« VorigeDoorgaan »
LIFE OF THE REV. WILLIAM TENNENT.
AMONG the duties which every generation owes to those which 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 interpositions 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, VOL. II. N
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 incontestible 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 own 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 late Rev. WILLIAM TENNENT, of Freehold, in the county of Monmouth, in the state of New-Jersey, of whom we write, was the second son of the Rev. William Tennent, minister of the gospel at Neshaminy, in Bucks county, in the state of Pennsylvania. This last gentleman was originally a minister of the church of England, in the then kingdom of Ireland, where he was born and received his education. He was chaplain to an Irish nobleman, but being conscientiously scrupulous of conforming to the terms imposed on the clergy of that kingdom, he was deprived of his living. He now became acquainted with the famous Gilbert Kennedy, of ——, a presbyterian minister, who had also been persecuted for his religious principles, and soon after married his daughter. Finding it difficult to continue at home with any satisfactory degree of usefulness, and his family increasing, after a few years he determined to emigrate to America, where he was encouraged to hope for a greater liberty of conscience, as well as the prospect of being employed in extending the Redeemer's kingdom in that new world. He arrived at Philadelphia in the summer of 1718, with his wife, four sons, and one daughter. His sons were, Gilbert, who was afterwards the pastor of the second presbyterian church in Philadelphia; William, the subject of these memoirs; John, who became pastor of the church at Freehold, and died at the age of twenty-five years; and Charles, afterwards minister of the presbyterian church at Whiteclay creek, whence he removed to Buckingham, in Maryland.
William Tennent, the father, on his first coming to America, settled at East Chester, in the then province of New York, and afterwards removed to Bedford. In a short time he was called to Bucks county, in Pennsylvania, and preached at Bensalem and Smithfield; but soon after settled permanently at Neshaminy, in the same county. Being skilled in the Latin language, so as to speak and write it almost as well as his mother tongue, a good proficient also in the other learned languages, and well read in divinity, he determined to set up a school for the instruction of youth, particularly of those designed for the gospel ministry, as the best service he could render to God and his new adopted country; education being then at a very low ebb. There appeared, in his apprehension, a very large field for the propagation of the gospel, could a sufficient number of faithful labourers be found for so great a harvest. A learned ministry, he well knew, was necessary to the sure foundation of the church of Christ, especially in a new country, so peculiarly exposed to every invader, and where the enemy might so successfully sow tares among the
wheat. In pursuance of this design, he established an academy, and built a house, since known by the name of the log-college.
Soon after his arrival in Bucks county, on full consideration, he left the church of England, and, to enlarge his sphere of usefulness, determined to join the presbyterian church. Accordingly, he applied to the synod of Philadelphia for admission into their communion; and, on due examination, and complying with their stated rules, he was very cordially received. At the first meeting of the synod afterwards, he addressed that venerable body, in an elegant Latin oration, which added greatly to his celebrity, and increased the hopes of his friends as to the success of the institution he had founded. To erect and support such an important seminary of learning, out of his own private purse, at that early period, in a new country just rising from a savage wilderness, and to devote himself to so severe a service, in addition to his pastoral charge, was a boon to his generation, that at this day cannot be easily nor sufficiently appreciated.
His expectations, in a few years, were more than realized. In this institution the principal men of the day, and many of the presbyterian clergy, were educated, and added greatly to the increase and usefulness of their churches. The late Rev. Messrs. Rowland, Campbell, Lawrence, Beatty, Robinson, and Samuel Blair, with many others, were among the number of his pupils, and thought themselves honoured by being considered as sons of this humble seminary. Here also his own four sons received their education, and were prepared for their important services. Had these been the only fruits of that infant academy, America would have reason to rejoice, and to render thanks to that God who directed this gentleman to visit her shores.
His second son, WILLIAM, who is the subject of these sketches, was born on the 3d day of June, 1705, in the county of Antrim, 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 into 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 feit 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