FOUNDER AND PRINCIPAL ALUMNI
TOGETHER WITH AN ACCOUNT OF THE REVIVALS OF RELIGION
UNDER THEIR MINISTRY.
COLLECTED AND EDITED
ARCHIBALD ALEXANDER, D.D.
PRESBYTERIAN BOARD OF PUBLICATION,
No. 821 CHESTNUT STREET.
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Reprint and digital file February 25,, 2001.
This document was scanned from an original copy of Dr. Alexander’s work (1851).
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1851, by
A. W. MITCHELL, M. D.
in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Stereotyped by SLOTE & Mooney,
Philadelphia. Printed by Wm. S. MARTIEN.
TO THE REVEREND PRESBYTERY OF NEW BRUNSWICK.
DEAR BRETHREN,—There is a propriety in dedicating this book to you, as it owes its existence to your appointment of the author to deliver a centenary discourse on the 8th of August, 1838. A copy of this discourse you were pleased to ask for publication, a compliance with which the preacher respectfully declined, because he found that all the facts and documents relative to the origin of the New Brunswick Presbytery could not be included in a single discourse; but he determined to make use of such materials as he possessed, or could obtain, to form a small volume, and lay it before your reverend body. This purpose he has been enabled imperfectly to carry into effect; and he now solicits your candid and favourable attention to a work, which is intended to give the people of the present age an opportunity of seeing what the state of things in this region was a hundred years ago.
As most of those connected with the New Brunswick Presbytery, in its earliest days, were educated at Mr. Tennent’s school, at Neshaminy, commonly called the LOG COLLEGE, to give some appearance of unity to the work, the history contained in it is connected with this humble, but useful Institution.
And as the time when this Presbytery had its origin was a period favoured with remarkable revivals of religion; and the men, who then composed this Presbytery, eminent instruments, in carrying forward this good work; it was judged to be expedient to give as distinct and full an account of the outpouring of the Spirit of God in those days as could now be obtained. And as narratives were written by those most intimately conversant with this great revival, which were printed in books now rarely to be met with, it was thought best to rescue these documents from oblivion, and give them unaltered in the very words of the Original writers.
The editor cannot but think that the biographical sketches here given from authentic authorities, will be acceptable to the present members of the Presbytery of New Brunswick; and he is persuaded, that the congregations in which the displays of divine grace were so wonderful a century past, will be benefited by a perusal of the narratives here given. Many pious people among us are not aware that the ground on which they tread has, as it were, been hallowed by the footsteps of the Almighty. And who knows but that prayers then offered in faith remain yet to be answered?
I am with sincere regard,
Your brother in the gospel of Christ,
MEMOIR OF THE REV. WM. TENNENT, JR.
Preliminary Remarks—Mr. Tennent’s birth and education—Sickness, apparent death, and recovery—State of his mind during his trance—Settlement and ordination as successor to his brother at Freehold—Marriage—Character as a pastor and success in the ministry—Trial for Perjury—Extraordinary means of deliverance—The close of life.
Notes: Dr. Boudinot was a confidant of Gen. Washington, member of the Continental Congress, 1777-84, president of Congress, 1782, secretary of Foreign Affairs, 1783-84. He also served as Federalist congressman from New Jersey, 1789-95, and as Director of the U.S. Mint, 1795-1805. Needless to say, his integrity is beyond question as to the following records.
William Tennent Jr. was the son of Wm. Tennent, Sr., the Founder of the Log College (1726) in Neshaminy, Pa. The Log College was the forerunner of the College of New Jersey, which,of course became Princeton University. Willison Ed.
THE following memoir of the Rev. William Tennent, was originally published in "The Assembly’s Missionary Magazine," in the year 1806; and although it was not accompanied with the author’s name, it was well understood to be from the pen of the Hon. Elias Boudinot, LL. D.,
who was well acquainted with all the members of this remarkable family. But although Dr. Boudinot prepared this memoir for the press, the greater part of the narrative was written, at his request, by the late Dr. Henderson, of Freehold, one of the elders of the Freehold church, and a man distinguished for his piety, integrity, veracity, and patriotism. This original manuscript is now in the possession of the Historical Society of New Jersey. From it we learn that the history of Mr. Tennent’s trial, which occurred soon after his settlement in the ministry, and when Dr. Henderson was too young to be a competent witness, was received from his father, who was then an elder in the church of Freehold, of which Mr. William Tennent was the pastor. There can be no doubt about the authenticity of the facts here stated, however they may be accounted for. The writer has heard the same facts from elderly persons who never had seen this published account; and they were so public, that they were generally known, not only to the people of this part of the country, but they were currently reported and fully believed in other states. The writer has heard them familiarly talked of in Virginia, from his childhood. It is a matter of some regret that the record of this trial cannot be found, yet papers have been discovered among the archives of the state, in which reference is made to this transaction. The following is the narrative
"Among the duties which every generation owes to those who are to succeed it, we may reckon the careful delineation of the characters of those whose example deserves and may invite imitation. Example speaks louder than precept, and living practical religion has a much greater effect on mankind than argument or eloquence. Hence, the lives of pious men become the most important sources of instruction and warning to posterity; while their exemplary conduct affords the best commentary on the religion they professed. But when such men have been remarkably favoured of God with unusual degrees of light and knowledge, and have been honoured by the special and extraordinary influences of his Holy Spirit, and by the most manifest and wonderful inter-positions of divine Providence in their behalf, it becomes a duty of more than common obligation to hand down to posterity the principal events of their lives, together with such useful inferences as they naturally suggest. A neglect of this duty, even by persons who may be conscious of the want of abilities necessary for the complete biographer, is greatly culpable; for, if the strictest attention be paid to the truth of the facts related, and all exaggeration or partial representation be carefully avoided, the want of other furniture can be no excuse for burying in oblivion that conduct, which, if known, might edify and benefit the world.
"The writer of these memoirs has difficulties of a peculiar kind to encounter, in attempting to sketch the life of that modest, humble, and worthy man, whose actions, exercises, and sentiments he wishes to record. Worldly men, who are emulous to transmit their names to following ages, take care to leave such materials for the future historian as may secure the celebrity which they seek. But the humble follower of the meek and lowly Jesus, whose sole aim is the glory of God in the welfare of immortal souls, goes on from day to day as seeing him who is invisible, careful to approve himself only to the Searcher of hearts, regardless of worldly fame or distinction, and leaving it to his heavenly Father to reward him openly in the day of final account The writer of such a man’s life must principally rely on a personal acquaintance with him, and the communications of his intimate friends, for the information which shall be imparted to the public. In these circumstances it is peculiarly embarrassing, if some of the facts to be recorded are of such a nature that it is most desirable to have their authenticity so fully established, that incredulity shall be confounded, and the sneer of the sceptical and profane lose its effect. But the writer of the following narrative, though placed in these circumstances, and having such facts to detail, has nevertheless determined to proceed. He has refreshed and corrected his own recollection by the most careful inquiries that he could possibly make of others, until he is well assured that what he shall state is incontestable truth. From the very nature of several things of which an account will be given, they do not indeed admit of any other direct testimony than that of the remarkable man to whom they relate. But if there ever was a person who deserved to be believed unreservedly on his word, it was he. He possessed an integrity of soul, and a soundness of judgment, which did actually secure him an unlimited confidence from all who knew him. Every species of deception, falsehood, and. exaggeration he abhorred and scorned, he was an Israelite indeed, in whom there was no guile. With such materials, then, as have been mentioned, and for a work of such character as has been hinted, the writer has undertaken his task. He has undertaken what he would most gladly have resigned to an abler hand; but from which, as no other offered, he dared not withhold his own. He could wish that speculative and even unbelieving minds might be instructed and convinced by these memoirs. But his principal object, and that in which he trusts he shall not be entirely disappointed, is to direct, assist, and comfort pious souls, groaning under the pressure of the calamities which they often have to endure in their pilgrimage through the wilderness of this world.
"The Rev. Win. Tennent, of Freehold, New Jersey, was the second son of the Rev. Wm. Tennent, Sen., and was born on the 3d day of June, 1705, in the county of Armagh, in Ireland, and was just turned of thirteen years when he arrived in America. He applied himself with much zeal and industry to his studies, and made great proficiency in the languages, particularly in the Latin. Being early impressed with a deep sense of divine things, he soon determined to follow the example of his father and elder brother, by devoting himself to the service of God in the ministry of the gospel. His brother Gilbert being called to the pastoral charge of the church at New Brunswick, in New Jersey, and making a very considerable figure as a useful and popular preacher, William determined as he had completed his course in the languages, to study divinity under his brother. Accordingly he left his father’s house with his consent, and by his advice, and went to New Brunswick. At his departure from home, which was considered as his setting out in life, his father addressed him with great affection, commending him to the favour and protection of that God, from whom he himself had received so much mercy, and who had directed him in all his migrations. He gave him a small sum of money, as the amount of all he could do for him, telling him that if he behaved well and did his duty, this was an ample provision for him; and if he should act otherwise, and prove ungrateful to a kind and gracious God, it was too much and more than he deserved. Thus, with a pittance, and the blessing of a pious and affectionate parent, of more consequence than thousands of pounds, the young student set out in the world.
"After a regular course of study in theology, Mr. Tennent was preparing for his examination by the Presbytery as a candidate for the gospel ministry. His intense application affected his health, and brought on a pain in his breast, and a slight hectic. He soon became emaciated, and at length was like a living skeleton. His life was now threatened. He was attended by a physician, a young gentleman who was attached to him by the strictest and warmest friendship. He grew worse and worse, till little hope of life was left. In this situation, his spirits failed him, and he began to entertain doubts of his final happiness. He was conversing one morning with his brother in Latin, on the state of his soul, when he fainted and died away. After the usual time he was laid out on a board, according to the common practice of the country, and the neighbourhood were invited to attend his funeral on the next day. In the evening, his physician and friend returned from a ride in the country, and was afflicted beyond measure at the news of his death. He could not be persuaded that it was certain; and on being told that one of the persons who had assisted in laying out the body thought he had observed a little tremor of the flesh under the arm, although the body was cold and stiff, he endeavoured to ascertain the fact. He first put his own hand into warm water, to make it as sensible as possible, and then felt under the arm, and at the heart, and affirmed that he felt an unusual warmth, though no one else could. He had the body restored to a warm bed, and insisted that the people who had been invited to the funeral should be requested not to attend. To this the brother objected as absurd, the eyes being sunk, the lips discoloured, and the whole body cold and stiff. However, the doctor finally prevailed, and all probable means were used to discover symptoms of returning life. But the third day arrived, and no hopes were entertained of success but by the doctor, who never left him night nor day. The people were again invited, and assembled to attend the funeral. The doctor still objected, and at last confined his request for delay to one hour, then to half an hour, and finally to a quarter of an hour. He had discovered that the tongue was much swollen, and threatened to crack. He was endeavoring to soften it, by some emollient ointment put upon it with a feather, when the brother came in, about the expiration of the last period, and mistaking what the doctor was doing for an attempt to feed him, manifested some resentment, and in a spirited tone said, ‘It is shameful to be feeding a lifeless corpse;’ and insisted with earnestness, that the funeral should immediately proceed. At this critical and important moment, the body to the great alarm and astonishment of all present opened its eyes, gave a dreadful groan and sunk again into apparent death. This put an end to all thoughts of burying him, and every effort was again employed in hopes of bringing about a speedy resuscitation. In about an hour the eyes again opened, a heavy groan proceeded from the body, and again all appearance of animation vanished. In another hour life seemed to return with more power, and a complete revival took place to the great joy of the family and friends, and to the no small astonishment and conviction of very many who had been ridiculing the idea of restoring to life a dead body.
"Mr. Tennent continued in so weak and low a state for six weeks, that great doubts were entertained of his final recovery. However, after that period he recovered much faster, but it was about twelve months before he was completely restored. After he was able to walk the room, and to take notice of what passed around him, on a Sunday afternoon, his sister, who had staid from church to attend him, was reading in the Bible, when he took notice of it and asked her what she had in her hand. She answered that she was reading the Bible. He replied, ‘What is the Bible? I know not what you mean.’ This affected the sister so much that she burst into tears, and informed him that he was once well acquainted with it. On her reporting this to the brother, when he returned, Mr. Tennent was found, upon examination, to be totally ignorant of every transaction of life previous to his sickness. He could not read a single word, neither did he seem to have any idea of what it meant. As soon as he became capable of attention, he was taught to read and write, as children are usually taught, and afterwards began to learn the Latin language under the tuition of his brother. One day, as he was reciting a lesson in Cornelius Nepos, he suddenly started, clapped his hand to his head, as if something had hurt him, and made a pause. His brother asking him what was the matter, he said that he felt a sudden shock in his head, and now it seemed to him as if he had read that hook before. By degrees his recollection was restored, and he could speak the Latin as fluently as before his sickness. His memory so completely revived, that he gained a perfect knowledge of the past transactions of his life, as if no difficulty had previously occurred. This event, at the time, made a considerable noise, and afforded, not only matter of serious contemplation to the devout Christian, especially when connected with what follows in this narration, but furnished a subject of deep investigation and learned inquiry to the real philosopher and curious anatomist.
"The writer of these memoirs was greatly interested by these uncommon events; and, on a favourable occasion, earnestly pressed Mr. Tennent for a minute account of what his views and apprehensions were, while he lay in this extraordinary state of suspended animation. He discovered great reluctance to enter into any explanation of his perceptions and feelings, at this time; but, being importunately urged to do it, he at length consented, and proceeded with a solemnity not to be described.
"While I was conversing with my brother,’ said he, ‘on the state of my soul, and the fears I had entertained for my future welfare, I found myself, in an instant, in another state of existence, under the direction of a superior being, who ordered me to follow him. I was accordingly wafted along, I know not how, till I beheld at a distance an ineffable glory, the impression of which on my mind it is impossible to communicate to mortal man. I immediately reflected on my happy change, and thought,—Well, blessed be God, I am safe at last, notwithstanding all my fears. I saw an innumerable host of happy beings surrounding the inexpressible glory, in acts of adoration and joyous worship; but I did not see any bodily shape or representation in the glorious appearance. I heard things unutterable. I heard their songs and hallelujahs of thanksgiving and praise with unspeakable rapture. I felt joy unutterable and full of glory. I then applied to my conductor, and requested leave to join the happy throng; on which he tapped me on the shoulder, and said, ‘ You must return to the earth.’ This seemed like a sword through my heart. In an instant, I recollect to have seen my brother standing before me, disputing with the doctor. The three days during which I had appeared lifeless seemed to me not more than ten or twenty minutes. The idea of returning to this world of sorrow and trouble gave me such a shock, that I fainted repeatedly.’ He added, ‘Such was the effect on my mind of what I had seen and heard, that if it be possible for a human being to live entirely above the world and the things of it, for some time afterwards I was that person. The ravishing sound of the songs and hallelujahs that I heard, and the very words uttered, were not out of my ears when awake, for at least three years. All the kingdoms of the earth were in my sight as nothing and vanity; and so great were my ideas of heavenly glory, that nothing which did not in some measure relate to it could command my serious attention.’
"The author has been particularly solicitous to obtain every confirmation of this extraordinary event in the life of Mr. Tennent. He accordingly wrote to every person he could think of, likely to have conversed with Mr. T. on the subject. He received several answers; but the following letter from the worthy successor of Mr. Tennent, in the pastoral charge of his church, will answer for the author’s purpose:
" ‘MONMOUTH, NEW JERSEY, December 10th, 1805.’
"‘Dear Sir :—Agreeably to your request, I now send you in writing the remarkable accounts, which I sometime since gave you verbally, respecting your good friend, my worthy predecessor, the late Rev. William Tennent, of this place. In a very free and feeling conversation on religion, and on the future rest and blessedness of the people of God, (while travelling together from Monmouth to Princeton,) I mentioned to Mr. Tennent, that I should be highly gratified in hearing, from his own mouth, an account of the trance which he was said to have been in, unless the relation would be disagreeable to himself. After a short silence, he proceeded, saying, that he had been sick with a fever, that the fever increased, and he by degrees sunk under it. After some time (as his friends informed him) he died, or appeared to die, in the same manner as persons usually do; that in laying him out, one happened to draw his hand under the left arm, and perceived a small tremor in the flesh; that he was laid out, and was cold and stiff. The time for his funeral was appointed, and the people collected; but a young doctor, his particular friend, pleaded with great earnestness that he might not then be buried, as the tremor under the arm continued; that his brother Gilbert became impatient with the young gentleman, and said to him, ‘ What! a man. not dead, who is cold and stiff as a stake?’ The importunate young friend, however, prevailed; another day was appointed for the burial, and the people separated. During this interval many means were made use of to discover, if possible, some symptoms of life, but none appeared excepting the tremor. The doctor never left him for three nights and three days. The people again met to bury him, but could not even then obtain the consent of his friend, who pleaded for one hour more; and when that was gone, he pleaded for half an hour, and then for a quarter of an hour; when, just at the close of this period, on which hung his last hope, Mr. Tennent opened his eyes. They then pried open his mouth, which was stiff; so as to get a quill into it, through which some liquid was conveyed into the stomach, and he by degrees recovered.
"‘This account, as intimated before, Mr. Tennent said he received from his friends. I said to him, ‘Sir, you seem to be one indeed raised from the dead, and may tell us what it is to die, and what you were sensible of while in that state.’ He replied in the following words: ‘As to dying—I found my fever increase, and I became weaker and weaker, until all at once I found myself in heaven, as I thought. I saw no shape as to the Deity, but glory all unutterable!’ Here he paused, as though unable to find words to express his views, let his bridle fall, and lifting up his hands, proceeded, ‘I can say, as St. Paul did, I heard and I saw things all unutterable; I saw a great multitude before this glory, apparently in the height of bliss, singing most melodiously. I was transported with my own situation, viewing all my troubles ended and my rest and glory begun, and was about to join the great and happy multitude, when one came to me, looked me full in the face, laid his hand upon my shoulder and said, ‘You must go back.’ These words went through me; nothing could have shocked me more; I cried out, Lord, must I go back? With this shock I opened my eyes in this world. When I saw I was in the world I fainted, then came to, and fainted for several times, as one probably would naturally have done in so weak a situation.
"‘Mr. Tennent further informed me that he had so entirely lost the recollection of his past life, and the benefit of his former studies, that he could neither understand what was spoken to him, nor write, nor read his own name. That he had to begin all anew, and did not recollect that he had ever read before, until he had again learned his letters, and was able to pronounce the monosyllables, such as thee and thou. But, that as his strength returned, which was very slowly, his memory also returned. Yet, notwithstanding the extreme feebleness of his situation, his recollection of what he saw and heard while in heaven, as he supposed, and the sense of divine things, which he there obtained, continued all the time in their full strength, so that he was continually in something like an ecstasy of mind. ‘And’ said he, ‘for three years the sense of divine things continued so great, and everything else appeared so completely vain, when compared to heaven, that could I have had the world for stooping down for it, I believe I should not have thought of doing it.’ "
"It is not surprising, that after so affecting an account, strong solicitude should have been felt for further information as to the words, or at least the subjects of praise and adoration, which Mr. Tennent had heard. But when he was requested to communicate these, he gave a decided negative, adding, ‘You will know them, with many other particulars, hereafter, as you will find the whole among my papers;’ alluding to his intention of leaving the writer hereof his executor, which precluded any further solicitation.* [* Footnote: "It was so ordered, in the course of divine Providence, that the writer was sorely disappointed in his expectation of obtaining the papers here alluded to. Such, however, was the will of heaven Mr. Tennent’s death happened during the revolutionary war, when the enemy separated the writer from him, so as to render it impracticable to attend him on a dying bed; and before it was possible to get to his house, after his death (the writer being with the American army at the Valley-Forge), his son came from Charleston, and took his mother, and his father’s papers and property, and returned to Carolina. About fifty miles from Charleston, the son was suddenly taken sick and died among entire strangers; and never since, though the writer was left executor to the son also, could any trace of the father’s papers be discovered by him."]
"The pious and candid reader is left to his own reflections on this very extraordinary occurrence. The facts have been stated, and they are unquestionable. The writer will only ask whether it be contrary to revealed truth or to reason, to believe that in every age of the world, instances like that which is here recorded have occurred, to furnish living testimony of the reality of the invisible world, and of the infinite importance of eternal concerns?
"As soon as circumstances would permit, Mr. Tennent was licensed, and began to preach the everlasting gospel with great zeal and success. The death of his brother John, who had been some time settled as minister of the Presbyterian church at Freehold, in the county of Monmouth, New Jersey, left that congregation in a destitute state. They had experienced so much spiritual benefit from the indefatigable labours and pious zeal of this able minister of Jesus Christ, that they soon turned their attention to his brother, who was received on trial, and after one year was found to be no unworthy successor to so excellent a predecessor. In October, 1733, Mr. Tennent was regularly ordained their pastor, and continued so through the whole of a pretty long life; one of the best proofs of ministerial fidelity.
"Although his salary was small, (it is thought under £100,) yet the glebe belonging to the church was an excellent plantation, on which he lived, and which, with care and good farming, was capable of maintaining a family with comfort. But his inattention to the things of this world was so great, that he left the management of his temporal concerns wholly to a faithful servant, in whom he placed great confidence. After a short time he found his worldly affairs were becoming embarrassed. His steward reported to him that he was in debt to the merchant between 201. and 301., and he knew of no means of payment, as the crops had fallen short. Mr. Tennent mentioned this to an intimate friend, a merchant of New York, who was on a visit at his house. His friend told him that this mode of life would not do, that he must get a wife to attend to his temporal affairs, and to comfort his leisure hours by conjugal endearments. He smiled at the idea, and assured him it never could be the case unless some friend would provide one for him, for he knew not how to go about it. His friend told him he was ready to undertake the business; that he had a sister-in-law, an excellent woman, of great piety, a widow of his own age, and one peculiarly suited in all respects to his character and circumstances. In short, that she was every thing he ought to look for; and if he would go with him to New York the next day, he would settle the negotiation for him. To this he soon assented. The next evening found him in that city, and before noon the day after, he was introduced to Mrs. Noble. He was much pleased with her appearance; and when left alone with her, abruptly told her that he supposed her brother had informed her of his errand; that neither his time nor inclination would suffer him to use much ceremony, but that if she approved the measure, he would attend his charge on the next Sabbath and return on Monday, be married and immediately take her home. The lady with some hesitation and difficulty at last consented, being convinced that his situation and circumstances rendered it proper. Thus in one week she found herself mistress of his house. She proved a most invaluable treasure to him, more than answering every thing said of her by an affectionate brother. She took the care of his temporal concerns upon her, extricated him from debt, and by a happy union of prudence and economy, so managed all his worldly business that in a few years his circumstances became easy and comfortable. In a word, in her was literally fulfilled the declaration of Solomon, that ‘a virtuous woman is a crown to her husband, and that her price is far above rubies.’ Besides several children who died in infancy, he had by her three sons who attained the age of manhood; John, who studied physic, and died in the West Indies when about thirty-three years of age; William, a man of superior character, and minister of the Independent church in Charleston, South Carolina, who died the latter end of September or beginning of October, A. D. 1777, about thirty-seven years old; and Gilbert, who also practised physic, and died at Freehold before his father, aged twenty-eight years. Few parents could boast three sons of a more manly or handsome appearance; and the father gave them the most liberal education that the country could afford.
"Mr. Tennent’s inattention to earthly things continued till his eldest son was about three years old, when he led him out into the fields on a Lord’s day after public worship. The design of the walk was for religious meditation. As he went along, accidentally casting his eye on the child, a thought suddenly struck him, and he asked himself this question: ‘Should God in his providence take me hence, what would become of this child and his mother, for whom I have never taken any personal care to make provision? How can I answer this negligence to God and to them?’ The impropriety of his inattention to the relative duties of life, which God had called him to, and the consideration of the sacred declaration, ‘that he who does not provide for his own household has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel,’ had such an impressive effect on his mind, that it almost deprived him of his senses. He saw his conduct, which before he thought arose entirely from a deep sense of divine things, in a point of light in which he never before had viewed it. He immediately attempted to return home, but so great was his distress, that it was with difficulty he
could get along; till, all at once, he was relieved by as suddenly recurring to that text of scripture, which came into his mind with extraordinary force: ‘But unto the tribe of Levi Moses gave not any inheritance; the Lord God of Israel was their inheritance.’ Such, however, was the effect of this unexpected scene on Mr. Tennent’s mind and judgment, that ever afterwards he prudently attended to the temporal business of life, still, however, in perfect subordination to the great things of eternity; and became fully convinced that God was to be faithfully served, as well by discharging relative duties in his love and fear, as by the more immediate acts of devotion. He clearly perceived that every duty had its proper time and place, as well as motive; that we had a right, and were called of God to eat and drink, and to be properly clothed; and of course that care should be taken to procure those things, provided that all be done to the glory of God. In the duties of a gospel minister, however, especially as they related to his pastoral charge, he still engaged with the utmost zeal and faithfulness; and was esteemed by all ranks and degrees, as far as his labours extended, as a fervent, useful and , successful preacher of the gospel.
"His judgment of mankind was such as to give him a marked superiority, in this respect, over his contemporaries, and greatly aided him in his ministerial functions. He was scarcely ever mistaken in the character of a man with whom he conversed, though it was but for a few hours. He had an independent mind, which was seldom satisfied on important subjects without the best evidence that was to be had. His manner was remarkably impressive; and his sermons, although seldom polished, were generally delivered with such indescribable power, that he was truly an able and a successful minister of the New Testament. He could say things from the pulpit, which, if said by almost any other man, would have been thought a violation of propriety. But by him they were delivered in a manner so peculiar to himself, and so extremely impressive, that they seldom failed to please and to instruct. As an instance of this, the following anecdote is of the truth of which the writer was a witness, given.
"Mr. Tennent was passing through a town in the state of New Jersey, in which he was a stranger and had never preached, and stopping at a friend’s house to dine, was informed that it was a day of fasting and prayer in the congregation, on account of a very remarkable and severe drought, which threatened the most dangerous consequences to the fruits of the earth. His friend had just returned from church, and the intermission was but half an hour. Mr. Tennent was requested to preach, and with great difficulty consented, as he wished to proceed on his journey. At church the people were surprised to see a preacher, wholly unknown to them, and entirely unexpected, ascend the pulpit. His whole appearance, being in a travelling dress, covered with dust, wearing an old fashioned large wig, discoloured like his clothes, and a long meagre visage, engaged their attention, and excited their curiosity. On his rising up, instead of beginning to pray, as was the usual practice, he looked around the congregation with a piercing eye and earnest attention, and after a minute’s profound silence, he addressed them with great solemnity in the following words: ‘My beloved brethren! I am told you have come here to-day to fast and pray; a very good work indeed, provided you have come with a sincere desire to glorify God thereby. But if your design is merely to comply with a customary practice, or with the wish of your church officers, you are guilty of the greatest folly imaginable, as you had much better have staid at home and earned your three shillings and sixpence, (at that time the stated price for a day’s labour;) but if your minds are indeed impressed with the solemnity of the occasion, and you are really desirous of humbling yourselves before Almighty God, your Heavenly Father, come, join with me, and let us pray. This had an effect so uncommon and extraordinary on the congregation, that the utmost seriousness was universally manifested. The prayer and the sermon added greatly to the impressions already made, and tended to rouse the attention, influence the mind, command the affections, and increase the temper which had been so happily produced. Many had reason to bless God for his unexpected visit, and to reckon this day one of the happiest of their lives.
" The writer having requested of the present Rev. Dr. William M. Tennent a written account of an anecdote relative to his uncle, which he had once heard him repeat verbally, received in reply the following letter:
ABINGTON, January 11th, 1806.
" ‘ Sir—The anecdote of my venerable relative, the Rev. William Tennent, of Freehold, which you wished me to send to you, is as follows:
" ‘During the great revival of religion, which took place under the ministry of Mr. Whitefield, and others, distinguished for their piety and zeal at that period, Mr. Tennent was laboriously active, and much engaged to help forward the work; in the performance of which he met with strong and powerful temptations. The following is related as received in substance, from his own lips, and may be considered as extraordinary and singularly striking.
" ‘ On the evening preceding public worship, which was to be attended next day, he selected a subject for the discourse which was to he delivered, and made some progress in his preparations. In the morning he resumed the same subject, with an intention to extend his thoughts further on it, but was presently assaulted with a temptation, that the Bible which he then held in his hand was not of Divine authority, but the invention of man. He instantly endeavoured to repel the temptation by prayer, but his endeavours proved unavailing. The temptation continued, and fastened upon him with greater strength as the time advanced for public service. He lost all the thoughts which he had on his subject the preceding evening. He tried other subjects, but could get nothing for the people. The whole book of God, under that distressing state of mind, was a sealed book to him; and to add to his affliction, he was, to use his own words, ‘shut up in prayer.’ A cloud, dark as that of Egypt, oppressed his mind.
" ‘ Thus agonized in spirit, he proceeded to the church, where he found a large congregation assembled, and waiting to hear the word; and then it was, he observed, that he was more deeply distressed than ever, and especially for the dishonour which he feared would fall upon religion, through him, that day. He resolved, however, to attempt the service. He introduced it by singing a psalm, during which time his agitations were increased to the highest degree. When the moment for prayer commenced, he arose, as one in the most perilous and painful situation, and with arms extended to the heavens, began with this outcry, ‘Lord, have mercy upon me!’ Upon the utterance of the petition he was heard; the thick cloud instantly broke away, and an unspeakably joyful light shone in upon his soul, so that his spirit seemed to be caught up to the heavens, and he felt as though he saw God, as Moses did on the mount, face to face, and was carried forth to him with an enlargement greater than he had ever before experienced, and on every page of the Scriptures saw his Divinity inscribed in brightest colours. The result was a deep solemnity on the face of the whole congregation, and the house at the end of the prayer was a Bochim. [ Hebrew for: "the weepers", Willison ed.] He gave them the subject of his evening meditations, which was brought to his full remembrance, with an overflowing abundance of other weighty and solemn matter. The Lord blessed the discourse, so that it proved the happy means of the conversion of about thirty persons. This day he spoke of ever afterwards as his harvest-day.
" ‘ I am, yours with esteem,
"‘WILLIAM M. TENNENT.’
"While on this subject, we may introduce another anecdote of this wonderful man, to show the dealings of God with him, and the deep contemplations of his mind. He was attending the duties of the Lord’s day in his own congregation as usual, where the custom was to have morning and evening service, with only a half hour’s intermission, to relieve the attention. He had preached in the morning, and in the intermission had walked into the woods for meditation, the weather being warm. He was reflecting on the infinite wisdom of God, as manifested in all his works, and particularly in the wonderful method of salvation, through the death and sufferings of his beloved Son. This subject suddenly opened on his mind with such a flood of light, that his views of the glory, and the infinite majesty of Jehovah, were so inexpressibly great as entirely to overwhelm him, and he fell, almost lifeless, to the ground. When he had revived a little, all he could do was to raise a fervent prayer that God would withdraw himself from him, or that he must perish under a view of his ineffable glory. When able to reflect on his situation, he could not but abhor himself as a weak and despicable worm, and seemed to be overcome with astonishment, that a creature so unworthy and insufficient had ever dared to attempt the instruction of his fellow-men in the nature and attributes of so glorious a Being. Overstaying his usual time, some of his elders went in search of him, and found him prostrate on the ground, unable to rise, and incapable of informing them of the cause. They raised him up, and after some time brought him to the church, and supported him to the pulpit, which he ascended on his hands and knees, to the no small astonishment of the congregation. He remained silent a considerable time, earnestly supplicating Almighty God (as he told the writer) to hide himself from him, that he might be enabled to address his people, who were by this time lost in wonder to know what had produced this uncommon event. His prayers were heard, and he became able to stand up, by holding the desk. He now began the most affecting and pathetic address that the congregation had ever received from him. He gave a surprising account of the views he had of the infinite wisdom of God, and greatly deplored his own incapacity to speak to them concerning a Being so infinitely glorious beyond all his powers of description. He attempted to show something of what had been discovered to him of the astonishing wisdom of Jehovah, of which it was impossible for human nature to form adequate conceptions. He then broke out into so fervent and expressive a prayer, as greatly to surprise the congregation, and draw tears from every eye. A sermon followed that continued the solemn scene, and made very lasting impressions on all the hearers.* [* Footnote: Mr. Tennent did not confine himself to any particular length in his sermons, but regulated this very much by his feelings. The late Rev. Dr. Spring, of Newburyport, informed the editor, that he and other students of Nassau Hall, walked twenty miles to hear him preach, and the Sermon, measured by the watch, was no more than thirteen minutes in the delivery. ]
"The great increase of communicants in his church was a good evidence of his pastoral care and powerful preaching, as it exceeded that of most churches in the Synod. But his labours were not confined to the pulpit. He was indefatigable in his endeavours to communicate, in private families, a savour of the knowledge of spiritual and divine things. In his parochial visits, he used regularly to go through his congregation in order, so as to carry the unsearchable riches of Christ to every house. He earnestly pressed it on the conscience of parents to instruct their children at home by plain and easy questions, so as gradually to expand their young minds, and prepare them for the reception of the more practical doctrines of the Gospel. In this Mr. Tennent has presented an excellent example to his brethren in the ministry; for certain it is, that more good may be done in a congregation by this domestic mode of instruction than any one can imagine who has not made the trial. Children and servants are in this way prepared for the teachings of the sanctuary, and to reap the full benefit of the word publicly preached. He made it a practice in all these visits to enforce practical religion on all, high and low, rich and poor, young and old, master and servant. To this he was particularly attentive, it being a favourite observation with him, ‘that he loved a religion that a man could live by.’
"Mr. Tennent carefully avoided the discussion of controversial subjects, unless specially called to it by particular circumstances, and then he was ever ready to assign the reason of his faith. The following occurrence will show the general state of his mind and feelings in regard to such subjects. A couple of young clergymen, visiting at his house, entered into a dispute on the question, at that time much controverted in New England, whether faith or repentance were first in order, in the conversion of a sinner. Not being able to determine the point, they agreed to make Mr. Tennent their umpire, and to dispute the subject at length before him. lie accepted the proposal, and, after a solemn debate for some time, his opinion being asked, he very gravely took his pipe from his mouth, looked out of his window, pointed to a man ploughing on a hill at some distance, and asked the young clergymen if they knew that man; on their answering in the negative, he told them it was one of his elders, who, to his full conviction, had been a sincere Christian for more than thirty years. ‘Now,’ said Mr. Tennent, ‘ask him whether faith or repentance came first; what do you think he would say?’ They said they could not tell. ‘Then,’ says he, ‘I will tell you; he would say that he cared not which came first, but that he had got them both. Now, my friends,’ he added, ‘be careful that you have both a true faith, and a sincere repentance, and do not be greatly troubled which comes first.’ It is not, however, to be supposed by this, that Mr. Tennent was unfriendly to a deep and accurate examination of all important theological doctrines. There were few men more earnest than he to have young clergymen well instructed, and thoroughly furnished for their work. This, indeed, was an object on which his heart was much set, and which he exerted himself greatly to promote.
"Mr. Tennent was remarkably distinguished for a pointed attention to the particular circumstances and situation of the afflicted, either in body or mind, and would visit them with as much care and attention as a physician, and frequently indeed proved an able one to both soul and body. But his greatest talent was that of a peace-maker, which he possessed in so eminent a degree, that probably none have exceeded, and very few have equalled him in it. He was sent for, far and near, to settle disputes, and heal difficulties which arose in congregations; and happily for those concerned, he was generally successful. Indeed he seldom would relinquish his object till he had accomplished it.
"But while this man of God was thus successful in promoting the best interests of his fellow creatures, and advancing the glory of his Lord and Master, the great enemy of mankind was not likely to observe the destruction of his kingdom without making an effort to prevent it. As he assailed our blessed Saviour in the days of his flesh, with all his art and all his power, so has he always made the faithful followers of the Redeemer the objects of his inveterate malice. If the good man of whom we write was greatly honoured by peculiar communications from on high, he was also very often the subject of the severe buffetings of that malignant and fallen spirit.
This ends the first half of William Tennent’s amazing Biography. The balance to follow as time permits!