Book Review: The Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith

(Four Stars)

“Perfect obedience would be perfect happiness, if only we had perfect confidence in the power we were obeying.” Hannah Whitall Smith

First published in 1874, Smith’s classic of Christian living pre-dates many subsequent Christian works.

“It is a fatal mistake to make our emotions the test of our oneness with Christ. If I have joyous emotions, I may be deluded by thinking I have entered into Divine union when I have not; and if I have no emotions, I may grieve over my failure to enter, when really I have already entered. Character is the only real test. God is holy and those who are one with Him will be holy also.” Hannah Whitall Smith.

Readers must understand that Smith defines happy differently than many of her contemporaries and many of us. If anything her life was far from easy or happy in the sense we use that word. Nevertheless this book has influenced Christians since.

“In 1870 Hannah Whitall Smith wrote what has become a classic of joyous Christianity, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life. The title barely hints at the depths of that perceptive book. It is no shallow “four easy steps to successful living.” Studiously, the writer defines the shape of a full and abundant life hid in God. Then she carefully reveals the difficulties to this way and finally charts the results of a life abandoned to God. What is the Christian’s secret to a happy life? It is best summed up by her chapter entitled “The Joy of Obedience.” Joy comes through obedience to Christ, and joy results from obedience to Christ. Without obedience joy is hollow and artificial.” Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline

“Many Christians love God’s will in the abstract, but carry great burdens in connection with it. [But] if the work is His, the responsibility is His, also, and we have no room left for worrying about the results.” Hannah Whitall Smith

As Foster wrote, this is not a “four easy steps” book. In fact, it’s slow going for modern readers. Smith’s prose is clear and powerful, but her sentences are long and complex. It’s worth the effort.

“Nearly everything in life comes to us through human instrumentalities, and most of our trials are the result of somebody’s failure, or ignorance, or carelessness, or sin. What is needed, then, is to see God in everything, and to receive everything directly from His hands … before we can know an abiding experience of entire abandonment and perfect trust. To the children of God, everything comes directly from their Father’s hand, no matter who or what may have been the apparent agents.” Hannah Whitall Smith