Phoebe Palmer


Has not the gift of prophecy been used to profit by women in every age?

One of the results of God's great work which is now going on in the world will be to raise and perfect woman's position and character. The darkest page in human history is that of the treatment of woman. But when, in the progress of divine truth, it is understood that man cannot fulfill his own destiny, and is not the completion of himself without her, — in other words, when by being restored to God he is restored to himself, — he will also be restored to that which is a part of himself, and will thus perfect, in completed unity, what would otherwise remain in the imperfection of an undeveloped and partial nature.


Has not the exercise of the gift of prophecy been used to profit by women of every age? We have already referred to many women, who in the apostolic age used this gift to the edification of the church. We might refer to others, particularly to Phebe, the servant of the church, or deaconess, as the Greek word signifies, of the church at Cenchrea. Deaconesses were ordained to the office by the imposition of the hands of the bishop. Theodoret says, " The fame of Phebe was spread throughout the world, and she was known, not only to the Greeks and Romans, but also to the Barbarians;" which implies that she had traveled much, and propagated the gospel in foreign countries. "It is reasonable to suppose, in view of her being a succorer of many," says Rev. Mr. Benson, "that this acknowledged servant of the church was a person of considerable wealth and influence, or we may suppose the appellation 'servant of the church' was given her on account of the offices she performed as a deaconess." Says another able divine in his comment on this subject, "There were deaconesses in the primitive church, and it is evident that they were ordained to this office by the imposition of the hands of the bishop, and the form of prayer used on the occasion is still extant in the apostolic constitution. And this order was continued for several centuries in the church, until the reign of the man of sin commenced."

Not only the community who, under God, took its rise from Wesley, but many of the earnestly pious of all denominations, seem now disposed to recognize Wesley as having been greatly instrumental, under God, in the revival of primitive Christianity. To those acquainted with the history of the church, at the time this great reformer was raised up, we need not say that the reception of the full baptism of the Holy Ghost was but faintly, if at all, recognized as the privilege of the believer. But as soon as this primitive flame again revived, just so soon was this gift of power, anciently promised as a specialty of the last days, newly recognized. What a host of "laborers together in the gospel" were quickly raised up. And who, that has read the correspondence and journal of this great and good man, but has marked his special recognition and appreciation of this endowment of power. Not more appreciatively did an ancient apostle regard "those women that labored with him in the gospel," than did this modern apostle and his coadjutors, especially the eminent and devoted Fletcher, the Vicar of Madeley.

It is true, that some of the respected denomination that bear his name may not, in modern days, be fully, in this regard, answerable to the practices of the Founder, and fathers in the ministry. Yet there is still in the usages of this denomination much that demands consideration. In most places woman is encouraged to use the gift of prophecy intrusted to her, so far as to testify of the dealings of God with her soul. Various social meetings are held, in which the female disciple is expected to take a part, such as the love feast and the weekly class meeting. In the days of the Founder of Methodism, women were appointed to take the lead of female classes. The whole membership being divided into classes, and punctuality, as far as health and circumstances will admit, in attendance on class meeting being a test of membership, this devolves a large amount of most important labor upon the pious women of the church, peculiarly adapted to their sphere.

The wisdom of this ordainment in Methodism cannot but be strikingly obvious to all who have considered it; and that it should have grown so generally into disuse with this sect in America is regarded by many as a singular and unaccountable departure from their primitive simplicity. British Wesleyans, we understand, still abide by the old landmarks in this respect, and a large share of the spiritual culture of the female portion of the membership of this body devolve on females. What an auxiliary to the pastorate is this! And what faithful minister of any denomination but would be greatly relieved in his pastoral labors, if he might have nursing mothers, who may thus ever have a constant affectionate supervision over such a large portion of his flock! We have within our reach Mr. Wesley's correspondence and journal, and one would be surprised, in glancing over it, to observe the frequent and appreciatory allusions made to his female helpers.

A recognition of the full baptism of the Holy Ghost, as a grace to be experienced and enjoyed in the present life, was the distinguishing doctrine of Methodism. And who can doubt but it was this specialty that again brought out a host of Spirit-baptized laborers, as in the apostolic days? And the satisfaction with which this apostolic man recognized and encouraged the use of this endowment of power is every where observable throughout his writings. Says one, "Mr. Wesley pressed into the service of religion all the useful gifts " he could influence." He well knew that in the ratio in which the devoted female, or any other instrumentalities, were calculated to be useful, to just that degree would the grand adversary raise up opposing agencies to withstand.

To his friend Miss Briggs he writes, "
Undoubtedly both you and Philothea, and my dear Miss Perronet, are now more particularly "called to speak for God. In so doing, you must expect to meet with many things which are not pleasing to flesh and blood But all is well. So much more will you be 'conformed to the death of Christ. Go on in his name and in the power of his might. Suffer and conquer all things." (See Wesley's Works, vol. vii. p. 103.) Again, "I am glad that sister Crosby has been at Beverly, and that you had an opportunity of hearing her. She is useful wherever she goes, particularly in exciting believers to go on to holiness," (vol. vii. p. 46.) Mr. Wesley expressed great joy on hearing of her success in various places, and constantly encouraged her efforts. Vol. iv. pp. 448, 449, he says, "No society in the country grows so fast as this, either in grace or numbers. The chief instrument in this glorious work is Miss Ferronet, a burning and shining light." In vol. iv. p. 653, he gives his views of his much esteemed friend, Mrs. Fletcher, an eminently holy and useful woman, who had been largely endued with the gift of prophecy, and whose praise was in all the churches, as one richly blessed with the gift of utterance, to proclaim the saving power of Christ to others. Here he also speaks of another pious female, whom he sets forth as one of the most useful class leaders he had ever known. One who had not been favored with advantages for extemporaneous speaking as some others, he still encourages to labor, as the necessities of the case might require: he says, "You may read to them the notes on any chapter before you speak a few words, or read them one of the most awakening sermons, as other women have done long ago." To some of these female laborers we may refer more particularly in the subsequent pages of our work. It was said by the late Dr. Chalmers, as illustrative of the great success of the early members of this denomination, that "they were all at it, and always at it." And may we not conclude, that the enlistment of this gift of power had something to do with the extraordinary influence which attended the early ministrations of this people?

Mr. Wesley, who, as it is well known, was a minister of the Church of England, was at first disposed, as most ministers of the Established Church, to oppose any thing that might seem like an innovation on the ordinary usages of that church. But he had himself diligently sought for and obtained the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Through the fervor of his ministrations, the Pentecostal flame began to diffuse, and as men and women of the laity caught the flame, they also began to speak, as the Spirit gave utterance, as in apostolic days. Mr. W. was absent from London when these ministrations of the laity commenced; but the thing being new and unlooked for, he immediately, on hearing of it, hastened up to London, with a resolve to put a stop to what he considered to be a glaring irregularity. He conversed with his mother on the subject, who was herself a distinguished member of the Established Church, as were her ancestors, and told her his intention. The name of a layman, who was among the first to transgress in prophesying, as did Eldad and Medad in the camp of Israel, was then brought forward. Said Mrs. Wesley, "You know what my sentiments have been. You cannot suspect me of favoring readily any thing of this kind. But take care what you do with respect to that young man, for he is as surely called of God to preach as you are." This kept him from a hasty execution of his purpose; and it being found, upon inquiry, that good was done, the practice was suffered to continue.

The conversion of sinners by the preaching of any person, whether male or female, was a strong proof, in Mr. Wesley's judgment, of a divine call to the great and important work; this will appear from his most excellent sermon on Mark ix. 38, 39. It was, no doubt, from a conviction of the success attending the efforts of his mother, Mrs. S. Wesley, to promote the spiritual advantage of the inhabitants of Epworth, that caused him to say, "that even she, as well as her father and grandfather, her husband and three sons, had been, in her measure, a preacher of righteousness."

The fact was this: When Mr. Wesley's father was from home, Mrs. W. used to read sermons and pray with the people, in the vicarage house at Epworth, on the Sunday evenings, to as many as the room would contain; sometimes there were two hundred present on these occasions, and much good was done. Of this admirable lady the learned Dr. Adam Clarke says, "She had a strong and vigorous mind, and an undaunted courage. She feared no difficulty, and, in search of truth, at once looked the most formidable objections full in the face; and never hesitated to give an enemy all the vantage ground he could gain, when she rose up to defend either the doctrine or precepts of the religion of the Bible. She was not only graceful, but beautiful in person. As a Christian she was modest, humble, and pious. Her religion was as rational as it was scriptural and profound. In forming her creed she dug deep, and laid her foundation upon a rock, and the storms and adversities of life never shook it. Her faith carried her through life, and it was unimpaired in death. She was a tender mother, a wise and invaluable friend. If it were not unusual to apply such an epithet to a woman, I should not hesitate to say, she
was an able divine."

Over a century has rolled away, and still we may. thankfully record that this ancient flame, though not cherished as it might have been, has not died out, either. among the people called Wesleyans, who began to date their rise, as a denomination, from about this point, or from the Established Church of England, from whose altar, under God, Wesley first caught the living flame, We have already given an item illustrative of the fact that this ancient flame is yet alive in the Church of England; and still not only her sons, but her daughters of the laity, are disposed, as in the days of Wesley, and as the mother of Wesley, to act upon the principle, that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." We have referred to Mrs. Wesley's endeavors to promote the spiritual advantage of the inhabitants of Epworth, and, though a century has intervened, how similar are the efforts of a Christian lady of the Church of England, to whom we have referred in a former chapter, at the present day residing at Beckenham, England.

And how does this lady, who, a talented reviewer of her own denomination tells us, is a lady of great dignity and modesty of character, and one who, in fact, is shrinking from all that is ultra and well-grounded by her sense of propriety against trespassing beyond the bounds which define the lady and place woman in her true position, how do we see this Christian lady fulfilling the duties of her position?

Why, much, doubtless, as either one of the affectionate Marys would have done, had they, after being baptized with the Spirit, been placed in similar circumstances with herself. Hundreds of common working men, such as heard the Saviour gladly, came to reside in the neighborhood. She says, "I felt anxious to meet these men for the purpose of imparting instruction on Sabbath evenings, and twice in the week, especially as I found, on inquiry, that few, if any of them, at that time, ever seemed to think of entering any place of worship."

And how did she carry out her truly Christian purpose? We are told cottage readings were thus established, and have been the means of much good. The meetings held on Sunday, Monday, and Friday evenings, conducted by this lady, are opened with singing, then extempore prayer, then a chapter of the Bible is read, then an extempore address from a verse or a passage of Scripture, then singing and prayer. Testaments are distributed to new-comers who have none, and tracts and cards, containing short and appropriate prayers, are ready for circulation; kind and encouraging words are spoken to each of those who come forward after the meeting, or linger at the door or on the roadside, to converse with their friend and benefactress.

How well it is for this lady, and the cause which she represents, that there is no one to rise in the midst and betray their Circumscribed knowledge of Scripture truth by the exclamation," What does Paul say about women's preaching?" or that she is not being called before a church inquisition to answer for her temerity in presuming to open her lips before men, Yet a case somewhat similar to this we have ourselves witnessed.

Says her reviewer,

Her efforts to make Bible Christians of those who come under her instruction are much to be admired. If first impressions upon the minds of inquirers after truth influence their whole subsequent life and fix their eternal destiny, how important is it to take them directly to the fountain head, and not stop at any of the broken cisterns of human invention so often met with, and around which so many gather! There are, alas! two ways of reading the sacred volume. One is to study it in a prayerful, teachable spirit, with a desire to learn what God would have us do; the other is to take it up in self-righteousness, and so distort it as to make it suit our prejudiced, and, very often, most unscriptural views; hence the various and diversified opinions regarding its teachings.

Some Christian friends have remarked Miss M. "must be a wonderful woman:" Wonderful, because consistent! Is it not melancholy that consistency in professing Christians is so unusual as to be a wonder? She makes no more nor louder professions, nor are her vows different from those of professing Christians generally. All are alike under the same obligations and pledges, and she has not gone one jot or one tittle beyond hers. At what a fearful distance, then, many followers of the Saviour must be from their God, if they be "followers" at all! She but lives "as one should live who has been washed in the blood of Jesus Christ;" and all professors deny their profession in proportion as their lives differ from hers.

Says the reviewer of Miss M., "In prayer we have the secret of her success." And under what circumstances do we see this all-powerful gift of prayer brought into exercise? Not only in the Closet and in the social circle, with the physically and spiritually diseased, but she also lifts up her voice in extemporaneous prayer in the presence of her congregation, numbering, as we have been informed occasionally, from three to four hundred. Now, is it not sad to think that there are hundreds of Christian ministers, who, if they could speak out, would withstand not only this Christian lady, but any and every other lady who would thus assume the responsibility of opening her mouth in prayer in the presence of men.

Not only has the gift of prophecy, as poured out upon woman in fulfillment of the promise of the Father been withstood, but with equal tenacity has the right to open her lips in prayer been contested. We have sometimes thought if one gift of usefulness above another had been intrusted to woman, it is her gift in prayer. Added to the winning tenderness of her nature, when in union with the heart of Infinite Love, how melting and subduing are the tones of her voice in its influences as it falls upon the ear of hardy men!

We were well acquainted with an infidel lawyer, who, for literary ability, and in his profession, had distinguished himself as one among a thousand of his professional brethren. This gentleman was first aroused to a consideration of his eternal interests by incidentally hearing the affecting tones of a female voice upraised to God in prayer. That voice proceeded from the midst of a religious assembly. His predilections were such as not to dispose him to enter the place of prayer; but those tones fell upon his spirit's ear as he stood a listener without. It was here that his heart was softened by the subduing power of grace; and the arrow of the Almighty rankled in his bosom until that arrow was extracted by the hand of the heavenly Healer, and his spirit made whole.

But are there not scores of church assemblies all over the land, where, if the voice of woman should occasionally be heard with one accord, in supplication with her brethren, as on the day of Pentecost, would fain hush that voice, as though it were wrong that the lips of a female should be opened in giving utterance to the constrainings of the Spirit in the presence of her brethren? Surely this thing, if wrong, is
fearfully wrong. Has not a gift of power delegated to the church been kept out of use? And if the neglect of this gift has been through the traditions of men, rather than the oracles of God, is it not greatly important that ministers of the sanctuary should hasten to rectify the wrong, and on this important subject give the trumpet a certain sound? We do not wonder that the reviewer of Miss M. should say, "In prayer we have the secret of her success. She took every soul with her to the throne of grace." To use her own words, "The shortest way to any heart is round by heaven; so I went to God to open the door."

Do we not see, in this consistent Christian lady, only about what we might infer would be far more general, if the gift of prophecy, as bestowed upon the daughters of the Lord Almighty, had not been neglected. Has not the Christian church the world over, in all the scattered and various divisions, neglected a specialty of the last days, which, if properly recognized and brought into use, might have resulted in the salvation of tens of thousands of unsaved sinners?

We copy some of the above jottings from an article in the Young Men's Magazine. The reviewer is a member of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and, to be consistent with himself as such, cannot be disposed to favor unauthorized innovations or unseemly manifestations of religious zeal. In closing his review of "English Hearts and English Hands" he says, "No lady can read this book attentively without being convinced that her sex exercises an
influence far greater than ours."

Corroborative of the preceding views in relation to the far-reaching influence of woman, is the testimony of Sir Richard Otley. This gentleman was chairman of a missionary meeting held at Colombo, March 26, 1824. The name of Mrs. M. Smith, of the Cape of Good Hope, being brought before the meeting, the distinguished chairman said, "The name of Mrs. Smith has been justly celebrated by the religious world, and in the colony of the Cape of Good Hope. I heard a missionary of talents state, that wherever he went in that colony, at six hundred or a thousand miles from the principal seat of government among the natives of Africa, and wherever he saw persons converted to Christianity, the name of Mrs. Smith was always hailed as the person from whom they received their religious impressions. And although no less than ten missionaries, all men of piety and industry, were stationed in that settlement, the exertions of Mrs. Smith alone were more efficacious, and had been attended with greater success, than the labors of those missionaries combined together... After such an example in heroism and magnanimity," says Sir Richard, "what may we not expect from affording women an enlightened education, and
calling into action the virtues which they are capable of displaying when justice is done them, and when they are made to support that station in society which they are capable of adorning!" The Rev. I. Campbell, missionary to Africa, in a letter to the editor of the Evangelical Magazine, says, "For many years past Mrs. Smith took the lead in most of the plans for doing good in that country; for she possessed the happy art of setting all her friends to work in one way or other. Her fluency, the seriousness of her address, and the earnestness of her manner, when recommending plans of usefulness, generally prevailed. So extensive were the good effects of her pious exhortations that on my first visit to the colony, wherever I met with persons of evangelical piety, I generally found that their first impressions of religion were ascribed to Mrs. Smith."

In the Society of Friends, the gift of prophecy, as dispensed to women, is openly recognized. Many among their most acceptable ministers are women. Says Mr. J. J. Gamey, widely known in Europe and America as one of their most devoted and learned ministers, in behalf of his people, "We believe that we must not limit the Holy One of Israel, or oppose to the counsels of infinite wisdom our own fallible determinations. We dare not say to the pious, modest female, 'Thou shalt not declare the word of the Lord,' when we believe that from an infinitely higher authority there is issued a directly opposite injunction — 'Thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak.' Now that women are often led to proclaim the word of the Lord among us; that it is laid upon them as an indispensable duty; that they are from time to time constrained, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, to rise up in our meetings for worship, in order to instruct, exhort, convince, and console, or to kneel down and address the Most High, as the organs of the assembly; and further, that their services of this description are frequently accompanied with life and power, and greatly tend to the edification of their hearers, — are facts, the truth of which long experience has taught us, and which no persons who are acquainted intimately with our society will be disposed to deny. Nor is there any thing astonishing or novel in this particular direction of the Holy Spirit. Nothing astonishing, because there is no respect of persons with God. The soul of the woman, in his sight, is as the soul of the man; and both are alike susceptible of the extraordinary as well as the general influences of the Spirit. Nothing novel, because in the sacred records of antiquity there are found numerous examples of women, as well as of men, who were impelled to speak to others on matters of religion, by the direct and immediate visitations of the Holy Ghost.

It was doubtless under such an influence that Miriam responded to the songs of Moses; that Deborah uttered her psalm of triumph; that Hannah poured forth in the temple her acceptable thanksgivings; that Huldah prophesied to King Josiah and his officers; that the aged Anna spake of Christ to all them that looked for redemption in Israel; that Elisabeth addressed the mother of our Lord, and that Mary sang praises to her God and Saviour. Of the individuals here mentioned, Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah are expressly called prophetesses. The wife of Isaiah was a prophetess. We read also of false prophetesses — a circumstance which clearly indicates that there were true prophetesses, who were the objects of their imitation, and from whom they were distinguished. (Ezek. xiii. 17.)

If we might judge of the prevailing sentiments and usages of most Christian denominations at the present day, it might be inferred that the manifestations of the Spirit were more limited now than before the ushering in of the last days, of which Joel spoke, which was to be signalized by the pouring out of the Spirit alike upon God's daughters as upon his sons. Surely there must be some mistake somewhere.

Christian ministers, of every name and order, we ask you, in the name of thousands of your Christian sisters, upon whom God has poured out his Spirit, and who, in the social, prayer, and conference circle, would fain open their lips for God, will you not take this matter with you, as you enter into the inner sanctuary of the divine presence? Will you not, in prayerful waiting before the Head of the church, and in the light of the Holy Scriptures, investigate the subject, in view of bringing out a speedy answer, which may bear the light of eternity, and which, when reviewed in the day of reckoning," will meet your responsibilities? Have you trained the male and female members of your flock to right views on this subject, befitting the dispensation of power under which they live? Do you urge not only your male members to the indispensable duty of looking for the full baptism of the Holy Ghost, but also your female members to look for this present endowment of power, resolved that when, in answer to their united supplication, the Spirit is poured out upon the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty, you will not restrain the utterances of the Spirit, though its manifestations may contradict all your former sentiments on this subject?