This fascinating book presents a number of biographical sketches of the founder and principal alumni of William Tennent’s theological school, contemptuously called ‘The Log College,’ together with an account of the revivals that followed their ministries.
During cold and unreligious times these men are described by Tennent as men who ‘lived fast … they did much for their Lord in a short time…being burning and shining lights, they were consumed while they gave light to others…. Oh that a race of ministers, like-minded, burning with a consuming zeal, might be raised up among us!’
We have included 5 of the 19 chapters.
By association, object’s which have nothing interesting in themselves acquire an importance, by reason of the persons or things which they constantly suggest to our minds. The rock of Plymouth has nothing in it which renders it intrinsically superior to thousands of other rocks in the country; and the site of Jamestown has nothing but its interesting associations to engage the attention of any one. But these spots as being the first habitations of the European settlers in this part of the new world, are invested with an interest which is felt by all; and this interest, instead of growing weaker by the lapse of time, gathers new strength every year. Indeed, it is only a recent thing that the public attention has been particularly called to these objects. And though there may be an excess in the emotions cherished by some, and an affectation of lively interest in others; yet, it cannot be doubted that there is a foundation in human nature for the interest which is excited by particular objects, places, and scenes. And the more intimately these associations are related to religion, the deeper and more permanent the feeling becomes. By the abuse of this principle much superstition has been generated; but the moderate and judicious use of it may, undoubtedly, be conducive to piety. Sacred or holy places figure largely in all false systems of religion: and under the old dispensation, the people of God were encouraged to reverence those places where the worship of God was appointed to be celebrated. Under the gospel dispensation, it is true, we have no holy places or houses to which the worship of God is confined; but in every place, whether by sea or land, whether in the grove, on the mountain top, or in the open field, or the lonely vale, God may be worshipped. Yet who does not entertain peculiar feelings of interest in relation to those places where Christ was born — where he was brought up — where he preached and wrought miracles — but, especially, where he suffered and died, and where he was buried and arose again — and where he ascended to heaven, in the presence of his disciples. This feeling is natural, and associated with love to Christ, but it readily becomes excessive, and degenerates into superstition. There never was a book in which there is so little to foster superstition as the Bible. We never there read of the apostles, when they came up to Jerusalem, resorting to any of these places, or expressing the smallest degree of veneration for them. The natural tendency of the human mind seems to have been counteracted, for the very purpose of preventing superstition; just as the natural passions of the evangelists seem to have been restrained in writing the gospels.
Of late, considerable curiosity has been manifested to ascertain the place where the first Presbyterian church in this country was formed; and the history of the first Presbyterian preacher who came to America, which had sunk into oblivion, has, of late, been brought prominently into view. Such researches, when unaccompanied with boasting and vainglory, are laudable. And to gratify a similar curiosity, in regard to the first literary institution, above common schools, in the bounds of the Presbyterian church, this small book has been compiled. That institution, we believe, was what has been called the Log College. The reason of the epithet prefixed to the word ‘College’ might be obscure to a European; but in this country, where log-cabins are so numerous, it will be intelligible to all classes of readers. This edifice, which was made of logs, cut out of the woods, probably, from the very spot where the house was erected, was situated in Bucks county, Pennsylvania/about twenty miles north of Philadelphia. The Log College has long since disappeared; so that although the site on which it stood is well known to many in the vicinity, there is not a vestige of it remaining on the ground; and no appearance which would indicate that a house ever stood there. The fact is that some owner of the property, never dreaming that there was anything sacred in the logs of this humble edifice, had them carried away and applied to some ignoble purpose on the farm, where they have rotted away like common timber, from which, if any of them remain, they can no longer be distinguished. But that some small relic of this venerable building might be preserved, the late Presbyterian minister of the place, Rev. Robert B. Belville, some years ago, rescued from the common ruin so much of one of these logs as enabled him, by paring off the decayed parts, to reduce it to something of the form of a walking-staff; which, as a token of respect, and for safe keeping he presented to the late Rev. Samuel Miller, D.D., one of the oldest Professors of the Theological Seminary at Princeton, New Jersey.
The site of the Log College is about a mile from that part of Neshaminy creek where the Presbyterian church has long stood. The ground near and around it lies handsomely to the eye, and the more distant prospect is very beautiful; for while there is a considerable extent of fertile, well cultivated land, nearly level, the view is bounded to the north and west by a range of hills, which have a very pleasing appearance.
It may not be improper to observe that the late Rev. James P. Wilson, D.D., the learned and admired pastor of the first Presbyterian church in Philadelphia, was so pleased with the scenery and circumstances of this neighbourhood that he purchased a small farm, which is, I believe, as near to the site of the Log College as any other dwelling, except the one on the farm on which it was built. To this farm he retired when no longer able, through bodily weakness, to fulfil the arduous duties of the pastoral office. And here, in calm serenity, he spent the last years of his life.
If I were fond of projects, I would propose that a monument be erected to the founder of the Log College on the very site where the building stood, if the land could be purchased; but at any rate a stone with an inscription might be permanently fixed on or near the ground. The tradition respecting this humble institution of learning exists, not only in the neighbourhood, but has been extended far to the south and west.
The first Presbyterian ministers in this country were nearly all men of liberal education. Some had received their education in the universities of Scotland; some in Ireland; and others at one of the New England colleges. And though there existed such a destitution of ministers in this new country, they never thought of introducing any man into the ministry who had not received a college or university education, except in very extraordinary cases; of which, I believe, we have but one instance in the early history of the Presbyterian church. This was the case of a Welshman by the name of Evans, who, living in a place called the Welsh Tract, where the people had no public means of grace, began to speak to them of the things of God on the Sabbath and at other times; and his labours were so acceptable and useful that the presbytery, after a full trial of his abilities, licensed him to preach, and afterwards ordained him to the whole work of the ministry. They required him, however, to go through a course of study, under the direction of certain members of the Presbytery. There is, indeed, another case that may possibly fall into this class. ‘The people of Cape May were without a pastor; Mr. Bradner, a candidate for the ministry, was willing to serve them, but had no authority to preach. In this emergency three of the nearest ministers, Messrs. Davis, Hampton and Henry, on their own responsibility, examined and licensed him.’ (See Records of the Synod of Philadelphia.) But as he was before a candidate, and a Scotchman, there is a strong probability that he was a liberally educated man.
There seems to be no written record of the existence of such an edifice as that which we are describing by any contemporary writer, except in the Journal of Rev. George Whitefield, the celebrated evangelist, who traversed this country several times, preaching everywhere with a popularity and success which have never been equalled by any other. It will be proper, therefore, to extract the paragraph which relates to this subject, as he gives the dimensions of the building, and expressly says that it had obtained the name of ‘The College.’ ‘The place,’ says he, ‘wherein the young men study now, is in contempt called The College. It is a log house, about twenty feet long, and near as many broad; and to me it seemed to resemble the school of the old prophets, for their habitations were mean; and that they sought not great things for themselves is plain from those passages of Scripture, wherein we are told that each of them took them a beam to build them a house: and that at the feast of the sons of the prophets, one of them put on the pot, whilst the others went to fetch some herbs out of the field. All that we can say of most of our universities is, they are glorious without. From this despised place, seven or eight worthy ministers of Jesus have lately been sent forth; more are almost ready to be sent, and the foundation is now laying for the instruction of many others.’ The Journal from which the preceding extract is taken was printed in Philadelphia by Benjamin Franklin the same year in which Mr. Whitefield visited the Log College. From this testimony it appears that the name College was given to the building out of contempt by its enemies; but in this as in many other things, that which is lightly esteemed among men is precious in the sight of the Lord. Though as poor a house as perhaps was ever erected for the purpose of giving a liberal education, it was, in a noble sense, a College; a fountain from which, as we shall see hereafter, proceeded streams of blessings to the church. We shall again have occasion to advert to Mr. Whitefield’s Journal, when we come to speak of the founder of this College; but we shall now proceed to finish what we have to say respecting the site and the building.
When the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States determined, in the year 181I, to establish a Theological Seminary for the more thorough training of her candidates for the sacred office, there was much diversity of opinion respecting the most eligible site for the institution. Between Princeton, New Jersey, and Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, the chief competition existed; but there were a few persons who were strongly in favour of placing it on the very site of the Log College. The Rev. Nathaniel Irwin, then pastor of the church at Neshaminy, and a man of profound understanding, was earnestly desirous that it should be planted on the ground where a building had once stood to which the Presbyterian church owes so much. And to manifest his sincerity and zeal, Mr. Irwin left, in his will, one thousand dollars to the Seminary, on condition that it should be ultimately located on this site.
We come now to give some account of the founder of the Log College. The Rev. William Tennent, sen., was a native of Ireland, where he was brought up and received a liberal education; but at what college or university is not known. It is probable, however, that he obtained his learning at Trinity College, Dublin, as he belonged originally to the Episcopal Church of Ireland, in which he took orders. By a small memorandum book kept by the Rev. William Tennent, sen., it appears that he was married to a daughter of the Rev. Mr. Kennedy, May, 1702, in the county of Down, in the north of Ireland; that he was ordained a deacon, in the Episcopal church of Ireland on the Ist day of July, 1704; and ordained priest on the 22nd of September, 1706. After entering the holy ministry, he acted as chaplain to an Irish nobleman. But there is no evidence that he was ever settled over a parish in that country; the reason assigned by the author of the Memoir of William Tennent, jr. was that he could not conscientiously conform to the terms imposed on the clergy of that kingdom. He remained in Ireland until he was past middle age. The truth is that very little is known of Mr. Tennent until he arrived in America. From Dr. Elias Boudinot, who was very intimate with the whole family, we learn that Mr. Tennent in Ireland became acquainted with the Rev. Mr. Kennedy, a distinguished Presbyterian preacher, who, having suffered persecution is his own country, exercised his ministry in Holland with great success. The only other notice of this zealous and evangelical preacher which has been found is in the ‘Vindication’ by the Rev. Samuel Blair, in which, speaking of the objections made to the revival, he says, ‘Several have very sufficiently answered the objections against the work itself, as Mr. Edwards in New England, Mr. Dickinson in New Jersey, Mr. Finley in Pennsylvania, Mr. Robe and Mr. Webster in Scotland, and Mr. Kennedy in Holland.’ He then remarks that Mr. Kennedy had published Mr. Edwards’ ‘Narrative’, with attestations from Scotland, translated by him into the Dutch language. It would be very desirable to obtain some further information of this Mr. Kennedy, who is spoken of as a man of like spirit with Edwards, and Dickinson, and Robe, and Webster, and Finley. But probably there remains no earthly record of his labours, his sufferings, and successes.
Our attention has been directed to this man, not merely because Mr. Tennent became acquainted with him, but especially because he married his daughter, who was the mother of his four sons, and emigrated with him to America. And it is exceedingly probable that from this man Mr. Tennent imbibed his love of the Presbyterian system. Mr. Tennent’s eldest son was no doubt called after his grandfather Kennedy, whose name was Gilbert.
In the Memoir of William Tennent, jr., it is said that his father arrived in America in the year 1718; but in the sketch of the life of Gilbert Tennent, in the Assembly’s Magazine for May, 1805, ‘that he came over in 1716,’ which last is believed to be the more accurate statement. Upon his arrival, he settled first in the state of New York, where he resided for some time at East Chester, and then at Bedford. Not long after his emigration to America, Mr. Tennent applied to the Synod of Philadelphia to be received as a minister into their connexion. The Synod did not act hastily in this affair, but after full deliberation agreed to receive Mr. Tennent as a member of their body. Before doing this, however, they required him to lay before them in writing the reasons which had induced him to separate himself from the Episcopal church. And these reasons were ordered to be entered on record. The minute of the Synod, as found in the printed book of records of the Presbyterian church, is as follows: ‘Mr. William Tennent’s affair being transmitted by the committee [of overtures] to the Synod, was by them fully considered, being well satisfied with his credentials, and the testimony of some brethren here present; as also, they were satisfied with the material reasons which he offered concerning his dissenting from the Established Church of Ireland; being put to a vote of the Synod, it was carried in the affirmative to admit him as a member of the Synod. Ordered, that his reasons be inserted on the Synod book ad futuram rei memoriam. The Synod also ordered that the moderator should give him a serious exhortation to continue steadfast in his now holy profession, which was done.’ *
* I. ‘The reasons of Mr. William Tennent for his dissenting from the Established Church in Ireland, delivered by him to the Reverend Synod, held in Philadelphia, the 17th day of September, 1718.
‘Imprimis. Their government by Bishops, Arch-Bishops, Deacons, Arch-Deacons, Canons, Chapters, Chancellors, Vicars, wholly anti-scriptural.
‘2. Their discipline by Surrogates, and Chancellors in their Courts Ecclesiastic, without a foundation in the word of God.
‘3. Their abuse of that supposed discipline by commutation.
‘4. A Diocesan Bishop cannot be founded jure divino upon these Epistles to Timothy or Titus, nor any where else in the word of God, and so is a mere human invention.
‘5. The usurped power of the Bishops at their yearly visitations, acting all of themselves, without the consent of the brethren.
‘6. Pluralities of benefices.
‘Lastly. The Churches conniving at the practice of Arminian doctrines inconsistent with the eternal purpose of God, and an encouragement of vice. Besides, I could not be satisfied with their ceremonial way of worship. These, &c., have so affected my conscience, that I could no longer abide in a church where the same are practised.
This transaction took place on the 17th day of September, 1718; it is probable, however, that Mr. Tennent’s application was first made to the Synod the previous year; although nothing appears on the records relative to this matter. But in the short account of the Rev. William Tennent, sen., in the Assembly’s Magazine, it is stated that after some delay he was received. And the minute recited above seems to speak of it as a thing before under consideration; for it would be very abrupt and unusual to speak of a first application in the language here used — ‘Mr. Tennent’s affair,’ &c., without any notice of any application made by him. It is probable that the application to Synod was made in the year 1717, which was the next year after his arrival.
Whether Mr. Tennent had the pastoral care of a church in the state of New York does not appear; but about the year 1721 he received an invitation to settle at Bensalem, in Bucks county, Pennsylvania, to which place he removed his family, and continued to supply that small Presbyterian congregation until the year 1726, when he received a call to the Presbyterian church at Neshaminy, in the same county. In this place he continued the remainder of his life. And here, within a few steps of his own dwelling, he erected the building which has already been described; which though humble and even despicable in its external appearance, was an institution of unspeakable importance to the Presbyterian church in this country.
It may be proper to remark in this place that from all the accounts which we have, it appears that at this time the state of vital piety was very low in the Presbyterian church in America. And the same was true of the churches in New England. And this was remarkably the fact in regard to Great Britain. The ministers composing the Presbyterian church in this country were sound in the faith, and strongly attached to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, as were also their people; and there were no diversities or contentions among them respecting the doctrines of the gospel; but as to the vital power of godliness, there is reason to believe that it was little known or spoken of. Revivals of religion were nowhere heard of, and an orthodox creed and a decent external conduct were the only points on which inquiry was made when persons were admitted to the communion of the church. Indeed, it was very much a matter of course for all who had been baptized in infancy to be received into communion at the proper age, without exhibiting or possessing any satisfactory evidence of a change of heart by the supernatural operations of the Holy Spirit. And the habit of the preachers was to address their people as though they were all pious, and only needed instruction and confirmation. It was not a common thing to proclaim the terrors of a violated law, and to insist on the absolute necessity of regeneration. Under such a state of things, it is easy to conceive that in a short time vital piety may have almost deserted the church, and that formality and ‘dead orthodoxy’ have been all that was left of religion. And nothing is more certain, than that when people have sunk into this deplorable state they will be disposed to manifest strong opposition to faithful, pointed preaching; and will be apt to view every appearance of revival with an unfavorable eye. Accordingly, when God raised up preachers, animated with a burning zeal, who laboured faithfully to convince their hearers of their ruined condition, and of the necessity of a thorough conversion from sin, the opposition to them, both in Great Britain and this country, was violent. The gospel, among people in such a condition, is sure to produce strife and division between those who fall under its influence and those whose carnal minds urge them to oppose it. It was in such a state of the church that Mr. Tennent came to this country. What his own course of religious experience had been, we have no information; but he seems to have imbibed a warm, evangelical spirit, and to have been, in this country, distinguished for his zeal and efforts in promoting vital piety. When Mr. Whitefield first visited Philadelphia, Mr. Tennent lost no time in calling upon him. Though he lived nearly twenty miles from Philadelphia, yet no sooner did he hear of the arrival of this evangelical and successful preacher than taking with him some of his pious friends he repaired to the city, and from Mr. Whitefield’s Journal, we learn that the visit was very acceptable to him; for he says, ‘At my return home [from visiting a family] was much comforted by the coming of one Mr. Tennent, an old gray-headed disciple and soldier of Jesus Christ. He keeps an academy about twenty miles from Philadelphia, and has been blessed with four gracious sons, three of which have been, and still continue to be, eminently useful in the church of Christ. He brought three pious souls along with him, and rejoiced me by letting me know how they had been spoken evil of for their Master’s sake. He is a great friend of Mr. Erskine, of Scotland; and as far as I can learn, both he and his sons are secretly despised by the generality of the Synod, as Mr. Erskine and his friends are hated by the judicatories of Edinburgh, and as the Methodist preachers (as they are called) are by their brethren in England.’ This testimony of Mr. Whitefield goes to show that the course pursued by old Mr. Tennent and his sons was different from that of the other ministers of the Synod, to whom he stood in the same relation as Whitefield, Wesley, and their coadjutors to the great body of the clergy in England. Mr. Whitefield, on his return from New York, went to Neshaminy and spent some days with Mr. Tennent.
Here again we are glad to have the opportunity of using the very words of Mr. Whitefield.
‘Nov. 22. [1739.] Set out for Neshaminy, (twenty miles distant from Trent Town), where old Mr. Tennent lives, and keeps an academy, and where I was to preach to-day, according to appointment. About 12 [o’clock] we came thither, and found about three thousand people gathered together, in the meeting-house yard. Mr. William Tennent, jr., an eminent servant of Jesus Christ, because we stayed beyond the time appointed, was preaching to them. When I came up, he soon stopped; sung a psalm, and then I began to speak, as the Lord gave me utterance. At first, the people seemed unaffected, but in the midst of my discourse, the power of the Lord Jesus came upon me, and I felt such a struggling within myself for the people, as I scarce ever felt before. The hearers began to be melted down immediately, and to cry much; and we had good reason to hope the Lord intended good for many. After I had finished, Mr. Gilbert Tennent gave a word of exhortation, to confirm what had been delivered. At the end of his discourse, we sung a psalm, and dismissed the people with a blessing: O that the people may say Amen to it! After our exercises were over we went to old Mr. Tennent’s, who entertained us like one of the ancient patriarchs. His wife, to me seemed like Elizabeth, and he like Zachary; both, as far as I can learn, walk in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless. Though God was pleased to humble my soul, so that I was obliged to retire for a while; yet we had sweet communion with each other, and spent the evening in concerting what measures had best be taken for promoting our dear Lord’s kingdom. It happened very providentially that Mr. Tennent and his brethren are appointed to be a Presbytery by the Synod, so that they intend bringing up gracious youths, and sending them out from time to time into the Lord’s vineyard. The place wherein the young men study, now is, in contempt, called the College, &c. Friday, Nov. 23: Parted with dear Mr. Tennent, and his other worthy fellow-labourers; but promised to remember each other publicly in our prayers.
From the preceding extract we learn that Mr. Tennent was a man of congenial spirit with Mr. Whitefield, and that he was held in high esteem by this distinguished preacher and devoted servant of God. Of scarcely any other minister of any denomination does he make so honourable a mention, and to no other in this region did he pay so respectful an attention. It is certain, from the foregoing account, that Mr. Tennent was distinguished among his brethren as the open and zealous friend of vital piety and of revivals of religion. The character of his public preaching is nowhere given, and we are left to infer it from his character; or rather from the character of his pupils, of whom an account will be given hereafter. As a classical scholar, there can be no doubt of his eminence. The late Hon. Elias Boudinot, LL.D., who knew him well, says, ‘that he was well skilled in the Latin language, that he could speak and converse in it with as much facility as in his vernacular tongue, and also, that he was proficient in the other ancient languages.’ In confirmation of what he says about his skill in the Latin language, he relates that at the next meeting of the Synod of Philadelphia after his reception, he delivered before that body an elegant Latin oration. The writer of a sketch of the life of the Rev. Gilbert Tennent, inserted in the May number of the Assembly’s Magazine, for the year 1805 , says, respecting the Rev. William Tennent, sen.: ‘He was eminent as a classical scholar. His attainments in science are not so well known; but there is reason to believe they were not so great as his skill in language. His general character appears to have been that of a man of great integrity, simplicity, industry, and piety.’
Mr. Tennent was, by his position at Neshaminy, a member of the Presbytery of Philadelphia; but when the division of the Synod took place, he attached himself to the New Brunswick Presbytery, to which his sons Gilbert and William belonged.
It appears from the published records of the Synod of Philadelphia that in the year 1737 a complaint was made to the Synod by a part of the congregation of Neshaminy against the Rev. William Tennent, their pastor: and also an answer to the same from another part of the said congregation. Both of these papers were read, article by article, and both parties heard at length what they had to say. Mr. Thomson was directed to prepare a minute which should express the mind of the Synod, in relation to this matter; which being done, was adopted, viz. ‘That the reasons advanced by the disaffected party of that congregation, in justification of their noncompliance with the Synod’s judgment in relation to them last year and their desire to be freed from Mr. Tennent as their pastor are utterly insufficient, being founded (as appears to us), partly upon ignorance and mistake, and partly (as we fear) upon prejudice. It is therefore ordered that the moderator recommend it to said people to lay aside such groundless dissatisfaction and return to their duty, which they have too long strayed from; otherwise, the Synod will be bound to treat them as disorderly.’ This minute was unanimously approved.
The matter referred to as having been before the Synod the preceding year was that though Mr. Tennent had so long acted as the pastor of the church at Neshaminy, he had never been formally installed. In regard to which, the Synod had come to the following judgment: ‘That it appears evident to the Synod, that Mr. Tennent having in all respects acted and been esteemed and looked upon, not only by the Synod, but by the congregation of Neshaminy, and particularly by the appellants themselves, as the minister and pastor of the people of Neshaminy, that he is still to be esteemed as the pastor of that people, notwithstanding the want of a formal installment among them.’
For some time before his death his health was so feeble that he was unable to perform the duties of the pastoral office, and his pulpit was supplied by the Presbytery. In the year 1742, we find the following minute on the records of the Presbytery. ‘Mr. William Tennent, sen., gave in to Presbytery a paper, setting forth his inability, by reason of advanced age, to discharge the work of the ministry unto the congregation of Neshaminy, over which for divers years past he has been overseer — desiring the Presbytery to grant to said congregation of Neshaminy such supplies as they can.’ We find his name enrolled among the members of the New Brunswick Presbytery in the following year (1743), and in the same year he is mentioned as present when the Presbytery met to ordain Mr. Beatty as his successor. It is evident from this that he had resigned his charge, for Mr. Beatty is not said to have been ordained as his colleague. This seems to have been the last meeting of Presbytery which he ever attended. His connection with the congregation was, no doubt, dissolved at the time when he presented the paper stating his inability to fulfil the duties of a pastor: for in the same year a call was presented to Mr. William Robinson, which he declined; and after this, in 1743, Mr. Beatty having accepted the call of the people, was ordained their pastor in the month of October.
It is stated in the sketch of the life of Gilbert Tennent, in the Assembly’s Magazine, that the Rev. William Tennent, sen. died in the year 1743; but this is not correct; for we find a record in the minutes of the New Brunswick Presbytery for the year 1746, of the following import: ‘It is reported to the Presbytery that Mr. William Tennent, sen., deceased, since our last.’ The exact date of his death was May 6, 1746, aged 73. This was communicated to the author by the Rev. Dr. Miller, who transcribed it from his tombstone.
He died at his own house, in Neshaminy, and came to the grave in a good old age, like a shock of corn fully ripe. He was buried in the Presbyterian burying-ground, where his tomb may be yet seen.
Mr. Tennent, as far as we know, never published anything. We have, therefore, no means of ascertaining his abilities as a writer; but the benefit he conferred on the church by his school can never be forgotten. The Presbyterian church is probably not more indebted for her prosperity, and for the evangelical spirit which has generally pervaded her body, to any individual than to the elder Tennent. Some men accomplish much more by those whom they educate than by their own personal labours. This should be an encouragement to such ministers as are obliged to resort to teaching for their support. If they are so favoured as to be the means of bringing forward a few pious youth, and preparing them for the ministry, they may do more good than if their whole lives had been spent in doing nothing else but preaching the Gospel. And it is good policy for Presbyterian ministers to establish schools, in their charges, wherever they are needed. And this they may do, without subjecting themselves to the drudgery of teaching all the time. Pious young men might be found, to whom such a situation would be a favour; and such institutions are often necessary to enable a minister to educate his own sons. When the means of acquiring a liberal education are brought to the doors of the people, many will avail themselves of the privilege who would never have thought of going abroad for the same purpose. The truth of this remark has been verified in almost every place where a good school has been established.
It is to be regretted that our materials for a memoir of the Founder of the Log College, are so scanty; but his usefulness must be estimated by the character of his pupils, of some of whom we shall have it in our power to give a more particular account; and to this part of our work we shall now address ourselves.
Having, in the preceding chapter, given some account of the Founder of this literary institution, let us now attend to the character of some of its principal pupils. The surest criterion by which to judge of the character of any school is to observe the attainments and habits of those educated in it. And, judging by this rule, a very high place must be assigned to the Log College, notwithstanding its diminutive and mean external appearance. And what was before said should be remembered, that this was the first seminary in which young men were trained for the gospel ministry within the limits of the Presbyterian Church. Before this school was opened, if a young man wished to become a minister in the Presbyterian Church, he must either repair to one of the New England colleges or go to Europe. It is morally certain, therefore, that few, if any, of those who were brought forward to the work could ever have reached the ministry had it not been for this school. Accordingly we find that, for a considerable time, nearly all the ministers composing the Synod were either from Great Britain, Ireland, or New England, except those who proceeded from this school. And of what character and abilities these were we shall soon see. The first on the list of students in this school was, no doubt, Mr. Tennent’s eldest son, Gilbert. For though he had finished his education before the Log College was built, yet he received no other education than what he gained under the tuition of his father; and may, therefore, without impropriety be classed among the pupils of the institution.
Gilbert Tennent, the eldest son of the Rev. William Tennent, sen., was born in the county of Armagh, Ireland, April 5, in the year 1703, and was, therefore, thirteen or fourteen years of age when his father emigrated to this country. In setting up this school, no doubt, the father had a regard to the education of his four sons. Men who have themselves profited by education, and have become learned, cannot but feel a lively interest in the education of their children; and this motive has had its influence in the institution of numerous classical schools in this country besides the Log College. Judging by the result, however, all have reason to conclude that in the mind of this good man the education of his sons was viewed as subordinate to the prosperity of the Church; for every one of them became a minister of the gospel, and some of them ranked among the most distinguished who have ever laboured in the Presbyterian Church.
Gilbert Tennent, as has been remarked, received his education under the paternal roof before this school was opened, for at this time he was twenty-one or twenty-two years of age, and was soon able to be an assistant to his father in teaching the other students. And when we consider the eminence to which he rose as a preacher and as a writer, we need no other proof of the talents and skill of his reverend tutor.
Gilbert Tennent’s first religious impressions of any permanency were experienced when he was about fourteen years of age. His serious concern about his salvation continued for several years before his mind was established in comfort and peace. During this period he was often in great agony of spirit, until at last it pleased God to give him ‘the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ.’ While he remained in the anxious state of mind which has been referred to, besides his other studies he pursued a course of theological reading; but living under the habitual impression that his spiritual condition was not good, he durst not think of entering the holy ministry. He therefore commenced the study of medicine, which he prosecuted for the space of a year. But about this time it pleased God to reveal himself to him with so much clearness and comfort that all his doubts and sorrows and fears were dispelled, and the Sun of Righteousness arose upon him with healing under his wings. And no sooner was he satisfied of his saving interest in Christ than he felt himself called to seek the ministry, which he had before been deterred from thinking of. And here it may be proper to remark that often when God intends a man for eminent usefulness in the ministry, he leads him through deep waters, and causes him to drink freely of the cup of spiritual sorrow, that he may be prepared, by a long course of afflictive experiences, to sympathize with tempted and desponding believers; and may learn how to administer to them that consolation by which his own heart was at last comforted. Of this, religious biography furnishes many instructive examples. After due preparation and study, Mr. Gilbert Tennent presented himself as a candidate to the Presbytery of Philadelphia, of which his father was a member. Having passed the usual trials before the Presbytery to their great approbation, he received a licence to preach in May, 1726. This was the very year in which the Log College was opened; and as we learn from the documents to which we have had access that he was an usher or assistant to his father in the school, it seems altogether probable that he continued with his father in the school for one year at least; for by the Presbyterial Records it appears that he was not ordained and settled as a pastor until the autumn of the year 1727. This, then, is the only period in which he could have been a tutor in the Log College; for it was not in existence until 1726, and after he was ordained he was the regular pastor of an important church in another state; for he was called to take charge of the Presbyterian congregation in the city of New Brunswick, New Jersey. Before Gilbert Tennent settled at New Brunswick, he preached several Sabbaths in New Castle, on the Delaware, and received a call from the Presbyterian congregation in that place; which, however, he did not accept.
From his first entrance on the public work of the ministry, the preaching of Gilbert Tennent was very popular and attractive with all classes of hearers. He possessed uncommon advantages as a preacher. In person he was taller than the common stature, and well proportioned in every respect. His aspect was grave and venerable, and his address prepossessing. His voice was clear and commanding, and his manner in the pulpit was exceedingly earnest and impressive. His reasoning powers, also, were strong, and his language often nervous and indeed, sublime. No one could hear him without being convinced that he was deeply in earnest. His style was copious, and sometimes elegant. Indeed, in the vigour of his age, few preachers could equal him.
In the sermon preached at the funeral of Mr. Tennent, by Dr. Finley, he describes his character as follows: ‘In his manners, at first view, he seemed distant and reserved; yet, upon nearer acquaintance, he was ever found affable, condescending and communicative. And what greatly endeared his conversation was an openness and undisguised honesty, at the greatest remove from artifice and dissimulation, which were the abhorrence of his soul while he lived. Besides, he was tender, loving, and compassionate; kind and agreeable in every relation; an assured friend to such as he esteemed worthy of his regards; and a common patron to all whom he apprehended were injured or distressed. He was of a truly public spirit, and seemed to feel the various cases of mankind in general; but sensibly partook of all the good or ill that befell his country. He needed no other motive to exert himself, than only to be persuaded that the matter in question was an important public good; and in such cases he was much regarded, not only because of his known integrity, but his generous and catholic disposition. For although he was a great lover of truth, and very zealous for its propagation, yet he was so far above a narrow, party spirit that he loved and honoured all who seemed to have “the root of the matter in them,” and made it their business to promote the essentials of religion, though they were, in various points, opposed to his own sentiments. He was, moreover, an example of great fortitude and unshaken resolution. Whatever appeared to him subservient to the advancement of the Redeemer’s kingdom, the salvation of souls, or the common good of mankind, he pursued with spirit; and what he did, he did with his might. If the end seemed to be attainable, great obstructions and difficulties in the way were so far from dispiriting that they animated him in his efforts; nor would he give up the point while one glimpse of hope remained. Hence, he accomplished many important matters which one less determined and enterprising would presently have relinquished as desperate. He would go through honour and dishonour, through “evil report and good report;” and though he had sensibility with respect to his character as well as other men, yet, if preserving it seemed at any time to require the omission of duty, or sinful compliances, he readily determined to expose himself to all risks; and if adhering to the will of God should be accounted “vile,” he resolved that he would be “yet more vile.”
‘A great part of his life was a scene of unremitted labour. He studied hard, travelled much, and preached often, while his health and other circumstances permitted. He was “instant in season and out of season:” always about his Master’s business. They who have journeyed or been often with him in company could not but observe his constant endeavours to do good by his conversation; to introduce some convincing or edifying topics; and his watching for proper opportunities for speaking for God. And very faithful was he in warning sinners of their danger, and persuading them to seek salvation in earnest. Thus, he showed how much religion was his element, and promoting it the delightful business of his life. How benevolent towards mankind he was and how precious immortal souls were in his esteem was evident from this, that every advantage accruing to them he reckoned clear gain to himself; nor were they “who divide the spoil” ever more joyful than I have known him to be on occasion of the hopeful conversion of sinners, whether by his own or the ministry of others. And often has his “soul wept in secret places for the pride” and obstinacy of those who refused to be reclaimed.
‘His great reading, with his various and long experience of the workings of both grace and corruption in the heart, made him a wise and skilful casuist, who could resolve perplexing exercises of mind with clearness, [and enabled] him to comfort with those consolations, wherewith he in like cases had been comforted of God.
‘He was a faithful attendant on the judicatories of the church, as was natural for one so anxiously concerned for the interest of religion as he was. And having observed the effects of a lax and negligent government in some churches, he became a more strenuous asserter of due and strict discipline. But above all other things, the purity of the ministry was his care; and, therefore, at the hazard of the displeasure of many and in the face of reproach, he zealously urged every scriptural method by which carnal and earthly-minded men might be kept from entering it, and men of piety and zeal as well as learning introduced.
‘As Mr. Tennent’s preaching was very alarming and awakening to careless sinners, so it was much blessed to this end, wherever he preached. And it was not only rendered effectual in producing conviction of sin, and exciting desires to flee from the wrath to come, but also to comfort mourners in Zion, and to encourage the timid and self-diffident. The atoning blood of the Redeemer, that only sovereign balsam, was applied to their recent or festering wounds. For while, at one time, when he thundered the terrors of the law, the heavens seemed to gather blackness, and a tempest of wrath appeared ready to be hurled on the heads of the guilty; at other times, when he exhibited the riches of the grace and provisions of the gospel, the heavens seemed to smile, the clouds were dispelled, and the sky became serene. The almighty God was shown to be their refuge, and underneath were the everlasting arms. Then his exhilarating words dropped upon them as the dew.’
The preceding full-length portrait is, with some slight alterations in the language, from the pen of one well qualified to judge in such matters, and who, by a long and intimate acquaintance, had the best opportunities of knowing the true character of the man whom he undertakes to describe. The Rev. Dr. Finley, President of New Jersey College, the author of the foregoing sketch, was himself one of the alumni of the Log College. It is possible, however, that the cordial friendship which he had long cherished for Gilbert Tennent and the early admiration which he felt for his talents and virtues might insensibly lead him to give rather too high a colouring to the portraiture which he has delineated. One thing is apparent to all who attentively consider what Dr. Finley has written, that, however just the prominent traits may be, the shading which more or less belongs to every human character is wanting. Undoubtedly, Gilbert Tennent had his imperfections, and they were sometimes sufficiently visible. But, on the whole, it must be confessed that he was a very eminent minister of Jesus Christ, and was made the instrument of performing a great work in his day. His memory ought to be precious in the Presbyterian church. Dr. Finley says, ‘that the seals of his ministry in New Brunswick and parts adjacent, where he first exercised his ministry, were numerous. Many have I known in those and other parts where he only preached occasionally, whose piety was unquestioned who owned him for their spiritual father; and many have I heard of in different places.’
Though Dr. Finley’s description of the character of Gilbert Tennent is full, it will be satisfactory to have the testimony of some other distinguished persons respecting him. The Rev. Mr. Prince, a pious and learned minister of Boston, speaks of Mr. Tennent in the following terms: ‘In private conversation I found him to be a man of considerable parts and learning, free, gentle, and condescending. From his own various experience, his reading the most eminent writers on experimental divinity, as well as the Scriptures, and from his conversing with many who had been awakened by his ministry in New Jersey, he seemed to have as deep an acquaintance with the experimental part of religion as any I have conversed with. And his preaching was as searching and rousing as ever I heard.’ ‘He seemed to have such a lively view of the divine Majesty — of the spirituality, purity, extensiveness, and strictness of the law, with his glorious holiness, and displeasure at sin; justice, truth, and power in punishing the damned, that the very terrors of God seemed to rise in his mind afresh, when he displayed and brandished them in the eyes of unreconciled sinners.’ And the same writer speaks of his remarkable discrimination and skill in detecting hypocrites, ‘and laying open their many vain and secret refuges, counterfeit resemblances, their delusive hopes, their utter impotence, and impending danger of destruction.’
It will be gratifying to learn what Mr. Whitefield’s opinion was of the subject of this memoir. And this, we have given very freely and fully in his Journal to which reference has already been made. ‘Nov. 13, . Left Trenton about six in the morning, had a sweet and pleasant journey, and reached Brunswick, about thirty miles distant, about one o’clock. Here we were much refreshed with the company of Mr. Gilbert Tennent, an eminent dissenting minister, about forty years of age, son to that good old man who came to see me on Saturday, at Philadelphia. God, I find, has been pleased greatly to bless his labours. He and his associates are now the burning and shining lights of this part of America. He recounted to me many remarkable effusions of the blessed Spirit, which have been sent down among them. And one may judge of their being true and faithful soldiers of Jesus Christ because they are every where spoken evil of by natural men. The devil and carnal ministers rage horribly against them. Several pious souls came to see me at his house, with whom I took sweet counsel.’ ‘Wednesday, Nov. 14. Set out early from Brunswick, with my dear fellow-travellers, and my worthy brother and fellow-labourer, Mr. Tennent. As we passed along, we spent our time most agreeably in telling what God had done for our souls.’
Upon their arrival at New York, Mr. Whitefield goes on to say, ‘I went to the meeting house to hear Mr. Gilbert Tennent preach, and never before heard I such a searching sermon. He went to the bottom, indeed, and did not daub with untempered mortar. He convinced me more and more that we can preach the gospel of Christ no further than we have experienced the power of it in our own hearts. Being deeply convicted of sin, and being from time to time driven from his false bottom and dependencies by God’s Holy Spirit at his first conversion, he has learned experimentally to dissect the heart of the natural man. Hypocrites must either soon be converted or enraged at his preaching. He is a “son of thunder”, and does not regard the face of man. He is deeply sensible of the deadness and formality of the Christian church in these parts, and has given noble testimonies against it.’
A higher testimony and from higher authority could not be given upon earth. It is doubtful whether Mr. Whitefield has ever expressed so high an opinion of any other preacher of any denomination. Indeed, it is probable that he never met with a man of a more perfectly congenial spirit with his own. As Mr. Whitefield was doubtless honoured to be the instrument of the conversion of more souls than any other preacher of his age, or perhaps of any age since that of the apostle Paul, so Mr. Tennent, among orthodox preachers, undoubtedly deserves to be placed next to him, both in the abundance of his labours and the wonderful success which attended his ministry.
When in the year 1740, Mr. Whitefield returned from Boston, he persuaded and urged Mr. Gilbert Tennent to make a preaching tour through New England as far as Boston, to water the good seed which he had there sown by his preaching on his late visit. At that time, there was but little intercourse between the middle and eastern colonies; and no ecclesiastical connection between the Presbyterian and Congregational churches. Mr. Whitefield’s preaching, attended by the mighty power of God, not only was the means of the conviction and conversion of many of his hearers; but he also excited a host of enemies, who pursued him with unrelenting hostility; and among his opposers were reckoned, both in this country and in Great Britain, the majority of the clergy and of professors of religion; thus verifying the words of our Lord, ‘If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my sayings they will keep yours also.’ Mr. Tennent must have been inflamed with a very ardent zeal, situated as he was, the pastor of a church and the father of a family, to set off in the depth of winter to preach to a strange people, among whom he probably had not a single acquaintance, either among the clergy or the laity. But invincible resolution was a prominent trait in his character. Mr. Whitefield made no journeys without several attendants; men who cheerfully ministered unto him, as did Timothy, and Luke, and Silas, and Mark, and others, to Paul. But Mr. Tennent appears to have gone on this self-denying and evangelical tour alone. He was influenced by no curiosity to see a country not before visited; nor could he have had any secular motive to induce him to perform so laborious a service as that in which he now engaged.
As Mr. Whitefield’s preaching had enkindled a considerable flame in Boston, Mr. Tennent directed his course immediately to that city, where he arrived on the 13th of December, 1740; and here he continued for nearly three months, preaching almost every day, with extraordinary power and success. There were, however, many there who were ready to welcome him; and several of the excellent ministers of the town cordially received this zealous preacher, and opened their pulpits — and, indeed, some of them gave them up to him while he continued in the place. Among those who received him joyfully was the Rev. Thomas Prince, the author of ‘The Christian History,’ from whose pen we are favoured with an account of Mr. Tennent’s manner of preaching, during his ministry in Boston. ‘It was,’ says he, ‘both terrible and searching. It was for matter, justly terrible, as he, according to the inspired oracles, exhibited the dreadful holiness, justice, law-threatenings, truth, power, and majesty of God, and his anger with rebellious, impenitent, and Christless sinners: the awful danger they were in every moment of being struck down to hell, and damned forever, with the amazing miseries of that place of torment. By his arousing and scriptural preaching, deep and pungent convictions were wrought in the minds of many hundreds of persons in that town; and the same effect was produced in several scores, in the neighbouring congregations. And now was such a time as we never knew. The Rev. Mr. Cooper was wont to say, that more came to him in one week, in deep concern, than in the whole twenty-four years of his preceding ministry. I can say also the same, as to the numbers who repaired to me.’ ‘By a letter of Mr. Cooper, one of the evangelical ministers of Boston, to a friend in Scotland, it appears he had had about six hundred different persons to visit him on the concerns of their souls, in three months’ tine. And Mr. Webb, another of the pious Boston ministers, informs me he has had, in the same space, above a thousand.’
But it will be satisfactory to hear Mr. Tennent’s own account of this visit, which is found in a letter addressed to Mr. Whitefield, by whose urgent entreaty he was persuaded to undertake the journey. This letter has been preserved in that excellent book, ‘Gillies’ Historical Collections.’ of which we are glad to learn a new edition has been recently published in Scotland.
‘VERY DEAR BROTHER, — In my return home, I have been preaching daily; ordinarily, three times a day, and sometimes oftener: and through pure grace, I have met with success much exceeding my expectations. In the town of Boston there were many hundreds, if not thousands, as some have judged, under soul-concern. When I left the place, many children were deeply affected about their souls, and several had received consolation. Some aged persons in church communion, and some open opposers were convinced. Divers of young and middle aged were converted, and several Negroes. The concern was rather more general at Charlestown. Multitudes were awakened, and several had received great consolation; especially among the young people, children, and Negroes. In Cambridge, also, in the town and in the college, the shaking among the dry bones was general, and several of the students have received consolation.” He then proceeds to name more than twenty towns to which the revival had extended; and in most of which he had preached on his return home. ‘In New Haven,’ says he, ‘the concern was general, both in the college and in the town. About thirty students came on foot, ten miles, to hear the word of God. And at Milford, the concern was general. I believe, by a moderate calculation, divers thousands have been awakened. Glory to God on high! I thank you, sir, that you did excite me to this journey. I have had good information that on Long Island God has blessed my poor labours on my passage to New England. The work of God spreads more and more. My brother William has had remarkable success this winter at Burlington. Mr. John Cross has had remarkable success at Staten Island; and many, I hear, have been awakened by the labours of Mr. Robinson, in New York government. Mr. Mills has had remarkable success in Connecticut, particularly at New Haven. And I hear that Mr. Blair has had remarkable success in Pennsylvania.’
On the subject of this great revival, which extended from Massachusetts to Georgia, the ministers of the Synod were greatly divided. For while some approved the work, and were principal instruments in promoting it, a majority considered it an ebullition of enthusiasm which tended neither to the glory of God, nor to the real benefit of immortal souls; and concerning Mr. Whitefield and his preaching, there was an entire dissension. This difference relating to the great and vital interests of religion, produced exasperation. The friends of the revival considered all who opposed it as setting themselves in opposition to a glorious work of God’s grace, and they could not but view all who openly spoke against the revival or opposed it in any way to be the enemies of God. Hence, they too hastily took up the opinion that all those ministers who disapproved the work were unconverted men; that they were mere formalists, and knew nothing of the vital power of religion, but trusted to a mere profession of orthodoxy, and that if in words they did not deny the truths of God, they did in fact: and though they might acknowledge the truth in theory, it was with them a ‘dead orthodoxy,’ which they held in unrighteousness. On the other hand, the opposers of the revival blamed the kind of preaching which the revivalists adopted; especially the dwelling so much on the terrors of the law, and the torments of the damned. They charged the leaders in the revival with encouraging enthusiastic raptures, and making religion to consist too much in strong emotion and violent excitement, attended often with bodily affections. They were also greatly offended with the harsh, uncharitable spirit with which they were denounced and misrepresented by the preachers on the other side ; and their opposition to no one, unless Mr. Whitefield be an exception, was greater than to Mr. Gilbert Tennent. Indeed, all must acknowledge that among the friends and promoters of the revival he stood preeminent; and in the harshness of his censures, and the severity of his denunciation, he went far before all his brethren. It cannot be doubted that before the commencement of this extraordinary revival of religion the Presbyterian church in America was in a most deplorable state of deadness and formality; and that the necessity of a change of heart was very little inculcated from the pulpit, or understood by the people. Here it may be remarked, that the founder of the Log College and all the pupils of that school were warm friends of the revival, and exerted themselves with all their might to promote the good work.
In all great revivals, where the people are under strong excitement, there will be some things which the judicious must regret; and, no doubt, there were many such things in this great and extensive awakening; but it was a dangerous mistake to repudiate the whole work on account of some irregularities.
We come now to a period of Gilbert Tennent’s life, in which he was called to act a very conspicuous part in the affairs of the Presbyterian church. A great schism took place in the Synod, in bringing about which, it must be admitted, he had his full share. It took place, indeed, by the expulsion of himself and the other members of the New Brunswick Presbytery from the Synod; but he had provoked his opponents by one of the most severely abusive sermons which was ever penned, called ‘The Nottingham Sermon,’ because it was preached at that place. In the protests which he and Mr. Samuel Blair presented to the Synod, in 1740, the majority of the members of the Synod were exhibited in a very unenviable light. Mr. Gilbert Tennent felt himself called in providence to attempt to arouse the Presbyterian church from its profound sleep of carnal security, and to bring about a reformation in the body; but the majority of the clergy were opposed to his measures, and disparaged what had already been done. He seems, therefore, to have considered them as the enemies of the spiritual kingdom of Christ; and that it was his duty, in imitation of Christ and the ancient prophets, in the plainest and most solemn manner, to denounce and expose their hypocrisy, as did our Lord that of the Pharisees. But here he made a grand mistake. He could not read the hearts of his opponents, and, therefore, had no authority to pronounce a sentence of condemnation on them. He should have remembered that precept of our Lord, ‘Judge not that ye be not judged.’ A difference of opinion from him respecting the true nature of the revival and concerning Mr. Whitefield’s character, furnished no sufficient ground for him to censure and denounce them as he did; and, especially, as a part of them, at least, were excellent men, and sound and judicious theologians. They were not the enemies of vital godliness, but were opposed to what they apprehended to be spurious religion. We may now see that they erred in their judgment, and pursued a course which was very injurious to the people under their care; and that they committed a great fault in opposing a glorious work of God on account of some irregularities which accompanied it. One of the greatest causes of complaint against Mr. Gilbert Tennent and his ‘Newlight’ brethren was that in violation of order and propriety they passed beyond the bounds of their own Presbytery, and intruded into congregations under the care of other ministers. This these brethren attempted to justify by the sound maxim employed by the apostles when forbidden to preach by the Jewish rulers, ‘that we should obey God rather than men.’ But it may well be doubted whether, in the circumstances in which they were placed, the maxim was applicable. The ministers into whose congregations they intruded belonged to the same Synod with themselves, and had as good a right to judge what was right and expedient as the ‘New Side’ ministers.
We think, therefore, that Mr. Tennent was much to be blamed for the course which he pursued in this controversy with the Synod; especially, in the harshness, censoriousness, and bitterness which he manifested towards them; particularly, in the sermon before mentioned; and that his course can by no means be justified. He does, indeed, appear in a very unamiable light, and as exceedingly deficient in the meekness and charity of the gospel, in this whole controversy. He, doubtless, believed that he was doing God service, and that duty required him to pursue the course and manifest the spirit which he did. After the separation had taken place, and the heat of the controversy had cooled, he seems to have been sensible that he had not done justice to the majority of the Synod ; for he wrote and published a large pamphlet called ‘The Pacificator,’ in which he strongly pleads for peace, and a re-union of the separated parts of the Presbyterian Church. This desirable event was, after a division which lasted seventeen years, and after long negotiation, accomplished; and Mr. Gilbert Tennent entered cordially into the measure. Whatever mistakes he fell into arose from error of judgment, in regard to duty. He was, doubtless, actuated by a sincere and glowing zeal for the honour of the Redeemer, and the salvation of souls. Like the sun, he was a burning and a shining light; but like that luminary, had some dark spots, which, in some measure, marred the beauty and symmetry of his otherwise estimable character. His natural disposition appears to have been severe and uncompromising; and he gave strong evidence of being very tenacious of all his opinions; and not very tolerant of those who dissented from his views, as appears by the controversy which he had with the Rev. Mr. Cowell, of Trenton, and which he brought before the Synod. But with all his faults he was an extraordinary man, raised up by Providence to accomplish a great work. We of the Presbyterian Church are more indebted to the men of the Log College for our evangelical views and for our revivals of religion than we are aware of. By their exertions, and the blessing of God on their preaching, a new spirit was infused into the Presbyterian body; and their views and sentiments respecting experimental religion have prevailed more and more; until at last opposition to genuine revivals of religion is almost unknown in our church. It is not my purpose to enter into the ecclesiastical transactions in which Mr. Tennent acted an important part any further than is necessary to form a judgment of his Christian and ministerial character. They who desire to see a lucid view of the ecclesiastical transactions of that period are referred to Dr. Hodge’s ‘Constitutional History of the Presbyterian Church;’ or they may go to the fountain head, by consulting the ‘Records of the Transactions of the Synod,’ recently given to the public by the Presbyterian Board of Publication.
We have seen that a great schism was produced in the Presbyterian body by a difference of opinion among the ministers of the Synod respecting the great revival which pervaded many of the churches. But though this was the proximate cause of the division, by those who attentively consider the history of that time, and especially the ‘Records’ of the Synod itself, it will be seen that this event was actually produced by the Log College. At first view, this will seem very improbable, but when all the documents are read, and all the circumstances of the church weighed and compared, it will appear exceedingly probable that the erection of this school of the prophets was, innocently, the cause of the breach which took place in 1741. Here it will be necessary to enter somewhat minutely into a consideration of the condition of the church prior to the commencement of the revival. A liberal education was, from the beginning, considered an indispensable qualification for the gospel ministry in the Presbyterian Church. The usual evidence of having received such an education was a diploma from some college or university in Europe or America. The Presbyterian ministers, before the erection of the Log College, had nearly all received such an education. We know of but one exception, and that was Mr. Evans, whose case has already been mentioned. There existed no college in any of the middle states where young men seeking the ministry could obtain the requisite learning. Until this school was instituted, no young man could enter the Presbyterian ministry without going to Scotland or New England for his education; and this amounted pretty nearly to closing the door against all candidates who were brought up in the Presbyterian Church; for very few in those days could bear the expense of acquiring a liberal education, by going to any college or university on this or the other side of the Atlantic. The church, therefore, had to depend for a supply of ministers on emigration from Scotland, Ireland, or New England. Most of those who came to settle in the Presbyterian Church came from Ireland; except that those Presbyteries which bordered on New England received a supply of ministers from that region. It must be evident at once that this condition of the church was very unfavourable to her prosperity; for often those who came across the ocean were not men of the best character. They were often mere adventurers, and sometimes had crossed the Atlantic to escape from the censure incurred by their misconduct; and it was exceedingly difficult in those days to ascertain the true character of a foreigner coming here as a minister of the gospel; for though such men commonly exhibited ample testimonials from abroad, too often these were forged. Several instances of this very thing occurred. As the ministers who came in from New England were all brought up Congregationalists and had habits and customs not congenial with those of the Scottish Presbyterians, their accession to the body had a tendency to produce confusion and strife. The sons of the pilgrims and the descendants of Scottish Presbyterians, though holding substantially the same creed, have never readily amalgamated into one uniform mass, but the habits and prejudices of each have been preserved, and kept the people distinct for several generations, though living contiguously to each other. There seemed, therefore, to be an urgent necessity for some seminary to be erected within the limits of the Presbyterian Church, where young men might be educated for the ministry. It is indeed wonderful that the Synod had not paid earlier attention to this subject, as being essential to the prosperity of the church. But as far as appears, no classical school had been erected in any part of the Synod, until the Rev. William Tennent connected himself with the Presbyterian Church, and set up a school at his own door in Neshaminy. It is probable that Mr. Gilbert Tennent was the first candidate licensed in the Presbyterian Church who was educated within its limits. As he was thirteen or fourteen years of age when his father arrived, it is probable that his classical education was commenced before he left Ireland; though the principal part of his education must have been acquired here; and no doubt, under the paternal roof. Although we have connected Mr. Gilbert Tennent with the Log College, it must be in the character of a teacher rather than a student; for in the very year in which his father removed to Neshaminy, he was licensed to preach. This was the year 1726.
Though Gilbert Tennent had received no diploma from any college, yet he passed his trials before the mother Presbytery of Philadelphia with great credit to himself and much to the satisfaction of the Presbytery. It was now seen that young men could be well prepared for the ministry at home, without going to distant colleges. As Mr. William Tennent, the father, had been, as far as is known, the sole instructor of his son, who as soon as licensed attracted public attention, and was seen to be an able preacher, the conclusion was easily drawn that he would be an excellent person to train up young men for the ministry. But though the thing appeared thus to many plain and pious people, others were apprehensive that by educating young men in this way the literary qualifications of candidates would necessarily be greatly diminished. The school, however, went on prosperously, and a number of young men who had the ministry in view resorted to the Log College to pursue their education; and here they were not only taught the classics, but studied divinity also; so that this institution was a theological seminary, as well as a college. How many years they were occupied with these studies does not appear; but a number of persons educated in this school were licensed by the Presbyteries, after undergoing such trials as were usually prescribed to candidates in Scotland and Ireland. Some of them, as we shall see, became eminent in the church, and were much distinguished as powerful and evangelical preachers. Still the impression existed, and grew stronger, that this course of instruction was not sufficient. To men educated in the universities of Europe, furnished with so many professors, and other advantages, it seemed preposterous to suppose that a man could acquire adequate learning for the ministry in this little paltry log cabin; and instructed, principally, by one teacher. They began, therefore, in the Synod, to talk of establishing a Synodical school, and to express dissatisfaction with the course of study in the Log College, as it was contemptuously called. None doubted of old Mr. Tennent’s classical scholarship; but it was believed that his proficiency in the arts and sciences was by no means equal to his classical learning. As young men were still entering the church from this school, the Synod adopted a rule that no Presbytery should license any young man until he had passed an examination on his literary course before a committee of Synod. Two large committees, one for the northern part of the Synod, and the other for the south, were appointed, before whom young men were to appear and submit to an examination. This rule gave great dissatisfaction to the Tennents and their friends; for they perceived, at once, that this rule was intended to bear on the students of the Log College, and they believed it to be a high-handed measure, entirely inconsistent with the rights of Presbyteries, who, as they had the power of ordaining ministers, ought to possess the power of judging of their qualifications. What rendered the measure more odious to them, they had just succeeded in getting a Presbytery set off, in New Jersey, which included most of the friends of the Log College. Their object in getting this Presbytery erected, as they confessed to Mr. Whitefield, was that they might license such young men as they deemed properly qualified for the office; and, in their opinion, fervent piety was the first and principal qualification. Though they believed a classical education necessary, yet it seems that they lightly esteemed some parts of learning, which the other members of the Synod thought requisite. While they were blamed for being too lax in their demands of a knowledge of literature and science, they seriously charged the majority of the Synod with neglecting to make a thorough examination into the piety of their candidates. On several occasions, Mr. Gilbert Tennent brought this matter before the Synod, and obtained from them some formal resolutions in favour of inquiring carefully into the personal piety of the candidates.
When the order was passed rendering it necessary for candidates to appear before a committee of the Synod, Mr. Gilbert Tennent and his friends entered their protest against the regulation. But to be more exact in regard to this first measure, which divided the Synod into two parties, it will be proper to observe that the regulation adopted in the year 1738 was occasioned by an overture from the Presbytery of Lewes, in which they say, ‘That this part of the world, where God has ordered our lot, labours under grievous disadvantage for want of the opportunities of universities and professors skilled in the several branches of useful learning; and that many students from Europe are especially cramped in prosecuting their studies, their parents removing to these colonies before they have an opportunity of attending the college, after having spent some years at the grammar school; and that many persons born in this country groan under the same pressure, whose circumstances are not able to support them to spend a course of years in the European or New England colleges, which discourages much, and must be a detriment to our church, for we know that natural parts, however great and promising, for want of being well improved, must be marred in their usefulness, and cannot be so extensively serviceable to the public; and that want paves the way for ignorance, and this for a formidable train of sad consequences. To prevent this evil, it is humbly proposed, as a remedy, that every student, with approbation not pursuing the usual courses, in some of the New England or European colleges approved by public authority, shall, before he be encouraged by any Presbytery for the sacred work of the ministry, apply himself to this Synod, and that they appoint a committee of their members, yearly, whom they know to be well skilled in the several branches of philosophy, divinity, and the languages, to examine such students in this place, and finding them well accomplished in these several parts of learning, shall allow them a public testimony from the Synod, which, till better provision be made, will, in some measure, answer the design of taking a degree in college. And, for the encouragement of students, let this be done without putting them to further expenses than attending. And let it be an objection against none where they have studied, or what books; but let all encouragement be only according to merit, &c.’ The Synod, by a great majority, approved the overture, and proceeded to appoint two committees, the one for the region north of Philadelphia, and the other for the country south of that city.
It does not appear that any dissent or protest was entered on the minutes at the time, but the next year the Presbytery of New Brunswick sent up a remonstrance. The paper containing the objections to the act of the Synod of the preceding year is not on the records; but the Synod, upon hearing it, agreed to reconsider the subject, and after due deliberation resolved to substitute the following instead of the act complained of. ‘It being the first article in our excellent Directory for the examination of the candidates for the sacred ministry, that they be inquired of what degrees they have taken in the university, &c. And it being oftentimes impracticable for us, in these remote parts of the earth, to obtain an answer to these questions of those who propose themselves to examination, many of our candidates not having enjoyed the advantage of a university education, and it being our desire to come to the nearest conformity to the incomparable prescriptions of the Directory that our circumstances will admit of, and after long deliberation of the most proper expedients to comply with the intentions of the Directory, where we cannot exactly fulfil the letter of it: the Synod agree and determine that every person who proposes himself to trial, as a candidate for the ministry, and who has not a diploma or the usual certificate from a European or New England university, shall be examined by the whole Synod or its commission as to these preparatory studies, which we generally pass through at the college; and if they find him qualified, they shall give him a certificate, which shall be received by our respective Presbyteries as equivalent to a diploma or certificate from the college, &c.’ But this form of the act was no more acceptable to the New Brunswick Presbytery than the former; the next day, therefore, they entered a protest against the said act. This protest was signed by the four Tennents, Samuel Blair, and Eleazar Wales, ministers, and by four elders. The Synod, it appears, were determined to bring the pupils of the Log College under their own examination before they would suffer any more of them to be received as members of the Synod, or to preach as candidates in the churches. The friends of this institution were exceedingly averse to having their young men examined by the Synod; either because they were conscious that they would be found defective in some of the branches usually pursued in the college course; or, because they were of opinion that the major part of the Synod were prejudiced against this humble institution, and against all who were connected with it. Probably both these considerations had their weight in leading them to oppose so strenuously a measure which to us seems reasonable and necessary, to guard the ministry against the intrusion of unqualified candidates. For it appears that this examination by the Synod was not intended to interfere with the right of Presbyteries to examine their candidates, but to be a substitute for a diploma, which the Directory seemed to require. For when a young man presented his certificate to a Presbytery, if, upon examination, they were not satisfied, they could reject him notwithstanding his certificate.
But the fact was, that the New Brunswick Presbytery had already committed themselves. At their very first meeting, in August, 1738, they took on trial a certain Mr. Rowland, one of the scholars of the Log College, in direct violation of the act of the Synod. After the Synod had reconsidered the matter, and reenacted the same thing, in different words, this Presbytery proceeded with the trials of Mr. Rowland, licensed him to preach the gospel, and, not long afterwards, ordained him. The Synod refused to recognize Mr. Rowland as a member of their body; for, though they did not deny that by the act of the Presbytery he was a real minister; yet they alleged that they had a right to determine who should and who should not become members of their own body. Henceforth the parties became much exasperated against each other. The friends of the Log College saw that the act of the Synod was directed against that institution, for there was no other school at that time in the bounds of the Synod where young men were trained for the ministry. This was not all. The act implied a reflection on all those who had before entered the ministry from this school. The majority of Synod were grievously offended that one of their Presbyteries, and one too just created, should so disregard the authority of the supreme judicatory of the church as to act in open defiance of an act formed after much discussion and deliberation in the Synod.
One thing necessary to be known in order to form an impartial judgment respecting the dispute which arose in the Synod, but which cannot at this distance of time be accurately ascertained, is what sort of education was actually received at this famous institution. Was it as solid and thorough as could be obtained within the limits of the Presbyterian church? If so, even if compared with that which was given in the universities of Europe it was in some parts defective, this was no good reason why the institution should be frowned upon by the Synod. Instead of this, they ought to have recognized and cherished it, and should have endeavoured to raise it higher, and to enlarge its advantages. As far as we have observed, this school, although already it had produced a number of distinguished preachers, is never once mentioned in the minutes of the Synod; except in their letter to President Clapp, of which further notice will be taken. It is true that most of the members of Synod had enjoyed the advantages of a university education in Europe or New England; and it cannot be supposed that equal advantages could be had in the little log cabin at Neshaminy. But it is a well-known fact, that men’s eminence in learning does not always correspond with the privileges enjoyed. If we compare Gilbert Tennent, Samuel Blair, Samuel Finley, William Tennent, jr., and John Blair, with an equal number of their opposers, they certainly will not suffer in public opinion by the comparison. One advantage which they possessed who were educated in the Log College was that the spirit of piety seems to have been nourished in that institution with assiduous care. All, as far as we can learn, who proceeded from this school were men of sound orthodoxy, evangelical spirit, glowing zeal, and in labours very abundant. They had, we have reason to believe, the teaching of the Holy Spirit; and without the advantages which others enjoyed, they became ‘burning and shining lights.’ They were the friends and promoters of revivals of religion, which their censurers bitterly opposed. Still, we do not justify their irregular and insubordinate acts. Gilbert Tennent and Samuel Blair were men of invincible firmness — a firmness bordering on obstinacy. They were the leaders in this warfare. They saw a great harvest before them, and the Lord seemed to attend their labours everywhere with a blessing; and they were led to think that mere forms of order and regulations of ecclesiastical bodies were of trivial importance, compared with the advancement of the Redeemer’s kingdom, and the salvation of souls. They felt, as did the apostles and first reformers, that they were called to go everywhere preaching the gospel, without regard to prescribed limits of Presbyteries or congregations; especially, as they observed that many pastors neglected to inculcate on their hearers the necessity of a change of heart, and that the people were as really perishing for lack of knowledge as they were under Jewish or Popish instructors. They felt themselves bound, therefore, to preach far and wide, wherever the people would hear them; and although there was irregularity in this, judging by human and ecclesiastical rules, yet I doubt not that in the main their zealous and exhausting labours have met with a large reward. Weak enthusiasts or fierce fanatics may abuse the principle on which they acted; but the same thing occurred at the time of the blessed Reformation from popery. We must not neglect to do all the good we can, because some may pervert our example to sanction their own lawless proceedings.
I cannot express how much the Presbyterian Church in these United States is indebted to the labours of this very corps, who studied successfully the sacred oracles in the Log College; or more probably, under the beautiful groves which shaded the banks of the Neshaminy. There they studied, and there they prayed, and there they were taught of God.
But I do not mean to justify all that was done by these zealous men. As was admitted before, they did not act towards their brethren in the ministry with brotherly affection and Christian meekness. Gilbert Tennent indulged himself in very unwarrantable language in speaking of men clothed with the same office as himself, and members of the same Synod. Nothing could have justified his treatment of them, unless he had been inspired to know that they were a set of hypocrites; or, unless their lives had been wicked, or their faith heretical, none of which things were alleged against them.
But while it is admitted that Mr. Gilbert Tennent was a principal instrument in provoking a majority of the Synod to exscind the New Brunswick Presbytery, it does not appear that either he or his friends wished to bring about a separation in the church. Their object was to produce a reformation, if possible, among the ministers, and in the churches under the care of the Synod; though it must be acknowledged that their zeal led them to make use of unjustifiable means to accomplish the desired end. It need not, therefore, be a matter of surprise that Gilbert Tennent was among the first to seek a reconciliation and re-union of the parties.
To promote this object he wrote and published a pamphlet, as was before said, entitled, ‘The Pacificator,’ in which he reasons strongly in favour of peace and union. Between the contending parties there existed, really, no difference on doctrinal points; except that the New Side were blamed for dwelling too much on the terrors of the law, and insisting too strongly on the necessity of legal conviction for sin. On church government there was scarcely a shade of difference. The members of the New Brunswick Presbytery were disposed to consider Presbyteries as the origin of ecclesiastical power; while the majority of the Synod probably thought that all the power of the church was concentrated in the Synod, then the supreme judicatory. The same difference of opinion still exists in the Presbyterian Church, for while some are of opinion that Synods and General Assemblies possess limited powers, defined by the constitution of the church, and that all ecclesiastical power emanates from the Presbyteries, which they consider the essential body in our Church government, there are others who consider the Synod in no other light than a larger Presbytery, and the General Assembly, as it were, a universal Presbytery, possessing all the powers of the inferior judicatories. Whichever of these be the more correct theory of our Presbyterian Church government, the Presbytery of New Brunswick has always been firm in maintaining the rights of Presbyteries against the encroachments of the higher judicatories. Certainly, our higher judicatories were constituted by the junction of Presbyteries. In Scotland, the General Assembly existed before there were either Presbyteries or Synods, and all church power descended from that body; but not so with us, where Presbyteries first existed, of which the higher judicatories were formed. This schism in the Presbyterian Church in America lasted about seventeen years, although negotiations for a reconciliation were going on a great part of this time, chiefly by the members of the Presbytery of New York, who were absent from the meeting of Synod at which the disruption occurred.
The preaching of Mr. Whitefield, in Philadelphia, was the means of the conversion of many souls. A number of these, with others who agreed with them in sentiment, and were admirers of Mr. Whitefield’s preaching, and friends of the revival, had formed a new Presbyterian congregation in that city. Being desirous to obtain a pastor of like views and sentiments with themselves, and one possessed of talents and eloquence suited to such a station, they turned their eyes upon the Rev. Gilbert Tennent. Their call to him was presented in May, 1743, just two years after the rupture of the Synod, which took place in the same city. Mr. Tennent did not hesitate to accept this call, as he saw that the sphere of his influence would be greatly enlarged. He was, therefore, regularly released from his pastoral charge in New Brunswick, where he had preached for sixteen years. In the important station on which he now entered, he continued to exercise his ministry with great fidelity and diligence for twenty years. During this whole period, comprehending more than one half of his ministerial life, he seems to have lived in peace with all men. The fiery edge of his zeal had worn off, and he had found by experience that neither people nor ministers were ever rendered better by vituperative attacks from the pulpit or the press. During the whole of the latter part of his life, Mr. Gilbert Tennent, as far as has come to our knowledge, never had any controversy with any of his brethren, but seems to have conducted himself in a friendly and peaceable manner toward all men. From this it would seem that he was not of a quarrelsome or litigious spirit. It may hence be fairly inferred that the warm controversies in which he engaged with his brethren of the Synod of Philadelphia were entered into conscientiously and on principle. We have no doubt that in this whole concern he was at the time fully persuaded that he was doing God service, and performing a painful duty toward his opposing brethren, which he could not with a good conscience omit. But as was before said, we are of opinion that he was mistaken, and proceeded on an erroneous principle; and there is good reason to think that he was of the same opinion himself in this latter part of his life.
The only interruption of his pastoral labours in Philadelphia was occasioned by a mission to Great Britain, in conjunction with the Rev. Samuel Davies, of Virginia, for the College of New Jersey. At the request of the Trustees of New Jersey College, the Synod of New York appointed these two gentlemen to cross the Atlantic, to solicit funds for the College. The mission was in a good degree successful; but of this our only account is found in the diary of the Rev. Mr. Davies. It does not appear that Mr. Tennent ever kept any journal or diary, at home or abroad. From Mr. Davies’s journal we learn that he and Mr. Tennent went on board a vessel bound for London, November 17, 1753, and on the next day set sail. They arrived in London on the 25th of December, and were well received. We are unable to give any account of Mr. Tennent’s preaching, and its effects on the people whom he addressed, for he and Mr. Davies seem to have been separated from each other for the most part. But in regard to the direct object of their mission, he says, under date of April 7, 1754, ‘We have had most surprising success in our mission; which, notwithstanding the languor of my nature, I cannot review without passionate emotions. From the best information of our friends, and our own observation on our arrival here, we could not raise our hopes above £300, but we have already got about £1200. Our friends in America cannot hear the news with the same surprise, as they do not know the difficulties we have had to encounter; but to me it appears the most signal interposition of Providence I ever saw.’
It appears from the journal of the Rev. Samuel Davies that by means of Mr. Tennent’s ‘Nottingham Sermon,’ which some person unfriendly to him and his mission had sent over to England, strong prejudices had been excited against him before his arrival; so that he was rarely invited to preach in the dissenting pulpits of London. And it is probable that during his whole visit to Great Britain he was under a cloud, which must have rendered his visit unpleasant, and yet was a just chastisement for preaching and publishing that very uncharitable discourse.
While Mr. Gilbert Tennent was in Great Britain, a friend to the conversion of the Indians put into his hands two hundred pounds sterling, to be made use of by the Synod of New York in sending missionaries to these heathen tribes. This seems to have excited, for a time, a considerable missionary spirit among the ministers in connection with this Synod. Several pastors, who had charges, went on temporary missions; and Mr. John Brainerd devoted himself wholly to the work among the tribes who resided in New Jersey.
John Brainerd was the brother of David, whose devoted missionary life is so well known, and has had so powerful an effect in exciting the missionary spirit in Great Britain as well as America. His brother succeeded him, supported by the same society in Scotland which had supported himself. But after some time he relinquished the missionary work, and accepted a pastoral charge in the town of Newark, New Jersey. The contribution from Scotland was now withdrawn, as there was no missionary among the Indians. But when Mr. Tennent returned with the aforementioned sum, appropriated to this object, the Synod of New York renewed their missionary enterprise; and as the very name of Brainerd was precious to the Indians of New Jersey, Mr. John Brainerd, by the advice of the Synod, resigned his charge, and returned to the Indians.
‘The Rev. Messrs. Tennent and Davies, when in Great Britain, received from various persons in London the sum of £296 17s., “for the education of such youth for the ministry of the gospel, in the College of New Jersey, as are unable to defray the expenses of their education, who appear upon proper examination to be of promising genius, Calvinistic principles, and in the judgment of charity experimentally acquainted with the work of saving grace, and to have distinguished zeal for the glory of God, and the salvation of men.” The annual interest of the aforesaid sum only was to be appropriated. To this sum was added, by another donor, £10 7s. 6d., making the whole of this charitable fund to be £307 4s. 6d.
‘The money aforesaid was by Messrs. Tennent and Davies put into the hands of the Trustees of New Jersey College, to be applied to the education of such youth, of the character above mentioned, as shall be examined and approved by the Synod of New York, (or by what name so ever that body of men may be hereafter called) and by them recommended to the trustees of said college, and to be divided among such youths, in proportion as said Synod shall think fit. To the above sums fifty pounds sterling were added by an individual, making the whole sum £357 4s. 6d.” (This fund was nearly all lost during the revolutionary war.)
A report has attained some currency that Mr. Tennent and Mr. Davies did not perfectly harmonize when on this mission; but though it is possible that some coolness may have arisen between these eminent ministers, there is not any written document in which we have found the least hint of any difference. From the suavity of Mr. Davies’s disposition and the perfect politeness of his manners, we cannot think that there is any foundation for the report. The men, it is true, in natural disposition were not altogether congenial; for while the manners of one were polished and calculated to please, it is probable those of the other were rough, blunt, and not at all courtly. We shall, therefore, dismiss this report as one of the thousands which have no probable foundation. No doubt Mr. Davies carried off the palm as to popularity in London and other places; and if Mr. Tennent was at all susceptible of the feelings of envy, which are very natural to the human heart, and the remains of which are often found lurking in the hearts of ministers as well as others, he might have felt badly in finding himself eclipsed by a much younger man. But, as was said, we have no right to charge him with any such feeling, and we are confident that Mr. Davies’s treatment of him must have been uniformly respectful and affectionate; for it was so to everybody.
After Mr. Tennent’s settlement in Philadelphia, he exerted himself with great energy and perseverance to get a good house of worship erected for the congregation which he served. Indeed, at that time the building of such an edifice as that which, by his indefatigable exertions, was erected at the north-east corner of the intersection of Mulberry (or Arch) and Third streets, for the second Presbyterian church in Philadelphia, was a great work. Very few of the Presbyterian denomination then possessed much wealth. Mr. Tennent not only obtained nearly all the subscriptions for the building, but actually superintended the work in person, and assiduously watched over it, from its commencement to its completion. After some time the congregation added a handsome steeple to the building.
Such men as Mr. Gilbert Tennent always appear greatest in times of excitement and stirring activity. It may well be doubted whether his preaching was as awakening and impressive after his removal to Philadelphia as it was before. Some change in his views and feelings as to the best method of promoting religion had taken place, it would be very natural to suppose. The warmth of his religious feelings had in some measure cooled, and the violence of his zeal had, by time and experience, been mitigated. From this time he seems to have gone along as quietly as other ministers around him. We thus judge, because we have never heard of any remarkable effects of his preaching after his settlement in Philadelphia. There is another thing which ought not to be overlooked. In a great city the hearers are more fastidious than in the country, and will not tolerate so much liberty of digression, and so frequent departures from good taste and correct composition. Before Mr. Gilbert Tennent went to Philadelphia, though, doubtless, he studied his sermons carefully, and digested his matter under a sufficient variety of heads, yet he preached without having written his discourses, and like all ardent preachers, gave himself great indulgence in pursuing any new train of ideas which was presented during the time of preaching. But when settled in a great city, he thought it necessary, for the sake of correctness, to write his sermons, and read them from the pulpit. This circumstance alone, probably, produced a great alteration in his mode of preaching. Many men who preach admirably when free to follow the thoughts which they have arranged, or to pursue such as spring up at the time, when confined to a discourse written in the study appear to be very much cramped, and lose much of their vivacity and natural eloquence. The writer once conversed with a plain and pious man who in early life being apprenticed to a trade in Philadelphia attended Mr. Tennent’s ministry. We asked him respecting his manner of preaching. He answered simply, ‘that Mr. Tennent was never worth anything after he came to Philadelphia;’ ‘for,’ said he, ‘he took to reading his sermons, and lost all his animation.’ This testimony came from a class not sufficiently considered, when the best mode of preaching is under consideration. Our reference is too much to the taste of men of cultivated minds, who form but a small part of any congregation; and even these, when pious, are better pleased with blundering simplicity joined with animation, than with cold accuracy when the most solemn truths are delivered without emotion.
Though Mr. Tennent, however, probably lost a considerable portion of his early vehemence and impressiveness, which can be well enough accounted for by the mere increase of years, without supposing any real diminution of zeal, yet his discourses, as appears by those published, were various and instructive. This will appear more clearly when we come to speak of his writings.
The interest of Mr. Gilbert Tennent in revivals and his joy at the conversion of sinners continued unabated. For in March, 1757, an extraordinary revival of religion occurred in the New Jersey college, concerning which he thus speaks in the preface to one of his volumes of sermons: ‘In March last, I received a letter from the College of New Jersey, informing me of an extraordinary appearance of the Divine power and presence there, and requesting I would come and see. With this kind motion I gladly complied; and having been there some time, had all the evidence of the aforesaid report, which could be in reason desired.’ He then inserts a letter from his brother William, giving a particular account of the nature and progress of the work; which was addressed to the Rev. Dr. Finley, and the autograph of which the writer has seen. * (See Appendix, I.)
For about three years before his death, Mr. Tennent became very infirm, so that he was unable to go through the duties which devolved upon him as the pastor of a large city congregation. In December, 1762, the congregation got leave to present a call to the Rev. George Duffield, D.D., then of Carlisle, to be a co-pastor with Mr. Tennent. This call Dr. Duffield declined to accept, and the congregation remained without another pastor until Mr. Tennent’s death; which event occurred in the year 1764, in the sixty-second year of his age. Of the circumstances of his death, Dr. Finley, in his funeral sermon, says but little. In the general, he informs us that, ‘as he lived to the Lord, so death was his unspeakable gain; and his being conscious of it made him ardently wish for the pleasing hour when he should enter into the joy of his Lord.’... ‘He had an habitual unshaken assurance of his interest in redeeming love, for the space of more than forty years; but eight days before his death he got a more clear and affecting sense of it still. And though he lamented that he had done so little for God, and that his life had been comparatively unprofitable; yet he triumphed in the grace of Jesus Christ, who had pardoned all his sins; and said his assurance of salvation was built on the Scriptures, and was more sure than the sun and moon.’
His congregation placed a monumental stone over his remains, in the middle aisle of the church in which he had so long preached. The inscription on this stone was written by his friend Dr. Finley, in classical Latin. When this church was remodelled, his remains and those of Dr. Finley also, were removed to the cemetery of the Second Presbyterian Church, in Arch street, between Fifth and Sixth streets.
After Mr. Tennent’s death, there was a eulogy on his character published in Philadelphia by a young gentleman of that city, from which some extracts will be made, as serving to show in what estimation he was held in the place where he spent more than twenty years of his life. We expect, in discourses of this kind, some exaggeration; but as this eulogy was addressed to the public, who were well acquainted with the person eulogized, it must have a general foundation of truth; and the reader, by making an allowance for the strong expressions of the partial writer, may form a pretty correct opinion of the true character of the person celebrated.
After an introduction this writer goes on to say:
‘He whose memory these pages are intended to celebrate, was distinguished in a very remarkable manner by his eminent endowments of mind; a love of learning that nothing could abate; an intense application that no recreations could divert. His great proficiency in the several branches of literature, while the powers of his soul were but just opening, raised the expectations of all that knew him. What recommended these amiable accomplishments was that they were early adorned with the charms of Divine grace. It was his study to remember his Creator in the days of his youth. As he often inculcated the necessity and manifold advantages of early piety, so he might with propriety have added his own experience of them, as an inducement to the votaries of gaiety and pleasure to embrace the pleasures that flow from true religion. He had no sooner experienced what it was to pass from death unto life, and from a state of nature to a state of grace, than he formed a resolution of spending his time, his talents, and his all, in the service of God, in his sanctuary; previously to the accomplishment of which design, he devoted himself wholly to the study of the sacred scriptures, and his own heart, and not merely to a dry system of speculative notions. He was too sensible of the importance of that arduous office, to rush into it without suitable preparation. He knew too well the worth of precious immortal souls to recommend any other foundation for the hopes of their future happiness, than what he was well assured would stand the test of beating rains and descending showers.. . . The manner in which he usually preached, and the indifference with which he treated all secular advantages, abundantly evinced that neither a love of popular applause nor a desire of promoting his own affluence and ease could have been any inducement to him to assume the holy function. But, on the contrary, an ardent love to God, and a desire to advance his glory in the world, by proclaiming pardon and reconciliation through the atoning blood of his crucified Son, were his only motives for the choice of that noble, disinterested profession. As he entered into the ministry in the prime of life, when his bodily constitution was in its full vigour, he devoted his juvenile strength and ardour of mind to the service of the church, at a time when their exertion was of the greatest importance. Few that knew Mr. Tennent in that season of life can speak of him without some pleasing emotions. The good old Puritan spirit that had for a series of years been asleep, seemed to revive and blaze forth in him with a genuine lustre. He was, indeed, like the harbinger of his Master, “a burning and a shining light,” in the church. His undissembled piety, his fervent zeal, his pungency of address, and his indefatigable assiduity in the performance of every ministerial duty were remarkably eminent. He might truly be styled a Boanerges. As he knew the composition and make of the human heart, so he knew how to speak to it; and all his discourses were aimed at the fountain of impurity and sin. He knew that a reformation that did not take its rise in the heart could not be of long continuance, or pleasing in the sight of God; and, therefore, he always strove to convince his hearers that a thorough renovation of it was necessary to salvation.
‘As his presence was venerable, and his voice commanding, so his very appearance in the pulpit filled the minds of his hearers with a kind of religious awe.. . . The thunderings and mighty vociferations of Mount Sinai seemed to roar from the sacred desk, when he denounced the wrath of God against him that transgressed but once God’s law, which he knew to be spiritual, and that nothing but a perfect obedience — which man in his fallen state is unable to perform — would satisfy its demands. Hence, he made it his constant practice to sound the alarm of God’s curse abiding on the whole human race; and taught that to doom man to everlasting misery would be highly consistent with the mercy and justice of Jehovah. But while he enforced the truth of inspiration, “that in Adam all die,” he was no less warm in proclaiming “that in Christ all shall be made alive.” And as he knew how to wound, so he knew how to pour the oil of consolation on the bleeding conscience. The blood of Jesus, that sacred healing balm, was his grand catholicon for sin-sick souls. This alone was what he recommended as sufficient to procure ease to the trembling sinner; with the love of God to man — in sending his beloved Son into the world to redeem a race of rebel sinners, by bearing on the accursed tree the heavy punishment due to man’s enormous crimes, in order to translate him to the regions of eternal joy.
‘The beginning of his ministry was employed in long and tedious itinerations. And wherever he had a prospect of doing good, however remote the place might be from his friends, and however repugnant to his own ease, he needed no other inducement, but cheerfully undertook the pleasing task.
‘Fatigues and toils from which even worldly men in the prosecution of an earthly good shrink back, he joyfully engaged in; and with a degree of perseverance peculiar to himself bravely overcame those difficulties which to some minds appeared insurmountable.
It pleased God, in a very gracious manner, to crown his labours with success. The energy of the divine Spirit accompanied his ministrations. Wherever he went the kingdom of Satan trembled; the desolate and solitary places bloomed like the rose before him; and he became the happy instrument of turning many from the error of their ways to the living God.
‘His knowledge in divinity, in which he made great proficiency, was entirely derived from the Bible; and whatever truth it enforced as duty, he inculcated; his arguments for the one and motives for the other were all taken from those inspired pages, which he prized above all human writings, and valued as the charter by which he possessed the hope, and ere long expected the full enjoyment of a blessed eternity.
‘Sensible how much man is dependent upon God for every blessing he enjoys, and that the best way to keep the flame of devotion alive in his own soul was to maintain a constant intercourse with heaven, he made prayer his chief and most delightful employment. This was the very breath of his soul.... His manner of praying was such as evidence it to be not the mere language of the passions, but a rational, solemn, and animated address to the great Father of spirits.
‘After having laboured for many years, with much success, in New Brunswick, where he was settled, by the advice of his brethren he accepted an urgent call from the Second Presbyterian church in Philadelphia, while the society was in its infant state; and continued to exercise his pastoral functions there for upwards of twenty years, with a degree of watchfulness and fidelity scarcely to be paralleled. He considered himself as the shepherd of his flock, and made it his practice to lead them to the green pastures and living fountains of salvation, with the care of one that knew he must render an account at the last day. Nay, he considered himself the father of his people, and as his beloved children he counselled, warned, and reproved them with all the tenderness and solicitude of a father’s heart. He was, indeed, a faithful watchman, that never failed to give warning of impending danger. The rich and the poor, the black and white had equally free access to his person, and ever found him ready to hear their complaints and solve their doubts.
“What he preached in the pulpit, his life preached out of it. His disposition — naturally calm — was still more sweetened with that holy temper which the gospel of Christ inspires. A genuine serenity and cheerfulness dwelt upon his countenance, which he never failed to diffuse on all around him. He was charitable to the poor; kind to all men; a lover of all that loved the Lord Jesus, whatever mode of worship they professed; and much beloved in all the tender endearments of domestic life, as a husband, a father, a master, and a friend.
‘There is nothing in this world, methinks, more grand or illustrious than the old age of a man who has devoted his whole time, and spent his whole life in promoting the spiritual interests of his fellow-creatures. . . . The review of his life fills the soul with a pleasure which none but such as experience it can conceive. Whilst he sees no ill-spent time to sting his conscience with remorse, nor feels any attachment to the transitory things of this world, he beholds a calm haven prepared for his repose, where the storms and billows of affliction can reach him no more.... In this light should we contemplate Mr. Tennent. His soul, like the setting sun, broke through the clouds of infirmity. There was a dignity and grandeur in his old age. Wisdom bloomed upon his silver locks; and while the cold hand of time snowed upon his locks, his heart glowed with redoubled love for the church.. . . Nor more dreadful to the man of ease in his possessions is the approach of the king of terrors, than he was welcome to this eminent servant of God. Every symptom of his approaching dissolution, instead of filling his soul with alarms, rather filled him with comfort, and made him impatiently long for the kind stroke that should dismiss his soul. After having borne a long and tedious illness with the most invincible fortitude and resignation, the friendly messenger at last came with the joyful summons. ... And with full confidence in the merits and atonement of his dear Redeemer, he gently fell asleep.’
The following is the most accurate list of Mr. Gilbert Tennent’s works which the author has been able to collect:
In the year 1735, Mr. Tennent published his ‘Solemn Warning to the secure World, from the God of Terrible Majesty; or, the Presumptuous Sinner Detected, his Pleas Considered, and his Doom Displayed.’ This volume was printed in Boston.
2. ‘Sermons on Sacramental Occasions,’ by Divers Authors. A small duodecimo volume. The sermons are all by Mr. Gilbert Tennent, except two; one by his brother William, and the other by the Rev. Samuel Blair. It would seem that at the time when this volume was published, no books were printed either in New York or Philadelphia; for the manuscript was sent to Boston, and printed there in the year 1739.
3. Two Sermons of the Rev. John Tennent, with a Preface, containing a memoir of him, to which is added, ‘An Expostulatory Address to Saints and Sinners,’ by Gilbert Tennent. Printed in Boston, in the year 1735.
4. ‘The Espousals, or a Passionate Persuasion to a Marriage with the Lamb of God.’ Newport, 1741.
5. His next publication was, probably, his famous ‘Nottingham Sermon,’ in which he lashed his brethren of the Synod so severely, that it had much influence in leading to the separation which soon followed.
6. ‘The Examiner Examined’ was written in the year 1740, and is an answer to a pamphlet written against him by an anonymous author, after his visit to New England.
7. ‘The Pacificator,’ a large pamphlet, the object of which was to bring about a reunion of the dissentient parties in the Presbyterian church.
8. A small quarto volume of sermons, twenty-three in number. These Discourses appear to have been the commencement of a body of Divinity. The subjects treated are, ‘The Chief End of Man — The Divine Authority of the Sacred Scriptures — The Being and Attributes of God, and the Trinity.’ Preached in Philadelphia, in 1743.
9. Two sermons, preached at Burlington, N. J., on a day of Public Fasting, 1749. They are dedicated to Governor Belcher. The texts are, Matt. 6. 16 — 18, and Jonah 3. 8.
10. ‘Sermons on Important Subjects, adapted to the perilous state of the British Nation.’ 1758.
We do not know where Mr. Tennent obtained his degree of Master of Arts. It would be natural to suppose that it was conferred by the Trustees of the College of New Jersey; but his name is not on the catalogue; while we find there the names of some of his contemporaries, who received honorary degrees. As he was a Trustee of New Jersey College, it is probable that this honour was conferred on him by Yale or Harvard, or possibly by one of the Scotch universities.
11. A Funeral Sermon, occasioned by the death of Captain William Grant. Preached in Philadelphia, 1756.
12. The last publication of Mr. Gilbert Tennent was, ‘A Sermon on the Nature of Religious Zeal. Its Excellency and Importance opened and urged.’ Preached in Philadelphia, January 27, 1760.
The style of these several publications is very diverse, as they were composed at different periods of Mr. Tennent’s life, on different subjects, and in different circumstances. In all his writings perspicuity and force are manifest characteristics of his style; but there is a great want of simplicity and ease. Throughout the whole, the doctrines inculcated are rigidly orthodox, according to the Westminster Confession. In his didactic discourses he shows himself not only to be a profound thinker, but a well-read theologian; and often quotes the standard Latin writers of systematic theology, as one who had been accustomed to read them. While he manifests an ardent zeal in defence of the ‘doctrines of grace,’ he never loses sight of the importance of experimental religion and practical godliness. In conformity with the custom of the age, he too much abounds in divisions and subdivisions, and is too fond of technical words and phrases. His practical discourses, however, are often both pungent and searching.
It is somewhat remarkable, that while so many old authors have been republished in our day, none of the writings of Gilbert Tennent have ever passed to a second edition. A selection from his works should be published, that we might not only have a sketch of the lives of the divines of the Log College, but a specimen of their theology.
I. The Log College
II. Memoir of the Rev. William Tennent, Sen.
III. Memoir of the Rev. Gilbert Tennent
IV. Memoir of the Rev. Gilbert Tennent (continued)
V. Memoir of the Rev. Gilbert Tennent (continued)
VI. Memoir of the Rev. Gilbert Tennent (continued)
VII. The College of New Jersey
VIII. The New London School
IX. Memoir of the Rev. John Tennent
X. Memoir of the Rev. William Tennent, Jr.
XI. Remarks on the Preceding Narrative
XII. Anecdotes of the Rev. William Tennent, Jr.
XIII. Memoir of the Rev. Charles Tennent
XIV. Memoir of the Rev. Samuel Blair
XV. Memoir of the Rev. John Blair
XVI. Memoir of the Rev. Samuel Finley
XVII. Memoir of the Rev. William Robinson
XVIII. Memoir of the Rev. John Rowland
XIX. Memoir of the Rev. Charles Beatty