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GILBERT TENNENT, the oldest son of William Tennent, of Neshaminy, was born in Ireland, county Armagh, on February 5, 1703, not long before his father entered the ministry. Gilbert professed his faith in Christ at the age of fourteen, while on board a ship crossing the Atlantic. As his years advanced, he was educated by his father, and was eventually licensed by the Presbytery of Philadelphia in May of 1725. That same year he graduated from Yale with the A.M. degree. The honorary degree of Master of Arts was later conferred by Yale 1774. Gilbert was called, Dec. 29, to Newcastle, and, after remaining some time, abruptly left. The congregation and the Presbytery of Newcastle complained of his departure; and a letter was produced, declaring his acceptance of the call. The synod concluded that his conduct was too hasty and unadvised; and the moderator reproved him, and exhorted him to use more deliberation and caution in future. The rebuke was sharp, and he took it meekly.

He was ordained at New Brunswick, by Philadelphia Presbytery, in the fall of 1726. He would have been called soon after to Norwalk, had not the Fairfield Association interposed their judgment that he ought not to be taken from so destitute a region as the Jerseys.

When he went to New Brunswick, he found there several excellent persons who had been converted under the ministry of the Rev. Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen. That good man sent him a letter on the necessity of rightly dividing the word, which excited in him a greater earnestness of labour. He was distressed at his want of success, though greatly admired and very popular as a preacher, there was no instance of a saving change in any of his hearers during the first year and a half after his settlement. A severe fit of sickness gave him affecting views of eternity, and he was exceedingly grieved that he had done so little for God. On recovering, he examined many professing Christians, and found their hope to rest on sand. With these he dealt faithfully. Some were apparently converted; but others turned to be his enemies.

He preached much on original sin, repentance, and the nature and the necessity of conversion: a considerable number around were hopefully converted, and at sacramental seasons there were frequently signal displays of the divine presence and power. “New Brunswick did then look like a field the Lord has blessed. Alas! now (1744) the scene is altered.”

At Staten Island,—one of the places where he statedly laboured,—there was, in 1728 or ’29, a more general concern; and pretty many were converted. Once, while preaching from Amos vi.1, the people, careless before, were so affected, that they fell on their knees to cry for mercy, and the general inquiry was, “What shall I do to be saved?”

In 1738, he laid before the synod “sundry large letters” which had passed between him and Cowell, of Trenton, on the subject of the true motive that should influence our obedience to God: whether it should be wholly a desire for God’s glory, or whether, with this desire, there should be a desire for our own happiness: Is disinte-rested benevolence the essence of holiness? The large committee to whom the papers were referred, heard both parties, and delayed their decision for a year. They presented a wise, happy statement of the true doctrine; but it did not satisfy Tennent. He again introduced the business in 1740; but the synod, by a large majority, refused to consider it. This he represented in his paper, which he read a few days after, on the deplorable state of the ministry, as a slighting and shuffling the late debate about the glory of God, and as sanctioning the doctrine that there is no difference between seeking the glory of God and our own happiness, and that self-love is the foundation of all obedience.

At this time, he corresponded with Ralph and Ebenezer Erskine; and Whitefield, in giving them his advice, enforces it by saying, “Our dear brother and fellow-labourer, Mr. G. Tennent, thinks the same, and said he would write to you about it.”

On hearing Tennent preach, Whitefield said, “Never before heard I such a searching sermon. He went to the bottom indeed, and did not daub with untempered mortar. He convinced me more and more that we can preach the gospel no further than we have experienced the power of it in our hearts. I found what a babe and novice I was in the things of God. He is a son of thunder, whose preaching must either convert or enrage hypocrites.”

Whitefield preached, Nov. 20, “about noon, for near two hours, in worthy Mr. Tennent’s meeting-house, to a large assembly gathered from all parts; and amongst them, as he told me, there was a great body of solid Christians; and again at three and seven. Several were brought under strong convictions, and our Lord’s disciples were ready to leap for joy.” Tennent sent him word, Dec. 1, 1739:—“Since you was here, I have been among my people, dealing with them plainly about their souls’ state, examining them as to their experience, telling natural people the danger of their state, exhorting them that were totally secure to seek convictions and those that were convinced to seek Jesus. I reproved pious people for their faults. There are hopeful appearances among pretty many in the place I belong to.” In April, it was said two had been savingly converted in November.

Whitefield wrote to him from Williamsburg, Virginia, Dec. 15, 1739, “Be not angry because you have not heard from me. Indeed, I love and honour you in the bowels of Jesus Christ. You are seldom out of my thoughts. I trust the work goes on gloriously in your parts: the hand of the Lord brought wondrous things to pass before we left Pennsylvania. . . . . Last night I read the affecting account of your brother John. Let me die the death of that righteous man. Oh, my dear friend, my brother, entreat the Lord that I may grow in grace and pick up the fragments of my time that nothing may be lost. Teach me, oh, teach me the way of God more perfectly. Rebuke, reprove, exhort me with all long-suffering and doctrine: I feel I am but a babe in Christ. I only wish I was more worthy to subscribe myself your affectionate brother and servant in Christ.”

From New Brunswick, April 28, 1749, he writes, “God has now brought me here, where I am blessed with the conversation of Mr. Tennent. Indeed, he is a good soldier of Jesus; and God is pleased in a wonderful manner to own him and his brethren. The congregations where they have preached have been surprisingly convicted and melted down. They are unwearied in doing good, and go out into the highways and hedges to compel poor sinners to come in.”

To Mr. Habersham he wrote from Savannah, June 25, 1740, “I like the Messrs. Tennent for preaching in this manner. They wound deep before they heal: they know there is no promise made but to him that believeth, and therefore they are careful not to comfort overmuch those that are convicted. I fear I have been incautious in this respect, and have often given comfort too soon.”

To Mr. R——, in Philadelphia, he wrote from Charleston, July 11, 1740, “Keep close, my dear friend, keep close to the dear Mr. Tennents. Under God, they will build up your soul on your most holy faith. It gladdens my heart to hear of their success in the Lord.”

Whitefield went to New Brunswick, Nov. 6, and Tennent, of Freehold, met him, besides other ministers. It was settled that

Gilbert should go to Boston, though he pleaded inability for so great a work. His first wife had lately died; and he was so much supported that he was able to preach her funeral sermon while she lay before him in the coffin.

Whitefield wrote to Governor Belcher, at Boston, from Philadel-phia, Nov. 9, “Great things has the great Immanuel done for me and for this people by the way. The word has been attended with much power. Surely our Lord intends to set America in a flame. This week, Mr. Tennent proposes to set out for Boston; to blow up the divine flame lately kindled there. I recommend him to your excellency as a solid, judicious, excellent preacher. He will be ready to preach daily.”

Tennent took Long Island in his way; and his labours were greatly blessed. At Newport, there was a considerable concern. He preached at Westerly, Rhode Island, from Matt. xi.28, in going, and, returning, from Gen. iii.9; rousing up the people, and filling some with great wrath. He waked up the conscience.

He arrived at Boston, Dec. 13. His first sermon was on “The Righteousness of the Scribes,” and was speedily printed.  It was a period of protracted and unexampled cold; Long Island Sound was frozen across. The Rev. Dr. Cutler, Church missionary at Boston, laments to the Venerable Society that “Gilbert Tennent[4] afflicted us more than the most intense cold and snow. Though vulgar, crude, and boisterous, yet tender and delicate persons were not deterred from hearing him at every opportunity. The ill effects of Whitefield’s visit might have worn off, if his followers could have been preserved from writing; but they carried on his design with too great success.” Dr. Cutler said to Dr. Zachary Grey, (Nicholls’s Lit. Anecdotes,) “Whitefield has plagued us with a vengeance, especially his friends and followers. Our presses are forever teeming with books. . . . . While he was here, the town was as if it were in a siege; the streets were crowded with coaches and chaises. He lashed and anathematized the Church of England. After him came one Tennent, a minister, impudent and saucy, and told them they were damned. This charmed them; and, in the dreadfullest winter I ever saw, people wallowed in the snow day and night, for the benefit of his beastly brayings. Many ended their days under these fatigues. Both W. and T. carried more money out of these parts than the poor could be thankful for.” He preached for nearly two months. The assemblies had been full from the time Whitefield preached; but under Tennent, the concern became more general and powerful. From the deep and terrible convictions he had passed through, he had such a lively sense of the divine majesty, holiness, and justice, that the very terrors of God seemed to rise in his mind afresh when he brandished them in the eyes of unreconciled sinners. Some of the most stubborn sinners were made to fall down at the feet of Jesus in lowly submission.

The Rev. Thomas Prince says that “in private he was seen to be of considerable parts and learning,—free, gentle, and condescending: he had as thorough an acquaintance with experimental religion as any person I ever conversed with; his preaching was as searching and rousing as any I ever heard. He aimed directly at the heart and conscience, to lay open numerous delusions and show the many secret, hypocritical shifts in religion, and to drive out of every deceitful refuge.”

His preaching produced no crying out or falling down: he did not so much preach the terrors of the law, as search man’s delusive hopes, show their utter impotence and impending danger. He left Boston, March 2, 1741, and preached his farewell from Acts xi. 23. He was exceeding strict in cautioning against running into the church. Yet, the opposers say, the congregations, while he preached, expressed their religious joy by a hearty laugh, and that Tennent laughed over those who were under conviction.

He preached eight sermons at Plymouth, in March, with good results, on the sin and apostasy of mankind in Adam; on the blindness of the natural man in the things of God; on the utter inability of the fallen creature to relieve itself; and on justification through the imputed righteousness of Christ.

In Maine, he preached seven sermons at Piscataqua, and three at East York, going from thence to Hampton, N.H., and Greenland; at Portsmouth, six or seven times, his voice drowned by the cries of the people in distress. In Massachusetts, he preached three sermons at Bridgewater, one from Matt. xi.28, at Taunton, which awakened only a few, and was deep and lasting in only two instances. At Oxford, the Rev. Peter Thatcher, then under great depression, came from Middleborough to hear him, with sensible prejudice, but had not heard three sentences of his prayer before he found him to be a man of God. “I desire to bless God for that sermon. I never saw more of the presence and power of God in prayer and preaching, and never felt more of the power of God accompanying the word on my own heart. Every word made its own way. I felt the weight of it. This revived in me the ministry I sat under in my youth.” At Middleborough, he preached from Rom. vii.9, and said he was never so shut up but once before in his life. No one, however, perceived it. There was, however, no effect at the time; but the people were from that time inclined to hear, and half a dozen were awakened. At Lyme, the sermon, from Ezek. xxxviii.9, was very dull. Parsons was afraid several times he would have nothing to say. One was convinced. Next day the text was Luke xiii. 24: the audience very attentive and deeply affected. There was much visible concern; but the effects were far more extensive than at the time appeared. At the East Parish of Lyme, the two sermons were excellent, and were attended by a great, if not general, awakening. At Saybrook, he gave a plain, searching sermon. At New Haven, he preached seventeen sermons. Several were in the college hall. The concern was general in the college and in the town. Among the pious students were Brainerd, Bull, and David Youngs. They visited every room and conversed with every student. Dr. Sproat, of Philadelphia, and Dr. Hopkins, of Newport, were brought to the Saviour. Hopkins was about twenty,—had lately heard Whitefield: he thought Tennent the greatest and best man and the best preacher he ever saw or heard. “His words were to me like apples of gold in pictures of silver. I thought, when I should leave college, I would go and live with him, wherever I could find him.” A large number of three upper classes entered the ministry: John Grant, Thomas Lewis, Caleb Smith, Job Prudden, Aaron Richards, and Thomas Arthur became pastors in our church. Tennent regretted, in 1744, having kept no journal of this tour,—the brokenness of his memory preventing his drawing up a full account of it.[5]

It being assumed that he had gone into New England on the supposition of the unregeneracy and uselessness of the ministers he said that the reason of his undertaking the tour was to promote his “progress in the Christian course, by that continual train of labours and hardships I foresaw I should be engaged in and exposed to.” He said it was admitted on all hands there was a lamentable decline in that region: but, if there were not, “do not general rules admit of exceptions? In extraordinary times, when the Spirit of God is poured out, may not extraordinary methods be pursued without censure?”

He reached home just before the division of the synod, and preached in Philadelphia, May 31, 1741, five times, and baptized eight adults. The next day the Protest was introduced. He published at once “An Examination and Refutation of the Protest.” He soon lamented the rupture and the sad aspect of the churches throughout the colonies, and yet suffered a new edition of the Nottingham Sermon to appear. The rise of the Moravians troubled him greatly; and he preached against them at New York, and printed the sermons on Rev. iii. 3; and Colman prefixed a preface. To this, “Philalethes” replied, contrasting Gilbert with Tennent, and placing in opposite columns his self-contradictions, accusing him of raising a hue and cry after Pharisees, and countenancing such unlearned exhorters as D——l R——s, S——l K—h—r, and L—y—r P——e. He without delay published, “The Examiner Exa-mined; or, Gilbert Tennent harmonious.”

In 1744, he removed to Philadelphia and took charge of the Second congregation: his feet were blistered in traversing the streets and visiting such numbers of distressed souls. He called on Franklin to point out suitable persons from whom to solicit aid in erecting a house of worship. The philosopher told “the enthusiast” to call on everybody: he did no, and built the church. He ceased his former method of uttering his discourses, and read them. He lamented his “extravagancy in discarding a wig and wearing his hair loose and unpowdered, with a large greatcoat fastened with a leathern belt for his outer garment.” His ministry in Philadelphia was in the main unattended with encouraging success. Andrews said to Samuel Mather, April 17, 1745, “We are pretty quiet at present. Tennent lets me alone, and is generally moderate; but many of his followers grow weary of him, and wish for Whitefield’s return.” Tennent now assumed that persons of moral life, possessed of a knowledge of the principles of the Christian faith, should be admitted to the communion, and argued strenuously against his own former practice.

In 1749, he preached and printed his “Irenicum, a Plea for the Peace of Jerusalem,” to effect a union between the synods of New York and Philadelphia. He did full justice to the brethren he had so bitterly assailed, and especially holds up Thomson—once the object of his unsparing invective—as a worthy representative of the excellent and estimable principles of his Old-Side associates. He freely justifies them from the charge of being opposers of the workof God or heart-enemies to vital godliness,—doing it as cordially as if he had not been foremost and loudest in creating these unfavourable impressions of them.

Davenport wrote to Bellamy, May 29, 1753, “Blessed be the great and good God for a remarkable reviving and quickening given lately, about the beginning of March, to Mr. William Tennent, and, about a fortnight after, to Mr. G. Tennent, before his wife’s death and since.”

His second wife, Cornelia Depeyster, widow of Matthew Clark-son, made a hasty flight, March 19, 1753, aged fifty-seven; and early in May he buried his mother. His family being taken from him, he consented to go to Great Britain, in conjunction with Davies, to solicit aid for the college.

The expectation of so accomplished a companion in the embassy was an encouragement to Davies to undertake the arduous task. Whitefield writes in June, 1753, “I am glad Mr. Tennent is coming over with Mr. Davies. If they come with their old fire, I trust they will be enabled to do wonders.” He sailed Nov. 17, and reached London on Christmas day. Davies was “deeply sensible of the kindness of Heaven in ordering his father and friend to be his companion, not only for the right management of the undertaking, but for his social comfort.

Tennent was cheerful and courageous on the voyage, and preached from John iii. 5 of a Sabbath evening. The sermon was judicious, plain, pungent, searching, and well adapted to do good. Having no opportunity to address the people at another time, he said, “Where there is no good to be done, the door is not opened.”

The next evening after their arrival was spent with Whitefield. Tennent’s heart was all on fire; and, after having gone to bed, he suggested to Davies that they should watch and pray: they rose and prayed together till three in the morning.

Tuesday, Jan. 22.—Observing at Mr. Chandler’s that our college would be a happy expedient to unite the German Calvinists with the English Presbyterians, Mr. Smith, afterwards Provost of the University of Philadelphia, replied that a union would not be desirable.” Tennent immediately answered, ‘Union in a good thing is always desirable.’ Mr. Chandler said, ‘I have seen a very extraordinary sermon against union,’ and reached him his Nottingham Sermon. Chandler had also read the examination of Tennent’s answer to the Protest. All that we could say had no effect. He told us he would do nothing for us. The next day we waited on him, and Tennent made honest, humble concessions—that the sermon was written in the heat of his spirit, when he apprehended a remarkable work of God was opposed by a set of ministers; that some of the sentiments were not agreeable to his present opinions; that he had painted sundry things in too strong colours. He plead that it was now thirteen years, and he had used all his influence to promote union between the synods. He produced his “Irenicum,” and the minutes of the synod, to show the state of the debate. He urged that, if the sermon was faulty, it was the fault of one man, and should not be charged on the whole body.” Davies exerted all his powers of pathetic address; and, in the end, Chandler gave them his name and co-operation.

The sermon had been officiously dispersed through London from hand to hand, and Tennent was sadly discouraged; and his success in obtaining funds amazed him and delighted him, as a gracious “regarding of the cry of the destitute.” Having, at Edinburgh, succeeded in obtaining from the Assembly an order for a national collection, Tennent went to Glasgow and to Ireland. He attended the General Synod; and they agreed to make a collection through all their bounds. The Presbytery of Antrim, “the New Light,” Non-subscribers, fast sinking into Arianism, did the same. He was advised to make private collections in Dublin. He returned to London early in October, having received in Ireland, about five hundred pounds. He received three hundred and sixty pounds for the education of pious youth for the ministry. He sailed November 13, and reached home safely. Burr[6] wrote to Erskine, in May, 1755, that the labours of Tennent had been blessed in Philadelphia; in June, “he was more than ordinarily engaged,” and there was much to encourage him.

He joined with Alison, and the Presbyterians generally, in op-posing the throwing off of the Proprietary government. In 1762, he began to need an assistant; and, the congregation being regularly summoned, he presided, and, by a considerable ma-jority, a call was made out for Duffield, of Carlisle; yet he, with the trustees of the building, objected to the presbytery’s considering the call, until the question between the trustees and the congregation had been submitted to arbitration. The presbytery decided that the call was in order, and gave the commissioners leave to prosecute it. Donegal Presbytery declined to place it in Duffield’s hands. The Rev. John Murray, from Ireland, was then called and ordained; but the synod would not acknowledge him, and he was soon cast off.

He died January 23, 1764. President Finley preached at his funeral.

He made his will October 20, 1763, giving three hundred pounds and his library to his son Gilbert, and directing that he should be put to learning, in the hope that God would prepare him for the ministry. He provides also for his daughters Elizabeth and Cornelia. He constituted his wife,[7] his brother William, and the worshipful John Lyal, of New Brunswick, the guardians of his children, they being very young. His son was lost at sea. One daughter married Dr. William Smith, of Philadelphia; the other died young.

As he drew near his end, every symptom of dissolution filled him with comfort. His disposition, naturally calm, was sweetened by piety.

Tennent was taller than most men, and every way proportionable; grave and venerable; affable, condescending, and communi-cative. He was endeared by his openness and undisguished honesty, eminent for public spirit and great fortitude; his mind was enriched by much reading, and his heart was laden with a rich experience of divine grace. As a preacher, he was equaled by few; his reasoning was strong, his language forcible and often sublime; his manner, warm and earnest. Most pungent were his addresses to the conscience. With admirable dexterity he exposed the false hope of the hypocrite, and searched the corrupt heart to the bottom. He said of some of his earliest sermons, that he begged them with the tears of the Lord Jesus. A lady asked him, at the close of his life, concerning his mode of preaching while in New England, during the Revival. He replied, he hardly knew what he preached; he had not time to study. The many years he had spent in diligent preparation, and his prevailing absorption in divine things, nobly qualified him to preach without effort. The droppings of his lips were as choice silver.

He was a mark for many archers. They emptied their quivers on him; he was sore wounded by their calumnies; but he “shook off the venomous beasts,” and lived, serving Christ, approved of God and acceptable to men.

The publications of Tennent, like “the fourth part of the dust of Jacob,” are not to be numbered. The earliest seems to have been a sermon preached in New York in March, 1734; in 1735, “A Solemn Warning to a Secure World from the God of terrible majesty; or, the Presumptuous Sinner detected, his Pleas considered, and his Doom displayed;” to which is added the life of his brother, the Rev. Mr. John Tennent. “The Necessity of Religious Violence to Durable Happiness,” preached at Perth Amboy, June 29, 1735; two sermons on the nature and necessity of sincere sanctification, contrition, and an acceptable appreciation of a suf-fering Saviour, preached at New Brunswick in July and August, 1736. A volume of his sacramental discourses was printed in Boston, in 1739; his sermon on an “Unconverted Ministry,” in 1740; on the “Priestly Office of Christ,” preached at New Brunswick, in 1741; on the death of Captain Grant, in 1756; on “Public Fasting,” in 1749; on “Religious Zeal,” in 1750; on the “Duty of being Quiet,” and at the opening of the synod, in 1759. He was struck by lightning; and the eagerness of some to proclaim it as a judgment led him to preach a sermon and print it, on the “Righteousness of the Scribes,” in 1740; his Moravian sermons, in 1742; “The Examiner Examined,” in 1743; on a thanksgiving, and on another public occasion, and a third on Admiral Matthew’s victory, in 1744; on the success of the expedition against Louisburg, in 1745.


[1]
 Family Record in Dr. Alexander’s Log College.

[2] MS. Records of Newcastle Presbytery.

[3] His Letter in the Christian History.

[4] Hawkins.—Albany Documents.

[5] Gillies. He preached frequently three times a day. Thirty of the students followed him on foot to Milford, and for this were fined by the rector. The unscrupulous author of the Account of the State of Religion in New England since Mr. Whitefield’s Visit says, “The college in Connecticut is nearly broke up.” Tennent’s labours at Harvard College were blessed.

[6] Gillies’s Collections, Bonar’s edition.

[7] Mrs. Sarah Spafford, widow.

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Death of Joseph A. Alexander

Joseph Addison Alexander, third son of the Rev. Archibald and Janetta (Waddel) Alexander, was born in Philadelphia on 24 April 1809. His early education was obtained under the immediate supervision of his parents, and owing to an intellectual vigor rare indeed, his powers of acquiring knowledge were amazing, especially in the department of languages. In 1825 he graduated at the College of New Jersey (since 1896, Princeton University), with the highest honors of his class. He was elected Tutor, but declined the appointment, and, with Mr. Patton, founded Edgehill School at Princeton. He studied theology at home and at the University of Halle and Berlin, in Europe. He was licensed and ordained by the Presbytery of New Brunswick in 1832, and became assistant instructor of the Hebrew and Greek text of the Bible, in the Princeton Theological Seminary; in 1835 he was appointed Associate Professor, and in 1840 sole Professor of Biblical and Oriental Literature; in 1851 he was transferred to the chair of Biblical and Ecclesiastical History; and in 1859, at his own request, he was assigned the department of Hellenistic Greek and New Testament Literature. The main business of his life was with the Holy Bible, giving to theological research and instruction all the energies of his massive intellect.

[At right: The Edgehill School, Princeton, New Jersey, co-founded by J.A. Alexander & R.B. Patton]

Dr. Alexander’s gigantic mind was in full vigor until the day before his death. On the morning of that day he was occupied with his usual course of polyglot reading in the Bible, being accustomed to read the Scriptures in some six different languages, as part of his daily devotions. He seems also to have entertained himself, during some part of the day, with one of the Greek classics, Herodotus, as a pencil mark on the margin, “January 27th, 1860.” is said to show. In the afternoon of that day, he rode out in the open air for the first time since his attack of hemorrhage. During that ride, however, which was not continued more than forty-five minutes, a sudden sinking of life came on him, so much so that he was borne almost entirely by the help of others from the carriage. The sinking continued all Friday night, and on Saturday he was hardly conscious of anything until he died. His death was perfectly calm, without a struggle, without one heaving breath. His death occurred in his study, January 28th, 1860.

[Wilson’s Presbyterian Almanac for 1861 (p. 71) notes that his death, at the age of 51, was caused by diabetes. Alexander’s brother, James Waddel Alexander, had died of dysentery not six months earlier, in 1859, at the age of 55.]

Dr. Alexander’s sermons were sure to be original, evangelical, forcible, elegant and tending to practical effect upon the conscience. He was a frequent contributor to The Princeton Review, and for a time served with Professor Dod as its editor. As an author he took high rank. A volume of his fragmentary “Notes on New Testament Literature and Ecclesiastical History” was posthumously published in 1861. In 1851 his “Psalms Translated and Explained” appeared in three volumes. In 1857 “The Acts of the Apostles Explained,” in two volumes. In 1858 “The Gospel, According to Mark, Explained,” in one volume. the Commentary on Matthew was unfinished at his death, but so much as he had prepared was published in 1861, as the last work on which his pen was engaged.

Words to Live By:  A man of great gifts, Dr. Alexander was well used of the Lord in the advancement of His kingdom. Yet for all this, we must not covet. The Lord has a place and a role for each of His children, and it is not unusual to find that “the least of these” are often enabled to bear great witness to the glory of God in the Gospel.

Biographical sketch and portrait image from Nevin’s Encyclopedia of the Presbyterian Church (1884), pp. 21-22. Image of the Edgehill campus from The Presbyterian Historical Almanac and Annual Remembrancer of the Church, for 1861 (Philadelphia: Joseph M. Wilson), page 341. All scans performed by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

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Ashbel Green’s Editor and Friend

Joseph Huntington Jones, D. D., the brother of Judge Joel Jones, was born in Coventry, Connecticut, on August 24th, 1797. He graduated at Harvard University, in 1817. For a time he was employed as Tutor in Bowdoin College, Maine. He completed his theological studies at the Princeton Theological Semi­nary; was licensed as a probationer, September 19th, 1822, by the Presbytery of Susquehanna, and was, by the same Presbytery, ordained as an evangelist, April 29th, 1824.

On June 1st, 1824, he began his labors in the Presbyterian Church at Woodbury, New Jersey, and was soon installed as pastor of that church. Here he labored with very great success. At the same time he also supplied the feeble church at nearby Blackwoodtown, which shared the blessing enjoyed by that of Woodbury. In 1825 he was installed as pastor of the Presbyterian Church at New Brunswick, New Jersey. Here he remained for thirteen years, proving himself to be “a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.” His ministry was honored of God by at least three seasons of religious awakening.

In 1838 he became the pastor of the Sixth Presbyterian Church, in Phila­delphia, and continued so for twenty-three years, his efforts being crowned with a manifest blessing. From 1861 to 1868 he was Secretary of the Relief Fund for Disabled Ministers, in which capacity he did a noble work, for which he deserves the lasting gratitude of the Church. He died on December 22d of 1868.

Dr. Jones was an exemplary Christian, an in­structive preacher, a faithful pastor, an interesting writer, and a gentleman of great urbanity of manner and suavity of disposition.

Of his principal work, often referred to as The Effects of Physical Causes on Christian Experience,’’ Dr. J. W. Alexander wrote, “It is a valuable and entertaining book.” Rev. Jones must have been a close friend and associate of the Rev. Ashbel Green, for it was to Jones that Green turned for the task of bringing Green’s autobiography to the press. Rev. Jones also wrote a history of the 1837 revival at New Brunswick, and several sermons of his were published as well. These are his works found on the Internet:

Something to Ponder:
The great Princeton professor, Samuel Miller, wrote a brief introduction or testimonial for that earliest work of Rev. Jones, Outline of a Work of Grace. In addition to our interest in Miller’s basis thesis here unveiled, it is also important to note the honesty of his method, with an expressed readiness to receive evidence “either for or against the affirmative of this question.”

“There is one question which you may, possibly be better able to answer now, than you were during the delightful excitement of that memorable scene. And that is, whether the solemn dispensations of Providence, experienced by the inhabitants of New Brunswick some time before, had any perceptible connexion with the spiritual benefit then enjoyed? I refer to the severe visit of cholera which you suffered in 1832, and the tremendous tornado, which did no much mischief in 1835. I have for many years taken much interest in the inquiry, whether seasons of great sickness and mortality, and other extraordinary and overwhelming seasons of temporal calamity, are ordinarily employed by a sovereign God as a means of reviving religion. Every new fact, either for or against the affirmative of this question, is highly interesting to me.”

What do you think of Dr. Miller’s question, whether God ordinarily uses seasons of great sickness and mortality as a means of reviving religion? Have you seen evidence of this, or have you seen evidence to the contrary? Answers may well hinge on Miller’s use of that word, “ordinarily.”

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A Heart for Missions

Elisha Pope Swift was born in Williamstown, Massachusetts on August 12, 1792. His parents were the Rev. Seth and Lucy Elliot Swift. His father was pastor of the Congregational Church of Williamstown. Through his mother he was descended from Rev. John Elliot, the Apostle to the Indians. Elisha received his collegiate education at Williams College, in Massachusetts, and his theological education at Princeton Seminary.

swiftEPHe was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of New Brunswick, on April 24, 1816 and was ordained by a Congregational council in Boston on September 3, 1817, with a view to setting out for foreign missionary work. However, the American Board of Foreign Missions was compelled to delay his departure and so employed him for a time as an agent in the raising of funds. In 1818, Rev. Swift served as pulpit supply for several Presbyterian churches in Dover and Milford, Delaware, and then in 1819 he answered a call to serve as the pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh. Here he continued to serve for thirteen years.

From 1831 to 1835, he served as Secretary of the Western Foreign Missionary Society, which was at that time located in Pittsburgh, and it was only in 1833 that he resigned his charge as pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church, in order to more fully devote himself to the work of missions. Rev. Swift had been the leading force in organizing this Society, and it was greatly shaped by his character and ministerial gifts.  By its location, the Society was fathered along by the Synod of Pittsburgh, and after several changes, both in title and in location, the Society eventually became the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

In the summer of 1835, Dr. Swift resigned his position as Secretary of the Missionary Society and became the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. He then served this church for twenty-nine and a half years. In the last five years of his life, with his strength beginning to fail, the congregation called Dr. Swift’s son, Elliott E. Swift, to serve alongside his father. This arrangement allowed Dr. Swift to preach as he was able, up until about six months before his death. At last, on April 3, 1865, the Rev. Elisha P. Swift passed from his earthly labors and entered his eternal rest.

“Dr. Swift was an unusually eloquent and impressive preacher. His large, penetrating eye, when fixed upon the hearer, gave to some of his searching addresses an almost irresistible power. In the commencement of his morning discourses he was usually deliberate, occasionally hesitating, as the result would show, for the most suitable and expressive words at his command. As he advanced, however, his delivery would become more rapid, and for fifteen minutes before he closed he would hold the listener in the most fixed and solemn attention. The conclusions of many of his sermons were among the grandest specimens of effective pulpit oratory to which the people in the region where he lived had ever listened. His public prayers were remarkable for fluency of utterance, comprehensiveness of petition, elegance of style and fervor of feeling. This, no doubt, has its explanation in his habits of private devotion. For many years he had four seasons of secret prayer, which he sacredly observed each day. Often, on Sabbath evenings, after his labors were completed, he would spend long periods in the retirement of his study, in audible intercession for his people. Dr. Swift belonged to a race of men now seldom found, but sometimes read about in the annals of the past.”

For Further Study:
E.P. Swift on the Call to Missions—

Among his several published efforts, Dr. Swift wrote an introduction to a Memoir of Mrs. Louisa A. Lowrie, of the Northern India Mission (1837), which is available online, here. The first several paragraphs of that introduction make for interesting reading, though the nineteenth-century prose may take some getting used to.—

“Man is, in himself, a lost, ruined and perishing sinner. Of this fact, the world is full of the most convincing evidence. The Bible professes to reveal to us God’s true and only system of salvation. This is a dispensation of life to guilty man through a Mediator, and it is also a distinct practical principle of the heart and life, developing itself by the production of a free self-consecration of its recipients to the glory of God and the well-being of mankind. Its vital power–its ascendancy over the inner man, in the production of pure and holy principles and actions, is an essential evidence of one’s interest in its blessings, while the most abundant and convincing manifestations of it to others becomes the surest way by which its great Author is honored and the world improved. Hence the lives of devoted Christians become useful and instructive, just in proportion as they are truly and wisely conformed to the great pattern, and the examples and biographies of eminent believers stimulate the pious in the path of duty, and impress the consciences of the wicked with a sense of their criminality.

“Periods of great trial and persecution in the world; and seasons in which God has, by His providence, especially called forth the visible power of religion, or remarkably poured out His Spirit upon the earth, for its increase, have been most distinguished for the development of the Christian principle. The present state of the world is peculiarly favorable to its useful display in judicious and disinterested efforts to bring millions of benighted and perishing sinners into the kingdom of God. The temporal and eternal benefits which the gospel can impart to the heathen are beyond all computation; and the Bible, while it urges the duty of its immediate dissemination, pledges its own veracity for the certainty that it shall eventually overspread the world. The events of providence are now more and more distinctly every year indicating the near approach of that joyful consummation.

“The labor and the self-denial, however, which a personal engagement in the missionary service in foreign lands requires, is so great, and the zeal of the disciples to spread the triumphs of the cross among remote and barbarous tribes of men is so small, that it must be long indeed before such a result can be anticipated, unless there is a very great increase of the true heroic and enterprising spirit of primitive times. Whatever tends to promote this, and to deepen the longing-desires of the visible family of God that His “kingdom may come” and His “will be done” in the “dark places” of the earth, should be earnestly encouraged. There are therefore three ends which may be proposed in the act of consecration to the work of Foreign Missions. This may be chosen like any other form of Christian action, to exemplify the practical influence of real piety—or, from a desire by a sincere and cordial and self-denied example of this sort, to aid and countenance the important and too much neglected duty of carrying the gospel to the heathen, or finally from the hope of a direct and immediate usefulness to the heathen themselves. The two former of these objects will be attained wherever love to Christ and holy principle is the moving cause, however brief or disastrous may be the effort itself. It is a great mistake therefore to suppose that the great moral ends of the undertaking are defeated, when the heralds of Christianity are cut down by the stroke of death before they enter upon the work; or where no actual conversions have been made. This would be to make the value of every effort to glorify the Redeemer to depend upon the measure of success which attended it, and imply a course of reasoning manifestly incompatible with fact.

Image source: The photograph, above right, is scanned from an original preserved at the PCA Historical Center. It was found tucked inside an 1858 pamphlet which had been purchased from a bookseller in Philadelphia.

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Keeping in mind that newspapers were little different then than now, subject to the same human foibles*, nonetheless the following coverage of the modernist controversy and the resulting denominational split is interesting, as it offers some different perspectives on what a division means to those involved.

[*There are two errors mainly in the text below, both of which will be noted in brackets in their first appearance.]

This article is from a Wilmington, DE newspaper, dated June 29, 1936, and is found preserved in one of seven scrapbooks gathered by the Rev. Henry G. Welbon, covering the modernist controversy in the years 1935-1939. The photographs have been added and were not part of the original article.

familiesdivided

Dissension with all the heartaches and strained loyalties that civil war brings, is definitely wedged in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

Where it will lead and the effect of the wedge, no one knows.

But this much is already evident in the Presbytery of New Castle, which embraced Delaware and parts of Maryland: families are divided, parents against children, husbands against wives, and friend with friend.

This is a time when members of congregations are torn between loyalty to their established church, when men are being accused of dogmatism, heresy, apostasy and free will.

Out of the seething cauldron has been born a new church, the Presbyterian Church in [sic; should be “of”] America, in contrast to the old Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

The nature of the wedge that is lodged in the church of the U.S.A. today is itself controversial.

Question Not Doctrinal

Those who are remaining loyal say the split is on a church constitutional question and among the loyalists are both fundamentalists and modernists.

“The matter now and never has been a controversy between ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘modernists’ the general council of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. states.

It is a question the general council states, of whether ministers shall disobey the established constitution of a church and agree to the will of the majority.

The secessionists–all fundamentalists–say the differences are based upon doctrinal questions and liberty of conscience.

In any case, the immediate cause of the secession and the controversy has been the Independent Board of [sic; should be “for”] Presbyterian Foreign Missions, a board with no official connection with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

The leading personality in the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions has been the Rev. Dr. J. Gresham Machen of the Presbytery of New Brunswick, N.J.

Four Judicatories in Church

For those not familiar with Presbyterian Church government, it should be explained that the judicatory and administrative bodies of the church are: First, the session, composed of representatives of a congregation, governing the church; second, the Presbytery governing a group of sessions in a district; third, the synod, a group of Presbyteries and fourth, the General Assembly which is the national ruling body of the Presbyterian Church which also is the supreme court and lawmaking body of the entire church.

Also as part of the story of the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions is Pearl Buck, a missionary in China, whom it was charged was too much a modernist.

Dr. Machen Heads Movement

machen02Though she resigned, the charges persisted from the militant fundamentalists of the Presbyterian Church against the alleged modernism in the foreign mission groups. In 1933, Dr. Machen introduced into the Presbytery of New Brunswick a proposed resolution to be presented to General Assembly relating to what he called “modernism” in the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions.

A large majority of the Presbytery of New Brunswick refused to send this resolution to General Assembly but similar resolutions did reach General Assembly in 1933. The assembly received it and Dr. Machen was heard by the committee to which the resolutions had been presented for consideration.

By a vote of 43 to 2, the committee reported unfavorably and expressed its confidence in the Board of Foreign Missions and by a nearly unanimous vote, the General Assembly approved the report of this committee.

But Dr. Machen did not pause there. Accepting neither the views of the committee nor the “judgment of the General Assembly,” he was influential in the establishment of the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions, incorporated in December of 1933, with Dr. Machen as president. It is not a recognized body of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., being just what its name indicates, “independent.”

H. S. Laird Member of Board

lairdhsTo this board came the Rev. Harold S. Laird, pastor of the First and Central Presbyterian Church of Wilmington, an ardent fundamentalist.

But before he joined the independent board, he consulted with his session. He did not join against their counsel.

Another point, not widely known, is that Mr. Laird during his pastorate at First and Central Presbyterian Church never solicited for the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions.

“It was only after much earnest prayer and careful consideration,” he said, “that I came to the conviction that this movement was of God, and being thus convinced, I agreed to throw what little influence I have in the church to the lifting high of this standard. This was my primary motive in allowing myself to be elected a member of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.

“It is from this board that I was ordered to resign. I believe the board is of God and I also believe that my call to membership on that board was of God. Under such circumstances, how can I resign? Shall I obey man rather than God?”

Taking note of this independent board and that ministers and elders were prominent in its membership, the General Assembly directed that all ministers and laymen affiliated with the board sever their connections with the organization.

Those who declined to obey this direction were ordered tried by their Presbyteries. A number were found guilty and either rebuked or suspended.

Mr. Laird tried before the Presbytery of New Castle, protested that his affiliation with the independent board had been guided by his conscience and that in refusing to sever his connection, he was placing the word of God above the courts of man.

Rebuked, But Not Suspended.

Mr. Laird, however, was found guilty, with one dissenting vote in his favor. He was ordered rebuked but allowed to remain [in] his pulpit.

But Mr. Laird continued in the membership of the independent board. The Presbytery recently suspended him from the ministry–an act regarded as illegal by Mr. Laird who immediately renounced the authority of the Presbytery.

Words to Live By
Unity is a precious thing, to be cultivated and prized. But Christian unity must be centered on the saving Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Where we have that unity, it is glorious. Without Jesus Christ as our Cornerstone, there can be no Church.

Luke 12:49-53 (ESV)
49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!
50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!
51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.
52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three.
53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Psalm 133 (KJV)
1 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
2 It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;
3 As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.

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