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Beware of the False Teacher, Hannah Whitall Smith

Updated: Mar 20, 2023

Mrs. Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911) was a prominent figure in the Holiness and Deeper Life, the Keswick movement, at the turn of the 20th century. But she was a false teacher who was deluded by Satan and her own unrenewed heart. Though she taught “secrets” to a sinless, happy Christian life, her life was anything but that. In fact, she was a very unhappy and heretical universalist who was constantly on a search for her next spiritual and emotional high. So it is with all unregenerate people.

Her husband, Robert P. Smith, was an unconverted false teacher also. He was a serial adulterer who abandoned the Christian faith for agnosticism and Buddhism. Though he did that openly, Hannah was just as much a heathen as Robert.

All three of their children who survived to adulthood rejected Christianity. Surprise, surprise. Unsaved people blaspheme God because of the hypocrisy of “evil beasts” (Ti 1:12) who profess Christ but are horribly hypocritical (cf. Matt 23) and heretical. One married the infamous skeptic Bertrand Russell. Another left her Catholic husband for an adulterous relationship. Hannah’s son Logan said that the doctrines of man’s fall and salvation through Christ’s blood had “become utterly alien and strange to me.”

Hannah and Robert’s writings are filled to the brim with dangerous theological errors and heresies. Alongside the Higher Life/ Keswick theology, one finds within the compositions and proclamations of Mr. and Mrs. Smith a false and perverted gospel, the Inner Light and Voice, New Thought, the Mind and Faith Cure, feminism, Quakerism, syncretism, mysticism, quietism, fatalism, eudemonism, allegorical (false) hermeneutics, false sanctification (passivity), continuationism, antinomianism, universalism, works salvation, blasphemous erotic sensations as Spirit baptism, and extra-biblical revelations. She followed her intuition and experiences and Quaker “inner light” above Scripture. She called these “openings.” She said that the Bible was only one of four “especial voices,” the other three being “the voice of circumstances, the voice of one’s highest reason, and the voice of one’s inward impressions.”

Hannah was absolutely loaded with heresy, and doctrinal error. Let’s consider some of those:

  • She rejected the Bible as the sole authority of faith and practice.

  • She rejected the Trinity.

  • She rejected the substitutionary blood atonement of Christ.

  • She rejected justification by imputed righteousness.

  • She rejected saving faith.

  • She rejected repentance.

  • She rejected the new birth.

  • She rejected the evangelical gospel.

  • She rejected supernatural conversion.

  • She rejected self-examination.

  • She detested Christian orthodoxy.

  • She rejected the doctrine of eternal judgment, believing that all men would be saved.

  • She believed in religious pluralism, saying that “a good Creator can be got at through all sorts of religious beliefs and all sorts of religious ceremonies, and that it does not matter what they are” (“A Religious Rebel: The Letters of “H. W. S.” edited by Hannah’s son Logan Pearsall Smith).

  • She accepted theistic evolution and “mind healing” and cared nothing for Christ’s second coming or the literal fulfillment of prophecy.

  • Smith confused conversion with mental assent to the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

  • She thought that man’s chief end was not to glorify God, but to feel happy, doing whatever one wants without any pangs from the conscience.

  • She accepted the heresy of “erotic baptism,” which was accepted by many within the Holiness/Higher Life movement. According to this “mystical bride” doctrine, the “baptism of the Spirit” was accompanied by sexual thrills. The result, of course, was a plague of immorality wherever the heresy was accepted.

  • She plainly delighted in both being a heretic and in making others into heretics.

  • Her exaltation as the leading teacher of the Higher Life took place in connection with spiritists and the working of demons. She testified that she gained her chief spiritual insight into the “Christian” life from a sexual predator who taught, practiced, and led others into unspeakable debauchery.

After her daughters Roman Catholic husband died, she covenanted to raise her grandchildren as Catholics. She wrote,

“My two little grandchildren are . . . devout little Catholics, and seem to enjoy their religion, and I am glad of it. I daresay they will be saved a good many of the perplexities and difficulties that so often beset Protestant children.”

She encouraged them to “lay up treasure in heaven” by giving candlesticks to a Catholic Church, attending mass, and visiting the confessional. She would not have even “the narrowest Catholicism” taken away from her granddaughters (A Religious Rebel: The Letters of “H. W. S., pp. 158, 144, 194).

One example of her rejecting the Bible as her authority for faith and practice came when she was criticized for preaching to men. Instead of turning to the Bible, she sought an inner revelation. She wrote concerning this:

“He . . . gave me such A STRONG FEELING that it was His mind, that now, whatever is said against it, it makes no difference” (Record of the Convention for the Promotion of Scriptural Holiness Held at Brighton, 1875).

Another example, when she doubted the doctrine of eternal judgment, she heard another “inward voice” that convinced her that there is no hell (Hannah W. Smith, Every-day Religion, pp. 160-161).

The start and popularization of the Keswick movement can be accredited to Hannah Whitall Smith and her husband, she being the prominent one in that marriage. Though in that day women didn’t wear pants (all of society understood the sinfulness of such transgender behaviour), this overbearing, evil woman actually wore the “pants” in that marriage. She despised the Biblical command of the husband’s headship and rejected God’s Word on the roles of marriage (as she did about everything else). She was an ungodly feminist who stated,

“I know nothing more absolutely unjust in itself nor more productive of misery to the woman than the assumption of the place of authority on the part of men. It reduces women at once in principle to the position of slaves . . . [a]ny amount of anarchy and confusion would be better.” (Hannah W. Smith, The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life, Letter to Frank Costelloe, 1883, reproduced in the entries for Dec 17-18).

The “holiness” content of her book “The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life,” was the teachings of Smith and her husband as “lay evangelists” at large conferences at Broadlands, Oxford, and Brighton that eventually led to the formation of the Keswick movement (aka. Higher life, Deeper life, Crucified life, Victorious life, Abiding life, Christ life, Resurrected life, Second Blessing, etc) which was essentially a revivalism philosophy that was heavily influenced if not born with John Wesley (Methodism), Charles Finney, John William Fletcher, and Adam Clarke. Though they were the theological sources of the Keswick movement, neither of them was regenerated. They were unconverted purveyors of damnable heresy, “deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13). Her confusion on the gospel and sanctification, has led many precious souls into the fires of hell.

Though all her books were bad and unbiblical, the cake that wins the contest is “The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life.” This is one of the most influential Christian books of the past century, though it is drivel, heretical and blasphemous. It teaches universalism. It completely contradicts scripture by claiming that no one goes anywhere but to heaven. It is absolutely loaded with Keswick theological heresy and Christian mysticism. The book also promotes the error of Quaker Quietism: that we must do nothing and let Christ do it all. This is the Christ-life, where Christ lives the Christian life, and not the Christian.

Simply put, she was an enemy of Christ, His Word, and of true holiness of life. All evidence indicates that Smith and her husband were not only unsaved, but also demon-possessed wolves in sheep’s clothing. “Evil,” is a proper word to describe this wicked people, yet that doesn’t stop so-called Keswick-type professing Christians from embracing and promoting her works. If there ever was a clear indication of someone’s unregenerate estate proven by their heretical associations, this heretical association would surely be it.

So there is reason why she is so popular among evangelicals, Keswick/Higher Life-type followers, Baptists and others. Smith was a mystic who was not content to walk by the light of the literal teaching of Scripture. She represents the majority of professing Christians in these end times who have some authority above and beyond the Bible (though many will not admit it). Some examples include the authority of Rome, Ellen G. White, Joseph Smith, inner light, end-time prophesying, charismatic soothsaying, gibberish so-called “tongues,” second blessings, fire baptisms, spirit slayings, rock & roll worship, contemplative prayer experiences, mystical and allegorical interpretations. All these reject the Bible, even if they profess to hold to “some” or “all” parts of it,” and represent symptoms of the deadly disease of sin and unregeneracy. The answer and cure is the new birth through the Great Physician, and you can read about it in that link, and here.

As an unregenerate false teacher and wolf in sheep’s clothing, Hannah Whitall Smith is someone to mark, reject, and avoid (Rom 16:17; Ti 3:10).

Is there no good teaching in her book? There is no Biblical reason to try to pick out one gold nugget (maybe one) from a mountain of cow dung, from the veritable mass of errors in her works, when there is a clear Biblical basis for rejecting her, root and branch. Her heresies and writings, and those of her husband Robert, should be abhorred and detested by the godly. She is by no means someone to embrace as a font of truth on Christian living, and adoption of her ideas by others evidences a tremendous lack of spiritual discernment and the certain presence of very serious doctrinal error. Those that read her “Secrets to a Happy Christian Life” or other books, and don’t see the errors and reject it, are very likely as unsaved as she was.

For references to the errors of Smith mentioned above or to read more about the awful heresies of this popular but demonically inspired false teacher, see here:


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