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LIFE OF THE REV. WILLIAM TENNENT.
WHEN the late Rev. George Whitefield was last in this country, Mr. Tennent paid him a visit as he was passing through New-Jersey. Mr. Whitefield and a number of other clergymen, among whom was Mr. Tennent, were invited to dinner by a gentleman in the neighbourhood where the late Mr. William Livingston, since governor of New-Jersey, resided, and who, with several other lay gentlemen, were among the guests. After dinner, in the course of an easy and pleasant conversation, Mr. Whitefield adverted to the difficulties attending the gospel ministry, arising from the small success with which their labours were crowned. He greatly lamented, that all their zeal, activity and fervor availed but little; said that he was weary with the burdens and fatigues of the day; declared his great consolation was, that in a short time his work would be done, when he should depart and be with Christ; that the prospect of a speedy deliverance had supported his spirits, or that he should, before now, have sunk under his labour. He then appealed to the ministers around him, if it were not their great comfort that they should soon go to rest. They generally assented, excepting Mr. Tennent, who sat next to Mr. Whitefield in silence; and by his countenance discovered but little pleasure in the conversation. On which, Mr. Whitefield turning to him, and tapping him on the knee, said, "Well! brother Tennent, you are the oldest man amongst us, do you not rejoice to think, that your time is so near at hand, when you will be called VOL. II. C c
home and freed from all the difficulties attending this chequered scene?" Mr. T. bluntly answered, "I have no wish about it.” Mr. W. pressed him again; and Mr. T. again answered, "No Sir,it is no pleasure to me at all, and if you knew your duty, it would be none to you. I have nothing to do with death; my business is to live as long as I can--as well as I can-and to serve my Lord and Master as faithfully as I can, until he shall think proper to call me home." Mr. W. still urged for an explicit answer to his question, in case the time of death were left to his own choice. Mr. Tennent replied, "I have no choice about it; I am God's servant, and have engaged to do his business, as long as he pleases to continue me therein. But now, brother, let me ask you a question. What do you think I would say, if I was to send my man Tom into the field to plough; and if at noon I should go to the field, and find him lounging under a tree, and complaining, Master the sun is very hot, and the ploughing hard and difficult, I am tired and weary of the work you have appointed me, and am overdone with the heat and burden of the day: do master let me return home and be discharged from this hard service? What would I say? Why, that he was an idle lazy fellow; that it was his business to do the work that I had appointed him, until I, the proper judge, should think fit to call him home. Or, suppose you had hired a man to serve you faithfully for a given time in a particular service, and he should, without any reason on your part, and before he had performed half his service, become weary of it, and upon every occasion be expressing a wish to be discharged, or placed in other circumstances? Would you not call him a wicked and slothful servant, and unworthy of the privileges of your employ?" The mild, pleasant, and christian-like manner, in which this reproof was administered, rather increased the social harmony and edifying conversation of the company; who became satisfied that it was very possible to err even in desiring, with undue earnestness, "to depart and be with Christ," which in itself is "far better" than to remain in this imperfect state; and that it is the duty of the christian in this respect to say, "All the days of my appointed time will I wait till my change come."
Among Mr. Tennent's qualifications, none were more conspicuous than his activity both of body and mind. He hated and despised sloth. He was almost always in action-never wearied in well-doing, nor in serving his friends. His integrity and independence of spirit were observable on the slightest acquaintance. He was so great a lover of truth, that he could not bear
the least aberration from it, even in a joke. He was remarkable for his candour and liberality of sentiment, with regard to those who differed from him in opinion. His hospitality and domestic enjoyments were even proverbial. His public spirit was always conspicuous, and his attachment to what he thought the best interests of his country, was ardent and inflexible. He took an early and decided part with his country in the commencement of the late revolutionary war. He was convinced that she was oppressed, and that her petitions to the sovereign of the mother country were constitutional, loyal, moderate, and reasonable; that the treatment they received, was irrational, tyrannical, and intolerable. As he made it a rule, however, never to carry politics into the pulpit, he had no way to manifest his zeal for the public measures, but by his private prayers, and by his decided opinions delivered in private conversations. But, in this way, his sentiments became universally known, and he was considered as a warm friend to the American cause. Notwithstanding these political opinions, he was not blind to the errors of his countrymen, and especially to their moral and religious conduct. The following extract from a letter to the author of these sketches, dated Feb. 14, 1775, strongly marks the temper of his mind. "My very dear Sir, Your kind letter came to hand three days since. Your comforts and sorrows are mine in no small degree; I share with you in both; the tie is such as death cannot dissolve. This is a day of darkness, in my view, and few are in any degree properly affected with it. I have, through grace, perhaps as little to fear for myself, or mine, as any living. I humbly hope we are housed in Jesus; but I am distressed for the nation and land. The ruin of both is awfully threatened; and, though now deferred, may ere long be accomplished, unless reformation takes place. It behoves every one to cry, spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach.' I know God is merciful; he has, notwithstanding, disinherited a people as dear to him as ever we were, whose sins were not more aggravated than ours. The Lord can deliver, but have we reason to think he will, having told us that he will wound the head of his enemies, and the hairy scalps of such, who go on in their trespasses? Is there any appearance of reformation? Yea, is it not the reverse? Are not our meetings for the preservation of our liberty, often abused by excessive drinking? &c. &c. Have not politics taken place of religion in all our conversations? Is it not become unconstitutional (to use the vulgar language) to mention God's name in company, unless by way of dishonouring him? Are not things sacred ne
glected by some, and burlesqued by others? Is not the newspaper substituted for the bible on Lord's days, yea, at church? What will the end of these things be? Blessed be God, through Jesus Christ, he is for a sanctuary."
Mr. Tennent was on a visit, within less than twenty miles of New-York, when a British frigate attempted to pass the batteries, and to proceed up the North River, while general Washington lay with the American army in the city. A very heavy cannonading took place, which was mistaken by the surrounding country for a general attack on our army. Mr. Tennent was deeply affected, and after a violent struggle within himself, he turned to friend or two present, and said, "Come, while our fellow citizens are fighting, let us retire to prayer." They, accordingly, went up into his room, where he most devoutly poured out his soul for about half an hour, in the most fervent prayers, wrestling with God in behalf of his suffering country.
In the winter of 1776-7, the British overran great part of the state of New-Jersey, and particularly the county of Monmouth, where a number of the inhabitants were in the British interests. Such was their apparent power, and the distressed situation of the American army, retreating before them, that it was generally supposed by the people in the country, that the dispute was almost at an end, and that all hopes of successful opposition were nearly extinguished. A British party arose in the county, who seized their fellow citizens, and dragged them to a British provost, where they were treated in the most cruel manner, as rebels and traitors. Even citizens from other parts of the state, who had taken refuge in the county, depending on the known hospitality of the inhabitants, were not respected. In this situation Mr. Tennent very justly thought himself in great danger; but having no place to flee to for safety, he remained at home, committing himself to the protection of almighty God. In the month of Dec. 1776, a number of the inhabitants came to his house, and insisted that he should go to Princeton, without delay, and take the benefit of Gen. Howe's proclamation, offering a pardon to those who should seek it within a limited time. He refused, till he found himself in danger of being taken off and committed to a British provost, which he well knew, was but another word for a lingering death. He also found that, in his present state, his usefulness as a minister of the gospel was at an end, unless he complied with the wishes of the people, most of the whigs of influence having fled. Concluding, that present duty enforced the request which was thus urged upon him, he
promised to go to Princeton. On his way, he lodged at the house of a young clergyman, and, on rising in the morning, he seemed greatly oppressed in spirit. On being asked what troubled him, he answered, with a heavy sigh, "I am going to do a thing for conscience sake, directly against my conscience." Soon after his return home, to the surprise of every body, the British quarters at Trenton were beaten up, and a British regiment taken at Princeton; the American army again advanced, and took a strong position at Morristown, by which the British in their turn, were obliged to retreat and contract their lines to Brunswick and Amboy. The Americans again got possession of the county of Monmouth, where the whigs returned in force. Mr. Tennent's mind was greatly oppressed with his untoward situation, and he severely blamed his untimely submission.
About the latter end of February, or beginning of March, 1777, Mr. Tennent was suddenly seized with a fever, attended by violent symptoms. He sent for his family physician, who was in the act of setting off for the legislature of the state, of which he was a member. He called on his patient on his way, but could spend but a few minutes with him. He, however, examined carefully into Mr. T.'s complaints, and the symptoms attending the disorder. With great candour the physician informed his patient, that the attack appeared unusually violent; that the case required the best medical aid, and that it was out of his power to attend him. He feared that, at his advanced age, there was not strength of nature sufficient to overcome so severe a shock, and that his symptoms scarcely admitted of a favourable prognostic. The good old man received this news with his usual submission to the divine will; for, as he had always considered himself as bound for eternity, he had endeavoured so to live, that when the summons should come, he would have nothing to do but to die. He calmly replied, "I am very sensible of the violence of my disorder, that it has racked my constitution to an uncommon degree, and beyond what I have ever before experienced, and that it is accompanied with symptoms of approaching dissolution; but, blessed be God, I have no wish to live, if it should be his will and pleasure to call me hence." After a moment's pause, he seemed to recollect himself, and varied the expression thus: "Blessed be God, I have no wish to live, if it should be his will and pleasure to call me hence, unless it should be to see a happy issue to the severe and arduous controversy my country is engaged in; but, even in this, the will of the Lord be done."