Tennent, William (1)

Tennent, William (1)

a Presbyterian minister and educator, and the father of Gilbert, John, and William Tennent, was born in Ireland in 1673. He received a liberal education in his native country, and was probably a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin. He entered the ministry originally in the Episcopal Church, and was ordained deacon by the bishop of Down, July 1, 1704; and priest, Sept. 22,1706. He emigrated to America in 1718, and immediately changed his ecclesiastical relations, being received into the Presbyterian Church September 17 of the same year. He supplied East Chester and Bedford, N.Y.; Bensalem and Smithfield, Bucks Co., Pa.; and in 1726 accepted a call from the Church at Neshaminy, in the same county, where he spent the remainder of his life. He was but fully settled when he was impressed with the conviction that there were other duties than those of a pastor demanding his attention. The country was in a forming state, and he felt that it was all-important that it should have a right direction. His four sons followed in the footsteps of their godly father, and were consistent Christians. His attention was early directed to the young men who were growing up around him, and who he saw must be educated to become useful members of society. As there were no schools or colleges in that region, he determined to erect a building for educational purposes. His means were limited, and consequently the building must correspond with them. In process of time a log house was erected of humble proportions about a mile from Neshaminy Creek, near to the church. This building was afterwards designated the "Log College," and was the first literary and theological institution of the Presbyterian Church in this country. It was the immediate parent of Princeton College and Theological Seminary, and of all other institutions of a similar character in the Church. The site of the Log College was in every way desirable, commanding as it did an extensive prospect of level, fertile country, bounded by distant hills. The distinguished Whitefield, who visited it in 1739, says of it:

"The place wherein the young men study is a log house about twenty feet long aid nearly as many broad, and to me it seemed to resemble the school of the old prophets, for their habitations were mean; and that they sought not great things for themselves is plain from those passages of Scripture wherein we are told that 'each of them took a beam to build them a house; and that at a feast of the sons of the prophets one of them put on the pot, while the others went to fetch some herbs out of the field, "All we can say of most of our universities is, that they are glorious without. From this despised place seven or eight worthy ministers of Jesus have lately been sent forth; more are almost ready to be sent, and the foundation is now laying for the instruction of many others." Of Mr. Tennent, the founder of this college, but little is known outside of his connection with the institution. Whitefield's journal refers to him thus: "At my return home was much comforted by the coming of one Mr. Tennent, an old gray-headed disciple and soldier of Jesus Christ. He keeps an academy about twenty miles from Philadelphia; and has been blessed with four gracious sons, three of which have been, and still continue to be useful in the Church of Christ. He is a great friend of Mr. Erskine of Scotland, and he and his sons are secretly despised by the synod generally, as Mr. Erskine and his friends are hated by the judicatories of Scotland, and as the Methodist preachers are by the brethren in England." Whitefield further says:

"Set out for Neshaminy, where old Mr. Tennent lives, and where I was to preach to-day according to appointment. About twelve o'clock we came together and found 3000 people assembled in the meeting house yard. Mr. Wm. Tennent, Jr., as we stayed beyond the time, was preaching to them. When I came up he soon stopped, gave out a psalm, which was sung, and then I began to speak as the Lord gave me utterance. At first the people seemed unaffected, but in the midst of my discourse the power of the Lord Jesus came upon me, and I felt such a struggling within myself for the people as I scarce ever felt before; the hearers began to be melted down immediately and to cry much, and we had good reason to hope the Lord intended good for many. After I had finished, Mr. Gilbert Tennent gave a word of exhortation to confirm what had been delivered. After our exercises were over, we went to old Mr. Tennent's, who entertained us like one of the ancient patriarchs. His wife to me seemed like Elizabeth, and he like Zachary. Both, as far as I can learn, walk in the command of the Lord blameless. Though God was pleased to humble my soul so that I was obliged to retire for a while, yet we had sweet communion with each other, and spent the evening in concerting what measures had best be taken for promoting our dear Lord's kingdom. It happened very providentially that Mr. Tennent and his brethren are appointed to be a presbytery by the synod, so that they intend bringing up gracious youths and sending them out from time to time into the Lord's vineyard." Among the ministers sent out from Log College to preach the Gospel were his four sons, Gilbert, William, John, and Charles; Rev. Messrs. Samuel Blair, Samuel J. Finley (afterwards D.D. and president of Princeton College), W. Robinson, John Rowland, and Charles Beatty. In 1742 this venerable man became unable to perform his duties as pastor, and his pulpit was supplied by the presbytery. In 1743 Mr. Beatty was ordained as his successor. His work was nearly done, and of him it may be said, in the language of Dr. Alexander, "The Presbyterian Church is probably not more in debted for her prosperity, and for the evangelical spirit which has generally pervaded her body, to any individual than to the elder Tennent." He died at his loved home in Neshaminy, May 6,1746. His published works consist mostly of sermons, twenty-three of which appear in one volume, 8vo. Two other discourses were also published. Many occasional sermons and pamphlets were published in Philadelphia in 1758. Rev. Samuel Finley, D.D., his former pupil, preached his funeral discourse, which was also published. See Sprague, Annals of the Amer. Pulpit, 3, 23; Genesis Assemb. Miss. Mag. or Evangel. Intell. 2; Alexander, Hist. of Log College; Tennent's Family Record. (W.P.S.)

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