Phoebe Palmer



CHAPTER I.

"Woman's rights" not the theme of discussion.


"Stand up for Jesus! All who lead his host,
Crowned with the splendors of the Holy Ghost!
Shrink from no foe, to no temptations yield,
Urge on the triumphs of this glorious field­
Stand up for Jesus."


Do not be startled, dear reader. We do not intend to discuss the question of "Women's Rights" or of "Women's Preaching," technically so called. We leave this for those whose ability and tastes may better fit them for discussions of this sort. We believe woman has her legitimate sphere of action, which differs in most cases materially from that of man; and in this legitimate sphere she is both happy and useful. Yet we do not doubt that some reforms contemplated in recent movements may, in various respects, be decidedly advantageous. But we have never conceived that it would be subservient to the happiness, usefulness, or true dignity of woman, were she permitted to occupy a prominent part in legislative halls, or take a leading position in the orderings of church conventions. Ordinarily, these are not the circumstances where woman can best serve her generation according to the will of God. Yet facts show that it is in the order of God that woman may occasionally be brought out of the ordinary sphere of action, and occupy in either church or state positions of high responsibility; and if, in the orderings of providence, it so occur, the God of providence will enable her to meet the emergency with becoming dignity, wisdom, and womanly grace.

Examples of modern and ancient days might be furnished of women who have been called to fill positions involving large responsibilities, both civil and ecclesiastical. It was thus that Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was called to judge Israel — not because there were no men in Israel who might fill the position, but because God, in his wisdom, had so ordained; and it was also by the direction of Providence she was compelled to take the lead in the orderings of the battle — not because there were not men in Israel to do this, for she sent and called Barak, who might, as captain of the host, have led forth the people to conquest, but his faith and courage were insufficient to lead out Israel. Her disinterested, womanly heart would have given Barak the honor of the conquest, but he was faint-hearted; and the holy zeal of this mother in Israel nerved her for the conflict, and, with a faith and courage out-braving every difficulty, she led forth the armies of God to glorious conquest. Yet who talked of Deborah as overstepping the bounds of womanly propriety, in either judging Israel, or in leading forth the armies of the living God to victory? Whisperers might have said that, in using this gift of prophecy with which God had endued her, and in leading out Israel to conquest, she stepped beyond the sphere of woman, and weakened her influence; and thus, perhaps, the Merozites were hindered from coming up to the help of the Lord against the mighty, and brought down the curse of the God of battles on themselves. But whether there were such whisperers is not recorded; and if so, in fact, their names are written in the dust, while the name of this ancient prophetess, who led Israel forth to victory, stands recorded in the Book of eternal remembrance.

And when Josiah the King of Israel and his officers of state saw, from the reading of a book found in the house of the Lord, that great wrath was impending, they did not go to Huldah the prophetess for advice because there was not a male prophet who might have been consulted; for it was in the days of Jeremiah the prophet, that this official deputation went from the king to Huldah. And when, in the order of God, woman has from time to time been called to sustain positions of momentous trust, involving the destinies of her country, facts show that she has not been wanting in ability to meet the demands of her station in such a manner, as to command the respect of her constituents or the homage of her subjects. Look at Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria, the reigning sovereign of the most mighty, intelligent people of this or any other age. Who questions her ability for her station, and talks of her as having transcended the bounds set by public opinion of the sphere of woman?

And is it in religion alone that woman is prone to overstep the bounds of propriety, when the impellings of her Heaven-baptized soul would lead her to come out from the cloister, and take positions of usefulness for God? Whence has the idea obtained that she may not even open her lips for God in the assembly of the pious, without being looked upon repulsively, as though she were unwomanly in her aims and predilections?

And where is the beloved female disciple of any denomination, truly baptized of the Holy Ghost, but feels the Spirit's urgings to open her mouth for God? We do not now speak of that cold, worldly conformed professor, who has never, in obedience to the command of the Saviour, tarried at Jerusalem, as did Mary and the other women, on the day of Pentecost. We speak of that consistently pious, earnest, Christian woman, whose every-day life is an ever-speaking testimony of an indwelling Saviour, and on whose head the tongue of fire has descended. And it is of the power of an ever-present Jesus that the Spirit would have her testify; but the seal of silence has been placed on her lips. And who has placed the seal of silence on those Heaven-touched lips? Who would restrain the lips of those whom God has endued with the gift of utterance, when those lips would fain abundantly utter the memory of God's great goodness? Not worldly opinions or usages, for these reprove. Think of a refined social gathering of worldlings, to which invitations have been extended to ladies with the expectation that the seal of silence would be imposed! No, it is not the world that forbids; for due consideration will constrain us to acknowledge that in this regard "the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light." Who is it then that forbids that woman should open her mouth in either prayer or speaking in the assemblies of the saints?

And here we come to the point, and are forced to an answer to which in the name of the Head of the church we claim a rejoinder. Our answer is this: The Christian churches of the present day, with but few exceptions, have imposed silence on Christian woman, so that her voice may but seldom be heard in Christian assemblies. And why do the churches impose it? The answer comes from a thousand lips, and from every point. The Head of the church forbids it, and the churches only join in the authoritative prohibition, "Let your women keep silence in the churches." And here we come fairly at the question. If the Head of the church forbids it, this settles the question beyond all controversy.

But if Paul's prohibition, "Let your women keep silence in the churches," is to be carried out to the letter in relation to the prophesying of women, — that is, her speaking "to edification, exhortation, and comfort," — regardless of explanatory connections and contradictory passages, why Should it not be carried out to the letter in other respects? If the apostle intended to enjoin silence in an absolute sense, then our Episcopalian friends trespass against this prohibition at every church service, in calling out the responses of women in company with the men in their beautiful Church Liturgy, and when they repeat our Lord's Prayer in concert with their brethren. And thus also do they trespass against this prohibition every time they break silence and unite in holy song in the church of God of any or every denomination. And in fact, we doubt not but it were less displeasing to the Head of the church that his female disciples were forbidden to open their lips in singing, or in church responses, than that they should be forbidden to open their lips in fulfillment of the "Promise of the Father," when the spirit of prophecy has been poured out upon them, moving them to well nigh irrepressible utterances of God's great goodness.

Under what circumstances was this prohibition given? Was it not by way of reproving some unseemly practices which had been introduced into the Corinthian church, and which, in fact, seem to have been peculiar to that church, for it is in connection with this and kindred disorders which had been introduced among the Corinthian believers, in connection with the exercise of the gift of prophecy, that Paul says, "We have no such custom,
neither the churches of God;" that is, the other churches of God over which the Holy Ghost had made them overseers. Surely it is evident that the irregularities here complained of were peculiar to the church of Corinth, and in fact, we may presume, were not even applicable to other Christian churches of Paul's day, much less Christian churches of the present day, as no such disorders exist. The irregularity complained of was not the prophesying of women, for this the apostle admits, and directs how the women shall appear when engaged in the duty of praying or prophesying. But the prohibition was evidently in view of restraining women, from taking part in those disorderly debates, which were not unusual in the religious worship of those days. In the Jewish synagogues it was a matter of ordinary occurrence for persons to interrupt the speaker by introducing questionings, which frequently resulted in angry altercations. This practice had now, we have reason to infer, been introduced into the Corinthian Christian assemblies, and women, doubtless devoid of spirituality were disposed to take part in these debates. This unseemly practice the apostle reproves, and says, "Let your women keep silence," &c. Any one who will carefully look at this subject, with its connections, will observe that it was in reference to this reprehensible practice, which had obtained in the Corinthian church, that Paul enjoins silence, and not in reference to the exercise of the gift of prophecy, which, in connection with this subject, he so plainly admits, Otherwise the apostle's teachings were obviously contradictory. But a careful review of the subject in connection with the well-known usages of that day, will relieve it of all difficulty, and show that Paul had these questionings in view and not the ordinary, speaking of women in prophesying; for says he, "If they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home."

But Paul also says, "I suffer not a woman to teach, nor usurp authority over the man." It will be found by an examination of this text with its connections, that the sort of teaching here alluded to, stands in necessary connection with usurping authority. As though the apostle had said, The gospel does not alter the relation of woman in view of priority. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And though the condition of woman is improved, and her privileges enlarged, yet she is not raised to a position of superiority, where she may usurp authority, and teach dictatorially, for the law still remains as at the beginning. It is an unalterable law of nature. Adam was first formed, then Eve, and all the daughters of Adam must acknowledge man first in creation, long as time endures.

But the sort of teaching to which the apostle here alludes, in connection with usurping authority, cannot be of the sort to which he refers, 1 Cor. xiv. Here Paul admits the prophesying of women in public assemblies, and of course could have had no intention, in his Epistle to Timothy, to forbid that sort of teaching, which stood in connection with the exercise of the gift of prophecy, which arose from the immediate impulses of the Holy Ghost, and which is rendered abundantly plain by another passage in his Epistle to the Corinthians, in which he notices the public prophesying of females, and gives particular directions respecting their conduct and appearance, while engaged in that sacred duty. "Every man
praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoreth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered, dishonoreth her head." That this passage, as well as the fourteenth chapter of the same Epistle, particularly relates to the conduct of the Corinthian Christians in their assemblies for worship, and can have no special bearing on the present day, is obvious, and is allowed by eminent commentators, and is indeed evident from the whole tenor of the advice which is here given. The apostle therefore recognizes the public prophesying of females.

With respect to the prophesying to which the apostle here alludes, as exercised by both men and women in the churches of the saints, he defines its nature. (See 1 Cor, xiv. 3.) The reader will see that it was directed to the "edification, exhortation, and comfort of believers," and the result anticipated was the conviction of unbelievers and unlearned persons. "Such," says the author of an excellent work, "were the public services of women which the apostle allowed, and such was the ministry of females predicted by the prophet Joel, and described as a
leading feature under the gospel dispensation. Women who speak in assemblies for worship under the influence of the Holy Spirit assume thereby no personal authority over others. They are instruments through which divine instruction is communicated to the people."

It may be conceived by some that the devoted Christian female, who is willing thus to be led by the Spirit into paths of usefulness, may lose, in some degree, those lovely and becoming traits of character, which we admire in the female sex. As far as our observations have aided us, the effect has been diametrically opposite religion does not despoil woman of her refined sensibilities, but only turns them into a finer mold, and brings out to the charmed beholder every thing that is pure, lovely, and of good report. Says the late Mr. Gurney, a minister in the Society of Friends, "We well know that there are no women among us more generally distinguished for modesty, gentleness, order, and a right submission to their brethren, than those who have been called by their divine Master into the exercise of the Christian ministry." And who finds fault with the ministry of woman as practiced among the society of Friends? We imagine few are so fastidious.

But says one, Is the proclamation of the gospel, as dispensed by women among the people called Friends, of such manifest utility as to warrant the belief of a divine call to this work? Says a theological writer, in treating on this subject, "There is, however, in some sections of the Christian church, a recognition of the full and free agency and operation of the Holy Spirit which divideth to every man severally as he will, and a thankful acceptance of that great gospel truth, 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither male nor female,' but 'they are all one in Christ Jesus.' Among such the preaching of women has been acknowledged to be a special gift from Christ, who only has a right to appoint, and who alone can qualify his ministers effectually to publish the glad tidings through him. And so effectually have these glad tidings been proclaimed by females that many have been through their instrumentality converted from the error of their way, and brought from darkness to light; many hungry and thirsty souls have been refreshed and strengthened, and many living members of the church edified together. Can we believe that the Holy Spirit is
now more limited in its manifestations and in its requirements than when by his inspirations Miriam prophesied and sang the praise of Jehovah?"

Says the devoted philanthropist, Miss Bosanquet, afterwards the wife of the distinguished Vicar of Madely, Rev. J. Fletcher, who felt herself called to proclaim the power Of saving grace to others, "Some think it inconsistent with that modesty the Christian religion requires in women professing godliness. Now, I do not apprehend Mary could in the least be accused of immodesty when she carried the joyful news of her Lord's resurrection, and in that sense taught the teachers of mankind. Neither was the woman of Samaria to be accused of immodesty when she invited the whole city to come to Christ. Neither do I think the woman mentioned in 2 Sam. xx. could be said to sin against modesty, though she called to the general of the opposing army to converse with her, and then went to all the people to give them her advice, and by it the city was saved. Neither do I suppose Deborah did wrong in publicly declaring the message of the Lord, and afterwards accompanying Barak to war because his hands hung down at going without her. But says the objector, All these were extraordinary calls; sure you will not say yours is an extraordinary call? If I did not believe so, I would not act in an extraordinary manner. I praise God, I feel him near, and prove his faithfulness every day."

That Christ was successfully preached to the Samaritans through the instrumentality of a woman is manifest, John iv. 39. "Many of the Samaritans believed on him for the saying of the woman." This woman was the first apostle for Christ in Samaria. She went and told her fellow-citizens that the Messiah was come, and gave for proof that he had told her the most secret things she had ever done.

But Providence, under ordinary circumstances, assigns woman a sphere of action both suited to her predilections and her physical and mental structure. Indeed, can we conceive of a work more important than that which in the general orderings of Providence falls to woman? "The future destiny of the child is always the work of the mother," said the sagacious Napoleon. The training of the human mind irrespective of sex, as it comes forth fresh from the hand of the Dispenser of life, is, for the most part, committed to woman. What a high and holy trust! It were difficult to give a just presentation of the magnitude of this work. Immortal minds are to be trained for immortality and eternal life; and all the minutiae of future life, whether for good or evil, are to show the result of these early trainings. And to all eternity, as millions on millions of ages pass away, the result of those early motherly trainings will influence largely the destiny of that deathless spirit. Not only will the women of this age have to do with the women of the future age, but, as the men of the future age will have had their early training mostly from the women of the present age, how greatly have women to do with the destinies of the moral and religious world! Wonderful indeed is the work to which woman has been called in the social relation. Says Mrs. Hale, "But with the privileges we must take the position of women; leave the work of the world and its reward, the government thereof, to men; our task is to fit them for their office, and inspire them to perform it in righteousness."

It is not our aim in this work to suggest, in behalf of woman, a change in the social or domestic relation. We are not disposed to feel that she is burdened with wrong in this direction. But we feel that there is a wrong, a serious wrong, affectingly cruel in its influences, which has long been depressing the hearts of the most devotedly pious women. And this wrong is inflicted by pious men, many of whom, we presume, imagine that they are doing God service in putting a seal upon lips which God has commanded to speak.

It is not our intention to chide those who have thus kept the Christian female in bondage, as we believe in ignorance they have done it. But we feel that the time has now come when ignorance will involve guilt; and the Head of the church imperatively demands a consideration of the question proposed in the following pages.