The origin of any institution should be understood and even studied as it provides insight into initial intent, power and heart, regardless of modern deviations from its roots. ♦
In the initial days following the ascension of Christ (40 days after the resurrection), the 11 apostles gathered with a group of 120 followers and, under Peter’s leadership, combined prayer with the casting of lots to replace the fallen disciple Judas with Matthias as the 12th man. Ten days later while they were still in Jerusalem, the promised Holy Spirit came upon the group and the Christian church was born. As Acts 2 notes, Peter preached boldly and with power. All of the apostles conducted many wonders and signs and the Lord added to their number day by day those that were saved.
Shortly thereafter, Peter and John, empowered by the Holy Spirit, conducted a healing at the gate of the temple (Acts 3). They were harassed and arrested by the temple priests and Sadducees who, confounded by their boldness despite being uneducated, common men, let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people and their praising of God for the miracle they had witnessed.
Fast forward centuries later to a lone ordinary man with the same spiritual boldness, power and an independent streak and heart for the gospel and the raising up of its teachers and ministers. His efforts would be ridiculed and demeaned as he founded a school known as Log College.
This Christian school would become the foundation for one of the premier educational institutions of the United States.
From Log College to Princeton University
In 1718 William Tennent, an ordained minister in Ireland, emigrated to the US to become an American minister. He moved to Neshaminy, Pennsylvania to lead a small church in 1726. Shortly after his arrival he began informally tutoring his sons and some other young men in the area who were preparing to enter the ministry. By 1735 he formalized his efforts by building a simple 20 x 20 foot log house on his property to serve as his school. It came to be known as “Log College.” His objective was to increase the number of ministers in America. He was known for his excellent teaching skills, deep faith, and godly lifestyle.
The one room college was ridiculed by skeptics and those less evangelistic around them. Though many demeaned its simplicity, the great evangelical preacher, George Whitefield, admired it. He wrote:
The place wherein the young men study now…is a log house…and to me it seemed to resemble the school of the old prophets, for their habitations were mean, and that they sought not great things for themselves is plain… 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.
The Log College closed with the death of William Tennent in 1746. That same year a new charter was drafted for the College of New Jersey by Tennent supporters with four of the initial influential trustees being graduates of the Log College, including two of Tennent’s sons. Today we know the College of New Jersey, the successor of Log College, as Princeton University.
The Ordinary Extraordinarily Changing the World
The 12 disciples were given a directive vision by Christ to obediently wait for the empowering of the Holy Spirit and only then venture forth into a hostile world with wisdom and boldness. These were young, ordinary men of their day groomed by their mentor and Lord, Jesus Christ. They had no fear as they possessed God’s Spirit as their active guide and tutor. Yet with spiritual drive and purpose they changed the world and confounded a disbelieving ruling class and religious hierarchy. Within three centuries, those original 12 men transformed the faith and culture of the pagan Roman Empire.
And Spirit-led individuals like William Tennent have been doing this ever since even in their apparently own small spheres of influence. In and beyond his lifetime he was used in a large and impactful way. Tennent’s three youngest sons were trained at Log College and went on to become ministers and leaders of America’s First Great Awakening (from 1730-1760), a time when personal prayer and spiritual fervor overtook the stoic and somber Puritan spirituality of the early 1700’s. This spiritual liberation so impacted the American colonies that it paved the way for the War of Independence (1775-1785) which was a bold rejection of both political and spiritual power in the hands of the British and the Church of England.
How about Us?
Be encouraged by beginnings. Be not discouraged or dismayed by past or current letdowns, disagreements, sins and sidesteps in your own life, or what you’ve seen in the Christian Church, or even America. Nor Princeton University in its current state as a secular institution. Over time God always wins. His ways and will prevail regardless of our opinions, desires, and mistakes. Let Him recast a vision for your own life (see 5/11/13 post Living a Vision). He can redeem, restore, redirect and rebuild any one person, institution, or even nation, surrendered to His way to achieve what He wants in His time and season. He’s always ready. It starts with us, the ordinary, to move in response.
Are you moving forward in spiritual wisdom, power and boldness?
Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin. – Zechariah 4:10