William Tennent Jnr Back from Dead

William Tennent Jnr died on March 8, 1777. He had been born 71 years earlier, on June 3, 1705; the second son of William Tennent Snr, in the county of Armagh, in Ireland. When William had just turned 13 he arrived with his family in America.

William Snr was a fiery evangelist who trained his sons to be men of God. He founded the famous “Log College“, the first Presbyterian theological institution in America.  (It was later to develop into Princeton University).

Here William Jnr and his three brothers were trained for the ministry, despite official opposition. Oldest brother, Gilbert, led his younger siblings to faith and they each became famous for their preaching. Brother John endured a near-death experience that crystallized his conversion and gave great zeal to his evangelistic efforts at Freehold, New Jersey. Under John’s passionate preaching, people would fall to their knees pleading for God’s mercy or sob uncontrollably. Some were carried from John’s meetings in a dead faint.

At the time of John’s conversion William Jnr was also very ill. William had been so intent on passing the requisite examinations by the Presbytery that his health suffered. He became like a living skeleton. One morning, while talking with his brother Gilbert, William died. He was checked for signs of life and finally laid out for burial.

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When the young doctor friend who had been attending William arrived to find him dead the young doctor was sure that there were the faintest signs of life, but no-one else could detect them. Thus it was that an argument ensued between Gilbert and the doctor that delayed the burial for three days. Just when the doctor had stalled as long as he could and William was about to be interred the “dead” man opened his eyes and groaned before falling back into a dead sleep again. His body was cold and hard, his lips discoloured and eyes sunken. But plans to bury him were put aside.

In due course William recovered, but it was a long process. He had no memory of anything prior to his “death” and could no longer read or write, or speak Latin, which he had used fluently before. Gradually his memories returned and he regained his full recollection and prior learning.

However, he also admitted to a glorious ‘after-death‘ experience. “I was accordingly wafted along, I know not how, till I beheld at a distance an ineffable glory, the impression of which on my mind it is impossible to communicate to mortal man. I immediately reflected on my happy change, and thought, Well, blessed be God! …  I saw an innumerable host of happy beings surrounding the inexpressible glory, in acts of adoration and joyous worship; but I did not see any bodily shape or representation in the glorious appearance. I heard things unutterable. I heard their songs and hallelujahs of thanksgiving and praise, with unspeakable rapture. I felt joy unutterable and full of glory.”

William was told he had to return to life, which greatly disappointed him. He woke to hear Gilbert and the doctor arguing and fainted with sorrow at missing the glories of heaven. Heaven’s sounds stayed with him every waking moment for more than three years.

When he took up preaching for John’s Freehold revival, then leading it after John’s death in 1732, he had great effect as a preacher. His near-death experience fired the imagination of his audiences and gave great authority to his words.

Visions and wonderful encounters with God and His Word occurred several times in William’s life. He had a vision of Christ while praying the woods and was carried back to the night meeting by the church elders, where he preached powerfully. Another time he had revelation of the scriptures and saw God’s divinity as he had never seen it before. Thirty souls were converted when next he preached.

One of the strangest experiences is when he awoke in the middle of the night “to discover that several toes of his foot had been cut off as if by some sharp instrument…” The missing digits were nowhere to be found.  William Jnr was convinced that the devil himself was responsible.  Others have suggested rats … or even an accident during sleepwalking.

William and Gilbert had profound impact on the Presbyterian churches in their Philadelphia Synod, promoting pursuit of sound conversion, strong faith and effective ministry. In the revival meetings which they were devoted to they avoided anything that was not soundly in line with Biblical doctrine, while allowing for visions, trances and revelations as long as they affirmed the truth, and did not draw one away from it.

And as we common in Presbyterian revivals, as seen in the Cambuslang Revival in Scotland, people would gather for Sacramental gatherings which ran for several days and which sought to affirm a person’s conviction of salvation, which was then celebrated by the taking of the Communion. In 1744 William used Sacramental gatherings in Hopewell and Maidenhead, in order to create a new church. Another biographical note regarding William is that he was a friend of the poor.

Rev William Tennent Jnr died in New Jersey at the age of 72.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield as a Prince at Princeton

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (BBW) was born near Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.A., on November 5th, 1851.

His early life on the farm left him with a life-long passion for farming and especially horses, and became a leading world authority on short-horn cattle.

He graduated from Princeton University “with highest honours” in 1871. The following year, at age 21, he acknowledged the claim of Christ on his life and entered Princeton Seminary to prepare for the ministry.

Warfield graduated in 1876 and married Annie Kinkead. He was studying in Leipzig and so the couple honeymooned in Germany. While walking in the Harz Mountains the pair were caught in a terrible thunderstorm. Some say that Annie “was struck by lightning and permanently paralysed” (Great Leaders of the Christian Church, Moody Press, page 344).

Whether that is the case or not, she was traumatised from the experience and never recovered, being an invalid for the rest of her life, needing Warfield’s constant care. For the next 39 years Warfield “seldom left home for more than two hours at a time”.

He became Professor of New Testament at a Presbyterian college, and in 1887 he succeeded A.A.Hodge as a Professor of Theology at Princeton and kept that post until his death 33 years later. He also edited the Presbyterian Review.

In the 1920’s ten volumes of his larger collected writings were published, and in the 1960’s two volumes of his shorter writings were also published. Those books and volumes of his sermons are in print today and are read more widely than in his life-time.

His book, Counter Miracles (1918), was a strong defence of the cessationist viewpoint.

His Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (1948) “asserted that verbal inspiration had been perfect in the original manuscripts” (Dictionary of Religious Biography, page 492).

His writings in defence of Calvinism are also worthy of mention.

He was an excellent lecturer, using a Socratic dialogue quiz style to prompt his students to examine the subject at hand. His writings were described by Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “His mind was so clear and his literary style so chaste and lucid that it is a real joy to read his works and one derives pleasure and profit at the same time.”

Warfield preached vividly. Once he illustrated the difference between fate and providence with a story of a Dutch boy who disobeyed his father and played near a windmill. Going too close he suddenly found himself picked up from the ground hanging upside down as a series of blows were rained upon him. What horror, caught in the machine! He thought his end had come. But when he opened his eyes he discovered the windmill’s sail that had taken him up but his own father had. He was receiving the threatened punishment for his own disobedience. He wept, not with pain but with relief and joy. He now new the difference between falling into a machine and into the loving hands of a father. That is the difference between fate and predestination.

On Christmas Eve, 1920, Professor BBW suffered a stroke – he recovered enough to resume his classes on 16 February, 1921, but died that night as a result of a further stroke.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Samuel Davies Preaches His Own Funeral

Samuel Davies was born in Delaware, USA, on November 3, 1723.

His Welsh parents were deeply religious. Davies later said, ‘I am a son of prayer, like my namesake, Samuel the prophet, and my mother called me Samuel, because, she said, I have asked him of the Lord’.

Converted at the age of 12 he was admitted to the Presbyterian church at age 15.

When the Rev Samuel Blair opened his famous school at Fagg’s Manor, Pennsylvania, Samuel Davies was put under him and there completed his formal education. Rev Blair was an outstanding preacher and years later Davies, having heard preachers on the continent as well as in the USA he declared that none could compare with his old schoolmaster Blair.

He was ordained by the Presbyterians and became one of their outstanding evangelists. The year of his ordination, 1747, his wife of one year died. Bereaved and weak he thought he was going to die, so he determined to preach with as much effect as possible so he could have treasures in heaven.

One of Davies’ friends wrote of him, ‘’Finding himself upon the borders of the grave, and without any hopes of a recovery, he determined to spend the little remains of an almost exhausted life, as he apprehended it, in endeavouring to advance his Master’s glory in the good of souls; and as he told me — he preached in the day, and had his hectic by night and to such a degree as to be sometimes delirious’.

He did recover and a year after the death of his wife he married Jean Holt who bore him three sons and two daughters.

He took up a very effective pastorate in Hanover County, Virginia, where 150 families invited him to come. This placement proved to be very successful. At first he preached at five meeting houses, and then seven in six counties, and later as many as fourteen separate meeting places over which he had charge. Some of these were more than 30 miles from one another. Like Whitefield and Wesley, he read while riding on horseback from one charge to another, being all alone in that vast wilderness.

One preaching house accommodated 500 people, but at times the meetings had to be held outdoors to accommodate the crowds.

We are told “his ministerial dignity and solemn demeanour inspired awe. Numbers flocked to hear a man … who preached the solemn truths of the gospel in a style that arrested their attention and impressed their hearts” (Cyclopaedia of Religious Biographies, page 155).

He visited England with fellow preacher, Gilbert Tennent, and his preaching was so outstanding that King George II heard him preach by royal invitation.

He was one of the preachers used by God in the Great Awakening, which resulted in the conversion of multitudes. He led many negroes to faith, teaching them to read and giving them books which were sent to him by supporters in England. His effectiveness in winning souls was exemplary.

Back in America Samuel Davies followed Jonathan Edwards to the presidency of “The College of New Jersey”, later to become Princeton University.

Early the following year he preached on “This year thou shalt die” (Jeremiah 28:16). He preached to the Princeton students saying, ‘And it is not only possible, but highly probable, death may meet some of us within the compass of this year. Perhaps I may die this year’. One month later (4 February, 1761) he was called home, so he effectively preached his own funeral service. He was just 36 years old.

His great hymn is still sung today:
Great God of wonders! All Thy ways are matchless, Godlike and divine;
But the fair glories of Thy grace more Godlike and unrivalled shine:
Who is a pardoning God like Thee? Or who has grace so rich and free?

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.