Gilbert Tennent

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He Was A Double Agent.

Rev. Gilbert Tennent [5 February 1703 – 23 July 1764]Born on this day, February 5, in 1703, Gilbert Tennent prepared for the ministry in the famous Log College established by his father William. Closely allied with the revival work of George Whitefield, the Tennent family were intimately involved in the first Great Awakening, which began in the 1730′s and continued up until about 1743. This revival and its religious fervor in turn played a key role in a division of the Presbyterian Church that ran from 1741 to 1758. One faction in the split, termed the New Side, favored the revival, while the opposing Old Side was generally against it. Other issues were also party to the split, but most historians point to Gilbert Tennent’s controversial sermon, “The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry” as the breaking point that brought about the split.

Seventeen years later, by the grace of God, the split was mended and the Presbyterian Church restored to unity. Thomas Murphy, in his work, The Presbytery of the Log College, discusses how Gilbert Tennnent, the man who almost single-handedly precipitated the split, was equally credited with mending the tear:

“The schism between the Synods of Philadelphia and New York was healed in the year 1758. How was the event brought about? In the minds of reflecting and godly men there was from the beginning a conviction that the separation should never have occurred. That conviction manifested itself at first in unofficial propositions for reunion, afterward in formal overtures for reunion. The Presbytery of New York, which was not present in the Synod at the time of the disruption, was particularly active in these negotiations for reconciliation. But Gilbert Tennent, the leading spirit of the disruption and the strongest man in the Church, became the chief agent in healing the breach. In fact, he had never intended that there should be a separation, but only that what he considered a wrong should be rectified. At length he became the champion for bringing the body together again. ‘He was among the first to seek a reconciliation and reunion of the parties. To promote this object he wrote and published a pamphlet entitled The Pacificator, in which he reasons strongly in favor of peace and union.’ These various efforts were successful, and the happy goal was accomplished.

“The terms on which the two parties were reunited were simply on the basis of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. The words of the agreement between them were: ‘Both Synods having always approved and received the Westminster Confession of Faith, and Larger and Shorter Catechisms, as an orthodox and excellent system of Christian doctrine, founded on the Word of God, we do still receive the same as the confession of our faith, and also adhere to the plan of worship, government, and discipline, contained in the Westminster Directory, strictly enjoining it on all our members and probationers for the ministry that they preach and teach according to the form of sound words in said Confession and Catechisms, and avoid and oppose all errors contrary thereto.’—Records, p. 286.

“The spirit in which they came together is worthy of lasting remembrance. It is seen in this agreement: ‘All complaints and differences shall be mutually forgiven and buried in perpetual oblivion; the Synods shall unite as two contiguous bodies of Christians agreed in principle as though they had never been concerned with one another before, nor had any differences; and now join the Synods and Presbyteries upon such scriptural and rational terms as may secure peace and good order, tend to heal our broken churches and advance religion hereafter.’

Words to Live By : The Right Way to Mend Fences

Thomas Murphy concluded his comments with these words:

“Equally memorable were the piety and brotherly love by which they were actuated, as seen in the formal agreements into which they entered with each other: ‘We judge that this is a proper occasion to manifest our sincere intention, unitedly to exert ourselves to fulfill the ministry we have received of the Lord Jesus. Accordingly, we unanimously declare our serious and fixed resolution, by divine aid, to take heed to ourselves that our hearts be upright, our discourse edifying, and our lives exemplary for purity and godliness; to take heed to our doctrine, that it be not only orthodox but evangelical and spiritual, tending to awaken the secure to a suitable concern for their salvation, and to instruct and encourage sincere Christians; thus commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God; to cultivate peace and harmony among ourselves, and strengthen each other’s hands in promoting the knowledge of divine truth and diffusing the savor of piety among our people.’—Records, p. 288. Such men must have been very deeply imbued with the Spirit of Christ.”

[excerpted from Presbytery of the Log College, by Thomas Murphy, p. 174-176]

Image source: Engraved portrait by David Edwin [1776-1841], as published inThe Assembly’s Missionary Magazine, or Evangelical Intelligencer, vol. 1, no. 5 (May 1805), facing page [209]. Image scanned by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

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The Death of a Saint

finleySA year ago this day, we first wrote of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Finley, who served as President of the College of New Jersey from 1761 until his death in 1766. The following account of Dr. Finley’s death taken, with slight editing, from William Buell Sprague’s Annals of the American Pulpit :—

Dr. Finley’s unremitted application to the duties of his office began, after a while, to perceptibly impair his health, and an obstruction of the liver was induced, which proved beyond the reach of medical skill. when he found himself seriously ill, he went to Philadelphia to avail himself of the prescriptions of the best physicians there; but he seems to have had little apprehension that his disease was to have a fatal issue;—for he remarked to his friends,—”If my work is done, I am ready—I do not desire to live a day longer than I can work for God. But I cannot think this is the case yet. God has much for me to do before I depart hence.”

About a month before he died, Samuel Finley’s physician expressed the opinion that his recovery was hopeless. Upon hearing this, Dr. Finley seemed entirely resigned to the Divine will, and from that time until his death, he was employed in the immediate preparation for his departure. On being told by one of his physicians that, according to present appearances, he could live but a few days more, he lifted up his eyes and exclaimed, “Then welcome, Lord Jesus.”

On the Sabbath preceding his death, he was informed by his brother-in-law, Dr. Clarkson, who was one of his physicians, that there was a decisive change in his condition, indicating that the end was near. “Then,” Finley said, “may the Lord bring me near Himself. I have been waiting with a Canaan hunger for the promised land. I have often wondered that God suffered me to live. I have more wondered that He called me to be a minister of His Word. He has often afforded me much strength, which, though I have often abused, He returned in mercy. O faithful are the promises of God! O that I could see Him as I have seen Him heretofore in his sanctuary! Although I have earnestly desired death, as the hireling pants for the evening shade, yet will I wait all the days of my appointed time. I have often struggled with principalities and powers, and have been brought almost to despair—Lord, let it suffice!”

“I can truly say I have loved the service of God. I know not in what language to speak of my own unworthiness. I have been undutiful; I have honestly endeavoured to act for God, but with much weakness and corruption.” He then lay down and continued to speak in broken sentences.

“A Christian’s death,” said he, “is the best part of his experience. The Lord has made provision for the whole way; provision for the soul and for the body. O that I could recollect Sabbath blessings. Blessed be God, eternal rest is at hand; Eternity is but long enough to enjoy my God. This has animated me in my secret studies; I was ashamed to take rest here. O that I could be filled with the fulness of God,—that fulness that fills heaven.”

Upon awaking the next morning, he exclaimed, “O what a disappointment I have met with—I expected this morning to have been in Heaven!”

In the afternoon of this day, the Rev. Elihu Spencer called to see him, and said,—”I have come, dear Sir, to see you confirm by facts the Gospel you have been preaching; pray, Sir, how do you feel?” To which he replied,—”Full of triumph. I triumph through Christ. Nothing clips my wings, but the thoughts of my dissolution being prolonged. O that it were tonight! My very soul thirsts for eternal rest.”

Mr. Spencer asked him what he saw in eternity to excite such vehement desires. “I see,” said he, “the eternal love and goodness of God; I see the fulness of the Mediator. I see the love of Jesus. O to be dissolved, and to be with Him. I long to be clothed with the complete righteousness of Christ.” He then desired Mr. Spencer to pray with him before they parted, and said,—”I have gained the victory over the devil. Pray to God to preserve me from evil—to keep me from dishonouring His great name in this critical hour, and to support me with His presence in my passage through the valley of the shadow of death.”

He spent the rest of the evening in taking leave of his friends, and in addressing affectionate counsels and exhortations to those of his children who were present. He would frequently cry out,—”Why move the tardy hours so slow?” The next day brought him the release for which he had panted so long. He was no longer able to speak; but a friend having desired him to indicate by a sign whether he still continued to triumph, he lifted his hand, and articulated,—”Yes.” At nine o’clock in the morning, he fell into a profound sleep, in which he continued, without changing his position, till about one, when his spirit gently passed away to its eternal home.

During his whole illness, he manifested the most entire submission to the Divine will, and a full assurance of entering into rest. His death occurred on the 17th of July, 1766, in the fifty-first year of his age. It was the intention of Dr. Finley’s friends to carry his remains to Princeton for burial, but the extreme heat of the weather forbade their doing it, and he was buried by the side of his friend, Gilbert Tennent, in the Second Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.

Words to Live By:
Precious in the sight of the LORD Is the death of His godly ones.” (Psalm 116:15, NASB)

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. (Psalm 90:12, KJV)

Lord, teach to number our days, that we may live out our lives in the fear of the Lord. Deliver us from evil; keep us from sin; and may we live each day looking to You for our every need, knowing that You will provide, both in this life, and in the life to come. May the Lord Jesus Christ be our All in all.

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He Was A Double Agent.

Rev. Gilbert Tennent [5 February 1703 – 23 July 1764]Born on this day, February 5, in 1703, Gilbert Tennent prepared for the ministry in the famous Log College established by his father William. Closely allied with the revival work of George Whitefield, the Tennent family were intimately involved in the first Great Awakening, which began in the 1730’s and continued up until about 1743. This revival and its religious fervor in turn played a key role in a division of the Presbyterian Church that ran from 1741 to 1758. One faction in the split, termed the New Side, favored the revival, while the opposing Old Side was generally against it. Other issues were also party to the split, but most historians point to Gilbert Tennent’s controversial sermon, “The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry” as the breaking point that brought about the split.

Seventeen years later, by the grace of God, the split was mended and the Presbyterian Church restored to unity. Thomas Murphy, in his work, The Presbytery of the Log College, discusses how Gilbert Tennnent, the man who almost single-handedly precipitated the split, was equally credited with mending the tear:

“The schism between the Synods of Philadelphia and New York was healed in the year 1758. How was the event brought about? In the minds of reflecting and godly men there was from the beginning a conviction that the separation should never have occurred. That conviction manifested itself at first in unofficial propositions for reunion, afterward in formal overtures for reunion. The Presbytery of New York, which was not present in the Synod at the time of the disruption, was particularly active in these negotiations for reconciliation. But Gilbert Tennent, the leading spirit of the disruption and the strongest man in the Church, became the chief agent in healing the breach. In fact, he had never intended that there should be a separation, but only that what he considered a wrong should be rectified. At length he became the champion for bringing the body together again. ‘He was among the first to seek a reconciliation and reunion of the parties. To promote this object he wrote and published a pamphlet entitled The Pacificator, in which he reasons strongly in favor of peace and union.’ These various efforts were successful, and the happy goal was accomplished.

“The terms on which the two parties were reunited were simply on the basis of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. The words of the agreement between them were: ‘Both Synods having always approved and received the Westminster Confession of Faith, and Larger and Shorter Catechisms, as an orthodox and excellent system of Christian doctrine, founded on the Word of God, we do still receive the same as the confession of our faith, and also adhere to the plan of worship, government, and discipline, contained in the Westminster Directory, strictly enjoining it on all our members and probationers for the ministry that they preach and teach according to the form of sound words in said Confession and Catechisms, and avoid and oppose all errors contrary thereto.’—Records, p. 286.

“The spirit in which they came together is worthy of lasting remembrance. It is seen in this agreement: ‘All complaints and differences shall be mutually forgiven and buried in perpetual oblivion; the Synods shall unite as two contiguous bodies of Christians agreed in principle as though they had never been concerned with one another before, nor had any differences; and now join the Synods and Presbyteries upon such scriptural and rational terms as may secure peace and good order, tend to heal our broken churches and advance religion hereafter.’

Words to Live By : The Right Way to Mend Fences
Thomas Murphy concluded his comments with these words:

“Equally memorable were the piety and brotherly love by which they were actuated, as seen in the formal agreements into which they entered with each other: ‘We judge that this is a proper occasion to manifest our sincere intention, unitedly to exert ourselves to fulfill the ministry we have received of the Lord Jesus. Accordingly, we unanimously declare our serious and fixed resolution, by divine aid, to take heed to ourselves that our hearts be upright, our discourse edifying, and our lives exemplary for purity and godliness; to take heed to our doctrine, that it be not only orthodox but evangelical and spiritual, tending to awaken the secure to a suitable concern for their salvation, and to instruct and encourage sincere Christians; thus commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God; to cultivate peace and harmony among ourselves, and strengthen each other’s hands in promoting the knowledge of divine truth and diffusing the savor of piety among our people.’—Records, p. 288. Such men must have been very deeply imbued with the Spirit of Christ.”

[excerpted from Presbytery of the Log College, by Thomas Murphy, p. 174-176.

Image source: Engraved portrait by David Edwin [1776-1841], as published in The Assembly’s Missionary Magazine, or Evangelical Intelligencer, vol. 1, no. 5 (May 1805), facing page [209]. Image scanned by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

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.”

Through the Scriptures: Jeremiah 3 – 5

Through the Standards: The eighth commandment: sins forbidden

WLC 142 — “What are the sins forbidden in the eighth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the eighth commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, theft, robbery, man-stealing, and receiving any thing that is stolen; fraudulent dealing, false weights and measures, removing landmarks, injustice and unfaithfulness in contracts between man and man, or in matters of trust; oppression, extortion, usury, bribery, vexatious law-suits, unjust inclosures and depopulations; engrossing commodities to enhance the price; unlawful callings, and all other unjust or sinful ways of taking or withholding from our neighbor what belongs to him, or of enriching ourselves; covetousness, inordinate prizing and affecting worldly goods; distrustful and distracting cares and studies in getting, keeping, and using them; envying at the prosperity of others; as likewise idleness, prodigality, wasteful gaming; and all other ways whereby we do unduly prejudice our own outward estate, and defrauding ourselves of the due use and comfort of that estate which God has given us.”

WSC 75 — “What is forbidden in the eighth commandment?
A.  The eighth commandment forbids whatsoever does or may unjustly hinder our own or our neighbor’s wealth or outward estate.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

A Pure Ministry was His Concern

Born in what is today Northern Ireland, or Ulster, in 1703, Gilbert Tennent, the oldest son of William Tennent, was the first of five sons of the Tennent family to train for, and minister in, the Presbyterian Church in America.  Emigrating to the colonies in 1717 to Pennsylvania, he studied under his father William, the elements of  Scriptural languages and theology.  His training must have been the equivalent of a bachelor of arts degree, because when he entered Yale College, he completed a masters of arts degree.  He then helped his father build the Log College, as it was derisively known, which was the forerunner of the College of New Jersey, which turned into Princeton Seminary and University.

Licensed and ordained in the Presbyterian church, Gilbert Tennent, after a brief ministry in Newcastle, Delaware, moved in 1726 to New Brunswick Presbyterian Church, in New Jersey.  It was there that he came into contact with a Dutch Reformed pastor, Theodorus Frelinghausen, who regularly preached revivalist messages to his congregation and surrounding congregations.  Tennent, whose ministry up to this point, was failing as far as converts were concerned, and deathly ill on top of it, made a pact with God.  Promising to press for the souls of his people, he asked God to give  him another six months of life.  God gave him that, and more.  He began to preach evangelistically to his own people.

Heard one day by English evangelist George Whitefield, who described his sermon as “a searching sermon,” Tennent immediately began to feel the effects of criticism to his ministry as well as the educational quality of the teaching at his father’s Log College.  It was then in March 8, 1740 that he preached that stern message entitled “The Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry,” comparing those who opposed the revival methods to Pharisees who were unsaved. (See March 8)  One year later, the first schism occurred in the Presbyterian Church between the Old Side Presbyterians and the New Side Presbyterians.  (See May 27, 1741)  This schism was to last until 1758, when the reunion came with the aid of a now repentant Gilbert Tennent.  (See May 25)

Gilbert Tennent’s third congregation was at the Second Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, in 1743.  This congregation was a New Side Presbyterian congregation, formed exclusively of converts to the Whitefield’s strong preaching.  He pastored that church until his death on July 22, 1764.

Gilbert Tennent had a decided care and concern for the purity of Christ’s church.

Words to Live By: Despite an unwise harsh message at an earlier point in his ministry which brought a schism in the church at large,  his later ministry at Second Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia was in the midst of a turn-around, or repentant spirit in him.    We may not want to  copy his methods to bring revival to God’s people and repentance to the lost, but the purity of Christ’s church is still an important care and concern for all ministers and members of His church.

Through the Scriptures: Isaiah 46 – 48

Through the Standards: The sins of inferiors against superiors

WLC 128 — “What are the sins of inferiors against their superiors?
A.  The sins of inferiors against their superiors are, all neglect of the duties required toward them; envying at, contempt of, and rebellion against, their persons, and places, in their lawful counsels, commands, and corrections; cursing, mocking, and all such refractory and scandalous carriage, as proves a shame and dishonor to them and their government.”

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