When God has his way, he sometimes anoints and calls women to his service, as well as men. As a pioneer of the present movement toward Christian unity in the one body of Christ, and as a vessel who seems to have been specially chosen, we have this time, in biographical sketch, Mary Cole.
She was born Aug., 23, 1853, on a farm adjoining the town of Decatur, Iowa, and was the seventh of a family of twelve children. When Mary was a year old her parents moved to Illinois, remaining two years, then to Pettis County, Mo., near Belmont, afterward called Windsor. Mary was afflicted from infancy. She began having spasms when scarcely two years old and these were a common affliction during her youthful years. Life was sadness and disappointment. Her whole being seemed a mass of suffering. She had not one day without pain. A high temper added mental suffering to the physical. She at times would express to her mother her wish that she had died when a child, and her mother would say, “Mary, God has a bright design in all this. We do not know the reason why you are so afflicted, but we shall know some time.” In addition to being afflicted with spasms she began at six years to have dyspepsia, and later in life spinal and female trouble. In her fifteenth year she was a helpless invalid and would lie in bed for months at a time.
She learned the alphabet at home. Her progress in her studies at school was greatly hindered because of stammering and also her spasms. Her father finally determined to keep her at home. Her education was thus limited.
Her first experience of conviction of sin was in her nineteenth year, on the occasion of a quarrel with one of her younger brothers. She had joined the Methodist Episcopal Church on probation prior to this, though she was unsaved nor did the minister inquire anything about her spiritual welfare. On the occasion referred to the Lord began to answer the prayers of her eldest brother, Jeremiah, who had been praying for her conviction. She herself began to pray and to seek the Lord with all her heart, and finally by faith she received the assurance that she was accepted. The date of her conversion was May 3, 1871. She was too happy to eat supper that evening and so walked about praising the Lord. On discovering afterward the disposition of heart that tended to lead her contrary to godliness, and on receiving from Jeremiah, her brother, who was then a minister, an explanation of the subject of sanctification, she consecrated for that experience and received it. Her testimonies to sanctification provoked more or less opposition both in the denomination to which she belonged and from other sources; but the Lord would manifest himself to her, and she learned to be led of him.
At twenty-two years of age Sister Cole was plainly shown by the Lord that he
desired her to be a life worker for him. To her excuses that she lacked education, had a stammering tongue, etc., the only response was that the Lord would be with her and would be her sufficiency. The period of a few years between her call to the ministry and the time when she should enter upon her duties was a time of preparation, a time of schooling in the Christian life, during which she learned many lessons that fitted her for future service. There were several good books that proved helpful to her such as, Phoebe Palmer’s Faith and Its Effects, Sanctification Practical, and Tell Jesus. She also had the privilege of reading Hester Ann Rodgers, John Wesley, and the works of Mrs. Fletcher. Many of the things she read became her own personal experience.
It was during this time of preparation that she was healed by divine power. It was in the spring of 1880 that Jeremiah, who had been greatly afflicted with chronic dyspepsia, was healed in answer to prayer. As he and Mary were the invalids of the family, they naturally had each other’s sympathy and shared with each other their troubles and sorrows. Through his faith and encouragement she was led to the point where she could claim the promise for herself. She felt the virtue go through her body, and the work was done. This was the beginning of a new epoch, the first time in her recollection that she could say she was well. She could eat and drink without the slightest distress anything that was fit for a sound stomach, something she had never been able to do before.
In May, 1882, the Lord made it clear to Sister Cole that the time had come for her to go into the gospel field. The first place that she and her brother visited was Salisbury, Mo., where a holiness convention was being held. On the Sunday after their arrival the minister in charge said that the Lord had given him no message that morning but doubtless had to some one else. The rostrum was filled with ministers, and workers thronged about. The minister in charge said, “If the person who has the message does not deliver it, he will be responsible.” Sister Cole was on her feet in a moment with a message from heaven, burning words that went right into the hearts of the people. God made her tongue as the pen of a ready writer. The power of God was on her in such measure that she could hardly tell whether she was in heaven or on earth. Old men bowed themselves and wept like children, and sinners came flocking to the altar.
In her early work she met considerable opposition to women’s preaching, but the Lord helped her to drive the opposers out of their false positions, and show them they were misusing the Scriptures. At Sturgeon, Mo., her second place of meeting, women had not been allowed to preach. She was told they were allowed to “sing and pray, and to testify a little.” She said she couldn’t sing, but could pray and testify a little. Some of the ministers cautioned her not to preach; others said, “Go ahead, Sister Cole, God will see you through.” Whenever she would contemplate speaking, God would bless her soul; but when she would decide to keep still, it seemed as if she would be paralyzed. Finally she decided to take the floor and God spoke through her in power. The Methodists did not license women to preach, but when the preachers found that God was using her in the salvation of souls and that she was not especially interested in building up any denomination, she had an abundance of calls. In fact she would sometimes be sent for as an attraction to draw crowds.
Her evangelical work in company with her brother sometimes took them into parts of Missouri where the people were somewhat rough. The rougher element sometimes came very near mobbing them. While they were yet in the Methodist denomination, they preached holiness and divine healing, and this of course excited some opposition. Sometimes they traveled by wagon over rocky roads and would run short of provisions.
After two or three years of evangelistic work Brother and Sister Cole received sufficient light on the evils of denominationalism and also on the unity of the true church to enable them boldly to proclaim their independence of sectarian bodies. Heaven approved of this step, and their souls were wonderfully anointed for the work in fuller liberty than they had known before. They attended the general meetings of the saints and got fully in touch with the body of God’s redeemed people, the remnant that returned to Zion.
Sister Cole continued to labor for a while with Jeremiah, but the greater part of her work in later years was with George, a younger brother. Sister Lodema Kaser was their companion much of the time. Their evangelical work extended over many States, even to California. If we had the names of all those who were led into the light through Sister Cole and her coworkers the list would be a long one. They were instrumental in establishing the work in Chicago. It was under their charge that the Missionary Home and chapel were built on 74th Street.
The experience of Sister Cole in field-work, both before and after her severance from denominational influence, has been very eventful. There were many dangers and some narrow escapes, in which she realized the Lord’s deliverance. Her messages and exhortations are stirring and impressive. They exemplify the power of the Spirit. To hear her is to remember her. She is now in her sixty-seventh year. Her physical strength is no longer equal to the strain of field-work, and she lives in the Old People’s Home at Anderson, Ind. She has written a book entitled, Trials and Triumphs of Faith, in which she narrates the few incidents mentioned in this sketch and very many more. “God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; . . . . and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are; that no flesh should glory in his presence.” Sister Cole is one of God’s little ones whom he has used to accomplish his mighty purpose. Her life has not been in vain, but has been fruitful, simply because it was given to God. She has gone forth with weeping, bearing precious seed, and in that joyful harvest home she will doubtless come with rejoicing bringing her sheaves.
Byers, A. L. (February 1920). Sketch No. 3–Mary Cole. Gospel Trumpet, 19, 22-3.
Sketch No. 3—Mary Cole