October 3: Rev. Ebenezer Prime

Optimally, I Think We Can Say He Was a Transformer.

The Rev. Ebenezer Prime was born at Milford, Connecticut on July 21 of the year 1700. He graduated from Yale College in 1718, the same year that the school was first so named. Following graduation, he became the assistant to the Rev. Mr. Eliphalet Jones, the Pastor of the Church at Huntington, and was later ordained collegiate pastor of this Church on June 5, 1723. Rev. Prime continued in this charge until his death, on October 3, 1779.

Rev. Prime carefully kept a record book for the next fifty-six years of his ministry. He began with a full account of his ordination. After that, he wrote out in full his own confession of faith, and it strikes this writer that this sort of thing would be a good exercise for any new pastor. For one, in later years a review of his own confession would display how he had matured, or perhaps would evidence where he had changed his views. A sample paragraph from Rev. Prime’s confession of faith:

“I believe that the Saints of God shall persevere in Holiness, and never totally or finally fall away from Grace; he who hath begun a good Work in them will carry it on until the Day of Jesus Christ. All that were given to the Son in the eternal Covenant of Redemption shall come to him & none shall be able to pluck them out of his Hands. But he will keep them By his mighty Power thro Faith unto Salvation.”

The remainder of Rev. Prime’s Record consists of membership rolls, baptisms, marriages, and miscellanea, including records of meetings. In sum, it is a remarkable display of diligent record keeping over a protracted period of time, and as such it reveals a great strength of character. Moreover,  Prime’s Recordtells the story of a pastor and his congregation, though admittedly we have to do some reading between the lines. Prime was also careful to make a record of the sermons he preached before his congregation, recording the sermon texts and the date of delivery, though for whatever reason, this record of his sermons was not included in the printed edition of his Record.

A few interesting observations drawn from Prime’s Record by the editor, Moses L. Scudder:

After noting that the First Church of Huntington was organized at about the same time as the town itself, namely, about 1660, and that originally the church was Independent, or Congregational, but became Presbyterian in 1748, Mr. Scudder then says:–

“At Mr. Prime’s ordination the membership of the Church was only 15 men and 27 women, although the assessment lists of earlier time show more than a hundred resident tax payers. It is plain that only a small proportion of the citizens formally professed religion and belonged to the church. Of the fourteen persons chosen at the town meeting in May of 1724, as is shown on the town records, as trustees, assessors, collector, constable and other town officers, only two appear by Mr. Prime’s Record to have been members of the Church; and one of these, Jeremiah Wood, a Trustee of the Town, and consequently a person of good repute among his neighbors, appears in Mr. Prime’s Record to have been ‘Under Censure of Admonition.’ “

“Another curious fact may be observed. Nearly all the male members of the Church at [the time of] Mr. Prime’s ordination have “senr.” opposite their names. This indicates that they were old men, probably the sons of the original settlers. It may be inferred that the third generation were not generally members of the Church. Whether these facts tell of a low state of religious interest and a reaction form the strictness of the primitive Puritans I will not attempt to inquire.”

“Nevertheless this was during nearly all of Mr. Prime’s pastorate the only church in Huntington, and it is probable that all the respectable inhabitants were regular attendants at its services and contributors to its support. Consequently, the record of the marriages solemnized by its pastor comprises practically all the marriages of the residents of the town during those years.”

“It was the practice to have infants baptized a few days after birth, apparently whether the parents were members of the church or not. Hence the pastor’s record of baptisms is approximately a record of births in the families resident in the town. Unfortunately in this record the names of the parents of the children baptized are rarely set down.”

Words to Live By:
A long, faithful pastorate in the same church is unusual enough. What the long-term effects of that pastorate on the congregation and on succeeding generations, might be, is perhaps impossible to tell. But that God did bless the pastor with such tenure, is it then too much to hope, or even expect that the Lord will also bless that congregation commensurately? Someone has said that a people get the pastor they deserve. What greater motivation to pray for your pastor, to encourage and assist him where you can, and to yourself live as a Christian, walking humbly and faithfully each day before your Lord.

To read the whole of Records of the First Church in Huntington, Long Island, 1723-1779, by Rev. Ebenezer Prime, click here.

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