This Date in History: An American President and the Doctrines of Grace


Bethlehem College & Seminary is committed to remaining intentionally small for strategic reasons. Our vision is to grow to a residential student complement of about 250, then deploy resources toward becoming better, not bigger, with an eye toward facilitating the establishment of church-based college and seminaries elsewhere. Such a strategy often begs the question,”Why should we contribute in a big way to something so small?”

Chancellor John Piper answers that question by suggesting that we are in pursuit of outcomes of “disproportionate impact.” Paraphrasing him, if you throw a five pound rock through a glass window you expect an impact proportionate to the size and weight of the rock, the distance to the window, and the temper of the glass, etc. Conversely, if you stood at the edge of an ocean and dropped the same five pound stone in the surf and suddenly tankers and battleships started turning over, that would be a “disproportionate impact.”

Few examples of disproportionate impact from the history of higher education, indeed from history in general, are more illustrative of what we are praying God might be pleased to replicate here than that of the Log College of Neshaminy, Pennsylvania. This was the humble log school house that Reverend William Tennent built in 1727 to provide theological education to his sons and other young men on the colonial frontier. George Whitfield visited the school and marveled at the quality of education he witnessed there. He called it a little “school of prophets.” The small handful of Log College graduates are inarguably credited with being God’s instruments in stirring the First Great Awakening in America. The Log College begat the College of New Jersey which begat Princeton—at least the Princeton of Hodge and Warfield. It seems no accident at all that this little 20′ x 20′ school would be constructed within an easy ride from Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, even less so that several of the American Founders would be men who were ministered to or influenced by these Log College pastors.

The story of Log College has become such a clear way to explain to others the relative bigness of our small institution that I have committed myself to learning more about it. In time I may compile these notes into a monograph or book, but for now I’m as pleased to share them you as I learn.


Benjamin Harrison, 23rd President of the United States

President Benjamin Harrison testifies to a disproportionate impact.

On September 5, 1889, according to minutes compiled by Rev. Dr. Thomas Murphy (Appendix, The Presbytery of the Log College: or, the Cradle of the Presbyterian Church in America, Copyright 1889, Westcott & Thomson) the communities of Greater Philadelphia, Princeton College, and clergy from various denominations from all over the country gathered on the long-since abandoned site of the Log College at Neshaminy to pay honor to the school’s extraordinary influence on the course of history. The guests of honor that day were President and Mrs. Benjamin Harrison.

“A multitude so vast as this is difficult to number, but the attendance was estimated by those competent to judge at not less than twenty-five thousand,” wrote Murphy. “Twenty-nine thousand feet of lumber were required for the various structures and for seating.” Parking being what is was in the day, organizers also had to accommodate over four thousand horses, nearby.

Prayers were offered. Hymns were sung. Commemorative papers were read by clergymen and scholars. Then Rev. Dr. Murphy rose to introduce the President of the United States by saying:

“One of the sublimest sights this earth ever can afford is that of the Chief Magistrate of sixty million people taking part in a religious gathering such as this.”

President Harrison rose to share his brief address. He began, as so many speakers still do, with self-effacing humor, then proceeded to utter words that today one can scarcely imagine an American President having ever said:

I have had illustrated here to-day one of the conspicuous traits of the Presbyterian Church. Nothing, I assure you, short of a robust embodiment of the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, in the person of our distinguished brother who presides over these exercises, could have overcome the difficulties which seemed to be in the way of my meeting with you to-day. I have had also illustrated, I regret to say, another trait, which I have observed in the non-ecclesiastical world more than once, and very much to my discomfort, and which I thought would be absent here. And I must trace it, I suppose, to the same responsible source. I never, at any time, promised to make an address on this occasion. (Laughter.) I have authorized no one to say so. (Laughter.) Indeed, among those direful incidents which accompany the Presidency of the United States, and which have been so graphically described by Dr. Murphy, there is none more embarrassing than this of being constantly associated upon the platform or at the banquet-table with gentlemen who have manuscripts in their pockets. (Laughter.) It is altogether unfair, and I expected in this great meeting of my Presbyterian brethren more hospitable treatment. (Applause.)

And yet I have pleasure in being here, for every impulse of honorable pride which stirs your heart moves mine. I am glad to stand at the source of a great movement. I have see the Mississippi River pouring out in great torrent into the Gulf and opening a way inland for an enormous commerce, and I was glad to stand a few years ago where the Gallatin, Jefferson and Madison combine to form the Missouri and send it in its great course to the sea. On this spot, about which there are gathered so many historical associations, we celebrate one of those great impulses born of God and that will do God’s work until the world shall cease to move. (Applause.)

I stand awed before the thought of what the great day will reveal as the fruit of this modest but pious and courageous effort, the institution of the Log College—the wholesome fruit of faith. Only the eye of God can follow those tender and imperceptible filaments of mental and moral influence that touch our lives. If it could be revealed to us to-day, how many in this great audience, gathered from the remote sections of our country, would see the silver thread by which they have been drawn into the Church of God reaching back to efforts that started here! It is pleasant to believe that that which is now hidden to our eyes will some day be known, and that we will be able better to realize what these men wrought from mankind.

I do not want unduly to exalt the Presbyterian Church, and yet I think the historians who have been untouched by the partiality of membership will say that it has been, as a body, magnificently characterized by faithfulness to God and human liberty. (Applause.) if some have supposed that it was not a progressive church, that its creed was hard, let us not forget that there are times in the development of affairs, both secular and spiritual, when the rock must be opposed to the sword of error. We have progressive toward the truth, and not from it. Steadfastness our enemies have called obstinacy. Well, even that characteristic has its occasions and its services. We are to-day, as a Church, in the most affectionate fellowship with all who revere the great doctrines of the Christian faith and practice them (Applause.)

The great period of polemical and acrimonious ecclesiastical discussion has its day and its use. If we are now come into a day when essentials have been magnified and non-essentials have been set in their subordinate place, let us rejoice that we may unite our efforts with those who would lift up mankind, and, while still loving the Church, the banner that designates the regiment to which we belong, let us rejoice that we are one army.

At Bethlehem College & Seminary we have no delusions of grandeur, but we do earnestly pray that, if it may please the Lord, one day the intersection of S 8th Street and 13th Avenue S in Minneapolis might be cited by future Christians as a location of “one of those great impulses born of God and that will do God’s work until the world shall cease to move.”

Our school is small. Our impact is disproportionate. Our financial need is large but by no means insurmountable in God’s economy. We are praying toward a goal $1.2 million to underwrite student scholarship support, just for this year. We responsibly ought to have some cash reserves and presently have none. We recently established The Rising Generation Fund to underwrite scholarship support in future years. It currently has very small balance. Please seek the Lord on behalf of Bethlehem College & Seminary, then please share with us any wisdom, ideas, or resources He may direct.

Rick Segal
Vice President of Advancement & Distinguished Lecturer of Commerce and Vocation

Prayer Requests

  1. Please continue to pray for the accreditation process. We will be hosting a formal evaluation team from the Association for Biblical Higher Education in early October. Their visit will determine how soon we will receive accreditation status.
  2. Pray for the ongoing need for funding. Our goal is to raise enough support through the Rising Generation Fund to continue to send students in a manner worthy of the Gospel.
  3. Pray for our students as they settle into the routine of academic life; may the Lord continually sustain them in their studies while keeping their affections white-hot for the Jesus.
  4. Pray for our upcoming Fall Preview Day. This event is one of the most important for showing prospective students what Bethlehem College & Seminary is all about. For many, it is the definitive event when they decide to apply.