A Spiritual Bonfire

Those who have turned the world upside down have come here too.
—ACTS 17:6

Rev. William Tennent Sr. came to America from Ireland in 1716, and five years later he settled in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, just north of Philadelphia. He was at midlife, but his true life’s work was just beginning. He purchased a hundred acres of land and built a log school for the training of pastors. The students, which included his sons, studied there by day and took up lodging in the neighborhood at night. Tennent’s wife, Catherine, cared for the boys like sons. This rough building became the first Presbyterian seminary in America, and the log cabin became a bonfire for the Great Awakening.

On November 22, 1739, celebrated evangelist George Whitefield (pronounced Wit-field) visited the school and found about three thousand people gathered outside. They had come to hear Whitefield, but William Tennent, not knowing when the famous evangelist would arrive, had started the sermon and was preaching away with great power. Seeing Whitefield ride up, Tennent brought his sermon to a rapid close, led the group in singing a psalm, and turned the crowd over to Whitefield.
“At first, the people seemed unaffected,” Whitefield later wrote, “but in the midst of my discourse, the power of the Lord Jesus came upon me, and I felt such a struggling within myself for the people, as I scarce ever felt before. The hearers began to be melted down immediately.”

Whitefield provided us with an important description of Tennent’s Log College:

Turning the world upside down is what the followers of Christ have been doing for two thousand years. When the apostle Paul and his companions ventured into the ancient city of Thessalonica and began preaching the gospel, they won many to Christ. But in the process, they encountered tremendous anger and opposition. The critics railed against them, saying, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.”

I like that phrase! Though it was uttered in disdain, it aptly describes those who hold up the cross of Jesus Christ. We are turning the world upside down.

Tennent’s handful of graduates turned the Colonies upside down as evangelists of the Great Awakening, the massive spiritual revival that swept over the Colonies, bringing multitudes to faith in Christ and changing the fabric of early American culture.

Thomas Murphey wrote:

It is doubtful whether ever before or since then lads were collected in the same school who were afterward to accomplish so much good in their own day, and to send down such streams of blessings to unborn generations. . . . It is absolutely startling to glance at the list of the eminent ministers—great preachers, the greatest in the early annals of our church—who obtained their training for the ministry . . . in this humble institution. . . . They went forth preaching the Gospel in every quarter, bringing thousands of souls to Christ, building up the churches in many regions, establishing schools and academies . . . and starting streams of godly influences that flowed over the whole land, the currents of which have not subsided even to this present day.

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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