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An Experience of Elder Rittenhouse PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ephraim Rittenhouse   


 
The Gospel Messenger--July 1883

Dear Brother Respess: —Some few years ago I met an appointment in the week-time on the afternoon of a gloomy November day, where, although there was a comfortable meeting-house, there was no organized church. We had quite a company together, and went through with the exercises, and dismissed. As I passed out at the door, two girls, who appeared to have been waiting for the purpose, spoke to me—one introducing the other. They were both strangers to me, and were evidently young—having the appearance of school children. The one introduced was there from twenty miles distance, and as soon as she could get about it, asked me earnestly to come to a place, which she named, to preach. She said, ‘‘we are none of us members, but we always go when there is preaching there, if we know of it. There has not been preaching there in a good while, and I thought I would like you to come soon, if you could.’’ The place named was an Old Baptist meeting-house, small, and rather dilapidated—and of late, apparently forsaken. Such a request coming to me from this young girl was a strange thing to me then, and it is as strange yet. When I put up for the night, I made inquiry if any one could tell me anything of those young people who had made bold to make such a request of me. I was informed that the one who had spoken of a visit and preaching was spending a few days in the neighborhood, and had been at the time with a party of young ladies at a quilting. As the people were passing, she ascer­tained that they were going to a Baptist meeting, and she proposed at once to go. As might be expected, she was met with jeering and ridicule. It was a mile and a half through forest and sand, and she was there a stranger. Spits of snow were falling, and the prospect was to have to walk. She asked for company, and when refused, quietly told them that she was going, and asked for her things. Thus, without a word of encouragement or sympathy from any one, she had gone alone and on foot to a strange place to hear Baptist preaching. Such were the circumstances that led to the introduction mentioned above. I learned, moreover, that her parents were Episcopalians, and that there was no Baptist influence in the family. It so turned out that I did not go—and I have not been there yet. You will blame me—and I have not ceased to blame myself and to wonder at it that I did not make some arrange­ment to go.

Several months afterward, as I was on the cars going to a yearly meeting, I met the same girl again, trying to make her way to the meeting. She inquired of me something about the way, and then said, “You don’t know me.” I had forgotten her, although I well remembered the circumstance. She told me that her brother had driven fifteen miles to bring her to the train, and that the place where she was going would be all strange to her. During the many tedious months that had passed since time preaching first mentioned, no opportunity had offered to hear a gospel sermon—to see the face of a gospel minister—or to get a word of encouragement or comfort from any one. It would be difficult to conceive of a darker and more trying time than she has been passing through. The Signs, and other experimental papers—and even our hymnbooks—were either unknown or inaccessible. Nothing but the Bible and the Mercy Seat. But to these there seems to have been continual resort. This last interview led to conversation, and afterward to some correspondence. She had long been inquiring the way to Zion, and was now desirous and anxious to enter her courts. That was had in view, it seems, in the first request; that is, it was her wish to walk in the ordinance of Baptism and be admitted to the fellowship of the Church. The place to which her mind seemed to be first led, as I said before, was a neglected place; offering no encouragement to a young believer, who wants to enjoy church privileges and the companionship of the saints. Still it was nearer than any others. There were no officers, and would probably not be any Communion. Preaching very seldom, if at all. A less determined Spirit would certainly have been disheartened. These obstacles seemed to have no effect to dampen the ardor of our devoted “Ruth,” in her earnest desire to enter the land of Israel, and find a home among the people of God.

For the reasons given above, I did not encourage an arrangement at the old neglected meetinghouse but, instead thereof, suggested that, if she felt so inclined, she come to a church that I named, which I was then regularly serving. She promptly complied with this suggestion, and on our next meeting day, which was a weekday, set out to find the place:

Though of a very youthful appearance—she was at this time, I believe, about sixteen—she had set out, accomplished by an older sister, to find a strange place, many miles from her home, and where, except my own, there would not be one face that she had ever before seen. Can anything be conceived more trying? Without the sympathy or encouragement of even her own parents; without personal acquaintance with a single Baptist member, or knowledge of their order, she is going to ask a place among them. She has never seen a candidate examined, to know what questions will be asked or what answers will be expected; she has never witnessed a baptism—not had opportunity to know what attention or assistance she might expect or receive, away, as she was among strangers. The gates were open, for to such they are never shut. She has entered in through the gates into the city. I learned from her that she had heard a Baptist sermon when at the age of about twelve or thirteen years; since that time there had been no other preaching for her. In her own intense simplicity she says, in a letter afterwards written to me: “I was very young, it is true, but it seemed the Lord had come to me and opened my ears, and given me an understanding.”

The Lord declares that he brings his daughters from the ends of the earth, and brings them "with singing unto Zion." Whose doings was all this? Whose work ever produced fruit like unto this fruit? It is not for me to measure that joy that is tasted when the bitterness is all past. I cannot attempt to describe the comfort and peace enjoyed after pass­ing through such conflicts. I believe that they are intensi­fied, and that there are richer depths of joy reached after such long and weary moments of darkness and sorrow have been passed through. I have spoken mainly of what has been worked out, but it will be for her to tell the better and more interesting story herself, of all the travel and sorrow of those years in the wilderness. There is, I cannot doubt, a story to tell of unknown and unpitied loneliness, darkness and sense of desolation, during many months, that she may yet see fit to tell herself, as no one else can.

Not always, but quite frequently; our young sister gets to meet with us. She occupies a high place in the affections and gospel fellowship of the members with whom she is united. It is said, ‘‘When the Lord builds up Zion, he will appear in his glory.”

 E. RITTENHOUSE.

 Comments from David Montgomery: Personally, I would have accepted the young sister's initial invitation in a "New York Minute."  One does wonder if Elder R had gone and preached to those people, perhaps more would have taken up their cross and followed the Lord...perhaps a new could have been planted. I think we should take advantage of opportunities like this when they come our way. But, it is easy for me to second-guess Elder R; but it is my very strong opinion, nevertheless.

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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.