Gilbert Tennent

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A Christian of Exceptional Personality and Evangelistic Appeal

Picture the scene in your mind’s eye. Thirty-five hundred naked natives have gathered together at one site that summer of 1933. Missionary evangelist Charles J. Woodbridge no doubt had something to do with that great gathering in the French Cameroons. He was the sole evangelist for a five thousand mile mission station in that African country. These natives were in great need of hearing the plain and simple gospel message from the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Mission executive from America. What they heard in reality was an hour message on, (are you ready for this?), “the Power of Personality.” There was no greater proof to young Charles Woodbridge of the deepening apostasy of the official missions board of the Presbyterian Church.

When he heard that he himself had been singled out to serve as the General Secretary of the newly formed Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions in June of 1933, he gathered his wife and two daughters and returned immediately to America to take up his new post. In less than four years, he would be censured by the highest court of the Presbyterian church for accepting this new ministry.

Charles Woodbridge, born January 24, 1902, was described by his fellow Reformed Christians as being no ordinary General Secretary. From his heritage as the fifteenth generation minister of his family line, dating back to 1493, from his own father who had been a missionary in China, from the fact that he married the daughter of a missionary, Charles Woodbridge would be known as “a man of exceptional personality and evangelistic appeal.” His spiritual gifts made him the perfect architect of a new mission strategy in reaching the world for Christ.

Yet the main line denomination of which he was a part, did not take kindly to this new mission upstart. Within a year, steps were taken to force him to abandon this new missions work, and when he chose not to follow their directives, Charles Woodbridge was censured by the church. He left in 1937 to become a pastor of the Presbyterian Church in North Carolina for several years.

Eventually, he served as a theological seminary professor and author, always seeking to warn Christians of the danger of compromising the Word of God. He died on 16 July 1995, at the age of 93.

Words to Live By: Committed to the Scriptures, the Reformed faith, and the Great Commission of Jesus Christ is a great goal for everyday life and service.

Postscript:
Dr. Woodbridge served as General Secretary of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions and also as the editor of the Independent Board Bulletin, from March 1935-June 1937. Some of his more important publications included the following:
1935 – “The Social Gospel: A Review of the Current Mission Study Text Books Recommended for Adults by the Board of Foreign Missions, Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.,” Christianity Today 5.9 (February 1935): 209-211.
1937 – “Why I Have Resigned as General Secretary of the Independent Board,” The Presbyterian Guardian 4.5 (12 June 1937): 69-71. Available here.
1945
 – The Chronicle of Salimbene of Parma: A Thirteenth Century Christian Synthesis.
Durham, NC: Duke University, Ph.D. dissertation. 305 p.
1947 – Standing on the Promises: Rich Truths from the Book of Acts.
1953 – A Handbook of Christian Truth, co-authored with Harold Lindsell.
[Rev. Vaughn Hathaway has noted that Bob Jones University, which was/is generally anti-Calvinistic or anti-Presbyterian nonetheless used this Woodbridge/Lindsell collaboration as its undergraduate text for the one-year course in Bible Doctrines that was requisite for every student for several years.]
1953 – Romans: The Epistle of Grace.
1962 – Bible Prophecy.
1969 – The New Evangelicalism.

Image source: News clipping [publisher not known] from the Henry G. Welbon Manuscript Collection, Scrapbook no. 1, page 34.

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Christian Home Training
by Rev. David T. Myers

TennentG_02Today in Presbyterian History we celebrate the birth of Gilbert Tennent. Subscribers to our posts will remember his name and history as the celebrated pastor-evangelist of the First Great Awakening in the American colonies. His name will always be remembered as the one who preached about the dangers of unconverted ministers. He both began and ended the New Side wing of the American Presbyterian church in the mid-seventeen hundreds. And he was born on this day, February 5, in County Armagh, Ireland, in the year 1703.

He was to stay with his father and mother, William and Catherine Tennent, in Ireland for the first fourteen years, before the entire family emigrated to the American colonies, and specifically Pennsylvania, due to connections of a close family member of his mother.

We read very little of his early life with the exception of the one great spiritual experience which brought him to Christ around the age of fourteen. He had a serious concern about his salvation around that time. Indeed his mind and heart was in a great agony of spirit. Finally, it pleased the Lord to give him the light of the knowledge of saving grace.

It is clear that what led up to this saving knowledge was the godly training he received in his home schooling by his parents. Both of his parents, beside being Christians, were Christians of the Presbyterian faith. It is true that his father, William, was then a deacon in the Anglican church, albeit Presbyterian in theology and government. When the latter emigrated to America, he immediately sought acceptance in the Presbyterian Church. Further, Gilbert’s mother, Catherine nee Kennedy, was a daughter of a Presbyterian minister.

We could only guess, but it would be an educated one, that the home schooling that Gilbert, his three brothers (all of whom became Presbyterian ministers in America), and his sister all received came from a solid foundation in the great Calvinistic truths of the Reformation.

Solomon in Proverbs 22:6 wrote a general promise which reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.” The background of the first phrase of “train up” comes from a beautiful picture which means “across the roof of.” The picture is that of a new born infant, who has the experience of some grape juice spread across the roof of the mount. As he or she tries to get that pleasant tasting juice off the roof of the mouth, he or she is then placed at the mother’s breast to crave the life-giving milk. The verb came to mean “to create a desire.”

Now granted, only the Holy Spirit can accomplish that creation of spiritual desire. But we can co-operate with that Spirit to create that spiritual desire in our children. There was no doubt that the home training of the Tennent family in its early days was instrumental in accomplishing much spiritual training in Gilbert Tennent.

Words to Live By:
Speaking to the parents who read This Day in Presbyterian History, are you taking spiritually and seriously the command of Proverbs 22:6 to train your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord? Pray and continue to work much in this vital home training.

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Church Doors Were Shut and Barns Were Opened

Regrettably is did not take long for the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to suffer dissention and schism. Its first Presbytery was organized by seven congregations in 1706; its first Synod was established in 1717. But by 1737 the turmoil had begun which led to a major division of the young denomination in 1741. This was the Old Side/New Side schism [1741-1758], which occurred in the context of the First Great Awakening. To simplify the issues,
(1) both Sides viewed the Synod as a higher court, but the New Side maintained that the Synod could only advise and not bind the Presbyteries. In other words, the Synod had no legislative powers. And here one particular point of contention had to do with a requirement of university training, and that at a time when there were virtually no suitable schools to be found in the colonies;
(2) Itinerate ministers preaching in pulpits not their own—a common practice during the Great Awakening—was seen as scandalous and disorderly by Old Side men, while New Siders frequently preached wherever they saw opportunity for the Gospel; and
(3) the fact that ordination is no assurance of salvation, and New Side men (Gilbert Tennent in particular) were not shy to charge some ministers of the Old Side with being unconverted. The charge brought great offense to the Old Side men, and it was only when Gilbert Tennent softened his rhetoric in later years that a healing of the division became possible. And so the Church was reunited in 1758.

All of this controversy was of course played out in the lives of the participants. One of these men, a New Sider, was the Rev. John Rowland, an immigrant from Wales who had studied at William Tennent’s Log College. At the organizing meeting of the New Brunswick Presbytery, on August 8, 1738, Rowland was received as a candidate for the ministry, even though he did not have a university degree, something normally expected of all candidates. Nonetheless the Presbytery proceeded on September 7th of that year to license Rowland to preach, and immediately sent him to the church at Maidenhead, New Jersey, a congregation just outside the bounds of the New Brunswick Presbytery.

Rowland was informed that his going there would cause problems, but he went anyway. Before the month was out, some in the congregation brought complaint before the Presbytery of Philadelphia. “The Presbytery advised them that Rowland was not to be esteemed and improved as an orderly candidate of the ministry.” But Rowland persisted in his ministry, and the complaint was then brought before the Synod. In deciding the matter, the Synod pointed to the first article in The Form of Church-Government 1645), as composed by the Westminster Assembly, and in particular to the stipulation that candidates must hold a university degree. Training at the Log College was insufficient in their estimation. Those who wanted to continue as a congregation under Rowland’s preaching were refused.

And so “church doors were shut against Rowland, and barns were opened.” Gilbert Tennent preached for the newly separated congregation and administered the sacraments. Rowland also labored at Amwell, New Jersey where he found “an agreeable people” and they asked him to be their minister. The New Brunswick Presbytery instead ordained him as an evangelist. A history of those days notes that “So great were the congregations [gathering under his preaching] that the largest barns of his adherents were required.”

Yet, in the whole of it, Rowland found that the territory was not an inviting field. There was little piety or religious knowledge among the larger population. While he was travelling, his ministry was blessed with remarkable works of conviction among the people, but this continued only a short while. Wisely, Rowland soon turned his focus to discipling those who had come to Christ.

Rev. Rowland died before the fall of 1747. He was said to have possessed a commanding eloquence and many fine qualities. George Whitefield said of him, “There was much of the simplicity of Christ discernible in his behaviour.”

Words to Live By:
Rev. Rowland did not live to see the end of the Old Side/New Side schism, when the two sides were re-united in 1758. He does not appear to have been one who was active in the controversy that led to the division of the denomination. Rather, wanting to preach and minister as he could, he was simply caught up in the throes of the schism and sought, despite it all, to minister faithfully to the Lord’s people while he could. None of us knows how long our life will be, and surely things will not work out the way we had planned. We are all of us carried by the tides of history, some more so than others. But take joy in knowing that God is Lord over history. What we will accomplish in this life is in His hands. Our place, above all else, is to remain obedient to the Scriptures. The things we want to accomplish, the desires of our heart, should first and foremost be surrendered to the Lord, wrapped in prayer, then done with a constant eye to His glory. Only in that way can we then finally close our eyes on that distant day knowing we have done what we could—that we have done what was best—that we have lived our lives for Christ and His kingdom.

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What Type of Preaching is Necessary Today for a Spiritual Awakening?

Our question in the title is a key one.  We have read in history of various revivals of religion which took place in our country from her earliest days, including the first great awakening under George Whitefield, Gilbert Tennent, Jonathan Edwards, and Samuel Blair.  Samuel Blair?  Yes, Samuel Blair.

Blair was born in Ireland in 1712, and brought to America in his youth.  He was a Log College graduate, and licensed by the Presbytery of Philadelphia in 1733.  He became the pastor in  New Jersey in 1734.  Five years later, he was issued a call from Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church, just south of Cochranville, Pennsylvania.  The church had been founded in 1730, and had been ten years without a shepherd.  Rev. Blair was led to receive the call and came to this church.

He  had been here for four months, commenting that religion lay as it were a-dying.  He preached but four months when a powerful revival of religion occurred in the church and surrounding community on August 6, 1744.  Writing himself later on what type of preaching the Holy Spirit was pleased to bless, he said,

“The main scope of my preaching was, laying open the deplorable state of man by nature since the fall, our ruined, exposed case by the breach of the first covenant, and the awful condition of such as were not in Christ, giving the marks and characters of such as were in that condition, through a Mediator, with the nature and necessity of faith in Christ the Mediator.  I labored much on the last mentioned head, that people might  have right apprehensions of the gospel method of faith of life and salvation.  I treated much on the way of a sinner’s closing with Christ by faith, and obtaining a right peace to an awakened, wounded conscience; showing that persons were not to take peace to themselves on account of their repentings, sorrows, prayers, and reformations, not to make those things the grounds of their adventuring themselves upon Christ and His righteousness, and of their expectations of life by Him, . . . but by an understanding view and believing persuasion of the way of life, as revealed in the gospel, through the surety-ship, obedience, and sufferings of Jesus Christ, with a view of the suitableness and sufficiency of that mediatory righteousness of Christ for the justification of law-condemned sinners; and thereupon freely accepting Him for their Savior.  I endeavored to show the fruits and evidences of a true faith.”

To be sure, other voices had been  added to such preaching of the gospel. Four years before this year, in May and November of 1740, George Whitefield preached the gospel before 12,000 persons on the grounds of Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church.  Great spiritual results occurred on these occasions as well.

Today, the church continues and is the second oldest Presbyterian church in the Presbyterian Church in America.  Only the name has changed, to Manor Presbyterian Church.

Words to live by:
Pray much for the teaching elder and congregation that there be another outpouring of the Spirit of God upon your church, its pastors, the Session of Elders,  its families, and the entire denomination.  In fact, make it your personal prayer, “Lord, begin a revival of your people, and Lord . . . begin it in me.”

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First Schism in American Presbyterianism

You have already read a couple of days ago about the reunion between the Old Side and New Side Presbyterians on May 25.  We will now turn to the actual schism which took place on May 27, 1741. 

One of the early students of the Log College in New Jersey was Gilbert Tennent. As a graduate of Yale, he was licensed by the Presbytery of Philadelphia in 1725 and installed as pastor of the Presbyterian Church in New Brunswick,  New Jersey.

As Tennent saw other churches experiencing revival, he saw the barrenness of his own pastoral work. Afflicted with serious illness at the same time, he begged God in prayer to give him just six months more of life on this earth that he might promote God’s kingdom with all his mind. God answered his prayer, and by the Word and Spirit, revival came to his congregation.

The problem with this season of converting grace in countless churches was that the revivalists then went to other parishes within the Presbyterian church to hold meetings, without getting permission from the Presbyterian pastors in those areas.  At one point, the Synod of Philadelphia tried to stop this by passing a resolution to prohibit it. It was repealed the following year, but the resolution showed the problem of the movement.

The other issue was that of education. The Old Side Presbyterians wished to limit the education of the new ministers to just immigrants  with European training, especially from Great Britain. Gilbert Tennent saw that as an attack upon his father’s log college.

When the Synod met on May 27, 1741, all was set up for a final confrontation. A protest sought to expel the Log College ministers as schismatics.  The Log College men clamored in response for all the anti-Log College ministers to be expelled. At this moment, the moderator, who was caught off guard by the whole affair, left the moderator’s chair. The Log College men were found to be in the minority, so they left. Dr. Charles Hodge about a century later said of this meeting “it was a disorderly rupture.”

The revivalist or Log College ministers were called New Side Presbyterians. The anti-revivalist ministers were known as the Old Side Presbyterians. The former group grew, as the revival continued, with the latter group decreasing, as the immigration of ministers from the Old World decreased greatly.  By 1758, the membership of the Old Side Presbyterians  was only 22 ministers, while the New Side Presbyterian numbered 70 ministers.

Words to Live By: Someone once said that the seven last words of the church is too often “we haven’t done it that way before.”  Tradition often is the cause of many a church schism.  And the tragedy is that a watching world sees it all, and as a result, wants nothing to do with Christianity.  Let us guard our thoughts, words, and works with each other of like precious faith

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