Log College

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We are pleased and honored to have a guest post today from Dr. Carl W. Bogue, who served as pastor of the Faith Presbyterian Church (PCA), Akron, Ohio, 1975-2007. Dr. Bogue received his M.Div. from the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (1965), where he was mentored by Dr. John Gerstner, and he maintained a close friendship with Dr. Gerstner until the latter’s death in 1996. He has graciously allowed us to post here his recollections of the life and ministry of a dear saint greatly used by the Lord in the building of His kingdom.

Gerstner02This day, November 22, 2014, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dr. John H. Gerstner – pastor, professor, author, and friend of thousands to whom he ministered in so many ways throughout his life. I heard him preach at our church and at a youth conference as a teenager; in seminary he was an intellectual anchor as well as an inspiration; in grad school his love of Jonathan Edwards motivated me to do my doctoral dissertation on a central but much neglected theme in Edwards’s writing and preaching, and when I was ordained and installed at the beginning of my pastoral ministry, he graciously honored me by preaching the sermon for the occasion, challenging me “not to be ashamed of the Gospel.” Now that I am “officially retired,” one of my great encouragements is that a new generation is beginning to discover “the good doctor.” I hope it would not seem inappropriate for me to include here, an obituary I wrote in 1996 for my congregation, but which also appeared in a couple publications.

John H. Gerstner: Defender of the Faith

On Sabbath afternoon, March 24, 1996, Dr. John H. Gerstner went to be with the Lord. For most readers little more needs to be said. You know the man, and you know the respect and affection so many of us had for him. Nothing I can say here will adequately express what this man of God meant to me personally. But I also know that my loss is his gain, for all the glory of God and the beauty of the Savior which he so comprehensively taught to his students is now his to behold and enjoy without any of the limitations brought about by sin.

Dr. Gerstner’s life began in Tampa, Florida. His childhood years were spent in Philadelphia where he graduated from high school in 1932. It was that summer while visiting Philadelphia College of the Bible that he was wonderfully converted to the Gospel. That fall he began his studies at Westminster College. Gerstner next attended Westminster Theological Seminary at the time when many of its early giants were present. It was during the time at seminary that he met Edna Suckau, who was to become Mrs. Gerstner. They have three children.

After receiving a masters degree from Westminster Seminary, he pursued his doctoral studies at Harvard University where in 1945 he was awarded a Ph.D. Dr. Gerstner received further education at the Universities of Pittsburgh, Temple, Pennsylvania, Boston, Zurich, Barcelona, and Oxford. He served in the pastorate for a brief period prior to accepting a position as a professor at Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary, later to become Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

Gerstner01It would be difficult to begin to sum up the academic activity of Dr. Gerstner, and even more difficult to express the thousands of lives he has touched through his preaching and teaching ministry. In a Festschrift published in 1976 to honor Dr. Gerstner, a bibliography compiling his writings takes up a full 16 pages. In the 20 years since many additions could be made, including the whole new medium of audio and video tapes. His three volume work on Jonathan Edwards is more than the culmination of a life-long project; it is a labor of love.

The volume written to honor Dr. Gerstner was appropriately entitled, Soli Deo Gloria. One of my happy privileges was to have been invited to be a contributor to that volume. The opening sentence of my article was: “The student of John H. Gerstner is never adequately designated as a ‘former student.’” I never stopped learning from this “teacher of Israel,” and he surely never ceased to be the consummate teacher. Only those who know this first hand can adequately comprehend the loss many of us feel with his passing.

On various occasions I have heard Dr. Gerstner express his indebtedness to his beloved mentor from college, Dr. John Orr. Perhaps more than any other human being, Dr. Orr shaped the thinking of my beloved professor. Early in my ministry, Dr. Gerstner invited me to attend a special celebration at Westminster College to honor Dr. John Orr. Apart from being honored that Dr. Gerstner would invite me to anything, I was also working with a very forceful self-imposed guide in such matters. When Gerstner requested or even suggested something, it had, for all practical purposes, the force of a command with me. But on this occasion it was more that just an invitation. His words were approximately these: “Carl, if I have been a significant influence in your life and vocation (and he knew this was the case), if you are indebted to me at all, then you need to be there to honor Dr. Orr.” I had never met Dr. Orr, but typical of Gerstner’s humility, he would pass along my praise of him to the one who helped shape him for his teaching ministry.

In announcing Gerstner’s death to my congregation, I made this comparison: “Many of you are often very kind in your praise of me. I feel very unworthy of such praise, and I thank God for our many years together. I am not trying to put myself in the similar position or stature as that of Dr. Gerstner. But I would humbly draw this parallel. If I have been, by God’s grace, permitted any usefulness in your life, if you see an approximation of faithfulness to the Word of God, a zeal for the purity of the Church, a desire to proclaim the whole counsel of God – if I have been of any value to you, it would not be inappropriate for you to be thanking God for the ministry of Dr. Gerstner which happens to be through me. Humanly speaking, my claim on you is for you to join with me in praise to God for giving us such a soldier of the cross.”

I never had a better teacher; I never heard a better preacher, and to the extent that we may tentatively judge such things, I never witnessed greater piety. And it is at this point that the good doctor would gently remind us, that all the praise is to be given for the righteousness of Christ, imputed to us, by which we are permitted to enter into glory.

Rev. 14:13 And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.”

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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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Laboring Outside the Limelight

Charles Tennent, the fourth son of the Rev. William Tennent, Sr., was born at Coleraine, in the county of Down, on May 3d, 1711. There he was baptized by the Rev. Richard Donnell. When his father gathered the family and immigrated to the American colonies from Ireland. Charles would have been just seven years old. Like his older brothers, he received his education from his father, and in particular, his education for the ministry was gained in the famous Log College run by the Rev. Tennent, Sr.  The Tennents and the Log College figured prominently in the Old Side/New Side split of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. It could even be said that they were the principal cause of the split, which began in 1741 and which was finally mended in 1758.

While Charles appears to have been less distinguished than his brothers, he nonetheless was a respectable pastor and preacher of the Gospel. The Presbytery of New Castle licensed Charles to preach, on September 20, 1736, and he was soon settled in place to serve the Presbyterian congregation at Whiteclay Creek, Delaware, in 1737. In 1739, the great revival under the preaching of George Whitefield began, greatly affecting this particular congregation. During this remarkable season of God’s presence, Rev. Whitefield spent a number of days ministering with Charles Tennent, and assisted him in the administration of the Lord’s Supper, preaching to a great multitude of people every day during that communion season, which, according to the custom of the times, continued for four days.

Some years before his death, Rev. Charles Tennent resigned his pulpit at Whiteclay Creek and withdrew to Buckingham Church, in Maryland. It was there that he ended his days, passing away in 1771. It is presumed that his mortal remains were buried there. Regarding those final years, and the circumstances of his death, there are no confirmed accounts.

Words to Live By:
Most pastors conduct their ministries without fanfare, attention or great crowds. They may labor in the shadow of better known contemporaries. Their congregations may be relatively small. But the joys of a faithful ministry have an eye to eternity, and don’t depend upon numbers or other worldly reward.

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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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