In Memoriam: Mrs. Phoebe Palmer

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The departure of this precious woman will create deep sorrow at home and abroad. It is not only a family that is bereaved, but a city, a Church, and two hemispheres. Among all the “elect ladies” whom Christianity has produced, none have excelled Phoebe Palmer. Her work has been of the holiest character, her zeal quenchless, her usefulness extensive and incalculable. Where is the minister whose life has been so saintly and productive? Who of either sex has ever achieved greater victories on behalf of holiness, in defiance of opposition and untoward circumstances? In whom has holiness of life and utterance more effectually neutralized adverse influences, and completely countervailed antagonism? What two persons of the laity since the days of the apostles, have made themselves so widely and so savingly felt as Dr. and Mrs. Palmer? But upon Sister Palmer’s brow, the Doctor will allow us to say, the Lord placed a special and pre-eminent crown. She had marked individuality, and in some sense, a superior commission. Her license came from no subordinate source. She was accredited from on high. Her authority and credentials were conferred by the Holy Ghost. She was set apart and gifted to be a gentle leader. With a mind vigorous and discriminating, her conceptions were quick, just and simple. Accordingly, her plans and life-work were plain and practical. Her counsels and administration, touching the advancement of holiness, were conservative, and yet definite, uncompromising, and positive. In her public ministrations she was always doctrino-practical. Her talents were eminently available for present use and unexpected emergencies. She was vested with a remarkable power to produce immediate results. Nor were these fruits evanescent. They were life-long and permanent. Nay, more, they are commensurate with eternity. This no doubt she has now verified by meeting in heaven a retinue of redeemed souls who were the trophies of her success on earth. Her ability to give perpetuity to institutions and excellence, is evidinced by two facts. First, the permanence of the “Tuesday Meeting.” The size and long continuance of this service, in view of the restrictive sanctity of its character and object, have been to us a perpetual wonder. For about thirty consecutive years, we think, this meeting, for the avowed object of promoting holiness, have been maintainedCmaintained in a private house, on a week day, at the dull hour of two o’clock in the afternoon. It was sustained largely, in the absence of ministerial favor and official countenanceCmaintained not only in defiance of neglect, gibes, and ridicule, but despite no inconsiderable opposition, both verbal and written. Nor has it been a small gathering. It has usually filled an area equal to a small church. Here this holy woman, by something like magnetic power, has held a congregation for more than a quarter of a century. It has acquired a sacred notoriety among the devout in this country, and in Canada and Great Britain as well. Its rising incense has perfumed a wide circle. It has become a centre of acknowledged sanctity and hallowing influences. It has become honored of God as the sacred fane and fout where hundreds have gone and received the promised sprinkling, which cleanses from all idols and filthiness.


During all these years, the fidelity of Sister Palmer to Methodism and orthodoxy has been noteworthy and commendable. Such were her theologic accuracies, and the sovereignty of her presiding spirit, that no heresies were taught, and no fanaticism practiced in her meetings. Allowing for the differences in the types of mental conceptions, which are always inseparable from strongly marked individuality, Mrs. Palmer, we think, was strictly Wesleyan in her views and inculcations. In order to lift sincere persons over the bar of constitutional, habitual, or creed- bound unbelief, she would seem to lead them out, sometimes, to the very crest of presumption; but in such cases, she always left the bridge of orthodoxy in good repair behind her; and these ventures savored more of wisdom than laxity of faith. They were seen by her keen insight to be necessary to success. The human mind is like the archer=s bow: it needs to be sprung back out of line, sometimes, to make it execute its duty in the opposite direction. We have often known the Rev. John S. Inskip to make use of the same coup de grace to bring on the immediate exercise of appropriating faith. To this, no doubt, his success is largely attributable. Indeed, every great revivalist has found it necessary to provoke action by cutting dull formalities, fossilized faith and perfunctory services at right angles. Such exploits, considered hypercritically, may easily be magnified into heresy and delusion; and yet, according to the verdict of history, they are indispensable to success.


The substantive qualification of Mrs. Palmer, which produced so great and lasting results, was unquestionably, heart purity; but subsidiary to this, was her versatility in the adoption and skillful use of new, and untried expedients. She could sometimes by simple questions and answers, stimulate a sincere man’s faith up to the point of apprehending Christ as a present and full Saviour, in five minutes. Great and divine was her gift to open the avenues of the soul for Jesus to enter and take full possession.


The second fact which enabled Mrs. Palmer to give gradual acceleration and permanence to her peculiar work, was her administrative ability. She was naturally a presiding spirit. Though diffident she could have graced a throne, or filled the office of a bishop, or organized and governed a new sect. She was cool, unimpassioned, discreet and frugal of her words. She could manage a large meeting with perfect ease, and wonderful effect. In the midst of excitement, while many of her sex were wild with transport, her complete self-possession and poise were wonderful. When the tendency was to extravagance and violent demonstration, she could check the tornado, and do it almost insensibly to the congregation. If censoriousness should begin to reveal itself, she could administer a gentle reproof and yet not seem to do it. If the meeting was taking an unprofitable turn, she could interject a word, or spring a change of exercise, which was sure to start a refluent tide.


In proof of her great executive ability and firmness, it is only necessary to state that for forty years she has stood before the Church and the world as the unflinching exponent of entire sanctification. She has conducted meetings extensively in this country, and also in Great Britain, under both ordinary and extraordinary conditions. She has been praised and blamed, condemned and landed, and yet in the midst of all these vicissitudes she has adhered to her primary purpose to advance the experience of holiness in the Church.


With singular equanimity of temper, and steadiness of gentle effort, she has moved straight forward, and accomplished an amount of good, which any minister might be proud to claim as the product of his life work. And yet how noiselessly have these great achievements of her life gone forward. Like a crystal streamlet from a living spring in the meadows, which has curved this way and that, and rippled and flowed on among the grasses and flowers and fruit trees and overhanging willows during the run of two score years. When it has struck against pebble and rock, its effect has been to smooth their surface and kiss away their asperities. Unseen, unsung and unhonored, it has given life and thrift to vegetation, and poured health and plenty through the land. Like unto this have been the sweetly insinuating influences of the life and labors of our sainted sister among the churches of Jesus. She has brought refreshing to a thousand desert hearts and homes and churches. Whoever promotes holiness in all this country, must build upon the deep-laid foundations of this holy woman.


Lowery, D.D., Rev. A. (1874). In Memoriam: Mrs. Phoebe Palmer, Advocate of Christian Holiness, 136-137.


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