There are figures in church history to whom you find yourself coming back again and again. One of those figures is George Whitefield.
This time, we find him in White Clay Creek, Del. Delaware was one of the thirteen colonies, and a very small one, not having nearly the prominence of Pennsylvania, Virginia, or Massachusetts. There was a particular church there and a particular minister whom Whitefield greatly appreciated. The minister was William Tennent.
Tennant was one of the sons of William Tennent Sr. and brother to Gilbert Tennent and Charles Tennent. William Sr. had immigrated to the Colonies when his sons were young. William Sr. and Gilbert founded the great Log College in Neshaminy, Pa., the first American Presbyterian seminary. The Log College led to the founding of the College of New Jersey, later known as Princeton University. William Jr. went into the ministry and became pastor at White Clay Creek in 1737. He was not nearly as famous as his brothers, but he labored quietly in that church for the next four decades.
Something very exciting happened in 1739—George Whitefield came to town. And every time Whitefield came to town, it was quite an event. The date was May 13, 1739. He had preached that morning at what Whitefield refers to in his journal as “Willing Town.” It later changed its name to Wilmington, Del. That morning, he preached to a crowd of about five thousand. He went on about a ten-mile horseback ride from Wilmington down to Newark, not too far from where the current University of Delaware is located. And there was White Clay Creek, this humble little Presbyterian church amid the fields and rolling hills of Delaware. And Whitefield preached to a crowd of three thousand people.
Of this event, Whitefield wrote in his journal:
A great presence of God was in both places, especially at White Clay Creek, placed under the care of Mr. William Tennent. The word, I believe, was both like a fire and a hammer, for many were exceedingly melted and one cried out most bitterly as in great agonies of soul. At both places we collected about 24 pounds for the orphan house and the people were very solicitous for me to bring our sloop up their creek the next time I came, that they might put in provisions. Never did I see a more plentiful country than in White Clay Creek.
He goes on to talk about the horseback ride he had with Tennent and a few other ministers. He wrote:
After the sermon I rode towards Nottingham with Mr. Tennent, Mr. Craghead, and Mr. Blair. All worthy ministers of the dear Lord Jesus. The last especially (and this is Samuel Blair) has been remarkably owned of God and for that he has been despised by his revered, pharisaical, lettered, learned brethren. Many others, belonging to Philadelphia, accompanied us and we rode through the woods most sweetly singing and praising God. We were all rejoicing to see our dear Lord’s kingdom come with such visible power and endeavored to strengthen one another against suffering time that should come. May the great Shepherd make us willing when called to it to lay down our lives for his sheep. Amen. Amen.