Phoebe Palmer



CHAPTER XI.

The Union Meeting.



"And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alpheus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas, the brother of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren." — Acts i. 13, 14.



THE UNION MEETING.

Not long since the writer paused at a place where a union meeting was in progress. The meetings were being held daily in accordance with the then prevailing custom. A blessed Anna was there, now past her threescore years and ten, who from infancy had been nursed in the lap of fervent piety, and whose lips had long since been touched with hallowed fire, and whose life, for about half a century, had eminently adorned the doctrine of God her Saviour. She was a descendant of the late President Edwards, and the indices of grace with her were of a strong, vigorous character, and marked her as worthy the name of her eminent grandsire. Perhaps not more truly did the tongue of fire descend on the women who were assembled with their brethren on the Pentecostal morning which ushered in the latter day glory, than it had now in the evening of the last days descended on this aged Anna, and other of the female disciples of this place. If we had judged from the number of earnest and intelligently pious females attendant on that union meeting, we should have anticipated blessed outpourings of the Spirit on the people of this community.

But though the meeting was punctually and largely attended, and many prayers were offered, yet no outpouring of the Spirit came, and there seemed to be such a want of power felt, that over and again did we hear the exclamation, "What can be the matter? Something seems to be wanting." 'A careful spiritual observer, acquainted with the history of that people, might have inferred what that something was.

Many years previous, when that church was first formed, so few were the male disciples, that it was actually difficult to hold a prayer or conference meeting without bringing in the aid of female laborers. In fact, that church was well nigh commenced, and in its infancy sustained, by these zealous women. But as years passed away, and the number of male disciples slowly increased, the voice of women was gradually hushed, and was in the end wholly silenced, in the presence of the brethren in all church assemblies. Yet the word of the Lord was as fire shut up in their bones. With intense longings, and pent-up consuming fervors, they mingled in these union prayer meetings. Fain would they have given vent to these consuming ardors, and in burning words mingled their voices with one accord in prayer, as did the women with their brethren on the day of Pentecost.

Though this was a union prayer meeting, and Christians of all denominations were invited, yet the fact seemed to be lost sight of, that in Christ Jesus there was neither male nor female; but these Christian women were not permitted to open their lips. We think few would be disposed to contest the point with us should we say that the tone of piety with the men in the church was seemingly far from being as elevated as with the women. The subject of tarrying at Jerusalem until endued with power from on high had, with several of these women been a theme of intensely absorbing interest and all-prevailing prayer, while with the most of the brethren, the agitation of the doctrine of the full baptism of the Holy Ghost as a blessing to be received now, and received by faith, would have been regarded as heretical.

As characteristic of the tone of piety in not a few of the brethren who took a leading part in the meetings, we might instance the manner of some of these prayers. We will refer to one not very unlike some others to which we listened, and leave the reader to judge. It was worded about thus: "Lord, grant that if the question were asked here this morning, as was asked in the days of thine incarnation, Who shall betray the Master? that each brother may feel like saying, 'Lord, it is I, it is I!'" How much more was this like Peter, when following the Saviour afar off, or in fact like Judas, than like Peter
after the day of Pentecost.

Is it not to be feared that in this, as in many other churches, prayers coming from the lips of a Judas might be less offensive than from the lips of a Heaven-baptized Mary? But these utterances of a Mary, as our further recordings will show, were peremptorily silenced. And when we heard the exclamation, "What can be the matter?" we could not but feel that the Spirit of the Lord was grieved, and God would have these lips, which he had touched with holy fire, opened in that assembly.

A lady of that community, of fine mental and literary endowments, the wife of a minister of well-known repute, and who had, within a few days previous, received the tongue of fire, felt so irresistibly constrained to open her mouth in prayer, and in speaking, that she could not refrain. About this time we were again passing through this place, and were delayed a few hours, when this lady called on us. The "union meetings" had now been held daily, several weeks in succession. But on inquiry, we were informed that few conversions had occurred in the church where the meeting was held. This and the contiguous church were the two most prominent in the sustainment of this union meeting; and these churches were the most marked in their resistance of the gift of utterance intrusted to women.

Neither had there been arty special outpouring of the Spirit on the brethren, favoring the hope that their many prayers were about to result in the ingathering of many sinners. Was not the Holy Spirit grieved by the steady persistence of those churches in not authorizing that gift of power which God had long since put into that Church to be brought into use? Still that ancient flame, through whose enkindlings mainly those churches had been brought into existence, was there. But its early fires were not now permitted to blaze out in that more enlarged Christian community, because a sufficient number of male disciples had been added, whose utterances were sufficient to fill up the time. The question was not whether these male disciples had received a more enlarged measure of grace by having received the Holy Ghost since they believed, to encourage the belief that their utterances would be more in accordance with the mind of the Spirit, and accompanied with that unction which the Spirit alone can give. No; this seemed not to have been the question contemplated.

Sentiments emanating from the ministry had made it a law in those church communities that the voice of woman should not be heard in the presence of the brethren. And yet that ancient fire was there; and had it not been peremptorily restrained, doubtless scores, if not hundreds, had caught the flame. The lady who had now called on us, and on whose head, we do not doubt, the tongue of fire had descended as truly as on the head of Mary on the day of Pentecost, and who felt that she could no longer refrain her lips without
consciously resisting the Holy Ghost, came to ask our advice on the subject. And in what a responsible position were we now placed! It is a serious matter to enact rules which withstand the operations of the Holy Spirit.

We sincerely believe that there was not one of the women on whose head the tongue of fire rested, who more intelligently and consciously felt the constrainings of the Spirit to open her lips in the presence of her brethren on the day of Pentecost, than this Christian sister felt that the Spirit was now urging her to speak. And yet she knew, notwithstanding her position as a minister's wife, and her social position in that community, that if she opened her lips she was in danger of being silenced.

And what could we advise under those circumstances? Reader, are you a minister belonging to a denomination which will not admit your Christian sister, however earnestly and intelligently pious, to obey the impellings of the Spirit in your church assemblies? Let me here pause and ask, Were you applied to for counsel under similar circumstances with ourselves, would you not say, as Peter and the other apostles said, "We ought to obey God rather than man"? And so said we. Do you ask what was the result? It was this: This disciple of Jesus was rejected, as was her Saviour; and she was requested to do so no more. Not that she did not give a word in season, and was not assisted graciously in the delivery of her message. This was most obvious. The rejection of her testimony was solely on the ground that women were required to be in silence in the presence of the men. But if the letter of this prohibition were to be obeyed rather than the Spirit, with equal propriety might women be prohibited from opening their mouths to break silence under any circumstances. Does not every woman that opens her mouth in the church in the presence of a man, to sing or to cough, or, if fainting, to say, I am ill, render herself liable, on this principle, to be silenced? In either of these she breaks silence.

We at least pity the Protestant, who, by these literal renderings against the dictates of common sense, make the Scriptures contradictory, and assumes ground where the Holy Spirit and the teachings of the word would seem so continuously to disagree.

If Protestant Christians thus sever passages from their explanatory connections, and found a doctrine of such immense importance, so humiliating, and keeping back the testimony of thousands on thousands of Christ's most faithful witnesses, we see not why they may not on the same principle, and with equal propriety, take yet another relic of Popery, and adopt the literal reading of the text, "This
is my body which was broken for you." We actually feel disposed to question, which doctrine, for centuries past, has done the most harm, the doctrine drawn from the isolated passage, "Let your women keep silence in the churches," or the doctrine of transubstantiation, and some other worse than senseless doctrines of Popery. We will again repeat our conviction that it is the same spirit in man that keeps the Roman Catholic women in the convent, that keeps the seal of silence in Protestant churches on the lips of woman, when assembled with her brethren for social worship.

We would not seem severe; but we know that we express the feelings of thousands of women when we say that a review of the workings of the "Man of Sin," in connection with this subject, are calculated to excite commingled emotions, which, if analyzed, might display perhaps an equal share of compassion and
righteous indignation. We say thus because the God of the Bible has declared, that in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female; and the more intellectual, relined, and cultivated the class of mind, the more keenly is this wrong perceived, and the more unfavorable, in a twofold sense the reflex influence on those who are the instruments of this oppression.

We will illustrate. Here is a man of ordinary intellectual ability, but he has never taken much time to cultivate his intellect. His school studies finished, he enters upon the busy arena of life. How engrossing are its cares! From morn till eve is his attention occupied with its ever-varying whirl. Is he a professed Christian? Too seldom, during the six days of the week, does he find time for little more than a few moments to read the Holy Word in the morning and evening of the day. Doubtless the day of eternity will reveal that for years of his professed Christian life, far more of his precious time has been spent in reading the news of the day, and with interests connected with his citizenship in this world, than with interests connected with his citizenship in heaven. Can we imagine a man, whose daily routine of life is about thus, in a state of spirituality that would particularly fit him for close and effectual communion with God in leading the devotions of others, either in prayer or speaking?

Yet in thus portraying, do we not give a truthful portraiture of hundreds of business men, who take the lead in social church assemblies? But Peter, when so far off from Jesus, the light of the world, that by reason of his distance from the true light he could scarcely perceive, the crookedness of his own way, or feel grieved for his derelictions, can we conceive that he would be likely to be better instructed in grace than Mary, whose supreme love disposed her to follow the Saviour closely, ever sitting at his feet?

But O, how many Marys there are still, though earthly solicitudes may press upon them, such is the absorption of their zeal that they make even their every-day cares a means of grace, and subservient to their increased ability for usefulness! Knowing that they serve the Lord Christ in serving their household, and in training their children for immortality and eternal life, being answerable to all the various social duties of life, their oft pressures of worldly care are made subservient to greater spirituality of mind, by pressing them more closely to the heart of Christ, as their almighty Friend, and the compassionate bearer of all their burdens. The Bible is their companion, and daily do they live by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Though their spiritualized affections may not have disposed them, nor their time been sufficient, to familiarize themselves particularly with many worse than useless newspaper recordings, yet with the recordings which educate the mind, and fit it for a spiritual appreciation of the responsibilities of man's short citizenship here on earth, and an eternal citizenship in heaven, they have cultivated an earnest acquaintance.

With the many women who so closely followed the incarnate Jesus in his weary journeyings, they have learned to sympathize in all the interests that appertain to his kingdom; and now that the day is past, and these Christian sisters and brethren meet in the place appointed for social prayer and conference, where is the intelligent Christian female who does not feel the inconsistency of the position in which these mistaken views have placed her? We referred to the reflex influence of this state of things on the brethren as unfavorable to themselves. We think the deduction sufficiently plain, but we are reminded of an occurrence corroborative.

A company of disciples had convened as usual in the place appointed for prayer and conference. It was a long time since that people had been visited with a revival, and the want of spiritual life in the membership was most manifest. Yet God had given an endowment of power to the church in that place, which, if it had only been brought out, might long before have resulted in reviving influences. About half a dozen of the most devout and influential Christian women in that church community had been baptized of the Spirit; and so intense were their burning desires that they would fain have communicated this flame.

This we cannot doubt would have been the order of God, and, had it been permitted, might have resulted in the flame of revival spreading through that church community. It is ever thus. The nature of grace is diffusive, and unless communicated by the recipient, the design of the divine Giver is frustrated; and thus these women felt, who had now convened with their brethren. Ignorance is not the mother of devotion, and these were not ignorant women. They could not but feel that these brethren had not received the energizing influence which the Pentecostal baptism alone can impart. And yet these brethren wanted the meeting to pass off interestingly, and so one brother exhorted the other brethren to speak, that they might be refreshed. In all this, as usual, these devoted females, whose maturity of piety was well known and unquestioned, were not regarded any more than if they had been infants or heathen women. Could they, as sensible and pious women, cherish other than a feeling of compassion for these brethren, whose want of scriptural views of propriety was thus compelling them to silence, when they knew that the indwelling Spirit of truth was urging them to testify for Christ? There are no such inconsistencies in the Bible, and sensible people are not required to go beyond their senses and believe there are. The brethren took the advice of the leading brother, and, as they spake, felt that they were refreshed. And after the meeting closed they indulged in mutual congratulations, in relation to the excellency and importance of speaking often one to another, as necessary in view of receiving refreshings from the presence of the Lord.

One of these devoted sisters, with emotion, ventured to say, that if such refreshings were attendant on speaking, what must the sisters do, who were never permitted to obey the order of God in this respect? Must they content themselves to go without these refreshings? Is not the influence of such questionings disastrous on the brethren, as also upon the sisters? Shall that brother who has long been dwelling on the surface of religion, and has scarcely yet come near enough to the heart of Christ to know experimentally what it means to be in sympathy with the Saviour in travail for souls, indulge in boastful feelings, as though he were raised in the scale of heaven above that mother in Israel? He who hath assured us that in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female, and hath so ordained that the scale of divine favor shall ever preponderate on the side of that individual who has attained most of the image of the heavenly, and is most intent on
doing the will of God, surely cannot be pleased with the boastful spirit which this error is calculated to inspire and cherish.

We are sure that those who will pursue this subject in the light of Scripture and reason, will be astonished that an inconsistency so replete with wrong, and so at variance with all the refined social qualities of our holy Christianity, should so long have been countenanced in Protestant churches. Let the reader pray that the Head of the church will arouse the churches to just perceptions of the error of having so long neglected a gift of power so evidently intrusted to the church as a specialty of the last days.