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Written by Ephraim Rittenhouse   

GOSPEL MESSENGER 

State Road, Del., August, 1883

Dear Brother Respess :--I understand it to be your desire to have a brief sketch of my life and public labors, from my own pen, for the use of your readers; and if I undertake to comply, I wish it to be with the understanding that I am acting upon your judgment rather than my own.

The old patriarch said his days had been few and evil. My days have not yet been half as many as his had been; and as to their being evil, he had seen the ladder with its. foot set upon the earth and whose top reached heaven, and had already begun, to see the prophetic vision fulfilled.

My story can have but little of interest, or of value, on my part. But I can speak of many things of interest and importance that have been done for me, and conferred upon me. In the world, I have known something of trials. My parents were both Baptists, and so far as I ever knew they were both regarded as sound and consistent They lived to see the division developing, and to show that they were steadfast. The church where they belonged was called Kingwood in Hunterdon county, New Jersey. It was organized July 31st, 1742. In 1835 my father was called away by death. The church had then been in existence nearly a century. Her faith and practice from thc first until the present, have been what they are now; formerly designated as Particular Baptist, latterly Old School Baptist. My father was an officer in the church from before my recollection until his death. event occurred when I was about sixteen years old. Shortly after his death, the preacher who was serving the church as pastor, and who came there professing to be in entire accord with the church in her faith and practice, suddenly changed and began to advocate means, and missions, &c. I speak particularly of these events, not only because I was eye-witness to them, but that I was about the age to receive impressions from them. The minister, without the consent or even the knowledge of the church engaged a man, afterwards known as a revivalist, that we had never heard of, come and hold a protracted or revival meeting. This meeting which was continued in the meeting-house for several weeks, was to all intents a Methodist meeting. Not only was the doctrine of the Methodists maintained and advocated, and camp-meeting and revival practices introduced; but the Baptist doctrine and practice was assailed and ridiculed, and prominent Methodist members came in and took part, and showed their hearty concurrence. The result of this was a number of converts, all of which the church refused to receive; and quite a number of the former members drew out, and uniting with the new converts, went and built for themselves under the name of Missionary Baptists.

The old church, with diminished congregation,--with the tide of popular influence turned strongly against her,---but with her spiritual strength and comfort developed rather than otherwise, continued to spread her table even in the presence of her enemies. After a period of over one hundred and forty years, there she stands upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, continuing in their doctrine and in their fellowship.

It would be hard for any one else to say why I should not been a convert at the protracted meeting with the rest. I have not been sorry since, that I attended all through night and day for weeks, learning all that could possibly be learned of the art of making converts, and the capacity of men to effect the salvation of their fellow men. It has served as a part of an important schooling, that I trust has not been altogether lost upon me.

About ten years after this sifting of the Kingwood Church, I felt drawn towards them, so as ultimately with fear and much misgiving to go to one of their church meetings, an inquire if they thought I could rightfully be admitted to a place among them. The church, then numbered about one hundred members; and I will not now attempt to tell how I loved and reverenced that church, nor how little and unworthy and unfit I felt for such a place. Elder Gabriel Conklin was at that time pastor, and I may here say that I have always regarded him as among the most eminent and worthy gospel ministers and pastors that I have ever known. Thc church appeared to be better satisfied with my exercises than I was myself, and voted to receive me. My baptism was at hands of Elder Conklin, in the year 1847. I remained in the fellowship of that church nearly twelve years, serving the principal part of the time as Clerk.

A particular account of all my first travel and exercises will not be expected here. Some few things that have had an influence on my after life, I will mention. As I came to know Christian people to love them, and to look with longing and earnest desire far above my own depraved and wretched condition to their happy estate, I was conscious of a kind of ambition to be (if I could be one at all) a good Christian; not a weak, doubting, unworthy mendicant; but one with a bright experience,--not weak, but strong,--not needy and dependent but filled with joy and peace in believing. I had it all marked out. I did not intend to be satisfied with an experience that did not have certain marks clear and distinct. I knew not that way in which I have been led. I never would have chosen it. To grow weaker instead of stronger,---more and more unworthy, and be the least in my Father's house,---was not as I would have chosen. So have I been mortified and humiliated before God and my brethren. And I know not why I should have been so completely cut off from myself, and from my own wisdom, and led in such an adverse way, unless it was because I had once been so much in sympathy with the convert-making going on at that protracted meeting. If I had before entertained ambitious sentiments, I was brought low now. I felt to choose for myself a low place, and esteem every other member above myself. Four or five years that followed my admission into the church was marked in my own mind and feelings by an anxious and tender solicitude towards those who were outside the pales of the church. The Redeemer's lambs,---his little ones, that loved him and loved his people,---shut out from the fold. The loneliness, sorrow, and utter desolation of one of these, wandering and crying in the wilderness, with no home or city to dwell in, were things with which I had strangely learned to sympathize. I do not know but what I knew the Lord's people and loved them for some years while shut out from them, as well as I ever have since. But my experience was deficient. I was not satisfied with the evidences I had for myself. I could not expect to be able to satisfy others. It would have been no cross to make a profession. I longed for the time and opportunity to come, but I must have something to profess. It had seemed to me that I yet lacked the one thing needful. No man could help me.

If there has ever been any profit in my labors, or useful service to the churches, it may probably be traced to some of those peculiar features in my early exercises; some wherein all things seemed to be against me. The most earnest efforts of my life,--the most tender sensibilities of my nature,--have been called forth in behalf of the weak and little ones; those who hoped in the divine mercy, who loved the saints, and yet were involved in doubt and obscurity with regard to their experience. I have known no greater joy than that of being serviceable to such. I lost both my parents in my early youth, I being the oldest of a family of orphan children. My father passed away in the beginning of the hardest winter that we have encountered during the present century. In the settlement of his estate, and the guardianship of the younger children---all of which I had charge of---and assisting to sustain a widowed mother throughout the sickness and suffering that followed in the family, I received lessons of instruction and discipline that are never taught in the schools. I have found myself weeping with those who wept, as well as rejoicing and being exceeding glad when the Ransomed of the Lord have returned and come to Zion.

When I had been united with the church three years and some months, the brethren voted a resolution for me to speak at their meetings and within their bounds. Eighteen months afterward, viz., July 31st, 1852, I was voted and received a written license to preach the gospel when and where there should be a door in Providence opened. I can hardly tell how all this came about. It certainly was contrary to my inclinations and my judgment. I had bad health; a poor, weakly frame; a weak and harsh voice; a very indifferent education: and above all, such an unsatisfactory and trifling experience. In short, I lacked every qualification. I had felt not to only love the church, but to mourn her low estate; and I never could find it in my heart to deny her when She asked for any of my poor services. In the month of April, 1856, the church made arrangements for my ordination. Elders Thomas Barton of thc Delaware Association, and D. L. Harding, of the Delaware River, together With the pastor, Elder G. Conklin, constituted the council. In all the action of the church at the several times there was entire concurrence; not a dissenting vote. During tile season of 1858 concurrent action was taken on thc part of four destitute churches in the State of Delaware and a unanimous call was tendered to me to take the pastoral charge, they agreeing to share thc time and labor. I removed; the following spring to my present residence. At the end of a quarter of a century I find myself in the same field of labor, no interruption .to thc arrangement having occurred during, that time. Two churches have since been added to my charge. It has been my privilege to wait upon more than one hundred candidates, in the ordinance of baptism. Some have been called away by death; but they died in faith. Thc rest continue in the love, fellowship and confidence of the saints. Of the prosperity of these churches, the increase of their congregations, and of the measure of their fellowship in the Spirit, is not my place to speak. I may say that I have not been without fruit in all my labor.

That my course in my public life should have been smooth, and nothing ever encountered among my brethren to oppose or to discourage, has been matter of astonishment me. In the enjoyment of a cordial and hearty support, abundant assurances of their love and confidence, their entire unanimity in every action, I may say that the candle of the Lord has shown round about me. Within the garden I have encountered no thorns.

In this sketch I have aimed to confine myself to points of general interest, remembering that your readers, with few exceptions, have no personal knowledge of me. With any and all those who are going and weeping, inquiring thc way Zion, with their faces thitherward, I still live in abiding sympathy and companionship.

E. RITTENHOUSE

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The Primitive or Old School Baptists cling to the doctrines and practices held by Baptist Churches throughout America at the close of the Revolutionary War. This site is dedicated to providing access to our rich heritage, with both historic and contemporary writings.