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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.
(1983)

“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.

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