters were already there. The Ursulines worked in a hospital in New Orleans in the eighteenth century. They founded Ursuline Academyan academy in 1727 for girls. It is still going today and is considered a foremost school. From there came the first female pharmacist. The Ursulines were the first in caring for and educating African-American girls before anyone else did.

Many Catholic women followed in Elizabeth Seton’s footsteps. Catholic hospitals were often the first institutions established on the frontier in the nineteenth century. The Sisters of Charity were invited to help at hospitals in Vancouver and other places in the Northwest. By 1902 there were eleven hospitals in Washington and Oregon. We thank God for women like Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton who will give their lives in service to others.








Read Full Post »