Acts America

New Covenant Youth Ministry

Pheobe Palmer

pheobe palmer

The earnest, young Christian wife and mother dreamed that she stood before the Judgment seat of God. She was asked upon what she had based her hope of eternal life. Confused, she tried to answer by comparing her life with that of other Christians around her, but somehow the words died upon her lips as she perceived the foolishness of her argument.

“The Word of God is the standard by which everyone here is to be judged. You were given that Word. Have you not one verse of Scripture upon which to base your hope?” asked the Judge.

In fear and confusion, she awoke terrified, but grateful that she still had the opportunity to make the Word of God her infallible Guide in all matters of experience and conduct. The resolution “to test every step as she passed onward, by a careful searching of the Bible, in order to prove the validity of each step successively taken,” led Mrs. Phoebe Palmer into a life of holiness and usefulness beyond anything she could have imagined in her former state. The fourth of a family of ten children, Phoebe was welcomed into the home of Henry and Dorothea Worrall in New York City, in December, 1807. God was given first place in the home, the family always being summoned for prayer before engaging in the activities of the day. Punctuality in the performance of duty was stressed, and Christian discipline enforced. Most of their children were converted early in life, and several became noteworthy for their godliness and usefulness in God's kingdom.

While young, Phoebe was born again after a severe conflict with the great enemy of souls, because her repentance was not as agonizing as that of some others in the church. “You should give up the matter of finding heart religion,” was the evil suggestion.

“That I will never do. No, never! I will continue to seek as long as I live, though it may be till I am threescore or a hundred years old.” Her earnestness was rewarded by the assurance that she was a child of God.

Dr. Walter Palmer wished to marry her when she was only nineteen. Mr. Worrall, realizing that the doctor was a Christian gentleman and in every way worthy of Phoebe, gave his consent to the union. Her attitude concerning the matter was recorded in her journal in August, 1827:

“The most eventful period of my life is approaching. During the past eleven months, friendship has been ripening into a mature affection between myself and a kindred spirit, who, I have reason to believe, is in every respect worthy of my love. I have not approached this crisis without careful circumspection and prayer. I have never felt that it was a step too momentous to be hastily taken, fixing, as it does, life's destiny.

“It has therefore been a subject of prayerful solicitude with me, that the avenue to my heart's sanctuary might be guarded. I have dared to present a definite request which I trust has long stood answered, that the Lord would not permit my feelings to flow out in a way bordering marriage toward anyone other than as ordered by Divine Providence...

“And now, after having been wary in the bestowal of my affections, I find them permanently and strongly fixed on one who I believe is, in the order of infinite Love, designed to be a helpmeet. In religious, moral, and intellectual endowments, he stands approved. The best of all is that he is a servant of the Lord.”

Phoebe and her husband established a home founded upon obedience to the commands of Christ. They descended to the depths of sorrow when their two oldest children were taken from them by death. One was nine months of age and the other at seven months. Mrs. Palmer wrote of these afflictions as giving “two angel children in Heaven and leaving us childless on earth....After my loved ones were snatched away, I saw that I had concentrated my time and attentions far too exclusively on them, to the neglect of the religious activities demanded....From henceforth, Jesus must and shall have the uppermost seat in my heart.”

At this time, the Allem Street Methodist Church in New York, of which the Palmers were members, was the scene of a revival, the flame of which burned for a period of two years. Mrs. Palmer and her husband, both keenly desirous of something more in their religious experience, knelt it the penitent form. From a journal entry in November, 1827, we catch a glimpse of her soul's struggles about this time:

“O what a lack in my religious experience! I am so fearful and unbelieving. I shrink from crosses and often bring condemnation upon my soul. I approve of things that are excellent but am wanting in faith, fervor, and courage. If the flames that consumed the martyrs were before me and the command given that I should pass through them, it seems to me that I would at once leap through the fire, and yet, strange to say, my timid nature too often shrinks when duty is presented.”

Shorty after their fourth child came into the home, Mrs. Palmer's life was almost despaired of. Upon her return to health, she attended a camp-meeting where she received clear light upon the doctrine of holiness. The result was that her soul hungered and thirsted for the deeper work of grace so necessary to the success of the Christian life. “The Lord has given me a desire for purity,” she writes. “I am sure I would not knowingly keep back anything from God. But, alas, there must be some hindrance.”

Soon after returning home, the Palmers experienced what was probably the most heart-rending and poignant experience of their lives. Mrs. Palmer was caring for her eleven-month-old daughter when she was called from the room to receive a visitor. Laying the child down in her cradle, with its gauze curtains, she exclaimed, “O you little angel,” and left her in the care of the nurse.

About an hour later, hearing a scream, she ran to the baby's room, aghast at what met her eyes. The curtains around the bed were aflame. She snatched the child from the inferno. Just as the little one gave her a look of agony, she passed into a state of unconsciousness. Within a few hours, it was all over. The carelessness of the nurse in filling a kerosene lamp was responsible for the infant's death.

God enabled Phoebe to cherish no feelings of resentment, but rather to accept the grief from the hands of a loving God Who never errs in His dealings with the children of men. Those words of Jesus to Peter, “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter,” fell upon her heart with sweetest comfort.

The bereavement elicited the following words from Mrs. Palmer to its effect upon her spiritual life:

“Then began a weaning from the world wholly beyond any former experiences. Previous to this, I had some ambitions connected with this world. My husband was honored in his profession, and the tide or worldly preferment and prosperity ran high. Some of my contemporaries, though religious, were ceasing to stem the tide of worldliness. I might perhaps have done the same. But, in infinite love and wisdom, this trial was permitted. And ever since, I have been weaning from the world and have loved to walk in the lowly vale with my meek and lowly Savior.”

Perhaps the light of eternity may reveal that the death of our lovely child had been subservient to the spiritual life of thousands. From the hour of her death, I resolved that the time I might have devoted to her, if living, should be spent in doing something which might be helpful toward the salvation of souls. In connection with the saving of souls, it was the beginning of days with me. And now shall I not to all eternity praise Him Whose judgments are unsearchable and 'His ways past finding out'?”

In accordance with her decision to labor more ardently in Christian service, Mrs. Palmer accepted a Bible class for young women in the Allen Street Church. At its beginning, it numbered around fifty or sixty, but again and again so increased in number that larger rooms for the gathering had to be secured. She continued this activity over a period of years when her precarious state of health necessitated a trip abroad.

The need of complete consecration to God was made clear. “The first object presented to be given up,” she writes, “was one with which every fiber of my being seemed interwoven.” Phoebe wondered what she would have to live for if she yielded u the dearest object of her heart's affection. Then she remembered Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac, and she was enabled from her very heart to say, “Take this object, if Thou dost require. Take life or friends away. I am wholly Thine. Every tie has been severed.”

The next obstacle to be surmounted was that of faith. Writing of this victory she said:

“I had thought of the doctrine as difficult. Now I saw that it is only to believe heartily what, in fact, I had always professed to believe – that is, that the Bible is the Word of God, just as truly as though I could hear Him speaking in tones of thunder from Sinai's Mount, and faith is to believe it....

“It was at this point that the covenant was consummated between God and my soul that I would live a life of faith – that however diversified life's current might roll, though I might be called to endure more complicated and long-continued trials of my faith than were ever before conceived of, or even brought to a climax where, as with the father of the faithful, commands and promises might seem to conflict – I would still believe, thought I might die in the effort. I would hold on in the death struggle. In the strength of Omnipotence, I laid hold on the word, 'I will receive you'.”

“Faith apprehended the written word, not as a dead letter, but as the living voice of the living God. The Holy Scriptures were intensified to my mind as the lively or living oracles – the voice of God to me as truly as though I could every moment hear Him speaking in tones of thunder from Sinai. And now that, through the inworkings of the Holy Spirit, I had presented all my redeemed powers to God, through Christ, how could I doubt His immutable word, 'I will receive you'? Oh, with what light, clearness, and power were the words invested, 'Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth'?”

Her faith was immediately tested, for no wonderful divine manifestation followed. Then “shut up to faith – naked faith in a naked promise,” she advanced to the next step, that of confession. Her testimony to the fact was, “The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth unrivaled in my heart.”

It was the night of July 27, 1837, that Mrs. Palmer determined that she would shut herself in with God until the witness of the Spirit was hers that she was accepted of God. The tempter whispered that she might be there all night, and all the next day, and even more. But the heart of the searcher was set to seek God with all her soul, mind, and strength. She was not disappointed as the entry in her journal for that date reveals:

“The Lord reigns unrivaled in my heart. He has my supreme affections. For some days past I have experienced such a heartfelt want of the assurance of being cleansed form all unrighteousness, to know that the motives influenced every thought, word, and action originated from a pure fountain, that I last evening resolved I could no longer do without.

“Between the hours of eight and nine, while pleading at the throne of grace for a present fulfillment of the exceeding great and precious promises – pleading also the fullness and freeness of the atonement, its unbounded efficacy, and making an entire surrender of body, soul, spirit, time, talents, and influence, and also of the dearest ties of nature – my beloved husband and child, in a world, my earthly all – I received the assurance that God the Father, through the atoning Lamb, accepted the sacrifice. My heart was emptied of self, and cleansed of all idols, from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and I realized that I dwelt in God, and felt that He had become the portion of my soul, my ALL in ALL.”

The life received must be maintained and, amid many duties, Mrs. Palmer learned to do this by observing regular seasons for communion with God. She writes:

“I will endeavor to rise at four; spend from four to six reading Scriptures and other devotional exercises; half an hour for closet duties at mid-day. I will resolve, at this season, to bear in special remembrance those who have said, “Pray for me,” not forgetting the exhortation in 1 Timothy 2:1. If practicable, I will get an hour to spend with God at the close of the day.

“I now saw that I had obtained this blessing, by laying all upon the altar. I had retained it, by still keeping all upon the altar, 'a living sacrifice.' So long as it remained there, I perceived that His faithfulness, for the blood of Jesus cleanseth, not that it can or will at some future period, but cleanseth now, just when the offering is presented.

“By this I saw that I could no more believe for the future moment, than I could breathe for the future, and perceived that I must be contented to live by the moment, and rely upon God to sustain me in spiritual existence just as confidently as for sustainment in natural existence. So long as the offering was kept upon the altar, I saw it to be not only a privilege, but a duty, to believe.

“I also saw that just so soon as I should begin to lean to my own understanding, feeling that I cannot do this or the other duty, just in the degree in which this is indulged in, the offering would be taken from off the altar, and I should have no right to believe the offering 'holy and acceptable.'”

For more than thirty-five years after her reception of this experience, she and her husband labored incessantly to spread “Scriptural holiness.” Mrs. Palmer's books on holiness have shed light upon the pathway of many a Christian pilgrim journeying to the Celestial City. Among these are: The Way of Holiness, The Promise of the Father, and Faith and Its Effects. The last named ran though twenty-two editions in the United States alone, and all of her writings were eagerly perused by hundreds, both in America and Britain.

She, together with her sister, Mrs. Sarah Langford, published a religious paper entitled, The Guide to Holiness. For more than half a century, it sent out light on the deeper life of God in the soul of man. Someone remarked of these sisters that “they were raised up of God as leaders of His people, when the doctrine and experience of sanctification had been toned down, till there was little left of them.”

But Mrs. Palmer was no dreamy mystic, and faithfulness to small duties in the home as wife and mother was never shirked because she had yielded all to God. As a result, her household was well-ordered and her home was to serve the interests of God's kingdom. The large drawing-room was thrown open for meetings for the promotion of a deeper apprehension of Christ's atoning provisions. Here, many ministers and servants of Christ from varying denomination backgrounds, came with hungry hearts to seek and to find a greater endowment for service.

Her labors also extended to the eastern States, Canada, and Nova Scotia. In 1859, Dr. and Mrs. Palmer had to extend their visit to the British Isles owing to the ill health of the doctor, where they were able to conduct services in many of the larger cities. While ministering in Newcastle, they became acquainted with the Booths, who were just then stepping out by faith from the Methodist Connection so that they might be free for wider evangelistic efforts. Mrs. Palmer, writing to Mrs. Booth regarding this step, said:

Yours of several weeks since, announcing your decision to leave the New Connection, was received. I do not doubt but the step that you and your husband have taken will result in your both having a much brighter crown to cast at the feet of the world's Redeemer. There is a danger of permitting earthly position and the fear of grieving friends whom we love, and who we know love us, to keep us from following on in the narrowest part of the narrow way. Oh, may you ever be numbered with those who follow the Savior closely! I need not say that if you do this, your path will sometimes go through evil as well as good. But it is enough for the disciple that he be as his Master.

“We rejoice in what the Lord is doing by you. Glory be to the Triune Deity! My faith grasps great blessings for you. I do not doubt but the Captain of the Armies of Israel will go out before you and permit you to see multitudes saved.

“My dear Dr. Palmer was taken so ill with a severe cold which threatened to settle permanently on his lungs. We have written to you now to ask whether your devoted husband and yourself will be able to come and take our place. I have thought sometimes that we might in some way be permitted to work into each others hands, and thus increase the revenue of praise to our Lord and make our union in Heaven the sweeter. I have been deeply interested to hear how you have borne the consecrated Cross, as a co-laborer with your excellent husband.”

Mrs. Palmer faced considerable opposition while in Britain. The subject of “female ministry” was brought to the fore by a pamphlet issued by Rev. A. Rees, a church clergyman, in which the right of a woman to preach was violently attacked on Scriptural grounds. Mrs. Booth labored from 7:00a.m. to 11:00p.m. for a week in preparing an answer in which she most ably defended woman's right to minister, opening the door for the many who were to dispense the Word of Life so effectually through the Salvation Army.

Commissioner Booth-Tucker in his biography of Mrs. Booth throws light upon the contest and also gives us an insight into Mrs. Palmer's ministry:

“The occasion for this onslaught was the visit of the American evangelists, Dr. and Mrs. Palmer, who were holding services at the time in Newcastle. The Doctor himself was an earnest, good-natured, easy-going personage, but the principle figured in the meeting was his wife. Mrs. Palmer was a remarkable woman – intellectual, original, and devoted. As a speaker, her chief attraction lay in her simplicity, and in the striking illustrations with which her addresses were interspersed. Aiming directly at the hearts of her hearers, and relying evidently upon the cooperation of the Holy Spirit, she became a rallying point for all that was best and most earnest in the churches. Mrs. Booth had been unable to attend the meetings, but reports of them had from time to time reached her, and the fact that a woman was the prominent agent in this movement had deeply interested her. Hence, she had no sooner heard of the pamphlet published by Mr. Rees than her soul was stirred to its deepest center.”

On June 13, 1872, two years before she died, Mrs. Palmer wrote:
“Oh, yes, this body is the temple of the Holy Ghost. Whence this absence of all desire to live for self? Whence these ceaseless in-workings, to live, think, speak, and work for God? Whence this absorbing, controlling love for God and His cause? Conscious, deeply conscious that I have received the sentence of death in myself. Whence this realization of reliance, momentary reliance on Him that raiseth the dead? Is it not because the Holy Spirit as a living actuating principle, had taken full possession of, and is now working in me to will and to do of His good pleasure?”

Another entry in September of the same year reads:

“My wedding day. This evening, forty-five years ago, I was united in holy wedlock to my beloved W.C.P. Six dear children have been given us. Three are waiting to welcome us on the shores of immortality, and three are with us amid the scenes of probation. May all make their calling and election sure, and at last appear an unbroken family in Heaven. Husband and I feel that we have been wedded forever. We are most blessedly one in the Lord. What a life of love and labor for Jesus have we had!”

Among Mrs. Palmer's last written testimonies, before the setting of her earthly sun, were the words:

“I want to say that my teachings have been correct, and I am now testing them in this hour of extreme suffering and find that I am fully saved, with not a shadow of doubt. The altar is a beautiful type; it is a Scriptural figure, and I am resting upon it. And the altar, which is Christ, sanctifies the gift. The blood of Jesus cleanseth me from all unrighteousness.

Thy soul, thy body, and thy every power,

Were purchased unto Him, and Him alone;

And not one day, no, not one passing hour,

Canst thou by virtual right use as thine own.

The Lord's free servant, thy Redeemer's claim,

Seal'd with His blood's deep traceless signature.

Then go forth in His might – work in His Name –

Prove faithful until death; thy crown is sure.