If you can’t feel the Holy Spirit, does that mean you don’t have the Holy Spirit?
After Fundamlibralus devoured Beth Moore in my original Fantastic Quadrilateral series, I was ready to replace her with a true Methodist heroine, Phoebe Palmer (1807-1874). The Methodist movement was really captured by John Wesley’s emphasis on the conversion of the heart, the “heart strangely warmed” by assurance in salvation. Phoebe Palmer was an exceptional child with a strong faith. But she was all emo about it because everyone but her seemed to have that fire in their heart. She believed, so couldn’t she feel it? She was concerned that she didn’t have some dramatic conversion of the heart story…did that mean her faith wasn’t real? It’s a predicament that happens in evangelical Christianity today as much as then.
By the age of 29, Phoebe had lost three of her four children to the grave, not entirely uncommon then, but no less upsetting. Through the loss, she believed God was calling her to deepen her trust. She thought of the innocence of her lost children and wrote of her desire to live a holy life: “I long to be made a monument of what the grace of God can effect on a once rebellious child of Adam. O! this, I am sure, is a holy ambition, and authorized by Scripture.” (Phoebe Palmer: Selected Writings, ed. Thomas Oden, 112). Phoebe began to understand that faith in God and a desire for holy living were the evidence of salvation. She had been so busy comparing her religious experience to others that she had failed to accept the validity of her own. So she wrote about it.
Where John Wesley had described Christian Perfection as a lifelong journey towards deeper holiness, Phoebe Palmer described a “shorter way.” She taught Matthew 23:19 (“the altar sanctifies the gift”) to emphasize that anyone who committed themselves completely to God was completely sanctified (made holy). We’re talking Abraham-sacrifice-your-son-level commitment here. Assurance came from the commitment, not from the feeling. And yet, she always longed for that feeling… Palmer became a prominent female preacher (though she never called herself that), preaching to thousands of men and women, and dramatically paving the way for the American Holiness movement.
P.S. You may not have ever heard of the random Marvel super-hero, Dr. Strange, but I geeked out when I learned that Benedict Cumberbatch will be playing him in a new movie.
It’s the holiday time, so don’t miss the cool Wesley Bros merch for sale in the online store at etsy.com/shop/WesleyBrosComics! I just added snarky Advent cards for belligerent pastors who don’t allow Christmas carols before Dec. 25!