A Man of Many Gifts
Born this day on June 13, 1786 in Lebanon, Connecticut in the home of a Presbyterian minister and his wife, Ezra Styles Ely possessed many spiritual gifts in the service of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Named after the president of Yale University to signify his family’s attachment to that educational institution, Ezra followed the tradition of his ancestors by becoming the seventeenth member of his extended family to attend and graduate from that school, as he did in 1803. Studying under his minister father for a year, he eventually was ordained by West Chester Presbytery. For two years, he pastored the people of God at Colchester Congregational Church in Connecticut, laboring as we would say today, “out of bounds.”
Leaving the pastorate there, he traveled to New York City to become the chaplain of the City Hospital and Almshouse. He soon found himself ministering the Word of God to prostitutes. Eventually he wrote a book entitled “Visits of Mercy,” which became a best seller, and elevating himself and his ministry to national recognition.
Returning to the pastorate, he took the pulpit of Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in 1813. In so doing, he replaced the first professor of the Princeton Theological Seminary, Archibald Alexander. Standing for the truth of the gospel and historic Christianity, Rev. Ely began to stand against the teachings of Hopkinsianism, with its denial of the imputation of sin, particular redemption, and other Scriptural truths. Whether it was the content of his preaching, or simply the manner in which he denounced this heresy, we don’t know now. This author thinks it may be the latter as Alfred Nevin in his Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church stated that he was “mercurial” in his demonstrations of language, with the result that “no one ever fell asleep under his preaching.” In other words, he was animated in his speech, both in the pulpit and out of it. Whatever was the case, the Presbyterian congregation suffered a schism.
It was in 1827 on July 4 that Rev. Ely called for “Christian freemen to elect Christian rulers.” He went on to advocate for a “Christian party in politics,” to keep unorthodox liberals and deists out of office. The underlying concern of this Presbyterian pastor was against the secular policies and practices of President John Q. Adams. President Adams in turn simply denounced Rev. Ely as “the busybody Presbyterian clergyman.” So Pastor Ely called upon Presbyterian Andrew Jackson to run for that highest office. Mobilizing Christian workers, Andrew Jackson was elected in 1828. The good pastor told President-elect Jackson to avoid the judgement of the Lord’s wrath by not traveling on the Lord’s Day to Washington, which Jackson obeyed. However, their association did not long continue on a favourable basis, as the President grew wary of this outspoken Presbyterian minister.
While Pastor of Pine Street, Rev. Ely joined the trustee board of newly formed Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. While it struggled financially to say afloat, the Presbyterian minister was able to contribute some $50,000 ( a considerable sum in those early days) to keep it operating, even purchasing the lot and raising up a building on that lot. The Medical School, still in operation today, owes a great deal to this early benefactor.
What is more important than physical buildings, however, was the spiritual growth experienced within God’s kingdom. Alfred Nevin estimates that some 2, 200 people came to a knowledge of the Lord Jesus and were converted as the results of the Rev. Ezra Ely’s faithful proclamation of the Gospel. He would go to his heavenly reward on June 18, 1861.
Words to Live By: The Apostle Paul reminds us that it is God Who causes the growth of His church. (See 1 Corinthians 3:5 – 9). At the same time, the Lord stoops to use His redeemed people, weak and sinful as we are, to share that good news of the gospel with others. So we do not exalt those who proclaim the message, as if they were anything, but rather we glorify the one true God Who gives His Spirit to bring repentance and saving faith to sinners. Praise Him from whom all blessings flow.