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In January of 1857 the editors of a national magazine published a portrait of Phoebe Palmer (facing page). Being honest men, they admitted that the woman herself was neither as young nor as pretty as the picture made her appear. They did say, however, that she was smarter than she looked. Palmer was probably not offended by their comments. She was friends with the editors and shared their Wesleyan heritage of plain speaking. Anyway, physical beauty was unimportant to her; what mattered was the beauty of the soul. She wanted "the beauty of holiness" that empowered one to live a well-balanced, useful life.

During her life (1807-1874) Palmer spoke to over 100,000 people about Jesus and sparked a revival that brought nearly a million people into the church. Her influential theology paved the way for such modern holiness denominations as the Church of the Nazarene and the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana), and for Pentecostalism as well.

Being a well-known female speaker made her a feminist, though what would today be considered a "conservative" one: she championed the right and duty of women to speak publicly for the Lord. But Palmer did more than talk about Jesus. She put his love into action in New York City's worst slum, pioneering a new kind of incarnational philanthropy.

Youthful yearning

The heart-felt Methodism in which Phoebe was raised insisted on emphatically emotional experiences of conversion and sanctification. A bright, intense girl, Phoebe could never feel she had attained this. At the age of 13, she did have a vision of Jesus coming to enfold her in his arms and bidding her "be of good cheer." Yet despite this and other experiences, she continued through her teens to wrestle with the Methodist emphasis on emotional ...

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