A Church in Need of Power, by Phoebe Palmer

“Even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given unto 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 also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” – Peter A minister of a large church which was greatly in want of divine power and sympathy with the Saviour, if we may judge of the few, who, through the instrumentality of those composing her membership, had been born into the kingdom of Christ, had been diligent in oral conversation with his female members, and from the pulpit, in enforcing the text, “Let your women keep silence in the churches.” Perhaps the occasion leading to this special enforcement might have been that a few of his most devoted and zealous female members were feeling a deep heart burning and spirit-moving intensity for the prosperity of Zion in that place. So mightily were the workings of the indwelling power within, that, out of the abundance of the heart, their lips seemed moved to well nigh irrepressible utterances; and, doubtless, had these spirit-stirring utterances fallen on the ear of the cool, calculating business brethren of that church community, it might have wakened a feeling of uneasiness. Doubtless it had been a call to holy haste, and might have aroused from deceptive peace and quiet many of that church membership, who were at ease in Zion, if they might only have listened to the recital of the ardent longings of these earnest female disciples, whose hearts, in sympathy with an ancient prophet, were saying, “For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth.”

But permission to give utterance to these mighty workings of the Spirit within was not granted. One of these beloved disciples, feeling, we presume, as Mary did, after the cloven tongue of fire sat on her head, felt that she could not restrain the utterances of the Spirit. She consequently consulted with the minister, and asked the privilege of opening her lips for Jesus.

He, of course, received her affecting request with a dubious look, and told her that it was not with him to say whether she might enjoy that privilege, but that he would lay her request before the session.

Now, pause for a moment, and think, dear reader, of the process through which this disciple was required to pass before she could be permitted to obey the constrainings of the Holy Spirit, and ask yourself whether an error most grievous in the sight of God has not obtained in the Christian church. Let us conceive that after the women assembled with the other disciples, on the day of Pentecost, had received the baptism of the Holy Ghost alike with their brethren, they had been compelled to restrain those utterances until they had obtained permission from Matthew, Andrew, Peter, or other of the disciples. Can we conceive of such an inconsistency?

And yet after what fashion would we desire the orderings of our church assemblies modeled, if not as nearly as may be after the fashion of this first great meeting in apostolic days?

But how was it now with this newly-baptized disciple of modern days, whose request to be permitted to speak had now gone from the minister to be laid before the official brethren of that church? And what was the decision of this company of unordained men, who took upon themselves the authority to decide whether this female disciple should obey the constrainings of the Holy Spirit? It was peremptorily decided that she should not be permitted to speak. But we do not doubt that she felt the impellings of the Spirit so that she dared not refrain. Cannot we who live in the latter part of the last days, conceive of a Mary so filled with the Pentecostal flame as to speak under a divine influence, as the Spirit gives utterance? Yes, she spake in the midst of that assembly as the Spirit gave power. And that she should dare to speak when the authorities of the church of which she was a member had commanded her to keep silent, was as offensive to the rulers of that church as when those early disciples spoke in the temple after they had been commanded not to speak. And we should actually be ashamed to speak of the public and private persecution which followed, and which resulted in her removal to another place and another church community, where she was gratefully received, and her labors appreciated and blessed.

The church to which she removed her membership was shortly after favored with a signal outpouring of the Spirit.

And now that this persecuted Christian sister was gone, whose only fault seemed to be that she would not restrain the Holy Spirit’s urgings to speak, there were still others of the most devoted female disciples who felt the urgings of the Spirit in the same direction.

Week after week did these, acknowledged by their church relation to be sisters in Christ, assemble in the prayer and conference meeting; but though members of one household, no female member of the family was permitted to open her mouth in vocal prayer, or to speak of the interests of the household of faith, or even to tell of the dealings of her heavenly Father to her soul. We need not say that the meetings were generally cold and uninteresting. And how could it be otherwise? We can conceive how undesirable it might be if children of one earthly parent should assemble at their father’s house to subserve the interest of the family, and the female part of the household – the beloved mother, sister, or daughter – was required to be silent. How greatly would this prohibition detract from the interest and profit of this social gathering.

Think of a father who would call together his sons and daughters, to meet at the family mansion, for mutual profit and pleasure, and after thus assembling them, enjoin silence on his wife and daughters! Should such a thing occur, we can scarcely conceive which portion of the family would feel most afflicted. Surely those attached brothers could not feel happy while their engaging mother and beloved sisters were doomed to sit in silence; neither could those beloved, affectionate, female, members of the household enjoy themselves under such circumstances; and the design of the gathering would be well nigh, if not wholly, frustrated.

But the children of this world do not act thus unwisely. They are indeed “wiser in their generation than the children of light.” Think of a worldly social company, where woman, with her refined sensibilities and social qualities, was not permitted to enliven and grace the circle.

Worldlings are quite too wise in their own devisings to admit a suggestion of this sort. Woman may not only grace the social circle, in converse and song, but she may step out wholly beyond these precincts. A Jenny Lind, a Fanny Kemble, and a host of others, may appear on the stage, before thousands on thousands, in both hemispheres. Their names may be emblazoned in public prints, to the gaze and admiration of tens of thousands. But who reproves? Thousands do them homage, and even crowned heads bow at their shrine.

But lo! a modest Christian female comes forth. She is intellectual, and of refined sensibilities. All her antecedents and present surroundings are, and have been, beautifully chaste and becoming. With the beloved Mary she has been accustomed to sit at the Master’s feet. While her more hardy brethren may have been following the Saviour afar off, or, perchance, engaged in strifes which should be the greatest, she has kept closely following the Saviour through evil and good report, and with holy carefulness has she learned to treasure up precious lessons from the lips of Jesus. So much has she been in communion with the Saviour of sinners that she has learned to sympathize with the Man of Sorrows, and ceaseless are the yearnings of her melting heart over the perishing around her. In common with her sex, the God of grace has endowed her not only with the persuasive lip and melting heart of love, but, added to this, she has, in obedience to the command of her Saviour, tarried at Jerusalem for the full baptism of the Holy Ghost; and now that God has given it to her, she feels that she knows not how to restrain the utterances of the Spirit.

Like as the beloved Marys, and the other women on the day of Pentecost, she would fain speak as the Spirit gives utterance. But who hinders her? Not the rich, gay worldling, who welcomes with thundering applause his idol of the stage or his priestess of the temple of song.

No! his better nature probably might approve, and the same persuasive tones, tact, or talent which has captivated him, if turned into a sanctified channel, might long since have been instrumental in beguiling his feet from the path of folly into the way of life. O, it is not the worldling that would seal the persuasive lip of the intelligent, pious female when she would fain lift up her voice in the religious assembly, and pour out those winning strains of eloquence to which the Holy Spirit is now urging her. And who is it that would thus withstand God in withstanding the utterances of the Holy Spirit from the lips of that lovely female disciple? Who?

“And now the minister of the church where the testimony of Jesus, from the lips of woman, had been so persistently repulsed, in order to quench utterly the Spirit’s flame burning in the hearts of these devoted female disciples, took the oft-repeated text, “Let your women keep silence in the churches,” and, without giving the explanatory connections of the text by which it is relieved of all difficulty, he condemned, en masse, all attempts or ideas of women speaking in assemblies as unscriptural and absurd.

And this was the state of things when the Christian lady, to whom we have referred in the preceding chapter, was called to minister in this place. The occurrences which we have narrated, in regard to females speaking in assemblies, were unknown to her; and the minister who, by his sermon, had withstood the testimony of Jesus from the lips of woman, was sitting in the altar. It was well for the blessed cause that she knew nothing of the manner in which the ever-blessed Spirit had been grieved and restrained in that place. She only knew that it was long since that place had been blessed with an outpouring of the Spirit, and, in answer to most prayerful, earnest importunities of the friends of Jesus, she was now there to help forward the interests of Zion. She spoke in the demonstration of the Spirit, and God owned his own truth, in a remarkable manner, in the awakening and conversion of multitudes, and also in the sanctification of believers. In less than a week scores of men and women were seen coming forward as seekers of salvation, desiring the prayers of the pious, and for a time it seemed as if the whole place was literally turning to the Lord. And not a few of the precious souls gathered to Christ, amid this sudden outpouring of the Spirit, did that minister receive within his fold, who had taken so much pains to withstand the utterances of the Spirit through woman.

Now, we would not have it inferred that we imagine all women called to just such a service as the Christian lady to whom we have referred; but we do not doubt but there are thousands whose lips would be open in the social assembly to profit, if the seal of silence were not imposed. And we also believe that some others have been, and are now being, called, perhaps in a way somewhat similar to the lady whose case we have related. We know of some whose labors have been peculiarly blessed. We remember a lovely, talented lady, who, in the days of our girlhood, proclaimed a crucified, risen Saviour to listening, weeping multitudes.

Hundreds of charmed hearers crowded to hear the message of salvation from her precious, Heaven-touched lips, and many were won to Christ through her instrumentality. If she had been a child of this world, as a Fanny Kemble and other persons of this description, accustomed to minister to the tastes, intellectual pleasures, and amusements of worldlings, how her praise would have been blazoned abroad on the annals of earthly fame!

But how singular the idea that has obtained, that when the talents of a lovely female are turned into a sanctified channel, and, instead of ministering by her attractive eloquence to the intellectual pleasures and amusement of the children of this world, she seeks only to allure her audience away from the fleeting things of time and the pleasures of sense, to the Saviour of sinners and joys beyond the grave, she should be looked upon coldly by some professed followers of the Saviour, as though her call were questionable! We have sometimes thought whether that shining light, the lovely, talented, but sensitive Miss Miller, might not still have been a burning luminary here to attract thousands to Jesus by her gentle, persuasive eloquence, if she had only been as affectionately cherished as she might have been, if the gift of prophecy in woman, as a specialty of the Spirit’s dispensation, had only been properly recognized.

A minister, who was well acquainted with this talented female, incidentally calling in while we were preparing these pages, bears testimony to the zeal, fidelity, and efficiency with which Miss Miller labored in New England, where crowds attended her ministry. He assures us that persons who had not been to religious meetings for years, came to hear her speak, and such was the power that attended her words, that many were awakened and converted, and became useful members of the household of faith.

We might mention several other daughters of the Lord almighty, who have received and used this gift of prophecy to profit; some who have passed away, and some who still remain: such was a Miss B____, who labored to the profit of many in the days of the holy Bramwell. To those not acquainted with the biography of this eminent man we will say that he was known to thousands of his day as an eminent revivalist, and through whose instrumentality hundreds were brought to Christ. And it seems an admitted fact, by the thousands that were blessed through his ministrations during his lifetime, that the secret of power with him was, that he had received the full baptism of the Holy Ghost early in his ministry, and each successive year so increased in the power of the Spirit, that by general consent he seemed to have attained the appellation, “the holy Bramwell.”

Having received this gift himself, he was ready to discern its mighty workings in others, whether its recipients were male or female; and where the full baptism of the Holy Ghost has become a matter of experience, this gift of prophecy in women is generally, with thankfulness to the divine Giver, appreciatively recognized. And it was thus that this holy man, like the apostle Paul, gratefully and openly acknowledged his appreciation of female laborers. His biographer says, “If souls were saved, it occupied little of his concern to know who were the instruments employed by the Almighty. Mr. Bramwell thought that in the accomplishment of the great work of human redemption, the Almighty had a sovereign right to make his own election of instruments.” His biographer further says, “To question the validity of any one’s call, whose labors were clearly sanctioned by the broad-seal of Heaven, appeared in his eyes a most unwarrantable act of presumption.”

He regarded Joel’s prophecy as containing an obvious reference to the gospel dispensation. In this view it was quoted by the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost. But it is well known that female preachers are not peculiar to Methodism. They have been recognized as accredited teachers by the Quakers from the beginning. “It is probable that on this subject Mr. Bramwell’s sentiments were much in unison with those of the respectable society of Friends.”

In writing to a female laborer, he says, “From a full persuasion of your call in an extraordinary way, and believing that the design of God concerning you is to spread the flame of heavenly love in our connection, I write with all freedom,” &c. On another occasion he says, “I was much affected when I came home, and found you were gone, especially as we were both promised for Dunnington circuit and Leicester, and thousands were waiting for you at Mount Sorrell. There is such an opening for you in that country as I never saw before. I bless God you ever came among us. Were it the order of God, I should not have the least objection to stand by you at every place till we take our seats in glory.” Again he writes, “The Lord bring you to us soon, that you may cast your net into this deep sea of iniquity, and bring to land a few souls for glory.” On another occasion he says, “I should hold a love feast at Mansfield next Monday. Is it possible that you could go in my place? I beg that you will return me an answer by the bearer. It is twelve miles from Chesterfield. I shall not rest unless I have a proper supply.”

Phoebe Palmer (1807-1874) was an evangelist, writer, and is considered to be one of the founders of the Holiness movement in the United States. Her works have been treasured for generations.

This post comes from chapter 13 of Palmer’s book The Promise of the Father, which is available at the following retailers:
Amazon  —  B&N  —  iBooks  —  Kobo

For more from Phoebe Palmer, visit her author page.

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