How do we know what the Log College looked like?

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After the closing of the Log College in 1746, there was a gap in the historical memory of what the actual building used by William Tennent, Sr. to teach the next generation of American Presbyterian ministers looked like. Mary Tennent explains:

Until the close of the 19th century, it was thought that no likeness of the school existed. The sole reference to its appearance occurred in George Whitefield’s journal dated 1739 when he visited Neshaminy, that it was built of logs and was “twenty feet long and nearly as broad.” Around 1889, Dr. Thomas Murphy while engaged in writing a history of the “Log College Presbytery” (New Brunswick) learned otherwise through a rather unusual circumstance. (Light in the Darkness: The Story of William Tennent, Sr. and The Log College, p. 35)

We turn now to Murphy’s own account, published in The Presbytery of the Log College; or, The Cradle of the Presbyterian Church in America (1889), pp. 484-486, along with the first known visual representation of the original Log College.

In the journal of the Rev. George Whitefield record is found which states that the Log College was a structure built of logs, and that its dimensions were twenty by eighteen feet. Beyond this simple notice and the name it has ever borne, the appearance of the building has thus far been a mystery. No picture, or description even, has been supposed to be in existence. This makes the discovery of what is the frontispiece of this volume an event the value of which only the antiquary can appreciate. It is a discovery for which the author is indebted to Dr. W. S. Steen, a gentleman well known in San Francisco, Cal., member of the Calvary Presbyterian church of that city and for years superintendent of one of its Sabbath-schools, also an eminent mineralogist and assayer.

While engaged in geological and kindred pursuits at the Yuba mines, in California, he made the acquaintance of a man named Wilson, a pious and intelligent miner, in whom he became greatly interested. Both being natives of Pennsylvania and members of the Presbyterian Church, they would seek refuge on the Sabbath in the forest from the noise and profanity of the mine, and there study the Bible. On these days Wilson related his previous history. He was of pious ancestry in Eastern Pennsylvania. A grandfather had importuned him to study for the ministry of the Church of his forefathers, and among other inducements had presented him with a Bible in which there was a picture of "the first college established in this country for the training of young men for the Presbyterian ministry." It looked as if it had been an illustration from an old pamphlet or had been sketched by some bright youth of the institution. The building was small and rude, of logs, and located in Eastern Pennsylvania among the Presbyterians. On this picture, as a reminder of their faroff home, the two had gazed times without number. Dr. Steen came to have it so fixed in his imagination and memory that he could recall it with the utmost vividness. Failing by correspondence to find either Wilson or the Bible, at the author's solicitation he described the picture so exactly that the designer had no difficulty in reproducing it with the utmost accuracy. Of this the doctor has given the accompanying certificate, with the liberty of making it public:

"I do hereby certify that the accompanying engraving is an exact reproduction of ‘a picture of the first college building in this country for the education of young men for the ministry of the Presbyterian Church in Eastern Pennsylvania, and which was constructed of logs,' which I very frequently saw in the Bible of a pious miner of the Yuba mines of California, and which he had received as an heirloom from a grandfather whose ancestral home was in that region of the State.

"W. S. Steen,
"San Francisco, Cal."

In addition to this certificate, there are three corroborative circumstances which leave no question but that we have here an actual likeness of the original Log-College building: (1) The picture is so unique with its two tiers of windows, so unlike the traditional log house, that the building evidently had some special purpose; (2) The grounds around the building, as seen in the larger original picture, are precisely like the existing grounds around the site of the Log College; (3) In the original picture was the form of a man standing in front of the door, which in the position, dress and mode of wearing the hair bore an unmistakable likeness to the existing pictures of William Tennent. All these peculiarities Dr. Steen described before he had seen the likeness of Tennent or knew anything else about the Log College.

There can, therefore, be scarcely a doubt but that in this picture we have a correct representation of the original Log-College building, and so a treasure of the greatest value.

Log College.jpg

Thus, from the pen of Thomas Murphy we have the story of how this famous picture of the Log College was re-discovered in the late 19th century. It fires the imagination even today to think about how such a humble log cabin school left such a valuable spiritual legacy. We are thankful for the providence of God in the re-discovery of this illustration, but even more for the spiritual blessing to the church which it represents.

Give attendance to reading the Scriptures: J.W. Alexander & Thomas Murphy

Wise words to pastors especially to improve their preaching, but also to all Christians, from James W. Alexander (Thoughts on Preaching) and repeated by Thomas Murphy as well (“Incessant Study of the Bible,” Pastoral Theology):

§ 43. Study of the Scripture.— Constant perusal and re-perusal of Scripture is the great preparation for preaching. You get good even when you know it not. This is one of the most observable differences between old and young theologians. "Give attendance to reading."

And a further thought on this matter:

The liveliest preachers are those who are most familiar with the Bible, without note or comment ; and we frequently find them among men who have had no education better than that of the common school. It was this which gave such animation to the vivid books and discourses of the Puritans. As there is no poetry so rich and bold as that of the Bible, so he who daily makes this his study, will even on human principles be awakened, and acquire a striking manner of conveying his thoughts. The sacred books are full of fact, example, and illustration, which with copiousness and variety will cluster around the truths which the man of God derives from the same source. One preacher gives us naked heads of theology; they are true, Scriptural, and important, but they are uninteresting, especially when reiterated for the thousandth time in the same naked manner. Another gives us the same truths, but each of them brings in its train a retinue of Scriptural example, history, a figure by way of illustration; and a variety hence arises which is perpetually becoming richer as the preacher goes more deeply into the mine of Scripture. There are some great preachers who, like Whitefield, do not appear to bestow great labour on the preparation of particular discourses; but it may be observed, that these are always persons whose life is a study of the Word. Each sermon is an outflowing from a fountain which is constantly full. The Bible is, after all, the one book of the preacher. He who is most familiar with it, will become most like it; and this in respect to every one of its wonderful qualities; and will bring forth from his treasury things new and old.

Thomas Murphy's Recommended Pastoral Library

The following is a list of recommended books that should be had and consulted by the Christian minister in his library, prepared by Thomas Murphy, an Irish-American Presbyterian, who was born in Country Antrim in 1823 and died in New Jersey in 1900. Many of the authors he cites in his most valuable Pastoral Theology, pp. 144-147, not surprisingly, are to be found here at Log College Press. This guide can be useful to all Christians, but especially if you are a pastor or seeking to become one, take note of the authors and titles and links below.

In order to give some assistance in the selection of books, we would name a few upon the respective branches of ministerial study. We pass by general reading and culture, for it is with the minister in his special calling as pastor that we are now concerned. We give only a few authors as many as may serve at the beginning of the ministry a sort of indispensable apparatus for commencing the great work. At least, the pastor's library should be stocked with most of these as soon as circumstances will allow. The books we name have been well tried, and are recommended by persons whose judgment is worthy of confidence.

1. Books of general reference….

2. Interpretation of Scripture….

3. Commentaries. On the whole Bible, [Matthew] Henry's Commentary; Critical and Experimental Commentary by Jamieson, Faussett and Brown; [Johann Peter] Lange's great Bible work is a thesaurus of scriptural exposition which may be secured as the wants of the pastor require. Many of the best expositors have written on only one or a few books of Scripture. A detailed list of some of the most useful of these may now be given: On Genesis, [James Gracey] Murphy, [Melancthon Williams] Jacobus, [George] Bush; on Exodus, Murphy, Jacobus, Bush; on Leviticus, Bush, [Andrew] Bonar; on Numbers, Bush, Keil and Delitzsch; on Deuteronomy, Keil and Delitzsch; on the whole Pentateuch, [John] Calvin; on Joshua and Judges, Bush, Keil and Delitzsch; on Ruth and Samuel, Keil and Delitzsch; on Esther, [Thomas] McCrie [the Elder]; on Job, [Albert] Barnes; on Psalms, Barnes, Calvin; on Proverbs, [Charles] Bridges, [Moses] Stuart; on Ecclesiastes, Bridges; on Song of Solomon, Newton; on Isaiah, Barnes, [Joseph Addison] Alexander; on Jeremiah and Lamentations, [Ebenezer] Henderson; on Ezekiel, [Patrick] Fairbairn; on Daniel, Barnes, [Karl August] Auberl[e]n, Stuart; on the minor prophets,  Henderson; on Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi[T.V.] Moore; on the four Evangelists, John J. Owen; on Matthew and Mark, [Joseph Addison] Alexander; on John, [George] Hutch[e]son; on Acts[Joseph Addison] Alexander, [Horatio Balch] Hackett, Jacobus; on Romans, [Charles] Hodge, [Samuel Hulbeart] Turner; on Corinthians[Charles] Hodge; on Galatians, [Martin] Luther; on Ephesians[Charles] Hodge; on Philippians and Colossians, [John] Eadie; on Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus and Philemon, Barnes; on Hebrews, Stuart, [John] Owen; on James, Barnes, [Robert Everett?] Pattison; on Peter, Barnes and [Robert] Leighton; on John and Jude, Barnes; on Revelation, Stuart, Barnes and Auberl[e]n.

4. TheologySystematic Theology, by [Charles] Hodge; [George] Hill's Divinity; [Timothy] Dwight's Theology; [John] Dick's Theology; Outlines of Theology, by A. A. Hodge; [Benedict] Pictet's Theology.

5. Church History. [Johann Lorenz] Mosehim's Ecclesiastical History; [W.G.T.] Shedd's History of Doctrines; [Johann Heinrich] Kurtz's Sacred History; [Philip] Schaff's Apostolic Church; [Thomas] McCrie's [the Elder] Life of Knox; History of the Church in Chronological Tables, [Henry Boynton] Smith; The Ancient Church, by Dr. [William Dool] Killen; [Jean-Henri Merle] D'Aubigne's Histories.

6. Church Government and the Sacraments[Samuel] Miller on the Christian Ministry; [Samuel} Miller on the Ruling ElderPrimitive Church Officers, J.A. Alexander; [Richard] Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity; [Lyman] Coleman's Primitive Church

7. Sermons. This field is a boundless one, and we give only a few books which are known to be of standard value: [Robert] South's Sermons; Robert Hall's Sermons; Sermons of John M. Mason — these should be read by all means; [Samuel Davies’] Sermons; Archibald Alexander's Practical Sermons; Gospel in Ezekiel, [Thomas] Guthrie; Principal [William] Cunningham's Sermons, amongst the best in the language; [Charles] Spurgeon's Sermons; Bishop [Samuel] Horsley's Sermons, among the best.

8. Practical Piety. [Lady Rachel] Russell's Letters; [Samuel] Rutherford's Letters; [Thomas] A Kempis; [John Angell] James's Earnest Ministry; [Octavius] Winslow's Precious Things of God; [Richard] Baxter's Reformed Pastor; Daily Meditations by [George] Bowen; Owen on the Glory of Christ — a work of pre-eminent value; Owen on Spiritual-Mindedness — Dr. [Archibald] Alexander said this should be read once a year; [John] Howe's Delight in God; [John] Flavel's Keeping the Heart.

9. Christian Biography. Lives of [Robert Murray] McCheyne, [Charles] Simeon, Henry Martyn, [Thomas] Hal[y]burton, Archibald Alexander.

10. Great Puritan Writers. John Howe -- all of his works. Says James W. Alexander, "A little reading in the pages of great thought will sometimes set one thinking, as if by a happy contagion. Such pages are those of John Howe." Owen, especially on Hebrews Dr. Mason used to say all his theology was from this. Some of his most valuable productions are on "Spiritual-Mindedness," on the "Glory of Christ," on "Forgiveness of Sin," "Indwelling Sin," and "Mortification of Sin;" Baxter, especially his "Saints Rest" and "Reformed Pastor," Leighton's works; Flavel's works highly recommended; and [Stephen] Charnock on the "Divine Attributes." 

11. On Sabbath-school Work. "Sunday-School Idea" ([John Seely] Hart); "Sabbath -School Index" ([Richard Gay] Pardee); "Preparing to Teach" (Presbyterian Board).

The minister who has secured most of these books is furnished with the best of reading for many a day, and with authorities on almost all subjects that can come before him in his profession. Of other authors he will find out the value in the progress of his ministry, and purchase them as new wants arise. It was an excellent advice of Dr. Archibald Alexander that ministers should buy books only as they are actually needed, and not to be stored away on the shelves of the library for future use. Our last advice is to be sure of getting only the standard and very best authors.