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First Schism in American Presbyterianism

Rev. Gilbert Tennent [5 February 1703 – 23 July 1764]You have already read a couple of days ago about the reunion between the Old Side and New Side Presbyterians on May 25.  We will now turn to the actual schism which took place on May 27, 1741. 

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

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

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 It was repealed the following year, but the resolution showed the problem of the movement.

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

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

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

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

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Laboring Outside the Limelight

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

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

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

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

Also on this Day:
On this day, May 3d, in 1895, Cornelius Van Til was born.

 

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He Was A Double Agent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

The World Turned Upside Down

In writing his journal on November 22, 1739, the Rev. George Whitefield described an evangelistic tour in the year of 1739 through the American colonies.  Coming to the home congregation of Rev. William Tennent, Senior, in Neshaminy, Pennsylvania, Whitefield preached to some 3000 individuals gathered in the yard. After the Word  has been proclaimed in all of its fulness, to the immediate spiritual effect upon the hearers, Whitefield went on to describe the famous forerunner to Princeton Seminary and University, the Log College.  He wrote,

“The place wherein the young men study now is in contempt called the Log College.  It is a Log-house, about Twenty Feet long, and near as many broad; and to me it seemed to resemble the School of the old Prophets. For that their Habitations were mean (low), and that they sought not great things for themselves, is plain from that Passage of Scripture wherein we are told that at the Feasts of the Sons of the Prophets, one of them put on the Pot, whilst the others went to fetch some Herbs out of the Field.  All that can be said of most of our public Universities is, they are all glorious without!  From this despised Place Seven or Eight worthy Ministers of Jesus Christ have lately been sent forth; more are almost ready to be sent, and a Foundation is now laying for the Instruction of many others. The Devil will certainly rage against them, but the Work, I am persuaded, is of God, and therefore will not come to nought. Carnal ministers oppose them strongly; and because People, when awakened by Mr Tennent, or his Brethren, see through, and therefore leave their Ministry, the poor Gentlemen are loaded down with contempt, and looked upon (as all faithful Preachers will be) as Persons that turn the World upside down.”

To George Whitefield, a spiritual battle was commencing between the angel Michael and the devil himself as a result of these Log College graduates going out into the world. Yet  the great revivalist was confidant that God would prevail in the coming struggle.

Words to live by:  There is no  doubt that this tiny theological school had a spiritual influence far beyond its size in the infant Presbyterian church.  Let us learn never to judge any Christian work from the numbers which attend it. Every large church today began as a smaller congregation, sometimes but a handful of committed Christians. The more important question is, is the whole counsel of God being taught and believed and followed? If it is, then that is the church to which you need to commit your soul and body, to say nothing of your spiritual gifts and your time.

Through the Scriptures:  1 Corinthians 1 – 4

Through the Standards:  Dispensing the Lord’s Supper

WCF 29:3
“The Lord Jesus has, in this ordinance, appointed  His ministers to declare His Word of institution to the people; to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to a holy use; and to take and break the bread, to take the cup, and (they communicating also themselves) to give both to the communicants; but to none who are not then present in the congregation.”

Image sources:
1. Engraved portrait of George Whitefield, from The General Assembly’s Missionary Magazine: or Evangelical Intelligencer: For 1806. William P. Farrand, Editor. Vol. II. Philadelphia: Printed for, and Published by, William P. Farrand, No. 170, Market Street. Fry and Kammerer, Printers. 1806. Portrait of Whitefield facing page [401].
2. Frontispiece portrait from The Presbytery of the Log College, by Thomas Murphy. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-school Work, 1889.
Scans prepared by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

 

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

None Excelled Him on Two Continents

Samuel Blair was born in Ireland in 1712 and emigrated to America at a young age.  Educated at the Log College by William Tennent, he was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Philadelphia on November 9, 1733.  Called to two congregations first in New Jersey, he ministered the Word of grace for six years. But it was at Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church in Cochranville, Pennsylvania where he came to have his greatest influence upon colonial America.

Installed there in April of 1740, he began a classical and theological college for pastoral training, similar to what he had received at the Log College. The new school would later produce for the kingdom of grace men like Samuel Davies, apostle to Virginia, John Rodgers, first moderator of the General Assembly, John McMillan, Apostle to western Pennsylvania, Charles Cummings, Robert Smith, Hugh Henry and many others who would make a mark for Christ’s kingdom.

In 1740, a great reawakening came upon the colonies from Massachusetts to Georgia, including Faggs Manor Presbyterian Church. Blair took as his initial text that of our Lord’s words in Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness.”  That priority in the things of the Lord brought a spiritual awakening and revival to the people of that 1730 congregation. Soon, Pastor Blair was engaged in preaching tours all over New England. All of this revival emphasis, plus the question of education for the ministry brought about a schism in the Presbyterian Church in 1741.

In his doctrinal views, Samuel Blair was thoroughly Calvinistic. A spiritual awakening is of the Lord. Period! He did not hesitate to preach on predestination to his people. His pulpit manner was such that Samuel Davies believed no one was more excellent than he was in exposition of the Word of God. When the latter took a trip to England to raise funds for the College of New Jersey, and heard many a fine preacher, he still concluded that none held a candle to Samuel Blair.

Over his grave in the cemetery, at what is now called Manor Presbyterian Church, there is found the following inscription. It says “Here lieth the body of THE REV. SAMUEL BLAIR, Who departed this life The Fifth Day of July, 1751, Aged Thirty-nine Years and Twenty-one Days. In yonder sacred house I spent my breath; Now silent, mouldering, her I lie in death; These lips shall wake, and yet declare A dread Amen to truths they published there.”

Words to live by:  Thirty nine years plus!  Not a large amount of life on this earth was spent by the Rev. Samuel Blair. But his life was not to be measured by the shortness of his life, but rather by what the Holy Spirit accomplished through Him for the sake of the gospel. And when we look at that, Samuel Blair lived a full life for the increase of the kingdom and the edification of the elect. Only one life will soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Through the Scriptures:  John 18 – 21

Through the Standards:  Elements and means of baptism

WCF 28:2
“The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the God, lawfully called thereunto.”

Images from The History of Faggs Manor United Presbyterian Church, 1730-1980, pages 12 and 14, respectively.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

A Pure Ministry was His Concern

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

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

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

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

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

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

Through the Scriptures: Isaiah 46 – 48

Through the Standards: The sins of inferiors against superiors

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

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

First Schism in American Presbyterianism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Through the Scriptures: Psalms 139 – 141

Through the Standards:  Our good works cannot merit  pardon or eternal life

WCF 16:5
“We cannot by our best works merit pardon of sin, or eternal life at the hand of God, by reason of the great disproportion that is between them and the glory to come; and the infinite distance that is between us and God, whom, by them, we can neither profit, nor satisfy for the debt of our former sins, but when we have done all we can, we have done but our duty, and are unprofitable servants: and because, as they are good, they proceed from His Spirit; and as they are wrought by us, they are defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God’s judgment.”;

WLC 78 —  “. . .(believers) best works are imperfect and defiled in the sight of God.”

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