William Tennent of Log College

Between the years of 1706 and 1739 there was a tremendous increase in the population of people of Presbyterian faith in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, and Virginia, the Middle colonies in Colonial America. This was due mainly to the immigration of the Scotch and Scotch-Irish from the north of Ireland. Those who had been persecuted for their religion were attracted, for example, to Pennsylvania, established by its founder William Penn on the basis of freedom of conscience. In great numbers Presbyterians then moved to the frontier, and came to occupy fertile farmlands from New York to Georgia. The character of these men had been shaped by a prior century of war and struggle. They were men of iron and blood. The ministers of the Presbyterian church were sound in the faith, as were the people; and there were no divisions among them concerning doctrine. The habit of preachers was to address their people as if they were already full of the Holy Spirit themselves. Due to the great need, some were too easily forgiven. The Background of His Time So the big question facing the spiritual leaders of that region was, "Where and how could they best train ministers for service of the gospel to America's diverse and widespread inhabitants of the Middle colonies? First, "Where?" The first Presbyterian ministers in America were all men with college degrees, obtained either overseas in Scotland or Ireland, or further north in New England at Harvard or Yale. Lowering of this standard even at this critical time was not considered. But these colleges were so far away that they were financially impractical for young men in the region of Pennsylvania, as it was to spend time at one of the universities abroad. The second question was, "How?" Some Presbyterian ministers felt that a college education, subscription to the standards of the church, and a moral life were sufficient training for the ministry. Their inner life was their private business, between them and God. Other ministers believed that qualification for the ministry required a clear testimony. This latter group of ministers believed in the importance of testimony or sogam-writing, like the ones we heard here last night. Their point was the minister candidate's testimony should reveal his struggle against his sin, and how he grew when he received faith and strength through the word of God. God lives in us through his word. This is the life of God in the soul of man. For example, last night we heard from Pat Hicks. At first he could not find the truth about life and mankind even though he tried very hard. But when he studied the Bible, he realized the point of Bible study was to learn who God is. Tao taught him true life was when we could successfully avoid pain. But it was when he struggled to be faithful to study and hold the word of God he received, that Jesus set him free. Through his testimony we could see the work of God in his soul. When William Tennent came with his family to America in the year 1716, he was already 44 years of age. He had been born in Ireland in 1673 and graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1695. In 1702 he had married Catharine Kennedy, the daughter of an able and eloquent Presbyterian minister. In 1706 he became priest of the church of Ireland. However,. Mr. Tennent never pastored a church in Ireland. In 1718, 2 years after arriving in America, he applied to the Synod of Philadelphia--the regional governing body of Presbyterian ministers--to be admitted as a member. He believed that certain practices of the church of Ireland were unscriptural. Tennent's statement explaining his dissent from the Church of Ireland was recorded. He concluded, "These...have so affected my conscience, that I could no longer abide in a church where the same are practiced." He was accepted and the moderator of the meeting"gave him a serious exhortation to continue steadfast in his now holy profession." As a classical scholar the Rev. William Tennent was of the highest qualification. He was able to converse fluently in the Latin language and in the next meeting at the Philadelphia Synod, following his reception, he delivered before that body an elegant Latin oration. He was also proficient in the other ancient languages. He must have been a scholar in logic, philosophy, and divinity. His general character appears to have been that of a man of great integrity, simplicity, industry, and piety. The Beginning of The Log College Tennent had come to Pennsylvania with his wife and 4 sons. In 1721, Gilbert was 18 years old; Willliam, 16; John, 14; and Charles, 12. The first students to whom Tennent imparted his love for God and his deep scholarship were his very own sons. Perhaps they were presider, music servant, and prayer servants, as in John Martin's family at N.C. state. Tennent's study became their school. Five years later, by the time he moved to Neshaminy, Gilbert, the eldest, was ready to stand before the presbytery of Philadelphia to be licensed as a minister. They highly approved of his qualifications. During this time the spiritual wants and needs of the country pressed heavily upon Tennent's heart. All the boundless territory around him was beginning to fill up with inhabitants, and scarcely any ministers of the gospel were there to preach to them the words of life. The only suitable ministers would be those properly trained in the interpretation of the sacred scriptures. Men of the most excellent education. Being himself an educated, zealous, and wise minister, Tennent deeply felt the want of such ministers. It is likely that other boys of the neighborhood had already begun to be associated under his instruction. In Neshaminy, where there was a more organized church, the opportunity of beginning a more organized effort at ministerial training presented itself forcefully to him. Neshaminy was situated between the two leading cities of Philadelphia and New York, and on the great highway connecting them. It's location put it at the center of the Presbyterian region. It was a good location for ministry. It was during this time that a tremendous outpouring of the Holy Spirit took place throughout the British colonies of America. People everywhere became filled with religious fervor and reforming zeal. The herald of this awakening was a British, Oxford-educated preacher named George Whitfield. Between 1736 and 1770 Whitefield offered his powerful voice and gift for oratory to God with such a wonderful and uniting Christian experience throughout the 13 colonies that this momentous time was remembered as the Great Awakening. When Whitefield preached in Philadelphia, just 18 miles south of Neshaminy, Tennent met him. Whitefield regarded Tennent as the aged standard bearer who had been through the battle and had more to teach. It is to Whitefield's journal that we owe our only written description of the Log College. He wrote, "The place wherein the young men study now, is in contempt called The College. It is a log house, about twenty feet long, and nearly as many broad; and to me it seemed to resemble a basement of Baltimore center. What was the character of the instruction given in the Log College? Other ministers prepared men for college or superintended their theological reading after graduation; but the Log College gave ministerial candidates their college education and frequently their entire training. William Tennent was a gifted and devoted teacher. Several of the men became great scholars, a testament to the thoroughness of their preparation under Tennent's instruction. However, what above all distinguished them from others in the Presbyterian Church was their flaming evangelistic zeal. Piety, or the inner work of the Holy Spirit, had chief place in their curriculum. These ministers were characterized by a sacred inner fire, and a desire for spiritual revival. They became itinerant, or traveling ministers. They emphasized faithful, pointed preaching with an aim to bring their listeners to awareness of the necessity of a thorough conversion from sin. Gilbert Tennent became the most prominent preacher. After hearing him preach, George Whitefield wrote, "never before heard I such a searching sermon...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." In the aftermath of God's work through his preaching in Boston during 1940, Whitefield urged and persuaded Tennent to make a tour through England as far as Boston. Tennent preached nearly every day for 3 months, with extraordinary success and power. The Graduates of the Log College The subsequent history of the sixteen or more graduates and the work which they performed as evangelists and educators justify Whitefield's praises for the small academy. All four of Tennent's sons went on to become ministers. Samuel Blair became a great theologian and successful Great Awakening preacher. He established a school on the model of the Log College which also educated many ministers, one of whom, Samuel Davies, became the 4th president of Princeton College. Blair's brother John was also an eminent theologian, and served as acting president of Princeton college. Samuel Finley also became a great preacher, theologian and educator. While a pastor in Nottingham, MD, he also began a academy in order to prepare men for the ministry. From this academy came men who figured prominently in the history of early America--one, governor of North Carolina. Another Speaker of the House of Representatives. Finley became the 5th president of Princeton. William Robinson and John Rowland also became successful ministers during the Great Awakening. Charles Beatty became a missionary to the West Indies. The Log College became the mother of Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary, as well as many other schools south and west and north. At first the work of William Tennent seems invisible. Tennent kept no journal. He left behind no body of writings. He did not work before men, but faithfully offered what he had to God's work where he saw a need. When he did this, the work he did was not insignificant at all. Instead, through his teaching ministry, God used him to spiritually awaken the entire area of the Middle colonies during the 18th century. We can believe the God of America led William Tennent to America at just the right time to prepare his people for God's work. From his example, we learn that our faithfulness before God in our mission field is our first requirement in order to live as servants of God. After Tennent's death in 1746, men of Tennent's spirit saw the need to continue an institution in the spirit of the Log College, and which could also give young men a complete education. The College of New Jersey was chartered, and eventually came to be situated in Princeton, NJ, and given the name Princeton College. Log College graduates were among the first trustees. God also used William Tennent to plant the seed from which grew one of the most distinguished universities of our day. The influence of an educator never dies. William Tennent's influence continues today. Christian life is influence. We learn we must live as the light of the world. Sometimes our shepherd life seems almost invisible. But here we learn that our one-to-one Bible study ministry and shepherd life can have an influence that never dies. Jesus called us to be his disciples in order to bear fruit that lasts to eternity. The principle upon which William Tennent trained messengers of the gospel was two-fold. First, a commitment to Bible scholarship. Second, to maintaining an environment where the Holy Spirit can work in one's inner being. These two principles are still the necessary principles for successful ministers and teachers of the word of God. When we study and teach the Bible based on these two principles great messengers of God's word can be raised up in our generation. PA State university may remind us of the Log College, surrounded by many trees in the vast PA forest. But they already are raising many scholars of the word of God like Dr. Joe Shafer and Dr. David Lemon and now also Patrick Hicks. May God bless us to be scholars of God's word who can find our place to be faithful in God's redemptive history on the brink of the 21st century. References Alexander, Archibald. Biographical Sketches of the Founder and Principal Alumni of the Log College, Philadelphia, 1851. Leitch, Alexander. A Princeton Companion, Princeton Univ. Press, 1978. Marshall, Peter and Manuel, David. The Light and the Glory, Baker Book House Co., 1977. Maxson, Charles. H. The Great Awakening in the Middle Colonies, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1920. Murphy, Thomas. The Presbytery of the Log College, Philadelphia, 1889.