THE LIFE AND LABOURS OF ASAHEL NETTLETON – REVIEW ARTICLE



 

Bennet Tyler and Andrew Bonar

 

 The author, Bennet Tyler, was a pastor for many years in South Britain, Connecticut, where he knew Asahel Nettleton (1783-1844) intimately. He eventually became the president of Dartmouth College. He is famous for his polemics against the liberal Nathaniel Taylor and the New Haven theology, a view which countered the Edwardsian and Augustinian view of depravity. This became known as the “Tyler-Taylor controversy” The end result was the constituting of a new seminary, first called the Theological Institute of Connecticut and later Hartford Theological Seminary, where he served as president until his death. Asahel Nettleton was also instrumental in beginning this new institution.1

Andrew Bonar (1810-1892) was a Scottish minister who “remodeled in some parts” this work. He is known for his association with the revival movement in Scotland and his association with the well-known Robert Murray McCheyne, whose memoirs he wrote.2

According to the author, Asahel Nettleton was instrumental in the conversion of 30,000 souls. What evangelistic leader would not want to know about such a man? Nettleton first received his religious impressions at age eighteen in North Killingworth, Connecticut. His agonizing bout with conviction lasted ten months. He was converted in the midst of revival. In fact, the then new publication called the “Connecticut Evangelical Magazine” recorded his conversion as part of its revival intelligence.

Though an average student, he maintained a good relationship at Yale with President Timothy Dwight, grandson of Jonathan Edwards, who gave him warm approbation. Nettleton read nearly all of Edwards’s works while in school, and those of his two most famous students, Bellamy and Hopkins.

Though his missionary intentions were thwarted due to debt, he eventually paid off that debt, and, through the providence of God, began itinerant work. He had studied the ill effects of James Davenport, gathering as much information as possible. Davenport had itinerated during the Great Awakening in the mid-1700s and had caused much turmoil with his caustic manner. The result was that the influence of several pastors was marginalized, some churches split, and general confusion prevailed.

Nettleton, much the wiser for this knowledge, was diligent to avoid such sophomoric behavior. He never came uninvited into another’s parish, and sought to build up the pastors, submitting entirely to their authority over their churches. The end product was revival and recovery of trust in the very “waste places” which had been created by Davenport’s wake half a century earlier.

Nettleton was a man of poor health, perhaps suffering from a recurring form of malarial fever. However, his preaching had a powerful effect. A Dr. Humphrey of the “Religious Intelligencer” described one message as “one continued flash of conviction”3. Continue reading