The Roberts and Phoebe Palmer

Methodist Camp Meeting (around 1819)

It was through Walter and Phoebe Palmer that Ellen Stowe (later Ellen Stowe Roberts) first experienced a camp meeting revival. Ellen lived in New York City with her aunt and uncle – the same city as the Palmers. Her uncle George Lane was the editor of the Methodist Publishing House. Thus, putting her into contact with numerous prominent Methodists of the time period.

The Sing Sing Camp Meeting in New York was one several life-changing experiences Ellen recounted in her writings. At this camp meeting she ran into people from the Allen Street Methodist Episcopal Church where the Palmers were lay leader. Ellen remembered the camp meeting as a vibrant, Spirit- filled experience like she had never before seen: “It seemed to me, it was as if the spirit disembodied had just entered the land of paradise, and for the first time the music of the heavenly fell upon their ears. They were singing in the circle gathered to listen to preaching. What heaven-like music. I stood ‘amazed and wondering I gazed and gazed’.” (Snyder, 2006, p. 76)

Upon her return to New York Ellen began attending Walter Palmer’s Thursday night meetings. Phoebe held a Tuesday night meeting in their home, but both Walter and Phoebe would support each other’s work and Phoebe regularly helped out with the Thursday meetings, too.  Phoebe Palmer’s mentorship to a young Ellen Stowe helped draw her closer to God. Ellen was an incredibly spiritually sensitive woman who constantly worried that she wasn’t living up to the Christian witness she was called to live. I’ve written earlier posts about Ellen, and I hope to write more on her later. However, I have to say all her writings are filled with this amazing spiritual connection and passion for faith that is both humbling and inspiring.

During the time Ellen was attending the Thursday night meetings she was struggling several personal trials, but through Phoebe Palmer’s encouragement Ellen notes, “I give myself away to God and try to rest there, believing that he will receive and sanctify the gift- but I have not the witness of the Spirit that I am cleansed from all sin—perhaps I look to myself too much – may the work be a thorough one.” (Snyder, 2006, p. 85)

By 1849 Ellen Stowe and Benjamin Titus (B.T.) Roberts were married. During their appointment to Pike, New York (1849-1851) the Roberts visited B.T.’s family in Gowanda, New York. While Ellen stayed with B.T.’s family, Roberts went to a series of camp meeting in the Collins area where Phoebe Palmer was speaking, along with John Wesley Redfield.

While already a minister, Roberts credits these camp meetings as his experience entire sanctification (or Christian perfection). He recounted the event this way:

Two paths were distinctly marked out before me. I saw that I might be a popular preacher, gain applause, do but little good in reality and at last my soul. Or I saw that I might take the narrow way, declare the whole truth as it is in Jesus, meeting with persecution and opposition, but see a thorough work of grace go on, and gain Heaven. Grace was given to make the better choice. I deliberately gave myself anew to the Lord, to declare the whole truth as it is Jesus, and to take the narrow way. I received a power to labor such as I had never possessed before. The consecration has never been taken back.  I have many times had to humble myself before the Lord for having grieved his Spirit. I have been but an unprofitable servant. It is by grace alone that I am saved. Yet the determination is fixed, to obey the Lord and take the narrow way, come what will. (Snyder, 2006, p. 180)

Both B.T. and Ellen Roberts experienced Christian perfection and began to understand holiness living through the testimony of Phoebe and Walter Palmer. While other Methodists also helped shape both the Roberts personal faith and theology, the influence of Phoebe Palmer should not be discounted. Her focus on holiness living was crucial to Roberts belief that a sanctified person would willing show love to the poor, to their neighbor, to their enemy. A prolific writer herself, it can be little doubted that Roberts read Palmer’s periodical A Guide to Holiness. Palmer believed that Christian holiness extended to every part of an individual’s life and actions and this belief is shown repeatedly in the lives of early Free Methodists.

References:

Howard Snyder. Populist Saints: B.T. and Ellen Roberts and the First Free Methodists. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 2006)

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