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Archive for June, 2016

Faithful Women

Throughout the centuries many women have found themselves in leadership positions while they were trying to remain faithful to God’s calling. These women were in circumstances where they could not remain silent about the injustices in the world around them. They spoke out because they were honoring God by working to care for the poor and suffering. They tried to alleviate suffering because they loved the Lord Jesus and wanted salvation and healing for others. They were not seeking leadership positions. Through their faithfulness, God thrust them into positions where they could lead others.

The four women in these reviews lived during a span three centuries: Margaret Fell Fox (seventeenth century), Sarah Osborn (eighteenth century), and the Grimke sisters (nineteenth century). During these centuries women were not supposed to be speaking in front of groups containing men. Yet, these women boldly led Bible studies or held meetings to share God’s love and truth because they were called of God to do so. The stories of their lives are an inspiration to women today who seek to serve God with their individual callings.

 

undaunted zeal margaret fell—  Glines, Elsa F., Editor, Undaunted Zeal: The Letters of Margaret Fell, (Friends United Press, Richmond, Indiana 2003).

Margaret Askew Fell Fox (1614-1702) was a woman of undaunted courage. She lived through one of the most tumultuous times in English history. This is the same time period in which John Bunyan and many other non-conformist Christians were imprisoned for their faith. Through all of the upheavals in government and religious policies Margaret kept a steady faith in God and His Word. She always put God first even if it meant going to prison. She strived for liberty of conscience.

Margaret wrote many letters while in prison under her own name – Margaret Fell. (She did not marry George Fox until 1669, one year after she got out of prison.) In this book, Elsa F. Glines publishes 164 letters of Margaret Fell. The book is divided into three parts for three periods of Margaret’s life. Each section begins with a short biography of that period of Margaret’s life. The introductions to the letters contain a wealth of historical background that is interesting to history students.

Whether you are interested in the history of the Friends, or Quakers, or just in the topic of religious freedom, you will enjoy this book.

 

—  Brekus, Catherine A., Sarah Osborn’s World: The Rise of Catherine-Brekus-Sarah-Osborns-World-195x300Evangelical Christianity in Early America,  (Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2013).

While most people have heard of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and Gilbert Tennent, few know who Sarah Haggar Wheaten Osborn was. Yet during this time of the Great Awakening a religious revival occurred at Sarah Osborn’s house. Decades before Americans were taking abolition seriously, Sarah brought both free and enslaved black men and women into her home and taught them the Bible. Sarah’s life made a difference to thousands.

Through all of the many afflictions in her life, Sarah Osborn (1714-1796) maintained her faith in God. She struggled through wars, poor health, the deaths of loved ones, and conflicts at her church. Today she has been all but forgotten, but Sarah Osborn deserves to be remembered for the part she played in the many lives of others in the eighteenth century. Hundreds of less fortunate people praised Sarah for her faith, courage, and humble service. Sarah believed that God used her suffering to draw her closer to Him and to be an example to others.

In this book, Catherine Brekus relates Sarah’s life through the backdrop of eighteenth century religion. She gives a good history of the rise of evangelicalism that will be interesting to those who love biography, history, and theology. Sarah’s life is still an encouragement to believers today.

 

Angelina and Sarah—  Lerner, Gerda., The Grimke Sisters from South Caroline: Pioneers for Women’s Rights and Abolition, (The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2004).

The Grimke sisters, Angeline and Sarah, have been pretty much forgotten in our day but in the nineteenth century they were well known in abolitionist circles. They made history in speeches against slavery as well as in publishing tracts calling for an end to that evil institution. They recognized that slavery and discrimination, though connected, were two separate issues and fought against both. In 1838 Angelina made history as the first woman to speak before a legislative body in the United States.

In this book, Gerda Lerner tells the amazing story of these two southern born women who became famous for their fight for equality for blacks and for women. The book reads like a novel and is hard to put down. Gerda Lerner also includes some of the famous speeches of Angelina (the better speaker of the sisters) and excerpts from the writings of Sarah Grimke. (See below.)

Many women today can thank Angelina and Sarah for their courage in pioneering justice and equal rights for both blacks and women.

 

—  Wilbanks, Charles, Editor., Walking by Faith: The Diary of walking by faith grimkeAngelina Grimke, 1828-1835, (University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, 2003).

Even as a young girl Angelina Grimke had deep faith in God. Angelina’s prayer was:

O that I might live religion – how striking the exhortation of the Apostle – present your bodies a living sacrifice, Lord enable me so to live that every day I may sacrifice my own will to thine.  (From her diary, December 25, 1828)

Angelina Grimke Weld was born in 1805 in South Carolina. She was the youngest of fourteen children born to slaveholders John Grimke and Mary Smith Grimke. Her older sister Sarah was thirteen when Angelina was born. Sarah doted on her baby sister Angelina and the two remained close until the end of their lives.

In this book, Charles Wilbanks intersperses biographical sketches of Angelina’s life with the diary excerpts over a period of about 8 years. It is a fascinating story of how one woman went from a slaveholding family to being a leader in the abolitionist movement. The reader witnesses Angelina’s spiritual growth and social maturity from her earliest recorded thoughts (age 22) to the writing of a letter to the editor for William Lloyd Garrison’s newspaper (age 30). This letter to the editor propelled her into the public eye as a leader in the fight for abolition. Her diary ends when her public career begins. At this point, I suggest you read Gerda Lerner’s book if you already haven’t done so!

 

Grimke, Sarah Moore, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, and sarah letters to parkerthe Condition of Woman: Addressed to Mary S. Parker…, (Originally published by Isaac Knapp, 25, Cornhill, 1838).

Though of the two Grimke sisters, Angelina was the principle speaker, Sarah was just as passionate about justice for the downtrodden. She left writings that have come to the attention of historians today because Sarah was so far ahead of her time in her thought. Here is an excerpt from Letter #1:

“On the Original Equality of Women”

“Had Adam tenderly reproved his wife, and endeavored to lead her to repentance instead of sharing in her guilt, I should be much more ready to accord to man that superiority which he claims; but as the facts stand disclosed by the sacred historian, it appears to me that to say the least, there was as much weakness exhibited by Adam as by Eve. They both fell from innocence, and consequently from happiness, but not from equality…. The consequence of the fall was an immediate struggle for dominion, and Jehovah foretold which would gain the ascendancy; but as he created them in his image, as that image manifestly was not lost by the fall, because it is urged in Genesis 9:6, as an argument why the life of man should not be taken by his fellow man, there is no reason to suppose that sin produced any distinction between them as moral, intellectual and responsible beings.”

The entire book is especially fascinating when you remember is was written in the 1830’s, well before the women’s suffrage movement. Today woman have freedoms that we take for granted – education, jobs, the vote, and a public voice. Sarah could only dream about and write about those things. She was very courageous to speak out for the truth in 1838. We can be very thankful for women like Sarah Grimke who were pioneers in the suffrage movement.

 

 

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Ever glow in my breasts to God and them and as I have freely received in times of my distress so let me freely give as God enables and occasion offers. Lord ever open my hand and heart to the sick poor and needy and make me a blessing in my day. O make me extensively useful in my family in my school in the dear society to all around me. Oh let the Lord God almighty delight to own me to use me to set me apart for Himself in secret in private and in every way my proper station admits. (Sarah Osborn’s diary, October 21, 1761)

In last week’s post we recounted Sarah’s life through the early 1760’s when she was in her fifties. Though Sarah was suffering with chronic pain she was continuing to hold meetings in her home that were a blessing to thousands.  She was overloaded with work caring for others. Many women might have felt like retiring at this point. But God still had nearly three more decades of service for Sarah.

During the 1760’s the pastor of Sarah’s church lost his wife and fell into alcoholism. The congregation tried to be understanding but more and more services began to take place at Sarah’s home as the congregation avoided the unpleasantness at church. By 1769 Sarah’s home was the spiritual center of the church.

The minister, William Vinal resigned from the pulpit in 1769 after being charged with drunkenness. Over the next two years, temporary pastors came and went to fill the pulpit. Often they ended up preaching at Sarah’s house.

Sarah and the women of the church had founded a female society in 1741. Though the women were not allowed in leadership positions they played significant roles in the affairs of the church. It was through their influence that the church called Reverend Samuel Hopkins to be its minister. Many in the church did not agree with Reverend Hopkins’ ideas, especially about equality for blacks, and the vote to call him as their minister was very close. It failed the first time and succeeded the second time due to the influence of the female society.

SamuelHopkinsClergymanSamuel Hopkins knew that it was through Sarah’s influence that he was called and he treated her as one of his most trusted friends and confidantes. In fact, when her illness prevented her from being able to walk to church he preached at her house. This was not seen as unusual, since Sarah’s house had been the spiritual center of the church for many years anyway.

Now that the church had a full time minister, Sarah stopped holding all of the weekly meetings at her house. She still met with the women’s society and prayed with them regularly. As her health declined, Rev. Hopkins took over most of the meetings.

Samuel Hopkins became convinced that slavery was sinful. Sarah had not questioned the morality of slaveholding even though she believed that black people were equal as Christians with whites. Prejudice against color was one thing and slavery, though related, was quite another. Sarah had become convinced that slavery was sinful and she joined with Samuel Hopkins in his work against slavery.

Many people considered slavery a fact of life. They did not agree that it was morally wrong and Sarah lost a few friends because of her stance in favor of the blacks. Sometime during this period of her life she composed a poem expressing her heartfelt belief:

New wonders still! Lo, here are they,
Unjustly brought from Africa!
They’ve heard the gospel’s joyful sound,
Though lost indeed they now are found.

Those we see here who once have been
Made slaves to man by horrid sin.
Now through rich grace in Christ are free,
Forever set at liberty.

When the colonies went to war against Britain for their independence (1776 – 1783) Sarah was in her sixties. In Newport poverty and destruction of property and life abounded. The valley-forgewinter of 1779 was extremely cold. Americans remember it as the time when George Washington was worried about his troops freezing to death. British soldiers had been known to freeze to death at their posts. Newport residents feared that they would not survive the winter. There were no jobs, high taxes, and the British commandeered what little food they had. Pews in churches were ripped out to provide fuel for their fires. Many people just moved away looking for a better life. The population of Newport decreased from over 9,000 residents to 5,530.

Sarah did not think she would outlast the war. Henry died in 1778 at the age of ninety-three. Sarah thought she would soon follow but God had more work for her to do. Sarah did not wish to move. The interior of the First Church had been gutted, so Sarah’s home again became the spiritual center of the church. The friends that she had blessed over the years now returned the blessing and gave her food and fuel to keep warm by.

When the devastating war was finally over Sarah looked to God to somehow bring good out of evil. Sarah had always believed that God truly loved her and wanted the best for her. She concentrated on God’s grace and blessings. Always wanting to be a blessing to others, she continued to comfort the poor and needy for nearly two more decades.

Sarah continued to write with help from friends. Her eyesight was failing and she could no longer keep a diary. Incapacitated by her illness she began a prayer ministry. Her friends and acquaintances assured her that her prayers touched many other lives.

Sarah died quietly in her room on August 2, 1796 at the age of eighty-two. Like many people Sarah hoped that her life would have made a difference to others. She hoped that the memoirs that she had written would encourage people to keep on trusting God no matter what happened.

Near the end of her life she wrote, “I know that my Redeemer liveth (Job 19:25), and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. O transporting thought! O glorious resurrection! Then I shall gaze to eternity. Then I shall drink my fill. Then I shall be like him, for I shall see him as he is.”

Sarah’s life did make a difference to others. She put others before herself. Through all of her sorrows and afflictions she gave the glory to God and did not let her own suffering prevent her from sharing the love of Christ in many ways. In 1826 the women of the First Church of Christ changed the name of the society that Sarah had founded from the Female Praying Society to the Osborn Society.

Like Sarah Osborn we should never despair. She is an encouragement to us to see God’s love in every area of our lives.

 

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Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul: therefor will I hope in him. (Lamentations 3:20-24)

Through all of the many afflictions in her life this verse remained one of Sarah Osborn’s favorites. Sarah maintained her faith in God through wars, poor health, the deaths of loved ones, and conflicts at her church. Today she has been all but forgotten, but Sarah Osborn deserves to be remembered for the part she played in the many lives of others in the eighteenth century. Hundreds of less fortunate people praised Sarah for her faith, courage, and humble service. Sarah believed that God used her suffering to draw her closer to Him and to be an example to others.

newport town commonSarah Haggar Wheaten Osborn was born in England in 1714. Her family moved to Boston in 1723. Later they settled in the famous fishing town of Newport, Rhode Island where Sarah lived for the rest of her life. Sarah fell in love with a fisherman, Samuel Wheaten and married him in 1731 when she was only seventeen years old. Her parents did not approve of her marriage. Sadly, Samuel died at sea less than a year later leaving Sarah to care for their baby son alone.

Sarah had been raised as a Congregationalist but she claims that she did not have a true, heartfelt relationship with God until her personal conversion in 1737. After listening to Nathaniel Clap preach on the sinfulness of human beings, she repented of her worldly lifestyle and turned to Christ. For the rest of her life Sarah would seek to please the Lord out of gratitude for her salvation.

The Great Awakening was spreading through New England at this time. Jonathan whitefieldEdwards, George Whitefield, and Gilbert Tennent delivered hell-fire sermons that caused people to examine their lives and see how far they had strayed from living godly lives. Thousands of people including Sarah made commitments to become more involved in church. She dedicated her life to helping the poor, the sick, and slaves and free blacks.

In 1742 when Sarah was twenty-eight years old she married Henry Osborn, a widower with three boys of his own. Now Sarah was the mother of four sons. Henry was fifty-seven years old and seemingly established in life. Sarah looked forward to being able to care for her family free of financial worries. But, within months Henry lost his fortune to poor investing and declared bankruptcy. It is not exactly clear why Henry was unable to work after this – poor health? – depression? – but Sarah became the breadwinner for the family. She felt a strong responsibility to stay out of debt.

Working as a teacher and a domestic servant for others Sarah was able to pay off the debts caused by Henry’s poor decisions and to feed the family. Later she opened a boarding school. The family was poor yet Sarah always managed somehow to share what little she had with others even less fortunate than herself.

Sarah wrote a memoir in 1743. She related how she had reached such a pinnacle of joy in her newfound salvation and marriage only to be plunged into the depths of despair when Henry lost their money. Writing the memoir helped her to come to grips with her feelings. By writing about God she felt closer to Him. She remained thankful to God for what blessings she had. She recalled with Jeremiah that God is her portion (Lamentations 3:24). She believed that knowing God is the most important thing. She hoped that her memoirs would inspire others to have hope when things went wrong. “Trust in the Lord and never despair of His mercy.”

Complete trust in God would be a challenge to Sarah in the years to come. In 1744 only one month before his twelfth birthday, Sarah’s only son Samuel died. Again Sarah turned to writing as she dealt with her sorrow. Sarah was tested as she wondered whether or not God had hidden His face from her. Through the pain of the loss Sarah came to accept God’s will for her. “I then arose from my dead child, and was quieted for the will of God was done, and my work was done as it respected my child.” Sarah later said that it was at this moment, incredible as it may sound, that God showed her His face. After she rose from her son’s deathbed she said, “God was pleased to give such evidence of his love that my mouth was filled with praises.”  As she would through all of her trials Sarah saw God’s hand in her life. She believed that He loved her and only brought sadness in her life to bring her closer to Him.

Over the next few years all three of Sarah’s stepsons would die either of illness or being killed during the French and Indian War (1756 – 1763). The war caused even more scarcity of food and provisions but Sarah managed to earn enough to keep herself and Henry and his grandchildren alive. She continued to give away any extra money she had to neighbors. All of this she did while suffering from chronic illness probably rheumatoid arthritis. She complained very little about her own pain. As always she glorified God no matter what the circumstances.

Sarah wrote, “May Gratitude ever glow in my breasts to God and them and as I have freely received in times of my distress so let me freely give as God enables and occasion offers. Lord ever open my hand and heart to the sick, poor, and needy and make me a blessing in my day.” She took in her grandchildren and other orphans.

slavery great awakeningIncredibly, even beyond this, while Sarah was busy working to care for her husband, her grandchildren and others she began to hold Bible studies in her home during the 1760’s. By January 1767, 525 people per week crowded into her home to pray, read the Bible, and be encouraged by Sarah. More than 70 slaves and free blacks would gather in her kitchen on Sunday nights and listen while she read the Bible to them. It was so crowded most of them stood shoulder to shoulder as Sarah told them the Good News that the Bible was written for each and every one of them not just white people.

Sarah herself had difficulty walking or even standing by now, but she said she never felt more alive in her life. She loved reading the Bible and singing hymns and praying. To make sure that more people could attend she arranged to have the meetings on different nights of the week. When the gathering included many adult men she asked Henry to pray in her stead.

A religious revival occurred at her house. It was controversial because Sarah was a woman. But what really hurt Sarah more was the ambivalence from church people because she had blacks coming to her home. Though evangelicals were paying lip service to emancipation and equality for slaves, the polite culture of Newport had difficulty with the idea that their slaves could be called “brothers and sisters in Christ”. Like so many they assumed that Africans were too ignorant or backward to understand the Gospel. Sarah believed that the Africans were equally children of God and should read and pray and worship God together with them.

By now Sarah was in her fifties. She was suffering with chronic pain. She was overloaded with work caring for others while maintaining a ministry in her home. But God still had nearly three more decades of service for Sarah.

Next week in Part 2 we will see how Sarah survived yet another war and church dissention. Sarah would become a spiritual leader of her church serving alongside the new pastor Samuel Hopkins. Together these two would begin the social reform in Newport beginning with the condemnation of slavery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Women of Inspiration and Hope

This months’ reviews include two missionaries and a Queen.

lettie b cowmanLettie B. Cowman has been called the “apostle of consolation” through her many devotional books. We all have struggles in our lives. If you are going through a struggle or know someone who is, I highly recommend these books.

 

 

Underwood-LilliasHorton-sm

There is a vibrant church in Korea now thanks to missionaries like Lillias Underwood.
The memoirs that she wrote will keep you glued to your chair.

 

 

Q E IIThis year our friends in the U.K. are celebrating the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II. Though her actual birthday was April 21, the official celebration is June 10-12, 2016.

 

 

 

 

—  Erny, Edward and Esther, No Guarantee But God: The Story of the Founders of OMS International, (OMS International, Greenwood, Indiana, 2000).

This book is actually the story of the founders of the Oriental Missionary Society, now called the One Mission Society. God blessed the efforts of Charles and Lettie Burd Cowman, Ernest Kilbourne, and Juji Nakada as they began a mission to the Japanese in 1901 that is still in existence today. The mission is active in over sixty countries all over the world.

After Charles Cowman died, Lettie ran the mission until 1949. She traveled far and wide and spoke at many conferences. She wrote a biography of her husband, Charles. She has also written many books that have comforted millions of hurting Christians worldwide. She wrote countless articles for periodicals. This indefatigable woman even wrote a book at the age of eighty entitled, Life Begins at Eighty. She presented copies of this book to all of her friends at a party that she gave! You will be blessed as you read about God’s work through the life of Lettie B. Cowman.

 

 

—  Cowman, Mrs. Charles E., Streams in the Desert,  (Zondervan Publishing House,Streams in the desert Grand Rapids, original 1925, this reprint 1976).

Millions of people have been comforted by the devotional works of Lettie B. Cowman. Lettie gained deep insights into the consoling mercy of God when she suffered through the loss of her own husband. She was used of God to comfort others.

After her husband Charles’ death Lettie put II Corinthians 1:3, 4 into practice:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort Who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Lettie nursed her husband Charles through his illness for six years before he died. She often wondered why God didn’t just heal Charles. Where was He? He had healed others. Lettie turned to the Bible for her help. God seemed to be asking her if she wanted her husband to be healed more than she wanted His will for her. Lettie spent hours reading the Bible and scouring the book stores for books on suffering and encouragement. She copied out many truths from books written by others who had trod the path that she had. Little did she know that she was doing this work for others and not just for herself. From the hundreds of words of wisdom that she gleaned from the books she read, Streams in the Desert was born. Everyone should have a copy of one of Lettie’s books for themselves or others.

 

—  Cowman, Lettie B., Springs in the Valley, (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, original 1939, this reprint 2016).

Lettie wrote this daily devotional for young people hoping that the insights into God’s Word would be like “springs into the valleys” (Psalm 104:10) bringing them hope and comfort. The opening passage, January 1, sets the stage for the rest of the book:

     “We are entering upon a new Year – surely we cannot but believe, a new age. If we have rightly learned the lessons of the past, there lies before us a heritage of unspeakable blessing, which none of these vivid metaphors can too strongly describe; infinite sources of blessing, for the fountains and waterbrooks are but the figures of God’s illimitable grace. For with Him is the fountain of life. A fountain Fed by Eternal Springs!”

For the next twenty-five years after writing this book Lettie Cowman wrote seven more books and helped with the distribution of Scriptures and Biblical literature. Many of her books are easily available online at Amazon.com or other book sites.

 

—  Underwood, Lillias H., Fifteen Years Among the Top-Knots or Life in Korea, (Kessinger Legacy Reprints, of American Tract Society, 1904).

Top-KnotsLillias Horton Underwood was one of the countless numbers of courageous women who went to serve on the mission field in spite of the dangers. Women who went to places like Africa or the Orient in the nineteenth century were warned that they would return in a coffin. Lillias trusted God and ventured into the interior of Korea as the first white woman ever to do so.
Lillias deemed it a privilege to serve God. In her book she said, “The wonder of it, which will grow, I think, more and more through the eternal ages, is that God should allow us, his poor creatures, to share with him in a work far greater than the creation of a universe, even the founding of an eternal and limitless kingdom of holiness, glory and peace.”
This book is as exciting to read as a novel. God gets the glory as the Underwood’s serve Him in Korea among the “top-knots”, so called because of the way they wore their hair in a knot on top of their heads. Besides the Kessinger Legacy reprint of this wonderful book, you can download it for free on the internet. Go get it; you’ll be really blessed.

 

Greene, Mark & Butcher, Catherine, The Servant Queen and the King She Serves, (Published by the Bible Society, HOPE, and the London Institute in Great Britain as a tribute to Her Majesty’s 90th birthday, 2016).

At an annual Christmas speech, Queen Elizabeth said: “For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role-model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith or none.” It is one of the many public references the Queen has made to her Christian faith.

The Servant Queen and the King She Serves uses the Queen’s own words to draw out the central role of her trust in Jesus Christ. This is a beautiful book with great photographsthe servant queen published by Bible Society, HOPE and the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It is not expensive; get more than one copy to pass out to friends and take to your church. Roy Crowne, HOPE’s executive director says, ‘The Queen describes Jesus as ‘an anchor’ and ‘role-model’ – as you read this book we hope you will consider how you can put your faith into words.”

This book is available for sale at:

http://www.hopetogether.org.uk/Groups/262514/Queens_Birthday.aspx

 

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