Phoebe Palmer


In What Does The Gift Of Prophecy Consist.

The Saviour and his apostles bear such ample witness to the worth of woman's services in the true church, it would seem a marvel that men who profess to be Christians should ever have degraded her from the rank of visible helper, which Christ gave her."


In what does the gift of prophecy consist? We have remarked that it was not our aim in this volume to set forth the expediency of woman's preaching, technically so called. But the scriptural idea of the terms preach and prophesy stands so inseparably connected as one and the same thing, that we should find it difficult to get aside from the fact that women did preach, or, in other words, prophesy, in the early ages of Christianity, and have continued to do so down to the present time, to just the degree that the spirit of the Christian dispensation has been recognized. And it is also a significant fact, that to the degree denominations, who have once favored the practice, lose the freshness of their zeal, and as a consequence their primitive simplicity, and, as ancient Israel, yield to a desire to be like surrounding communities, in a corresponding ratio are the labors of females discountenanced.

This is a most suggestive consideration, and if any one reading these pages is disposed to doubt the statement, let him take pains to inquire into the facts in the case. We might specify more than one denomination to which this is particularly applicable. We do not doubt but spiritual religion is now mainly on the rise in the Church of England. The Church of Rome has made her insidious approaches in the form of Puseyism, and not a few have been deluded by her sophistries, and proportionately as the deceptive principles of this fallen church prevail, will nunneries be multiplied. Yes,
nunneries, which, though not confining their sad and worse than useless victims within walls,

"By vows and grates confined,"

will debar them, by church dogmas, from yielding to the dictates of the Spirit, and engaging in the holy activities which Scriptural Christianity inculcates. But within the precincts of the Established Church of England, as with many other churches of the present day, as the pure flame of evangelical piety begins to revive, and the corruptions of the Church of Rome are being discountenanced, again we witness the recognition of the spirit of prophecy as poured forth in primitive days on the daughters of the Lord Almighty.

We took up a periodical a short time since, where we were pleased to see recordings by a Churchman in England, who states, as an indication, that the revival flame which had been spreading with such glorious rapidity through America, was now beginning to burst forth in Europe; and among the most prominent of his recordings corroborative of the fact, he mentions the labors of a highly esteemed Christian lady. The item reads thus: —

A special work of grace has been going forward at Beckenham, in connection with the readings and expositions of Scripture, by a lady, who has for years emphatically been a female missionary. A Christian friend, who was present, not long since, at one of these readings, was intensely interested in what he heard, as well as in the crowded attendance of working men and their families. Miss Marsh, the daughter of the venerable Dr. Marsh, one of the oldest teetotalers of Britain, is the lady in question. She is well known as the authoress of the 'Life of Captain Hedley Vicars,' 'English Hearts and Hands,' and a touching narrative just published, entitled 'A Light for the Line,' detailing the life and conversion, useful and dying experience of a navvy.

But, in fact, the word preach, taken in connection with its attendant paraphernalia, oratorical display, onerous titles, and pulpits of pedestal eminence, means so much more than we infer was signified by the word preach, when used in connection with the ministrations of Christ and his apostles, that we were disposed to withhold our unreserved assent to women's preaching in the technical sense. But our desire is to stand up fairly with truth on this point, and, fearful that we may be misunderstood, we wish to state unequivocally, that in a scriptural sense we believe all Christ's disciples, whether male or female, should covet to be endued with the gift of prophecy; then will they proclaim, or, in other words, preach Christ crucified, as far as in them lies, under all possible circumstances; and it is thus only that the command of the Head of the church can be obeyed — "Preach the gospel to every creature."

Says the learned Dr. Wayland,
I think the generic idea of preaching the gospel in the New Testament, is the proclamation to every creature of the love of God to men through Christ Jesus. This is the main idea. To this our Lord adds, according to the other evangelists, 'teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.' A discourse is not preaching because it is delivered by a minister, or spoken from the pulpit, or appended to a text. Nothing is, I think, properly preaching, except explaining the teachings, or enforcing the commands, of Christ and his apostles. The command was, Go abroad every where; proclaim to every creature the news of redemption; tell them of the love of God in Christ Jesus. All things are now ready; bid them come and welcome to the marriage supper of the Lamb.

When the Israelites were bitten by the fiery flying serpents, and the bite was inevitably fatal, Moses was directed to set up a brazen serpent, with the assurance that whosoever that had been bitten looked upon it, should be healed. You can imagine how the first man who felt its saving efficacy flew to communicate the news to his brethren, and urge them to avail themselves of the remedy which had delivered him from death. Every man who was healed became immediately a herald of the glad tidings to others. Every one who was saved became a publisher of the salvation, or, in other words, a preacher, until, in a few minutes, the news spread throughout the encampment, and, in this sense, every tribe was evangelized.

Now, imagine a female, with all the sympathies of her loving nature, to have been among these bitten and newly restored ones. Think you that she would have been less tardy than her newly recovered brethren, or less energetic, or less persuasive in her efforts in inducing other wounded ones to look and be healed?

The excellent author from whom we have just quoted again says,
Allow me to illustrate the meaning of the term preach, as used by our Lord, by an occurrence of which I was an eye witness. It so chanced that at the close of the last war with Great Britain, I was temporarily a resident of the city of New York. The prospects of the nation were shrouded in gloom. We had been for two or three years at war with the mightiest nation on earth, and, as she had now concluded a peace with the continent of Europe, we were obliged to cope with her single-handed. Our harbors were blockaded. Communication coastwise, between our ports, was cut off. Our ships were rotting in every creek and cove where they could find a place of security. Our immense annual products were molding in our warehouses. The sources of profitable labor were dried up. Our currency was reduced to irredeemable paper. The extreme portions of our country were becoming hostile to each other, and the differences of political opinion were embittering the peace of every household. The credit of the government was exhausted. No one could predict when the contest would terminate, or discover the means by which it could much longer be protracted.

It happened that on Saturday afternoon, in February, a ship was discovered in the offing, which was supposed to be a cartel, bringing home our Commissioners at Ghent from their unsuccessful mission. The sun had set gloomily before any intelligence from the vessel had reached the city. Expectation became painfully intense, as the hours of darkness drew on. At length a boat reached the wharf, announcing the fact that a treaty of peace had been signed, and was waiting for nothing but the action of our government to become a law. The men on whose ears these words first fell, rushed in breathless haste into the city, to repeat them to their friends, shouting, as they ran through the streets, Peace! peace! peace! Every one who heard the sound repeated it. From house to house, from street to street, the news spread with electric rapidity. The whole city was in commotion. Men bearing lighted torches were flying to and fro, shouting, like madmen, Peace! peace! peace! When the rapture had partially subsided, one idea occupied every mind. But few men slept that night. In groups they were gathered in the streets and by the fireside, beguiling the hours of midnight by reminding each other that the agony of war was over, and that a worn-out and distracted country was about to enter again upon its wonted career of prosperity.

Thus, every one becoming a herald, the news soon reached every man, woman, and child in the city, and, in this sense, the city was evangelized. All this, you see, was reasonable and proper. But when Jehovah has offered to our world a treaty of peace, when men doomed to hell may be raised to seats at the right hand of God, why is not a similar zeal displayed in proclaiming the good news? Why are men perishing all around us, and no one has ever personally offered to them salvation through a crucified Redeemer?

We have been informed, that the ladies were in no wise less earnest in their activities on that memorable night, than their more hardy friends of the other sex in heralding the news of peace.

One of the most eminent Bible expositors who has adorned this or any other age, in his comment on Joel, ii. 36, says, "Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, shall preach, exhort, pray, and instruct, so as to benefit the church." If the reader object to this interpretation, we will present the definition given by the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul, (1 Cor. xiv. 3) "He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, exhortation, and comfort." "That prophecy means, in the New Testament, the gift of exhorting, preaching, or expounding the Scriptures, is evident from many places in the Gospels, Acts, and Paul's Epistles."

Rev. J. Benson, the commentator, says, "The gift of prophecy was bestowed upon some women under the Old Testament, as upon Miriam, (Exod. xv. 30,) upon Deborah, (Judges iv. 14,) and Huldah, (2 Kings xxii. 14.) But this gift was more frequently conferred on the female sex in the times of the New Testament. Thus we read of the four daughters of Philip the evangelist who prophesied. (Acts xxi. 9.)" Rev. Dr. A. Clarke says, "If Philip's daughters were prophetesses, why not teachers?" Says Barnes, in his Notes, (1 Cor. xi 15,) "But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth." In the Old Testament prophetesses are not infrequently mentioned. So also in the New Testament Anna is mentioned as a prophetess. (Luke ii. 36.) That there were females in the early Christian church who corresponded to those known among the Jews, in some measure as endowed with the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, cannot be doubted. That they prayed is clear; and that they publicly expounded the will of God is apparent. Also see note on Acts ii. 17. It would seem, however, that females shared in the remarkable influences of the Holy Spirit. Philip the evangelist had four daughters which did prophesy. (Acts xxi.) It is probable also that the females of the church of Corinth partook of this gift.

Says the author of a work entitled "Scripture Doctrine," &c., (1 Cor. xi. 5,)
But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered," &c. The apostle has joined praying and prophesying together; and as praying in a public assembly — for of such he was treating — is universally allowed to be a part, and, indeed, a very prominent part, of the ministerial office, and women did exercise this part of the ministerial function in being the mouth of the people to God, here we have a presumptive proof, that prophesying means preaching, and, we think, a demonstration that the speaking in the church, which the apostle reproves in women, must be wholly confined to asking questions, (whispering or chattering;) otherwise it would be a prohibition against their praying as well as preaching. For how could women pray in public if it was a shame for them to speak in the church, in the sense wherein it is frequently understood? The apostle, when he uses the word "prophecy," precisely fixes its meaning, (1 Cor. xiv. 3-5) "He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, exhortation, and comfort;" (ver. 4,) "He that prophesieth edifieth the church;" (ver. 31) "For ye may all prophesy, one by one, (that is, all who were qualified for, and called to the ministry) that all may learn, and all may be comforted." All may learn from those who prophesied; and women did prophesy; therefore women were teachers by whom the church was exhorted, edified, and comforted.

In this common acceptation we frequently find the word prophesy in the Old and New Testament. Thus, (Nehemiah vi. 7) it is said, "Thou hast appointed prophets to preach." Hence prophets were preachers, and to prophesy is to preach. Gen. xx. 7, where the Lord saith of Abraham to Abimelech; "He is a prophet, and will pray for you." Here it seems to signify a man well acquainted with the Supreme Being, capable of teaching others in divine things, and especially a man of prayer. Exod. vii. 1, 2, "Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet; that is, shall speak unto Pharaoh." Acts xv. 32, "Judas and Silas, being prophets, exhorted the brethren with many words." Luke ii. 38, "Anna, the prophetess, coming into the temple, gave thanks unto the Lord, and spake of him [Christ] to all them who looked for redemption in Israel." Luke i. 67, "Zacharias prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who hath visited and redeemed his people." Our blessed Lord styles John the Baptist a prophet, (Luke vii. 26) and Zacharias, the father of John, speaking of him by the Spirit of the Lord, calls him a prophet of the highest, (Luke i. 76) that is, a teacher, commissioned by the Lord himself, to instruct the inhabitants of Judea in the things which related to the manifestation of the Messiah and his kingdom; (also 1 Cor. xiv. 25) In most of these places prophesying has no other meaning than preaching; and among the preachers we have a female.

Besides, should it be granted that prophesying means foretelling things to come, an insurmountable difficulty yet remains; for if it was unlawful for women, who had that gift, to speak in the church, how were they to communicate what was revealed to them?

The simple fact seems to be, that though prophesying sometimes means predicting, or foretelling future events, it means preaching in the common acceptation of the word; and whenever it is used in the former sense, it includes the publishing these predictions to those concerned. Hence, under the law, such persons were styled
nabi, (prophets,) from ba, which signifies to come and to go, because of their coming and going between God and the people. So under the gospel dispensation they are called prophets, from pro and phemi, dico, I speak or utter forth, because ministers are the Lord's messengers, to publish his word of reconciliation to the people. But, whatever be the meaning of praying and prophesying as it respects the man, it has precisely the same meaning as it respects the woman. Therefore sortie women, as well as some men, might speak to others to edification, exhortation, and comfort. This kind of prophesying or teaching was predicted by Joel, ii. 28, and referred to by Peter, Acts ii. 17. Had there not been such gifts bestowed on women, the prophecy could not have been fulfilled. The only difference marked by the apostle was, the man had his head uncovered because he was the representative of Christ; the woman had hers covered because she was placed by the order of God in a state of subjection to the man. It was also customary among the Greeks and Romans, but among the Jews it was an express law, that no woman should be seen abroad without a veil. This was and is a common custom through all the East. A modest woman never appeared in public without a veil. Should she do so, she would dishonor her head, that is, her husband; for all who did not thus recognize the custom of the time were regarded as disposed to be faithless in the marriage covenant.

Says Rev. Joseph Sutcliff, in a letter to Miss Drury,
I am fully persuaded that St. Paul's arguments against the praying and prophesying of women in public are founded on the custom of the Oriental nations — not to admit mixed companies of men and women on any occasion, excepting only among their own kindred; consequently, so far as European manners deviate from the Oriental, the force of these arguments are inapplicable to us.

What would be thought of a Christian minister of the present day who would strenuously enforce as a scriptural requisition that every female member of his charge should adhere to the custom of coming to the house of the Lord veiled or muffled, as enjoined by the apostle Paul, 1 Cor. xi. 4-16? Yet there would be far more consistency in enforcing a scrupulous adherence to this custom, which has become obsolete except in Eastern heathen countries, than in enforcing the doctrine that women shall not pray or prophesy in religious assemblies. "Judge ye yourselves, is it comely that a woman pray unto God
uncovered?" — that is, unveiled. But it seems not to have entered into the apostle's conceptions that the daughters of the Lord would not obey the impellings of their Spirit-baptized souls, and pray and speak as the Spirit gave utterance. That they would do so he anticipates as a matter of course, and therefore suggests the manner in which they shall be attired in the performance of the duty.

But why do not ministers of the present day enforce as a scriptural doctrine this ancient practice of covering the head in public assemblies, as now practiced in Eastern heathen countries? Because the dictates of common sense tell them that it was merely an enjoinment of temporary expediency suggested by the then prevailing custom, and can have no bearing on the present day. But, while justly no account whatever is made of the apostle's admonition in regard to the veiling of the head, another subject, standing in vital connection with the spiritual interest of thousands, is overlooked. Overlooked, did we say? Nay, far worse than this: by the identical passages where Paul so evidently infers that Christian women were expected to obey the constrainings of the divinity within them, and pray or prophesy as the Spirit gave utterance — by these same passages those who would restrain the Spirit's utterances justify their resistance.

Hundreds of ministers in the present day are standing in an attitude of open resistance to the use of the gift of prophecy in women. Let a female member of their charge attempt to open her lips in prayer or in speaking of the revelations of infinite grace to her soul, though all the former indices of her Christian life may have been as marked for pious consistency and eminent devotedness as that of the late Mrs. President Edwards, or the most eminent for piety of this or any other age, her character for religious propriety would be sacrificed. She would at once be branded as a fanatic, and regarded as a subject of public animadversion and church discipline.

Acts xviii. 26. "Whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, (Apollos) they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly." "This eloquent man, and mighty in the Scriptures, who was a public teacher, was not ashamed to be indebted to the instructions of a Christian woman in matters that not only concerned his own salvation, but also the work of the ministry in which he was engaged." So says Dr. Adam Clarke.

1 Cor. xiv. 34. "Let your women keep silence," &c. The apostle had been treating of the gift of tongues, and of persons prophesying one after another. It is evident in these public assemblies there were people of different nations, as on the day of Pentecost, and that one minister had the gift of one tongue, and a second of another, in the same diversity as they had the other miraculous gifts. That they all had not a universal knowledge of all languages is clear from the apostle Paul's words, (1 Cor. xiv. 18,) "I speak with tongues more than ye all." How reasonable it is, then, to conclude that there were a few inquisitive women in the assembly, who, not understanding what was said, but prompted by curiosity, perhaps by a better motive, might ask questions, to the interruption of the speaker and the auditory! Therefore the apostle gives this admonition" "Let your women [that is,
wives] keep silence, and, if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home;" which clearly shows that the prohibition was not a general one, and that it must be confined to asking questions; at least, the silence here enjoined was never intended to prohibit those pious females from instructing and comforting the Corinthian Church, to whom he had before given directions respecting their adorning while thus employed; for what has women prophesying to do with asking questions, wanting information, and asking husbands at home? There were at Corinth, it appears, some married women who were frequently asking bold, impertinent questions, occasioning debates, contention, and confusion. Let such women keep silence, and ask their husbands at home; for it is a shame for such women to speak in church.

1 Tim. ii. 12. "But I suffer not a woman to teach," &c. Rev. Dr. Taft says,
I think the passage ought to be read thus: 'I suffer not a woman to teach by usurping authority over the man.' Most persons opposed to the praying or prophesying of females understand from this passage that no woman is to teach, and that all teaching by women is usurping authority over the man. But this grants too much, inasmuch as it involves the following difficulties: No woman is to keep a school. No woman is to teach her children to sew, or cook, or read, or write, &c. No woman is to write books; for this is one excellent method of teaching. No woman is to pray in public; for praying is one method of conveying instruction upon doctrinal, experimental, and practical religion. No woman is to prophesy, even supposing the term applies only to foretelling future events. While that knowledge lies hid in their own mind, there is no teaching; but, if God commands them to prophesy aloud, and they obey him, by this they teach to others that knowledge which before lay hid in their own breasts.

If it be objected to this that the teaching here forbidden means only that they are not to teach the science of religion, still all the difficulties remain, except the two first; for the things belonging to religion may be taught by the pen as well as by the mouth, on our knees as well as in any other position.

But the teaching here forbidden only means face to face, — but I ask, Is not this taking too great liberties with the text? n St. Paul does not say that this is the only kind of teaching which he forbids; but, supposing it was, then the apostle contradicts himself. That he admits and encourages this kind of teaching is plain from 1 Cor. xi. 4; for, in whatever sense we understand prophecy, it must of necessity imply teaching. Again, the sense of the text, as objected, is contradicted in Acts xviii. 26." Priscilla, a female, expounded the word to Apollos. The doctor says, "I defy any man to split that hair, and prove that expounding is not teaching. But all these difficulties will be removed by understanding the passage thus: 'I suffer not a woman to teach by usurping authority over the man.' And pray, who does? I have not heard of any such usurpation in the church.

What serious errors in faith and practice have resulted from taking isolated passages dissevered from their proper connections to sustain a favorite theory! It is thus that the Universalist would have all men unconditionally saved, inasmuch as the Bible says, "Christ is the Saviour of all men," disconnected with the fact that Christ is only the
special Saviour of them that believe. The Antinomian may gather his faith from the Bible, inasmuch as the Bible says that "men are saved by faith, and not by works." And the evil doer may take the Bible as a plea for his evil doings, inasmuch as it is said in the Bible, "Let us do evil that good may come." And on the same principle has the passage, "Let your women keep silence in the churches," been wrested from its explanatory connections, and made subservient to the egregious and most harmful error of withstanding the utterances of the Holy Spirit from the lips of women, and thereby averting the attention of the Christian world from an endowment of power ordained by God as a specialty of the last days. And permit us here to say that we are constrained to believe that this is one among the more prominent innovations of the "man of sin" — yes, a relic of Popery, which, before the brightness of Christ's appearing, must be openly abrogated.

The scriptural way of arriving at right Bible conclusions is by comparing scripture with scripture. And had this scriptural mode of interpretation been observed in regard to this subject, a distinguishing characteristic of the last days had not been disregarded, and an endowment of power withheld from the church, which might have resulted in the salvation of thousands.

Yet that serious errors might occur from the misapprehension of the Scriptures, the apostle Peter foresaw; and of this he forewarned the brethren in his General Epistle to the churches. Some had, even in that infant state of the church, wrested the writings of Paul to the destruction of right principles, and doubtless made his doctrines contradictory, as many have done in regard to the subject before us. It was therefore Peter, in referring to the writings of Paul, said to his brethren, "Even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given to him, hath written unto you; as also in all his Epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do the other scriptures, to their own destruction." (See 2 Peter iii. 15, 16.)

God has, in all ages of the church, called a few of his handmaids to eminent publicity and usefulness; and when the residue of the Spirit is poured out, and the millennium glory ushered in, the prophecy of Joel ii. 28, 29, being fully accomplished in all its glory, then probably there will be such a sweet blending into one spirit, the spirit of faith, of love, and of a sound mind, such a willingness to receive profit by any instrument, such a spirit of humility, in honor preferring one another, that the wonder will then be, that the exertions of pious females to bring souls to Christ should ever have been opposed or obstructed. May the Lord hasten the time!

"But what is truth? 'Twas Pilate's question, put
To Truth itself, that deigned him no reply.
And wherefore? Will not God impart his light
To them who ask it? Freely; — 'tis his joy,
His glory, and his nature, to impart.
But to the proud, uncandid, insincere,
Or negligent inquirer, not a spark."