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
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.
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.