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Archive for February, 2016

Agnes But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.                                  (2 Peter 1:20,21)

Christians for many centuries have believed that the Bible is the very word of God. It was not questioned by most of the faithful until the nineteenth century. Then the Bible came under attack by liberal scholars influenced by the so-called “higher criticism” that originated in Germany. Skeptics relegated the stories in the Old and New Testaments to mythology. In an age of escalating scientific discoveries, many no longer believed in miracles such as a six-day creation, the Flood, or the parting of the Red Sea.

Not only did the facts in the Bible come under criticism, but scholars doubted the integrity of the text itself. They assumed that there could not be any such thing as prophecy, therefore the stories must have been written years after the events were supposed to have happened according to biblical authors. Liberals also applied the principle of evolution to the development of Christianity. Unbelievers such as Thomas Paine declared that the Gospels could not have been written until at least three or four hundred years after Christ.

Faithful Christians never doubted that the Word of God was given by the Holy Spirit and that the Scriptures had been protected by God down through the centuries. They longed to counter the claims of the liberals but there were very few ancient copies of the Scriptures to authenticate their claim that the Bible indeed was written by Paul and other men of God.

But God has continually protected His Word and in His providence directed the finding of evidence of its veracity. Twin sisters – Margaret Gibson and Agnes Lewis – came across one of the earliest known copies of the four Gospels in a secluded monastery in the Sinai Peninsula. This palimpsest dated to the fourth century but it was a translation of a copy that dated to the late second century. As news of this discovery spread Christians around the world rejoiced. The date of the writing of the Scriptures now came very near to the beginning of Christianity.

How did these Scottish twins, with no formal university training become the ones who would make the Biblical find of the century?

Dr. Agnes Lewis

Dr. Agnes Lewis

Agnes and Margaret Smith were born on January 11, 1843 to John and Margaret Smith in Irvine, Scotland. Mrs. Smith would die only two weeks later. John vowed never to marry again and to bring up the twins by himself. In his sorrow he never mentioned his wife Margaret afterwards, but despite his aloofness on the subject of his wife, he was a loving and generous father.

Dr. Margaret Gibson

Dr. Margaret Gibson

John Smith educated his daughters as if they were boys. He taught them logic and reasoning. Typical of Scottish Presbyterianism, their school educated boys and girls together. There was a high priority placed on being able to read the Bible for men and women alike. Christians were expected to attend church twice on Sunday. Agnes and Margaret were blessed in that their minister was one of the finest preachers in Scotland and his sermons were rich in illustrations from the Bible, especially the Old Testament.

The twins’ father told them that for each foreign language they would learn he would reward them with a visit to that country. These bright girls took advantage of their father’s offer and mastered French, German, Spanish and Italian while young. The sisters had always been deeply interested in studying the Bible and between them learned several Biblical languages – Hebrew and Greek- and later modern Greek, Arabic, and Syriac.  This love for God’s Word and for the history of God’s people would later be part of the motivation for the sisters to travel to Sinai in search of lost manuscripts.

John Smith died when the sisters were only 23 years old. He left them with a huge inheritance of a quarter of a million pounds. Most unmarried wealthy women would have probably headed for the Riviera or Paris. But Agnes and Margaret decided to head to Egypt instead.

Margaret and Agnes mourned for their father but not for too long. After all, he was in a better place and lengthy mourning periods only showed lack of faith in the life to come. Though they shocked some people they decided to assuage their grief by doing something that they knew he would applaud. They would travel. Hadn’t he brought them up not to worry about what other people think? Didn’t they know nine other languages and so could travel with ease where most people would have difficulty?

Being devout Presbyterians with a love for God’s Word it was natural for them to think of a religious tour rather than a frivolous one. The sisters had no other relations to tell them what to do and so these inseparable twins set out on an adventure. They hired a lady companion, Grace Blyth, and set out for the Nile.

Their first adventure was fraught with difficulties including a cheating dragoman. The sisters received rebukes saying that they should have traveled under a male escort. But dauntless Agnes felt otherwise. Their mistake, she said, was in not knowing the language of the country. They would continue to travel – but learn the language first!

Upon returning from their year long adventure, Agnes and Margaret settled in London. Some years later both would marry and both would be widowed after only three years of wedded happiness. Margaret married James Gibson a preacher of some renown. He passed away in 1886 after a brief illness. During their marriage James Gibson prevented the sisters from traveling to Sinai again. Though they dearly wanted to, James thought it was too dangerous. They respected his guidance.

Agnes married Samuel Lewis, a Fellow and antiquarian librarian at Cambridge. This marriage allowed Agnes into the Cambridge society and she met many scholars who would influence her later. Samuel also passed away somewhat unexpectedly in 1891. The widows were in deep mourning but both had the assurance that they would see their beloved husbands in Heaven.

Margaret and Agnes were now free to travel again. They could at last return to Sinai. Dangerous as it might be the twins longed to travel on the same route as the Israelites. They wanted to visit the spot where Moses saw the burning bush and then returned later to receive the Ten Commandments. Eventually they wanted to trod where Joseph and Mary and the child Jesus trod on the way to Egypt.

st catherine's monasteryA friend and fellow biblical scholar, Rendel Harris, had told Agnes about a manuscript that he had found at St. Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai several years earlier. This was a fabulous find. It was a record of a developed Christian doctrine dating to the second century. This was the kind of proof that Christian scholars were looking for to refute the skeptics who said that Christian doctrine was not developed for hundreds of years.

But the most exciting thing, he told Agnes, was that there was a dark closet in the Monastery where there were many other documents that he did not get to look at. These documents were in Syriac, a form of the Aramaic that was spoken in the first century. This was the language spoken by Jesus. Agnes studied Syriac in anticipation of finding these documents. She wanted to be able to identify them accurately.

Now prepared to meet the monks in the Sinai monastery with their command of modern Greek and their ability to read Syriac, the sisters set out on their quest for the most important Bible find of the century.

Continued Next Week…….

 

 

 

 

 

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Sarah DoremusMrs. Doremus’s life in any aspect – intellectually, socially, or religiously – is a lesson and a treasure to the women of any country; for the wise may be wiser and the good better by considering it. There is only one solution of it: her whole nature and all its possibilities were at the bidding of a Master whom she loved, and in whose service she was spent.                                       Annie Ryder Gracey

 Sarah Platt Haines Doremus (1802 – 1877) is remembered as the founder and first president of the Woman’s Union Missionary Society of America for Heathen Lands. But this devoted follower of Christ was also a loving wife and mother of nine children, faithful church attender, worker in local charities, and a best friend to hundreds of missionaries.

In 1834 Reverend David Abeel, returning from the mission field in the East spoke to mission boards in England and the United States pleading for female missionaries. In England the Society for Promoting Female Education in the East was formed. However, in the United States the response was slower. Sarah Doremus tried to form a society similar to the one in England but there was opposition from the mission boards. They were not ready to allow single women to go as missionaries.

It would be twenty-five years before the hearts of the Christians in America were touched  for the downtrodden women in foreign lands sufficiently to spur them to action. About 1859 or 1860 Mrs. Mason, missionary from Burma, visited the United States and told such heart wrenching stories of the heathen women that women in this country decided to do something about it even if they had to form their own organization. The result was the forming of the Woman’s Union Missionary Society in 1861.

Sarah Doremus had been busy during those twenty-five years between the time when she first wanted to send women missionaries to the East and when the Women’s Union Missionary Society was formed. Sarah was active as a member of the Dutch Reformed Church in New York. Her husband encouraged her in her charitable activity. In 1828 Sarah organized a relief society for the Greeks who were being persecuted by the Turks. She helped to get essential items for everyday life to Greek women. In 1835 she aided the Baptist Mission at Grande Ligne, Canada distributing food and other supplies to the needy.

Mrs. Doremus began a Sabbath service in the city prison which later developed into the Women’s Prison Association which she was connected to for over thirty years. She was one of the founders of the New York House and School of Industry. She was connected to the Nursery and Child’s Hospital which she helped found. She also worked with the Presbyterian Home for Aged Women. She was manager of the City Bible Society for twenty-eight years and manager of the City and Tract Mission Society for thirty-six years.

In 1855 Sarah worked tirelessly to establish the Woman’s Hospital, the first one of its kind in the world. She not only did much of the fund raising and took care of the legal work, but she also visited the sick regularly cheering and comforting them spiritually.

All the while Sarah raised nine children. Her home was active and loving. Though she was busy with charitable activities outside of the home, Sarah was devoted to her family. She painted, designed her own patterns for embroidery, modeling in wax, and working with her children. She also adopted children into her home. She saw to the education of all of her children. Though she was involved in so many organizations she did not let anything interfere with her motherly duties.

How was one woman able to do all of this? Mrs. Gracey, a missionary herself, tells us:

Much of what she accomplished was due to a very rare combination of endowments. She had power to lay great plans and organize grand movements, a marvelous memory, and a talent for details. Nothing was too trivial to be made use of if it would aid in perfecting the organization, and to her latest day her memory was true to its trust for dates and incidents, every one accurate and thoroughly at her command, and all used  for the benefit and comfort of others.                                 Annie Ryder Gracey

In spite of being involved in enough charity work for any three or four women, as soon as Sarah heard the pleas of Mrs. Mason she was ready to try and form a missionary society to aid the women in foreign lands. This was how the Woman’s Union Missionary Society came into being.

Woman's Union Missionary Society

Woman’s Union Missionary Society

The Woman’s Union Missionary Society included all denominations. The women concentrated on the Gospel and did not want to be sectarian. Because of this they worked independently of church mission boards. The church mission boards were still uneasy about sending out single women but women were desperately needed in missions. The Society’s aim was to send unmarried women abroad to serve as teachers and missionaries who would enter homes carrying the Gospel to those who could not receive it any other way.

This was a huge undertaking and the first of its kind. The women leaders prayed for good judgment. They wisely decided to fund the organization in a way that did not interfere with any of the usual church collections or with any other missionary organization. Through contributions made by women in America that were over and above their regular church giving, over one and a half million dollars was raised in a period of thirty years!

Sarah Doremus was elected the first president. For the first fifteen years the society was headquartered in her home in New York. Sarah welcomed every missionary in her home and took care of them. When they left for foreign fields, Sarah accompanied them to the dock. Then when they returned, Sarah was there to meet them.

While the female missionaries were so far from home, Sarah wrote to them as a mother. She sent them news stories and books and other items that might cheer them up. She believed that this encouragement would give them strength for their arduous duties.

Consistent with her beliefs that all Gospel believing women should receive support on the mission field no matter which denomination they belonged to, Sarah sent support to the Methodist Mission in North India. Work among the Indian women and girls was progressing slowly. Mrs. Doremus soon sent a letter with a check for fifty dollars to be used to employ a native Christian woman as a Bible teacher. This was the first financial contribution to women’s work in the North India Conference.

All of her life Sarah was devoted to her Redeemer. She consecrated everything to His service – all of her gifts, her time, and her many abilities. Eventually the Lord called her to cease all of these loving activities. Sarah suffered an accident in her home in January, 1877. She was prostrated for a week before succumbing.

Missionaries from all over the world felt that they had lost a friend. At her funeral one minister summed up her beautiful life: “Mrs. Doremus seems to have given the whole of herself to the Lord; the whole of herself to every suffering heart she met, and yet the whole of herself to home and children.”

Many organizations paid their respects to this godly woman. The Woman’s Union Missionary Society has perpetuated her name by calling their home in Calcutta, India the “Doremus Home”.

What a powerhouse for Christ! Imagine what could be accomplished if all of us Christian women would take on even one or two activities that would further the Gospel. Sarah Doremus showed us what can be done by a person who is totally sold out to Christ.

The quotes in this story are from: Gracey, Mrs. J. T., Eminent Missionary Women, (Missionary Campaign Library, Number Two, 1898).

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Louisa Woosley portrait- Internet ArchiveLouisa Woosley knelt by her ailing daughter’s bed and prayed. She felt that her daughter’s illness was her fault. God had clearly given Louisa a call to the ministry and she had disobeyed the call. Louisa asked for God’s forgiveness and promised the Lord that if He would restore her daughter to health she would answer the call.

God did restore her daughter to health and now Louisa was in a dilemma. How could she deliver on her promise? This was 1882 and America was clearly a patriarchal society. Women were not supposed to preach in public. Though Louisa had read through her Bible twice and underlined all of the passages where women served God, she still thought that it would be impossible for her to answer God’s call to the ministry as a woman.

So torn was Louisa that she entered a dark depression and was confined to her bedroom for six months. She deteriorated to the point where she was even unable to sit up in bed on her own. Finally, she realized that she must commit her whole life to God and answer His call no matter what. She determined to enter the Gospel ministry.

Immediately her health improved.

On January 1, 1887 the elders of her church invited Louisa to preach when the regular minister was gone. Her preaching was well received and Louisa began to preach whenever she was asked.

How did Louisa rise above her fears and doubts and become the trailblazer for women to follow in ministry?

Louisa Mariah Layman was born on March 24, 1862 in Kentucky. She was brought up in a Baptist household and committed her life to the Savior when she was twelve years old. It was soon after this that Louisa received her call from God. She thought that maybe she misunderstood because she did not know any women preachers at that time. Believing that women were forbidden to speak in public she decided to answer the call in a way that she believed was Biblical, by becoming a pastor’s wife.

She married a Christian, Charles G. Woosley in 1879 in the hopes that he would have the call to the pastorate. Instead Charles became a farmer. He was a good man but had no desire to work in full time ministry. Louisa struggled as she realized that she was not going to be able to fulfill her call through Charles.

A few years later, in 1882, Louisa studied the Scriptures looking for what God had to say about women in ministry. She came to the conclusion that God does not play favorites. There were too many women named in the Bible who selflessly served God for there to be any doubt now. God did call women to the ministry.

Imagine the turmoil for this woman in the 1800’s as she thought about actually obeying God by preaching in public. She was certain of God’s call, but how she agonized as she went through the idea of being the first woman that she knew of to be called to the preaching ministry! No wonder she suffered through so much turmoil. She wanted to be absolutely certain. Her first thought was to please God. And so after her daughter was restored and she herself was graciously healed, Louisa had the courage to rise above her doubts and go forth in obedience to God.

Louisa knew that she would face obstacles but by this time she also knew that God was with her and would help her through them. It was an amazing answer to her doubts when she was first asked to preach. God showed her that He meant business when her preaching was accepted by others.

From there Louisa went on as a pioneer for women in ministry. In just a few years Louisa preached 912 sermons resulting in over 2000 conversions to Jesus Christ. How can anyone deny that women should preach? The most important thing for any person is to get right with God. Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16). What more fruit does any Christian want to bear than bringing others out of the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light? Many thousands are thankful for the faithful work of women evangelists.

Louisa’s work opened the doors for other female ministers. Perhaps during her trials in her
early marriage she might have questioned what God was doing. All of us can look back and see what God was teaching us through trials. Louisa had her sincere doubts before God showed her that He was truly calling her. And so she was able to truthfully give an answer later when men questioned her about whether or not women should preach. Louisa had sought God’s will by doing the right things. She went to God’s Word first. She prayed. At first she listened to men and she tried to do what she thought the ordained ministers wanted. In the end, she simply obeyed God.

With heartfelt words and an honest, compelling testimony, Louisa convinced the men who were questioning her about whether or not women should preach. Many men changed their minds in face of the evidence – Louisa’s unshakeable faith and the many thousands who were accepting Christ.

This all happened in the late 1800’s. Today women still face opposition from those who insistshall women preach? that only men may preach. But what is preaching? Is it not a call to sinners to repent and put their faith in Christ? Are women disciples supposed to obey Christ too? Are they not supposed to call their loved ones to repentance and faith in Christ?

As Louisa saw in the Scriptures, women are part of God’s plan for the salvation of His world. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3;28). The man or woman who puts their faith in Christ and has new peace with God is grateful for the one who shared the Gospel with them. It does not matter if that person was a woman or a man. A soul is now redeemed. God’s Word is true whether spoken by a male or a female.

Louisa obeyed God’s calling. This was incredibly courageous for a woman in the nineteenth century. Only the conviction that she was in God’s will could keep her going. Like Peter and John before her she had to obey God rather than men. She lived through ridicule and persecution as many saints did before her but she knew after the miracles God had performed for her that she was in God’s will. All alone as a pioneer Louisa trusted God that she was chosen by Him to be His servant and she joyfully served God for the rest of her life.

How grateful we can all be that Louisa did not remain in fear but chose to follow God believing, ““God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.  ‘These all have to learn that it is, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.’”

 

 

 

 

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Significant Nineteenth Century Christian Women

For the last few months I have posted stories on significant women from the nineteenth century. Many thousands of people were helped by their work. Untold thousands today are still benefitting from the organizations or movements founded by these women.

Relive the fascinating lives of Dorothea Dix, Mary Lyon, and Clara Swain through these biographies and their personal writings.

 

—  Lightner, David L., Asylum, Prison, and Poorhouse: The Writings and Reform Work of Dorothea Dix in Illinois, (Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville, 1999).

Dorothea DixThough little recognized today for her tremendous work of reform, Dorothea Dix was one of the most famous women of her time. In this first of two books that I recommend you will find accounts, written by Dorothea herself, of what the living conditions were like for the insane, prisoners, and the poor. Many documents that are reprinted by the author recount her efforts to get the laws changed in order to provide more compassionate treatment for the insane.

This book focuses on these documents and their significance. One example of a document is a “Memorial” that she presented to the legislature of Massachusetts asking that the budget be increased to include money to improve the State Mental Hospital at Worcester. Many improvements were made in the state hospitals and prisons thanks to Dorothea. She continued traveling to many states seeking similar changes.

While the author concentrates on his home state of Illinois, he gives a fine account of Dorothea’s life and accomplishments. The last chapters recount the Dorothea’s tremendous legacy – hundreds of thousands of people down through the years have benefitted from the reforms that she initiated.

 

Colman, Penny, Breaking the Chains: The Crusade of Dorothea Lynde Dix, (ASJA Press, New York, 2007).

Those looking for a biography that is more “story-like” will enjoy this book. Penny Colman is a fine author of many books. She relates Dorothea’s childhood and early life and how they contributed to the campaign that Dorothea went on at nearly forty years of age. You will be impressed as you learn more about the personal fortitude and courage of Dorothea Dix. It never ceases to amaze me how just one person can make such a difference! Dorothea Dix is especially extraordinary because she was only a “retired school teacher in frail health without wealth or power to support her cause” (Page 55).

Dorothea Dix contributed her efforts to reforming the treatment of the mentally ill who were often housed in prisons in horrible conditions. Dorothea did this by changing the way people thought about mental illness. “It is time that people should have learnt that to be insane is not to be disgraced; that sickness is not to be ranked with crime; and that mental disability is almost invariably the result of mere bodily ailment” (Page 73). Today we take it for granted that mental illness is not a crime. It’s hard to imagine how people thought that it was in the nineteenth century. Dorothea called for Christians to care for the poor as the Savior did. Her campaign resulted in the building of 32 institutions in the United States where the mentally ill could be cared for in a more compassionate way.

 

Green, Elizabeth Alden, Mary Lyon and Mount Holyoke: Opening the Gates, (University Press of New England, Hanover, New Hampshire, 1979).

This book is about another obscure, young, penniless teacher from the early nineteenth Mary Lyoncentury whose life made a difference to thousands. Mary Lyon believed that women should be able to get a college education. In 1837 this was an unpopular idea. In the early eighteen hundred’s it was thought that only men should get an education; it was thought to be wasted on women. Some said that it was impractical, unwise and even unchristian.

Mary Lyon believed that women should honor God with their gifts of intelligence. Mary struggled for three years raising the money for her institution of higher education for women. She set out mostly on foot going door-to-door to raise the $30,000 needed to open her school. She appealed for donations in the name of religion and based on the principle that education of the daughters of the Church called as rightfully for the free gifts of the Church as does that of her sons.

Man people agreed with her and in spite of so many others who discouraged or disdained her efforts Mary raised the money. Male town officials in Hadley, Massachusetts donated $8,000 and so the site for Mount Holyoke Female Seminary was located there.

Elizabeth Green tells the exciting account of Mary’s life and her accomplishments. Her girl’s school set the standard of quality education for years to come.

 

Hartley, James E., Mary Lyon: Documents & Writings, (Doorlight Publications, South Hadley, MA, 2008)

After reading Elizabeth Green’s biography of Mary Lyon I couldn’t wait to read a book containing her letters and other writings. James Hartley put this compendium together in such a way as to allow readers to get a glimpse of Mary’s life and trials through her writing.

Hartley gives credit not only to Elizabeth Green but also to Edward Hitchcock. Edward Hitchcock was one man who supported Mary Lyon. He was the president of Amherst College in the early 1800’s and a friend and mentor of Mary. After her death he collected her letters to use in a biography. Praise God that he did because over time many of her letters were lost and we would not have such a remarkable account of one of the most important women of the early nineteenth century without his collection.

Mary was very modest and would not let anyone even think of naming the seminary after her. Mary’s missionary fervor was genuine. She believed that the income from Mount Holyoke belonged to the Lord. She only accepted a modest salary. She gave much of that meagre income to the poor and left her personal property to the American Board of Foreign Missions when she died. The school itself contributed nearly seven thousand dollars to foreign missions in the last seven years that Mary was there.

Her fervor was caught by her students. Over the twelve years Mary directed the school, hundreds of women became missionaries, teachers or wives of missionaries. Twelve students went on to take the Gospel to the Indians in the western United States. Scores of pastor’s wives were trained at Mount Holyoke.

Women owe Mary Lyon a big thank you for stepping out and founding a female seminary.

 

Swain, Clara A., A Glimpse of India, (James Pott & Company, New York, 1909). (My copy is a reprint from: Classic Reprint Series, “Forgotten Books”, London, 2015).

Clara_SwainClara A. Swain was also a first among women in the nineteenth century. Clara Swain has the honor of being the first fully accredited missionary sent out by a Christian organization and the first woman physician in India. Clara also had the privilege of “standing before kings” when as a woman she was allowed to be the palace physician for an Indian Rajah’s family.

Upon arriving in Bareilly, India, Clara wasted no time but started a dispensary immediately. As the only women doctor within a 200-mile radius she was soon busy making over 250 house calls in her first year and treating 1000 patients.

This book is a collection of her letters that give us a wonderful idea of what it was like to be a doctor in India in 1870. Clara’s letters to her family and friends back home were detailed and colorfully written. In them we follow her progress as she opened hospitals, nursing schools, and dispensaries. She also led Bible studies and taught the women to sing Christian hymns.

Clara was as tireless in her devotion to her work as Dorothea Dix and Mary Lyon. Like Dorothea and May, Clara has many thousands of spiritual children on earth and in Heaven.

 

 

 

 

 

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