When my friend gifted me for Christmas a book called The God of All Comfort by Hannah Whitall Smith, I knew I wanted to read it right away in the new year. You know from my reading goals I shared last week that I’m trying to read more *old* Christian books. Then I discovered an online book club called Collaboreads and saw that its challenge this month is to read a book by an author with your same first name. Perfect! I was already doing that, and I’m excited to link up with other Collaboreads bloggers and share my thoughts on this little book.
As I read this one, my thoughts were all over the place! There were chapters that gripped me and convicted me of truth in fresh ways, and there were other sections that I trudged through, either because the writing style didn’t suit my tastes or that I didn’t agree with the author. Overall, this is one of those books that doesn’t line up with all of my beliefs, but I’m glad I read it for how it challenged me to think about those things. It also brought into focus several elements of walking with God that I need to embrace.
The parts I loved, I LOVED, and and other parts frustrated me. Still, I was challenged to think more deeply about her teaching and examine where it lines up (or doesn’t) with Scripture. For that, I’m definitely glad I read this book.
Elements I Loved:
BELIEVING AND TRUSTING. We discover right away that the book’s intention is to explore the problem of discomfort in the Christian life, specifically why our comfort level doesn’t always match up to the greatness of the blessings that are ours in Christ. She notes her reason for writing is to show “that the kingdom of God could not possibly be overadvertised, nor that the Lord Jesus Christ overestimated, for eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him; and that all difficulty arises from the fact that we have underbelieved and undertrusted, ” (p. 9, emphasis mine). The bluntness of that last line spoke to me deeply, challenging me to think about all sorts of problems in my life from a different paradigm than what is natural, making me more thankful for the gospel promises already given and urging me to walk in them instead of waiting for something more.
SELF-EXAMINATION. In the Self-Examination chapter, she writes that the self-life is not to be examined and improved but is to be put off, and she urges to guard against watching ourselves too closely, emphasizing that the biblical commands to watch ourselves are “plainly commands to forget ourselves in watching for Another,” (p. 138). This chapter was rich, and I can’t get it off my mind. I’ve since added Tim Keller’s book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness to my TBR list because I have more to learn about this.
DISCOURAGEMENT. While the chapter on discouragement was largely troubling to me (more in the next section), I loved when she quoted Fenelon on the subject: “It is of great importance to guard against discouragement on account of our faults. Discouragement is not a fruit of humility, but of pride, and nothing can be worse,” (p. 184).
Elements I Did Not Love:
DOUBTING. I found the chapter addressing our doubts and lack of faith particularly frustrating as there seemed to be so much grace missing from this discussion! There is a more gospel-focused way to encourage a heart that struggles with doubt, and I would have liked to see a different approach.
DISCOURAGEMENT. While I appreciated her warning about discouragement being contagious, I disagree with her suggested remedy of remaining quiet about our discouragements. How isolating! Biblical expressions of lament can be corporate as well as personal.
WRITING STYLE: A writing style like this one can be difficult to appreciate when compared to the edited, streamlined-to-the-point modern books we read today. The author repeats herself often, and the excess, repetitive words made a large chunk of it very slow reading for me, but it was worth pressing through. Readers may also be annoyed with the frequent quoting she makes of Scripture without ever referencing where these verses are found in the Bible.
While I liked it, I think readers need to be careful with this book. When you read about Hannah Whitall Smith, you find that her life didn’t play out in the ways she taught, her theology remaining sketchy until she ultimately moved into Universalism. Aha! This is further confirmation that the hard, gospel-less approach behind some of her instructions on spiritual growth always lead us away from Christ, not towards Him. This information about the author’s history (which you can read about here and in many other places a google search turns up) makes sense of the contradictory feel of this book, why some of it sounds so grounded in God’s sovereignty and the grace of salvation while other parts seem to highlight man’s ability to limit God, a power I don’t believe we possess. It seems all false religions are similarly mixed in some way.
But I believe discerning readers will find this book thought-provoking and helpful. Personally, I felt challenged towards holiness and into deeper trust in the God who remains faithful when I am not.
My rating: 3 Stars
Head to the #Collaboreads link-up to check out what others are saying about the books they read this month!