Home         Articles         Study         Library         History         Heresy         Blogs

Phoebe Worrall Palmer and her sister Sarah Worrall Lankford

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 themselves.

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 better known.

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 Iskip.

In her book, The Promise of the Father, Palmer defended the idea of women in Christian ministry.

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). (ISBN: 0310462509)

(from Node works Encyclopedia http://pedia.nodeworks.com/)


Phoebe Palmer

    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 sanctification.1

    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 spirituality.”7

1Phoebe Palmer, The Way of Holiness, in The Devotional Writings of Phoebe Palmer ed. Donald W. Dayton. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1985), 37-38.

 2Ibid.; Charles Edward White, The Beauty of Holiness (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Francis Asbury Press, 1986), 140.

 3Henry Knight III, “From Aldersgate to Azusa,” 90.

 4(Boston, Massachusetts: Henry V. Degen, 1859), 22.

 5cf. Richard M. Riss, A Survey of 20th-Century Revival Movements in North America (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1088), 18.

 6Mark A. 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.

 7Thomas C. Oden, ed., Introduction to Phoebe Palmer: Selected Writings (New York: Paulist Press, 1988), 16.


Copyright © 2008 [www.seeking4truth.com]. All rights reserved .Revised: 05/17/2009