Phoebe Worrall Palmer and her sister Sarah
Phoebe Palmer (December 17, 1807 – November 2, 1874) was an evangelist and
writer who promoted the doctrine of Christian perfection. She is considered one
of the founders of the Holiness movement in the United States of America and the
Higher Life movement in the United Kingdom.
Palmer was born Phoebe Worrall in New York City. Her father was a devout
Methodist named Henry Worrall. He had experienced a religious conversion during
the Wesleyan Revival in England before immigrating to the United States.
Phoebe’s mother was Dorothea Wade Worrall, an American.
In 1827 Phoebe Worall married Walter Palmer, a homeopathic physician, who was
also a devout Methodist As Methodists the couple became interested in the
writings of the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. They developed a particular
interest in Wesley’s doctrine of Christian perfection, which is the belief that
a Christian can live a life free of serious sin. At some point in the 1830’s the
Palmers experienced what they called “entire sanctification.” They felt that
they should teach others about that experience and teach them how to have it for
In 1835 Palmer’s sister, Sarah Lankford, began having weekly prayer meetings
with Methodist women. Two years later, Phoebe Palmer became the leader of the
meetings, which were referred to as the Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of
Holiness. The meetings were held in the Palmer’s home. Beginning in 1839, men
were allowed to attend the meetings. Among the men were Methodist bishops,
theologians, and ministers. Some of the bishops who attended were Edmund S.
James, Leonidas L. Hamline, Jesse T. Peck and Matthew Simpson. This renewed
interest in Holiness eventually influenced the Methodist Church nationwide.
Phoebe Palmer, and her husband Walter became itinerant preachers as they
received more and more invitations from churches, conferences, and camp
meetings. Although Walter Palmer spoke at these meetings, it was Phoebe who was
Palmer played a significant role in spreading the concept of Christian holiness
throughout the United States and the rest of the world. She wrote several books,
including The Way of Holiness, which was a foundational book in the Holiness
movement. From the northeastern United States the movement spread. She and her
husband visited other regions, then Canada in 1857, and then the United Kingdom
in 1859. They stayed in the United Kingdom for several years.
The Palmers bought a monthly journal entitled The Guide to Holiness in 1864. It
had been started by Timothy Merritt to promote the doctrine of Christian
perfection. Phoebe Palmer edited the journal from that time until her death.
Some of the people that Palmer influenced through her speaking and writing were
the temperance leader, Frances Willard; the co-founder of the Salvation Army,
Catherine Booth; and the founder of the Christian Holiness Association, John
In her book, The Promise of the Father, Palmer defended the idea of women in
Palmer’s belief in holiness was not merely theoretical. She led the Methodist
Ladies’ Home Missionary Society in founding the Five Points Mission in 1850.
This mission was in a slum area in New York City.
Phoebe Palmer’s daughter, Phoebe Knapp, wrote several hymn-tunes, including the
melody for Fanny Crosby’s “Blessed Assurance.”
Phoebe Palmer’s Writings
The Way of Holiness (1843)
Entire Devotion to God (1845)
Faith and its Effects (1848)
The Promise of the Father (1859)
Raser, Harold E., "Phoebe Palmer, Her Life and Thought", Studies in Women and
Religion, Volume 22, The Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston/Queenston, 1947, p. 103.
Reuther, Rosemary Radford and Rosemary Skinner Keller, Women and Religion in
America: The Nineteenth Century. San Francisco, Harper and Row, 1981.
White, Charles Edward. The Beauty of Holiness: Phoebe Palmer as Theologian,
Revivalist, Feminist, and Humanitarian (Zondervan/Francis Asbury Press, 1986).
(from Node works Encyclopedia http://pedia.nodeworks.com/)
Perhaps the best example of this new expression of Wesley’s doctrine of
Christian Perfection is found in the teaching of Phoebe Palmer. In 1835, Sarah
A. Lankford began holding “Tuesday Meetings for the Promotion of Holiness” in
her parlor. By 1839, Palmer became the leader of this group, and began teaching
a “shorter way” to holiness. According to Palmer, one could skip the process of
sanctification altogether and be instantly sanctified through the “baptism of
the Holy Ghost.” She believed that one receives this second blessing by
taking three simple steps: (1) One must totally consecrate himself or herself to
God by “placing all on the altar;” (2) Once the conditions of consecration are
met, one must exercise his or her faith by “taking God at his word,” and
claiming what he has promised; and
(3) One must affirm his or her faith by giving public testimony to having
received this experience, and by publicly praising God for keeping his promise
to sanctify wholly. Palmer believed that this last step (i.e., “positive
confession”) is vital because one’s failure to testify is a sure sign of
unbelief, and a lack of faith is a sure way of losing the blessing of entire
Palmer also taught that this blessing, which is received by faith alone,
needed no “sensible evidence.”2
In other words, the believer should not look for an outward sign or an inward
feeling for gaining assurance of having received the second blessing. The
source of one’s assurance, she asserted, is the promise of God written in
Scripture. “Palmer saw Scripture as a set of law-like promises which bind both
God and humanity, such that to believe they are true and to meet the conditions
is to receive the promised blessing.”3
Therefore, one receives the second blessing by simply claiming it by faith.
In the late 1850s, Palmer began using “pentecostal language” to explain
her doctrine of Christian Perfection. In 1859, she published The Promise of the
Father, in which she referred to holiness as “power from on high.”4
She also began using the phrase “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” which she viewed
as synonymous with entire sanctification.5
It is difficult to determine just how much Palmer’s theology was
influenced by Fletcher. Yet, the striking similarities between their
definitions of Christian Perfection, and their use of “pentecostal language” to
explain it, suggest that she probably borrowed a great deal from him.
Palmer’s “Tuesday Meetings for the Promotion of Holiness” quickly became
a major attraction for many prominent holiness teachers, and soon her theology
of a “shorter way” to holiness, along with its “pentecostal language,” was being
promoted throughout the evangelical world.6
These meetings became the means of popularizing key concepts and terminology
that were present in Methodism nearly a century earlier, and would become
essential in Pentecostalism a half century later. Thomas C. Oden considers
Phoebe Palmer to be “. . . the missing link between Methodist and Pentecostal
Palmer, The Way of Holiness, in The Devotional Writings of Phoebe Palmer
ed. Donald W. Dayton. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1985), 37-38.
Charles Edward White, The Beauty of Holiness (Grand Rapids, Michigan:
Francis Asbury Press, 1986), 140.
Knight III, “From Aldersgate to Azusa,” 90.
Massachusetts: Henry V. Degen, 1859), 22.
Richard M. Riss, A Survey of 20th-Century Revival Movements in North America
(Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1088), 18.
Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (Grand
Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), 182. On Phoebe Palmer’s
ministry in the Maritimes see W. Ralph Richardson, “Methodist Revivalism and the
Baptists of Eastern British North America in 1858,” in A Fragile Satbility:
Definition and Redefinition of Maritime Baptist Identity, ed. David T.
Priestley (Hantsport, NS: Lancelot Press, 1994), 21-34.
Oden, ed., Introduction to Phoebe Palmer: Selected Writings (New York:
Paulist Press, 1988), 16.