Zechariah Taft: Preface to Eminent and Holy Women

Taft, Zechariah. Biographical Sketches of the Lives and Public Ministry of Various Holy Women. Peterborough: Methodist Publishing House, 1992.



A great deal of pains has been taken to preserve in printed records, some account of the labours and success of those men, whom God has honoured by putting them into the ministry; while many females, whose praise was in all the churches while they lived, have been suffered to drop into oblivion, and their pre-eminent labours, and success in the conversion of souls to remain as destitute of any public record, as though they had never existed; or if any account of their exemplary piety is preserved, their public labours are either suppressed, or passed over in silence. It is very easy to account for this, the great majority of Biographers and Editors of Magazines, are enemies to female preaching, so that we have very little concerning their labours, except what is found among the Friends, or people called Quakers; among whom, theministry of women, has received a regular establishment. It is true, there have been raised up of late, several religious communities, who by their rules and regulations, publicly allow and encourage such a ministry.

Such were the high church principles, and the prejudice of education, of that eminent servant of Jesus Christ, the Rev. John Wesley, that for a season, he could scarcely give the right hand of fellowship, to any Labourers in the Lord’s Vineyard, that had not


received Episcopal Ordination. But when he was fully convinced, that God had owned the labours of pious laymen in his community, he encouraged them to proceed. And he never molested any pious female, who was subject to discipline and order, in his Societies for calling sinners to repentance; but when fully satisfied that God had owned their labours, he gave them encouragement. This is evident in his conduct towards Mrs. Gilbert, Mrs. Johnson, Miss Bosanquet, Miss Mallet, Mrs. Crosby, Miss Hurrell, and some others. Indeed he could not have done otherwise according to his own reasoning in his Sermon “against Bigotry.” His argument throughout that Sermon is, that the conversion of sinners is the work of God, and whoever is the instrument of doing this work, is the servant of God. And we must not forbid such a one. His words are (Mark ix. 38, 39) “Is there full proof, 1. That a person before us was a gross, open sinner? 2. That he is not so now, that he has broke off his sins, and lives a Christian life? And 3. That this change was wrought by hearing this man preach? If these three points be plain and undeniable, then forbid him not. Beware how you attempt to hinder him, either by your authority, or arguments, or persuasion. But what if he be only a laymen, who casts out devils? Ought I not to forbid him then? Is the fact allowed? Is there reasonable proof, that this man has or does cast out devils? If there is, forbid him not; no not at the peril of your soul. Shall not God work by whom he will work? No man can do these works unless God be with him; unless God hath sent him for this very thing. But if God hath sent him, will you call him back? Will you forbid him to go? But I do not know that he is sent of God, “Now herein is a marvelous thing,” (may any of the seals of his mission say, any whom he hath brought from Satan to God) “that ye know not whence this man is, and, behold he hath opened mine eyes! If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.” If you doubt the fact, send for the parents of the man: send


for his brethren, friends, acquaintances. But if you cannot doubt this, you must needs acknowledge, “that a notable miracle hath been wrought,” then with what conscience, with what face, can you charge him whom God hath sent, “not to speak any more in his name.”

Apply this, to those pious females who think it their duty to call sinners to repentance. Let them be judged by this rule. Mr. Wesley knew that it made no difference whether the servant of God who performed these miracles was male or female. This does not alter the facts. On this principle he answered a certain person who said to him, “Mr. Wesley, how is it, that you encourage certain females in preaching?” “Because (said he) God owns them in the conversion of sinners, and who am I that I should withstand God.”

It is worthy of remark that those females that are most active in the church, are in general those of the highest order in religious attainments, especially in communion with God, and conformity to him. If they did wrong in calling sinners to repentance, is it not strange, that the persons who live nearest to God, and are most like him, should be most guilty here? And is it not equally strange; that true repentance could never be afforded them; but as they draw nearer eternity, and as the prospect brightens before them into the eternal world, they should the more abudantly rejoice in what they have done.

With respect to the impropriety of pious females addressing mixt companies of men and women, there would be some weight in this objection, if we lived in a country, where women were secluded from the society of men, and where in their religious assemblies they worshiped God in separate apartments; but this argument amounts to nothing in a country where they always mix in society, and where females are allowed to address companies of men and women in the public theatres, markets, fields, and shops; and if


they are allowed to address the other sex in the way of trade and business, and to get money; surely, they may be allowed to address them, upon the subjects which regard the soul, and eternity; provided they have piety, and the other qualifications suitable for the important work.

As to the argument that the call of women to preach, must be a Quakers’ call, as it has been said; I would reply, that all the arguments which go to prove that women should only preach by immediate inspiration from heaven, will go to prove that men should preach only when so inspired. But providing we were to admit this, then the objection to their addressing mixt companies falls to the ground. For supposing a female to be inspired of God to prophesy or preach in his name, while sitting in a large congregation of men, and women, how is she to know, that what she has gottne to say, may not apply to the men equally with the women? Mr Wesley in his Notes on 1 Cor. xiv. 34, 35, allows that women are to teach when inspired, but he does not so much as hint, that it was improper for them to address men, as well as women. The Notes were written in the year 1753. It is very evident however, by his Letters, and subsequent conduct, that he entertained more favourable views on this subject afterwards. The Letters published in this volume were written in 1788, and 1790, about thirty-six or thirty-eight years after he wrote the Notes. And his Letter to Miss Bosanquet, in which he approves of her call, was written June 13, 1771, about eighteenth years after his Notes; and from these Letters, and his conduct towards these, and other female preachers, it is evident, that he fully approved of their conduct. More especially as it respects Miss Mallet, for he and the Brethren assembled with him the Conference in Manchester, in the year 1787, designates, authorizes, and so to speak, ordains her as a preacher in his connexion. And if he thus approved of these


most excellent females preaching, he would also of others of similar talents, piety, and usefulness.

Mrs. Fletcher asserts that she did nothing but what Mr. Wesley approved; and Mrs. Fletcher’s call was not a Quakers’ call, neither did she confine her ministry to her own sex, but preached to mixt companies of men and women, nay she was a minister to ministers; for several Clergymen attended her ministry, in the Vicarage barn, at Madeley, on Monday evenings. Those then who either condemn female preaching altogether, or who confine it to  Quakers’ call, or who say they ought not to preach to a mixt congregation of men and women, so far are not Wesleyan in their views. And I am fully persuaded had Mr. Wesley lived to this day he would have been more and more convinced of the divine authority of such a ministry. Such women (I mean those in the Methodist connexion) have not had that encouragement which they ought to have had, and which they would have had if Mr. Wesley had been still living.

It appears clear to me that God intends as we draw nearer the Millennial Glory to pour out his spirit, more aboundantly upon his servants, and upon his handmaids, upon his sons, and upon his daughters, and they shall prophesy, or preach in his name, and call sinners to repentance And if we will not suffer God to choose his own instruments, he will raise them up in other communities, or suffer communities to be raised in the midst of us. Many, very many, have suffered a martyrdom of conflicting passions, arising from a sense of their duty to God on the one hand, and of opposition from men on the other. Many have left us, and joined other communities, where they are eminently useful. For every pious female among us, cannot say with Miss Bosanquet, “though the Methodists were to toss me about as a foot-ball, I would stick to them like a leech,” especially when other doors are thrown wide open, and where there is a large and wide field open for their


labours; and where the same doctrines are preached, and in a great measure, the same discipline enforced, as among the Wesleyan Methodists.

I believe the ordinary call of God to the ministry is to men, and the extraordinary call to females. But in this extraordinary call I do not consider any female strictly and fully called to the pastoral office; or to be the regular pastor of the Church of Christ, but I do believe that the Lord calls some females to be fellow-labourers with the pastors, or helpers, or as we should call them Local Preachers, and I think we should help, or encourage those women, who thus help us in the Gospel. Mr. Wesley did so; more especially during the latter part of his life. The great Apostle St. Paul did so, – and he wished others to encourage them too. Mr. Wesley in his Letters to Miss Bosanquet, and to Mrs. Crosby, says “I think the strength of the cause rests here, in your having an extraordinary call;St. Paul’s ordinary rule was, I permit not a woman to speak in the congregation,” yet in extraordinary cases, e made a few exceptions at Corinth, in particular.

From the pages of History, we learn that women have moved in the most exalted spheres, and achieved the most astonishing exploits. They have worn the crown of royalty, occupied the bench of civil magistracy, and sat at the head of all ecclesiastical dignity. They have led victorious armies to the valley of decision, conducted them to the honours of conquest, and celebrated their triumphs in exalted strains of poetic eloquence. Women have been divinely inspired with the spirit of prophecy, and resided in the college of prophets. They have signalized themselves by learning and piety, and manefested as extensive capacities as persons of the other sex. Women have been called to publish the glad tidings of redeeming mercy, and through their instrumentality many have been brought to the enjoyment of divine regard. They have even been sent to instruct the teachers of mankind, and


have been fellow-labourers with the Apostles of our Lord. And for the truth’s sake females have endured, with fortitude, the most agnonising tortures; and not a few have attained the crown of martyrdom! Women have, by divine appointment, filled up in former ages, the most important offices with propriety and honour; and if in these last days the great Head of the Church has called a few of that sex, to warn sinners to “flee from the wrath to come,” and to point them to “the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world,” who are we that we should withstand God, or say unto him, what doest thou?

“God hath raisd up the glory and light of many worthy women,” says a pious writer of the seventeenth century, “who have been as eminent for holiness and virtue, as men have been; as in Profession of the Faith, 2 Tim. i. 5. Love to Religion, 2 Kings, iv. 8. Zealous Devotion, Luke, x. 39. Holy Meditation, Luke, ii. 19. Religious Fasting, Est. iv. 16. Devout Praying, 1 Sam. i. 10. Tenderness of Conscience, Mark. v. 33. And of Affections, Luke, vii. 28. Succouring of the Saints, Rom, xvi. 1.2. Relieving of the Poor, Acts, ix. 36. Boldness and Constancy in Persecution, Heb. xi. 35. Inoffensive Living, Luke, i. 5, 6, &c.

“Yea, in divers particulars,” says the same writer, “we may read they have excelled, as in Knowledge, thus Priscilla did help Aquilla in godliness, in which regard, the Holy Ghost gives her the upper hand, and sets her before her husband, (though he was a faithful man,) Rom. xvi. 3. and Acts, xviii. 18. and 2 Tim. iv. 19. And thus Sampson’s mother had more Knowledge and Resolution than her husband, (and yet a Godly man,) the Angel appears to her rather than to him, and by her is her husband confirmed and strengthened, Judges, xiii. 9,22,23. In Faith they have excelled; it was stronger in them than in men, see Luke, xxiv. 8,9,11. and Matt. xv. 28. and for Zeal; they have


shewed more in the performance of God’s service and worship than men have, Exod. xxxviii. 8. They were more forward in timely coming, so that they did attend while the doors were open, and further manifested it by parting with those things they highly esteemed, (their looking-glasses,) for the use of God’s Sanctuary; this likewise appears in the New Testament, Acts, xvi. 13. So for Courage how oft have we known female hearts in men’s breasts, and contrarily manly powers in the weaker vessels, Judg. iv. 9. Deborah must accompany Barak else he will not go. A woman undertakes to treat with Joal for the safety of the City Able, when not one of the Inhabitants within those walls move for the preservation of their whole body, 2 Sam. xx. 16. And she by her Wisdom as well as Courage prevails for the cutting off Sheba’s head, and the delivering of it unto Joab. By the hand of a woman doth the great terror of Israel sleep his last; Sisera’s head is fastened to the earth with a nail by the strength of Jael’s hand, Judg. iv. 21. And with a piece of a millstone cast down by a woman upon Abimileck’s head, he was wounded to death, Judg. xiii. 8. Thus we see it no rare matter to find in feminine breasts, masculine spirits.

“And lastly, about Christ, women were the most officious to do him any service either in life or death. In his life they left their houses, country, and delights, and followed him from Galilee, ministering unto him of all their substance, Luke, viii. 2,3. The like is not reported of any man. And Luke, vii. 44, our Saviour tells Simon that invited him to a feast, he then received more kindness from a woman than from him. At his death, when all his acquintanc [sic] stood a far off, and his Disciples fled, Women followed him with constancy and courage, and declared themselves and their affections to him even to his Cross, Luke, xxiii. 27, 49.

“And after his death they were women that came so early in the morning with spice, balm, and syndon


to bury him to whom the Angels said, God tell his Disciples and Peter that he is risen, Mark, xvi. 1,7.

“The reason is that which St. Paul gives, Gal. iii. 28. Col. iii. 11. In Christ Jesus neither Male nor Female is any thing, God often chuseth to give grace to such weak ones to confound the mighty.

“It may likewise serve to encourage women,” says the same Divine, “and put the life of Religion into their hearts, seeing that if they do things worthy of commendation they shall have it, we may find in Scripture, and Inventory taken of the particular acts performed by women, not only the Chamber provided by the Shunamite for the Prophet, 2 Kings, iv. 10. but a night’s lodging afforded to the Spies by the Victualler Rahab, Josh. ii, 1, and a small measure of Oil, and Meal , afforded by the Widow to Elijah. 1 Kings xvii, 14, are upon record: And so is Mary’s box, Matt. xxvi, 13, and Mary’s choice, and Martha’s cheerful entertainment, Luke x, 41, 42. with the woman of Samaria’s pitcher John iv, and the poor widow’s mites, Luke xxi, 2. Surely God’s Spirit aims at this as one end herein, to give comfort and encouragement to that weak sex, when they shall see every little duty of their so well accepted. Grace makes no difference of sexes, rather the weaker carries away the more honour because it had the less helps.*”

If Infinite Wisdom saw it right to perpetuate the most trivial circumstances in the lives of holy women, it surely will not be deemed imprudent, to snatch from oblivion’s gulph. the memory of those females, whose exertions have so greatly promoted the immortal interests of numerous imperishable souls.

* Nehemiah Rogers’ Exposition on the Parable of the lost Groat, page 46, 47, 48, 49, 50.


The opinion of another divine; perhaps as learned and as pious, as any that ever wrote upon the Scriptures, is found in the following comment upon Romans xvi, 12. “Salute Triphena and Tryphosa, who labored in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, who labored much in the Lord.” “Two holy women, says he, “who were assistants to the apostle in his work, probably by exhorting, visiting the sick, &c. Persis was another woman, who it seems, excelled in the preceding; for of her it is said, she labored much in the Lord. We learn from this that Christian women, as well as men, labored in the ministry of the word. In those times of simplicity, all persons, whether men, or women, who had received the knowledge of the truth, believed it to be their duty to propogate it to the uttermost of their power. Many have spent much useless labour in the endeavouring to prove that these women did not preach. That there were some prophetesses, as well as prophets, in the Christian Church, we learn; and that a woman might pray or prophesy, provided she had her head covered, we know; and that whoever prophesied, spoke unto others to edification, exhortation, and comfort, St. Paul declares, 1 Cor. xiv, 3. And that no preacher can do more, every person must acknowledge; because, to edify, exhort, and comfort, are the prime ends of the gospel ministry. If women thus prophesied, then women preached. There is however, much more than this implied in the Christian ministry; of which men only, and men called of God, are capable.” Dr. Adam Clarke.

A Female ministry, in some extraordinary cases, is of God, and not of man, and I believe it was the duty of Miss Mallet, Miss Bosanquet, Mrs. Crosby, Mrs. Gilbert, Miss Barritt, and others, to call sinners to repentance; and that they sinned not against God in so doing. And if God called them, surely he can, and perhaps he will, call others to the same work. All who admit this, will think with me that a female


ministry in extraordinary cases should be fully recognized and encouraged.

To offer a little encouragement to such is my design in publishing these Biographical Sketches,  – and I have no doubt through the blessing of Almighty God, without which nothing is wise, nothing strong, this design will in some degree, be accomplished. Many a pious female whom God has called to active labour in his Church, will read her own experience in the convictions, deliverances, and success, of some character here recorded. And in this record of the heart and life, the views and feelings, the experience and conduct, the labours and success of those that have gone before them from tribulation to heaven, through the cross to the crown, will find a powerful support in trial, and a stimulus to duty. I want neither honour, nor profit, but have written this chiefly to put honour upon, and to encourage those, whom God delighteth to honour, in making them his instruments in forwarding and accomplishing his work, and glory in the world.

Perhaps some may think I should not have brought into notice, any characters that are now living. I have been very sparing in this, but while public characters are considered a kind of public property, and the subjects of public opinion, we must submit to the expression of that opinion, especially in this land of freedom, where, ministers of religion, and ministers of state; members of parliament, and even the King himself, are subject to this ordeal. It is hardly possible to take up a catalogue of books, but living characters are exhibited. Mr. Wesley was in the constant habit of publishing Biographical Sketches of the life, experience, and labours of the ministers in his connexion. He also published great numbers of those Letters of friendship, which he received from his numerous correspondents. His great object was usefulness, and from whatever source this object could be


obtained and promoted, he availed himself of it. I may have adopted the same plan, and I hope from the same motive.

I will conclude this preface in the language of an aged, and very useful minister of the gospel, whose letter lies now before me. “In reference to the propriety of females declaring God’s counsel to sinners for their salvation: I must say I never saw one text of scripture to oppose it; nor heard one solid reason ever advanced against it; nor I think ever can, till it is proved that souls converted to God by females are less pleasing to him than those converted by men, or that women ought to speak and write so much and so much only.

Z. Taft.

Wesleyan Chapel House,

New Malton, Feb. 1825.

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