October 20: William McKay Tennent

A Typical Military Sermon by a Presbyterian Chaplain
by Rev. David T. Myers

Several Tennents were Presbyterian members of the clergy at the time of the American Revolution. And several of them took time away from their civilian congregations to serve the Lord as Chaplains to the troops. Such a one was William McKay Tennent. We don’t know much about his early life other than the fact that he was born in 1741. He attended and graduated from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) in 1763. Married to a daughter of the Rev. John Rodgers, he was ordained to the gospel ministry in 1776.

Nothing is known of his ministry from that date in history, other than a sermon preached as a military chaplain in the American Revolution at Mount Independence, Sunday, on this day, October 20, 1776. Gathering together American soldiers from the regiments of Col. Motts and Col. Swift, who were waiting for the approach of British troops at Mount Independence, New York, Chaplain Tennent gave the following message: (and this post will only give relevant portions of it)

“(My text is) Nehemiah 4:14 (which says) Be not ye afraid of them: remember the LORD, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses.

“Our text is delivered by good Nehemiah to the Jews when their proud, their haughty, and oppressive enemies were coming upon them for their destruction.

“Be not afraid of them is the voice of heaven, the voice of your bleeding country, the voice of the church, and the voice of all who are dear to you – with respect to the approaching foe.

“There is nothing but victory or an honorable death before you.

“Be not afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible.

“Call to remembrance His almighty name. Let the strength of Israel be your trust. Implore His aid and assistance. Under His banner go forth to battle. In His name and strength, meet the approaching foe. Determine to conquer or gloriously die.

“Be not afraid of them, for they are not invincible. Be not afraid of them, because they are engaged in a wicked and unrighteous cause, which the righteous Lord abhors. Be not afraid of them though their numbers should be superior to yours, because you are possessed of advantages which they have not. You have the ground and all the works you have made on it. Be not afraid of them, because the lack of courage will prove your ruin.

“Fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.

“May He cover your hearts in the day of battle, and crown our arms with victory, and the glory shall be given to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, world without end, Amen.”

Words to Live By:
Such words as these have been the challenge for many an evangelical and Reformed military chaplain in modern times to our troops in various conflicts. Let us pray for our chaplains as they minister the Word of God in perilous times to our brothers and sisters in the ranks.


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