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Gilbert Tennent

Great industrial concerns have in their employ men who are needed only when there is a breakdown somewhere. When something goes wrong with the machinery, these men spring into action…remove the trouble and get the machinery rolling again. In the kingdom of God things are not too different. God has always had His specialists whose chief concern has been the moral breakdown and the decline in the Spiritual health of the…church…such men appeared at critical moments…to reprove, rebuke, and exhort in the name of God and righteousness…such men were soon branded…as extreme, fanatical, negative…qualities the circumstances demanded…To such men as this the church owes a debt too heavy to pay.”  A.W. Tozer

“The Church that is man-managed instead of God-governed is doomed to failure. A ministry that is college-trained but not Spirit-filled works no miracles.”  Samuel Chadwick

“The Church has halted somewhere between Calvary and Pentecost.”  J.I. Brice

“God never intended His Church to be a refrigerator in which to preserve perishable piety. He intended it to be an incubator in which to hatch out converts.”  F. Lincicome

“Proverbs 27:1 says, ‘Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.’ We have no promise of another day or even another hour, yet we too often live and breathe for the things of this world. What we desperately need is a revelation of eternity, of a real hell, and of a God who is to be loved and feared! If we truly had such a vision, we would not let one day go by without urgently warning the sinner and backslider. We would not let one hour go by without fervently praying for a true heaven sent revival.”  David Smithers

It was that revelation and vision, during a sickness where there would not be a tomorrow, that led Gilbert Tennent to the edge of eternity and to himself. He looked into the eyes of God and saw that his life came up wanting.

Gilbert Tennent was an Irish-born American Presbyterian minister that was a spark, along with Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield that set on fire "The Great Awakening", a revival that spread through-out the thirteen American Colonies. All that, of course, was in the future because Tennent, at that point, had to go through a purging.

In 1728, Tennent, a young minister at that time, became extremely ill with a sickness that was possibly "unto death." The doctors were all certain that he would not recover. It was during this sickness that he turned to the "employment of prayer." He entered into a deep vision, in which he was brought to the edge of eternity. The grief he felt, as he watched all he did in his life become dross in the fire of judgment, brought him to a time of deep repentance. He writes of that time:

"I was then exceedingly grieved I had done so little for God...I therefore prayed to God that he would be pleased to give me one half year more. I was determined to promote His kingdom with all my might and at all adventures."

Suddenly the healing power of God flowed through him like a "burning fire." His prayer was answered. Tennent "was revived in both body and spirit." Since he had seen with his own eyes, he was now a man "consumed with a vision of the holiness of God." Nothing was too hard for him now. He would labor for souls as he never did before saying he would, "Sound the trumpet of God's judgment and alarm the secure by the terrors of the Lord."

As he soon found out, it was not going to be easy. The Christian Church in that day was full of "deadness and formality" full of "sleeping souls" that were under the allusion that they were saved. The Church was full of "pride and obstinacy "teaching as doctrines of God commandments of men (Matthew 15:9). David Smithers remarks:

"It must be remembered that the American Church in the 18TH century would probably have died of dry rot without the spirit-filled ministry of Gilbert Tennent...No one slumbered peacefully when he was around; not even the church. Gilbert Tennent was in truth, the voice of one crying in the wilderness-REPENT!" The shepherds of the sheep, in those days were, weak and to a point unbelieving. One historian of the "Great Awakening" describes the average minister's methods:

"The habit of the preachers was to address their people as though they were all pious and only needed instruction and confirmation. It was not a common thing to proclaim the terrors of a violated law and insist on the absolute necessity of regeneration."

Tennent describes this type of preaching:


They often strengthened the hands of the wicked by promising them life. They comfort people before they convince them; sow before they plow, and are busy in raising a fabric before they lay a foundation. These foolish builders strengthen men's carnal security by their soft selfish, cowardly discourses. They have not the courage or honesty to thrust the nail of terror into the sleeping souls!"

Tennent's preaching was far from the typical of his day. He was criticized by his own denomination's Hierarchy but he would not compromise or tone down his message. One thing was for sure, Tennent, was not going to answer for any man's blood on judgment day (Acts 20:26).

As I sit here typing this story I can't help but see the parallel between the Church of then to the Church of today. Paul, in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, is not describing people in the world but actually people in the Church, a Church that has the form of Godliness but denies its power. Before you say, "Well, you're a little condemning aren't you?" Test the spirit. Too often we in today's Church when faced with a truth that convicts our hearts and nudges us toward change call it condemnation. It's a humanistic response so we can continue living in our deception without feeling guilty. The voices that rise up from the pews in the Church of today say," Edify us, edify us!" A true man of God will reply, "I will not edify a compromising Christian life style that washes over and condones sin; I will not edify a complacent worldly walk that treats the blood of my Savior as a common thing (Hebrews 10:29). They really don't want to be edified they want to be pacified. Friends, the broad road that leads to destruction is over crowded with pacified souls. Leonard Ravenhill writes:

"The schoolmen of the Church have classified "seven deadly sins." We know, of course, that they are wrong, for all sin is deadly. Those seven sins are the womb out of which seventy times seventy million sins have been born...which is devouring this generation at a terrifying rate."

A.W. Tozer pleads:

"What this country needs, what the Church needs, is the restoration of a vision of the Most High God!...There was a day when men believed in the sovereignty of God...The great God of the Bible is the God into whose presence you went with fear (awe). You do not come dashing in wearing your tennis outfit...and then rush out again...The nearest Isaiah ever got...with God... was when he saw Him high and lifted up and cried out ,'O God, O God, I'm an unclean man.' When Daniel started to get (with God)...he fell down and the Lord had to raise him up. When John saw Him, he fell flat on his face...That's the God we want back...we are humanists to a degree now. Evangelicals have backslidden until they are into humanism with a biblical veneer... I pray...that the glory of God might be revealed again to this generation so that the Presence of God will be so overwhelming, so humiliating, so humbling, so wonderful, so glorious that...we will stand or kneel or fall down in the Presence of this Holy God and cry, ‘ Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty."

The Church of today has changed from being all about God to all about us. Our comfort, our ideas, our ways, our prosperity, our problems, and all about what WE want. It would behoove us to pray this precious prayer of apology to God:


"Lord forgive us and change our hearts. We have asked you to perform so that we could be vindicated. We have asked you to perform so that we could be entertained, so that we could be comforted, so that we could be blessed, all so that we could continue pursuing and following the desires of our flesh. We wanted our problems solved so that we could chase after our desires. Like the younger son we have asked for what was ours but we spent it on wasteful living. We wanted to be received by people more than we wanted to be received by you. Lord, please, pardon and forgive our transgressions."  Pastor Danny Waddell

Gilbert Tennent knew there was sin in the camp and the people liked it that way. He was determined "to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant." (Jeremiah 1:10) He went forth and urgently warned the stubborn sinner and hypocrite of a final judgment and eternal hell. The evangelist George Whitefield writes of Tennent:

"Hypocrites must soon be converted or enraged at his preaching. He is a ‘son of thunder' and does not regard the face of man. He is deeply sensible of the deadness and formality of the Christian church in these parts, and has given noble testimonies against it...he preached as if he was never sure he would preach again...as a dying man to dying men."

Tennent's most famous sermon was the one he preached to his own denomination called "On the Danger of an Unconverted Ministry" and it sent shock-waves around the colonies. In this sermon he compared the anti-revivalist ministers to the Pharisees described in the Gospels. In that sermon Tennent states, "I am verily persuaded that the generality of preachers talk of an unknown and unfelt Christ; and the reason many congregations have been so dead is because they have dead men preaching to them." George Whitefield, in his journal, wrote, never before had he heard "such a searching sermon." This all came about because of the revival Tennent was leading in the New Jersey colony. From one end of the colony to the other a great Awakening was brewing that would eventually spread throughout the other twelve colonies. Add to that the recently printed sermon of Jonathan Edwards, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"; the battle lines between the old way and God's way were soon drawn. Opposition to the revival from conservatives in the Presbyterian Church led to a schism. Those against the revival called themselves the "Old Side" while Tennent led the "New Side" but later used his influence to heal the breach.

The revival spread to New England where the same opposition occurred. There was nothing the anti-revivalist could do to stem the tide. "Tennent carried with him the very seeds of revival, and when he preached, revival fire fell. During one of Boston's most severe winters, people waded through the snow day and night for the benefit of hearing the fiery Tennent preach. You could criticize him; you could praise him; but you could not ignore him!"

During all this, one historian writes, "He made prayer his chief and most delightful employment. He would often agonize and travail over the souls who through, pride and obstinacy, refused to be reclaimed."

In 1743, Tennent became the pastor of a newly organized Presbyterian church in Philadelphia, Pa. His anointing for converting souls never left him. He served as the minister in Philadelphia until his death in 1764. As a fellow minister who heard Tennent preach once said:

He convinced me more and more that we can preach the gospel of Christ no further than we have experienced the power of it-in our own hearts."

Another Legacy of Tennent that still lives on today is one of the top Universities in America. His father the Rev. William Tennent built a log cabin to be used as a divinity school. When William died, Gilbert became the overseer of what was called the "Log College." That humble beginning and funds that Tennent solicited from future trustees was the birth of what is now known as Princeton University.

How awesome is the wisdom, wonder and power of our God. He took a lonely, dying, young, 25 year old minister, raised him from his death bed and through that one soul opened the door to a blessed and joyful eternity to hundreds of thousands.

Psalm 119:71 "It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes."

JJ (Dark) Di Pietro
Cane Creek Church
http://www.canecreekchurch.org