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Preaching on the Plains, Chapter Seven – Summer of 1928

In Princeton Theological Seminary, Rev. David K. Myers, D.D. on July 19, 2010 at 9:34 am

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Chapter VII
Preaching on the Plains
Autobiography of the Rev. David K. Myers, D.D.

“Good and upright is the Lord, therefore will he teach sinners in the way.
The meek will he guide in judgment : and the meek will he teach his way.
All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth
unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.”
(Psalm 25: 8-10).

Now turning to another summer, 1928. An interesting experience introduced the summer following the second year at Princeton Seminary. High blood pressure and sleeplessness was still a problem, so I deferred from an opportunity to return to Nova Scotia on the doctor’s advice to back to manual labor. Again in my parents’ home in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, I sought and gained employment promise to the former cement sidewalk construction work. It was to start the followiing Monday. But before that, an interesting experience developed. Following the Sunday morning service in the Wheaton College Campus Church, I met again David Otis Fuller, a Wheaton-Princeton Seminary classmate. He later was to have a long and splendid ministry for 50 years as pastor of the the Wealthy Street Baptist Church in Grand Rapids. “Duke” — we called him that as fellow students for had a “bearing” — said he was going out to Montana to a place called Square Butte for a summer student ministry. He asked me what I was going to do. I told him, but said I was wondering whether it would have been best, too, to go out for another summer. Now I did not know this, but later, either by telegraph or by some other means, he must have been in touch with Dr. MacLain, Synodical overseer in Montana. For he asked “Duke” if he could recommend another man from Princeton.

Now the remainder of that first week at home, I had trouble sleeping nights awaiting the Monday return to work. One night, late in the week when awake for hours, I prayed and said to God that if He would show me a place to go without my seeking, I would take it as a sign to go out preaching after all. Then, going to sleep at dawn, then at nine when mail came, I was awakened by the ringing of the postman’s call. It was the doorbell. The thought at once came to me that this was the answer to my prayer. And it was. A telegram was delivered which read: “Are you available for a summer pastorate? There is need for a man at Fairview, Montana.” I am sure Montana was far from my mind as a possibility before it. But feeling this was the Lord’s call, I wired back. “Available immediately, wire particulars.” The answer came back explaining in detail. “Ninety dollars per month and one way fare.” And I was soon entrained for Montana after getting release from the sidewalk work commitment.

Those four or five months at the eastern edge of the state, on the lower Yellowstone River were a real eye opener for a city neophyte in the West. Yet so many people were kindly, even with their western frankness. There was an elder, once a cowboy, Roy Collins, beet farmer and later also Post Master. He was dependable, frank and open. There was Will Morrill, the other elder and his mother, Mrs. A.D. Morrill, widow of an early-day rancher and elder. The Dr. A.M. Treats took me under their wing almost so regularly it was embarrassing, but they were true to their name, for they treated me oft to meals. He was a fine physician. And with the doctor was Lew Thompson, the banker. Both acted as Trustees of the church. And the Blanchards, fine godly people with a fine family of children. Mr. Blanchard in time was to be builder in charge of construction of a new church for the people which was begun the following summer. And there was Mr. Collins’ son-in-law, Kenneth Gardner, handsome young giant from the rugged Redwater River area in the wide open country well west of Fairview. Kenneth was straight, honest and a Christian. God prospered him. The summer went fast. Before it ended I decided to go the 43 miles east into North Dakota to the small city of Watford City. For there was a Presbyterian church there and mine was a loneliness for another one (man) of my kind. But on arrival in the town, I found the church had no pastor. Mrs. Clyde Staley, to whom I was first directed, suggested I go to see Elder John Bruins in the country. I did so with the outcome they invited me to preach and conduct services Sunday evenings for the remainder of the summer. It was 43 miles by a state road. However, the first 20 miles east of Fairview, it was a quite narrow dirt graded road. The rest, after Alexander, North Dakota was reached, in time became a new direct gravel highway to Watford City but I believe that summer was routed through intervening villages and was still dirt most of the way. I purchased a 1922 Model T. Ford. It was open but with a canvas top which could be raised and was attached in front was it not to fenders or radiator. It cost $100.00 and at the end of the summer’s driving sold for $80.00. People would just fill that Watford City church and attendance, I believe, was larger than that of Fairview. Fairview was a town of less than a thousand but with probably a dozen churches. So the division brought less opportunity for attendance than did Watson City where there were but three Protestant churches an a city of perhaps 1,600. However, it was a situation in Fairview not unlike that in Economy, Nova Scotia, the previous summer. The M.E. (Methodist) church and the Presbyterians had had joint services in the Methodist church under the Methodist pastor. The Methodists did not like their minister and got rid of him. The Presbyterians like him and, angry over his firing, decided to go it alone and that is where I entered the picture.

By the way, I began to feel quite in the West after hearing the sound of horses’ hoofs and shooting into the air and shouts often on a Saturday night passing the Presbyterian manse just as I was endeavoring to do last-minute preparations for the Sunday’s sermon to come the next day. It was a bit unnerving for a tenderfoot like myself. I often wondered if it was some “joy juice” in enervated cowboys from back country, or just local young gentry thinking they would give the young pastor some western-style practical initiations. I imagined there were some places where liquor might be had in town. Will try to give the picture later in another chapter telling of the “Feds” from Miles City who made an unannounced raid and caught a bootlegger who had been long plying his trade. I do not mean to demean the town. There were some fine people in the city and will try to ‘tell it as it is.’

At the end of the summer I returned to Princeton for the last year in the Seminary. But did not then know that my first four years in the ordained ministry were to be in this same dual field. And thereafter, the first 20 years, the prime time of my life were to be in the northern Plains, with some of the most lurid experiences of my life to come in the next four years.


Preaching on the Plains, Chapter Six – Princeton Seminary

In Preaching on the Plains, Princeton Theological Seminary, Rev. David K. Myers, D.D. on July 16, 2010 at 11:22 am

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Continuing our transcription of the autobiography of the Rev. David K. Myers, we come now to chapter six, the first of five chapters that cover his time at Princeton Theological Seminary.


Chapter VI
Preaching on the Plains
Autobiography of the Rev. David K. Myers, D.D.

“Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord . . .” (II Corinthians 6:17)
“. . .separated unto the gospel of God”. (Romans 1:1)

Upon graduation from Wheaton I secured summer work in the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton area as a worker to dig trenches for the area gas company. They were usually searching ‘service lines’ to homes from street mains for leakage. But my first job was that of picking a trench in the hard macadam street near the college. Every stroke of the pick seemed about to pull my arms off my shoulders. But I did manage to get down to dirt. Later that summer, I found sidewalk cement work with another employer in the making of sidewalks for new subdivisions in the Glen Ellyn area. Pushing a wheelbarrow full of cement was quite heavy work for my slight build. At the time I do not recall being very concerned as to deciding about my future, or whether further education would be mine.

But something happened. A chum of my elder brother Edwin, Eugene Pilgrim, a godly old fashioned Methodist, had just graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey. It was the oldest and largest Seminary in the ‘northern’ Presbyterian Church, my denomination when a child in Chicago. Eugene Pilgrim came all of twenty miles from Austin, Chicago to see me. He endeavored to encourage me to go to the Seminary and told me of its conservative, fundamentalist “stand”, its outstanding scholarship, the culture of the East. I knew some of my fellow graduates of Wheaton were going there. I said to myself, “Well, it would not hurt me to get more education even if I never were to become a minister.” So I decided to go to Princeton that Fall and found myself entrained for the East and then also matriculated or entered as a student at the Seminary in Princeton. What an impressive ivy clad old school! That Fall found me in my room in plain but ivy-covered ‘Brown Hall’, where most ‘Juniors’ or first year men were. Near me was J. Wesley (“Wes”) Ingles, a Scottish-born lad from Inverness, a Wheaton grad, who had loaned me his new tennis racket when I played Hogan of Loyola.

How great it was to study under Drs. Armstrong, Vos, Hodge, Machen, Wilson and others. Dr. Robert Dick Wilson, a tremendous defender of the Faith, taught advanced Hebrew. I learned that when one became one of the select 17 or 18 out of the class of 80 in beginning Hebrew and could prove by the test given to all that they could make faster progress, these would be put into the “Aleph” section and study the remainder of the year under Dr. Wilson. These too would have the possibility of getting a grade of “1” in the first year of Hebrew. This would give them a better opportunity of making the “1” average of all studies in the three years at Seminary and entitled one the third year to write a thesis assigned in any of the scholarships or “Fellowships” as they were called. It entitled the student in the George S. Green Fellowship in Old Testament Literature, for example, to $600.00 for study abroad, if the “1” average was maintained and the thesis presented was acceptable.

Well, I decided I would try. I worked at that Hebrew through to small hours of the morning each night. Having a large appetite, my previous physical work found me a heavy eater. We at “Seminary Club” had the best cook on the campus. But with all the studies I took no time for exercise. I did make the “1” class, but at the toll of suffering insomia because of high blood pressure. An examining doctor told me it was terribly high for a man of my age, and recommended my eating less beef and the taking of daily sweat producing exercise. The “1” average was managed, but I was exhausted physically when I answered the call for summer students to Nova Scotia described in Chapter One.

Oh how wonderful Princeton was in those days! It has slipped terribly from its doctrinal and fundamentalist integrity since. In fact, the governing body of Directors was changed by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA), now the United Presbyterian Church (UPC), in 1929, the very month I graduated in May. The denomination, my church then, was to continue to pay lip service for some years claiming “Princeton would continue its historic basis” (the words of the President who engineered the change) and indeed, the denomination would point to the Westminster Confession of Faith as a figurehead. (The New Confession of 1967, however, has since shown the true direction of the denomination — now the “United Presbyterian Church” since its union with the old UPC). This lip service leaders of that body had claimed but in the missionary stand of the church and its boards, steps were taken contrary to the “historic” Christian doctrines of the church. Yet Princeton Seminary, prior to 1929 was “sound”. What famous Professors! They had rigid scholarship. I knew I had to produce and studied harder than I had ever so worked. And a determination came to me that I would stand by the Word of God by God’s help forever. Students who came from liberal colleges were converted to the truth of the old gospel when I was there. No one had a chance of being elected by the student body as President of its council but those students who were known to be “sound in the faith”. They were days of spiritual revival in an old and hallowed place of learning where the Warfield’s the Hodge’s and others had labored. But as I say, in May, 1929 the Seminary was changed by forces foreign and outside of itself.

It was the decade of the modernist-fundamentalist controversy. And at its end the Liberals won ‘the battle of Princeton’. Drs. Machen, Wilson, Van Til and others formed the independent “Westminster Theological Seminary” in Philadelphia in order to continue to propagate the doctrines Princeton stood for.

This separation of Seminaries pointed to the time when ultimately “the separated movement” in the form of separated denominations became necessary to consistent Bible believers. The philosophy of ‘Naturalism’ had dominated many secular colleges, and even denominational and Christian ones too. Princeton’s fall was a sign of the trend everywhere. These views (humanism or naturalism) had dominated many secular colleges and universities. It extended or ascended in time to professorships of many theological seminaries, in fact, it was becoming quite universal by the late Twenties or my student days. They would oft leave a professor or two in a denominational school, perhaps an old man, who could be pointed to, to quiet perturbed people such as conservative laymen or more fundamental clergy. “See so and so, he is teaching there. It must be quite all right.” Meanwhile the liberal taking over proceeded more completely in the once hallowed halls of Bible believing teachers. The supernatural in the Bible and the Christian Faith everywhere was being denied. It extended to the five points at issue in the “Auburn Affirmation of 1924“. Over a thousand ministers in our denomination (PCUSA) of the total ministers, of 10,000, signed the document. The doctrines of the supernatural, such as the Miracles of Scripture, the Virgin Birth of Christ, His Bodily Resurrection, the Substitutionary Atonement by the Cross, and the Verbal Inspiration of Holy Scripture, were affirmed as necessary to believe for ministers of the church by its General Assembly of 1923. (According to Dr. Morris MacDonald, General Secretary of the Independent Board for Home Missions, our Church was the first church body in America officially to affirm what was essentially to become “The First Five Fundamentals” doing so in its 1910 General Assembly.) The Auburn Affirmation was a rebellion against that action. These doctrines were denied or minimized by the Affirmation named after Auburn, New York, where a small Seminary of the Church was located. It produced eventually the division of 1936 in the Church. Other ministers who did not actually sign the Affirmation yet would say they agreed with it. There were modernists who denied or minimized the importance of the doctrines. There were the fundamentalists who declared them. And, alas, there were the ‘middle of the roaders’ who may have declared they believed in them personally, but in the interests of ‘peace in the Church’ would not stand firm in their voting at church assemblies which did follow. The result was that eventually the modernists took over the denomination having first taken its Boards and agencies. The act of changing Princeton Seminary, the last Seminary to maintain its conservative position of eight seminaries in the Church, was the final take-over. When Princeton fell, Westminster was raised in its place. And for a Bible stand on Foreign Missions, the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions was organized in 1933 for Bible-believing Presbyterians.

But now, just a retrogression in time to show where I was personally on the wide map. In 1927, as I recounted in the first chapter, I was in Economy, Nova Scotia, following the first year in Seminary. There I perceived in a first student pastorate where the separated movement was to lead one. In that village before the Canadian “ecumenical movement” for a United Church of Canada, there was but one church in Economy, the Presbyterian. But after it, there were two. The United Church was added locally. Being then blind to all the implications of the situation, and some perversity in reasoning, for a weak time I was sorry I had come. There were now two churches in a small village and in sparsely populated country. Perhaps if I had not come the harmony might not have been disturbed, for many people of the ‘continuing’ Presbyterian churches had ministers who wanted the union. And more churches were those who stood for their heritage. I am afraid that I became for a time a budding ecumenical and a compromiser with the theological “liberalism”.

Now I had been told that the Elder, R.P. Soley, a storekeeper, was a good man to visit if he could be induced to talk. He seemed a very quiet man. He would stalk from the church services when they had ended, neither looking to the right hand nor to the left, nor speaking a word to any one, walking rapidly to his home. (I learned years later when reading the autobiography of John G. Paton, Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides, that this was an old Scot custom. His father would do so. The occasion was too sacred for mundane (worldly) conversation after a worship service. His father would return after a service at once to their home, and then spend an hour or so in early afternoon repeating the sermon to the family and expounding its points).

I was told by the Morrisons that it was seldom one could get Mr. Soley to talk but that when he did, I should listen! Well, that time came. I went to Mr. Soley at his store and told him about my qualms. He became very stern. He told me of the issues and then he boiled over. He said, “They tried to force it” (the union) “through Parliament”. I gathered that the threatened loss of religious freedom and (I learned later) the same spirit which continued through martyrdoms in the Scottish Kirk when they tried to force the Presbyterian Scots into the Episcopalian Church of England in ‘the killing time’, when English soldiery persecuted some even to death when they tried to hold their ‘conventicles’ and Presbyteries even in desolate glades — all this was involved. Knowing, too, that Dr. Mackey, leader of the Maritime Presbyterians, adhered to the fundamentalist position, and he had made the appeal for young men from Princeton to aid the pastor-less churches . . . Well, I succumbed to the truth and righteous spirit of this godly layman, R.P. Soley, in short order! A few short words from him were sufficient.

Preaching on the Plains, Chapter Five – Wheaton College

In Rev. David K. Myers, D.D. on July 6, 2010 at 9:10 pm

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Chapter V

Preaching on the Plains
Autobiography of the Rev. David K. Myers, D.D. (1983)

“. . . in Jerusalem in the college . . . (II Kings 22:14)

Now we ought to come to college days and for these I shall be more brief. In the summer of 1921 my parents moved to Glen Ellyn, Illinois. It was a frame house on perhaps a dozen city lots at the southeast part of the city. A creek ran behind the house and from a point near the orchard at a distance. It was a little kingdom surrounded by dense trees. They purchased it for $1200.00. Mother spied a cow when negotiations were on, and said she would buy it only if the cow was thrown in on the contract and it was. Perhaps thirty years later it was worth several times that price. Now I would not be surprised that Mother arranged the move from Chicago because she wanted me to attend Wheaton College, a Christian school. Wheaton was nearby. She later related that she had heard its President, Dr. Charles A. Blanchard, a godly man, speak in her hearing when she was a young married woman and was then greatly impressed. Indeed, he was a great Christian educator. When we students would hear him tell in chapel how he was converted as a boy, as he often told it, one could hear a pin drop, it was so still.

When summer went on in 1921, Mother asked me if I would care to go over to see the college and decide then whether to enter. I was not at all interested at first. My three elder brothers had all attended great universities. I wanted to be like them and go to a ‘big’ school, not a small college of several hundred. Nevertheless, at her asking I went over and found myself approaching the central limestone building with its impressive old tower. Its approach was a narrow macadam walk curving up hill along an ‘avenue of elms’. A strong impression then came over me, ‘This is where you belong. . .’, though I had not yet seen anyone. So I compromised with myself saying, ‘I will go one year here and then transfer to a university’. However, in the last of that first year, the Spring semester found me somehow becoming a member of the college tennis team, winning two or three intercollegiate matches, and from then on it is doubtful wild horses could have taken me away.

Though but a commuter to school, the impression of a great many Christian students and the effect of their witness was telling. Part of my income was secured by employment as a grocer clerk in Glen Ellyn part-time. My employer was Harry Hanson, Swedish, a fine man and a Christian. Later, I became a delivery boy with the side-flapping Model T. Ford Truck. But Spring seasons, somehow there was time for my beloved tennis. In the No. 2 or 3 singles slot most of the time, I had easier opponents and managed, I judge, something like 75-80 percent victories in five years. I took five Springs to finish college. In my fourth year, between my grocery work and tennis, my studies suffered. I decided to ‘drop’ some studies the Spring of the fourth year. It always appears more ‘genteel’ to drop them rather than hang on and flunk the courses. And the decision then was mine to not return that Fall, but the following Spring semester. This gave me five seasons of tennis but the fifth only against non-conference opponents. The last match was one I do not forget. Henry Coray, our best man, injured his hand. So I played against the number one man of Loyola U. of Chicago. I had in fact played against this man, Hogan, in Chicago, and while the first set was won, yet I lost the last two. The return match in Wheaton set us also as opponents. He won the first set 7-5 after endless returns. Always a retriever as I had learned tennis playing older brothers, the hot weather aided me. I always could stand heat and that Memorial Day, May 30th, 1926 was the hottest ‘Decoration Day’ I have ever seen. Beginning the second set, Professor ‘Greek Smith’, as he was affectionately known, sat behind me, and after a bad serve said, “David, you are not getting your first serve in. You’ve got to get it in.” So, lining up and looking carefully at the top of the net, I just blazed away, repeating the procedure the rest of the match. Set Two was mine 6-4 and the final 6-1 and the match. Wheaton did win over Loyola 6-0 that day. I have always been grateful to Professor Smith for his timely suggestion at a critical point that day. I know he was a man of God and prayer. Perhaps he knew my timid personality and felt that victory then, the last match in college, might produce encouragement for life’s battles to come. Have sometimes thought that deliveries of groceries winters and summers and the long walks to and from High School could produce stamina to help in later life. At the time the future was unknown to me that in time to come I was to be a pastor in the northern Plains. A strenuous ministry in that country can use physical preparation. God says that physical or bodily exercise profits for a little time and yet it does not avail for all things as does godliness, I Timothy 4:8. I needed much more of the latter.

Wheaton did much more for me. In my commuting to college every day I would arrive just at the time for the morning student prayer meeting in the “Lower Chapel”. Now I had a great reluctance to go into it. I had the idea that if I did that I might be expected to give a ‘testimony’. I had heard that students did so. I wondered what I would say, and indeed, if I did, if it would be sincere. So I cowered out in the hall and did not enter, though I felt judged in not doing so for as a Christian, did not one belong there? In my last year I recall standing at the time for testimonies in the students’ large Wednesday night weekly prayer meeting, where many attended. Telling how I had felt, I said that by the help of God I hoped to do better, and did testify to my Saviour. That same year a young eminent pastor from Brooklyn, New York came to be the speaker for the Spring Evangelistic Meetings. He was Dr. James Oliver Buswell, Jr. At that series of meetings he gave an invitation to students in such a way as that, even if students were not sure they were so called to spend their lives, yet if they would be willing to dedicate their lives to full-time Christian service, if God were to call them. Many students answered the invitation that night and I was among them. From that time I began to suspect that I might become so “called”.

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