Kingdom Women

Heroines of the faith: Jessie Penn-Lewis

Jessie was born in South Wales, UK, in 1861. The daughter of a mining engineer/Methodist minister, she married William Penn-Lewis at the age of 18. Eighteen months later she realized that if Christ were to return, she wasn’t ready, and so began to seek the Lord. Soon she met Jesus and began a deep walk with him.

When she turned 19, she was found to have tuberculosis and given six months to live. God miraculously healed her and she had remarkable resilience and strength to accomplish all that God called her to through the rest of her life.

At the age of 31 she was filled with the Holy Spirit. She had great insight into the Word of God and taught before huge audiences at conventions around the world including the Keswick Convention, a famous annual conference on the deeper life.

Jessie Penn Lewis was involved in the Welsh Revival of 1904-5, a revival that was cut short by the illness (both physical and mental) of Evan Roberts, the main leader. Evan Roberts stayed with her and her husband for a couple of years following this.

Jessie’s ministry took her to other countries including Russia, India, Canada and the USA.  She had the privilege of speaking at the Moody Bible Institute Worker’s Conference where R.A. Torrey introduced her as “one of the most gifted speakers the world has ever known.” She had the privilege of being friends with some other spiritual giants of her day, including F.B .Meyer, Andrew Murray, Oswald Chambers and D.L. Moody. She was a prolific author, and her book,War on the Saints, written in collaboration with Evan Roberts, is a classic on spiritual warfare. She founded the magazine, “The Overcomer.”

Jessie Penn-Lewis had an influence on her generation, including such people as Frank Buchman (who founded the Oxford Group) and Norman Grubb (who, as president of WEC International took it from a small group of 35 missionaries to thousands of workers around the world.)

But gender was also an issue:

“I saw that God had given me a specific commission . . . but the one objection was the fact that I was a woman. There was no quarrel with the message . . . no denial of the divine seal . . . no getting away from the evidence of the results. But none of these . . . did away with the fact that I was a woman, therefore I could not but see that, whilst God opened doors . . . in some quarters, others were fast closed to the message I bore, purely, and only, because I was a woman.”

The great cry of this heart was, “Why did God not commit this vital message to one who could . . . deliver it without restriction?” Often, in the early years, as she labored to deliver the message, she also gazed out upon the audience, “watching with eager eyes to see whether there was not some hidden and chosen instrument to whom God could transmit this burden, who would rise up . . . and let me step aside. . .” The following expresses her deep concerns. . . “for years I cried to God that He would raise up a man . . .” to fill “the commission He had given to me . . . many tears did I shed over this, . . . . until at last, . . . I saw and could say with the Lord, ‘I beheld and there was no man,’ . . . . . . God had committed this message to me, and at whatever cost, I must go forward.”

On one occasion, “a gentlemen with strong prejudice against the ministry of woman” was in attendance at an Overcomer conference. . . . In conversation afterwards, he confessed: ‘I would not have believed it possible, had I not seen it, that God would use a woman like that!'”  Her response? “God never does use a woman like that . . . or a man either! God only uses the NEW CREATION.”

“All that I have, all that I am, all that I may be is Thine, wholly, absolutely, and unreservedly” Jessie Penn-Lewis.

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6 replies on “Heroines of the faith: Jessie Penn-Lewis”

I look forward to the day when Christian men realize that they can enjoy the same spiritual authority in Christ that God has given to women. 🙂

I have been reading the teachings of Jessie Penn-Lewis for some months, as has my wife — since I learned of her through this blog site, Felicity. Such helpful insight, Spirit-taught. I’m including a few copies of her works among a collection (including Austin Sparks and Andrew Murray) that I’m taking to Nigeria in November, where I have been extended the gift of meeting for a week with 25 high school teachers (they’re suspending classes for this so that we have the full days together!). Then I have been offered the opportunity to meet with pastors from rural villages for a few days, for our mutual edification, and for their equipping for ministry. The primary focus in each case is growing in our knowledge of Christ and in nurturing community life which demonstrates Him. It’s a nation where women are clearly undervalued (and that’s a mild euphemism), which is reflected within the church as well. One of the sub-themes is how life by our citizenship in heaven is so vastly and gloriously different from life by our cultures. Christ in us changes everything, and issues forth in personal and relational and community life that exudes God who is Life, Light, and Love. I’ll be sharing occasional excerpts from Penn-Lewis, particularly what she has well understood in the remarkable impact of Christ’s death, resurrection and enthronement, and in how the Spirit transforms and equips. Looking forward to the wonderful opportunity!
P.S. When I was in that setting 2 years ago, I spoke to about 40 late teens and 20’s about love, sex, and marriage. They were mesmerized, having never heard Biblical teaching on that subject. I get reports frequently of how that session captured both the young men and women, and many have purposed to live differently in their marriages than what is generally the norm — with men determining to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. Very exciting to learn of these new directions!

Jim, there is such a rich heritage in some of these writers of earlier years. My parents-in-law were sent out to China by T. Austin Sparks’ church, although so far, I’ve read only a little of his writings.

I’m excited to hear of the opportunities the Lord is giving you–I know the Lord will use your time there for his glory and to transform lives. Praise God!

This is beautiful! I had never heard of her until a colleague of mine at Moody asked me if I had found her during my research of turn-of-the-century Christian woman. I just adore that quote. It is interesting that I did not see that same hesitance about speaking in other women of the same era. I was under the impression that the silencing of women in the church came a bit later? Very nice article. Thank you!

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