How The Log College
Relates to the
Heresy of Decisional Regeneration
The Log College, by Archibald Alexander, is Historical Revisionism. In 1838, there was a struggle for the mind and heart of the Presbyterian Church. The Heresy trial of Lyman Beecher had just resulted in the revocation of the Plan of Union and the Princeton-based Scottish Common Sense Realists gained control of the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1837 (See Auburn Declaration for the significance of this event).
Since the New School Presbyterians claimed the Old School Presbyterians were resisting the Holy Spirit just as they did in the First Great Awakening, it became politically expedient to re-write history to make it look like Princeton Theological Seminary was a continuation of the heritage of the Log College. Nothing could be further from the truth. That heritage ended when John Witherspoon took over the College of New Jersey (later called Princeton) seventy years before in 1768, and the Scottish Common Sense Realists of 1838 were just as apposed to religious affections and the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit as their Old School ancestors in 1738.
The Old School Presbyterians sabotaged the Log College in1738 (the height of the First Great Awakening) by requiring that any ministerial candidate who did not have a degree from a New England college or a European university would have to submit to a special examination by the Synod. This was clearly an attack on the Log College which contributed to the Old Side - New Side split in 1741.
Archibald Alexander, author of The Log College, like all Scottish Common Sense Realists, had abandoned the supernatural view of the activity of the Holy Spirit and demons acting upon the flesh that epitomized Jonathan Edwards’ description of the First Great Awakening and sided with William Graham’s psychological explanation of “religious affections” (see John Blair Smith Versus William Graham). His Enlightenment skepticism replaced faith in Biblical supernatural spirituality with faith in metaphysical material causation psychology.
Because Old School Presbyterians had resisted the movement of the Holy Spirit, New Light Presbyterians started rival churches during and after the First Great Awakening. When the Log College ceased around 1742, pro-revival Presbyterians quickly built the College of New Jersey to continue the education of New Light ministers.
The College of New Jersey (later called Princeton) was formed precisely to be an American New Light alternative to Harvard and Yale which were anti-revival. In 1742, David Brainerd was kicked out of Yale because he suggested that a certain instructor at Yale had less of the Holy Spirit than a chair. Jonathan Edwards tried to have him reinstated, but to no avail. Some said, “if it had not been for the treatment received by Mr. Brainerd at Yale, New Jersey College would never had been erected.”
The College of New Jersey taught the American New Light Calvinist theology of Jonathan Edwards until he died and John Witherspoon was made president in 1768. If Edwards had been alive when Witherspoon was brought in, I have no doubt he would have vehemently resisted the appointment the way he resisted the Old Light sabotage of the Log College in 1738. Witherspoon replaced Biblical supernatural spirituality with Enlightenment metaphysical material causation psychology. All manifestations of the Holy Spirit were liable then to be called “enthusiasm”.
In 1838, it became expedient for so-called Old School Presbyterians (really a diverse group led by Scottish Common Sense Realists) to recast an embarrassing chapter of history as the “good old days”.
Alexander’s attempt at rewriting history was not unprecedented. Jesus commented on the rewriting of Jewish religious leaders when he said,
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. (Matt 23:29-31).
Alexander summed up the way he wanted readers to see the First Great Awakening this way:
“Many of those of the Old Side, manifested a malignity of spirit against the revival, which was wicked to the extreme, I entertain no doubt. I have heard so much from aged persons who were living in the midst of the revival; and even the subjects of it (the subjects are those who experienced religious affections, those people who tell the stories of the activity of the Holy Spirit), have given me accounts of the malign spirit with which the whole work was ridiculed and apposed, by many, that I cannot doubt, that, in a good degree, the contest between the two parties, was between the friends (of true religion) and enemies of true religion.
And the same spirit of hostility to revivals was handed down to our times. I have known men of high standing in the church, and undoubted learning, who derided every account of revivals, and sudden conversions, as fanatical and foolish.
Sudden conversions are impossible according to Scottish Common Sense Realism for the same reason sudden conversions were impossible according to deism – they do not believe the Biblical view that conversion is a supernatural change of character. Because they think God does not affect people immediately, conversion is limited to metaphysical material causation psychology, which must take place over a period of time. This means conversion must be a long-term process. Scottish Common Sense Realists are forced to believe that legal regeneration (experimental regeneration as immediate change of character is impossible according to their view) must take place long before the subject knows they are converted. You can see how this view evolved into the idea of making a decision for Christ being merely a change of direction (BIST), and not the orthodox view of regeneration being an immediate change of character (BEST).
It is, therefore, my deliberate opinion, that in the general, the Tennents
The father William Tennent (1673-1746) started the Log College as an evangelistic alternative to anti-revival Yale and Harvard. When George Whitefield was apposed by the Old Lights, the Tennents gave him hope. Whitefield said of the Log College, “From this despised place seven or eight worthy ministers of Jesus have lately been sent forth; more are almost ready to be sent, and the foundation is now laying for the instruction of many others…he and his sons are secretly despised by the synod generally…as the Methodist preachers are by the brethren in England."
The reason the Tennents and the Log College was despised by the Old Lights is they promoted a supernatural view of regeneration and religious affections. Here is Whitefield’s description of the activity of the Holy Spirit on a crowd of 3,000 assembled by Tennent: “At first the people seemed unaffected, 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 and to cry much, and we had good reason to hope the Lord intended good for many.”
Alexander wanted the Princeton of 1838 to be seen as the heir of the Log College of 1738 without the embarrassing “enthusiasm” of religious affections. He said, “The Presbyterian Church is probably not more indebted for her prosperity, and for the evangelical spirit which has generally pervaded her body, to any individual than to the elder Tennent."
The first born son Gilbert Tennent (1703- 1764) helped bring about the division of the Presbyterian Church in 1741 (according to Alexander) when he preached his "Nottingham Sermon", described by Alexander as "one of the most severely abusive sermons that were ever penned”. Gilbert pastored a New Light Presbyterian church after the split from the Old Lights.
The second born son William Tennent, Jr, (1705-1777) pastored the Presbyterian church of his brother John (see below) after he died, but is most remembered for his description of a three day trance, something Scottish Common Sense Realists (and most modern American Christians because of the re-writing of American history) would dismiss or ridicule as “enthusiasm”. Readers who think “Charismatic Chaos” started with the Azusa Street Revival are woefully ignorant of the supernatural basis of the Great Awakenings and the great divide between American New Light Calvinism and Scottish Common Sense Realism. Please read the Life of the Rev. William Tennent, Including his Three Day Trance. I agree with the sentiment of that book: “The writer will only ask, whether it be contrary to the revealed truth, or to reason, to believe, that in every age of the world instances like that which is here recorded have occurred, to furnish living testimony of the reality of the invisible world, and of the infinite importance of eternal concerns.”
The third born son John Tennent (1706-1732), pastored a Presbyterian church which experienced dramatic religious affections in the First Great awakening.
The fourth born son Charles Tennent ( )
John Blair 1720-1771, Vice-President of College of new Jersey (later called Princeton) in 1769, was a revivalist vehemently apposed by Old Lights.
Samuel Blair 1712-1751, Presbyterian pastor, was a revivalist vehemently apposed by Old Lights who taught Samuel Davies (see below).
and their coadjutors (assistants),
Samuel J. Finley 1715-1766, was a revivalist vehemently apposed by Old Lights, a
pastor of a New Brunswick Presbyterian church near the time of the split, and President of College of New Jersey (later called Princeton) from 1761-1766.
William Robinson “one-eye Robinson”( 1700? -1746) was a revivalist vehemently apposed by Old Lights, a pastor of a New Brunswick Presbyterian church near the time of the split, and evangelist that paved the way for the Virginia revival of 1747 and the work of Samuel Davies.
Samuel Davies (1723-1761) was educated by Samuel Blair (see above) and evangelized Virginia while it was antagonistic (and illegal) for non-Anglican ministers to do so. It was Davies that enabled the Southern Great Awakening by ignoring the state-sponsored Anglican monopoly. It was a great compliment to John Blair Smith (1756-1799) that he was said to be "at once more attractive and powerful than any other clergyman in Virginia from the time of Samuel Davies." Davies disregarded the lethargy of many Old Lights views of the providence of God and laid a foundation for Smith’s “freedom to dissent” success. Many New Lights grew the Presbyterian Church while many Old Lights wrung their hands and fretted over the sovereignty of God being thwarted.
John Rowland ( ) is remembered most for his unwitting part in a deception played upon a pious family in the Tom Bell affair, Rowland was persecuted in the courts, as well as the pulpits.
Charles Beatty (1715-1772) was a revivalist vehemently apposed by Old Lights,
Licensed by the New Brunswick Presbytery near the time of the split, served as a missionary.
were men approved of God, and greatly honored, as the instruments of winning many souls to Christ; while their opponents, were for the most part, unfriendly to piety. But while I consider the ministers of the New Brunswick presbytery, and their coadjutors, as the real friends and successful promoters of true religion, in this land, I do not mean to exonerate them from all blame.
They were men, and liable to human imperfections. Some of them were men of ardent (passionate) temperament, and somewhat overbearing (aggressively haughty or arrogant) disposition; and under the influence of a fervid zeal, they did and said many unadvised things. When the state of the church became more settled, and the warmth of their feelings had subsided, they themselves viewed matters in a very different light from what they had done, in the heat of controversy.
The Log Cabin by Archibald Alexander is an attempt to assume the mantle of the First Great Awakening while ignoring the way the First Great Awakening was understood by those who were part of it. Alexander’s view of religious affections is completely apposed to that of George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, the Tennents, the Blairs and others that Alexander will hold up as heroes of the faith.
Alexander starts by debunking the significance of Plymouth Rock, using it as an example of how religious people can be duped by religious affections that are nothing more (according to Alexander) than “natural sympathy”. “Though there may be an excess in the emotions cherished by some, and an affectation of lively interest in others; yet, it cannot be doubted, that there is a foundation in human nature for the interest which is excited by particular objects, places, and scenes.”
Here comes the sermon against religious affections being superstitious nonsense, or worse, idolatry…
“And the more intimately these associations are related to religion, the deeper and more permanent the feeling becomes. By the abuse of this principle much superstition has been generated; but the moderate and judicious use of it may, undoubtedly, be conducive to piety. Sacred, or holy places, figure largely in all false systems of religion.”
The knowledgeable reader understands Alexander is attacking “religious affections”. His theology considers “religious affections” to be nothing more than “natural sympathy” (click here to read his skeptical view of religious affections). In order to re-write history, Alexander will now praise the New Light ministers his theological ancestors persecuted. He starts with George Whitefield’s journal account of William Tennent, the founder of the Log College, and his family.
November 13, 1739…we were refreshed by the company of Mr. Gilbert Tennent, an eminent dissenting minister, about forty years of age, son of that good old man who came to me on Saturday, at Philadelphia. God, I find, has been pleased greatly to bless his labors. He and his associates are now the burning and shining lights of this part of America. He recounted to me many remarkable effusions of the Blessed Spirit, which have been sent down among them…And one may judge of their being true and faithful soldiers of Jesus Christ, because they are every where spoken evil of, by natural men. The devil and carnal ministers rage horribly against them.
Had Archibald Alexander lived during the First Great Awakening, he likely would have been among the “carnal ministers” that raged horribly. He saw Whitefield as a superstitious simpleton who did not understand that psychology is the reason for religious affections. (Click here to read about the Scottish Common Sense Realism chimera (fantasy) of psychology answering all questions of why men sin and why men stop sinning).
While Whitefield describes Gilbert Tennent as a soldier of Christ effused by the Holy Spirit, engaged in a desperate spiritual struggle against the powers of darkness, Alexander has a psychological explanation:
“Mr. Tennent must have been enflamed with a very ardent zeal, situated as he was, the pastor of a church, and the father of a family, to set off in the depth of winter, to preach to a strange people, among whom he probably had not a single acquaintance, either among the clergy or the laity. But invincible resolution was a prominent trait of his character.”
Alexander deals with the embarrassing Old Light resistance to the Holy Spirit.
On the subject of this great revival, which extended from Massachusetts to Georgia, the ministers of the synod were greatly divided. For while some approved the work, and were principle instruments in promoting it, a majority considered it an ebullition of enthusiasm, which tended neither to the glory of God, nor to the real benefit of immortal souls. And concerning Mr. Whitefield and his preaching, there was an entire dissention.
So successful has been the rewriting of history that this may be the first time many readers learn that most Presbyterian ministers apposed Whitefield.
And this difference, relating to the great and vital interests of religion, produced exasperation. The friends of revival considered all who apposed it, as setting themselves in opposition to a glorious work of God’s grace, and they could not but view all who openly spoke against the revival, or opposed it in any way, to be the enemies of God. Hence, they took up the opinion, that all those ministers who disapproved the work, were unconverted men; that they were mere formalists, and knew nothing of the vital power of religion; but trusted to a mere profession of orthodoxy, and that if in words they did not deny the truths of God, they did, in fact: and though they might acknowledge the truth in theory, it was with them a “dead orthodoxy,” which they held in unrighteousness.
As Alexander continues, you will hear the reformers (Whitefield and Gilbert Tennent) being claimed as a heroes, even as he condemns them for the way the reforms were brought about.
They charged the leaders in the revival with the terrors of the law, and the torments of the encouraging enthusiastic raptures, and making religion consist too much in strong emotion, and violent excitement, attended often with bodily affections. They were also greatly offended with the harsh, uncharitable spirit with which they were denounced, and misrepresented, by the preachers on the other side; and their opposition to no one, unless Mr. Whitefield be an exception, was greater than Mr. Gilbert Tennent.
Whitefield denounced many unsympathetic Presbyterian ministers as being unregenerate. These ministers had “Owned the Covenant”, which was similar to today’s intellectual assent “decision for Christ”, but they were not born again. The Presbyterian leadership in 1838 preferred unregenerate, seminary trained minister over born again Log College enthusiasts.
Whitefield inspired two debates that still rage today in evangelical churches.
1) The value of religious education of ministers without regeneration.
2) The value of “owning the covenant” (making a decision for Christ) of church members without regeneration.
If American evangelicals are honest, they will agree with Billy Graham, that perhaps only 20% of church members have experienced regeneration. In the First Great Awakening, the Presbyterian leadership resisted attempts to “wake up” congregations to the truth. Because of the heresy of decisional regeneration, the modern equivalent of “owning the covenant” has once again replaced regeneration as the evidence of salvation.
It cannot be doubted that before the commencement of this extraordinary revival of religion, the Presbyterian Church in America, was in a deplorable state of deadness and formality; and that the necessity of a change of heart was very little inculcated from the pulpit, or understood by the people.
Mr. Gilbert Tennent felt himself called in providence to attempt to arouse the Presbyterian church from its profound sleep of carnal security, and to bring about a reformation in the body; but the majority of the clergy were apposed to his measures and disparaged what has already been done…They were not the enemies of vital godliness, but were apposed to what they apprehended to be spurious religion.
So said the Pharisees that sent out Saul to prevent the activity of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts.
Let’s examine this statement:
“They were not the enemies of vital godliness, but were apposed to what they apprehended to be spurious religion.” Alexander would have us believe that Old Light ministers wanted revival, but not revival that questioned the established order. They wanted people to repent, but not ministers pointing out the need to repent. They wanted progress without problems, improvements without challenges, new wine in old wineskins, new cloth on old garments.
We may now see that they erred in their judgment,
As did the Pharisees and Saducees, who built the tombs of the prophets they persecuted.
And pursued a course which was very injurious to the people under their care. And that they committed a great fault in opposing a glorious work of God on account of some irregularities which accompanied it.
But Alexander wants the reader to think Tennent was wrong to condemn the old Lights, and Whitefield was wrong to call attention to the scandal of unregenerate ministers.
The Tennents and Blairs
felt, as did the apostles, and first reformers, that they were called to go everywhere preaching the gospel, without regard to prescribed limits of presbyteries or congregations;
Before the nineteenth century, churches were seen as having a monopoly in a community. Traveling preachers were obligated (often by law) to get permission from the local minister to address the people.
especially, as they observed, that many pastors neglected to inculcate on their hearers, the necessity of a change of heart, and that the people were as really perishing from a lack of knowledge, as they were under Jewish or Popish instructors. They felt themselves bound, therefore, to preach far and wide, wherever the people would hear them; and although there was irregularity in this, judging by human and ecclesiastical rules; yet I doubt not, that in the main, their zealous and exhausting labours have met with a large reward.
Between the contending parties, there existed, really no difference on doctrinal points; except that the New Side were blamed for dwelling too much on the terrors of the law, and insisting too strongly on the necessity of legal conviction of sin.
This is either a deliberate lie, or Alexander is deluded. Regeneration as a change of nature is a different doctrine than regeneration as a change of direction. Religious affections from supernatural forces is a different doctrine than religious affections from natural sympathy.
William Tennent describes the awakening of his brother John’s congregation in 1744:
Such as have been converted were every one of them prepared for it by a sharp law-work of conviction, discovering to them in a heart-affecting manner, their sinfulness both by nature and practice, as well as their liableness to damnation for their original and actual transgressions. Neither could they see any way in themselves by which they would escape the divine vengeance; for that their whole life past, was not only a continued act of rebellion against God, but their present endeavors to better it, such as prayers, etc., were so imperfect, that they could not endure them, and much less, they concluded, would a holy God. They all confessed the justice of God in their eternal perdition; and thus seeking relief by faith in Christ alone.
Religious affections usually begin as Law Works, in which the Holy Spirit illuminates and convicts the sinner of his desperate condition. This was the way people knew their need of salvation, and knew they needed to repent and submit to God. There was no rush to salvation, no “decision for Christ” that would stop all strivings.
The conviction of some has been instantaneous; by the Holy Spirit’s applying he law to the conscience, and discovering to the eye of the understanding, as it were, all their heart deceits very speedily; by which they have been stabbed as with a sword. But the conviction of others, has been in a more progressive way. They have had discovered them, one abomination after another, in life; and from thence were led to behold the fountain of all corruption in the heart; and thus were they constrained to despair of life by the law, and consequently to flee to Jesus as the only hope, and so rest entirely on his merit for salvation….
After a short or long time, some seekers experienced religious affections that assured them that God loved them and Jesus Christ had died for them. These Biblical Evidences of Salvation (BEST) were the reason many hoped they were saved. Up until the twentieth century, ministers and seekers used the term “hopefully saved”, because regardless of the most dramatic religious affections, “the heart is desperately wicked, who can know it”. The early church, during times of persecution, did not baptize converts for at least two years, so they could return to the world without harming the church. Up until the nineteenth century, Calvinist and Arminian churches would not baptize converts immediately, and would examine converts for evidence of regeneration before admitting them into full membership. (The Restoration churches were not considered Calvinist or Arminian in the nineteenth century). It was only after Billy Sunday introduced decisional regeneration in 1914 that ministers stopped using the term “hopefully saved” because it was politically incorrect to question, if someone who made a “decision for Christ” whether they were born again.
They were enabled to behold the valuable mercies of the covenant of grace, freely tendered to the vilest transgressors that were poor in their own eyes, sin-sick, weary and wounded, together with the ability and willingness of the Lord Jesus to relieve them from all evils, they either feared or felt. With this way of salvation their souls were well pleased, and thereupon, have ventured their case into his hands, expecting help from him only; who has given them both peace and rest; yea, filled some of them with joy unspeakable and full of glory. I remember not of any that received their first comforts otherwise.
Now Tennent discusses why converts who hoped they were saved questioned their salvation, even though they experienced religious affections (first comforts), which seemed at the time to be Biblical Evidence of Salvation (BEST). The alternative to this is what we have today – people do not question their salvation because they assume they are saved because they Believed In Scripture (BIST).
Some few have retained their confidence in God ever since, without any considerable questionings of their state, although they have not always tasted the comforts of it. But the most, by far, have questioned all, and doubted it was a delusion.
Translation: A few of these have not questioned whether their religious affections were evidence of salvation, although they have not consistently experienced righteousness peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. But the most, by far, have questioned whether their religious affections were evidence of salvation, and found they were not deluded in thinking their religious affections were evidence of salvation.
The next appraisal would have helped 17 year old Archibald Alexander before William Graham ruined him. Religious affections are often an indication of regeneration, but newly regenerate persons will naturally question whether or not they are saved when they are tempted to sin the very sins they repented of. This is not necessarily an indication that they were not regenerate. This is most often an extended period of self-discovery when the saint looks to God for deliverance.
It is preferable if this period of self-discovery takes place before regeneration, in which case it is called Law Works. But if it takes place before regeneration, the seeker does not have the power to overcome sin. This drives him to a place of utter desperation and resignation that only God can change him. If it takes place after regeneration, the seeker does have the power to resist sin, but he is also driven to a place of utter desperation and resignation that only God can keep them (“As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him” Collosians 2:6).
This I suppose is generally owing to the remains of corruption, which blot the evidences of grace in good men, so that they can hardly read them; and particularly, to the awful sin of unbelief; together with the prevalence of a legal spirit, which presses them to perfect holiness on pain of death, and because they cannot obtain that, they conclude they are unsanctified, (unregenerate) and have no right in Christ.
I might add the ignorance of mortification; they seem to think that in the justified, sin is killed in its being, as well as governing power; and therefore, because they feel their old sins sometimes stirring in them, they conclude that all is wrong; nay, although they hate the doctrine of perfection as held by some, yet because they are not perfect they think they have no grace.
But however distressing it is for them to feel their own imperfections, it helps to persuade me that they are regenerate, else it would not be so; sin would not be their chief burden, in a general way.
However, our Lord who comforts that are cast down, even the wonderful Counselor, teaches them, that he not only saves those who have been sinners before conversion, but even such as after it, find a law in their members warring against the law of their minds, which too often causes them to do the things they would not; enables them to reflect upon what they have and do daily experience, and compare it with the evidences of grace in the word of God.
This is the basis of the Biblical Evidence of Salvation Test (BEST) used before the Civil War. Religious affections of righteousness (resisting sin, obeying God), peace and joy in the Holy Spirit were seen as “evidences of grace in the word of God”. Those who think Paul’s reference to “righteousness in the Holy Spirit” is not experiential, but merely legal, are living proof that the BIST method has been widely adopted by evangelicals. Look at the Biblical reference: “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men” (Rom 14:17-18).
It is impossible to serve Christ with righteousness without it being an experience. Just as faith without works is dead, so righteousness without resisting sin and obeying God is not righteousness.
The blessed God does likewise give them renewed tastes of his love, even after missteps; and thus they are established in faith and hope, so that they have a prevailing persuasion of their interest in Christ; except it be in times of desertion and temptation, which some are more exercised than others, for reasons best known to a sovereign God.
Here Tennent speaks directly to the Old School Presbyterians (and future generations of Scottish Common Sense Realists) that thinks religious affections are useless, or worse, a tool of Satan.
“Doubtless Sir, you will desire to know, what effects this work (religious affections) produces on the minds and manners of its subjects. I answer, they are not only made to know, but heartily approve of the great doctrines of the gospel, which they were before either ignorant of or adverse to (at least some of them) so that they do harmonize sweetly in exalting free, special, and sovereign grace, through the redeemer Jesus Christ;
This is a direct, emphatic statement of regeneration as a supernatural, immediate act of God. The word “special” refers to saving grace as apposed to common grace. Tennent is defending the revival as being the sovereign work of God and not merely people wanting salvation and responding to the “altar call” with the common faith of wanting salvation to avoid hell or the “natural sympathy” that Alexander believes. The evidence points to saving grace and not common grace because the subjects exalt in God, and not the fact they made a “decision for Christ”.
Regeneration of heart as an immediate act of God
Intuitive understanding of and harmonizing with the great doctrines of the Gospel and the willingness to exalt God and not self. This justification of “religious affections” is a good description of the most convincing evidence of regeneration, what would be called by second generation New Light Calvinists, “disinterested benevolence”.
being willing only to glory in the Lord, who has loved them and given himself for them, an offering and a sacrifice of a sweet smelling savour. I cannot express, with what satisfaction I have heard them speak of the new covenant method of salvation. They have spoken with such affection and clearness, as I have thought was sufficient to convince an atheist, that the Lord was their Teacher. The alteration in some, from almost gross ignorance to such clear gospel light, and in others from such corrupt principles, as the Papists and Quakers hold, to the believing acknowledgement of the truth, none, but he that made the understanding could effect (God).
Tennent is saying the quick and complete understanding of deep spiritual truths is only possible as a supernatural impartation of the Holy Spirit.
They approve the law of God after the inward man, as holy, just, and good, and prize it above gold, yea, much fine gold. They judge it their duty as well as privilege to wait on God in all the ordinances of his own institution, although they expect to merit nothing thereby.
Translation: the new converts enthusiastically do everything the Church asks of them even though they know it is not necessary for their salvation.
A reverence for God’s commanding authority, and gratitude for his love, conspire to incite and constrain them, to a willing, unfeigned, universal and unfainting obedience to his laws: yet they declare that in everything they come sadly short of hat they ought to do, and bitterly bewail their defects.
And all this did not come through a human process of “line upon line, precept upon precept”, which I a curse that God lays on rebellious children that do not obey the Holy Spirit. The new wine and new cloth is a new way given by God as a supernatural act called regeneration.
But blessed God, they are not discouraged in their endeavors to reach forward, if by any means they may apprehend that for which they are apprehended of God; and in all things they acknowledge that they ought to look to Jesus as the author and finisher of their faith. Whose alone it is to work all good in them and for them, to whom be glory forever. They are not unmolested in their way by enemies, both from within and from without. Yet, they profess that the comforts which they receive do more than compensate all thei labour, were there no good to be expected hereafter: and surely, as the psalmist observes, “in keeping God’s commands there is great reward.”
The ultimate statement of “disinterested benevolence” was Hopkins’ “willingness to go to hell if it be God’s choice”. Anyone who does good works even if there “were no good to be expected hereafter”, is showing the best evidence of regeneration.
But to proceed: They have not all made alike proficiency in the Christian course; neither are they all equal in religious endeavors; nor any at all times alike lively. They are sometimes obstructed in their religious progress by coldness and deadness; but this the blessed Jesus removes at times, by the influence of his Holy Spirit;
This explanation of religious affections is diametrically apposed to the beliefs of Archibald Alexander. I would not be surprised if he included this to show his readers how ignorant the Tennents were. Scottish Common Sense Realism holds that there is no immediate influence of the Holy Spirit, so the phenomenon described by Tennent would be considered entirely psychological.
then, O then, their hearts are enlarged, and they run the sweet way of God’s commandments with alacrity and delight, they love all such as they have reason to think, from their principles, experience, and practice, are truly godly, though they differ from them in sentiment in lesser things, and look on them to be the excellent of the earth.
They rejoice in Zion’s prosperity; glorifying God on that account, and feel a sympathy in her sorrows. They do prefer one another before themselves, in love; except under temptation, which they are ready to confess and bewail, when they are themselves; generally accounting that they are the meanest of the family of God, and unworthy of the blessing; yea, the most so of any living, all things considered.
In a word, the sapless formalist (dead church member) is become spiritual in his conversation (lifestyle); the proud and haughty are made humble and affable; the wanton and vile, sober and temperate; the swearer honors that venerable name he was wont to profane, and blesses, instead of cursing; the Sabath-breaker is brought to be a strict observer of holy time; the worldling now seeks treasures in the heavens; the extortioners now deals justly; and the formerly malicious, forgive injuries; the prayerless are earnest and incessant in acts of devotion; and the sneaking self-seeker, endeavors the advancement of God’s glory, and the salvation of immortal souls.
Through God’s mercy we have been quite free from enthusiasm; our people have followed the holy law of God, the sure word of prophesy, and not the impulses of their own minds.
Alexander at this point would vehemently disagree. Any attributing of religious affections to the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit he would call “enthusiasm”, and the idea that enthusiasm is a product of man’s mind as apposed to the product of the immediate activity of the Holy Spirit is the opposite of what Alexander thinks. Alexander thinks the only valid activity of the Hoy Sprit is the quickening the Word of God to the mind, at which point the “impulses of the mind” are not contrary to the Holy Spirit.
But Alexander would agree with the following definition of “enthusiasm”.
There have not been that I know of, among us, any visions, except such as are by faith, namely, clear and affecting views of the new and living way to the Father through his dear Son Jesus Christ: nor any revelations but what have been long since written in the sacred volume: not any trances but such as all men now living shall meet with, for it is appointed for all men once to die.
Here is the payoff for Alexander – the part he hopes his readers to will see as the reason the Old Lights were as least partially justified to appose religious affections.
It would be amiss to inform you, that many who have been awakened, and seemed for a time to set out for Zion, are turned back. Yea, of those who have been esteemed converts, some have made shipwreck of faith and a good conscience; though, glory to God, there have not been many such; yet some of them who have thus awfully apostatized, were highly esteemed in the church.
Oops, I suspect that’s not what Alexander wanted to print. He would have preferred if it had been the uneducated and emotional ones who fell away, for that would fit his view of religious affections being merely natural sympathy.
By this, our good and gracious God has given check to too high an esteem of our own judgment, concerning the spiritual states of others, (an evil which is too common among young converts) and awfully warned all that stand, to take heed lest they fall.
A note for Arminians: Tennent is not suggesting that regenerate people became unregenerate. He is saying people who were thought to be regenerate, turned out to be unregenerate.
Many, I have cause to fear, have been hardened in their impieties and unreasonable prejudices against vital religion, by the backslidings of some professors. “Wo to the world, because of offences!” But in the mean time, blessed be God, Wisdom is and will be justified of her children.
This sir, is as particular account, as I can at present give of the lord’s work, in this place. If my Lord will accept it as a testimony for him, it will be a greater honor than ever I deserved. I need your prayers, and earnestly desire them. O beg of God, that I may be faithful unto death, and wise to win souls. I am with all due respects, yours in the dearest Jesus, WM. Tennent.
The reader can find duplicate and additional information in the Life of the Rev. William Tennent, Including his Three Day Trance. We will continue with The Log College.