The Advent Christian Woman: Abigail Mussey (2/2)

The Advent Christian Woman: Abigail Mussey (2/2)

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Abigail Messer was born on August 31, 1811 in the town of New London, NH to Zaccheus Messer and Hannah Hutchins Messer. She was one of nine children, living in a large house with all of her siblings, her parents, and a grandmother. Abigail left home in the year 1827 at the age of 16 to live with her brother in Methuen, Massachusetts.[1] On a visit to her sister a few years later in Croyden, New Hampshire, Abigail met a man by the name of Levi Mussey, whom she would later marry in January of 1832, “thus pledging myself to the man of my choice until death should us part.”[2] Levi Mussey was a Universalist, and his father was a ranked member of the Universalists. Abigail describes her husband clinging to his Universalist “peace- and-safety” doctrine, which became a shield for them.[3] But, remembering the constant teachings of her mother, that she must be born again, these thoughts would often trouble her.[4]

Abigail Mussey recalls her conversion in her self-written biography, Life Sketches and Experiences. Abigail’s conversion journey began with her brother-in-law John, who was a Christian. John conversed freely and readily with Levi and Abigail, and while Levi was opposed to John’s attempts, and even antagonistic at times; Abigail listened. Levi Mussey was against Abigail having any sorts of relations with Christians of any kind – Orthodox, Freewill Baptists, or Methodists. But his brother, John Mussey, had been converted and become a Christian not too long before Abigail herself. After John Mussey’s baptism down by the water-side, Levi allowed his wife to visit with John after his baptism, where Abigail recalls feeling utterly oppressed with the burden of her own guilt and sin, but she had finally reached the cross, “where I could leave my burden if I would.”[5] Abigail waited to speak to John, and then she records the event: “I said, in the bitterness of my heart, ‘Brother John, will you pray for me?’ He fell upon his knees, and I knelt with him. Before he had time to utter a word in prayer, my mouth was open, and from my burdened heart I uttered these words: ‘Here, Lord, I give myself to thee; ‘tis all I can do.’ It was all I could say; it was all God required of me, if I would believe.”[6]

Perhaps the most miraculous part of Abigail Mussey’s conversion, is that it led to the conversion of her own husband, who had once been so opposed. Abigail records, “Oh, he says in his heart, if religion makes people as happy as this, I will have it, if it is for me.”[7] Two weeks later, both Abigail and her husband Levi were baptized in a pool of water that had been prepared for the occasion, with a Freewill Baptist minister administering the ordinance.[8] Abigail and Levi were united with the Freewill Baptist Church in Whitefield, where Levi’s brother John and his wife were members.[9] Abigail records her joy in the salvation of both she and her husband: “My name was written in the book of life, and so was his.”[10]

Abigail’s autobiography affords the unique opportunity to have a glimpse into the situations surrounding the rise in popularity of the Millerite movement, and the preaching and teaching of William Miller. She records that “the book of the old Lowhampton famer [that is, William Miller] has reached the place, and causes quite a stir for a while. Some think it may be true that Christ will come in 1843; others say nay, for no man knoweth the day nor the hour, - which quiets the minds of many.”[11] Interestingly, Abigail recalls the ways in which the Millerite movement and its seemingly unique doctrines affected the preacher of her own minister in the Freewill Baptist church, Brother Bowles. She states that “he has been looking over the old chart...and has learned some new ideas and is preaching them.”[12] The Freewill Baptist minister, it seems, has harkened onto the doctrines that are known to Advent Christians today as the doctrines of Conditional Immortality, the Sleep of the Dead, and Annihilationism. On Conditional Immortality, she writes: “...we are mortal from the crown of our heads to the sole of the foot; that no one hath immortality but God alone; but, if we seek for it, we shall have it at the coming of Christ.”[13] In discussing what her minister says about the Sleep of the Dead, “the dead don’t know anything; that they sleep in their graves till Jesus comes, and that Paul, that great apostle, has not obtained his crown and will not until Christ comes and all receive their reward together that love his appearing.”[14] Finally, writing on what seems to be the doctrine of Annihilationism, “God don’t kill folks, don’t make them sick, and has not an immediate hand in everything that is done under the sun; that time and chance happen to us all; and that man out of Christ is like the beasts that perish; that all the wicked will God destroy.”[15]

Abigail records that discussions of these doctrines caused quite the stir among the Freewill Baptist church she and her husband were members of, and eventually there were some who left the congregation. Soon, a vote was taken on whether the church should divide between those in favor of these new doctrines, and those against them. Abigail writes; “Our hearts were grieved, for we did believe those so-called new doctrines were of the Bible.”[16] In regard to the split, Abigail writes that she “felt willing to take my stand in favor of what I honestly believed to be Bible truth, and suffer the consequence.”[17] It was eventually voted that this group of people who followed Brother Bowles and his teachings would be rejected by the Freewill Baptists. The group who left with Brother Bowles, Abigail and Levi included, were then taken in with the Christian Connection, which is associated with the Millerite movement.[18]

Abigail’s first experience of hearing the Millerite message of Christ’s return in 1843 is recorded in her autobiography. A man whom Abigail only refers to as Reed came to preach the Millerite message to the Mussey’s congregation. She describes her encounter with this preacher and his message as such:

I almost trembled at the thought of the judgment so near. It was an awful, solemn subject. I hardly thought I was strong enough to endure it. ...But I went to the meeting, and while I sat listening, there was so much glory in the subject, that my fears were driven to the four winds. I loved to hear, and my soul was enraptured at the thought. I loved the appearing of Jesus, and hoped he would come.[19]

As it was mentioned above, the ultimate date decided on for the return of Christ was October 22, 1844. The day which all the Millerites across the land were waiting for came and went, and there was no return of Christ. There was no appearance of the Saviour “to deliver us from this world of sin and sorrow. We were disappointed in our expectations. The world rejoiced and we mourned.”[20] Abigail still had hope, amazingly, and even wrote a letter to “The Signs of the Times” in the immediate aftermath of the Great Disappointment. It was, much to her astonishment, published soon after she sent it. Abigail admitted to being hesitant to send in her letter, fearful that “my brethren might think that I was trying to make myself conspicuous;” but Abigail was sure that she had “done the will of my Father in heaven; so I left the matter with him.”[21] She received a letter from a Sister in South Reading, expressing how grateful she was to read Abigail’s letter in the paper. This was enough to show Abigail that she had done her duty in writing the letter to “The Signs of the Times,” and she felt it was confirmation “to write as the Sprit might dictate in future time.”[22]

It would be many years later, after the premature deaths of both her husband and eldest son due to typhoid fever, that Abigail’s preaching ministry would have its start. Abigail read a notice in the World’s Crisis of a camp meeting in East Kingston, New Hampshire. She made up her mind to go, where she saw Joshua V. Himes preaching. Abigail writes that she “felt to thank God that I was permitted to be there;” and she met several men and women of whom she had read about in the papers, and even met some people who had recognized her name in the papers.[23] One day during this camp meeting, a stranger came up to Abigail as inquired of her if she was a preacher, or if she held meetings. She answered quickly, saying “No, sir; I don’t know enough!”[24] She told this man; “I labored among my brethren where they invited me to come, and would pay my fare, but was no preacher.”[25]

In her autobiography, Abigail records the initial moments where the thoughts of preaching entered her mind: “I thought to myself, where shall I labor, and where can I warn sinners, for they are not at the prayer-meeting, there came a secret whispering to my heart, ‘Go out and hold meetings yourself, and then you can warn sinners and talk as long as, and when you please, and no one will shut the door against you.’”[26] This thought frightened Abigail, and she pushed it to the back of her mind because she did not believe herself to be qualified for such a task. But, she heard in her heart that she could be justified in doing this; because she could read the Bible, speak, pray, and sing.[27] She dismissed these thoughts, “believing they were from the enemy, trying to get me out of my proper place in the church of God, and thus doing I should be no benefit to anyone.”[28]

God began to open doors which led to the path of Abigail Mussey becoming a preacher. It was not easy, as she faced both internal and external opposition. But one Sabbath, a man showed up at the door of the boarding house she was staying at in Lowell, MA. He asked her if she would go with him to Billerica, as there was a Christian meeting there that needed help. She decided to go with him, and when they arrived at the place where the meeting would be held later that day, Abigail records: “I spoke by way of exhortation after some others had spoken, and the brother announced to the people that I would speak to them in the afternoon. It went like a dagger to my heart. I was afraid that they would think I was a preacher...”[29] When the afternoon came, Abigail sat in the back of the room, fearful that they would think she could preach. After the songs and prayer, there was silence in the room; it was clear that the people were waiting for Abigail to get up and preach; and so, she got up and spoke as her “mind was led.”[30] The people invited her to come back the next week, and she agreed. These meetings gained interest, and their numbers grew. Abigail reflects on these Sundays: “My cup was enlarging, and my mind was expanding; and I began to think I was preaching, and feared I should be called the preacher woman; and I thought I could not endure that.”[31]

Abigail began to receive encouragement from strangers and peers who would hear her preaching; encouragement to think about holding her own meetings, or her own church services. When one reverend visiting a service in which she preached inquired if she held her own public meetings, she readily answered “No.” However, this inquiry remained in the back of her mind,and she began to wonder, “why...do the servants of the Lord have such thoughts arise in their minds, and strangers, too?”[32] Abigail began to realize that these secret thoughts of becoming a preacher and leader of her own public meetings could not be from the enemy, but only from the Lord. After much prayer and supplication, Abigail boldly concluded: “I felt to thank God, let my voice go out, and draw the people in if God be in it, and I can tell them about the blessed Saviour, and warn them to flee from the wrath to come, and lay hold of eternal life...”[33] Abigail thus decides that a public preaching ministry may be in God’s plan for her life after all. But it would be a while before she succumbed to the urging of the Spirit to become a preacher, and wear that title.

Abigail sailed to Nova Scotia in May of 1861, and it was here where God worked in the heart of Abigail, and the urging within her to become a preacher was strengthened. When she arrived in Nova Scotia, attending the next Sunday meeting, there were many who arrived at the meeting believing that she would be preaching there. However, Abigail did not think the Lord had called her there to preach, but only to labor for the Gospel. However, Abigail records the events through which the Lord called her to preach – in the midst of a storm that she was caught outside in. As she struggles to get out of the storm, she cries out to God for help, and he answers her with a request: “Will you go and preach my word?” Abigail resists, claiming that she does not know how to preach, and that she does not know enough to preach. The Lord responds; “Will you go...and hold meetings? Preach salvation to dying sinners?” Still, Abigail resisted. The Lord said to her, “I will teach you... Will you obey me and go out at my command?” Then, the truth of Abigail’s personal struggle with the call to preach is revealed:

But I am a woman, a poor illiterate female, and how can I go? Female preachers are but few, and they are persecuted and opposed by the clergy of our day; they will repeat the words of the apostle, that it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church, and that is sufficient for them to know a woman has no call, and ought not to preach; and how can I stand against such opposition as that, and to be called the woman-preacher, when I don’t know enough, and am no preacher?[34] 

God, in reply to this, urges Abigail to go and preach, and to not fear opposition. Abigail knows that the Lord will be with her, and that he will teach her what she needs to know.[35] Returning back to the place she was staying at in Nova Scotia, she entered the church meeting-room and prepared to worship. Abigail write, “I took the lead of the meeting, and did not care what I was called, if God would smile upon me.”[36]

As her preaching ministry took off, Abigail had no written sermons or proper learning to preach; she relied fully on the guidance of the Lord, and she spoke boldly.[37] On her call to preach, Abigail writes: “I knew whom I believed, in whom I trusted, and who had sent me out. My mission was from heaven, not from man. My faith stood not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”[38] From then on, Abigail never saw her preaching ministry as restricted by her own limitations, or by her audience. On one occasion, she preached to a largely colored audience, and she preached enthusiastically and boldly. She was certain that her colored brethren present would never forget the “Yankee Woman-Preacher.”[39] Abigail continued to labor in Nova Scotia, preaching at meetings, and leading meetings of her own. Many came to know the Lord through her ministry, and many more came to follow the beliefs of “Millerism,” as it began to be called in Nova Scotia.[40] After beginning her preaching ministry in Nova Scotia, Abigail Mussey remained there for fifteen months. In 1862, she set sail to return to Boston, Massachusetts.[41]

Abigail attended the Wilbraham Camp Meeting for the second time in 1863 (her first time being in 1860), and this time she was a preacher at the meeting herself. Writing of this experience, Abigail says of being in the audience, “[hearing] preaching from the stand, and in the tents, from the servants of the Lord, was like cold water to my thirsty soul.”[42] But, she yearned to stand up and preach herself, and felt that it was her duty to do so. Seeking encouragement, Abigail went to her acquaintance, brother Joshua V. Himes, and “he spoke words of encouragement to me such as a preacher would not do that had no faith in females laboring in the gospel field.”[43] Brother Himes opened the way for Abigail to preach, and she spoke to her brethren and sisters in the audience, revealing her heart to preach the word. Abigail writes: “My duty was to tell my brethren that God had called me to labor in his vineyard, and I had promised to go where doors were open. This was my duty, and this I must do, God helping me, and I needed the prayers and sympathies of all who love our Lord Jesus Christ.”[44]

Near the end of her autobiography, Abigail Mussey offers a word of encouragement to other women reading her words who may feel called to labor in the Lord’s vineyard:

A word to my dear sisters, who may feel they are called of God to go out and labor in his vineyard, but have not strength to yield on account of opposing influences. Submit to God, let the consequence be what it may. God will take care of you and give his angels charge over you. Be sure and know what God requires, and then do it in his fear. What if some ministers do oppose, and say no feeble woman has a right to preach the gospel? Don’t mind that. Ministers cannot save you; and it is not they that call you, but the same God that calls them into the field to labor to save dying men. He knows best whom to call; and happy are all those who obey and put their trust in him.[45]

Finally, Abigail issues a plea to her brothers who may oppose women preaching:

And you, my dear brothers in Christ, who may feel a spirit of opposition against females preaching the gospel, put away that feeling; for we need your sympathies and your prayers. You have an undoubted right to understand what God requires of you. That you feel is a great privilege; and so it is. Grant, oh for Jesus’ sake, grant us poor females the same privilege! [That] is all we ask. In his name let us understand our duty, and pray God that we may do it in his fear. The harvest is great, and the faithful laborers are few; and a female can preach salvation to sinners and warn them of their danger as well as a brother, if God be with them and bid them go... she who is called of God will carry the evidence with her... Let me exhort you then, my beloved brethren, ...’help those women which labored with me in the gospel...’[46]

The ministry of Abigail Mussey was a ministry that did not have its genesis until after the Great Disappointment, and after the height of the Millerite movement. But Abigail Mussey has arguably left her mark on Advent Christian history, and while her legacy may have been neglected in study, her fervor for preaching the gospel to all who are lost is certainly evident in the message of the Advent Christian denomination today.

Abigail Mussey is an example of a preacher who did not allow her gender, circumstances, or doubts hinder her from preaching the gospel message to all those who were dying; and it is certainly an example that men and women alike can be encouraged by. Despite the circumstances of tragedy and death surrounding her life, along with the internal and external opposition that she faced; Abigail Mussey seemed to have decided that preaching a message of salvation to lost souls was more important than opposition concerning her gender and skills. Abigail is an example worthy of following, and her preaching ministry is one that was surely not without great profit and fruit.

 

[1] Abigail Mussey, Life Sketches and Experience (Cambridge: Dakin & Metcalf, 1866), 7-12.
[2] Ibid., 17.
[3] Ibid., 25.
[4] Ibid.
[5]  Ibid., 44.
[6]  Ibid., 44-45.
[7]  Ibid, 49.
[8]  Ibid., 50-51.
[9]  Ibid., 51.
[10]  Ibid.
[11]  Ibid., 60; brackets mine. 
[12]  Ibid.
[13]  Ibid.
[14]  Ibid., 60-61.
[15]  Ibid., 61.
[16} Ibid.
[17]  Ibid., 62. 
[18]  Ibid., 63.
[19]  Ibid., 63-64.
[20]  Ibid., 68.
[21]  Ibid., 68-69. 
[22]  Ibid., 69.
[23]  Ibid., 129. 
[24]  Ibid., 130. 
[25]  Ibid.
[26]  Ibid., 135.
[27]  Ibid.
[28]  Ibid.
[29]  Ibid., 136.
[30]  Ibid., 137.
[31]  Ibid. 
[32]  Ibid., 140. 
[33]  Ibid., 142. 
[34]  Ibid., 160.
[35]  Ibid.
[36]  Ibid., 161.
[37]  Ibid., 163.
[38]  Ibid., 164.
[39]  Ibid., 164-165. It is also important to note that Abigail Mussey was preaching the truth of the gospel to African-American slaves, her “colored brethren,” during the Civil War (1861-1865).
[40]  Ibid., 168-176.
[41] Ibid., 193.
[42]  Ibid., 195; brackets mine.
[43]  Ibid., 196.
[44]  Ibid.
[45]  Ibid., 214.
[46]  Ibid., 214-215; citing Phil. 4:3. Brackets mine.

  

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