Lessons for Today from the Life of Gilbert Tennent (4 of 4)

We too need to balance heart religion and uncompromising orthodoxy.

We must beware of the extreme positions of Tennent’s opponents who insisted on either orthodoxy (Old Lights) or experiential religion (Arminians)…head or heart. Tennent urged heart religion within the bounds of sound doctrine…a legitimate experience and emotion governed by biblical understanding.

We too need to balance transdenominationalism and militant separatism.

Tennent’s cooperation with those outside of his denomination but within the confines of orthodoxy is exemplary. He was not sectarian, but neither was he ecumenical. He was as broad in his fellowship and cooperation as Scripture would allow, but no broader. He practiced charity with good, orthodox men. He practiced biblical separation from false teachers (though perhaps not as readily or to the same degree as we would).

We too need to balance strong reformed doctrine and aggressive evangelism.

It is interesting that the most fiery evangelists of the day were all Calvinists. Their Reformed doctrine did not prohibit evangelistic zeal. Rather, it necessitated it! Their insistence on the need of repentance and conversion is especially needed in our day. Would God that we would have the same passion for the lost, show the same commitment to the blessed gospel and be visited with the same power of God! Alexander’s comments on this score are challenging:

“Many pious people among us are not aware that the ground on which they tread has, as it were, been hallowed by the footsteps of the Almighty. And who knows but that prayers then offered then in faith remain yet to be answered?” [1]

We could learn much from Tennent’s homiletics.

1. We must make preaching our primary business.

The Tennents saw the remedy for the dead state of their churches in the preaching ministry, not merely in orthodoxy as stated in a creed. Gilbert in particular “was convinced that the sermon was the clergy’s most important duty.” [2] They were committed to a strong doctrinal stand that found its best expression in the pulpit, not the study.

2. We must provide both doctrinal teaching and practical application.

Besides being noted for its early fervency and later orthodoxy, Tennent’s pulpit ministry was marked for his balance of “historical faith” (explanation) and “experiential knowledge” (application). [3]

3. We must first warn, then sooth.

Tennent’s two-step homiletical practice was thoroughly biblical. Like Christ and the apostles, he used “the harsh reality of sin’s consequences…to alarm the sinner,” then applied “the soothing balsam of gospel promises.” [4] In other words, “terrors first, comforts second.” [5]

We too need to wield both sword and trowel.

Tennent’s example of defending the faith while building the faithful is exemplary. We too must wield both instruments, “earnestly contending for the faith” (Jude 3) while “building up ourselves on our most holy faith” (Jude 20). We can neither build with a sword nor defend with a trowel. To wield two trowels or two swords will result in ruin.

[1] Alexander, Biographical Sketches, 6.

[2] Coalter, 42.

[3] Ibid., 42.

[4] Ibid., 43.

[5] Ibid., 45.


3 Responses

  1. […] 4. Lessons for Today from the Life of Gilbert Tennent […]

  2. Chris,
    This was an excellent series and I hope you have time to do more research and writing like this. We all need to be reminded of these great men. Thanks.

  3. Thank you for your research in the life of Gilbert Tennant. I have been working up and teaching a Sunday School class on the Great Awakenings with the main starting point the Colonial Awakening. You, obviously, also believe in balance (a moderate) between the Traditionalists and Radicals which is the never-ending struggle to bring Christians back to, as Paul put it, “Christ and Him crucified.” Thank you!

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