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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 six pence. 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 this unexpected visit, and to reckon this day one of the happiest of their lives.t
* At that time, the stated price for a day's labour.
†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
Abington, January 11th, 1806.
"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 the next day, he selected a subject for the discourse which was to be 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.
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
"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 this 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 avens, 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. 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, your's with esteem,
"WILLIAM M. TENNENT."
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.
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. He 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 in 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.
The time of which we are now speaking was remarkable for a great revival of religion,* in which Mr. Tennent was considerably instrumental, and in which a Mr. David Rowland, brought up with Mr. Tennent at the Log College, was also very remarkable for his successful preaching among all ranks of people. Possessing a commanding eloquence, as well as other estimable qualities, he became very popular, and was much celebrated throughout the country. His celebrity and success were subjects of very serious regret to many careless worldlings, who placed all their happiness in the enjoyment of temporal objects, and considered, and represented Mr. Rowland and his brethren as fanatics and hypocrites. This was specially applicable to many of the great men of the then province of New-Jersey, and particularly to the Chief Justice, who was well known for his disbelief of revelation. There was at this time, prowling through the country, a noted man by the name of Tom Bell, whose knowledge and understanding were very considerable, and who greatly excelled in low art and cunning. His mind was totally debased, and his whole conduct betrayed a soul capable of descending to every species of iniquity. In all the arts of theft, robbery, fraud, deception, and defamation, he was so deeply skilled, and so thoroughly practised, that it is believed, he never had his equal in this country. He had been indicted in almost every one of the middle colonies; but his ingenuity and cunning always enabled him to escape punishment. This man unhappily resembled Mr. Rowland in his external appearance, so as hardly to be known from him, without the most careful examination.
It was not far from A. D. 1744.